Mongolian Snow

White things fell from the sky.

They were flaky and cold.

They covered everything. The brown of the sand. The plants. The mesas in the distance. The skeletons of giant things that had long been dead. Everything.

Kino did not like the white things.

It was cold in a place that was not supposed to be cold, and Kino did not like it. Nor, for that matter, did anything else that lived in the desert. The plants, which could endure the even the harshest of the morning sun's hot beating, withered when merely touched by the ice floating down from the grey sky. It covered them, so that it was near impossible for the Protoceratops to find food. No plants meant no Protoceratops. No Protoceratops meant no food for Kino.

Not that it mattered anyway. The Protoceratops were gone long before the ice started to fall.

He knew it when they were nowhere to be found. Protoceratops were his most common game. So common, Kino couldn't remember hunting anything else in his entire life. They were slow beasts. Kino could sneak up on one easily, even when the terrain was flat and there wasn't any cover for miles. Just slip in, snatch an egg, and run. Nothing. Not even a chase. They wouldn't even know it was missing.

If he got lucky, he would even be able get a kill off of one. Usually one of the old, senior members of the group. One cut to the jugular and that was it. Its tricky getting around the frills, but once you could slip your foot in there and get the hind toe in the neck it was a piece of cake. Of course, he hadn't tried this in awhile. Might be rusty.

A lost Pterosaur cawed at the cold, grey sky.

Kino got up.

He stood a full one-foot-six-inches. Feeling the wet ice on his back, he shook himself to make it fall off. When it was all gone, he was the only brown thing standing in a sea of sugar white. Everything he saw, from end to end, was the unsettling, alien gloss of winter snow.

There was no doubt now.

The trail was gone. The trail of Protoceratops footprints he had been following for six days was now completely hidden underneath this icy rain from hell.

The Pterosaur called again. Kino called back in his own, Velociraptor sound.

Both were a sound of despair.

(I must note, at this point, that the Velociraptors depicted in Jurassic Park are WRONG! This is not an insult to the movie, the book, the author of the book, the director of the movie, the actors, the franchise, the people who did the animatronics, or anything of the sort. The movie was great, the book was thrilling. But both, especially about the Velociraptors, are completely WRONG! If you wish to know what a REAL Velociraptor was like, and what Kino is, I suggest googling Velociraptors or, if time and expense are on your side, go to a museum that displays them.)

Kino's toe-claw clicked with frustration. Snow fell on him, and he constantly had to shake himself to get it off. He was an expert hunter, and an even better tracker. Such skills were necessary for life in the desert, and indeed life in general 65 million years ago. Tracks in the sand could be found easily, scents carried for days along the musky breeze, and calls could be heard for miles and miles with complete clarity. But now this white ice concealed any tracks in it's constantly growing blanket. The frozen air cut his lungs every time he took a breath.

He shook again.

The exact time and day the Protoceratops disappeared was something that had escaped Kino's mind completely. One day, he was hungry. He went out hunting. He had expected to find a couple of them just over a large mound, where their nests were situated. Instead, he found the nests were empty, the eggs reduced to tiny fragments of shells. The entire herd had moved, and left only some tracks for him to follow. The next day, this grey sky arrived and the ice began to fall.

He knew that there was no hope of ever finding the herd of Protoceratops.

He also knew that, if he just stood here, he would eventually freeze to death faster than he could starve. And he had been starving for awhile now.

On a whim, Kino left in what he thought was the most Northern direction.

The lost Pterosaur called again.

***

Kino liked running.

He was built for it. Was made to do it. Everything about the way he and his kind were evolved, from their sleek horizontal design, to their powerful feathered legs, to their long, pole-like tail they used for balance, screamed "speed-demon".

There were numerous things Kino liked about running. He liked the sand underneath his feet, how it kicked up with each stride. He liked the feeling of smells of the desert rushing into his nostrils, the hot breeze traveling down from his snout to the end of his tail and pulling at his feathers all the way through. He liked opening his mouth and letting the desert air seep in between his teeth and onto his tongue, tasting more and more of his home the farther he traveled. He liked it when the mesas started coming into view in the wavy distance. When they rose up as they got closer and closer, going from being a dark, looming shadow to something tangible and hard. Even better when the mesas were replaced with a Protoceratops herd.

But this snow ruined everything. Instead of air, he felt as if he was traveling through an enormous specter, who's presence chilled his body so thoroughly he thought his limbs might freeze up in mid motion. With every breath, a white puff appeared and looked as if it were going to fall to the ground and trip him. Every time he stepped, he could feel the snow sticking to the bottom of his foot and the pain of frost bite dug into the tendons of his legs. In the distance, everything was a bleak and anonymous grey. The cold sapped his strength, and, after only a few minutes, he had to stop.

Kino had no idea where he was going. The prehistoric world he lived in taught it's denizens that, in order to survive, one must be able to trust his most primordial instincts completely. However, the desert could never have prepared him for this. In the vast, white wasteland, everything was new and unfamiliar. He was cast into a strange place, another world entirely. For the first time, his instincts were of almost no use to him.

But he had to go on. If he was to survive, he had to keep moving.

Hunger gave him energy, and he began his trek again. He ran and ran through the endless snow, his tracks the only ones for miles.

Finally, he saw something.

It was veiled in the dark sky, but he could see it. A small light, the tiniest of tiny stars in the sky. Was it night time already? No. It didn't feel like it. Could it be the sun finally? But it shone differently than the white hot ball of fire he was so familiar with. It's glow was colder than the snow, and far more menacing. Staring up at it, Kino couldn't help but feel an inevitable sense of doom. The sun brought life, to the desert and to all of the world. What did this star bring? Why did it feel so evil and full of malevolence?

Why did it suddenly feel like it wouldn't matter whether he found food or not?

Kino ran in it's direction. He wasn't sure why. It filled him with a sense of dread colder than the freezing air. Every other sense but hunger was numbed out, and yet he felt compelled to run towards it. To follow it and see where it lead. It was as if a part of him knew something was there, waiting, and beckoning to him from a vast distance. It was something his primordial mind could not ever hope to comprehend.

Even still, his chances of survival had been slim from the day the Protoceratops had disappeared and the snow started falling. With every step, those chances grew slimmer and slimmer.

Did it really matter what direction he was running, when every one seemed to lead to death anyway?

***

Kino had not seen another of his kind.

Even before the Protoceratops disappeared, he had not seen any other Velociraptor. He had parents, of course. They raised him as their single, only offspring. He did not remember his childhood well, or even his mother and father. All he knew was that, by the time they had died, they had raised him and taught him everything about survival in the desert. After they had passed away, however, he never saw another being like himself ever again. It didn't bother him much, knowing he was the very last Velociraptor in what he knew to be the world. It just meant more Protoceratops for him. But even the Protoceratops were dwindling in number. When his parents were alive, there were about thirty remaining. When he matured enough to hunt them himself, there were about fifteen. When his parents passed away, there were ten. The last time he hunted, there were about three adults, and two young ones.

It didn't take a lot for him to get his fill for the day. Just two or three eggs or one fresh kill would last him from six or seven days to a week and a half. His parents had to share, but he didn't. All the meat from a kill was his and his alone. Even still, it had been six years since he had been born. In six years, he had gone through plenty of Protoceratops. Not to mention time and old age helping to kill them off as well.

He suddenly realized that the food supply he was chasing after was actually pretty small. Three adult Protoceratops and two not even old enough to graze on their own yet wasn't much of a herd. Heck, they could have expired on their way to where ever it was they were going by now. It seemed as if starving to death was inevitable fate. But Kino would prefer starving much later than starving at the present.

What about mating? As the last Velociraptor in existence, Kino had never laid eyes on any female counterpart other than his own mother. He had never been taught how to mate in the first place; he wouldn't have a clue what to do if he encountered a female of his own species. Running through the dense winter, he couldn't help but think about such a thing (partly out of curiosity, and partly to get his mind away from the cold and the hunger). What was mating like, he wondered? What would it have been like to have an egg to look after? Kino figured his offspring would be similar to him when he was just a hatchling. Noisy, nosy, and always hungry. If he ever had the chance to be a father, he would have to hunt and teach his chick to hunt for itself when it was old enough. Just like how his own father taught him. He would teach his chick how to sneak up on an unsuspecting herd, get to the nest, snatch an egg, and run back before any of parents figured out what had happened. He would teach it how to chase a Protoceratops down and go straight for the neck, and the trick for how to get under that annoying frill. Most of all, he would teach his chick the joys of running. How fast to run, what each smell meant, what shapes were in the distance, etc.

He had never thought about it before, but now he wondered. Why was he the last Velociraptor in existence? He was curious now, about what it would have been like to be among others of his kind. Would they hunt together in a pack? Working together to take down herds of Protoceratops so that everyone could enjoy? How did they care for their young? When was mating season? Did they have a hideout? A mating ground? If so, where would one be?

Where did they all go, he wondered. It was strange, but could an entire race just disappear like that? Could it be that they just started fading away, or did something happen that caused them to die? It was a wonder. Again, something he never thought about before.

A cold breeze brought him back to reality. Hunger gnawed at his stomach and he felt as if it were consuming itself. Kino's pace slowed, but he did not stop. He could not stop. Even if he was the last of his kind, it didn't mean he had to die just yet.

The star in the dark grey sky was still calling him. It's cold glow was becoming brighter and brighter by the second, as if it were possible Kino could actually reach it. There was something in it, something about it, that kept him from dying. Even though it seemed to be a messenger of death itself.

He would not die. Not yet. Not until he reached where he was going.

***

Finally, after an unknown amount of days running, Kino saw something in the distance.

It was a mound, at first. But as he got closer his hope grew as a shape began to form. It wasn't a rock, or a mound of snow, but a shape he knew all too well. A shape that made hope well up within him with each stride. He summoned up the few reserves of energy he had left to make leaps and bounds towards it. As he became only a foot or two away, he felt his chest about explode as the hope inside him reached a crescendo.

It was a corpse. A dead, frozen corpse of a Protoceratops.

Kino leapt upon it as if it were still living, breathing prey.

The thing had been dead for quite a long time, it seemed. The meat was frozen and hard, he broke a tooth or two trying to get a piece. In fact, the reason why there was still so much meat on it was probably because the entire thing was nearly frozen solid. Most of the actual meat had been rendered inedible by the cold, and only parts of it were still fit to chew and go down Kino's stomach. But now wasn't the time to be picky, was it? When it came down to it, the ultimate, absolute goal of survival, meat was meat. It didn't matter if it were old and crawling with maggots, cutting it so close was never a comfortable position.

When Kino had finished with his small, unwholesome meal he looked up again. The star in the sky was getting brighter and brighter, it's frozen light bearing down on the frozen world, of which it seemed he and he alone were the only inhabitant left. Was that were the Protoceratops were journeying to? The cold, shining death? Had it already claimed them, the last of his food? Was the thing that was dead and cold before him, the thing he had feasted on so readily, the only one who was not able to make the journey?

He had been asking a lot of questions as of late, he realized. It wasn't something he did ordinarily, but then, these past few days hadn't been ordinary ones. These past few days, he wondered and pondered about things he had never given a single thought to before. He had run, farther and harder than he ever had; and had an encounter with death that was the closest he had ever been in. This entire journey, this snow, this sudden migration of the Protoceratops, the last Protoceratops in the world, meant something. Kino did not know what. He could probably never know or even guess until the end, but it meant something. He could feel it in his gut that something was going to happen, and it was going to be big. It was going to affect the entire world and change everything.

Everything he knew. The desert. The Protoceratops. Everything.

That star, that cold, shining death, hung in the air, getting brighter and brighter and brighter in the grey sky.

He knew that, even if he ran away now, he would not be able to escape the thing that was to come.

Kino ran on.

***

It took Kino several days, maybe even months, for him to reach the star of death. But he made it.

He had ran and ran through the bitter cold to reach this place. It was a mesa, one he had never seen before. A sea from long before he, or anything that was familiar to him, existed had carved the thing so that there was an easy way to get to the top without much effort, even for a creature as inept at climbing as he. It was tall, even compared to other mesas. To Kino, it was as if it reached the sky itself. Though, if he had come across it on any other day, when the sky was more attractive, the effect probably would have been more dazzling.

It took a considerable bit of time before Kino was able to reach the top.

But at the summit of the mesa, in the midst of the coming of doom, he found perhaps the greatest spectacle of it's time.

Gathered here, at the very top of the perhaps the tallest structure of the era, were all the creatures of what seemed to be not just the desert, but all of the earth. It was an enormous gathering, with so many different species Kino had never laid eyes on before. Small, strange green creatures, who were almost identical to him in shape and size, with the exception of their elongated necks, darted from one side of the plane to another, seemingly so gripped with anticipation that they could not sit still. Giant, clubbed-tailed tanks with spikes and shells on their backs made a low growling sound, somewhat similar to a bleat, but far, far more intimidating. Strange creatures with frills and sails on their backs and faces stood almost upright, tall and curious with wide, saucer like eyes, and watching the star and the dark horizon. Giant carnivores with huge, gaping maws filled with teeth that could envelop him with one bite seemed to be waiting patiently, staring completely transfixed at the sky, as if they were hidden and stalking some sort of invisible, unsuspecting prey. Even the largest of creatures to walk the earth, towering beings who's forms were so large Kino could not take it all in, even at the other end of the mesa. Whose necks seemed so tall their noses would be able to touch the great, menacing star with ease, had situated themselves here, at the very top of this ancient structure, to await the coming of the End.

A Pterosaur called from above. It was the same Pterosaur from before. It called and called in it's Pterosaur speak, as if congratulating the Velociraptor. "You made it!" it called, "you made it!"

Kino called back, in his Velociraptor sound.

Seeing all who had gathered, the most amazing that that struck Kino was that it was the first time he had seen predator and prey, meat-eaters and plant-eaters, gather in the same spot so peacefully. It was as if they were all called by the star to gather here, to bear witness. It didn't matter now if you were a herbivore or a carnivore, if you were a Pterosaur or a Velociraptor, the smallest or the largest. In the great, vast, icy white hell, standing in the frozen light of apocalypse, everything was cold.

He saw no other Velociraptors among them. This only confirmed that he was truly the last of his kind. There would be no pack for him, no mate, no little youngling to raise. Not that it mattered now of course. Still, looking around at the gathered, he got the feeling that he was a creature from a different era. Something that should have died out long ago, but got lucky. Perhaps he was lucky. Perhaps his entire race had died out, and he wasn't supposed to be here, standing with these new-age creatures. In the presence of these powerful and strange things that he did not even know existed, he was an old model.

In a corner he spotted the Protoceratops herd. Only two adults, and two juveniles now.

Kino went and stood among them.

***

They waited and waited, until finally the largest of the ones gathered let out a bellowing sound. A horn to herald the arrival of the star, and of universal death.

It had grown and grown all the time they had waited. Now, bearing down the full shine of it's cold fire, it had come. The snow ceased falling as the clouds parted and the star entered the Earth's atmosphere. There was a loud, deafening rumble as the entire world quaked like it never did before and probably never would for another trillion years. The Pterosaur landed near Kino, unable to continue circling in the sky because there was no longer any sky. The star was so huge and bright, the dull, grey sky was lost in it's radiance. It grew and grew, and seemed to rip the entire world asunder with it's very presence. The rumbling was louder and louder and the star became brighter and brighter, until all you could see was it's white light and nothing else. Yet, Kino could feel no warmth from it, only cold. In fact, he was colder than he had ever been trekking through the winter snow.

It was so huge now, and shone so brightly. The earth rumbled more and more as the thing continued to dive down towards them, a white specter of death hell bent on their destruction. The wind had become violent and strong, as if the air itself were trying to move out of the way in order to avoid the deadly collision. It screamed and howled and blew them all back, even the largest of them. The star grew and grew and made it's way down and down.

As the world was plunged into chaos and death, something roared.

It was a carnivore, the mightiest of them all. Even as the wind buffeted it's pebbled and many-scarred skin, it stood tall and proud. It's jaws were great, it's arms tiny, but it's legs strong and immovable. In the face of Armageddon, it roared. There was nothing else it could do. It had never been taught to run from anything, Among the creatures in it's realm, it was the apex predator. It had no rivals, no one who could challenge it's rule until now. It roared at the white star, at it's light, at the chaos, still ever defiant. Refusing to die. Fighting to the last breath. Bellowing as mightily and as powerful as ever.

Roar!!!!!

And the others too, began to roar. They called out, all beasts, in all their calls. Bellows, caws, horns, barks, and even squeaks. Every creature stood tall and proud against the star, and against apocalypse, for one, final hurrah. The last stand of the terrible, powerful, and wondrous reptiles.

Kino could hear the Protoceratops' call mix with his own, and with the others gathered. It was like trying to scare away the god of Death, but for some reason, it no longer seemed futile. It was as if, now faced with a certain, complete death, it made everything he had endured on his journey, the hunger, the cold, the ice, all so much more meaningful. He wasn't sure why, only in the face of doom, such things could suddenly mean so much. But they did, and this was why they all called out.

The star grew and grew, even in the face of the lizards' terrible call. It finally grew so bright that Kino went blind. The roaring of the wind, the shaking of the earth, was so great now that he could not hear the other creatures around him any longer, or indeed himself calling out. But he knew he was, and he knew everyone else was as well. They would continue to call out until the end had come, even if no one heard them. Even if, in the infinite span of space and time, this grand last hurrah would be forgotten.

Suddenly, the star let out a great scream. It split in three, and each halve plummeted to it's own destination. Somewhere else on the earth, to wreak havoc and exterminate all life at all corners. A great chunk of the star was still heading towards them. Plummeting, sending great shockwaves through what was left of the air. Boom! Boom! Boom! But still they roared. Even though the winds were had reached the pinnacle of their strength, the tiniest creature did not budge.

Finally, with one last, triumphant call, it was over. In a great collision that shook the foundations of the Earth to near it's breaking point, the reign of the dinosaurs had come to an end.

***

Kino woke.

He woke and he was cold. But it was not snowing.

He stood on a strange surface. It was shiny and reflective enough to see himself in. It was just as cold as ice, but it didn't stick to his feet. It was also hard, and didn't give way to make footprints like snow did. He thought it might be rock, but it was harder even than that. It was most confusing.

The star! He looked up, and suddenly found himself faced with millions of stars. Ones that shone and ones that did not shine as bright, ones that twinkled and ones that were fading. As far as he could see, there were stars studded into an inky blackness.

This was a sky he was familiar with. It was the night sky, but much, much vaster and much greater. Much more vast and great than even his own desert home.

The path he was on, made up of that strange surface, lead down one way and one way only. Kino followed it.

He was surrounded by the night sky, by an infinite amount of stars. It was beautiful, but it was saddening at the same time. He missed his desert. He missed the vast ocean of sand that was his home. The arid paradise where he could live and run and hunt as free as he could be. It seemed so, so far away now. An eternity away. Kino had the feeling he would never be able to feel the sensation of running out in the desert ever again.

There was something on the path. It jutted out like a lump in the strange surface.

It called.

Kino recognized the call. It was clear, and low, and dumb.

He ran after them.

Well, desert or no, the entire experience of being hit by a comet worked up quite an appetite. Besides, there were still two adults left.

That meant at least a couple of weeks of food. Or even a month or two.