Short Story #3: Heart of a Hunter

The Ankylosaurus lumbered up the hill, dull senses alerting it of carrion and instincts ringing in hurried alarm. Cresting the knoll revealed a pile of torn and half digested pieces of a herd of Stygimoloch s. Their thick skulls and rigid back bones had been cracked and marred by long teeth.
Defensively raising it’s thick tail ending in a mace of bone, the Ankylosaurus sniffed the perimeter of the massacre. Dead jungle surrounded the empty hilltop, ringing the summit like a fence. Smaller scavengers poked their heads from the brush, their rumbling stomachs having drawn them to the scene.
Before it’s tiny brain could process the attack a Ceratosaurus lunged from the jungle, scattering the hungry observers. It’s thickly armored shell resisted the powerful bite, but the weight of the Ceratosaurus bore it to the ground. Squealing and heaving to the side the Ankylosaurus righted itself before the killing blow fell.
The element of surprise lost, the Ceratosaurus circled his wary prey. The dinosaur was similar in size to a Tyrannosaurus but crested with two prongs of bone. Beady eyes glimmered under a thick brow and fresh Stygimoloch blood soaked his maw. His name was Kerash’Sharrak, and even with a full stomach he was interested in the Ankylosaurus simply for the challenge.

Fully enthralled in the endless cycle of predator and prey, the Ankylosaurus was prepared to fight to the death. Lofting it’s tail the Ankylosaurus shuffled to the left and swung the bone hammer in a wide arc.
Kerash sprang backwards, landing heavily on his large back legs. The dodge had cost him balance and the elevated position. Flailing his short underdeveloped arms and tail Kerash tried to right himself, but the Ankylosaurus was quick to reverse the bone mace’s arc.
With crushing force the blow connected, shattering Kerash’ left arm. The useless appendage hung limp and bleeding and he roared in savage pain. Before the Ankylosaurus could reverse to protect the it’s exposed back the Ceratosaurus darted forward, snapping eagerly at the sight of flesh.
Again the Ankylosaurus squealed as jagged teeth tore long gashes across it’s tail and hind legs. Warm blood spattered Kerash as he bit again and again. Another mace blow struck the Ceratosaurus’ chest. A lack of momentum behind the blow coupled with his thick rib cage protected any important organs.
Finally his teeth struck bone, and Kerash snapped his jaw shut around the thick leg bone of the Ankylosaurus. The dinosaur was blind from pain now, and desperately tried to flail to freedom. Kerash heaved his prey upwards, his neck muscles taut from the effort. The Ankylosaurus swung in a slow arc before crashing into the ground upside down.
Releasing his bite the Ceratosaurus mercilessly bit into the soft underbelly. Entrails steamed in the open air and the Ankylosaurus let one final breath escape before dying. Seeing his prey go limp Kerash lifted his head and roared victoriously.

Kerash’s latest mate had died two cold spells ago, and he was eager to find another. The display of martial prowess atop the hill would have been the perfect chance, but no female Ceratosaurus had been in the area.
So he decided to roam across the great river to the east. His sire had come from the land beyond the river, but Kerash had never seen a point in returning there. The hunting was plentiful west of the river in the thick jungle full of life. The air was warm.
Sniffing the winds he knew a day of easy trotting would take him to the river. Lurching into a run he leapt across a chasm. Sheer volcanic cliffs trailed into the darkness below, and he heard the distant rushing of water. A tributary of the great river.
And so it went. Kerash covered many miles by alternating walking, cantering, and sprinting. The moon rose into view and eventually settled into the backdrop of the sky, and soon the wealth of wide water was below him.
With a low growl Kerash saw humans. Men busied themselves with rafts and crude ferryboats towed by Nothosaurus es. Large pillars of stone had been erected throughout the river, and pieces of wood were being strung between them. Kerash didn’t know the word “bridge”, but he knew that wherever humans went a drought of prey was sure to happen.
His empty stomach reminded him of the pains of hunger. Kerash planned to double back and feast on a nest of baby Struthiomimuses he had smelled earlier. Tiny in comparison to his bulk, the herbivores would prove an easy meal if he could catch enough of the defenseless beasts. After satiating his hunger the Ceratosaurus would rest and return to the river under the cover of darkness. The men could not see well in the dark, and he could easily wade across the river. Already he saw the campfires and torches of their camp. Perhaps the Struthiomimuses would be an appetizer to his favorite meat: human.

Lying contently in the long shadows by the river, Kerash watched the sun set behind a distant peak. Pushing himself onto his feet Kerash scanned the river. The human crews were retiring to their tents and lodges. There were at least forty of them, mostly men. He spotted a few tender women and children closer to the camp.
The sky darkened and stars began to glimmer behind clouds. Shambling down to the river Kerash lowered his massive bulk into the tide. He momentarily flailed his talons until they touched the thick mud at the bottom. Raising his head above the water he ploughed forward against the current.
Splashing and dribbling on the opposite bank, Karesh slithered through the jungle to the edge of the camp. The grounds were a general oval shape with a massive fire in the middle. Instinctively the Ceratosaurus shied away from the blaze and focused elsewhere. A herd of domesticated triceratops lay sleeping in a pen; he knew the soft dinosaurs proved no threat. Human guards patrolled in haphazard zigzag patterns, probably a dozen in total.
Kerash, limited by his dinosaur intellect, crafted a simple plan. He charged the nearest human and bit them in half.

The camp hastened to respond after hearing the gurgled scream of their sentry. Laser blasts lit the night as glowing green streaks bounced off Kerash’s tough hide. Weathered from years in the rough jungle the feral dinosaur shrugged off most of the shots. A few heavier rifles penetrated his hide in spots, but Kerash ignored the searing pain.
Tearing apart two guards Kerash charged into the nearest lodge. The wooden structure splintered under his weight and collapsed inward. Screams and crying erupted from the building as rubble poured inwards. After stomping through the remains he jumped clear of the structure and landed amongst a cluster of men.
Pistols flashed in the night and a pair of brave souls even levelled pikes at the dinosaur. Kerash swept them all aside with a combination of teeth, claws, and tail. Belting out a roar he snapped the nearest pike in half and slammed the wielder to mush with his ridged skull.
As with the Ankylosaurus the element of surprise was quick to wear off. But unlike his earlier prey, the humans were quick to organize and adapt to the situation. In no time at all firing squads assembled and cornered Kerash near the central firepit.
His tail singing against the flame, Kerash charged forward and slayed the nearest two humans. Before he could continue the rampage dynamite and mining explosives drove him back. A dozen hard faced men poured lasers and blasts of plasma into the towering dinosaur, each alternating between quick reloads and holding the trigger down. Smoking from multiple wounds, Kerash looked past the ring of men for an escape route.
Instead he saw a large weapon platform being rolled out from a shed. A steel ball was being jammed into the gaping mouth of the tubular gun. Crying out in their language a gunner touched flame to the fuse, and a cannonball sailed through the air towards Kerash.
Unlike the biting pain of the lighter hand weapons, the cannonball devastated the dinosaur. It smashed into his right leg, shattering the knee joint and toppling him backwards into the fire. Howling in agony the Ceratosaurus rolled away from the flames, limply dragging his wounded limb by sheer force of will. Clinging to life Kerash stumbled away from the terrible weapon. In a gout of flame another ball erupted from the barrel. This time movement saved the dinosaur, as the shot sailed overhead. Kerash smashed tents aside with his tail and continued his staggered run towards the river.
Men hooted and howled after him, raising rifles and cheering with each shot. A few dared to block his way, perhaps gaining courage from the cannon shot. Regardless Kerash bit into them, dashing the bodies about with great twists of his head. Still at running speed he dropped down the river bank.
Weapons blasted in the darkness and the cannon barked again, erupting the water in a great splash where the missed shot landed. Nearly unconscious the dinosaur slid down the hillside and rolled into the river.
The tide carried him away from the camp, and down into the swirling blackness of agony.

Kerash awoke to jagged pain across his entire body. Wet rocks dug into his side, and each movement of his right leg set his prehistoric mind aflame. He listened for the sound of men but heard no voices, and so settled for dragging himself out of the water and up on the soft bank of the river. Exhausted from the smallest effort, Kerash snorted away dust and dropped his head to rest.
New, fresh pain awoke the dinosaur. A pack of eight Dromaeosaurus were tearing long strips of skin from his prone form. The vicious little carnivores were intent on the task and didn’t realize the Ceratosaurus had awoken. Even in his fatigued state Kerash was able to snatch two of the pests in his jaw before the rest scattered. He eagerly swallowed the bodies and drifted back into slumber.

The next time his eyes flickered open the dinosaur knew many days had passed. The snack of scavengers did little to still his hunger. His leg felt slightly better; well enough to stand on at least. Perhaps the bone wasn’t entirely destroyed, or perhaps his strong constitution mended the fracture. Kerash was only dimly aware of these concerns, for it was the sound of footsteps had awoken him.
Next were voices, hushed with concern, not far over the ridge. They echoed from upstream, and Kerash saw the flashing of light sources. A hunting party? Likely considering his trail of destruction at the human camp. Although he knew little of the ways of men, the cannon and explosive pain had shed new light on the diminutive creatures.
A new scent reached Kerash. He hadn’t smelled the like in far too long. The musk was female, and it was a Ceratosaurus. Quickly orienting himself he realized he was on the side of the great river opposite his usual realm – the old mating grounds. The scent overwhelmed him for a moment. The Ceratosaurus was close.
Closer still were the men, five of them in a loose formation. They moved with purpose and skill, easily passing through the thickest jungle as if they had been born there. The nearest he saw to a cannon was a massive multi-barreled weapon carried by the strongest of the five. Kerash didn’t know the word, but the slouch hats, dangling cigars, and ponchos sent a clear message to any in the human world: expedition on the hunt.
The darkness provided Kerash brief respite, for the weak human eyes couldn’t penetrate the veil. To compensate they swept large lights in probing arcs. The beams hadn’t quite reached the prone dinosaur, but they would soon. He was still down the bank. Out of the water at least, but still in no position to attack.
His primal instincts told him to run, but he resisted. Karesh was so used to the thrill of the hunt and the fresh blood of his victims that he lay paralysed with uncertainty. The silhouette of the female Ceratosaurus broke the spell by appearing on the ridge behind the posse.
Ceratosauruses mainly communicated by pheromones and a gurgling, clacking noise created at the back of their throat. Kerash didn’t dare risk the latter, so he settled for releasing the equivalent of prehistoric airwaves towards the female.
Her head perked up at the change in scent, and even the party of hunters commented to each other about something reeking. They seemed agitated at the change, and Kerash figured they were familiar with the pheromones.
Although smaller in stature the female was more agile and adept than Kerash. Her name was Lahkuna’Nakei, and her scent grew sweeter as the two dinosaurs communicated. She conveyed the intent of distracting the posse while Kerash escaped into the river. Unsure of the cowardly act, Kerash reluctantly replied an affirmative to her plan. After they would meet again at the old sunken marsh. Evidently she had hatched in a similar area to Kerash.
The men turned at a rustling sound, instantly snapping their lamps and charging guns in the direction. A growl rolled from the jungle towards them. “That sounded pretty unhurt to me, Spence.”
Gruffly, “Eh, likewise. Quiet now, keep alert.” Birds dropped silent as if waiting to see the outcome. Even the backdrop of bugs and pests had been momentarily muted. Unluckily for the men, Lahkuna was a clever girl. After growling she had stalked to their flank, and now peered at their exposed sides.
Like lightning she exploded from the foliage and rushed the gang. As soon as the guns barked to life Kerash hastily pushed himself into the river and continued to drift downstream. Lahkuna lead with a bite that would crush a Stegosaurus’ tail. Her maw closed across the torso of the nearest man, his shotgun raised in weak defiance. Sparks clashed from his body and Lahkuna’s head rang from snapping down onto a surface as hard as rock. His torn shirt revealed sparkling, thinly woven fibers, and even after the decimating bite there wasn’t a scratch on them.
Protected by a jacket of biosteel armor, the man continued to raise his shotgun and fired both barrels directly into Lahkuna’s face. At the same time shots erupted from the rest of the posse. The large man’s rotating gun sped to life and started pouring energy into the Ceratosaurus. A medley of rifles and pistols joined in the attack.
Already bleeding and in shock from the savage efficiency of the response, Lahkuna prepared to flee back into the jungle. One final swing of her tail had the men ducking to their knees, but they continued to seamlessly fire from a crouch.
Trees which were cracked and bent from her entrance splintered further as she spun and dove into the woods. Even with all their jungle craft and knowledge of the terrain the hunters were hard pressed to keep up with Lahkuna. She weaved through thick vines and dodged brambles where she could, and rammed through those she couldn’t. The men sprinted behind her, erratically firing whenever there was an opening. But her long strides eventually won out, and Lahkuna lost her pursuers.

The pair of Ceratosauruses met up in the swamp the next morning. Kerash had drifted down the river before clambering to opposite shore, waiting the night out, and then marching back to the meeting. His leg was feeling stronger each day, and a dense meal of Troodon helped mend the rest of his wounds.
Now he boldly strode towards Lahkuna and butted crests with her, as was tradition for two Ceratosaurus of the opposite gender. The tradition was meant to show a mate’s prowess by the thickness of their horned crest. After circling each other a few times and playfully nipping and snapping at each others necks they settled into the rancid water.
Kerash and Lahkuna croaked at each other, trying to figure out a way to slay the hunters. Lahkuna was clearly the better schemer for she proposed numerous workable avenues of attack. In comparison Kerash felt mentally underdeveloped since every suggestion he offered ended in “Charge the humans and eat them”. Their discussion was harried with the knowledge the men were out there hunting them still.
To ease the tension the pair rose and roamed from the marsh as the sun was it’s peak. Lahkuna figured the men would be taking rest in the shade, whereas the brilliant weather simply energized the Ceratosauruses further.
The change of scenery helped, and upon viewing a narrow canyon the dinosaurs instinctively knew how to attack their quarry. Their focus would be the man with the rotary rifle as it was the deadliest weapon the group carried. Luring the men into the canyon would be simple enough; they were overeager to come to grips with the dinosaur and would be furious at having lost both of their marks on the last occasion.
Lahkuna posed the concern of the biosteel shirt she had bitten into. To that end they decided to push massive boulders down into the canyon. Even if every human was wearing one of the seemingly magical shirts they couldn’t withstand a boulder rolled from on high. And if they could…well, the southern plains were probably safer that time of year.
Kerash would be on the ridge as his mobility was limited. Lahkuna would be the bait, and would charge in to mop up anything the boulders failed to kill. They spent the afternoon slogging the rocks uphill. Claws scrapped in thick clay that, as the night settled, became knee high from use.
Finally seven boulders taller and broader than either Ceratosaurus were in place on the western ridge. Kerash leaned his long neck over the ledge and could see the jumble of vegetation far below. A series of smaller rocks were balanced in front of the boulders so that Kerash could create a miniature land slide with each shove.
With one final headbutt for luck the dinosaurs split apart and took up their positions. Lahkuna started wailing and crying into the deepening night. The men may not realize she had healed quickly and would assume the downed dinosaur would be an easy kill. She was backed into the dead end of the canyon, and even with her enhanced vision she couldn’t make out Kerash along the ridge above.
The howling echoed down the sheer walls, being only slightly muffled by the vegetation and rising ire of night bugs. With rhythmic dedication Lahkuna continued her cries until it nearly lulled Kerash to sleep. His eyes fluttered opened as a branch cracked near the entrance of the canyon. Flashing lights scanned the walls and he ducked for cover to avoid the beams. The hunters had come.

The posse was still five strong, although their faces were drawn and haggard from a day of marching. Being on the edge of alertness was second nature to the carnivores that watched them, but even professional hunters like these had limits. They had left Camp Riverblock twelve days ago, and hadn’t snatched more than six hours of sleep a night since – even after walking for fifteen hours.
Now that the Ceratosauruses were prepared they could take full stock of the men. The Plucky hero lead the expedition replete with six-shooter and a machete to negotiate the dense foliage. Back and to his left was the Bulky man whose powerful arms carried the deadly rotary rifle. A pair of Twins were next in line, sticking close together, their mouths moving in whispers. One was Fiery haired and had a grenade launcher slung under his arm. The other had two pistols strapped to his waist and easily handled a lever action rifle. Finally came Steel – the man who Lahkuna had tried to kill – his shotgun pressed to a shoulder as he flinched at movement ahead.
Plucky, Bulky, Twin, Fiery, and Steel. Quite the gang of bloodletters.
They were two dozen yards from the trap. Kerash settled his powerful shoulder against the first boulder, but waited to be certain they would strike true. Lahkuna continued her wailing, but Kerash saw that she had risen to her feet. She played at stumbling and then slouched back to the ground and continued to groan.
Bulky spit a wad of tar, “Hey now we ‘ave ‘er, lads!” His rotary rifle began to cycle the barrels in preparation for firing.
“Let us finish it quickly and find the other one,” Plucky said, chopping the last barrier away, “Maybe he will return for his mate.”
“I still don’t like this -” Steel started.
“Nerves, ‘at’s all it’tis. I rememba back in in Detroit we…” Twin rambled and rambled until Fiery smacked him curtly on the back.
“Shut up you, look alive.”
Plucky weighed in, “Look men we’re all tired, but let’s get this done and rest for the night.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Bulky mumbled, his words scarcely heard by the time they drifted to Kerash. The men had a clear line of sight to Lahkuna now. Which meant they were right under the path of raining death.

With a low growl Kerash dug his talons into the hard packed ground and heaved. The boulder creaked and crackled as it turned end over end. Reaching the lip of the canyon he gave one final nudge to send the first missile away.
Without wasting time watching the result Kerash skittered back to the second boulder and started it moving. Just as it dropped from sight the first attack landed, along with a shower of smaller rocks.
Bulky had time for a strangled cry, and twitchy Steel even fired a shot at the rock out of reflex. But neither feeble act stayed the ball of destruction. With a dull thump Bulky exploded under the weight, spraying gore in a wide arc. The twirling barrels of his gun slowed and stopped as they met the ground.
Shouts of alarm rang through the canyon. Cries of “Savages above!” and “It’s a trap!” were indiscernible to Kerash, but the raw emotion and panic underlying them pleased the dinosaur. The second and third boulder crashed down, showering the hunters with rubble. He saw Fiery tumble to the ground with a long gash on his forehead.
Disorganized firing sparked along the ridge, but Kerash was unconcerned. He continued in his task, simple minded and obediently rolling rocks forward. A grenade from Twin detonated one rock, but the shattered remains rained down even faster and deadlier than before.
Lahkuna received her first hits with a roar. Twin had swung the grenade launcher on her, and a low thump filled the canyon as he emptied the magazine of explosives. Lahkuna charged towards the three standing men, intent on silencing the deadly weapon.
They had scattered enough that the boulders were less effective. Kerash did skillfully heave the last rock directly onto the bleeding Fiery, ending his suffering with a loud crack and another fountain of blood.
With a yell and a menacing heave of his machete, Plucky charged from the ranks to meet Lahkuna head on. Emptying his pistol had little effect on the Ceratosaurus, but the man seemed certain the thin machete would do more. Kerash watched in fear, thinking that he might have a metal shirt like the other seemingly invincible hunter.
His squealing cries as Lahkuna tore his outstretched arm off waylaid Kerash’s fears. Plucky dropped to his knees and the female dinosaur was quick to bite him in half. In exchange a well placed blast from Steel put her eye out.
“Come on then!”
Twin had reloaded his tubular launcher, and continued to rain shrapnel and thermite explosives onto the dinosaur. Swinging her tail she swatted the man to the ground, but the slow arc and slower recovery told of her weakening state.
Steel was like lightning on the shotgun, firing both barrels and reloading them in the blink of an eye. The blasts of plasma scorched Lahkuna’s side and revealed the glint of white ribcage. Gurgling blood as she roared again Lahkuna bowled into Twin’s prone body, crushing him with her weight.
Kerash looked around for more boulders, but the ridge was bare of rocks. He knew Steel would finish the job by the time the dinosaur could run back to ground level. Lahkuna’s first flurry of bites had again sparked off his biosteel jacket.
Instantly the Ceratosauruses mind settled on a solution in the selfless, unthinking manner that only a true hunter can. Though there were no boulders left Kerash did have one piece of weight heavy enough to kill the last man.
The ground shook with his heavy steps as Kerash ran to the canyon ledge and dove off. Carving through the air with his tail, the dinosaur missile rocketed unerringly to the ground. Opening his maw in a defiant roar, Kerash slammed into Steel and both tore apart in a tangle of limbs.
His skull cracked and fractured like a piece of glass, Kerash was pleased to hear Lahkuna grunt the words for “Safe now”. Then he closed his eyes for the final time.

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