[17:40] It had been a few hours since Asraaban and Evenatra had left Shyilun's Damakei shard behind. A wind ruffled through their feathers, tugging at Asraaban's tool chain, the chime of the individual trinkets almost lost to the voice of the wind itself. It was one thing to inhabit the high, snowy slopes of a mountain – another to cross over it to reach the opposite side of the mountain range. There were rocks that reached up at impractical angles, forming a wall like a fortress that a footpath of frosty debris only perilously led around. Evenatra had taken care in guiding them through the desolation in such a way as to avoid those slivers of paths through the landscape that threatened to become dead ends.
She half pressed herself into, half consciously slipped through what appeared to be a furrow cut through the rock, revealing itself to be a narrow canyon wide enough to accommodate them. The wind, not quite admitted to these narrows, grudgingly let them pass, protesting softly at the entrance.
[17:41] Yet beyond this ridge, the stretch of desert was likely a greater barrier to both of them than anything this close to the kavkem native biome.
It wasn't the first reckless and useless plan Evenatra stubbornly embraced. It might take them days to get to the landing site, assuming a landing was what they had seen, further assuming they could find it. Someone else would beat them to it – at best the Tarnish kavkema (if they had not pegged the fragment of light a threat, which was as likely as any other interpretation), at worst integrated Nayabaru under Teranyina's guidance. Perhaps someone had even already greeted the aliens. And regardless the status quo, she reasoned Teranyina would be interested, if only because it was predictable that Evenatra would be.
It was dangerous to go and it was unlikely to yield rewards – but it was even more dangerous to sit back and ignore the situation. 'Call your sapients back' was not an instruction she thought she could give Jeneth even if they had parted on good terms.
Asraaban understood the situation, albeit through a mortal lens. The workings of the gods confused him, inasmuch as he considered them gods – he could identify her as Yrargyra, Jeneth as Thumak, knew that there were differences between the Taaravahr mythologies and the reality they inhabited, but had been a friend to her for most of his life so far. Friendship was not usually something anyone expected between deities and mortals. There was a pragmatism to the whole relationship, as though there was nothing else Asraaban could have possibly offered but friendship that would have made any sense, but it was a friendship nonetheless.
[17:42] She paused mid-canyon, glancing back at him, pressing her flank against the rocks. "Have you ever been this way?" she asked. She surely had been, but it was unlikely it had looked this way back then. There were few coordinates on Nekenalos she had never been within throwing distance of in the last 65 million years, but that was a long time.
[17:59] He tilted his head in negation. "No. I've crossed these mountains but never near this area." There wasn't much of interest here, only wind and ice and a track to a desert. Which he was not looking forward to crossing. The same feathers keeping them alive now would punish them later. And alive was all his were this far up and into the chill. At least it was somewhat better in this sheltered cut through the stone.
[18:21] She ran the answer through her mind, fitting it into the framework she had of the world. A Shyilungadech could by their nature be more or less mobile than the average autonomous kavkem – less if their strength lay in design and creation, more if their strength lay in reflexes, perception or endurance. Asraaban was too flexible to firmly count as either, suggesting 'I've crossed these mountains' to be at least some form of achievement worth noting. She closed her eyes and lowered her muzzle in plain sight, forming a gesture of due respect and appreciation. As she straightened herself back out, creeping forward, careful not to let her tail smack against Asraaban, she commented: "Depending on how the vessel fell, I suspect we may cross into the memetic territory of Nitish Ynas. Is that a cosmology you have some cultural familiarity with, or would you like a primer?"
[11:42@bnc] He wracked his brains for an answer, knowing that ignorance was not a failing but feeling as if it were none the less. "Very little other than rumours," he answered at last. "They think Nayabaru are kiikam?" Which was a strange view to take, but depending on how one suffered at their hands one he could in some ways understand. Although from what little Evenatra had shared, Thumak cared for the Nayabaru exactly as much as he did the kavkema: namely, not at all.
[19:45] The wind snapped at Evenatra as the short niche amongst the rocks came to a frayed end, briefly making her close her eyes and think twice about whether to raise her voice to speak here. Instead, she guided Asraaban a few more metres, until the claws of the jagged peak gave way to an unadulterated view of the next leg of their journey.
Ahead of them stretched a landscape visibly different from the one they had left behind. They had crossed a ridge that visually seemed to fall away into a cliff, only reluctantly changing its angle of approach to the rest of the landscape what appeared to be far below them. It was far from impossible to clamber down to the bottom – with Evenatra's help, they could be secured all the way – but there were better approaches to take.
[19:46] Beyond the drop was a sliver of vegetation, huddled against the modest foot of the mountain, snaking outward in emaciated strands that lost themselves amongst a dustier stretch, contrast muted in the darkness of night. From this distance, it already looked barren, spattered with tiny stains, but they both knew there were shrublands down there, stretching on until the horizon finally drew up a divider to Silukaaj.
The wind fell down the slope as though in a preemptive chase, enough to be unmistakably present, fortunately not quite enough to be any sort of danger. It occasionally loudly mumbled disconnected syllables at them, but kept mostly to itself.
[19:47] "Kivav and taath are central to Nitish Ynas," Evenatra explained, even as she tucked herself in beside a fragile-looking, wind-whipped boulder. The starlight caught a hint of iridescence as her arm feathers subtly began to flow outward and stiffen. Her tail, previously stretched out behind her, gradually allowed itself to be absorbed.
The process would take her an hour to complete, but if she designed herself correctly and with care, her wings might save them days of travel time, allowing her and Asraaban to glide to the horizon twice over. It would need testing, of course. If she made an error and relied on broken wings, it would only dash both her and her passanger against the rocks – and while Evenatra would recoalesce, Asraaban had no such assurance of survival.
In the meanwhile, they could talk. "Daylight is a greater bane to them than to us – they believe it corrupts the soul. A diurnal civilisation like the Nayabaru is thus necessarily corrupt, potentially to no fault of their own," she explained. "The faith is very distant to Taaravahr; I have no reason to believe I could convince them of my identity, alas. If we are to engage with them for any reason, I will need to approach them in a kavkem form — and I will stay in that form unless fate forces our hand. And we must absolutely stay out of the light. It is a habit we would be best advised to start practising from this point forward."
[20:10] Asraaban peered dubiously down the sheer face. He trusted Evenatra. He trusted her with his life and, more importantly to a Shyilungadech, with his death. Even so, he hoped she had a better path down to the plains. It seemed there was knowledge to share first.
"Does that mean we need to be well clear of the plains before we risk encountering them?" he asked, eying the distance once more. Even if they waited at the mountain's foot until dusk to begin their crossing that was a long trip to make by dawn.
[21:15] "It means we should always seek daytime shelter, or a shadowed path to walk," Evenatra explained. "Even the desert has shade – and where it does not, often the opportunity to make it. The open plains won't be a permanent concern. While you cannot see the next mountain ridge from here, it is there, ahead of us. There are no kavkema in the desert itself that I know of – not the last times that I crossed either of them. If we can allow ourselves the luxury, if our resources allow, we should skip any oases we encounter along the way, should we be forced at any point to cross on foot. But I hope to spare us the choice altogether." Said, she raised her left arm, fanning out the feathers, their edges subtly advancing like growing crystals.
[10:16@bnc] True, there could be risk at an oasis. A risk of encountering kavkem under poor circimstances – although if they feared the touch of daylight, they would likely avoid the desert themselves – and a greater risk of encountering Nayabaru. And then his thoughts were distracted by Evenatra's gesture and her arms.
A bird was his first thought. He knew Evenatra could shift her form greatly. Perhaps she meant to fly on ahead? But she had said 'us' and there was no bird large enough to assist another, and the feathers of a bird were still kin to those of a kavkem. Those of her arms seemed... off. "A pterosaur?" Asraaban guessed.
[16:44] "It will take less rearrangement to be a bird," she explained. "There should be enough of me to form wings that ought to be fit to carry us both in some form. We can glide a long way from here, should gliding be our only option. I hope your patience permits it – it will take a while to form, and we should test the construction." That wording did not quite sound like she was referring to herself, oddly distant, as though she were talking about a promising experiment with a substance she owned, not a substance she was. "In the end, it is your life we must trust to it, so I would rather expend some time ensuring its proper function. Should it work, it may easily shave days off of our travel time."
[17:50] Oh. He was right the first time. Wait. There still wasn't a large enough bird to carry them both. Or to carry just him, if gliding on ones own wings counted differently. "A short wait now will save us much more time later," the answered before sucumbing to the tempation. "I've never seen a bird of the size you will be. Is it extinct?"
[18:03] A gentle curiosity infected her body language, still clearly recognisable as it was. She seemed to consider his question for a moment – perhaps a bit too long, as if he'd asked it in a foreign language but she knew it to be asked in good faith. Finally, the realisation struck her, and she explained softly: "I am not trying to resemble any specific bird you have seen before – I could not. They are too small both to be practical for our purpose and for me to even attain the size of."
[18:14@bnc] Asraaban swayed slightly in embarassment. Ah. That should also have occurred to him, given that she could resemble the sort of kavkem found only in myth and legend. And why not? Evenatra was a legend herself to the many outside the Shards she had joined.
So. They were to cross the desert as a giant impossible bird carrying a kavkem. Should this expedition end in success, what would future ryrhakenem tell of this journey? He was sure it would be interesting. "Is there anything else I should know of or do while you are busy?"
[13:19] "Come rest beside me – should my heartbeat change too much, you may well be able to notice before I do, depending on where my concentration lies," she encouraged, shifting to offer a comfortable spot amongst the scattered rocks, scratching the sharpest offenders away with the claws of a hindpaw. "If you don't mind, I'll tell you about the Tarnish kavkema I personally knew while you wait; though I expect quite a few of the details that will uncover to have changed in recent decades, at the very least owed to the altered skies." After all, in the best case, the new sun was a mere curiosity to the Tarnish kavkema, functionally the same as the old – but in the worst, it had uprooted one of the fundamentals of their entire cosmology.
[14:01] Carefully picking his way over the uneven ground Asraaban settled beside Evenatra and let one paw rest gently against her where he could feel her heartbeat, and turned to her to listen.
[14:44] As he settled down, a motion touched Evenatra's shoulder and ran up her arm – a moment later, it came to rest across Asraaban's shoulders, tucking him under the wing in a parental gesture. Her teeth nipped at his plume, carefully tugging a few larger feathers of his out from their loose entrapment under the edge of arm. At least if they were going to wait up here near the highest peak, she could share her warmth. This close, he could almost hear her joints and bones physically shift, tendons rearrange – an eerie background, but not enough to dispel his sense of familiarity.
And then, she told him stories. In the early days of Nitish Ynas, before it had its name and when it was still considerably closer to Taaravahr, adherents had viewed the light as an instrument of Thumak's that could potentially corrupt a kavkem – a variant of the faith that in some very literal sense inspired to close one's eyes to the world, although that was clearly rarely practical, and not practised in that form. It was a wariness first, but the idea that light should ideally not be allowed to enter the body – and eyes were an obvious first contender as a gateway – was a compelling narrative. When the superstition combined with the perfectly rational observation that it was best to hide away during the day as to be less visible, light became a corrupting force even through other avenues.
[14:45] The saddest tale in her repertoire was set only a scant few decades prior and involved a sleep walker whom she knew only indirectly. He had sifted through the southern reaches of Asheenagiji in search for corporeal deities that he barely had any hope were real. Continually putting himself out of the shadows during his slumbers, only a travel companion's diligent efforts prevented the worst of it – but ultimately, driven by raw desperation, he had taken his own life out of fear of causing others harm. She had met only the travel companion, herself.
All the while she told her stories, she became more bird than kavkem. Toward the end, there were longer pauses between her sentences, and the pitch and tone of her voice shifted subtly – she was rearranging those parts of herself that let her speak, retaining them in a body plan not fully laid out for speech. Her proportions had skewed, the wing draped across him large enough to register as that of a parent, the rest of her body stout, misshapen, and small enough to be a hatchling just before it cast of the last of its bland coat in favour of adult markings.
[14:46] When she stirred, she seemed like a dangerously intelligent wild beast, triggering associations with real birds of prey that could be a danger to young kavkema. Of course, whisking him into the air was precisely the plan, so the subtle unease was perhaps unavoidable.
[18:12@bnc] The way the beliefs of the Nitish Ynas had shifted over the years as the stories were passed on was interesting and faintly disturbing. For if their culture and mythology could thusly drift, what prevented Taaravahr? Evenatra was the obvious answer, keeper of the oldest of lore as she was, keeping them all connected in their common cause, but that was such a frail lifeline to depend upon.
She could not always be here. She could never be everywhere.
To witness the changes she was undergoing even now was... faintly disturbing. Exotic kavkem adornments were expected from a goddess. Watching her became a (rather slight) Nayabaru was confronting the first time but it was a guise of unparalleled value. This... to spin a new creature from the ether? Asraaban's instincts could not decide if the wing sheltering him was comforting or terrifying, a parent or a predator.
[00:45] Her muzzle, now narrowed like a beak and of similar hardness, nipped at Asraaban's plumage as though to sort it once more; then she shifted under subtle sounds of settling joints, the weight of her wing across him and its touch against him lightening. Her maw opened as if to yawn or shriek, though neither sound emerged. Her eyes, still recognisably dark, settled their attention on him. A request, her voice at once both foreign and familiar: "Would you inspect my wings? Explore them as you please, be it with your eyes or your hands; tell me if you trust their composition. If not, we can still change it – and if you do, we should test their capacity to carry you along a safe, short route."
[19:52] Playing with one's food was a common trait of all chicks and birds' wings were fascinating. Asraaban felt he knew what the structure of one should look like. But it was rather different doing so on these scales, with these pressures.
Still, he twisted and hooked one paw around the limb above him to gently extend it and counted the rows of pinions. It looked well formed to him? It was his life he was trusting to them, but this... this was not any area he had expected to trust his life to. "I can't see any flaw," the kavkem offered several minutes later. "...I've never flown before, I would hope you could better judge wings than I," he added in joking tones.
[14:48] "Then we test them," Evenatra remarked, her alien, narrow head bobbing as if to denote certainty. The entire creature that she had become shifted, the wind beyond the shielding boulder flowing around her left wing in tortured ribbons, threatening shadows and the chill taking rapid turns in nipping at Asraaban's perceptions. The tips of her wings set down against the stones and her weight shifted onto one taloned foot, the other cautiously reaching for Asraaban, articulate like a misplaced forepaw.
One digit wrapped itself against his left shoulder, the others coming to rest against his ribcage. Then the wings began to beat, bringing a wind of their own, and an instant later, she leapt, nudging him forward. For a gut-wrenching moment, his instincts insisted all the gesture was for was to push him to his death – then her right foot snatched at his chest in a mirror image of her left leg and whisked him forward and off the edge, into the air.
The world lurched, nearly touching him to the face of the rocks; it felt like gravity had torn them into a tumble, but the motion never completed, instead twisting to the side to follow the mountain's profile. His instincts expected a ground that wasn't there – and if he dared to look down, he would have found it slanted sharply perhaps three metres below.
[16:23] He was not afraid when Evenatra planted a foot on his shoulder as he crouched on the stone. Surely she would go for a test flight first, and he was content being used as a springboard. Her weight and the pressure of her wings bent him forwards and a lance of fear shot through him. The edge was closer than he'd truly paid attention to and his gut was convinced a singly slip would send him plunging to his doom.
Perhaps Evenatra was aware because a second set of claws wrapped about his chest and his face was approaching the ground and that would hurt but not injure anything but his pride. It was then reality reminded Asraaban his leader had become a *bird* and just what the great birds of prey did to innocent young hatchlings.
He had feathers, there were some that thought kavkem had once had flying ancestors, surely he should have some instincts that knew how to be off the ground and were comfortable with this and would stop screaming. He wanted to go down and also did NOT WANT TO GO DOWN because down meant returning to the ground at high velocity.
[16:55] There were no instincts for flight anywhere to be found, apparently. The lack of purchase under his paws registered as awkward, unlikely. If he wasn't in contact with the ground and wasn't a hatchling being attacked by a predator, his gut tentatively suggested that maybe he had eaten something that was screwing with his perception.
[16:56] After a few seconds of guided half-glide, half-fall, the ground rushed up toward to him like an old friend, the slant more infront of him than the side – and just before impact, a few of his feathers glancing against the rocks as the momentum cradled him, Evenatra banked to catch them. Again, they lurched, gravity eager to welcome them both, and the large bird struggled against its pull. With what was transparently meant as caution but was rendered a little more roughly by circumstance, he found himself abruptly pressed against the rocks, held there by the flapping not-quite-predator as to find purchase.
They were maybe twenty metres below where they had started... and quite a bit across. Apparently travel had been mostly horizontal. A success, presumably, though his hammering heart disagreed.
[17:33] Part of him marvelled that he wasn't screaming. But if he could handle torture resistance training he could handle terror. Possibly. That, or his brain was still trying to process what was happening.
Also now the ground was concerningly close again. What was he supposed to do? Start running in the air in preparation? How did large birds land? He had never paid much attention and that now seemed a critical failure.
Instead Asraaban found himself pressed to the mountainside and dug his claws into the rock for extra purchase. The last thing they needed was for him to slip and send them both sliding down sideways.
[18:45] As his purchase steadied, the beating of Evenatra's wings slowed. Then, her muzzle ajar in a silent pant, she nuzzled against his neck briefly, preening some of his feathers as if on instinct of her own. Silently, she raised her head, glancing left and right, then inspected the territory more carefully, shifting to grasp at the rock herself, a bit unsteady in her motions, not quite accustomed to the way her weight spread itself. Careful not to loosen rocks, she climbed a little higher up the slope, making space for Asraaban to move. Then she twisted her head back to look at him. "I need to adjust the grip strength of my talons," she said. "But it would seem I can carry you safely. Are you hurt?"
[17:42] There was an awakening part of his instincts upset he was scrambling towards the scary avian predator instead of fleeing. That fleeing would involve jumping off the mountain without the assistance of wings of his own mattered little to the section of his brain convinced he was about to be eaten.
Was he hurt? Running fingers through the feathers of his chest caused no sharp pangs and revealed no blood. That was the best he could do right now, with the spike of adrenaline covering any aches from bruises. "Perhaps my pride, but no true harm," Asraaban answered.
[23:55] The open maw presented a toothless apologetic smile – a disconcerting sight, but thankfully her facial features were still entirely recognisable, whether by conscious design on her part or by happy accident. "And yet, sometimes, our pride is our most valuable commodity," she mused, peering at him encouragingly. "Though if you must measure your actions, be sure to remember that it was you who had the courage to come with me, Asraaban. Don't doubt your strength." Said, she clambered a bit higher, the wind rustling her feathers, until the slope became forgiving enough for her to settle into a crouch and rest her claws.
[13:58] "I've trusted my life to you many times before, I have no fear of doing so again," Asraaban responded with a smile as he followed her to a better perch. His hammering heart disagreed with his words. Vehemantly. "Well, my mind does not fear doing so," the kavkem corrected."My instincts are screaming that I will be eaten like a tender hatchling, so we are going to ignore them and do this anyway. When shall we depart?"
[14:11] "I need to make some adjustment to these talons," she reiterated, flexing one disproportioned foot as if to indicate the problem – it was invisible to Asraaban's eyes. "Otherwise I will not be able to hold you for the full glide down." Her neck feathers puffed out in a comical semblance of a kavkem mane. Gently, she butted her muzzle against his shoulder, then nuzzled the same. "I am glad for your mind's opinion, more so for your companionship on this journey," she commented. "It's better if I don't take it on my own."
It seemed such a peculiar thing for her to say – surely his presence was at least slightly more hindrance than help, as evidenced by the current situation? It was valuable to have a second pair of eyes that could and would glance behind you, certainly, but it was at least equally valuable to traverse the distance quickly.
[14:20] He could spy no flaw but she was the expert; if Evenatra said her talons needed adjusting then her talons needed adjusting. He certainly did not wish to be dropped from great height because a tendon gave way. Nor for any other reason. Should they encounter Nayabaru there were better forms of engagement than a terminal velocity sickle-claw to the head.
"You have my assistance in what is needed," Asraaban repeated, biting back questions on how he could help. "Even if I do appear to be slowing you down at present."
[14:50] "Remember, if all goes well, we may well encounter aliens, Asraaban," Evenatra remarked. "Your insights on those creatures are more valuable to me than the minutes it takes to rearrange these talons— ah, there we go." Her claws wriggled, a motion no doubt meant to be casual but coming across as almost threatening to Asraaban's confused instincts. Those same instincts were quieter now than before, although no doubt because he wasn't being whisked up into the air. Perhaps his adrenaline would return full force shortly. Evenatra grasped one of her ankles with the other foot, testing the feel and strength of the grip. Any changes she had made were too subtle to see, but she seemed convinced: "This will function nicely."
[16:06] He wasn't sure how to feel about potential aliens, really. Surely they could not be as bad as the Nayabaru. And if they were they would seek to hunt the more numerous Nayabaru first. But if they had the skill to fly across the heavens then their skills were closer to that of gods (even if the actual gods were doubtful) and may well feel they had the skill to stand against both. The kavkem were already dying; they could not afford more enemies.
Still, Asraaban could understand the value of a different perspective. Evenatra had told the Shard before that her thoughts oft ran in centuries or longer and that was why she worked with those who lived a single lifetime. And if the Nitish Ynas had been lost to superstition and would reject her presence, she would have to bring the different perspective with her.
If he was going to be snatched into the sky once more, he could at least be facing in the correct direction. That seemed marginally less terrifying than hurtling backwards through the air. Pivotting to turn his tail to Evenatra he looked back over his shoulder. "How would you like me?"
[16:16] "Any posture that allows me to grip your torso with these talons," she commented. "The ideal grip strikes me as part arm and shoulder, part chest. I can't grab your chest with both feet, lest we run risk of restricting your ability to breathe freely. Do you agree?" The way she described it made it sound as though it would be much like the test run – aside from having caught him off guard, how had that been, even? Could he picture himself being held onto like that for however long it took their glide off the ridge to hit the ground? No doubt it would be difficult to adjust the circumstances once they were in the air – at least without undue risk.
[15:30] "Of course." What other options were there? He could walk and delay them so greatly that it would ruin everything, or he could trust her to carry him in the way she saw best. Not that he could think of any other method that would work. Perhaps if they had sufficient time they could rig up a ridiculous harness with a carrying handle but then they would have to test the safety of that too. And while fanciful tales had a fledgling riding on the back of a giant flying creature, Asraaban knew that would interfere with her wingbeats.
Really, the only other option was for her to seize him by his ankles and he fancied flying through the air upside down as much as the thought of flying backwards. Chest and shoulders it was. "You wouldn't drag me all the way across a mountain only to drop me," the kavkem joked in an attempt to lighten the mood, crouching and spreading his arms in preparation.
[15:58] The large wings flared and rose threateningly, at least as far as Asraabar's instincts were concerned. "Then we fly," she announced in a resolute tone, her shoulders and head dipping as though to facilitate an ambush. A gust of wind played across the passive, flowing primaries of her right wing for a moment, letting them flutter as curt banners – then she half ran, half leapt forward. One set of claws first rolled off Asraaban's hip, then an instant later clasped itself against the side of his ribcage like half of a giant's fist; the other came down against his left shoulder. Then the instant fell away like the ground torn out from under his limbs, gravity lurching through his gut anew. In only a second, the mountain revealed its impossibly slanted stone face, visible almost in full in their wake, spattered with hardy foliage between cracks, far too rapidly making way for the vast drop down to the arid stretch. It took long moments for Asraaban's sense of direction to recover from the visual shock of the increasing emptiness around him, before it gradually dawned on his primal senses that he was falling through the air horizontally, not vertically.
[16:11] No amount of bracing was enough to stop the sharp hiss of breath as he was snatched up by those claws and they went careening forward. But he was not screaming. He chose to take this as a victory. The paw of his right hand wrapped itself over the much larger claws gripping his side as the ground lurched and his brain scrambled for long seconds to adjust to this very fast and terrifying new perspective.
They were flying. Gliding. Controlled falling. He was wrapped in the talons of one of the creators of the world as she stole the guise of an impossible bird to send them racing across the desert hunting aliens. A laugh bubbled out of Asraaban. How many ryrhakenema would believe this?
[16:44] The world around him was all wind now, running tender fingers through his feather coat. He hung in the quasi-mythological bird's grip as in a strange, asymmetrical harness, himself not streamlined for the ride but providing no hindrance to its progression, the creature holding him cutting through the air as if it had been born to do so. And yet, he had seen this creature take on its shape in the past hour and change. There was no denying the reality of it, the tangible impossibility made possible; as the duration of their journey lapsed with certainty past that of their test flight and any notion of aborting their glide evaporated, all that was left was that truth.
The tentative arms of vegetation began to take form below, turning from ill-defined rivers of faded and silvered greens into impressions of individual bushes, only just barely defined enough to his senses to promise that it harboured a whole ecosystem. Whatever lived there took care not to stir beneath them, with the only visible wildlife a handful lean ornithopods clustered into a grazing, wandering herd, and two small pterosaurs crossing diagonally below them, unperturbed by a creature that did not match their understanding of predators.