The Seven Hunters

Chapter 9 Escape from the Valley

“Whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you.” ― Richard Adams, Watership Down

I never thought that I would ever see this day, Littlefoot thought, This is like something out of a bad sleep story.

Once the gang had finally decided that it was time to leave the valley, the next logical question was how they were going to leave it. There were several entrances into the valley which would have served as possible escape routes.

There was the Hidden Canyon and its stinky fruits that repelled sharpteeth, which led towards the north. This would have eventually led to Hanging Rock and, presumably, Ruby's parents, but it had several disadvantages. For one, it would be an unbearable journey with their new sniffers. When Chomper had entered the Canyon with the other members of the gang two seasons ago, it had given him a pounding headache and nausea after just a few seconds. How were they supposed to travel for several hours in this stinky place? Secondly, it was not the easiest path towards Hanging Rock, as several rivers blocked the path after the canyon is escaped. Altogether this was an unacceptable option.

There was also the northwestern path into the valley, which involved going into a small cave that was hidden from the Mysterious Beyond by a waterfall. It was probably due to this entrance's small size and hidden location that sharpteeth never discovered it. This entrance had the notable disadvantage that it led in the wrong direction. They would have to take several subsequent alternative paths in order to arrive at Hanging Rock. This would constitute several days of detours. Obviously, this path was not a good option either.

The gang finally decided to go through the north pass, which lead out of the valley. This path would also eventually lead towards Hanging Rock, but it had the advantage of avoiding the rivers. It was the best path to their desired destination.

Now they were walking from the Secret Caverns towards the north pass. The night was only about half-way over and darkness still permeated throughout the valley. The only illumination was from the reflection of the night circle. The journey was not quite as problematic as their initial walk to the Secret Caverns, as they had gotten more used to walking in their new bodies, but the trek was still slow going. They just hoped that they would not wake any of the residents of the valley; otherwise they would have to learn how to run fast on very short notice.

So now we have to leave. Even if we make it to Hanging Rock, what then? What if they don't know where the rainbowfaces are? Littlefoot thought to himself, How are we supposed to find Chomper's parents? Would they even want to help us?

As the seven sharpteeth continued their journey, Littlefoot decided to ask one of the questions that had been on his mind.

"So um... Chomper?" Littlefoot inquired.

Chomper looked at Littlefoot with an inquisitive expression. "Yes, Littlefoot?"

"Where were your parents going anyway?" He asked, "They left you with Ruby, but did they tell you where they went?"

Chomper shook his head. "No, I don't know where they are. After we left the island, my parents took me straight to Hanging Rock," he began, "They thought that I would be less of a target if I was sent with Ruby for awhile." Chomper bit his lip. "Red Claw had fought my parents a few times, so they were worried for my safety." He looked up at Littlefoot's surprised expression. "Two big sharpteeth are a threat and could be challenged, but a child might be missed."

"Then why does Red Claw not ignore us?" Littlefoot asked.

Chomper licked his lip nervously. "Well... Um..." he started again, "He roared at my daddy during one of his challenges that he hated the valley and anyone who allied with them. He demanded that my parents join him and help to kill those who had killed his son." Chomper pondered for a moment. "My daddy mocked him and said that his son was killed by a bunch of leaf-eater babies." Chomper looked up. "He was mad that my parents did not join with him and he vowed revenge." He shook his head. "Thankfully he did not have Screech and Thud at the time, so my parents were able to fight him off."

Chomper then finished his statement. "I guess that is why he is so focused on the valley. He blames the valley for the death of his son."

The former leaf-eaters stopped in their tracks. Everyone looked back at Chomper. Only Ruby was left confused by the sudden change in the demeanor of the gang.

Littlefoot spoke hesitantly, "You said that leaf-eater children killed Red Claw's son?"

Chomper nodded. "That is what my daddy said. It seems like a silly story though. How could a bunch of kids take down a large sharptooth?"

Chomper then shook his head. "I am sure that the story was exaggerated like most hunting stories are." He said that last bit with a sardonic smile, but he quickly gave an apologetic nod when he realized he had just mentioned hunting to the gang.

Littlefoot ignored the hunting story statement and considered how to phrase his next question.

"Did the stories say what kinds of children killed his son?" Littlefoot asked.

Chomper laughed. "No, Littlefoot. I am sure that it is an exaggerated story. Red Claw's son was even more feared than Red Claw in the Mysterious Beyond. What good could children have done?"

Littlefoot then looked at Cera and the others. Knowing nods were given, as Chomper and Ruby looked upon the group with confusion.

Ruby then spoke up. "What is it everyone?" She was perplexed by their change in demeanor. We are leaving the valley and may never see it again. Why are they so focused on a silly children's story?

Littlefoot sighed. "I never would have guessed that we are the reason Red Claw hates the valley." He looked at Chomper with an unreadable expression. "Are we responsible for all of this?"

Chomper was stunned. "That was you guys?" He looked at the others and noted that Cera and Littlefoot were nodding. "Wow. How did you guys do that?"

Cera then spoke to Chomper. "We can tell the story later." She looked up at Littlefoot, who had a contemplative expression on his face. "Red Claw is a monster, Littlefoot. Even if he has a special hatred for us, and the valley..." she trailed off.

Spike then joined in with Cera's point. "He would still be dangerous even if we hadn't killed his son."

Littlefoot swallowed hard and responded, "Yeah... I guess that you are right." He then sighed. "I guess that we need to keep going. We can't change the past."

The gang then continued their journey to the north pass.

......

The gang had traveled for another half hour. They had a few close calls during that time. The most severe of these came when they passed by the sleeping area of some domeheads, which they had failed to smell because of the wind blowing in the opposite direction of their path. Thankfully, they were able to avoid disaster when Petrie told them of the threat just before they encountered them. When the gang considered the full ramifications of what would have happened if they hadn't been alerted, they concluded that Petrie should continue to scout ahead.

Accordingly, the gang had stopped for a moment in order to wait for Petrie's observations. Despite the darkness of the night, his aerial view was invaluable in keeping the gang away from trouble.

Petrie landed beside Littlefoot and gave his report.

"Me fly to pass," Petrie began, "Only swimmers and spiketails ahead."

"Okay, guys. We are almost there," Littlefoot said, "We just have to get past them without getting caught."

"Yeah," Cera said sarcastically, "Then all we have to worry about is Red Claw."

Littlefoot gave her a pointed look. "One thing at a time, Cera. One thing at a time," he said in a joyless voice.

The seven went over a small hill in the valley and could see what Petrie had observed earlier. Ducky's family was sleeping beside a small stream, whereas the small group of spiketails were gathered in a clearing some distance away.

We should be able to get past Ducky's family just fine, Littlefoot thought, But those spiketails might be a problem.

Meanwhile the view of her family evoked strong emotions in Ducky.

Mommy? Will I ever get the chance to talk to you again? Ducky teared up at the thought. The reality of her situation was now confronting her again.

Spike, likewise, was having a difficult time of it. When they were advancing through the valley he could put aside his emotions and focus on the task at hand. But now, he had no choice but to confront the dark reality that lay in front of them.

"Goodbye, Mom," Spike spoke softly into the night.

Ducky looked back at Spike and gave him a quick hug. They both knew that this would probably be the last time that they saw her or their siblings.

The others stopped while Cera walked back towards the mournful duo.

"Maybe this isn't goodbye? Ruby's parents might know something about the stone." Cera could not see Ruby look down in doubt when she made that statement. Cera then finished, "We can't lose hope."

Littlefoot then spoke, more to assure himself than the others. "Yeah. We have gotten out of tough spots before, haven't we?"

Ducky gently nodded her head and began to dry her tears.

The seven then began their final leg of the journey to the pass.

......

Ura was helpless in watching the scene before her.

Ducky ran to the boulders blocking the opening that had spiketail prints and yelled as loud as she could. Hoping beyond all hope that she could get some indication that her beloved brother was safe and well. After several moments, however, she realized that she would get no response.

"Ducky can you hear me?" Ura spoke in a futile attempt to reach her daughter.

Ducky gave no indication that she heard her mother and instead she began to bellow at the other blocked openings.

"Ducky!" Ura tried again.

She tried to touch her daughter in order to get her attention, but her forelimb simply passed through her as if she were a ghost.

"What... What is going on?" Ura questioned in her confusion.

Suddenly the situation changed for the worse.

Crack!

Ducky turned to see what had made that sound to find that the boulders that had been blocking the paths had suddenly moved out of the way. A sharptooth flyer and four fastbiters were now in their place as well as a familiar sight...

"Ch... Chomper? Thank goodness you are okay!" Ducky said to the young sharptooth.

Chomper did not respond, instead he made a few unintelligible gestures with his forelimbs to the other sharpteeth and they began to follow close behind him. He had a grim expression on his face and his eyes had the gleam of focused determination. He soon took on a stalking motion, with his head focused forward and his small forelimbs at the ready for an imminent attack. What had happened? Was this the same sharptooth that she considered a friend?

"Oh no! Run Ducky! Run!" Ura yelled helplessly.

Ducky ran through the remaining opening and noticed that she was running through someone else's footprints... A swimmer's footprints! Perhaps she could get the swimmer's attention and get some help?

Ducky ran as hard as her legs would carry her. Exhaustion, fatigue, and the painfully sore legs that she gained when running from the fastbiter being ignored through force of will alone. She had to find the other swimmer. She had to get help for her friends.

The swimmer's footprints became clearer and clearer as she advanced through the cave. 'Almost there', Ducky thought. She saw a light up ahead, indicating a chamber with an opening to the outside. Ducky yelled as loud as she could, hoping to get the attention of the stranger. But as she barreled into chamber she caught sight of a scene that made her blood run cold.

Blood. Blood was everywhere.

A rather young swimmer lay on the floor of the cave. Her throat was ripped from ear to ear. Her face permanently contorted with a visage of unspeakable pain. Eyes glazed over and seeing nothing. The swimmer had met a violent and sudden end. There was something familiar about this swimmer, but she couldn't quite figure out what it was.

"Ducky!" Ura exclaimed.

She had just seen a mother's worst nightmare, the loss of a child. But how could Ducky's corpse be there when Ducky was right here looking at it?

Ura turned back to where Ducky was previously and gawked at what she saw. A light green fastbiter with a teal crest was looking over the corpse with a horrified expression.

Ura awoke with a gasp.

Ducky! her mind screamed, although no sound left her mouth. She then began to look around her. The lush valley was blanketed in darkness, while the gentle sound of the stream greeted her ears. It was just a dream. she thought with some relief.

She gently raised herself up in an attempt to not wake her children. She did not have bad sleep stories that often, and tonight's offering was one of the weirdest she had ever had. The last time that she had a dream that horrifying was back when she had feared Ducky was lost after the great earthshake. The return of Ducky, and the arrival of her adopted brother Spike, had put such soul-crushing visions out of her mind. Well, at least until now.

She looked at her beautiful children. She supposed that it was in her nature to be protective of her children, and Ducky had by far given her the most frights. It was only natural that she would have worries about what could be from time to time. Speaking of Ducky...

She looked over at where Ducky and Spike usually slept and noticed...

"They're gone!" Ura exclaimed.

The other siblings began to shift in their sleep at their mother's sudden exclamation. All of them were accounted for, but there was no sign of either the young hadrosaur or her stegosaurus sibling. Where could they have gone?

Ura took a deep breath and calmed herself. Ducky and Spike had been known to go on adventures from time to time, despite her warnings to the contrary. Perhaps they had simply decided to do the same on this night? If so, where could they be off to?

"The stone," she remarked to herself. They probably got tired of hearing us adults argue over it and decided to check it out for themselves, she concluded, Those two will be in some serious trouble when I find them!

She then rose from her resting place, taking a quick glance back at her children. It is warm tonight so they won't notice if I am gone for awhile, she assured herself.

She then looked more closely at the sleeping area. There were a number of odd footprints leading away from the area. They had the pattern of a two-footer, like a swimmer, but they were not quite right. There was far too much of an impression to the front of the footprint, as opposed to the shuffling pattern that swimmers would normally make.

Hmmm... She contemplated this observation and decided to follow the footprints. Perhaps the children went this way on their way to the stone?

......

"Oh no!" Cera hissed, "She's awake!"

Littlefoot sprung into action. "Quick behind the bushes! We can't let her find us!"

The others began to huddle behind the bushes in the hope that they would not be discovered.

......

She followed the trail for some distance.

The sound of the stream had lessened to a distant hum, in much the same way as a distant rainstorm would only be noticeable to one who paid careful attention. The water plants and occasional tree of the nesting area had given way to the tall grass and plentiful bushes that existed between the swimmers and the threehorns. In any other place but the sanctuary of the valley, it would have been an eerie sight, with many possible areas for sharpteeth to hide and ambush their prey. It spoke to the power of her instincts that Ura still felt some agitation walking through such an area despite the safety of the valley.

The footprints continued in the distance, but then she noticed something interesting.

More footprints?

There was a collection of several footprints, but these were heading in the opposite direction. These are heading towards the nest, she observed. She then took a closer look at these prints, ignoring the original two pairs of footprints for a moment. They continue for some distance away from her, she noted, but do they do the same in the direction they're heading?

She turned back in the direction of her nest and looked at where the footprints appeared to be heading. They kept going for some distance, but then they turned into some of the bushes in the distance. She took a closer look at the bushes and noticed a flash of light green between some of the branches.

I have found you, Ducky!

Ura advanced towards the bush at a brisk pace in order to confront her disobedient children.

......

"Oh no! She found us!" Chomper hissed silently.

"We have to get out of here!" Littlefoot confirmed, "Run towards the north pass!"

"But we can barely walk, Li..." Spike began before being interrupted by Littlefoot.

"We have to go!" Littlefoot exclaimed.

The seven sharpteeth then ran as fast as they could on their uncertain legs.

......

Ura was dumbstruck as she saw an entire pack of juvenile sharpteeth escape from the bush she was advancing towards. She was about to shout an alert to the other residents of the alley when she saw something that made her see red.

Chomper.

"How could you, Chomper?! We trusted you!" Ura screamed in rage.

"It isn't what it look..." Chomper began despite Littlefoot's hissed order to run.

"Don't try to argue out of this! You let sharpteeth into the valley!" she raged.

Before Chomper could say anything more Ura rushed in the direction of her nest in order to protect her remaining children, shouting an alarm call as loud as she was able. Chomper knew it was over at this point. He would have to escape with his friends or else be killed by the adults. There was no talking his way out of this.

Chomper began to run in the same direction as the other members of the gang. He hoped that they had one more lucky escape left in them.

......

Caw! Caw! Caw!

Mr. Threehorn awoke with a start.

"That is an alarm call!" he affirmed.

He then looked at Tria. She appeared just as confused and surprised as he was. He immediately took a look at Tricia and noted with relief that she was safe and sound. He would just leave her with Tria and Cera while he went to investigate...

Wait.

Cera is missing! his panicked mind exclaimed.

Roar!

He gave the alarm call of the threehorns in the loudest voice that he could muster. He had to find out what was going on in order to save Cera. Ura would not give an alarm call in the middle of the night unless it was serious. He just hoped that Cera was alright.

"Tria, stay with Tricia!" he ordered.

"But, Cera..." Tria voiced with some concern.

"I will find her. But you need to protect Tricia now," he affirmed before running off in the direction of the alarm call.

As he ran in the direction of the swimmer nests, he heard loud footsteps which echoed across the valley.

"What is going on?!" It was Grandpa Longneck, with Grandma Longneck following close behind. "Littlefoot is gone!"

Mr. Threehorn had figured as much. "I have no idea! Cera is gone too!"

The two then ran as fast as they could in the direction of Ura's panicked calls.

......

Littlefoot could see the rest of the gang running hurriedly in front of him. Ruby and Cera had been charged at by a few spiketails when Littlefoot decided to intervene. A loud roar and a mock charge later and the spiketails were no longer chasing his friends, but were chasing Littlefoot instead.

I am glad my distraction worked... he reflected. He could then hear the stomping of the raging spiketail get louder and louder. ...Although I might pay the price!

Littlefoot leapt to his right in order to avoid the tail slap of the attacking spiketail. Dirt and dislodged plants flew in all directions covering Littlefoot's immediate surroundings in a cascade of destruction.

This isn't going well.

He bounded off in the direction in which he leapt, hoping to get some distance between him and the raging spiketail.

"You made a mistake coming here, sharptooth! I won't let you harm my herd!" the spiketail leader shouted.

Littlefoot couldn't understand any of the spiketail's pronouncements. All that he knew was that he had a hostile spiketail who was rapidly gaining on him. It was during his panicked run that he heard the flapping of wings and a howl of pain from the spiketail.

"Damned flyer! My eyes!" the spiketail bellowed.

Littlefoot did not look back but instead counted his blessings and continued to run. He did not care if he was going in the wrong direction. He had to get away from the spiketails. Fighting with them meant certain death.

Littlefoot then heard the sound of flapping wings again.

"Me distract spiketail, but me see no way to north pass. Spiketails block it," Petrie reported.

Littlefoot was gasping for air at this point but nodded in gratitude at Petrie. He probably just saved my life. he reflected.

"Tell the others..." He swallowed. He was still running, not wasting any time for pleasantries. He could barely keep his breath after the amount of running that he had just had to do. "Tell them... waterfall," he muttered breathlessly.

Petrie flew off without comment. What more was there to say? The northwest pass out of the valley was their only hope at this point.

......

Mr. Threehorn and the longnecks were joined by several other residents in their sprint to the alarm call. The adults ran into the clearing of the swimmers. They were surprised to see that the young swimmers had all advanced into the stream, with Ura taking a defensive posture at the shore.

A swimmer is safest in the water, Grandma Longneck reflected.

They could also hear the sounds of agitation from a distance away. The sounds of pounding feet and shouting from the direction of the spiketail herd were echoing across the entire north side of the valley.

"What is going on?! Mr. Threehorn questioned.

"Fastbiters are in the valley!" Ura affirmed in a horrified voice, "Chomper was with them."

"What!?" Grandpa Longneck exclaimed while Grandma Longneck and many of the others let out surprised gasps.

"Ahhh!!!" Mr. Threehorn screamed in frustration and rage, "I told you that we couldn't trust him!"

"Littlefoot. Oh poor Littlefoot!" Grandma Longneck muttered in her despair. Her lamentation was joined by much agitation and panicked muttering among the assembled group.

"We have to stop them!" Grandpa Longneck affirmed, but then he attempted to reassure his mate, "We can't lose hope. Littlefoot is a smart child. Perhaps he escaped?" It was a poor attempt to bolster his own spirits.

"They went towards the spiketails," Ura stated, "The spiketails began chasing them when they heard my call."

"Let's go!" Mr. Threehorn ordered.

The adults advanced in the direction of the spiketails, with the defense of their beautiful home on their minds. They would show no mercy to the invaders, or to the traitor...

......

Chomper was bringing up the rear of the group, his young body being unable to keep up with his now fastbiter friends. For not being able to walk well, they can run fast! he quipped in his mind. He was quickly becoming exhausted at the constant exertion and he was uncertain how much longer he could go on.

"Guys..." he gasped, "Go on without..." He couldn't even finish the statement as he began to slow.

"Oh no you don't!" he heard from in front of him. "We are almost there. Almost there we are!" Ruby encouraged.

With a supportive nudge from Ruby, Chomper continued towards their destination at a slower pace. He could hear some conversation in front of him where the others had likewise slowed down.

"Their smell isn't as strong." That is Spike, Chomper noted. "I think that we have some distance on them," Spike finished.

"The spiketails are more worried about their own herd than the valley. Threehorns would not have stopped but would have kept on charging." Cera stated with misplaced pride.

"Me think you be right!" Petrie exclaimed from above, "Your daddy is here!"

Cera turned to see what Petrie was staring at and let out a string of unintelligible words before finally saying something understandable.

"Oh crap!"

Littlefoot, who was in the front of the group, looked at the scene behind them. The adults had joined in a massive group, with Mr. Threehorn and his grandparents making up the front row. Behind them, Littlefoot could see enumerable domeheads, swimmers, and the insufferable spiketails from earlier. The group had apparently just regained sight of the gang. They were now charging full speed at them, with the look in Mr. Threehorn's face conveying imminent destruction.

"Quickly! Into the entrance!" Littlefoot called.

The gang didn't need to be told twice; they immediately burst into motion.

"You will pay, Chomper!" Chomper could hear from the advancing threehorn. "You will die for this!" The threehorn's malicious roar echoed across the valley.

Tears welled up in the eyes of the young sharptooth. He wanted to tell them all what had happened. He wanted to let them know that their loved ones were safe and sound. But, in spite of the innocence and nativity that was typical of his age, he knew that such assurances would only get him killed. Their only choice was escape.

Chomper could see the others disappear in front of him into the cave that was the northwest pass. He was almost there...

Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!

Crap! He is gaining on me! Chomper didn't dare look back. He knew that Mr. Threehorn was close on his heels. I don't think that I am going to make it! he thought mournfully, even though the cave was so close that he could feel the cool air from its depths radiating out into the land outside.

Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!

He steadily climbed the path which led into the cave on his now exhausted legs, knowing full well that the threehorn was rapidly gaining on him. If only I were as fast as my friends.

Stomp...

He could now feel the reverberation as the shockwave from the charging threehorn's feet shook the ground around him.

Stomp...

The displaced air of the falling feet now reached his backside. It almost felt like an ominous wind to the fleeing sharptooth. An omen of death.

Stomp...

Almost there! Chomper then leapt at the cave opening with all of his might, hoping beyond all hope that he would find safety in its dark depths within which the adults would not fit.

Crash!

Chomper landed awkwardly upon the hard ground of the cave, knocking the air from the poor sharptooth's lungs. He had made it!

CRASH!

A deafening roar echoed throughout the cave as Mr. Threehorn collided headfirst with the cave entrance. A large portion of a splintered horn and chunks of shattered rocks flew from the entryway as the enraged threehorn attempted to burrow his way in and slay the hapless sharptooth, but his efforts were for naught. Chomper had escaped into the safety of the cave.

"Are you alright?"

Chomper blinked. It was Littlefoot!

I made it? Chomper asked within his mind.

"Chomper! Are you okay?!" Littlefoot asked again, shaking the sharptooth forcefully with his forelimbs.

"Yeah... I'm fine," Chomper replied weakly.

Littlefoot gave a small smile, and then looked towards the cave entrance.

CRASH!

Rocks began to fall within the cave as the enraged threehorn continued his assault on the cave entrance. It was as if the threehorn had lost all sense and now thought of nothing but vengeance and blood.

He probably thinks that Cera is dead, Littlefoot concluded, before looking down in sadness, Who can blame him for acting this way?

"Let's go, Chomper," Littlefoot softly spoke, giving Chomper a sad smile.

Chomper returned the sad, yet knowing gesture and left with his best friend in the direction of the Mysterious Beyond.

......

None of the gang was present moments later to witness Mr. Threehorn stop his assault on the entrance and break down into tears. He had lost his first mate, his first three daughters, and now Cera... Brave Cera. He could see through the haze of his tears that his horn was broken, which was a perfect reflection of his shattered heart. He resolved to let the broken horn be a reminder of all of the loved ones that he had failed to protect. Turning around without a word, and ignoring the concerned questioning of the others, he walked in the direction of his nest. How would he break the terrible news with the only two dinosaurs that he loved who remained in this world?


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