Saskatchewan Province, Canada
The Judith River Formation
65 million years ago
A cold wind whipped down from the snowcapped mountains that loomed over Judith River. The sudden gust caught the feathery Atrociraptor locals by surprise- their winter down had all but molted away, leaving them only with a thin coat of spotted, earthy summer fluff that offered no protection from the chill.
The whole pack took notice. The wind hadn’t come on its own- it carried the scent of mega-herbivores. Namely, Blunt’s herd of ornery Triceratops, and their duck-billed Edmontosaur companions.
To their surprise, Blunt’s rank stench wasn’t present amidst the potpourri of stenches produced by his herd. His had always been the strongest. The Atrociraptors managed to discern, by scent alone, how close the massive, beaked temper tantrums were, ballparked it and skeedaddled once they realized that it didn’t matter- any distance was too close when Triceratops were on the move.
In fact, they were still quite close. Their huge, meaty hooves slammed into the ground, their stubby elephant toes nearly stiff with cold. It had taken them over a week to find their way out of the whipping winds of the frozen mountain peaks, and as they arrived, their numbed extremities woke back up with pins and needles. Worse yet, they’d worked up an appetite. No being that valued its life would have been crazy enough to block their paths, lest they become an ingredient in the world’s first shish kebabs.
The prehistoric bulldozers plowed forward with little regard for anything else, led by the herd’s new matriarch, Edith, whose horns were the reason why Blunt had been… shall we say, let go.
It was the first time the herd had felt any emotion remotely close to “overjoyed” in a long time. The frozen cliffs were behind them, thanks in no small part to a mix of Edith’s superior tracking and the keen snoots of their Edmontosaur traveling companions. Let’s hear it for the buddy system!
They found themselves in a genuine Canadian shield- a pristine boreal forest grown over solid shale terra firma that may have been old as life itself. The massive conifers wrapped around a glistening lake that shimmered like diamonds in the afternoon sun. Healthy green patches of ferns covered the forest floor, taunting their growling stomachs as they lumbered towards them. Their beaks hung open and they salivated like St. Bernards.
Blunt would have driven them through the woods without stopping until they got back to Hell Creek, but nowadays, the only show he was running was the frozen foods section back in the peaks. Edith, on the other hoof, had this thing called a soul, and was in no hurry to return. Herds marched on their stomachs, and the herd was in desperate need of a rest stop.
There was so much greenery. Never once had Blunt given them a chance to stop and enjoy it. Their parrotlike beaks chopped through the ferns like hedge clippers. Mothers regurgitated plant matter for their cubs before tending to themselves. Edith looked upon them with pride in her eyes. Her friends. Her babies. All safe. No more strife.
The warm, solid shale under her toes warmed them from the bitter cold. She uprooted a beakful of fern and shrub and gazed at the sky as she chewed. A flock of migrating pterosaurs soared overhead, their broad, majestic wings fluttering slightly to maintain altitude. She could see their cheese-wedge shaped stork bills sticking out from their long, skinny necks. They were probably ahzdarchids, heading north to Alaska to catch the salmon run.
She sighed and lied down on the solid rock heating pad under her, warmed from the afternoon sun. Trike cubs and fledgling Edmontosaurs gallivanted and splashed about the lake with each other, now thick as thieves after their ordeal in the mountains. The scent of local carnivores (Atrociraptors, northern Troodon, and a Saskatchewanian breed of T. rex) was mixed with a scent of fear, or uncertainty. They were there, hiding in the forests and keeping their heads low- still thrown by the triceratops’ late arrival and their refusal to leave.
Forget the migration. After three decades of being pushed ahead by their mutually despised dictator, Edith had an unshakable urge to stick around and relax. Hell Creek wasn’t going anywhere.
Evidently, killing Blunt and ending his reign wasn’t enough for Edith. Ever the revolutionary, she had just invented vacations.
But as they basked in the sun on their well-deserved hiatus, things began to unravel in Hell Creek. The Triceratops couldn’t possibly understand just how pivotal a cog they were in the ecological machine back home. For in their absence, it wasn’t long before the carnivores realized that there were no horns or shields to keep them away from the weaker prey species that they had salivated over for years.
The name Hell Creek was soon to become much more literal.