The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 12 Hunger

“Real hunger is when one man regards another man as something to eat.” ― Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

Where is that fork in the river?

To put it mildly, Cera was not pleased with recent events. In the span of one day she had turned into a sharptooth, tried to avoid waking the adults, escaped from being killed by her own father, wandered around in the Mysterious Beyond, escaped from being killed by Screech and Thud, and then continued to wander around the Mysterious Beyond. She was more than ready to put this journey to an end and finally get a moment of rest. But that was when another aspect of her change made an appearance.

Growl....

Her stomach growled loudly in protest at its lack of attention during the eventful day. She thought back to the events of the last day and realized that she had not eaten since the evening before they changed. Perhaps it was time for them to eat?

Oh. Right.

Eating now would entail something quite different to the gang. They couldn't eat green food anymore. Their appetites now called out for meat. A horrifying thought then entered the former threehorn's mind.

If I am already this hungry then what are we going to do? Ruby claims that we still have six more days of traveling. How are we going to hold up?

She swallowed hard and raised her snout in the air. Well, if they had six more days of travel ahead of them then she would simply have to put up with being hungry then wouldn't she? The alternative was unacceptable. She then attempted to clear her mind and ignore the hunger pains that had begun to make an appearance. She was only moderately successful.

Spike was walking a bit behind the yellow fastbiter. Ducky and Chomper were to his right, whereas the others were walking just behind Littlefoot at the front of the pack. They were still following the river in a much larger gorge then the one that they had ran for their lives in. They had long since stopped walking in the water and instead moved back to dry land, as Ruby indicated that they probably had enough room between them and the two fastbiters. With that simple change their pace of travel had increased greatly.

However, the green fastbiter had something more pressing on his mind than the speed of their travels or the introspective thoughts from the day before. Much like what his mind was fixated on in his herbivore days, he was again focused upon food.

Food.

That single instinctual drive was one that was quite familiar to the fastbiter. He also was well acquainted with the unpleasant sensation of hunger. Not from his time in the valley, of course, but rather from his time traveling with his friends in their numerous incursions into the Mysterious Beyond. However, this time it was different. Before he would simply feel two sensations: the yearning to eat and the painful absence of sustenance. Now, however, there was another feeling that he couldn't quite place. A feeling that felt alien in his mind. He couldn't quite quantify or even qualify what he was feeling, but he could tell that it was slowly growing in power. The little fastbiter began to feel growing dread at this unknown phenomenon that was taking place within his mind.

The gang had been silent during the last two hours of their journey, as there was nothing of any significance to say. They simply had to travel until they reached the fork in the river. Then they could continue on the final, and longest, leg of their journey.

Due to the unpleasant sensation in his stomach, and the foreign feelings in his mind, he decided to finally break the silence and breach the subject with his friends.

"We need to eat soon." He muttered to the group. After the words left his muzzle he reflected that he could have put it in more articulate terms, but he gave a blunt statement for a blunt problem. It was something that had to be addressed.

Cera was the first to stop. She looked at Spike with an unreadable expression. The others then proceeded to stop and look in his direction. Even Petrie decided to join in the discussion, taking the opportunity to come to rest on Littlefoot's back.

"Well..." Littlefoot began. "There is nothing we can eat here." He then took a quick look around at the landscape and gestured with one of his forelimbs. "Dirt, dirty water, and rocks." He mentioned what all of them could observe in the scene around them. "Even if we wanted to hunt..." Cera and Ducky both cringed at the mention of that possibility. "I don't think there would be anything here."

Chomper nodded at Littlefoot's assessment. "I haven't smelled anyone with my sniffer besides us." The little biter stated. "There is no food here." He added without thinking about the implications.

Cera snorted. "Been keeping track have you?" She was still not open to the idea of hunting. The fact that Chomper's mind had obviously moved to that possibility did not sit well with her. However, she did not escalate her statement of disapproval beyond the sarcastic rebuke.

"If we get out of this gorge then we will be in the land of tall grasses." Ruby stated. "There should be more food there, more food there should be!"

"What food would that be?" Cera asked skeptically, placing emphasis on the word 'food'.

Ruby looked at her a moment with an uncertain expression. She was sure of the answer, but unsure how the yellow fastbiter would accept it.

"Fish and eggs, mainly." Ruby answered. She had no problems with the first possibility, although the second one still brought up emotions of shame and disgust. However, she was wise enough to know that mentioning that there could also be other dinosaurs to eat would not sit well with any of the others. In fact, that possibility was unacceptable to Ruby as well. Just because she had accepted that she was a sharptooth at an intellectual level that did not mean that she accepted it emotionally. She was still torn up over her predicament just like the others.

"Yuck!" Cera loudly retorted. Ducky recoiled at the idea as well. Only Spike and Petrie seemed to have no visible reaction to the news. Their hunger had already begun to change their perspective on things, although neither one of them were quite aware of that fact yet. Petrie was significantly hungrier than the others due to his smaller size and use of flight, whereas Spike was hungrier simply because he was Spike. The change had not changed everything.

Littlefoot paused for a moment. "Guys, I guess we don't have much of a choice." He then looked at Cera, who he knew would be the most stubborn of the gang. "But right now we need to get there. We are not going to find anything here."

With nothing more left to be said on the matter, the gang then resumed their trek towards the fork in the river.

......

The light of the day was beginning to wave as the bright circle began its journey towards the horizon. They only had a few hours of light left before the darkness of night would be upon them. The gang had left the gorge that had been both their trail and prison for the last several hours. They now were following the river through the flatland which abounded in this part of the Mysterious Beyond. It made for quite a contrast with the geologically active land they had exited not so long ago. The existence of a small hill was a curious sight in this otherwise flat expanse that seemed to stretch in all directions. If Petrie wasn't in their group, Littlefoot would have suggested climbing it to have a closer look at their surroundings.

Caw! Caw! Came the call of Petrie from quite a distance away. Littlefoot could deduce that it was not an alarm call, although he couldn't explain how he knew that. Rather, it seemed to convey excitement. Littlefoot decided that they should run to the hill and see what Petrie had observed.

"Up the hill!" He called.

The others followed immediately. The hill was not particularly steep, but it was large enough to obstruct their view of the path ahead, being about the height of two full-grown longnecks. Petrie had been resting on Littlefoot's back when the flyer decided to take a look for himself, obviously he had found something interesting. Ruby, Cera, and Littlefoot were nearly at the top of the hill, while the others lingered some distance behind. Ruby finally broke ahead of the pack and gawked at what she saw.

"There it is!" Ruby called out as the gang walked over the crest of a small hill.

The view that greeted them was both majestic and horrifying. The river that they had followed for quite some time could be seen forking into two smaller rivers in the distance. It was hard to estimate the distance with no discernible landmarks, but Ruby estimated it was at least two hours away. That was not what concerned her, however. There was no grass to be seen! This was supposed to be the land of the tall grasses. What had happened? She then took a closer look at the river and noted that it was much shallower and greener than she had remembered. I guess the water has turned bad here as well. She though dejectedly. So much for fish. The only vegetation that could be seen were a few water plants beside the river and small patches of grass emanating from the shore of the water. This was not a good omen at all.

"Is this the land of tall grasses?" Littlefoot asked with great concern.

Ruby looked dejectedly at the brown fastbiter and confirmed his query. "I am afraid so, Littlefoot. I see no food here. No food do I see."

"Well this is just great!" Cera yelled in agitation. "We walk all day and nearly get ourselves killed in the process, and what greets us? More walking!" She continued to fume as she scraped the ground with one of her hind legs. "What shall we do now, oh wise pink one." Cera asked mockingly.

"I am leading the right way!" Ruby responded in a defensive manner. "I cannot control the water or plants. If I could control them than I would control them!" Uncharacteristic for Ruby, the last sentence was nearly growled out.

Cera continued to fume but said nothing further in response. Littlefoot was concerned by this behavior in the two female fastbiters and decided to stop the conflict before it could escalate further.

"Stop, guys!" Littlefoot pleaded. "Nothing can be done about it. We have to decide what to do now." He stated somewhat weakly. It was only then that he realized that this journey had already taken more out of him than he originally supposed. In fact, he was exhausted.

A yawn from Ducky seemed to confirm that the others were exhausted as well.

"I am ready for sleep. I am. I am."

Spike grunted in agreement as he would have done in his previous form, but then seemed to remember his new vocal repertoire. "I am tired as well. Should we rest since there is no food to be found anyway?"

Littlefoot seemed to ponder this for a few moments before responding.

"I guess that would be a good idea." He then yawned as well. "We can continue the journey tomorrow." He looked one last time at the desolate scene in front of him. "Hopefully the land of tall grasses isn't all like this."

Ruby then thought about their situation and mentioned something to Chomper. Chomper then put his small forelimb to his muzzle as if he were in thought, before whispering back at Ruby. Littlefoot and Cera were both perplexed by the behavior of those two and were about to ask what they were up to, but then Ruby mentioned something.

"The wind is blowing towards the land of tall grasses. But if anything were heading our way then we could see them coming for quite some time from this hill." She began. "Perhaps we should sleep on this hill tonight?" She questioned.

Cera thought about that for a moment and she actually found that to be a reasonable idea, although she was still upset about their predicament. The thought of being far up actually seemed rather inviting to her. It is far better to be on high ground, then down below. Some voice insider her head seemed to insist. She probably would have questioned why she felt that way if it wasn't for the fact that she was so tired and hungry. She was too exhausted and frustrated to give anything else much thought.

"Sounds good to me." Littlefoot stated. "I guess that we can move on tomorrow."

As the gang began to dig scrapes upon the dusty hill overlooking the flatland beyond, they were left wondering what would become of them now. They had no shelter, no food, and no water except for the green river which smelled awful. They were truly alone in an unforgiving world. They eagerly awaited the world of dreams, as each knew that the next day would bring more hardship.

......

Chomper reflected that he now knew why his father had always found fastbiters so annoying.

Even since they had gotten up in the morning, they had been walking at a brisk pace. But what is a 'brisk pace' to a fastbiter is only a few steps down from a run to a small tyrannosaurus. As a result, the poor biter was utterly exhausted.

How can they do it? The young sharptooth asked in his head. I can barely keep up!

It would have been one thing if they were all full grown, he reflected. At least then he would be much larger than them and his much larger stride could help him keep up. But as it was he was quickly becoming exhausted. He was thinking about asking Littlefoot for a break when Ruby suddenly stopped the gang.

"Hang on, everyone!" The rose colored fastbiter suddenly interjected and held up a forelimb as if to shush them. She seemed to listen for a moment as a small smile suddenly appeared on her face. "Do you all hear that?"

Chomper struggled to listen and nearly signaled that he did not hear anything out of the ordinary, but then he heard it.

"Ground fuzzies!" He hissed silently. At this affirmation, Ruby nodded.

"Yes, ground fuzzies!" Ruby confirmed. "Perhaps this could take the edge off of our hunger?"

"So let me get this straight." Cera began in an interrogative manner. "You want us to hunt down ground fuzzies for food? Do we have any other option?"

At this Littlefoot interjected. "Cera..." He began. "We can't eat plants anymore. We have no choice. At least it isn't other dinosaurs."

Cera paused for a moment before responding. "Well, maybe we can still eat green food after all. The wish hasn't changed everything has it?"

Ruby interjected. "But you have smelled what the green food smells like now. It smells terrible."

"And bitter." Spike interrupted. The symphony of smells that he had experienced as a leafeater was much less than what he experienced now, but he could notice a distinct difference. Before the green food called to him with the richest and sweetest smells, but now it was all bitter with little distinction between the plants. His sniffer had a focus for other smells now... and Spike knew it. He wished that Cera would accept this fact sooner rather than later.

"Well, I am going to try anyway!" Cera stated stubbornly. "The rest of you can enjoy hunting."

Chomper gave an exasperated sigh. Well, at least the others were beginning to think reasonably. He just hoped that they would be able to catch some food. He was hungry.

Cera had taken position next to one of the water plants beside the river. She smelled the plant and gave a noticeable retch. It obviously did not smell appetizing to her.

"How is it?" Spike called. He was somewhat curious to see if Cera could eat the green food. Even if it wasn't tasty, if they could keep it down then it could sustain them on this journey. Perhaps her stubbornness could pay off after all. Presuming, of course, that she could actually eat the green food.

"I haven't eaten any yet." She replied weakly. However, her pride wouldn't allow her to accept failure without trying so she decided to dig in despite her reservations.

With a large bite she took a large branch of the plant into her mouth and ripped it off. It took all of her fortitude to avoid spitting it out right there. It tasted rancid, like rotten sweet bubbles. It was easily the most revolting thing that she had ever tasted. With some effort, however, she began to grind the leaves with her sharp teeth and swallowed the unappetizing mass of foul-smelling, bitter-tasting sludge into her throat. She sucked in a shuddering breath. This stuff is awful! She admitted to herself. She was now crying, she noted, as her eyes had watered during the entire attempt to eat green food. Perhaps she should have tried a smaller bite?

"How is it, Cera?" Ducky inquired.

Cera paused for a moment before turning around and answering.

"It is awful, but I think that I can keep it down. It's just that..." Without warning, Cera suddenly had the violent urge to heave. As she felt the warm sledge return from its destination, she knew what was coming. Her attempt had all been for naught.

The others looked on in disgust and concern as Cera vomited in front of them for the next several moments. When the former threehorn wouldn't stop retching and shuddering, Littlefoot and Ducky came by to comfort the poor fastbiter. She looked worse than she did before, as if the sickness had taken a lot out of her. Her stubbornness from before was forgotten as she turned to despair.

Cera sucked in a few shuddering breaths as the retching finally stopped. She had never been so sick in all of her life. It seemed that green food was denied to them forever more. There was only one option now...

"Why? Why?!" She cried out in frustration as she tore at the ground with her forelimbs. Littlefoot and Ducky both jumped back in order to avoid the sudden outburst. The emotional impact of their situation had finally dawned on the yellow fastbiter and she did not take kindly to the revelation. She finally stopped after several moments and Littlefoot responded with a concerned expression.

"Cera? Are you back with us?" He asked simply. He didn't ask if she was alright. Nothing was alright anymore. But he could make sure that she was at least back in control of herself. Her display of violent rage wasn't directed at any one dinosaur, but rather at the situation itself. Nonetheless, Littlefoot had to make sure it was out of her system.

"Yeah." She replied weakly.

She then looked at Chomper with a saddened expression. It almost looked apologetic, yet mournful at the same time. It was an expression that deeply troubled the little biter.

"We have no choice now. Do we?" It wasn't really a question, but Chomper nodded anyway.

Cera then closed her eyes and bowed her head for a few moments. After Ducky resumed her position at Cera's side, she waved Littlefoot off. Even though Cera wouldn't admit it, the two girls needed some time to confide. He and the others could begin to attend to their new duties now. He walked away from the two females and stopped several paces away from the others.

Littlefoot then called for Chomper's and Ruby's attention with his forelimbs.

"Okay... How exactly do we do this?" He whispered.

Oh boy. Chomper thought to himself. Where do I even begin?

......

"Alright, guys! The trick with ground fuzzies is to outsmart them." Chomper began. He had a noticeably more chipper tone that he had displayed in the previous day. If he would have thought about the situation at length he might have admitted that it was because this reminded him of when his father had trained him. This mixture of nostalgic happiness and concern for his friends made for a confusing jumble of emotions. "They are fast so you have to trick them and trap them."

"Okay..." Spike thought out loud. "How exactly do we do that?"

"Well... Uh." Chomper began uncertainly. "You can hear them, can't you?" At Spike's nod, Chomper continued. "Okay, so you know where they are. Now you have to find their holes."

"Holes?" Littlefoot asked.

"Yes, holes." Chomper confirmed. "They each have a few holes that lead to their nests. If one dinosaur blocks the hole, while another digs then it is an easy meal!"

"So let me get this straight." The familiar voice of Cera made an appearance once again, apparently she had recovered enough from her ill-advised meal earlier. "One of us traps them, while the other one digs."

"That's right, yeah." Chomper shrugged.

"Well then I call digger!" Cera proclaimed. "I am starving!"

Chomper rolled his eyes, as Littlefoot interjected.

"Alright, Cera. But we all need to share the catch. None of us have eaten for a long time. We are all hungry."

With their directions having been laid out to them, the seven friends began their first hunt together. It was obvious that none of the gang were quite prepared for what that entailed, as the somewhat sickened expressions on Ducky's face indicated, but each of them knew that there was no other way. They had begun to accept the reality of their situation.

The gang has scattered throughout the immediate area in order to search for the entryways into the nests of the small ground-dwelling mammals. They were completely new at this, of course, so they were having difficulty. But Chomper had some prior experience in this regard.

"Found one!" He exclaimed. He then took up a position beside the hole, with his forelimbs at the ready. No prey would be able to get past him, he resolved. He would show the gang how it was done.

Eventually the others found a few more entrances as well. After a few moments the entire gang had found entrances with the exception of Ducky and Petrie. They decided to help others watch over their holes. The task of drawing the critters out was in Cera's paws at this point.

"Okay, Cera. Try to dig them out!" Chomper encouraged. "Either you will catch one or you will be sending them our way. The ground fuzzies panic easily."

Cera would have responded with a biting remark at his acknowledgement of prior hunting experience, but she kept such commentary to herself. She couldn't very well criticize him, now could she? She was hunting just like the others.

With a cautious demeanor, she allowed her head to approach the ground, listening for any sign of the elusive ground fuzzies. She listened carefully and nearly brought her head to rest on the ground.

Scrape... Scrape...

There you are. Cera thought to herself. You won't escape from me! She thought the last sentence with extreme pride and an almost giddy sense of anticipation. If it wasn't for her focus on the hunt at hand, she might have questioned why she was thinking in such a manner. She was beginning to think like a sharptooth would and her budding hunting instincts were beginning to take hold. But she was not fixated on her thoughts at that moment, so she was not distracted from her task.

With both forelimbs aimed in front of her, the yellow fastbiter began to dig into the parched earth. The digging was difficult as the ground had obviously not seen moisture for quite some time. It was a wonder that even the ground fuzzies could live out here. After some time she could begin to feel the hardness of the surface give away and give way to a moister, more malleable layer of soil.

She stopped for a moment. The sounds of ground fuzzies were much more prominent now. They are scared! Cera noted. This observation gave her some pause. A diminishing part of her psyche took this observation with great apprehension. She had lived in fear for all of her life at the threat that sharpteeth represented. How could she now become the killer? True, it was just ground fuzzies and not other dinosaurs, but the fact remained that they were about to kill for food. A line was about to be crossed, but did they really have any choice? The other part of her mind, however, was driving her to go for the kill. She was hungry and food was present under the soil. The time for thinking was over and the time for action had arrived. At any other time she might have refrained from acting until she had a better hold over her emotions, but not in her current hungry state. She was out for blood.

Suddenly the ground gave way and her clawed paws were in the tunnel. She let out a surprised yelp as the scurrying mass of rodents went in various directions in the ground tunnels. However, one ground fuzzy was caught up in the panic of the moment.

Snap!

The small rodent's neck was snapped in a single swift stroke of Cera's clawed paw. Its small, broken body lay prone on the bottom of the dirt tunnel. Cera was left looking at her victim with a stunned, yet curious expression. She was not sure what to make of her actions emotionally. What have I done?

Meanwhile, the others were attempting to catch the ground fuzzies as they attempted to escape from their nest.

Chomper, having had previous hunting experience, easily caught the first rodent that had the misfortune of crossing his path. A second victim was crushed by one of his hind limbs as he was dispatching the first with his powerful jaws. After a few moment a latecomer tried to escape through the same exit. After a brief chase it too was dispatched. He resisted the urge to immediately devour the tasty morsels, as they needed to share the catch. There may not be enough to go around otherwise.

Ruby had also secured a single ground fuzzy that had scurried along her path. She was new at hunting ground fuzzies, but she had eaten snapping shells and fish before. If I can handle fish then I can handle ground fuzzies. She thought. She did feel some remorse when she looked at the frozen look of terror in the little mammal's face, however. Fish as a general rule did not give her an impression of any suffering that they could have experienced, which helped to desensitize her to fishing when she was a fast runner. In fact, she had not even given it much thought until she went to a more herbivorous diet in the Great Valley. Nonetheless, she felt a profound sense of apprehension at her recent act. Besides the one egg she had stolen several years ago, she had never killed a land dweller.

The other two teams, consisting of Ducky and Spike within one and Littlefoot and Petrie in the other, had only minor success in their hunting efforts. Spike was able to catch a smallish mammal, whereas Ducky was unable to make a successful catch. Littlefoot and Petrie were likewise unable to obtain any ground fuzzies, as none of them had taken the tunnel that those two were guarding. They were unable to catch that which was not there to begin with.

"How did we do, guys?" Chomper then asked the members of the gang. "I got three of them!"

"I've got one." Ruby confirmed.

"Same here." Spike noted.

There were several moments of silence. Chomper decided to force the issue and ask the others how they did.

"Cera? How about you?"

"Huh?" Cera asked. "Oh, I got one." She noted hastily. Discomfort and unease was still present in her voice and that was not lost on Chomper. Nonetheless he did not press the issue.

"None headed our way." Littlefoot affirmed. "We didn't catch anything."

"That's okay, guys. That is why we are sharing." Chomper stated. "A pack shares the food it catches."

The mention of the group as a 'pack' was not lost on Cera and made something in her arise in protest. "Oh, so we are a pack now are we?" She asked warily. "You must be glad that we have all changed."

Chomper looked shocked and immediately clarified himself. "What! I didn't mean that. But we are all sharpteeth now and..."

Littlefoot interrupted on the little biter's behalf. "We may be able to fix this and change back, but we need to eat, Cera." Littlefoot responded. "Surely sharing isn't that bad?"

Cera took a deep breath before responding. "Fine. But don't think I am going to sit back and let us suddenly become a 'pack' all of a sudden." She then couldn't resist taking one final dig at the purple sharptooth. "Unlike some others, I am not enjoying this."

Chomper had an indignant look on his face, but did not say anything in response.

Spike then readdressed the topic at hand. "So... Um. How do we split this up?"

Chomper sighed and then made a suggestion. "Well, we have six ground fuzzies. That is one short to give us all one."

Petrie sighed. "Me guess me could take half. Me smaller than rest."

Littlefoot looked upon the flyer with a concerned expression. "Are you sure, Petrie?"

At Petrie's nod, Chomper began to rip one of the small mammals in half. This gory sight made the other members of the gang recoil in a mixture of disgust and horror. The horror was in equal measure for the sight they were seeing and for the actions they were about to take. Were they really going to eat another living creature?

Littlefoot was the next to speak. "I will only take half as well. Let everyone else take one." He was not going to let others take less on his behalf. He and Petrie had not had a successful catch. Thus it would be unfair for them to take more than their fair share.

At Littlefoot's request Chomper took the two sides of the small mammal into his jaws and dropped them in front of the duo. The severed head and torso of the mammal was in Littlefoot's corner, while the lower half rolled near Petrie. The sight of such gore made a confusing mixture of emotions rise up in Littlefoot. He felt a pang of horror in what he was about to eat. Not only did he participate in the killing of these innocent creatures, but now he was going to devour them like a sharptooth. Because I am a sharptooth. The former longneck admitted morosely. The entire scene made secondary thoughts rise up in the brown fastbiter. The most notable of these questioned what his mother would have thought if she had seen this. He shook his head and tried to clear his mind, he had no choice at this point. Therefore, he licked his lips and prepared to take the first bite.

With some trepidation he put his snout to the rodent and inhaled deeply. The smell that greeted his nostrils was an amazing combination of sweetness and musk. This conveyed an irresistible desire within Littlefoot. Every part of his mind seemed to cry out at that same moment. Food! Shaken by this sudden response, Littlefoot licked his lips again and noticed that moisture was dripping from his mouth. He was salivating heavily. Am I really that hungry? With his body and instincts both commanding him to eat the disgusting looking clump of flesh, he decided to put aside his doubts and take a bite.

It tasted... Good.

Very good.

This horrified some part of him that actually hoped that it would taste awful. After all, they had just killed other living things! Surely such a foul act did not deserve a tasty meal. But yet some part of him enjoyed every aspect of his small meal. He enjoyed the metallic tasted of blood which permeated across his tongue and gushed towards his throat. He enjoyed the texture of cracking bone as he crushed the body of the small mammal with his sharp teeth. He enjoyed the savory taste of the delicate meat which was now surging down his throat. Emotionally speaking it was one of the best meals that Littlefoot could remember, but it left him unsatisfied. He was still hungry. He wanted more. But he could control that impulse for now. He hoped.

"How is it, Littlefoot?" Chomper asked curiously. The others had held off on eating their meals until after Littlefoot had finished. Even though they had all changed into sharpteeth, there was some part of them that told them that meat was unappetizing. In a way, eating meat was yet another step in a direction none of them were particularly wanted to go. Hence their apprehension.

"It's great!" Littlefoot said in an almost giddy voice. He looked at Petrie's portion but barely restrained the impulse to take the flyer's meal. I am still in control. He told himself, although he was uncertain if he truly was. A small part of him wondered if eating the mammal was a good idea. Something unknown and horrifying was awakened in Littlefoot and he knew it.

Littlefoot's exclamation deeply unsettled both Ruby and Chomper. Ruby knew that the sudden change in demeanor indicated that hunger was already having an impact on their temperament. How long could they go with small meals before they finally lost control? She couldn't answer that question, but the possibilities scared her. Chomper also observed his change in demeanor and feared that Littlefoot might be losing more of himself than Littlefoot realized. He decided not to say anything at this time, as there was nothing that could be done about it. But he knew that he would have to speak to his friend soon.

As if almost on cue, the hunger felt by the other members of the gang reached a breaking point and the entire gang began to devour their respective meals. It was not much, but it did take the edge off of their hunger. They all hoped it would be enough.

They were still five days away from Hanging Rock.

......

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Littlefoot and the others had been travelling from the moment the sun appeared on the horizon until the beginning of twilight and had found nothing of significance. There was no food to speak of. No predators, besides themselves. No clean water. The grass had become more plentiful, but that was of little use to them in their new forms. The hunger that had been alleviated the night before had come back with a vengeance. The fact that the gang now have had the experience of eating meat seemed to make the situation much worse. They no longer were acting like hungry leaf-eaters. Now they were behaving like the hungry sharpteeth that they were. Littlefoot knew this now, but he had no idea what to do.

Suddenly he heard a commotion from behind him.

"Watch it!" Cera angrily exclaimed. Spike had accidently crashed into her. She unconsciously raised her head and crest in a show of dominance. She was about to learn that this was an unfortunate choice.

Littlefoot turned around to see the commotion begin to turn into a confrontation.

"Speed up and you wouldn't have that problem!" Spike growled in defiance. He didn't know why he was suddenly angry, but Cera's outburst and demeanor angered him more than anything that he could remember. He didn't realize the dominance component of the conflict he now found himself in, but he felt its effects nonetheless. He too unconsciously raised his crest in a counter-display of dominance. The confrontation had turned dangerous.

"Guys..." Littlefoot began. For some reason that he couldn't quite explain he knew that this disagreement was different.

"Oh no!" Chomper exclaimed. He knew all too well what was happening

"I'll show you!" Cera roared and lunged at Spike with her clawed forelimbs.

Spike deftly dodged Cera's attack and responded by snapping at her retreating forelimbs. His attack missed its target by inches and he fell into a defensive stance.

Both fastbiters were now circling one another, growling fiercely. Each one was trying to find an opening in order press the attack to the other. Unknown to the two participants, each was fighting the other for dominance. Though each one was not thinking about killing at that moment, each one certainly could have ended the other's life in the process. Friendship and companionship was absent from their minds in the heat of their personal vendetta. The unfortunate combination of hunger and ignorance of their own instincts had led to this dangerous situation.

"ENOUGH!"

Both fighters stayed in their defensive stances, but each increased their distance from one another. The other four sharptooth meanwhile were looking on in awe at the brown fastbiter that had made that order.

Littlefoot then stepped in-between the two combatants, giving a steely look to each of them in turn.

"Just what do you think that you two are doing?!" He demanded.

"He needs to watch where he is going!"

"She needs to learn respect!"

"I will show respect when you earn it!"

"Why you!"

"ENOUGH!" Littlefoot exclaimed again. "What has gotten into you two? We can't begin fighting one another! We have to work together!

Caw!

Littlefoot recognized that call. It meant that Petrie had found something!

"Can both of you knock it off for now?" Littlefoot asked the two.

The two remained facing one another with fierce looks on their faces.

"We will finish this later." Spike threatened.

"Agreed." Cera affirmed.

The two then held their glares at one another, before finally retreating back to opposite sides of the pack. The confrontation was over for now.

Littlefoot sighed, but he decided that he couldn't do any more at the moment. All he could do is hope that they would work it out peacefully when they came back to their senses.

Caw!

At Petrie's reprise of his call, he signaled the others to follow his lead. If they hurried then they could meet Petrie halfway in the flood plain that they now found themselves. The others, being exhausted and hungry, ran with only lukewarm enthusiasm. It took several moments for the flyer to meet up with the others.

"What is it, Petrie?" Littlefoot asked. They were still four days away from their destination, so he obviously hadn't found Hanging Rock. That left only two possibilities: a threat of some kind or food. Littlefoot really hoped it was the later.

"There is a herd of longnecks!" Petrie replied. "They seemed to have stopped by the river."

To say that this perked Littlefoot's interest would be an understatement.

"How far away are they?" Was Littlefoot's next question.

"Petrie not sure." The flyer replied. "Me high up when see them. Probably a day away."

"So, who cares?" Cera asked dismissively. "We can't talk to them and even if we could they wouldn't believe us."

Chomper looked at Ruby with an inquisitive expression to which she sighed and simply shrugged.

"Well..." Chomper began. "We do need to eat." He knew the subject probably wouldn't get a positive response, but they had to begin to accept reality at this point. They were hungry, they still had days to travel, and no other food source had presented itself during the last day. They had to begin listening.

"You can't be serious!" Cera exclaimed. "We go a day without food and you already want to start eating other dinosaurs?"

"We ate very little yesterday, Cera." Chomper stated matter-of-factly. "Everyone is hungry."

Ruby interjected at this point. "We have already started to snap at one another." She stated the obvious fact. "I think that we are beginning to enter the hunger madness."

"Hunger madness?" Spike questioned.

"It is what I have been trying to tell you guys!" Chomper said excitedly. "When sharpteeth get hungry for too long they can get... unpleasant." He continued. "They can get angry fast... And even attack others." He ended his last sentence by glancing at Cera and Spike, his insinuation clear to all.

"We can't let that happen again. Oh no, no, no!" Ducky stated.

Cera reacted with an exasperated grunt. "You guys can't be serious!" She then looked at Ducky. "Do you want to hunt other dinosaurs, Ducky? Do you want that on your mind?"

Ducky looked away but shook her head nonetheless. She didn't know what to think anymore. She didn't want to turn on her friends, but she didn't want to kill either. Both options seemed abhorrent to her.

She then looked at Littlefoot. "Why don't you tell them that this is insane? We can't sink to this level. Otherwise we are no better than the sharpteeth." She overlooked the fact that she was a sharptooth now. She had accepted the undeniable physical transformation, but had not yet accepted all that entailed. It was the one last bit of her old life that she was holding on to. She feared if that fell by the wayside then she wouldn't be able to recognize herself anymore. But there was another consideration as well.

"And what if we change back somehow? How could we go back knowing that we killed other leaf-eaters?" She asked sadly, she had gone beyond anger at this point. "How could we live with ourselves?"

Littlefoot looked away from the gang and took a deep breath. Well, that lays it all out, doesn't it? He thought to himself. He was not prepared to consider taking the ultimate step to their hunger problem, but he could not deny Chomper's concerns. He was faced with yet another unwinnable situation. Either he would betray his former life or risk losing his current one. There was also the possibility of them turning on one another because of the hunger madness... He looked down for a moment, deep in thought.

Petrie was confused and concern by Littlefoot's lack of response. "Littlefoot? You okay?"

"Yeah..." He answered wearily. He then raised his head and turned to look at the gang again.

"I am not ready to start hunting, Chomper." As Chomper tried to interrupt, Littlefoot gave him a calming wave of the forelimb. "But you are right. We are getting more angry and unpleasant, and it is because we are hungry." He shook his head slightly. "But I just can't take that step. I can't kill. I just can't."

He then looked sadly at the little biter. "If you need to hunt then I won't stop you." He released a breath that he didn't know he had been holding. "And I can't blame you either." He then looked pointedly at Cera. "None of us can." He looked at the rest of the gang with a haggard expression. "If anyone needs to hunt then you may. But I am not ready to..." He trailed off as he couldn't finish the statement, but his meaning was all too clear to everyone present. If one needed to hunt then they may. The group could no longer judge.

Silence permeated through the group for several moments as everyone digested what had just happened.

"I guess we should get to sleep then, huh?" Spike inquired of the others.

"Yeah. We need to get to rest so that we will be rested." Ruby agreed.

Cera didn't say anything but her own yawn confirmed that she had the same thoughts as the others.

Without much further discussion, the gang prepared scrapes for the night and began to enter the world of dreams. None of them quite knew what the next day would bring, but each felt trepidation at the possibilities.

They were still four days from Hanging Rock.

......

Chomper awoke with a start.

The little biter looked about in a confused manner. It is still dark. He observed. What woke me up?

The little biter then looked around him at the assembled gang. Spike and Ducky were sleeping side by side. Each trying to keep the other warm in the somewhat cool night. It was obvious that the hunger madness was beginning to take a toll on the former stegosaurus, as he thrashed in his sleep. A hunting dream. Chomper noted in his mind. And not a happy one. Chomper then turned his attention to Petrie. He was sleeping beside Ruby and had a rather serine expression on his face. Ground fuzzies could easily keep him fed. Chomper noted on account of his size. If only we were in a better place.

Looking at Ruby, Chomper noted that she was twitching in her sleep. "Daddy... run..." She muttered in her sleep. "Egg..." She trailed off. Chomper had no context for what she was dreaming about, but could recognize that she was distressed. As gently as he could, Chomper placed his forelimb on her back. The former fast runner then seemed to calm down and her twitching ceased. He didn't like to see anyone suffer, especially his friends. He hoped that they understood that.

Finally, he took a look at Cera. The yellow fastbiter had been a thorn in his side ever since they had changed days ago. She constantly resisted his recommendations. She was initially against eating the ground fuzzies and now she was against the gang hunting. However, he didn't feel anger at her, rather he felt pity. He had been there when Mr. Threehorn had chased him down and nearly killed him. He had heard his cries of rage. As a result, he had some appreciation of how deeply engrained his distrust and hatred of sharpteeth must have run. It was no surprise that his daughter would share the same opinions. What misery must it be to be changed into what you fear? He looked upon her with a sad expression. He hoped that she would eventually accept the reality of her situation. She didn't deserve to suffer like that. No one did.

He looked at the scrape that Littlefoot had made only to see something that surprised him. He is gone! Being concerned for Littlefoot's well-being, Chomper began to sniff the air around the scrape. He would follow Littlefoot's scent and see what was wrong with his best of friends.

He followed the scent trail for a while and noticed that it seemed to be heading towards a nearby hill that was a bit away from the river they were following. Was Littlefoot seeking high ground in order to scout? Chomper was perplexed by the brown fastbiter's actions and decided to proceed stealthily. After some time he heard Littlefoot's voice.

"Mother, I don't know what to do."

Chomper looked up through the grass he was hiding behind. His mother? His mother was here? But I thought that she died long ago, that was what Littlefoot had told me. The sharptooth thought confusedly. She then took a closer look at the scene ahead of him.

Littlefoot was resting on his haunches at the top of the small hill. His eyes were fixed upon a certain star in the sky. It was the same star that he always looked upon when he was uncertain or sad. It was the star that he first noticed after his mother had died and part of him thought that perhaps it was her in the Great Beyond. As he had learned with the rainbowfaces, there were things that he didn't quite understand. Even if it wasn't her, he really needed her guidance now.

"I'm a sharptooth now and I don't know what to do." He shook his head. "I can't eat green food, I can't talk to my grandparents, and I can't go back to the valley." He choked up a bit. "You always told me to listen to my heart, but I am not sure what it is saying." He paused for several moments. "If only I had a sign. I don't want to disappoint you." He cried softly for a few moments. He was no longer in front of the gang so he could afford a moment of weakness. He was a pack leader now and they didn't show weakness in front of their followers, some part of his mind stated. But he was also a child. A child who even as a longneck had seen and experienced far too much in his short life. He figured that he was owed some respite.

"Littlefoot?" Came the soft voice of Chomper from the grass behind him. Littlefoot jerked up at the voice, but then bowed his head and spoke softly in a voice of resignation. "Chomper." He then waved his forelimb to signal Chomper to come join him at the peak of the hill.

The two sat for a moment just looking at the stars. Chomper had no idea where to begin. What had Littlefoot been doing? Why was he talking to a star? It made no sense to him.

Littlefoot looked at the sharptooth and noted his confused expression. Deciding to cut to the chase, he asked Chomper the obvious question.

"How much did you hear?"

Chomper responded truthfully. "I heard you talk to your mother."

Littlefoot closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them, focusing again on the star. "My mother died protecting me. Did I ever tell you that?"

Chomper shook his head. Littlefoot had told him that his mother had died, but not the cause.

"The great sharptooth, Red Claw's son, killed her." Chomper jerked back at that admission. No wonder why Littlefoot wanted him killed. Chomper nodded at Littlefoot to continue. "We traveled for many days to find the Great Valley. Our families were gone, either separated from us or..." Tears welled up in the brown fastbiter's eyes once more. "And he followed us the entire time."

He looked at Chomper directly with a steely look in his eyes. "We had to be rid of him so we tricked him using Ducky as bait..." Chomper was transfixed as Littlefoot described the plan in detail and how it was carried out. It was chilling. They had killed the terrible sharptooth with the ruthlessness and cunning that only sharpteeth were supposed to have. Chomper had been mocked by some other sharpteeth as being a leaf-eater in disguise because of his gentle temperament, but his friends appeared to be sharpteeth in disguise based upon their story. It seems that fate had simply removed the disguise...

"He was the same kind as you." Littlefoot noted. This made Chomper feel something curl in his stomach. With Littlefoot's history with his kind why did he help Chomper as a hatchling? Why didn't he trample him? It made no sense to him. Here was a longneck, er... former longneck, who was obviously capable of making hard choices. Why did he not do the logical choice when Chomper was born and not simply dispose of a future threat? Chomper was confused by this.

As if predicting the young sharptooth's question, Littlefoot began again. "But you weren't a threat to us. You were just a baby and I wouldn't hold you responsible for what others of your kind had done." He smiled at Chomper as tears flowed from both of their faces.

"Even with the one that killed my mother..." He restrained a growl in his throat. "We only acted because he was a threat."

Chomper thought for a moment before responding. "So you never hated sharpteeth?"

Littlefoot shook his head. "I hated what they did, but I suppose that I knew they had no choice." He paused for a moment. Understanding the double meaning of the fact that Chomper asked that particular question, Littlefoot quickly added: "Cera... Has a somewhat different view."

Chomper looked down.

"She lost her mother and all of her sisters to sharpteeth. She doesn't hold you responsible for that, Chomper, you know that." He paused for a moment to see that Chomper was nodding. "But... She was always the most worried of us concerning your instincts."

Chomper looked at him with an understanding look. Littlefoot did not need to tell him this as Chomper was quite aware of Cera's concerned (or sarcastic) statements whenever he was hungry.

"I thought that she was overcautious when I was still... a leaf-eater." He admitted. "But now that I am on the other side, I see the truth. See was completely right. We are dangerous."

Littlefoot continued. "I think that is why she is so scared of the idea of hunting, Chomper. She fears what she is becoming." He paused for a moment. "So do I." He admitted reluctantly. "If we take it... that far... where does it stop?" His voice broke for a moment. "How do we keep from losing ourselves?"

Littlefoot paused and looked down with a sad expression. "How can I harm another? How would I live with myself?"

Chomper could only nod in response as Littlefoot had obviously understood the situation far better than he had given him credit for.

"How did you keep under control in the valley, Chomper?" Littlefoot suddenly asked with an awed expression. "These thoughts... these feelings... They are enough to drive me mad."

Chomper gulped. It seemed that things were a bit worse than Littlefoot's outward expression conveyed. "I had plenty of food in the valley, Littlefoot. That makes a difference." He then added. "Plus I have had years to learn control. All of you haven't."

Littlefoot nodded. "Perhaps it was a good thing we were forced to leave the valley then. I would have hated to be responsible for someone's... end"

Silenced enveloped the scene for several moments. Chomper had numerous conversations with Littlefoot in the past about many things, but this was by far the most intimate and enlightening of them. It seemed as if the former longneck had decided that there was nothing left to hide. Chomper then realized that this wasn't just a conversation; this was also a cry for help. His poor friend had no idea what to do. Chomper reflected for a moment. Littlefoot was as helpless as a newborn sharptooth because, in a way, that was exactly what he was. He had helped him after he hatched into the world, so Chomper resolved to help him in his time of need.

"What do we do now, Chomper?" Littlefoot asked. "My mother is silent." At the little biter's confused expression, Littlefoot explained. "My mother always told me to let my heart guide me and that I should listen to it because it whispers so softly." He paused for a moment. "But I don't know what it is telling me now."

Chomper thought for a moment and recalled Littlefoot's earlier words.

"Why did you go back to help Cera during your journey to the valley?" Chomper asked rhetorically, thinking back to the story that Littlefoot had told him earlier.

"Because she was my friend, even if she wasn't acting like it." Littlefoot answered.

"Why did you stop the great sharptooth, Red Claw's son?" Chomper asked immediately after.

"Because he was threatening us." He answered.

"Who are us?" Chomper asked rhetorically.

"Well... Me and my friends." He answered, not understanding this line of questioning.

"So the decisions that lead you to the valley involved helping your friends?" Chomper inquired.

Littlefoot nodded as comprehension was dawning on him.

"Well then, how do you help your friends now?" Chomper asked Littlefoot while pointing at the brown fastbiter's chest.

Littlefoot stopped for a moment and sucked in a deep breath. He then answered in an exhausted voice.

"We have to... We have to hunt now, don't we?"

Chomper nodded and gave Littlefoot a sad smile. “We can’t wait any longer, Littlefoot. Some of us are already losing control.”

Littlefoot looked in the direction where Petrie had located the longneck herd earlier and sat silent for several moments. Chomper did not know what to make of the fastbiter’s reaction. Surely he understood now? They had no choice.

“How can I hunt my own kind, Chomper?” It was asked softly. Not in an accusatory tone or in the manner of a veiled rejection. No, this was Littlefoot trying to wrap his head around something that no being should ever confront. Littlefoot had known all too well in his short life what it was like to be the hunted. What it was like to be chased to the brink of exhaustion and despair. What it was like to lose loved ones. What it was like to fear the dark and the shadows it might bring. Knowing all of these things, how could he visit such horrors onto another longneck? How could he willingly share such pain? Intellectually he knew that he and the gang had only one option at this point, but emotionally it was a different story.

“I know that we have to, but...” He paused. “I don’t know if I can bring myself...”

He sucked in a shuddering breath and closed his eyes for a moment. It was only after a few moments that he opened them and spoke.

“Will you help us, Chomper?” The former longneck asked softly. “I don’t think the others can do this alone... I know that I can’t.”

Chomper did not answer but instead embraced Littlefoot in a hug. Both were in tears, but were in noticeably better shape than moments before. Each had the relived expression of a person who had made a major decision in life. The decision was now out of their hands, it was just up to them to make it a reality. Littlefoot reflected that perhaps fate had planned this for a long time, as neither he nor any of the others would be alive right now if it wasn't for their friendship with Chomper. A sharptooth being hatched by, and becoming friends with, leaf-eaters, what were the odds of that? As he had pointed out, all of his good decisions were based upon protecting and nurturing his friends. He would not change that now. Never mind how distasteful the consequences may seem, his course of action was clear. Tomorrow they would begin stalking the longneck herd.

"Thank you, Chomper." Littlefoot graciously spoke. "I needed that."

"That's what friends are for." Chomper replied.

Littlefoot looked to the star once more with a much happier expression. I guess mother wasn't silent at all. I was just looking for her voice in the wrong place. He then spoke again to Chomper.

"I think my mother would have liked you, Chomper." Littlefoot noted. "You're one of the few dinosaurs that I know who were as caring as her."

Chomper didn't know what to say to that so he simply looked at Littlefoot with an overwhelmed expression.

Littlefoot smiled at the sharptooth before speaking again. "Well we need to get back to sleep." He then yawned. "I don't know about you, but I will need rest if we are going to convince the others." He paused for a moment. "Especially Cera."

Chomper wearily nodded at Littlefoot's observation. The two sharpteeth then headed back towards the sleeping area. A very eventful day was surely ahead of them all.


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