The strange new place where they found themselves after stepping through the glistening thing was completely alien. It was cold and hard, and too bright. Even the warrens were strange, and the oddly smooth rock beneath their feet felt uncomfortable. The group explored, alternately careless and terrified. One male got separated, and to his horror was captured by an unknown creature.
Another screamed, and the rest rushed to protect the one in danger.
Flight seemed the only option, and they took it before realizing they'd lost a member of the group. The sparkling light flickered out suddenly, leaving one other stranded. Now two had been left behind.
Terrified, the captured male had heard the scream of the other, and he cried out as well. But none came to save him. He was tossed and turned, moved by the creatures that'd caught him.
Then he heard the voice of another, stranded just as he was.
A light, and then a female was placed beside him.
I know you, he recognized her.
I know you, she reassured him, and they pressed together for comfort. The others are gone, she told him. The light has vanished.
We are alone.
We are together.
Then a strange thing enveloped them, not soil or leaves or anything familiar, that cut off the light and restricted their limbs. They struggled and squealed and fought, but could not break free, and in the end, they simply gave in, trembling with fear and exhaustion, reassured of the other's presence by quiet noises.
This new place was even stranger, again cold, but dimmer. They were trapped behind walls of frozen air, through which they could see, but not pass. He tested the walls continuously, scraping his claws, trying to dig them out.
Then several of the creatures appeared. He recognized the one that captured him, and she recognized the one that had held her. Their scents were distinct, and commingled. They made agitated noises at the other two. One of the others made them shiver – his posture said predator.
They will eat us she whimpered.
A fourth creature made more noises at the first two, then left, the predatory one going with it. The two that had captured them remained. They came close, and peered through the hard air at their prey.
They do not look like Big Killers, he mused. They do not look like Tree-Leaf-Eaters either. I do not know what they are.
Their captors made noises at them unlike any they'd heard before. The one with dark feathers on top made lilting noises; the one with light feathers had a softer, more lush sound. Still, the noises they made were soothing, soft, not threatening.
What are they doing she wondered.
He cocked his head to listen to the tone of the noises. I think they are offering comfort.
To us? But we are not their family group.
I think they are offering to add us to their family group. Yes, I'm sure. They chased off the other ones, the predatory one, with their noises, which were agitated then. They were defending us.
She was surprised by this. Their captors were not their kind, but they protected them and offered comfort.
The light-topped one reached a long limb down over the hard air. He could see now that the hard air did not cover them, that it stopped just above the height he could reach. The light-topped one's limb hovered over his head, and he cringed instinctively in fear. She shivered beside him, watching in terror that these creatures would suddenly strike, cause fear, pain, death. But the light-top's limb merely rested against his head. He froze at the contact, but remarkably, it did not harm him. And then, the limb moved, from his head down his back and he gasped in surprise.
Pain? she yelped beside him.
Comfort. Good he told her.
When the limb returned to his head, he dared to sniff it. Female, he realized. Recognizing the body language between his captors, he decided the other must be male. A bonded pair, of alphas.
The dark-topped male also reached a limb over the hard air, and rested it on her head. She shivered and cringed, still afraid, but she too realized the contact was good, gentle, comfort.
Soon they both relaxed, willing to try to trust that no harm would come. The dark-topped male went away, and came back with things he did not recognize. After some odd scraping, the hard air was moved away, and the light-topped female put a thing in front of him. He sniffed it warily, but it smelled good.
Don't she said, but he ignored her and ate.
GOOD he discovered. More food was offered, and eventually she ate too, good food unlike any they'd had before. Some was crispy and some soft, some had a familiar earthy taste, and others a sharp taste he liked very much.
They were so busy eating, they did not notice when the light-top female reached over them.
Pinch! she yelped suddenly, staggering and slumping.
Before he could react, he felt a pinch himself, and sleep overtook him without his control.
She woke in a tiny den of strange rock with barely enough room to turn about.
Alone! she wailed, terrified that the creatures who'd offered comfort had hurt him.
Not alone! he cried back from somewhere close.
Dark-top appeared at the mouth of the den, and she lunged forward only to be stopped by strange hard sticks that would not break. Dark-top made soothing noises at her in his lilting sound, urging her to something. Its attention turned away, and she heard more soothing noises made. He was in another den next to her, presumably also trapped by sticks.
Then Dark-top disappeared, and a sickening feeling of motion overcame her, as if the entire den had moved. In fact, she could see they were moving! Somehow, Dark-top was moving the den! It was moving her through some strange place, full of creatures like itself. One paused to peer into the den, another dark-top with very long feathers, who made admiring noises in a female sound. Then more movement, into a large echoing cave with a sickly unpleasant smell, like a tree-leaf-eater's carcass that decayed too long in the sun. There was a large rock there, and she saw Light-Top waiting.
Close? she whimpered.
Close he answered.
Somehow, their dens were put into the boulder. Dark-top and Light-top were in the boulder too. A strange roaring sound filled the air, and they both squealed in terror that a Big Killer had found them. The sickening motion feeling came again, and though they seemed to be surrounded by roaring Big Killers, instead of finding them a hiding place, Dark-top and Light-top seemed to be alright with the movement, which went on and on. They showed no fear, gave off no scent of it.
She shivered and shook inside the tiny den. She wanted contact, comfort. He tried to soothe her with only his voice, but the terror overwhelmed her.
Eventually the other roars faded, and only the one Big Killer seemed to pursue them. Then the motion stopped, and the roar disappeared.
Hiding place, he told her. They were relieved that Dark-top and Light-top had gotten them away from the Big Killer.
With a lurch, her den moved, and she yelped in terror. But then she heard Light-top's comforting noises, with his and Dark-top's sounds nearby.
They were carried into a warm place, and the motion finally stopped. A limb appeared and pulled the hard sticks away.
She cowered, uncertain of this new place. Then, remarkably, she heard a familiar sound. The chittering noise came from above. She would have to leave the den to see if she was right.
Come out he called to her. There is a SmallFlyer here.
She crept out, keeping her body low to the ground. He waited for her, and when he saw her, he pointed his nose upwards. She looked, and he was right – a SmallFlyer swooped overhead.
This place was different. She could not see sky, although the SmallFlyer could flit and turn in the giant cave. It was warm, warmer than any place in this strange world yet. She smelled many things around her – the Dark-top and the Light-top strongest of all, but also the SmallFlyer and other creatures, and strange scents like plants and food, and a sharp scent that urged her to cover it with her own. She investigated that first. It was a small area of gravel and sand that felt natural under her feet, but triggered an urge to void. He felt the same way. They marked, and Dark-top and Light-top made happy noises. They timidly started to investigate the new space.
He discovered that light came in from holes in the cave, and there were places where they could bask in the warm sun without having to leave the safety of the cave.
She found a large den at the back of the cave flooded with Light-top's scent. Dark-top and Light-top did not stop them from exploring, though Light-top did watch closely as she investigated the den, but she didn't try to claim a part of it – she recognized the alpha female when she saw one.
Soon, Dark-top and Light-top left them alone in the large cave.
Odd, they don't share that den back there, he commented. Dark-top's den is above.
Why is that? she wondered.
He thought about it for a while, and guessed, Better look-out position. Dark-top dens above, to keep watch. Light-top has the safest den in the back. It made perfect sense.
Dark-top is a good alpha she decided.
Dark-top and Light-top returned to the cave smelling of smoke and fire and hurt.
Blood! she squealed in shock and fear.
It is not his blood, it doesn't smell like Dark-top he reassured her.
Both their new alphas were subdued, unhappy. He went to Dark-top to press against him, tentatively offering family comfort. To his surprise, Dark-top gathered him close, pressing his face against his neck.
I will go to Light-top she said, following the alpha female into the food space. She carefully leaned against Light-top's leg, and Light-top reached down to caress her head.
SmallFlyer chattered from nearby. He could easily sense the change in the alphas too. Light-top took something to Dark-top on the soft ledge. The new family group gathered close together, with him draped over Dark-top, her on Light-top's legs, and SmallFlyer perched on the back of the soft ledge.
I do not know what has happened. Dark-top is leaking water from his eyes he told her.
Something bad she agreed, but neither could understand the noises their new alphas exchanged. The best they could do was to press close and be comforting.
Eventually, they learned that certain noises meant certain things. Their new alphas used a short growl-y sound for the SmallFlyer, who seemed the particular companion of Light-top. Dark-top bestowed special sounds on them too – a hiss ended with a thump for him, and a funny whine with a short hiss in the middle for her.
"Rex" meant the SmallFlyer.
"Sid" meant him.
"Nancy" meant her.
They understood that their alphas had noises for each other. A click and hum and small growl meant Dark-top, a bubbling noise meant Light-top.
The alphas had many more noises to use between each other, and he – Sid – despaired of ever learning to communicate with them properly, as a good family group should. It never seemed to bother Dark-top though. Every day, morning and night, Dark-top showered them with comfort and care, bringing them wonderful food, and cleaning the gravel space so they might mark anew. As the sun set, Dark-top would lift them onto the soft ledge, so they could all three press together, and Dark-top would stroke them and make nice, warm noises, strengthening their family group bond.
She – Nancy – liked that time the best. During the day, Dark-top and Light-top went away, presumably to find food. Left on their own, they explored and tried to communicate with SmallFlyer – Rex – whom they understood was also part of this strange new family group. They remembered the noises their alphas used for them, reminding one another to respond when they heard their particular noises. They never quite could think of their alphas by the noises they used for each other; Dark-top would always mean Dark-top-alpha-male for them, and Light-top would always be Light-top-alpha-female.
They were content. Their new alphas were good alphas, who never felt the need to prove their place at the top of the group by biting or scratching. Even when Sid dared challenge, knowing he'd never win but unable to resist, Dark-top met the challenge without viciousness, only tussling and tugging, always winning, but never punishing. Often, his challenges were followed by much comfort and assurance, as if Dark-top understood that he could not help himself, and did not mind.
We are very fortunate she commented once, after he had challenged the Alpha, been beaten, but not punished for his daring.
We are he agreed.
One bright day, their world came crashing down around them.
Light-top came back to the cave early and alone. That was unusual, and they wondered nervously if Dark-top was alright.
Then a new Light-top arrived. This one was male, and their Alpha greeted this new male with enthusiasm.
Oh no Sid moaned. Light-top has brought in a new male!
No, Nancy whimpered. Dark-top is our alpha!
Shortly afterwards, Dark-top arrived home. First there were unsure noises made towards the other male, and then noises between Dark-top and Light-top. They rushed to Dark-top, unwilling to give up their comforting strong Alpha male. He made soothing noises at them, but they could sense the nervousness and discomfort behind them. What was Light-top doing? The noises they'd shared had not been angry or vicious. Yet Dark-top vanished briefly into his den, coming back with a lumpy bundle. Then, to their amazement and horror, he urged them into their tiny moving dens!
Nancy squealed in dismay from her den. We are leaving the cave! Light-top is sending us away!
This is wrong, not good, not right Sid wailed. Why is Dark-top giving up so easily?
Light-top had destroyed the family group.
They remembered the cold place from when they first came. Dark-top tried to make a den for them all there, but he could not make it as warm as their family cave. Even spreading his scent around did not comfort them. Sid began to disobey. He discovered he could bite through the hard sticks of their tiny moving dens to escape, because Dark-top didn't let them wander the cold caves like they had at home.
Nancy cowered in her den, barely leaving it at all.
It seemed like Dark-top was losing control. His noises became shorter, stressed and unhappy, even when he tried to be comforting.
Then Sid scented Light-top nearby. He quickly bit through the newest hard sticks and went searching for their proper Alpha female. He searched out passages and tunnels, scenting and seeking. Cleverly, he let Dark-top see him, challenging the Alpha male to chase him. Finally, Sid found a place of plants and there was Light-top. He hid, waiting for Dark-top to come.
When the alpha male did arrive…. nothing. Their noises were not friendly, not comforting. They were not bonded anymore!
Sid slipped away, despondent. He hid in the narrower tunnels, where he knew Dark-top could not follow. He didn't want to communicate to Nancy that their wonderful alphas had fallen apart. He decided if he ever saw that male-light-top again, he'd bite.
Hot air began seeping through the tunnels, and he was drawn by the warmth. He heard a strange creature's snarls, and he slipped through the narrow tunnels until he could see it. Some strange monster destroyed Light-top's plant place. He remained hidden until it seemed the odd creature died. Then he poked his head out.
Dark-top spotted him and began making urgent noises. The alpha male came for him, but Sid squealed in fear, smelling a sickly scent. It smelled of danger, and Sid made lots of wailing noises, urging Dark-top to follow him into the tunnels, where it was safer. But unfortunately, Dark-top was too big.
Sid huddled in the tunnels, torn between returning to his alpha or fleeing. Then frigid air began to creep through the warrens. Sid shivered, still calling for his alpha. Eventually, he retreated.
What has happened? she asked him when he slipped back into their temporary cave. He crawled into her moving den with her, despite the tiny space, desperate for comfort.
Our family has fallen apart he whimpered. The alphas have broken their bond, and I fear… I fear Dark-top is in terrible danger and I could not help him.
She shuddered in horror and pressed close to him.
For a long time, the cold caves of this dim place grew even colder. They heard many noises outside, ones of fear and horror. Together they hid in her moving den, afraid of the changes that had come over their world.
Finally, they heard movement and muttering in the cave. Daringly, he peeked out, and with a squeak of relief saw it was Dark-top returned. They bounded towards their alpha male, submissive and begging for reassurance.
Dark-top seemed tired and worn. He moved slowly, as if his limbs ached. He smelled of cold and death and sour fear and sorrow. But he still settled with them on the hard cool ground and let them press against him, his limbs running caresses over their backs. He made many comforting noises to them despite his obvious hurts.
I hate this place she whimpered, trying to climb on top of Dark-top.
It is not safe, bad, cold, dangerous he agreed.
I want to go home, to Light-top and SmallFlyer. Why can't we go home? she asked.
I don't know he answered.
Eventually, Dark-top gently moved them away. He rose slowly, making hurting noises as he made warm drink. They sadly moved back to their tiny dens, and he closed them in with soothing noises.
Then, suddenly, the Predatory One appeared in their cave. They yelped and cowered, instinctively frightened. Even Dark-top seemed surprised, and he and Predatory One made noises at each other.
Predatory One left, and Dark-top moved very quickly. He gathered all his things into a lumpy bundle again, and made urgent noises at them. He retrieved his skins he'd put off before, and hastily finished his warm drink.
Then he lifted the lumpy bundle and reached for them.
Oh no, moving again!
Denning with the Predatory One frightened them. He made harsh, nasty noises a lot. Dark-top tried to comfort them, but they could not help their timidity in the face of Predatory One's viciousness. Eventually, Dark-top resorted to keeping them in one den, and guarding them vigilantly, after an attempt to make the place more home-like had led to a particularly noisy confrontation with the Predatory One. Fortunately, there were nights the Predatory One did not appear, and they could all three relax their guard a bit.
Dark-top took to cradling her often in his limbs. The moves and the upheavals and Predatory One's harsh noises made her live in terror. It took long times of close contact with her alpha before she could be convinced to sleep.
He constantly challenged the Predatory One, trying to dominate, to establish that Predatory One was not part of the group. Sometimes Dark-top stopped him, but often he did not.
He didn't like the changes in his Alpha. Dark-top became weaker, not as consistent or comforting. It seemed he took as much comfort from them as he gave them. The absence of Light-top hurt them all.
Then wonder of wonders, one morning when Predatory One was away, Light-top and SmallFlyer came. They squealed with joy to see them. SmallFlyer pounced and chattered, initiating play, as Dark-top and Light-top made tentative noises at one another.
Smell that she said.
Light-top is coming into season he agreed. Maybe she has realized that Dark-top is a better male than the other male-light-top.
They wished they could find out from SmallFlyer if Light-top had sent the other male away, but they still could not communicate with him effectively.
Just as it seemed that their alphas would at last re-bond, there came a familiar sound, the going-away signal. Dark-top and Light-top conferred nervously a moment, and then left together, leaving SmallFlyer with them in this place.
This is more normal she said, touching noses with SmallFlyer.
Yes, but I still want to be back in our big home place.
They became nervous when Dark-top didn't return that evening. All through the long night they waited. SmallFlyer stayed close, and for the first time, actually curled up against them for a while.
They heard the door open in the early hours of dawn, but to their dismay only the Predatory One appeared. They quickly retreated, but he followed them.
Fearing the worst, they froze together. But Predatory One only looked at them for a long moment. Then he went away briefly. When he came back, he had a bowl of food. He placed it on the floor in their cave, and then he pulled the movable wall closed, trapping them.
They are gone! she cried. Dark-top and Light-top are gone, dead, and now the Predatory One will eat us.
He rested his chin over her neck, nuzzling her to soothe her. He would not give us food if he were going to eat us. But we will not let him be our alpha either. Our alphas are Dark-top and Light-top, always he consoled her.
They shared the food with SmallFlyer and waited.
Another day and night passed. The Predatory One fed them again, but left the caves for most of the day. SmallFlyer could not fly in this place, it was not big enough, and they watched as he hopped from spot to spot in frustration, stretching his wings in agitation.
After the third day and night, he began to test the walls of the cave. They had given over much of their burrowing in this world, content to stay safely within the confines of the places sanctioned by their new alphas. But if they were alone now, they'd have to fend for themselves. Also, they thought they might get SmallFlyer to follow them, to a place where he might fly away to safety.
He'd begun a half-hearted attempt on the movable wall, when they heard someone come into the cave. Two someones.
Is it them? she asked.
Then the movable wall was flung open, and to their joy, Dark-top and Light-top were there.
They squealed in happiness. SmallFlyer launched himself at Light-top. Dark-top collapsed to the ground so they could clamber all over him, soothing and caressing them, reassuring them he was back, he was their alpha-male again.
Hurt they smelled on him. Things that smelled like home, that distant home they'd left behind on the other side of a glistening thing. Fear, exhaustion, relief they sensed, and they rubbed and pressed against him, nibbling his limbs and squeaking their happiness to have him back.
Then Light-top sat down to join in, leaning against Dark-top and caressing them both.
They realized with delight that their alphas had re-bonded.
One more move, and at last they were home, home in the big warm cave, with the familiar sights and sounds, their gravel and sand space and the alphas' dens. The scent of the interloping male was fading. Whatever had happened had injured Dark-top, and he spent pleasant days on the soft ledge, playing with them or just sharing comfort. Light-top brought them all food and warm drink for Dark-top. SmallFlyer swooped and dove, singing bright songs over them. All was right in their world again.
As the sun set one day, Light-top settled next to Dark-top, leaning into him. They watched from a spot together on the floor. Light-top made soft and gentle noises to Dark-top, who at first seemed surprised, but then he made soft noises back at her. Soon they were pressing themselves together, and their pheromones flooded the cave.
She sighed, made happy and relaxed by this proof of the strong renewed bond between their alphas. He agreed, their family group restored and safe again, at last. For all the many strange things that had happened to them since their original family group had left them behind, they were content with their lot now. Dark-top and Light-top moved into the alpha female's den to mate. Sid and Nancy happily exchanged squeaks, excited by the prospect of adding young to their family group.
AN: The 'pinch' moment would have been sedations Abby administered, so they could examine & maybe x-ray the diictodons without stressing them.