Last of Her Kind

CHAPTER ONE


The action takes place five years after Aladar led the Herd to the Nesting Grounds. Ah, a middle-aged female parasaurolophus awakes to what she thinks is another pleasant, peaceful morning, but something is amiss. Read on....

It was the little one's incessant nudging and prattle that roused her from a peaceful slumber. Gradually she opened her eyes only to squint from the glare of the morning sun just peeking over the horizon. Ooh! Ow! The pains of advancing age...The body simply will not behave...I'm not as agile as in youth, then again one should expect this...
Oh my, Eema and Baylene are TWICE my age, yet they were able to complete the journey to this place, long ago...If it wasn't for Baylene then none of us would be here today...

She stretched her limbs and yawned wide, taking notice that her mate had been up many hours before. Hadron was always an early riser, always alert and ready for action at the crack of dawn. Sarama, on the other hand, preferred to sleep in many mornings.
"What is it, Ola?," she asked in a groggy voice still heavy from sleep. The child had recently discovered how to use the headcrest. Sarama smiled at the juvenile's attempts to produce the perfect "foghorn" bellows so characteristic of their kind. These youngsters, trying so hard to imitate their parents, amused Sarama. The more little Ola tried to force the air up into her sinuses, the tinnier the sound became. The child parasaurolophus squinted her eyes; her face screwed in determination as she attempted once again. Upon the final attempt, the best she could muster was a squeaky groan. She looked at her mother in exasperation and said, "I can't do it, Mama. When will I sound like you?" Sarama nudged the little one towards the lake and gently told her, "Ola, you must be patient..."

She stopped at water's edge and welcomed Hadron's gentle nuzzle; she returned the tender caress, paying no particular attention to the child's non-stop chatter. Hadron ignored little Ola's prattle as well, choosing to focus fully on his mate of more than thirty years. They had been through many trials and tragedies during those years. Together they produced a strong lineage that continued to flourish despite the catastrophe that nearly destroyed their family several years ago. How much they've weathered! And, thought Hadron, if it wasn't for Aladar, that young outsider who challenged the more powerful Kron, then none would've survived.

He stepped aside and watched as Sarama bent forth to drink. True, she had mellowed during these years following the Fireball and the resultant disasters it triggered. The entire ordeal tested Sarama's patience and endurance; she nearly went mad. However, as Hadron related to her so many times, it was the presence of Baylene, the brachiosaur, and that of the idealistic iguanadon Aladar, which kept Sarama focused. Poor girl! Enduring Kron's mercilessness, a mind-numbing trek across devastated wastelands, and a confrontation with a ravenous carnotaur almost sent Sarama over the edge. Her psychological state had already been damaged long before that nightmarish ordeal; Hadron thought she would crack under the constant strain. But no, Sarama instantly showed her true colors the moment Aladar challenged the carnotaur...

And those visions, those apparitions of a future world, returned...

"If I am to die, Hadron, then it will be standing with dignity rather than cowering in a corner begging for my life," is what she told her lifelong mate just before joining the "Great Shoutdown".

After that, Hadron loved her even more -- He loved Sarama body, mind, and soul. A mere adolescent when he met her, Sarama amazed Hadron with her intelligence, courage, compassion, and quiet inner strength. However on this particular morning, Hadron focused on her physical beauty. Even in her mid-forties, Sarama was the most beautiful parasaurolophus in the Herd.
Standing at a safe distance and trying not to look so obvious, Hadron surveyed his mate. What he saw was a very handsome female parasaurolophus standing before him. Not quite thirty feet long and just shy of four tons, Sarama still cut quite a figure with her proud carriage and graceful movements. He admired how the sunlight played against her dappled bluish-grey skin. Her face was beautiful. The almond-shaped brown eyes, although somewhat careworn, still had the spark of youth. The headcrest extended from her forehead, curving back gracefully. Using that headcrest to its fullest potential was a talent Sarama discovered at an early age; in fact, she quickly became, as Sarama's grandmother once observed, "The loudest little thing in the valley."
And it was a darned good thing that Sarama was known as the "Herald of the Herd". On any given occasion, Sarama's blasts could be heard for miles around. However, long ago, those trombone-like bellows were of no use during the Great Fireball, for...

Hadron's reverie was immediately interupted by his mate's tender touch, and a gentle chastisement. "You shouldn't had allowed me to sleep so late, Hadron. I nearly missed the valley gossip..."
She paused, then cocked her head to one side, narrowed her fine brown eyes, and offered her mate a sly smile. "And you know how I feel about all that ogling...Just make sure I'm the ONLY female you're ogling!"

The happy couple shared a good-natured laugh, playfully teasing each other. But the levity lasted only for a few fleeting moments. Little Ola continued to babble on and nudged her mother most insistently. Sarama turned to her youngest and gently asked, "What is it, Ola?" Hadron shook his head, took his mate aside, and drew her attention to the surrounding countryside. He seemed uneasy as he surveyed the entire grounds.

Something isn't quite right. "Sarama, take a look around. What do you see?"
Sarama's eyes narrowed as she quickly scanned the lake's perimeter, the valley, and the mountains. As far as she was concerned, it was just another peaceful morning in the Nesting Grounds, not a thing out of place. There was the usual mix of animals feeding, drinking, bathing, tending to the young. Large numbers of iguanodons, the horned-face styracosaurs, lanky gallimimus, furry lemurs -- all together as a solid community.
It didn't take Sarama long to surmise that, on this particular morning, something was wrong. The ordinarily placid morning routine had been interrupted by an emergency. Sarama could have kicked herself for missing the obvious, and by the many animals scattered in search of a beloved member of the community.

She turned to Hadron exclaiming, "Why didn't I notice it right away? Where is Baylene?"

Little Ola jumped about, stamped her feet, and said in a decidedly exasperated voice, "That's what I've been trying to tell you, Mama! Baylene is missing! They're looking all over for her!" Hadron quelled his daughter with a disapproving look and scolded, "Ola, you know better than to behave in such manner!"
But Sarama, keenly aware that an emergency situation was at hand, gently said to her mate, "I'm sure Ola didn't mean such rudeness...," then, looking at Ola rather sternly yet lovingly, "And I'm sure she will never indulge in such behavior again, however..."
Little Ola, her eyes cast downward in apology, began a timid, "I'm sorry, Mama and Papa," just as two figures approached the lake. It was old Eema, accompanied by the lemur Yar.
Eema, the aged styracosaur, ambled painfully and slowly toward the lake. Yar, the lemur patriarch, perched upon Eema's crest, acting as navigator. The old girl moved far slower than in previous years, but that was expected in her advancing years. Sarama heard her name called as soon as the pair approached. "Hadron! Sarama! Hello over there! We need your help!," called out Yar.
Eema's face was the very picture of concern and grief. Her best friend was missing and everyone was presently, and frantically searching. "She's been gone all morning," said Eema tearfully. "The last time I saw her was late last night. She said she couldn't sleep and..."
The elderly lemur gently patted his friend's head saying that there's nothing to worry about. "We'll find her, Eema." But his eyes conveyed the worse possible outcome; Hadron and Sarama couldn't believe this, and Sarama felt a flash coming on. That sudden, almost unsettling gift she discovered ever since childhood, when she first met a certain brachiosaur named Baylene. She had the same premonitions just before the Fireball; she felt it again just before Aladar joined the Herd.

She reeled a bit, and Hadron noticed this as he inquired, "Sarama, those visions again?"

She shook her head, turned to face Yar and Eema, "No! Baylene is alive, for it is not her time..."

Now it finally dawned on Eema that what Sarama said may be true. Eema had known the parasaurolophus' family for years; she and Sarama's grandmother had been best of friends. Adah was the family matriarch and blessed with the gift of foreshadowing. Sadly, during the migration before the Fireball, Adah met a violent end in the jaws of a carnotaur. This she had forseen and assured her family that Sarama shared this gift. Eema also recalled those idyllic days of long ago, when Sarama was a mere hatchling, and how, in this same place, Sarama began to develop her prophetic talents. One time, not long after Aladar led the Herd to the Nesting Grounds those few years ago, Sarama shared with Baylene and Eema a vision so frightening, so unsettling that she made them swear to tell no one else. "My visions are seldom off-target, Eema, but this one...I...We can't ever share it. Our time here will be remembered, but at what price? This place, our nesting grounds, will be no more...Curious structures dotting the landscape...And I see strange creatures exhuming our parents' remains, but why?"

Indeed it was a frightening vision, yet Sarama assured them that "This will come to pass long after we have gone..."

Hadron asked Yar, "Do you need extra hands in the search?"
The elderly lemur shook his head. "No, good friend, that won't be necessary. Aladar and Neera already organized a search party; Plio, Zini, and Suri joined them. We've been asked to stay here, watch over the little ones."

Suddenly Ola darted out from behind her mother and past the adults gathered at the lake. She paused to look at the cave's entrance in the distance; two figures disappeared inside the cave. Remembering her manners, she returned to her mother's side and quietly asked, "Why are Neera and Plio going into that cave, Mama? Is Baylene in there?"

Sarama cast her eyes toward the cave; her inner voice told her that everything was not so bleak. Instead she bent down to Ola and said, "Ola, my child, gather our family around, for there is something I need to tell everyone."
Both Yar and Hadron's expressions registered marked puzzlement; even Eema couldn't quite understand. "Child -- and I'm only calling you 'child' because you're not quite half my age -- I know the promises you made to your mother after Adah's death. And I know, even after all these years, you're still hurting over Doli and your mother, but honey, it all happened so fast that there wasn't a thing you could've done. Remember what Adah said about there being something out there more powerful than all of us. Even I remembered her words all the while Kron pushed us beyond all endurance."
Eema paused to gather her thoughts, and to help get her mind off her current worries. Then, "Somehow I suspected that Aladar was sent to us...Adah always said that there would be someone who would challenge the old ways and usher in the new...Sarama, honey...?"

The parasaurolophus had already separated herself from her company. She made tracks towards the cave then suddenly stopped. She closed her eyes as if to conjure another vision. Within seconds, she returned to the others, trumpeting and bellowing boisterously.

"They've found her! Baylene has been found!"

~~~~~~

Meanwhile, in the cave....
Plio entered first, followed by Neera. It was a gamble but there was an outside chance that the elderly brachiosaur could be here. "But why, Plio?," asked Neera as she ducked under low-hanging stalagmites, "Why would she come here?"
Plio, the lemur clan matriarch, knew perfectly well why Baylene would return to this cave. It was here where Baylene finally came into her own self-discovery. It was here where Baylene, relying on brute force and the will to live, broke through to the other side, exposing an alternative route to the Nesting Grounds. Plio's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Neera's calling.
"Plio, go tell the others that I've found Baylene." She then turned to the enormous figure standing in the distant shadows of the cave's exit. Then she said to Plio, "Tell them I have things in hand...And not to worry..."

But everything is not quite right...I can tell by the way she stands there, as if she's encountered something unnerving...


COMING UP

Go to Chapter Two!

Copyrightę2000 by "Sarama"


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