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Vagabond Ch. 2: Thagomizer

‘Jalute 11, 1124: I happened upon a tavern late last night. Just in time, for I had lost feeling in my fingers and nose by this cold. I met a group of men, led by Kellen, who shared that they are Rangers by trade. Coming off a bad day where they lost some men, they asked me to join them to finish their bounty of a dinosaur. They didn’t share much details but requested that I meet with them today to go over it all. I took up a room from the innkeep named Joel. I spent my last moments awake thinking about it. What kind of dinosaur could have a bounty placed on it? Raptors? Allosaurus? Is it a herbivore? If so, perhaps a sauropod of some kind. They did offer me a ride to Rochelle if I do help. I’ve been traveling for too long, it is about time that I start to take some chances to make real progress.’

The sun had just begun to rise over the horizon. The sky was streaked with clouds, they faded away as they combed across the dull sapphire sky. There was a light fog hanging low above the frozen ground. The sun was bursting through the limbs and the trunks of the trees. With rays of orange and red, the trees appeared black and moved like dancing silhouettes.

In his room, Vagabond put down his journal and moved to open his rucksack. While inspecting its possessions, he laid them out on the bed. He begins to ask himself a few questions.

What is the target of the bounty?

What could have killed some of the men?

What kind of reward is there to continue chasing this animal?

When was the last time he sharpened his sword?

He walks over to the window and stares through the trees. Feeling the chill through the glass, he watches the window shake and shutter from the relentless wind. He can see his own reflection. He has a large muscular chest, with a large cut on his left side towards the center. It is an old wound, the scabbing has begun to fall off and it looks like an infection was evaded. He inspects his body for anything new, there are no ticks, leeches or anything else that could be compromising. Turning his attention back outside, he accepts that it will be another bitterly cold day.

Vagabond walks back to his arrangement of equipment on the bed, he picks up a thinly woven wool pair of pants. There is a long sleeve shirt made of the same material. Putting these on will give him a lot of warmth for a lightweight, thin material. On top of this layer, he has a chainmail hauberk he could put on. The chainmail hangs long for a shirt, almost to mid thigh. Its arms end at the middle of his forearms. This gives some protection from slashing and nearly prevents lacerations. As for bludgeoning and blunt force, it will provide very little if any protection. Even stabbing could break bones and cause internal damage. Vagabond thinks about how cold it is, adding layers isn’t a bad idea but how fast is he going to need to move? If things continue to go bad for Kellen and his men, he will need a plan of retreat. Dropping his rucksack would be easier than running with everything on him. Vagabond remembers words he heard in his past, “To plan for failure is the same as expecting to fail.” He puts on his leather pants over the thin wool pants and his boots over his thick socks.

Of all his equipment, his boots are his favorite. They were his father’s boots and he’s had them for a time longer than any boot should last. At least physically, he had grown into them quite well. The craftsmanship, provided by the cobbler, was almost unmatched. They were incredibly lightweight, but had a stiffness of protection. They were as eye-catching as they were functional. Through his adventure, many men have tried to get them off him. Whether through bets or straight up stealing the boots, Vagabond has always been able to keep them for himself.

After tying his boots he stands up and decides to put on the chainmail hauberk. He puts a belt on just over his waistline, over the chainmail to keep it snugly in place rather than waving around. He then puts on a special piece of armor. It is similar to a half breastplate of thick leathers. This piece ends just below the chest rather than to the waist, much like a full breastplate would. Attached to it are studded leather pauldrons with a metal fin. Each shoulder has these pauldrons, and each pauldron has three layers that overlap each other. The metal fin is on top and protects the neck from blows from the side. The breastplate and pauldrons are slightly damaged with more than a few tears and scratches. This is not the first time Vagabond has worn these. Finally, he puts his cloak over his armor. Setting his gauntlets to the side, he packs up the rest of his equipment. His gauntlets are made mostly from studded leather but with its fingers also encased by metal. He does not put them on his hands but instead hangs them with a string from around his neck.

Vagabond exits his room and enters the main area of the inn. The pig, still skewered, rests over the fire that has become a pile of white ash. Joel, the Innkeep is back at his station continuing to work on the glasses he started on last night. “Well good morning sir, hope you had a good night’s rest.”

“It was needed,” Vagabond drops his rucksack onto the floor and leans onto the counter Joel is behind. “Any news about Kellen’s group? They were just as bursting as when I arrived here as when I went into my room.” He scans the room seeing the mess left behind. “I was expecting to see them still here, slouched over at their table or unconscious on the floor.”

“No, no. They all left. Albeit after I went to my own room.” He lightly smirks then adds, “I knew what kind of load I was going to have in the morning.” Joel reaches down and brings Vagabond’s sword to the countertop, it lays in its sheath. “That is quite a piece of steel there.”

“Mm, it works well.” Vagabond returns the blade to his hip. He unsheathes it about half way just to quickly inspect the blade’s edge. Vagabond internally thinks that Joel must have at least looked at the blade, but keeps it in his thoughts “Thank you for the room,” he places down some gold coins in front of Joel. “And thank you for watching over my sword.”

“Rules are rules,” Joel says as he inspects Vagabond’s attire. “I’m guessing you are about to meet up with the rest of the band huh?”

“I don’t have many options, it is a long walk to Rochelle.”

“Take care with them out there. I didn’t ask what happened yesterday. They came in soaked in blood and talked about losing men. It’s not the first time Kellen has come in like that. All I did was serve them some ale and put Kellen’s pig over the fire. I thought he would have taken it with him when they left. Even with a stomach full of ale, Kellen must have been wise enough to keep the carnotaurus bait here and not with his wagon.”

“Carnotaurus? I thought they stayed more in the grasslands? This is pretty thick woods.” He takes out his journal from his satchel and jots something down while saying, “Hmm.. surprising.”

Joel then explains to Vagabond how many of the creatures aren’t following their own laws. With the war just starting off, massive battles are pushing the animals from their homelands and now they search for a new place in the world.

“We really could be going against anything out there.” Vagabond had been fairly removed from the war. Falkmire was the first city to fall but when it did, his journey took him away from either side of the conflict. Now it seems, nowhere will go untouched by the war.

After saying his goodbyes to Joel, Vagabond steps into the sharp, cold air as he leaves the tavern. He exhales slowly in thought, his breath creates a fog. He thinks about how there is so much more to learn. By learning about dinosaur habits shifting he’s become sure of one thing; even though he knew certain things as facts, that doesn’t mean they will also be that way. What else could have changed? What is Falkmire like today? He has spent all this time chasing truths but they just grow into more questions. Vagabond feels doubtful about his adventure. What does he have to gain to make his sacrifices worth it?

His mind shifts back to the war, why has the Martel State forced the world into conflict? What is it that the queen, Chantel Martel, wants to gain? Joel shared a grim perspective about the war. The smaller nations aren’t organized yet, they all want to play neutral in an attempt to keep war off their own doorsteps. Doing this will allow the State to push through one by one with little resistance. Vagabond grew worried about what is to come. A man like Joel, who had lost so much to the last war, could still lose more.

Vagabond walks towards the river, it’s out of sight but he remembers Kellen telling him to walk towards the sun. It’s just about noon, but Vagabond has no problem telling which direction to head. His boots meet light snow with a thin topping of ice upon each step. A steady crunching sound is made as Vagabond marches. He combs the trees with his eyes. He’s unsettled by the lonely sound of his feet breaking ice and the occasional branch being blown off a tree. He was eased when it wasn’t long until he heard the sound of a running river over the wind’s whistling. He isn’t able to see the river but can tell it’s on the other side of a small hill. He creases over the hill and sees the river. There’s a smell of iron in the air. He sees streaks of pink flowing through the river.

About 60 feet up river, there’s a large animal on its side. There are big triangular plates sticking up from its spine, a long tail with 4 large spikes and a small head. Its skin was a light tan, with stripes of blue. The plates were purple with a bright red streak in the middle of each one. Vagabond crouches behind a tree, observing the corpse and its surroundings. This animal was about 6 to 8 feet long. It looked slightly gaunt, but its weight could still be anywhere between 2 and 3 tons. The air was silent, the smell of blood grew intense.

Something grabs Vagabond’s shoulder. He turns around and draws his sword. Bringing it up in a defensive position, he then sees Kellen chuckling quietly. Kellen then puts a single finger over his mouth. “Calm down now. This is the stegosaurus that we injured yesterday. It’s dead, but there’s still 3 more. Actually, its size makes me believe this one was the youngest. It was for sure the dumbest.”

Stegosaurus, as a species, has an oddly small head for its size. They weren’t problem solvers, all they knew was how to chew, swallow and swing their tail. The tail had highly impressive power, flexibility and at the end it had four long spikes. This arrangement on the tail is called a thagomizer. An adult could easily reach 4 meters tall, 12 meters long and weigh close to three metric tonnes. With short forelimbs and long back limbs, their tail was high above the ground. Its tail was almost half the length of the entire creature, giving it a large swing radius. In fact, stegosaurus do not gather together in groups greater than 5 because of their size and their requirement of free movement to be effective. They have been known to co-herd with other herbivores, usually acting as the ‘brawn’ to another species ‘brain.’

“We just found the corpse before you came up.” Kellen peers around the other side of the tree. “It died not too long ago. Bordeau is out here somewhere. He’s with the two boys from last night. We also have a few other men setting up a trap.” Kellen sits down and puts his back up against the tree. “At least we got one of the bastards in exchange for our own deaths yesterday.”

“Stegosaurus? A group of them?” Vagabond’s doubts continue to grow. “This is some task.”

“Do not think. Just follow my commands and we will all be fine.” Kellen stares into Vagabond’s eyes with a sharp glare. “We need to get that adolescent’s scent on us.” Kellen gets up and runs towards the downed beast. Vagabond notices that Kellen is dressed differently today. He is wearing almost an entire suit of plate armor. Kellen rubs his armored body against the young stegosaurus, almost climbing on top of it while he does so. Vagabond goes to do the same, but does it far more reserved.

“Good,” Kellen says with that same smile he had last night returning to his face. He uses the corpse as cover as he looks about the trees. “We’ve been on their trail for about a week now. We haven’t seen any traces of predators in the area, so no need to worry about becoming prey.” Kellen has two short handle axes on his hips. Each of them has a long curved head with a point where the blade passes the handle. Much like a bardiche but without the pole. “We have to find Bordeau and the boys.”

The pair prowles through the woods, in silence Vagabond has questions but continues to bite his tongue. The day is now much warmer than it was when they found the young stegosaurus. They venture further east, eventually finding Bordeau and the two boys. The three are covered in mud, it is impossible to tell what is underneath this thick layer of muck but Vagabond recognizes their voices. Bordeau informs them that he has seen the remaining stegosaurus. They are not far, close to a kilometer to the northeast and heading back west. Kellen believes they will smell their young on them. Vagabond and the Rangers all continue to move further east. The trees are less and less restricting, soon breaking into an open field.

“Alright now, time to catch you up on the plan.” They all gather behind a large rock at the edge of the tree line, Cass and Charles keep watch over opposite sides. “We’re going to get them into this field. My other men better be done setting the trap at the South side in the field. This will be perfect if the stegosaurus come from the North.” Kellen grabs his satchel. ”Vagabond, you are going to come with me into the field. We’re going to get them to focus on us after the three here push them out of the trees by making a fire.”

The men split up. After only a few moments, Vagabond and Kellen lay in the middle of the field buried in snow. Soon Vagabond smells wood burning. He lifts his head to see billowing smoke coming from the trees. He hears trees snapping and low rumbling. The ground vibrates, Vagabond shoves his head back into the snow. He mumbles part of a prayer he remembers from his father. “... Tomorrow will come, today will be gone forever. Leaving in its place something we traded for. We want it to be gain not lost, good not evil, success not failure. Nor should we forget the price we paid for it, for the future holds all things now. Amen.”

There’s snapping heard as a large tree falls, followed by a thunderous clap created by the weight slamming into the Earth. Vagabond stands up and draws his sword. The stegosaurus lurch from a cloud of snow, ice and dirt that has been created. They walk like drunken soldiers, swaying side to side with their heads snapping from one way to the other. They bounce off each other and let out loud groans as they enter the field. They are huge animals, but they are seemingly gaunt like the adolescent was before. Kellen lets out a yell to gain their attention. Much like a war cry you would hear as men charged at each other during the opening of a battle. Unlike those men, Kellen runs the opposite way. Vagabond watches as he tries to understand his plan. Looking back at the stegosaurus, their heads are locked forward now. They slowly begin to gain speed and enter into a gallop. Their long back limbs collide with the ground as their forelimbs enter the air. Their plates spread and close back in as the animals’ bodies curve and extend with gathering speed. Vagabond can’t believe how fast they are closing in, the speed of these plated mountains.

“Run you fool!” He hears over the ear-splitting booms. He turns and runs to follow behind Kellen, soon catching up to him. “We must make it to those trees.” The vibrations are getting stronger, the ground moves like it would during an earthquake. Kellen and Vagabond enter the tree line. Running through low hanging limbs. They feel the sharp whipping of young branches meeting their faces. They then hear trees snapping, forcing them to forget about the nuisance pain in fear of ending up on a thagomizer.

The stegosaurus smell their young one on the men. They aren't pursuing the men out of hunger, they chase them for the satisfaction of the kill. Staying behind them, continuing into the increasingly thickening of the woods. Pushing ahead, trees continue to be toppled over and smash into the ground erupting into wooden shrapnel. Vagabond and Kellen can feel the heat of the breath from the beasts.

Suddenly, the ground comes alive and snow is thrown into the air. From inches above the ground to meters, there are ropes extending into every direction. One rope gets taught just before Vagabond, clotheslining him and sends him to the ground. He loses the breath from his lungs as his momentum was halted, on the ground he struggles to regain himself. He can’t comprehend what just happened, frantically he gets back to his feet and tries to get his air. Kellen is strung up in the manmade web, one of his legs tangled in between a few ropes. Kellen is unconscious, hung upside down. The stegosaurus moan and grunt as they too are caught. Their eyes are wide, they breath heavily and thrash in an attempt to become free. Vagabond stares at the beasts only a few meters away from him. Arrows then rain down from the trees. Kellen’s men are up in the trees, once they triggered the trap they were quick to unleash into the beasts. With disregard for Vagabond and their leader, they continue to draw back and loose their arrows. The beasts whine and cry as arrows embed into their hides. One stegosaurus slouches over and dies, the other two buck wild. Kellen wakes up and screams out of pain, an arrow is now lodged into the leg held by the ropes. Vagabond runs over and hacks at them with his sword. He notices the ropes becoming tighter and tighter into Kellen’s armored leg. As the stegosaurus fight their restraints the rope gets a better hold. Like a boa constrictor, the ropes fills in the space made by movement. Vagabond snaps the arrow off at Kellen’s skin and takes one more swing at the ropes. Cutting the rope and dropping Kellen to the ground. Arrows continue to crash around them and into the animals. “Will you dumb fucks cut it out,” he yells to the men above. With the arrows ending, the only sounds are from Kellen wincing and the two stegosaurus continuing to buck. As Vagabond attempts to mend Kellen’s leg, the sound of the men coming down the trees is heard. A pair of men go to Kellen, the remaining begin to stab and slash at the stegosaurus. Vagabond lets the men take over, and then is frozen by the brutality of the assault on the beasts.

Bordeau and the boys arrive on the scene. The boys frantically run at the beasts as Bordeau holds back. They slash and stab into the tough skin. As they throw themselves into the assault, one of them accidently cuts several ropes holding one of the beasts. Feeling the looseness of the ropes, the stegosaurus gets a second wind. It bucks its body free but its head remains held by the ropes. It brings its tail high up and to the right of its body. Vagabond, standing several meters in front of its head, sees the tail swing with great force. A man is sent flying through the air, slams into a tree and falls to the ground motionless. Looking back at the beast, Vagabond sees another man gored onto the thagomizer. One spike is straight through the man’s light armor and his chest. Blood pours onto the natural weapon as the man lays like a ragdoll and dies. “The beast! Keep attacking the beast!” Kellen cries and the two men caring to him start a new charge. They focus on the entangled head, swinging hard to the back of the animal's head and neck. The stegosaurus cries as its skin begins to peel open, leading to a torrent of blood falling to the white snow. The beast falls to the ground, motionless. It has died.

The Stegosaurus that nearly broke loose, had drawn everyone's attention. Kellen gets to his feet and recomposes himself. “Nicely done, the lot of you. This was no small feat. One more huh?” He turns to look at the last stegosaurus. It looks back and forth at its fallen family. Its head rises to bring its glance to Kellen’s eyes. In the cold air, its pace of breathing increases and big flumes come from its nostrils. Kellen looks around, his men panting and slouched over. Then he notices that the ropes have become slack. There is no longer any tension holding the beast in place. He begins to shout out “Qui-,” but is cut off by the beast lunging forward. Vagabond takes cover behind a fallen tree. The stegosaurus tramples over several men en route to Kellen. Its tail swings back and forth catching a man with its thagomizer while lacerating another as it passes by. Kellen swings his ax as the beast comes into range, slicing down the left side of the dinosaur’s face. The beast turns as its head recoils from the damage. Its hip slams into Kellen, knocking him prone. Now the thagomizer is above Kellen. It rises higher into the air. Charles, one of the boys that was with Bordeau, dives next to Kellen. He grabs at Kellen’s arm and begins to pull. From the other side of the fallen tree, Vagabond sees the tail slam down. When it goes back up he sees Charles grabbing at his neck, he’s nearly decapitated. Surely the edge of one of the spikes caught his neck. Then he sees Kellen laying in a crater caused by the tail slam, his arms weakly reaching up into the air. Vagabond perches himself up on the trunk of the fallen tree. The tail slams Kellen again, the impact shakes the ground and floats snow dust into the air.

Vagabond squats down into a runner stance, but is then grabbed. Bordeau and Cass have snatched both of his arms. Vagabond looks back to meet eyes with Bordeau. Bordeau slowly shakes his head and loosens his grip. Softly, he guides Vagabond back to the far side of the trunk from the dinosaur. Bordeau sits down in the snow, with his back against the trunk looking off into the woods away from Kellen and the dinosaur. The tail slams the ground again, as Vagabond sits down beside him. Cass is leaning against the trunk still looking to the beast with his leader and his dead brother. The tail slams the ground again.

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