Old Ru’kar (roo-car) woke in the damp, Basin afternoon. The day was cloudy and overcast, not unusual weather for the rain forest.
The ancient raptor slowly stretched. His muscles had lost the strength of a warrior and arthritis had settled into most of his joints, the legs in particular. Each day it became harder and harder to get up and join the clan life.
Rolling over, Ru’kar felt his breath catch. Yes, he would be making the journey into the Shadowland soon. Best he start now, while his body still held enough strength.
Long sufferance had taught the ancient velociraptor to ignore the pain as he hobbled towards the river, leaning heavily on a walking stick for support. He knew his leader would be playing near the water with younger clan members.
Finally, after taking twice as long to walk the distance as he had yesterday, Ru’kar reached the Sunstreams banks. As he had known, Azonthus was splashing in the shallows with other clan members. He sat, slowly, as his limbs no longer allowed quick movements, and watched the water play.
Azonthus was completely unlike any other leader he had known. She refused to grow up, as evidenced by her constant play, but the young raptor could be counted on. Ru’kar only wished she could benefit more from his centuries of wisdom before he left.
“Breath deep,” she greeted.
“Seek peace,” he replied, his voice worn and cracked with age.
Az sat next to him, water glistening on her crimson scales. She couldn’t help but notice the exhaustion that clung to him as a heavy blanket that could not be lifted but by deaths own hand.
“You’re tired,” the leader stated.
Ru’kar nodded. “Beyond that. I must leave while I still have strength.”
“Then,” Az paused. “It is your Last Night?”
Again, he nodded.
Az put her arm around the old shoulders. “I’ll prepare the fire and ceremony. Who will guide you?”
Ru’kar made his choice known by his gaze.
“Yes. I have no more close family left, and you are the Clan Mother. Who else?”
Az watched the water flow past. The warriors-in-training she had been playing with had left to give them privacy. Could she?
She nodded once. “Very well. I’ll help you to the Standing Stones.”
“Thank you.” Ru’kar leaned heavily on the stronger raptors arm as they slowly walked to the circle of stones where most ceremonies and councils were held.
Azonthus paused at the circles entrance and looked at the boulder full of her ancestors names, leaders of the clan before her. Shaking off the strange feeling that enveloped her, Az held Ru’kar to the far side of the Standing Stones.
The ancient one settled into a comfortable sitting position and patted his helpers hand. “Thank you.”
“I’ll get everything started,” Az told him.
Throughout the day, in small groups or alone, every velociraptor of the Sharpclaw came to visit Ru’kar. They told him of what his life had meant to them, of how he helped the clan, of the joys awaiting him.
It was near twilight that he found himself dreaming. Everything was so warm, and soft voices whispered to him. He wished he could stay there forever.
He jumped awake when someone touched him. Azonthus was next to him, holding a large leaf with a pile of white clay on it. Neither spoke, but Ru’kar nodded his ascent as Azonthus dipped a claw in the clay and began painting an intricate pattern of spirals and whorls on his face.
The cloudy day had given way to a clear night, and Az finished her work as the moon began shining its light over the horizon. She stood to leave, but Ru’kar grabbed her arm with surprising strength. Before she could back away, he had dipped his own claw in what was left of the clay and painted a twelve pointed star-shape on her upper arm.
Az stared in horror at the paint on her right arm. It wasn’t her time to go…
“Skyfire,” Ru’kar whispered. He still gripped her arm and refused to let go.
“Skyfire,” he whispered again.
Az nodded as she understood. “When the time comes.”
Ru’kar let go of Az’s arm and allowed her to help him to the great bonfire in the center of the clan grounds. The whole clan was there, dancing and celebrating Ru’kars two hundred and forty-six summers. As the Shadowland had no need of food and drink, there was no food, and water was drank only sparingly.
The night grew late, and Ru’kar enjoyed his last night with his clan. They had helped him learn and grow as a hatchling, taught him the warrior ways as a youngling, respected his wisdom in ancient years, and now they eased his death with their thanks for his guidance.
Still, he was so tired. She should go now, before he grew too weary to leave. Heaving himself up, he left the fires glow and walke into the darkness.
Azonthus met him at the edge of their lands. Her small form was obscured by the black cape, which covered her completely. IN her hand was a single lantern, to guide his way.
Neither speaking nor touching, they continued on in absolute silence, their way lit by the candles flickering light and moons soft glow.
When they had nearly reached the Tyrannosaur feeding grounds Azonthus stopped. This was as far as she could go. She handed the lantern to Ru’kar and slipped the cape from her shoulders to his. Giving him a last hug, the leader returned to her clan.
Ru’kar wearily settled into a comfortable, mossy spot and watched for the dawn. The candle at his feet slowly burned out, giving way to the suns strong light.
Azonthus sat in her cave and watched the sunrise. The mark Ru’kar had painted burned into her skin. Still, the velociraptor was numb. No tears, no true sorrow. She rarely felt sadness. Perhaps, when Azonthus was gone and Skyfire reigned, she would feel more deeply and live more fully.