The cry came again, this time closer and more menacing than before. I cocked my head at the sound. It did not resemble any mammalian creature’s call I had ever heard. Yet it did make me think of a cry from large predatory birds. Only this one sounded much bigger than any of the ones that came to mind.
A moment later, I spotted movement from the portal which Otto had disappeared through earlier. It was very brief but enough to tell me that my suspicions were correct. For the briefest instant I saw a very large and sharp beak, bigger than a man’s head pop through and then withdraw. But what alarmed me more was the fact that the beak had stood a good seven to eight feet from the ground, which meant the owner was exceptionally tall.
Immediately, my mind began racing through the myriad of creatures Otto and I had encountered over the years, as well as the ones who had once roamed this world. Since the unicorns closely resembled the horses of this reality, my brain thought back to their evolution and what kinds of creatures had sought them as prey. Immediately one name came to mind, “Terror Birds”. Carnivorous prehistoric birds that had roamed South and North America long ago before man arrived via the Bering Strait. They were of course extinct here, but in the Para-Earth my equine friend had come from, they had obviously survived. Which in turn meant that since their prey had developed a horn as a defense, the Terror Birds might have developed some new evolutionary weapons of their own.
It suddenly occurred to me that both mare and foal had remained silent, in spite of the cries. Whereas as my other companions, Beavis and Butthead, started jabbering and raising their guns. Immediately I told them to shut up and not move a muscle. Luckily, they immediately obeyed. A moment later, the Terror Raptor stepped through the opening.
As I feared the creature had developed some new traits that its counterparts in this world had not. For one thing, instead of tiny little wings that served no purpose, these monsters had grown their arms somewhat longer, but nothing compared to their ‘fingers’. Those had extended considerably, much like a regular bird’s, but instead of sprouting feathers these bones had fused and sharpened to elongated talons a good one to two feet in length each.
Now, I knew what had made the scratch marks on the mare. A part of me suspected the purpose of such claws was to slash a rear leg, severing the muscles or tendon, in an effort to hobble its prey. They could also be used to block the unicorn’s horn in a face-to-face confrontation.
Unfortunately, my momentary lapse of scientific fascination meant it was too late to alter the brothers’ perception of what they were seeing.
“Jesus Christ, is that what I think it is, bro?” asked Eric.
“A living fossil?” replied his sibling licking his lips with excitement. “Yeah, and he’s going to look great on the wall.”
“Not if I get him first,” Eric smirked raising his gun.
But before either could aim, the creature turned towards us and let loose another piercing cry which startled both men. In my case, because my hearing was so sensitive I was forced to one knee while I tried to protect my keen ears. It was like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard amplified twentyfold. I literally had to try and shut my ears down to protect them, yet the sound of a rifle firing still reached my brain.
A moment later, the bird’s cry was replaced by a shriek of panic and then silence. Looking up, I barely caught a glimpse of the Terror Raptor darting back through the portal. Whether it had been wounded or not, I couldn’t tell. All that mattered was that it was gone and we were safe.
I started to congratulate my companions on their valor when I heard a menacing click followed by the unnerving view of staring at the business end of a rifle.
Before I could ask what was going on, the gun’s owner snarled, “Buddy, I don’t know where you learned that little hypnosis trick, but news flash: we see things for what they really are.”
Immediately I knew exactly what he meant. The effort of protecting my hearing had caused me to lose my concentration, and now they could clearly see both mother and foal for what they really were.
“A live unicorn and its foal,” Eric was saying, “We’re going to be more famous than Dad, when we bring them home.”
“They’re not yours to take,” I told them firmly and started to get to my feet, only to have his brother shove his weapon to my forehead.
“You are in no position to stop us, Mister,” he told me with a smarmy grin. “We’re in charge and you’re going to do exactly as we say, or…”
“You’ll kill me?” I asked blandly.
“Only if you do something really stupid,” Don told me, trying to look menacing.
To be honest I still don’t know whether or not they’d have gone that far. But I could see they were kind of edge. The appearance of the Terror Raptor had startled them more than they were willing to admit. Especially since their shot had not killed the animal, merely driven it off. But for how long? That was the question.
Still I had to plan my next move carefully.
Turning into mist would take but a fraction of a second, but I was now directly in front of mom and foal. Which meant I went to my mist form, a trigger might be pulled and any shot aimed in my direction would likely hit one of them. So instead, I went with a different plan of attack.
Down where the legs of my pants ended, well out of the brothers’ line of sight, parts of me were breaking off and burrowing into the ground. From there, my miniature ‘moles’ began tunneling towards where my captors’ feet stood. In a little while, they’d climb up into their shoes and put the bite on them. Once that happened, I’d have full control over them. Not that I really wanted to do it. I abhor taking anyone’s free will from them, even temporarily. But under the circumstances, and with the lives of mom and foal in danger, I was willing to make an exception.
And what were the Brothers Dim up to, while I was doing all this? They were arguing between themselves about what to do with me. Eric kept suggesting offering me a cut of the profit, but his brother was more inclined to keep me out of the spotlight entirely. Apparently, he wanted the glory for finding a pair of live unicorns for just the two of them.
They were still going at it as my ‘moles’ reached their feet and were about to break ground when the Terror Raptor returned. As you may suspect he had the element of surprise on his side, but not just because he was in a foul mood. (Did you see what I did there?)
No, this time he’d brought a couple of his buddies and they were all staring right at us…
TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT TIME…