Rating: T, for language, predators acting as predators will, and some Deep Stuff.
Summary: A hungry raptor pack stumbles across prey that doesn't act as prey should act. What does the other dinosaur want?
Author's Notes: Written for a creative writing class assignment, I am nevertheless very proud of this. It stemmed from a desire to write about an anthropomorphized predator in a positive way, without ignoring or glossing over the unpleasant aspects of its predatorhood. Dinosaurs seemed a good choice, though I will admit I owe a lot of my willingness to write this to Robert Bakker, who wrote Raptor Red.
I placed it in the "general" catergory because I really didn't know where else this would fit. Any suggestions for a more appropriate category would be appreciated.
Their pack was strong.
It was a fact that pleased Fuzzyraptor to no end. She knew what happened to weak packs; she had witnessed the infighting and violence first hand, knew what a potential death sentence it could be to find oneself alone and unsupported. She had heard of hungry and desperate dinosaurs falling upon each other when food could not be found, and did her best to ensure that her family was well cared for.
Of course, when she had a family as close as hers, it wasn't hard. She and her mate Bluecrest were hunters of unparalleled skill when they worked together, and when their oldest daughter Redcrest and her young courter joined them, their success rate rose exponentially. Even she and Bluecrest's three youngest chicks helped when they could, though they were still juvenile enough to be bored and tired easily by the exacting task of tracking and bringing down prey.
The pack was drowsing in the midday sun, keeping cool under the meager shade of the cluster of wind-worn trees they called home. It was prime real estate, as trees as large as these grew rarely--the wind and scant moisture of the Late Cretaceous Mongolian desert had a habit of stunting them. They'd had to drive out a smaller raptor pack to get this spot, and it had been entirely worth it.
Firefluff, the youngest and most immature chick of Fuzzyraptor's last clutch, was the only raptor not currently lazing about in the heat. She wanted to play, and was begging Longtail and Fierceclaw in turn to play with her. Neither her older brother nor sister wanted anything to do with her, though, so she sidled up to her mother.
"I'm bored," Firefluff whined, pushing her snout into Fuzzyraptor's shoulder insistently. "Let's do something! Let's play!"
"Not right now, love," Fuzzyraptor sighed. "It's too hot. Go to sleep, won't you?"
"I can't!" she exclaimed. "I'm not tired, and it's too hot, and I'm hungry!" The little raptor hopped from foot to foot in physical display of her energy.
"Then hunt," Fuzzyraptor suggested patiently. "There are plenty of lizards around. Chase them."
Firefluff grinned, pleased with the idea, and ran off. Fuzzyraptor watched her go; chasing any of the little lizards that infested their home territory would be futile, but it would entertain the chick for a while, and exhaust her.
Bluecrest rolled to his feet from where he'd been sleeping against the trunk of one of the trees and padded to his mate's side. He crouched next to her. "Everyone's getting restless, love," he whispered, nuzzling her affectionately in greeting. "Perhaps we should take them on a hunt tonight?"
Fuzzyraptor surveyed the rest of the pack contemplatively, before bobbing her head and neck twice. "That's a good idea, my mate," she said. She sniffed at him and licked the end of his nose delicately. "Tonight." She paused, looking past the shade of the copse of trees to the sun-bleached sand of the desert beyond. "After the sun goes down."
The light of the full moon highlighted the row of raptorine silhouettes carefully following the ridge of an immense sand dune. The four mature hunters led the way in single file, focused on the hunt; the three chicks followed behind, chasing each other when they weren't following the scent trails left by the little mammals and lizards that came out at night. Fuzzyraptor was letting them misbehave, if only because they hadn't seen concrete sign of anything capable of feeding the entire pack yet tonight.
The alpha raptor paused, raising her snout and inhaling deeply, searching the air for any promising scent. The odor of a herd of Protoceratops had been tantalizing them all night, but the pack had encountered that particular herd before--it was uncommonly large, and the only one of significance in the area. Normally, they'd have attempted an attack on the herd, but Fuzzyraptor and Bluecrest knew that it was Protoceratops mating season; the herd would be particularly alert, ready to protect their nests against raiders.
Something new caught her interest, and she inhaled again. The scent signature was unusual, but Fuzzyraptor had hunted Saurolophus enough times with Bluecrest to recognize what she was smelling. She turned her head over her shoulder and jerked the end of her nose in a short arc forward. Immediately, Bluecrest joined her.
"Do you smell that?" she asked him.
The male raptor took a deep breath, his eyes half-closed as he filtered through the scents on the air. He grinned suddenly, and dropped his snout affirmatively. "Saurolophus, yes," he whispered. "He must be close. The wind is against us."
"Pity," Redcrest's consort muttered as he walked astride them. "Saurolophus is fine eating. My family used to hunt them all the time."
"I don't think it's noticed us yet, though," Fuzzyraptor muttered, motioning for the pack to move down the windward side of the dune, hoping to keep too much more of their scent from being carried to the as yet unseen prey. "There's no evidence of panic."
"Then we may just eat tonight!" Bluecrest said fiercely, splaying his handclaws and swatting playfully at Fierceclaw with his tail.
"If we go about this carefully," Fuzzyraptor warned, fixing each of the older hunters with a reproving glare. She turned to her chicks, gathering them close. "It's time to be hunters now, my children," she told them, even as the others spread out and began stalking back up the dune. "Quick and quiet, just like we've been practicing."
"Yes, Mother," her chicks chorused, their eyes gleaming. To them, hunting was still a game, and they wanted to play, not be lectured at by their mom. She sighed resignedly and gestured silently for them to follow her.
Bluecrest led the pack cautiously down the hill, all of them making use of the low ground cover that grew out of the wind. They could just see the large shadow that marked the hadrosaur they were stalking--he was on the far side of the valley sheltered between the dunes, grazing in the moonlight (or so it seemed) on any of the low, lush bushes that grew across the entire valley floor. The pack reached the bottom of the dune and spread out even father. Redcrest took Longtail and Fierceclaw, leading them circuitously off and around the edge of the valley. They were going to spook to the Saurolophus and drive it towards the rest of the pack. Bluecrest and Redcrest's consort both spread to either side, while Firefluff follower her mother directly down the center fo the valley towards their prey.
But something was wrong.
That the Saurolophus was alone when its kind tended to travel in herds should have started the alarms ringing in the pack's mind; they were so eager for the hunt that they forwent considering it. That it hadn't yet reacted to their presence when they had been downwind from it, as well as in plain sight on the ridge, should have only turned the alarms more shrill, but the pack had been in similar situations and still managed success. That it was walking in a straight line across the bottom of the valley, without any of the frequent stops or random meandering exhibited by grazing herbivores, was raising alarms in Fuzzyraptor's mind. As suspicious of prey that didn't act he way prey was supposed, she began to wonder if they shouldn't have assaulted the Protoceratops herd instead.
"Stay here," she whispered firmly to Firefluff, pushing the young raptor firmly to the ground as she made a decision. "Don't move, all right?"
"Yes, Mother," Firefluff said meekly, edging under a bush but otherwise remaining perfectly still. Her daughter secure, Fuzzyraptor discarded both the pack's plan and stealth as she stood tall and began walking directly towards the Saurolophus.If something was wrong with it, there was no way she was going to risk her family. She could see Bluecrest out of the corner of her eye, frozen low to the ground, one foot raised. The tip of his tail was twitching frantically, a sure indication that he wanted to know what the hell she was doing. Beyond past the hadrosaur, she could see her three daughters, all standing up staring at her, having abandoned all pretense of stealth in shock.
As if this was what it had been waiting for, the Saurolophus increased its stride, walking unmistakably towards her. She made herself look as big as possible, fluffing the fine covering of protofeathers and spreading all of her display plumage, and walked to meet it. As she got closer, she noticed that it was an old dinosaur--it's hide was washed out and pale, and it was limping slightly. It looked thin, especially about the neck and shoulders.
When they were thirty feet apart, Fuzzyraptor stopped, raising her torso fully erect but otherwise remaining still. The Saurolophus stopped as well, regarding her out of one small eye. The silence stretched for moments, broken only by the sound of the wind shrieking across the ridges of sand. Finally, the old Saurolophus raised itself up, cleared its throat, and said distinctly, "Raptor, I come to ask a favor."
"A favor?" Fuzzyraptor repeated incredulously. She narrowed her eyes, and tilted her head to one side a little, as if to help her better understand. "What sort of favor?"
"I want your pack to kill me," it declared.
That statement floored Fuzzyraptor, and all she could do was stare at it, jaws agape. "What?!"
"Isn't that what your kind do?" the Saurolophus asked belligerently. "Kill? I want to die, and it's not like I can go to an herbivore to get it done. I need a predator."
Warily, Fuzzyraptor stepped back, narrowing her eyes and regarding this creature thoughtfully. "What kind of dinosaur wants to die?" she asked.
The Saurolophus sighed. "One who's old and tired," it said, its head and tail drooping. "One who can no longer keep up with the herd." It paused. "One whose mate had died, whose children have either left or been killed, whose life no longer serves any purpose."
Fuzzyraptor cocked her head to the side, considering this enigma. She couldn't comprehend the thought of growing so old one's life becomes meaningless. All the raptors she had even known who'd lived past their physical prime had died before they became elderly, usually on the hunt through carelessness or clumsiness. The predator's life didn't allow for the vagaries of old age that, apparently, the herbivore's did. In fact, the most experience she had with aging herbivores was that they were often easy to hunt, but no fun to eat.
"If I must die eventually," the Saurolophus continued softly, "I'd rather it be by choice. If it's not me, it will just be someone else, someone's who's got more to live for than I. If I can prolong one life by giving mine, then I will." It took a step towards her, half-turning its body to present her with its flank. "Madame Raptor, I beseech you," it said gravely. "Grant me this boon."
Fuzzyraptor regarded him solemnly for a moment before bowing her head and crossing the space between them. "I'm sorry," she said.
The Saurolophus said nothing else as the raptor tensed her powerful legs and leapt, literally scaling the big hadrosaur's side so she could get at its spine. It was eerily silent in death; there was only a sharp intake of breath when her jaws fastened around the back of its neck, and then it was falling, and she was leaping away to avoid being crushed.
The rest of the pack approached. The older ones were clamoring to know what had happened, what had transpired between predator and prey. The younger ones didn't care--they wanted only to eat, and immediately leapt onto the corpse. Fuzzyraptor brushed off the question from her mate and daughter; she was unsettled, and wasn't ready to discuss what had happened.
Silently, the raptor tore open the Saurolophus' underside, reaching in to fulfill the old dinosaur's desire to mean something in death as he no longer had in life.
Author's Notes: All feedback is welcomed; let me know what you thought! Thank you for reading!