Northern Hell Creek, 65 million years ago. Beside a pond, two badger sized false otters play, rolling with each other, squealing in their antics. Contrary to popular belief, mammals appeared in diverse forms during the Mesozoic. The false otters roll into the pond, and their beige and slender bodies shoot through the water as they chase each other. They use their long tails to steer. The relatively short face of this mammal houses powerful jaws to crack mollusks. For now however these two siblings enjoy each other’s company, swimming through the tangles of pond weeds their game leads them back to the surface.
The pursuer chases his playmate out of the water and into a burrow. The abandoned burrow is small, and it does not take long before the chase ends and the wrestling resumes. Both mammals batter each other with playful paws, rolling around inside their newfound shelter. Suddenly, both false otters stop, having been interrupted. Their sensitive ears pick up heavy footfalls. The creatures that make the tremors are here, and both otters know it. This burrow is inadequate. It is too shallow. The footfalls become louder as they get closer. The safest place for them will be the pond. They both dart for the exit as the ground rumbles. Then, an enormous foot plunges through the thin crust into the chamber. As the dirt gives way, the collapsing burrow pins both furballs. Momentarily, they stare into a face full of horns. The massive head then raises high above them as the tremor-inducing beast opens its menacing beak to let out a loud bark of surprise. A ceratopsian, a thornbear, has literally stumbled on the false otters. They waste no time scrambling to their paws and making for the water.
Thornbears are common throughout the Cretaceous. However, the Gladiator thornbear, native to Hell Creek, is the only known species to be territorial. The three horns and frill are used by grown males to fight for patches of land. This young male, Blaze, watches the small mammals scamper away. He shakes his head in confusion. He had simply taken a walk by the pond. Blaze has no idea why the dirt had inexplicably turned into those small animals. Despite the strange experience, it will be soon out of his mind and replaced with thoughts of feeding. As his beak plucks branches from a bush, a grunt to his side lets him know his mother is around. He turns to face her. That is when another thornbear appears by her side. Blaze’s father stands taller and walks prouder than his mother. While she has a light brown body carpeted in yellow rosettes, her mate has a dark brown body, yellow rosettes, and a dark red frill. He chops branches with a great black beak, keeping his eye on his mate. Blaze looks similar to his father, being almost fully matured. Although he could leave the nest any day now, he still stays in the lands of his father.
Blaze ambles to the female, taking an odd interest in his own mother. Very close to independence, Blaze has begun to feel the urge to mate. He brushes close to the female. He rumbles from his throat, as if to induce a mating response. He must be careful. His father will only tolerate him in his territory for so long. Young and brash, Blaze knows no caution. His tongue comes out, gently touching the back leg of his mother. She does not respond, but his father does. His nostrils flare, and he growls before charging into Blaze. The force of the blow takes him off his front feet. He stumbles away, confused and shocked by the sudden rage from his own father. The grown bull thornbear attends to the female, who simply browses, unaware of what has just happened. Blaze has limited time. If he continues showing off his newfound hormones, he will lose his father’s protection. His father takes another look at his insubordinate son. Giving his head a violent shake, he bellows at him.