Under the Shadow of Giants

Splitting off and travelling further into the foreign swamp, the group of displaced people, and a camel, search for safe ground where there may be none.


The Cretaceous (Modern: May 4th, 2013)

"What? WHAT?"

The camel lopes through the swamplands, toes regularly sinking into muck, causing it to falter and jolt its living burden, only to regain balance within its legs of remarkable strength and carry on. Hailing from sandier territories, is not suited to this terrain, and one must wonder when it will succumb to the swamp — or to what may live in it.

The same is on the mind of the young woman who walks alongside, trying to keep an eye out for muddy pitfalls and dangers behind every bush and overgrown fern.

She keeps a hand clutched to the loose pant-leg of the man on the camel; his legs hang limp, scraping to and fro against Niel's ribs. He has a tight grip on his mount, but it seems precarious. He's slick with sweat, his eyes glazed. Iris's other hand holds the arm of the other young man who, though physically appearing more able, seems to need the consolation, in her mind. She doesn't want to lose sight of any of them. She keeps a worried eye on the old lady, too.

They all lope along at the best clip they can without running. Running blindly seems a poor idea; they don't know where they're going. How could they? High ground, clean water… neither are in sight. The only thing in sight is the swampland: pools of still water, vines and ferns and trees that look like giant horsetails.

The feeling of being watched is unmistakable.

The mismatched collection of displaced individuals are migrating away from the swampy pool they first became acquainted with and away from the screaming Amelia, Castus, and Gerard ran toward only minutes earlier.

Mostly, Niel dictates their itinerary.

"Foster," she speaks up, tension wavering her kind voice. "Have you ever travelled to a place like this? Do you know what we should be looking for? For safety. In a swamp? It's so gosh-darn muddy… it looks like it goes on forever."

The man's head sways, a nauseating bobbling as though his neck is little more than a stick propping up a ball. "W… where are we…?" If only any of them could answer that. Bleary, he struggles to focus. A fat fly buzzes past his sights, glinting green; he waves it off and nearly topples. It flits off to crawl on Niel's face. "Ain't no… swamps where I was, sugar…"

Visibly disappointed, the girl defers to her elders. "Ma'am…?"

"We do not use 'ain't', child. We use is not. Contractions are the elocution of the sloth." Harriet's eyebrows tweak upwards somewhat harshly, a movement that's more telling than any words she could utter. Does she look like someone who would know anything about swamps, water, or dense forest areas? If you have a question about manners, Ruggles will be there, but much else? Well, she knows enough to train young ladies to become polish women.

When her lips finally part, she observes, "I doubt any of us has been to this place before," no one enters purgatory before their time. And, to the best of her knowledge, no one has returned to tell the tale. But she's already shared her opinion, so she doesn't harp on it further. Not for now, anyways. "Does the mud continue into perpetuity then?"

A question that goes unanswered: none among them seem to know for sure.

"You just— you just seem real well-educated, ma'am." Iris tries to hide her newest wave of disappointment that the old lady's education doesn't extend into the great outdoors — wherever they are. She swallows down a gulp of the humid air and tries to dwell on the meaning of the words elocution and perpetuity, not bothering to ask the young man on foot the same question, simply tugging his arm a little when they have to follow Niel around a muddy patch. Succulent green horsetail weeds are up to his knees now, some taller, whisking along the women's dresses, tickling Foster's drooping feet. Up ahead is clustered a thatch of trees that look like giant, impossibly exact replicas of the same plants, scaly and green from root to branch.

"Let's wait— " Iris suggests, her confidence tenuous at best. The camel certainly doesn't listen to it, and she struggles a moment pulling at him. "Stop— h-hold?" What was it that Amelia said? "Let's wait— " He seems to get the drift and the young woman, full lips open, becomes slightly fragile and uncomfortable when so many eyes turn to her (including the dark, heavily lashed eye of the animal). Stopping when moving seems the wisest idea makes her all the more nervous, but she stands her ground.

"When I used to go play in the woods, sometimes I'd run so far in, I'd get turned around," she explains hopefully. "So I'd stop and close my eyes, and I'd listen. If I could hear the roar've the ocean, or the cows 'n' sheep off in the distance, then I'd know I was either close to the shore or by the Malloys' farm."

"Thank you," comes Harriet's crisp response. Clearly Iris is a person of character. An eyebrow arches at the notion of waiting, but she doesn't object. Not to any of it. She'd rather stay put then get lost. "Right. Well I suppose that mother nature was not so bright so as to allow travellers much pittance in the way of direction? Or in the way of landmarks."

She emits a sigh that comes out more as a scoff. "Surely listening here will not yield such results, will it child? Everything seems highly unfamiliar."

The young woman is determined, and she won't have Harriet take that away. She swallows hard instead of replying to her elder, feeling it both unwise and disrespectful to talk back.

So she simply closes her eyes. And listens.

Her friend upon the camel follows suit, although he could just as well be resting his addled head.

Harriet is right: everything is highly unfamiliar. The air is alive with foreign noise that may only be sussed out by logic: the steady buzz that of insects, the rustles that of branches from hiding animals above them, the chirps and titters becoming the background they've known since arriving in this strange, strange place. Even now, the occasional muffled shout the way they came drifts into all of their perceptions, shaking nerves.

Beyond the thrumming forest chorus, however, if the ear is stretched just enough through the swamplands, if it listens between the moments, it can hear the call of something more familiar.

It's a mere thread of sound, fragile and crystalline.

The comforting trickle of water.

"Water! I hear water!" Feeling the excitement of victory, Iris has to squeeze her eyes shut tighter to try to focus on the sound, to pick it out from the rest. "Up— " Ahead, she wants to say. Ahead, there may be a creek, a stream, something they can follow—

But the words crumble and fall right out of her throat into nothing.

The elusive trickle is trampled by a distant thud. It doesn't take Iris's intent listening to pick up this unfamiliar sound. It has the hushed, still quiet quality of faraway, yet it travels far to vibrate their eardrums. Moments after the thud, the soft earth under their feet trembles.


The steady buzz of insects.


The rustles of branches from hiding animals above them.


The chirps and titters.


The new trickle of water.


Is each one getting louder — closer — or are their ears simply fine-tuning?


Iris opens her eyes and barely moves.

The first thud prompts Harriet to pause. Despite herself, she practices the stillness exercised by Iris in turn. Not merely to hear, but to pay attention. It's not a point of navigation, it's a point of SURVIVAL. Her eyes squint involuntarily as she hones in just a little more, leaning towards those in their party subconsciously as she lays in wait.

Her chin drops, and Ruggles's lips purse as if having just sucked on something sour like a lemon. Now this is a sound to pay attention to. Even in purgatory beasts abound.

Her nimble albeit frail fingers work at the waist of her dress's skirt, quietly tugging at each of the stitches in turn while her eyes scan everything. Not for movement. No, whatever thuds requires little visual attention. Instead she looks for some attempt at shelter.

Harriet knows one thing for certain: she does not wish to encounter whatever beasts live in eternal purgatory.

Niel's ears flick back and forth as the camel's lips peel back, seeming to consider, if capable of such a feat. Firmly planted feet even on strange soil shift, abruptly displacing Travis several inches to the side as he scampers away from the creature with a swipe of his hand following to his dirtied pants. "What?" He hisses, coherent if only because he's out of tears — and now dry-throated thirsty. "WHAT?"

An unpleasant pause follows when no one can answer.

Only the distant thuds fill the space. While the noise seems to resonate from somewhere far to the left of them. Or is it ahead? Is it to the right? Has it moved? It's so broad, so big, it's hard to pinpoint.

"Come on," Iris murmurs. It feels too small, too insignificant and casual a thing to say and she doesn't want to be the one to say it — to corral this band of strangers further into the unknown. But she knows one thing: direction. Maybe it's not the right one, but it's all she has to cling to. "Let's keep m— moving, you know?" She tugs on Niel and reaches, seeking Travis (the latter will receive a harder pull than the former) and marches on, summoning up some inner well of strength to not tremble as she does so.

It barely matters. The earth — solid, somewhere, deep — trembles for her.

The feeling of being watched lingers on as they move.

It's overtaken by the feeling of being surrounded by something far bigger than they can comprehend, hiding beyond, shaking the earth with its presence.

"Faster," Iris decides, picking up the pace, barely avoiding tripping on the hem of her dress. "Ma'am! " she rallies. Run, run — they don't even know why they're running, do they? Are they running away from danger or into it? Does it matter? Regardless, Iris picks up purpose as she picks up momentum.

'Up ahead' is a thicket of narrow green trees, oversized plants; just enough room for three people and one upon a camel to enter single-file.

Never does the distant stomping cease, but bursting through the thicket provides the illusion of a safer world: a narrow, shallow stream runs through the humid forest that tries to eat it up with its larger-than-life fauna, trickling through like a weak superficial vein. Somehow, though little of the faraway sunlight reaches in here, pink flowers grow, their buds still partially closed from sleep, oblivious to the crushing sound that makes the humans run. They appear delicate; beautiful, wholly un-hellish.

Their hasty approach makes something scurry from the rare clear water, a rabbit-sized blur never to be seen again. A bevy of small three-toed footprints crisscross the soft, shiny mud that runs along the stream, as though a whole flock of birds have danced up and down it.

The stream continues on to their right, sneaking out of the tight thicket. The small window between green trunks ahead of them reveals a slightly more open zone.

"The lady Amelia said to find water!" Iris's triumph is uncertain. When the lady with the bowler hat said to find water or high ground or a cave, there wasn't a walking earthquake on the way.

Harriet heeds the directions given, even though, she, much like Iris, trips on the hem of her dress at least once. The mud that weighs her down is nearly unbearable, and upon stopping, with a resigned sigh, she gives the seam a sharp tug, causing the first layer of fabric enfolding her to fall away. There are many more underneath, but it doesn't stop the hair on Harriet's neck from standing on edge. She will never get used to anything improper. Including the exposure of her first petticoat.

The older woman's lips purse together, and Iris is issued a nod. Yes. They found water. Yet there's something nearly grim about the expression on her face. "Water does not seem particularly useful if we are not there to drink it," she states the obvious. The thicket, however, is regarded a little more merrily. "Do you suppose there is any way inside that?" She takes a step towards it and, with narrowing eyes, scrutinizes the layers of foliage.

As Niel stoops his long neck to smack thick lips at the green foliage nearby, after a testing sniff, Travis edges a step back, nervous fingers kneading against a bulging pocket. "Yeah," he sputters with false encouragement, "And didn't she also say to make sure it wasn't occupied first?"

Still. It rattles less in the head than the disturbing rumble of thunder underfoot.

And as the old bat leads his eye to the graciously deep appearance of the thicket, almost a cave in its own right maybe, a manic questioning relief springs to Travis' glued gaze. Nerves firing, he darts forward, heedlessly elbowing women out of the way to muscle his muddy frame straight into the packed greenery.

Beyond the curtain, a grove spreads out in front of them, a few sparser trees bent elastically by the young man's entry into the realm within a realm.

It may take a second to realize that it is not a grove, exactly, but a corridor cut through the trees.

It stretches far and wide out in front of them and turns to their right, through the thicket, carrying on. It almost looks like something man-made, trees on either side — the width of a big house, certainly — tall and straight while the ground is made up of flattened trunks and crushed foliage trampled into green plant matter.

Where trees do not cover the earth, right in front of Travis's step, it sinks in, forming a round depression the circumference of the furthest stretch of the arms he might need if he does not want to topple into it. Groundwater oozes up in a muddy stew; a giant puddle.

There's another, further on, turning the corner. Another, staggered near that… they seem to go on and on, these odd depressions in the earth.

One, two. One, two.

Thud, thud, in the distance. Thud, thud getting louder.

Harriet may have clucked her tongue, but it's a quiet sound underneath the hustle and bustle of the group and the Thudding that continues to get louder. "Do not just— " but Travis is already off towards the seemingly manmade grove. She winces and lifts her chin to peek at the world above. With a huffy exhale of breath, her disapproval is palpable. Her lips part to ask a question, but she thinks better of it and twists around to face Iris, but her thoughts are kept to herself, save one, "Perhaps we should consider some cover of our own." It's not a question.

Thud, thud. One, two. Thud, thud. One, two.

Under what mud's still caked to a wary face, Travis' eyes widen with distant wonder as he halts then staggers forward then halts again, uncertain of his choices after first charging headlong into the thicket. Thunder steps reverberate in his addled brain as he stares at the partner mud-puddles too similar to a child's game to seem anything but surreal: one, two; jumping in the mud on the way home.

Oh— home.

"Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh god…" he moans softly, licking his lips and instantly regretting it. A hand swipes up against his lips, under his nose — he's snotted, but he continues on to rub the corner of his thumb into an eye and then progresses forward, around the transformed mud with arms braced out on either side. He trades between watching where he's going and glaring into the patterned, dark water as if expecting anything at all, really, to leap out and attach itself readily to his face.

Iris, tentatively leaving Foster and Niel, practically tiptoes toward the curtain of trees. Beside Harriet, she peeks through.

The sky reflects murkier in the puddles, turning them to an oily violet. Their first true glimpse of the sky above is cloudless, a dawn that's not yet reached its potential. 

The water trembles.

With a chomping of lips, and left to his own devices, the patient statue of Niel begins to move, heaving with a soft murmur and spit backwards — back, back; one foot sliding behind the other, slow and steady.

And then it happens.

The beast that tackles Travis's legs could easily take most people out at the knees. Caked in mud, it's barely recognizable, yet its silence may be equally unsettling.

Until it chooses to growl. "Grrrrrr," it's a child-growl for the beast itself isn't a beast at all.

Beneath the layers of caked on mud, two dark eyes peek up at Travis with wonder before uttering, "Shhhhhhhhh," and clawing at him to get down closer to the mud. "You're just being a silly-puss," comes the distinctly child-voice. "Get in the mud, get dirty, and nuttin' will see you. It's camel-flache." The child nods incredulously.

Harriet, all the while, has her attention drawn to the skyline, peeking out as far as she can to catch something anything. That is, until the child-attack. And then the child comment, which causes her to narrow her eyes. Harriet Ruggles will not roll around in the mud like a pig.

"/Arrrr/ggh!" wails the young boy instantly upon being mauled; mud cakes onto mud, as he didn't start this venture out very clean. From wind-milling towards the nearest tall branch to either scramble up or use to bash this foul creature, he recovers a modicum of sanity at hearing the voice — it filters through slowly, but finally, and Travis shouts hoarsely, "It's called camouflage, you stupid! Geh'off me! Oh my God!"

An actual camel, Niel expresses no outward desire to close in on this madness and attracting noise; he continues to modestly back up, Foster aboard.

“Oh my lord…” Iris says in soft surprise, her eyes much bigger than her voice; she’s awed by looking at the small child. Such a tiny new person in such a big, unknown world. After a cautious look over her shoulder, her nerves rising as she sees the camel stepping away, the young woman — not far from childhood, herself — pushes through into the open space, blinking owlishly up at the sky; the tallness of some of the older trees is striking when she can see their tops, all the way up there, reaching wistfully for the dawn.


“Hi there, sweetheart— “ She starts to crouch, reaching her hands out. “What’s your name?” And how did you get here? How did any of them get here? Tipping her head up, Iris seeks out first Travis and, with a twist over her shoulder, Harriet. “I think maybe we should— … “

Thudthud… it’s more than that now; it’s a slow and steady storm of overlapping stomps and the slush of watery earth and the cracks of branches and rustles of trees. Something isn’t just coming. It’s here.

It’s around a corner they couldn’t see from their vantage point, a twist far down the corridor of trees straight ahead. Travis, Iris, and the newest addition to their ragtag crew have the clearest eyes on it.

It may be a sight they will remember for the rest of their lives. No creature — none, that came before, in any of their years, has been so large. It starts above the tallest treetops, long and slender, rising as a sea monster might out of green foam, breaching the skyline. It’s many feet away from them, yet it still lords its massive nature from on high. Gently swaying, the dark shape roves; a thin tree falls into the open as more of the long neck, and more, and more, and more emerge from the cover; yes, it must be a neck; there, the — relatively — smaller club of a head. The length is followed by utterly gargantuan, trunk-like legs and a downward-sloped body. It turns slowly in their direction, back legs and a whip-like tail lashing into the dim new daylight.

It steps like an elephant on a grand scale, sinking into the earth and dragging out again from the sucking mud, roundish feet leaving roundish puddles perfectly scaled to those in front of the people. It must be thirty, forty feet tall, the impossible creature that walks toward them, filling up half the natural corridor made, undoubtedly, by its own kind. Its steps are slow, but demolish much distance due to the sheer scale of its monster gait.

Prehistory walks, alive and well.

"I ain't stupid!" declares the curly haired girl, punctuated by her pink tongue protruding from her lips. "Ooh. A camel. Careful," she holds out a finger to Travis, "they spit. Once I heards of one that ran into the cage of the zoo and left a big dent…"

A squeal, all too pleased, cute, and self-assured emits from Avery's lips at the giant beast. "So pretty— " she declares as she stares up at the giant beast. Her lips twist into a toothy grin before acknowledging Iris, attention finally drifting from the dinosaur. "I want to ride it— " she points towards the large beasty. "— it's tall so it 'kin eat all of the taaaallest trees. Like a giraffe, but better. We learned all 'bout 'em at school. Miss Pritchard told us all about them. Mummy might let me keep him— " And then finally, she remembers. "I'm Avery. You can remember it by this: I am A Very cute little girl." She beams.

Harriet takes a small step back. "Dear lord," she stares at the giant beast and literally gasps. "Goodness me, what has become of this world?!" A glance is given to the little girl. "Come child, get out of the mud and tidy oneself off. Surely you do not wish to be permanently covered in filth." Ruggles glances at Iris and arches her eyebrows expectantly, looking for some sense of agreement.

Clearly, everyone else has lost their marbles, because speech is not a thing that should come naturally in this moment. To put them in their place, the frozen half-mud-covered statue of Travis loosens his lips to abruptly scream. With clambering, numb fingers, he pedals backwards, reaching into his pocket and yanking out— by strange coincidence— a whistle that looks exactly like the one Amelia tossed to Iris. In attempting to shove it in his mouth, he ends up flubbing the move and the wooden instrument goes, end over end, with a plop into the mud puddle beside Avery's. Travis ends up puffing air straight out through his lips in a very keen imitation of the camel.

Niel, for his part, picks even quicker steps backwards at all the noise, swinging his head to the right, before taking up a quite hearty trot in that direction.

Iris is with Travis; as reactions go, hers is a parallel, shocked quiet. Words fly around her, young and old, but her attention has turned straight up to the sky and the giant who seems to touch it. As she remains crouched, feeling even smaller in the presence of the animal, her own words try to form but find only a dry tongue.

It’s the faint crack of a branch, or maybe the snap of mud between Niel’s toes, that throws her attention back the way she came, catching a glimpse of the retreating camel — taking Foster with him. “I th— “ she manages, hoarse and discombobulated. “I think— “ Iris doesn’t finish her thought before reaching out in an attempt to heft the muddy little girl into her arms, A Very cute little girl ringing distantly around in her head. She takes a step behind her, stumbling into saplings in a dazed attempt to go back.

The stomping has not ceased, nor does it belong solely to the tall beast. Another breaks through the distant trees to add its massive presence to the grand scale animal trail behind the first.

This one is at least thirty feet taller.

It crushes the smaller footprints.

It’s followed by another, another, another … a seemingly endless supply of gently swinging necks tall as buildings and large stomping feet. A herd. Moving toward them. The smallest is nearly on them, its thick, mud-brown skin a pattern of dry wrinkles. They can hear its massive, yet somehow smallest, joints crack and pop, see its muscles working to propel it determinedly along, step after step.

As much as the lost group of people are concerned with the animals, however, the approaching creature doesn’t seem to notice Harriet, Travis, Iris or Avery at all.

Avery freezes now, her lips parting at the sheer size of the beasts, making her easy for Iris to grasp. She doesn't struggle against the motion or complain. Her arms grasp around Iris's neck, clasping tightly as she stares up at the beasts overhead. She is pliable in every way, but she currently stares in wonder rather than fear.

The moving herd draws prompts old ladies into action. Harriet waves towards the crew, snapping once to call each and every one to sharp attention. "Move!" she goads, simply as her gaze ticks from the herd to the thicket and back again. With a simple tick of her head, the faintest nod, she snaps into that direction— towards the known, back from whence they came. Her paces, turn to a very unladylike run (which she will probably lament either), "Let us move," she states a little louder.

Precisely what Niel has been strategically doing this entire time: moving; he's made it out of the herd's general path and swung his own long — but not quite so impressive — neck back towards the direction they came from with a determined stride easily familiar with the trek. Trouble seems to tell him to go about finding his adventuring mistress.

Slipping a foot into the mud, Travis nearly falls, but manages to grab his leg with both hands and yank himself out seconds before a crash reverberates from a foot behind him. "What about meeee!" he wails after Iris and her starry-eyed burden, flashing the girl an accusatory look because, in all this chaos, he can only cling to the tiniest sense of familiarity. Free of the mud, he books it after the others, cursing mildly whenever a branch or fern smacks him low on the chin in his haste.

Moans and groans drift high above them, reverberating through the long necks as the creatures communicate back and forth; it’s a gentle sound, despite their monstrous size, and it captures Iris from the sidelines. She’s frozen in awe as well as fear until Ruggles and Travis and the feel of tiny arms around her neck draw her hurriedly back to the moment and her own thought: I think… she finds herself nodding as she pedals her heels backwards through mud and forest debris, which has also begun to rain down upon them from a series of necks and tails bumping the tops of trees. She reaches a hand out half-blindly for Travis as she runs to catch up, keeping Avery with one solid arm. “How old are you!” she says without thinking to the young man; yet, without thinking, she also seeks to guide him no matter that his age is much older than the child, her care instinctive.

As they collectively stumble and run from a harm’s way that just seems to keep expanding, the herd marches past behind them. They keen gradually, taking a turn that sets them on a parallel path with the stream.

Placing the humans away from the triumphantly discovered water source, set to follow their camel companion back. Foster has come to his senses, what senses he has; he twists about. “Are we… are we goin’ backwards— Iris, where’s the hospital…“

Iris gives her unexpected travel partner a pained look; she can’t answer him. “Well whatta we do now!” she exclaims, a sign of cracking under pressure as she tries to catch up, holding Avery snug so as not to bounce the girl too hard. “What… what were those… we can’t go all the way back, can we—we gotta find somewhere safe. Somewhere to hide out.” Yet without a direction, with her thoughts stomped by giant creatures, following Niel is exactly what she does, and so she will keep following, step after step until another opportunity presents itself.

All Avery does is cling during this ordeal. It's pretty much all she can do as her wide eyes stare up at each of the beasts in wonder. They are beautiful to her. Stunningly beautiful. And, like in class, they inspire a young girl's imagination. When the beasts move in a different direction, she whispers, "Dinosaurs." It's an answer to Iris's question, but at the same time all of nothing. "We need a small space," she whispers, almost afraid that if she makes too much noise, the dinos will follow.

Now officially caked in mud, dirt, and grime, and weighed down by each of these things, Harriet tugs at the overskirt of her dress, ripping the seam of the garment and allowing herself to step out of its weight. It's not like she doesn't have her petticoat underneath. Besides, it'll be easier without all of these layers of fabric. She treads after Iris now, choosing to fall back rather than stay in front, particularly as the animal may know more of where they're going than the rest of the crew. "Surely we must follow the instructions given us. Find shelter. Reporting back, at this moment is out of the question."

So they go, seeking shelter and safety upon the advice of a small child, a matriarch, and a camel.

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