The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 14 A Transformation Complete

He seemed to pass through lifetimes in his dreams. Through the Giant's Drink again, past the wolf-children, reliving the terrible deaths, the constant murders; he heard a voice whispering in the forest, You had to kill the children to get to the End of the World. And he tried to answer, I never wanted to kill anybody. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to kill anybody. But the forest laughed at him. — Orson Scott Card, Enders Game

The gang was no longer following the river, as they adjusted their course in order to follow the wandering longneck herd. Initially, they only had Petrie's occasional directions in order to guide them, but for the previous few hours the still-fresh footprints of large sauropods were clear for all to see. They were slowly approaching a large hill that rose from the river's edge to the high peaks that rose to the south. Petrie told them that the herd had stopped in a valley on the other side of the hill. The gang was quite ready to see their goal with their own eyes. Their hunger had not diminished during their daylong journey.

"My daddy also said that good scouting was as important as the chase itself..."

Chomper was going through the basics of hunting with the rest of the gang. Besides their recent stint at hunting ground fuzzies, they had no experience in hunting. They certainly had plenty of experience in being hunted when they were leaf-eaters, but they had little from the other side of the equation.

"Why is that, Chomper?" Ruby asked.

Ruby was apprehensive about the upcoming hunt. True, she had more experience at eating meat than the others, but she had no hunting experience besides her one brief excursion into egg stealing. Considering that this herd was on the move, egg stealing seemed out of the question. They would have to hunt one of the herd members down without being annihilated by the rest of the herd. She was not optimistic about their chances, but she kept her misgivings to herself. Nothing could be done about it.

"Well, you need to see if any of the herd is weak or sick. If they are then they can be an easy meal."

Cera was an odd mix of horrified and enthralled at the conversation that they were now having. Just a few days ago they were happy leaf-eaters residing in the valley. They hadn't had a care in the world. Now they were a pack of hungry sharpteeth who were calmly planning out their first hunt. What disturbed her out the most, however, was the fact that it felt so right. It was as if some part of her mind found hunting in a pack to be the very definition of family and community. She wanted to fight against this feeling, but she knew that they had no choice at this point. What good would making herself miserable do? As it was, the gang's focus on the upcoming hunt was quite possibly the only thing keeping them off of one another's throats. For these reasons, she decided to focus on her giddy anticipation and ignore her hunger pains. She hoped that her thoughts would calm with the filling of her belly.

"Also, you want to stop them from escaping. So you need to know the area."

Spike was still angry at Cera's antics from earlier, but he knew that his anger actually originated from his unsatisfied hunger. The hope that his hunger would soon be resolved gave him something to focus his anger upon and allowed him to function. He noted that the realization that his hunger would soon be resolved at the expense of another dinosaur did not disturb him as much as it should have. We really are in the hunger madness, aren't we? He admitted to himself. I guess it is a good thing that we agreed to do this now. Who knows what would happen otherwise? He decided to focus on Chomper's lessons for the duration of the journey. Even if it didn't help in the actual hunt, at least it gave him something to focus on besides his insatiable hunger.

"What if they have help?" Littlefoot asked.

Littlefoot was amazed by his own callousness. Here he was calmly discussing how to murder another dinosaur, another longneck at that, in order to eat. It was obvious to him that his new instincts were guiding him. Instincts are those feelings that guide us. The words from his now distant conversation with his grandparents echoed in his mind. Littlefoot did not know whether to be grateful or spiteful at the new voices that called out in his mind. On one hand, they were driving him away from the kind, gentle longneck that he used to be. On the other hand, however, they were now allowing him to do what he simply had to do. Finding no resolution to his confused thoughts, he turned his attention back to Chomper's reply.

"Well... You could try to kill them before help comes."

Ducky was walking with the pack, but she was doing so in a confused daze. She had no idea how to reconcile her kindness and caring nature with the reality that she now faced. She had agreed to abide by the group consensus, but she did not know if she could actively take part in the hunt. How could she take the life of another? She always had the ability to see the good within everyone. Now, she was about to snuff the life out of a total stranger. What did that say about her? The only certainty that she had is that she would continue to follow the others. She had followed them into impossible situations before and each of them had risked their lives for the others. She then resolved that if her beloved friends were about to fully embrace their sharptooth natures then she would join them. She may not make the kill, but she would help nonetheless. She would not let them be damned to this existence alone.

"That way, even if help comes and you run off, the meat will still be waiting for you later."

The gang was now scaling the large hill, which rose at a relatively steep angle. Even the fastbiters in the gang had to slow their forward progress as the elevated ground prevented the steady jog that they had maintained for much of the day. Chomper was grateful for the respite, as he had difficulty in keeping up with his now much-faster friends. They were only a few moments away from seeing their quarry for the day.

Chomper had been going through the lessons that he learned from his parents for the better part of the afternoon. He was amazed at the duality of his emotions at that moment. Part of him was excited that he was about to participate in a hunt with his friends, as it was a large portion of his heritage that he had to keep secret from the others in the valley. In fact, in many ways he had partitioned this part of his life from that which he shared with his friends. Hunting was something that he always associated with his parents. Thus, in a way, this represented unification between the two halves of his life. True, his descent into fully embracing his sharptooth instincts again had occurred sooner than he had hoped, but if his friends were with him then he didn't care.

The other part of him, however, reflected with extreme concern at the changes that his friends had undergone. With their hunger having grown throughout their journey, his friends had grown much more aggressive and callous in their demeanor. Their agreement to finally hunt seemed to have suppressed their darker natures, but Chomper knew that this was a further indication of the changes that they had gone through. They were now planning out a hunt and listening to Chomper's murderous advice without the slightest hint of disgust. In fact, Chomper admitted, the only one who resisted the idea of a hunt in the previous day was Cera and she seemed to have utterly dropped her protests when she agreed to the hunt. No one remained to restrain them from their primal hunger.

Chomper looked back at everyone for a few moments. These are still my friends. He affirmed to himself. They are sharpteeth like me now, but they are still there. The kindness of Ducky, the wisdom of Ruby, the leadership of Littlefoot, the perceptiveness of Spike, the protectiveness of Cera, and the trustworthiness of Petrie, all remained. They were just now endowed with the predatory instincts of fastbiters and sharptooth flyers. They had not lost themselves, as Cera had admitted to fearing. Rather, they were simply changing into what they had to be now. Sharpteeth didn't have the luxury of being vegetarians, but they could still be good. His friends would simply need guidance in order to realize that.

And I will show them how to do that. Chomper nodded to himself. They have lost a lot, but they haven't lost everything.

At this point the gang was approaching the crest of the hill. The wind which had been blocked by the hill was beginning to collide with their crest feathers, signaling that the hidden land in front of them would soon be revealed. Ruby began to move to the front with Cera and Littlefoot in order to see the quarry for herself. She was filled with an odd sort of excitement that disturbed her at some level. She was looking forward to hunting dinosaurs with the same giddiness that she had hunted snapping shells in the Mysterious Beyond. She knew that it couldn't be helped, but it still gave her some pause. Finally, she and the others reached the summit of the hill and gawked at what lay in front of them.

Immediately in front of them there was grassland, which was being inhabited by an innumerable number of longnecks. Their exact composition and size was impossible to gauge at their distance, which was still several miles away, but it was obviously a massive herd. I only knew of one herd that was that large. Littlefoot thought to himself. Is this the Old One's herd? It was bad enough that he had already resolved to hunt his own kind, but he was beside himself with the possibility that he might be going after Ali’s herd. He bit his lip as he tried to suppress his misgivings. They simply had no choice anymore. Regardless of hisopinions on the matter, the hunt was going to happen. He just hoped that he could live with himself afterwards.

Majestic forests stood to the both the left and the right of the herd, which seemed to extend as far as the eye could see in each direction. Their trees were so tall and imposing that nothing could be seen under their canopies. The fact that the longnecks were avoiding the plentiful food of the forest was a curious finding. Were they seeking shelter in the open in order to easily see any predators? Even so, resting in the open was abnormal for a longneck herd and was generally inadvisable. Perhaps they are looking for something? Ruby deduced. If so, what is it?

“Well, here we are.” Cera said stoically.

Cera was feeling a confusing combination of emotions at that moment, which ran the gambit from nervousness to guilt. However, the most pressing emotion was the feeling of anticipation. No matter how much she had railed against it earlier, they simply had to do this. She knew that now. This hunt and the possibility of food was the only thing keeping them from going at one another’s throats. She did not like the possibility of taking another dinosaur’s life, but she hated the possibility of hurting her friends more.

“What now?” Cera asked after a pause. Surely launching an outright attack on a full-grown longneck would be suicidal for a small pack such as theirs, let alone an attack on a full herd! They had to wait for Chomper’s advice now. This was his specialty.

“Yeah, Chomper.” Littlefoot replied. “You should probably lead this. You’re the only one of us who has... done this before.” His words were true and unquestionably correct, but in a pack dynamic they took on a different meaning. Littlefoot was not simply letting Chomper lead a game or tell a story or do any of those things that they did as leaf-eaters. No, he was offering Chomper temporary command of the pack. Even though Littlefoot did not understand the full implications of his offer, his instincts did. Littlefoot’s appearance changed markedly into a much more contemplative expression.

All eyes turned to Chomper then as the gang awaited instruction.

Chomper noted this with surprise and went from a bewildered expression to an unreadable one. I have never led a joint hunt before. Can I do this? The sharptooth thought to himself with more than a little trepidation. Oh well, I guess that it is up to me now. Chomper would have to become the harsh commander that they needed right now. He could deal with his own misgivings later.

Chomper then took on an imperious demeanor and rose to his full height. His chest puffed out in a show of force and readiness as his eyes lost any of their innocent gleam that they had moments ago. To another sharpteeth the scene would have appeared comical, as the very young sharptooth tried to take on the bearing of his kind despite being less than a twentieth of an adult’s size. Nonetheless, in the gang’s naiveté of their own instincts, they were moved by the display. They would have followed his suggestions in any case, but now they would obey them as orders.

With a stiff nod to Littlefoot, Chomper gave his first orders.

......

“Ducky? Spike? You are to scout out the forest that is closest to the herd. See what you can find there.”

Ducky was slowly making her way through the forest with Chomper’s instructions from a few hours earlier echoing in her head. They were to scout in the outer regions of the forest to see if any younglings were in the vicinity. After all, they would have little chance of killing any of the adults. Their best chance was to drag off a child when the adults weren’t looking.

I sound like a bad sharptooth now. I do. I do. Ducky thought morosely. She didn’t know if she could actually carry out the deed or not. To actually make the kill. However, she knew that she could handle scouting, especially if Spike was here to assist her. Spike. She thought to herself. I don’t know what I would have done without him. I can’t give up and let him carry on alone. Even though she was often the emotional cement that helped to hold the gang together, she was in more need of being supported than the others right now. The partition between her old life that was now gone, and her new life which has just started was simply too great to bridge together. She didn’t know who she was anymore. However, the gang gave her something to latch onto. It was a very small known variable in a universe of unknowns. They were what kept her going during these trying times. Chomper had known the former swimmer emotional turmoil better than even she did at this moment. That was why he assigned Ducky and Spike into the same group. Chomper knew that it was what she needed right now.

“Find anything, Spike?” She inquired at her brother. She had found nothing of any interest in her area.

Spike simply made a grunt that signified “no”. Even though he had gained the ability to speak, he often neglected to use it. In Spike’s point of view it was useless to say a bunch of words when a simple shake of the head would accomplish the same thing. Old habits died hard. With both siblings finding nothing of interest in this area, they proceeded a bit deeper into the forest.

They had been searching for about an hour now, but had detected nothing. None of the longnecks had entered the forest. She certainly hoped that the others were having more success than they were.

......

“I smell longneck!” Cera called out excitedly.

They had been scouting the forest farthest away from the herd for a few hours now and she was bored out of her mind. Why were they searching for dinosaurs in the forest when there was a herd resting in the grassland? She knew that they stood no chance against the adults, but what were they accomplishing in this forest? Or at least those were her thoughts until she detected a very sweet and enticing smell.

“Yes, Cera.” Ruby replied “You smell longneck because longnecks are nearby. It is the nearby longnecks that you smell.” The former fast runner was preoccupied with a small indentation that she saw in a bush. I wonder what made this? She thought to herself.

“No, I smell a longneck in this forest!” Cera replied in an annoyed fashion.

At this the rose fastbiter ran to where Cera was and, upon Cera’s nod, took a deep breath.

Longneck! Ruby exclaimed in her mind. We might be able to beat the hunger madness after all.

“This is wonderful, Cera!” Ruby replied, but then remembering what she was looking at earlier she quickly added, “Take a look at this!”

Running to where the former fast runner took her, Cera noted that it was the same area where she was looking before Cera’s announcement. What is it? She thought to herself. There is nothing here except for some crushed bushes. She then paused for a moment. Oh.

Not only had longnecks been in this forest, but they had rested here for a while as well. Furthermore, since there was only limited space between the trees in this part of the forest, and the depression in the bushes was quite small, that could mean only one thing.

“Ruby! These must be young longnecks!” Cera then smirked. “Let’s tell Littlefoot that we have found dinner!”

The two fastbiters then ran in the direction of the rendezvous point where Petrie was supposed to be flying. They would tell Petrie and he could recall the others. The hunt would soon begin.

......

“And Littlefoot? You’re with me. We’re taking a look at the herd.”

Darn it, Chomper! Remind me to never let you lead again! Littlefoot thought angrily to himself. This was the third time that he had to run for his life today and quite frankly he was getting sick of it.

“Coward! Stand and fight!” A young adult longneck yelled at Littlefoot. He, of course, could not understand any of it. To him it sounded like a series of incoherent bellows. No wonder why sharpteeth think leaf-eaters are stupid. He thought to himself. Finally, he entered the forest and the sanctuary of its darkened depths. No adult longneck could enter here on account of the small spaces between the plentiful trees. He was safe again.

As the brown fastbiter disappeared from sight, Littlefoot’s pursuer slowed down and stopped at the forest’s edge. He turned his head when he heard a bellow from the herd.

“What do you think that you are doing, Brako?!” It was the Old One’s deputy. “How many times must you be told, you must stay with the herd.”

Brako bristled at this rebuke. “And do what? Let the sharpteeth go so that they can kill again?” Brako was a prideful longneck and he was tired of the passivity of the herd elders. If they let sharpteeth go each time, then they could come back to attack the herd. Why didn’t they understand?

“He got away anyway, didn’t he?” The deputy asked as he caught up to Brako. “You also broke our ranks when you pursued.” Brako then looked back at the herd to see that the defensive circle around the remaining children had a noticeable gap. In his determination to destroy the sharptooth he had forgotten his first duty: to protect the herd’s youngest.

The deputy sighed. “What are we going to do with you?”

As the longnecks continued to grunt and bellow unintelligibly at the forest’s edge, Littlefoot advanced into the forest. When he finally caught up to that purple menace he would give him a piece of his mind. Suddenly, he saw the bushes in front of him begin to flutter from side to side. As he stopped and gave it a closer look, the face of a purple sharptooth came out of it.

“That was great, Littlefoot!” Chomper exclaimed.

Littlefoot was taken aback by this comment and sputtered for a moment.

“Great? Great?!” He was beyond upset at this point. “I was just chased by a longneck who wanted to trample me! How is that great, Chomper?!” What was wrong with that sharptooth? Had he lost his mind?

“You found the herd’s weaknesses, Littlefoot!” Chomper exclaimed excitingly. He then looked at Littlefoot with an amused expression. “And besides you easily outran that longneck. He never even came close to you.”

“Well, it looked a lot different to me!” Littlefoot exclaimed. “He was running at me so I didn’t stick around.” He then paused for a moment as he comprehended Chomper’s first statement. “I found their weaknesses? What do you mean?”

Chomper took on an excited look again and waved with his arms in a “come this way” gesture. “Come on, I will show you!”

Littlefoot noted with some anticipation that they were approaching the edge of the forest again. Were they both going to go into the grassland this time? If so, Littlefoot did not like that idea. It was better for Littlefoot to take a close look at the herd as he had the ability to quickly run away, but poor Chomper didn’t have that kind of speed. Hence, why Chomper observed Littlefoot’s actions from the safety of the forest’s edge.

Before too long they were just out of the forest’s canopy and looking at the herd in the grassland ahead. Chomper signaled for Littlefoot to stop and cleared his throat.

“What do you see?” Chomper asked.

Was that a rhetorical question? Littlefoot thought to himself. “A bunch of longnecks that are too big to eat and a bunch of grass that is too icky to eat.” He stated dryly.

Chomper gave him a pointed look, but the smile hadn’t left his face.

“Well, here is what I see.” Chomper began as he started to point at the various herd members.

He pointed at the Old One first. “She is the leader, but weak and frail. Much of the herd defends her instead of defending others.” Littlefoot thought back to the first time he was chased when he got too close. The larger longnecks all gathered around her or the five or so youngling longnecks. Everything else was left open to attack.

He next pointed at the children. “There are five young longnecks.” He stated. “About your age...” Both of them realized the implication, so Chomper immediately went back to his point. “But there are seven mothers around them.” Littlefoot looked at what Chomper was referring to and gawked when he realized that he was right. How did he miss that detail? There were five females obviously focusing on their respective children and two others with worried, far-away looks.

“Those two are missing their kids, aren’t they?” Littlefoot asked.

“Yes, Littlefoot. The question is: where are they?” Chomper was impressed with Littlefoot’s progress, as he was already beginning to see the world from a sharptooth’s perspective. His mind was ready to perform the morbid, yet logical calculations of a meat-eater; all that he needed was to train his eyes to see what was in front of him. Part of Chomper was sad that some of Littlefoot’s innocence was beginning to die before his eyes, but he was also glad to see that what really mattered was still intact. This was still Littlefoot. It simply seemed like fate was remaking his figurative brother into a more literal one. He hoped that he wasn’t being selfish in feeling some happiness from the change. Chomper always thought that when he was forced to adopt the ways of his kind, that he would be forever alone. Now, however, fate had ensured that he would have companionship during these days of blood and death. His journey was no longer as dark as he had once feared.

“Maybe they are dead... or maybe they are lost!” Littlefoot finally got the implications of Chomper’s line of reasoning.

“Exactly!” Chomper exclaimed, while nodding. “They might be our next meal.” Chomper affirmed. “But first we have to find them.”

Chomper then looked worried and again took a look at the herd. “If we can’t find them, then...” Chomper paused for a moment. “You could annoy that hotheaded one over there.” Chomper pointed at the longneck that had chased Littlefoot earlier. “If he leaves the children unprotected again to chase you, then one of us could sneak in and kill some of the kids.” Littlefoot looked sick at the mention of what Chomper was planning. “We could run away and get their meat later, after the herd leaves.”

“That would be...” Sick, depraved, evil... Littlefoot’s mind raced, but he knew that never mind how it made him feel, none of those labels was applicable to their situation. They had to eat now, no matter the cost.

“Dangerous!” He finally finished.

“I know, Littlefoot.” Chomper relied sadly. “That’s why I hope we find those two longnecks.”

Littlefoot reflected for a moment on the side of Chomper he had just seen. This was not Chomper the friendly sharptooth, this was Chomper the cold, calculating killer. There was nothing malicious about his thoughts, nor anything that would not be expected out of one who had to hunt for his dinner, but it was horrifying to see it out in the open like this. The fact that Chomper was capable of this stunned Littlefoot. Did Chomper think like this when he was in the valley or did he always suppress this side of him? Was this always going on underneath his non-threatening exterior? Littlefoot supposed that it said a lot about their friendship that Chomper never betrayed their trust in the valley. If Chomper was willing and able to hold all of this at bay for his friends, then he must have loved them all very much indeed.

Caw!

The longneck herd went into a defensive posture again at the sudden call. However, after seeing that it was from a distant flyer, the herd relaxed again. For the sharpteeth, on the other hand, the call represented something else entirely.

“All right!” Chomper exclaimed as he took a victorious hop. “Dinner is coming!”

Littlefoot looked perplexed. “What do you mean?”

Chomper smiled as he replied. “I also gave Petrie orders, Littlefoot.” He answered. “He was to tell us if the others found any food!”

Despite the morbid nature of their current conversation, Littlefoot couldn’t suppress his smile. It seemed that their insatiable hunger would soon be filled with the only food that mattered anymore.

Meat.

......

The others had arrived at the agreed upon rendezvous point. They were situated in a clearing just inside the forest which faced the herd. From this vantage point, the longneck herd could not be seen, but it still could be heard and smelt. Now, they were simply waiting on Littlefoot and Chomper.

Suddenly there was a rustling of leaves from behind the gang. As they turned to see what had arrived, they were relieved to see the brown crest of Littlefoot and the familiar purple hue of Chomper.

“It looks like everyone is here.” Ruby stated the obvious.

“What took you two so long?” Cera asked in an annoyed fashion.

Littlefoot looked at her with a preoccupied expression. “Time flies when you running for your life, Cera.” Cera was confused by his explanation, but didn’t ask. She figured that she probably didn’t want to know.

“What did you guys find?” Chomper asked excitingly.

“We smelled longnecks in the forest. Most likely children.” Cera responded.

“Were you able to see them?” Littlefoot asked.

“No, but we smelled their trail into the forest and we found were they had rested.” Ruby replied.

Littlefoot turned and looked at Chomper. “Those must be the two missing kids!”

“The what?!” Cera and Ruby almost exclaimed simultaneously.

Chomper decided to explain. “There were two mothers in the herd that had missing children. You must have smelled their children in the forest.” Chomper reflected for a moment. “If they are away from the herd then that makes our hunt easier.”

Littlefoot added, “Yeah, there will be no adults to save them.”

Ducky felt something fall in her stomach when she heard those words from Littlefoot. This was it. They were really going to hunt somebody. At this realization, her lingering doubts began to reappear in her mind. She had to make her objections known.

“I don’t think that I can do this. Oh, no, no, no!” Ducky said sadly, while looking down in anguish.

Chomper and Littlefoot both looked at her with surprised expressions, as they had not expected her outburst, while Ruby and Petrie conveyed sympathy in their demeanor. Spike was about to speak to her, until Cera interrupted.

“Ducky, it is a bit late for that isn’t it?” Her voice did not convey any anger or exasperation, it simply sounded tired. They had all had their moments of weakness and uncertainty leading up to this moment and yet here they were, seven sharpteeth getting ready for their first hunt. Surely Ducky understood that she had no choice now? None of them did. If there was any other choice then they would have certainly taken it.

Spike looked in Cera’s direction for a moment with an unreadable expression. Cera simply nodded in his direction. She wants me to handle this. He realized. He was quite grateful that she wasn’t going to press the issue or be spiteful. He didn’t have the patience for it, nor would it help his sister. He would have to get his sister to understand.

“Sis...” He began, but was immediately cut off.

“I know, Spike!” Ducky exclaimed in frustration. “I know we have to do this, but I just can’t! I can’t kill!” The former swimmer had her face in her paws. She was absolutely lost. She had no idea what to do.

“Perhaps...” Everyone turned to face Chomper as he began speaking. “Perhaps, you don’t have to kill?” Littlefoot was looking at his with a bewildered expression. What was the sharptooth talking about? Chomper noted his response and clarified his words. “You and the others could help find them or chase them. Then let me make the kill.”

Littlefoot nodded in understanding at this. Yes, that could work.

Spike pressed the matter. “Ducky? Would that work?”

Can I do this? The former hadrosaur thought to herself. I would still be helping to kill someone. She knew beyond all doubt that this simply had to be done, but she was unsure if she would be able to live with her guilt afterwards. Nonetheless, the entire gang was depending on everyone to do their part. She resolved that she would not be the one to let them down. Never mind the personal cost to her, she would bear that burden. She knew what she had to do.

She looked up at the rest of the gang and, with a resigned look upon her face, simply nodded. She would participate in the hunt, but she would not make the kill.

Now the only question was how to proceed.

After a few moments of silence, Chomper cleared his throat. This was still his hunt to lead.

“Okay, guys. This is what we are going to do...”

......

“Are you sure we are going the right way Rhett?”

It had started off innocent enough, Ali thought. They would simply go into the forest for a short while and find some tasty sweet bubbles. There were sweet bubbles in the trees in the Great Valley, so perhaps they could find some here? It would be a chance to get a rare delicacy that the herd almost never encountered in the open areas in which they often traveled and it would be a chance to get away from the stifling atmosphere of the herd. The over-protectiveness of the herd was something that both of them had gotten quite sick of during the herd’s endless journeys across the Mysterious Beyond.

For Ali the herd’s micromanagement of her life, which controlled everything from when everyone ate to when she could play with the other children, was a jarring departure from the brief respite of freedom she had experienced in the Great Valley. The Old One meant well, but was this life truly living? It seemed that her brief times with Littlefoot and his friends had awakened a bit of a rebellious streak within the young longneck. She was not completely reckless, however, as her personality was cautious by nature. For that reason she had Rhett with her. Despite his admitted fabrication of his heroic deeds, she felt safer with him around. She was confident that they could get out of any situation as long as they stuck together.

For Rhett, on the other hand, this journey represented something else. When his decimated herd had finally merged with the Old One’s herd he had no friends or family, besides his mother. In fact, Ali was the first child his age that he had seen in quite a long time, ever since his brothers and sisters... Well, there were some stories that even Rhett did not want to tell. With both of them lacking companionship within their own age group, it was no surprise that the two immediately became inseparable in the herd. However, soon after the two had become friends, Ali had told him of that amazing longneck named Littlefoot and all of the amazing adventures that he had. Feeling challenged by this unknown longneck, and fearing for the loss of this companionship that he had wanted for so very long, Rhett had tried to overcompensate by making up heroic stories about his past deeds. For all of Rhett’s bluster and fabrications, however, that longneck and his friends had apparently experienced the adventures that Rhett could only imagine. Littlefoot had even had made friends with a sharptooth! Compared to them, Rhett’s life seemed boring and uninspired. He was just another lonely child, who wasn’t even strong enough to save his own father or siblings. The fact that a child couldn’t be expected to do those things didn’t matter in Rhett’s mind. His fabricated stories were part of his coping mechanism for his perceived failings.

For the several months after they had visited the Great Valley, Rhett had been feeling humbled by his humiliation at that hands of Littlefoot and his friends. They had tricked him into believing that Chomper was an invading sharptooth and, rather than live up to the heroic stories he had told of himself, Rhett had simply ran away and told the herd’s adults of the threat. Worse of all, he had left Ali to fend for herself! When he realized the full implications of what he had done, he felt ashamed. He really liked Ali and he knew that she deserved better than what he had done. With his idealized version of himself striped away, he had to deal with the real Rhett and his current lot in life. He soon realized, upon reflection, that Ali was the source of most of his happiness and that he had wronged her in his selfish desire to keep her from others. He then resolved to protect her no matter the danger to himself. He didn’t protect his family when they needed him, but he could still protect her. Even if she eventually chose that other longneck as a best friend, he figured that he owed it to her. She had given him happiness; the least that he could do is ensure that she was safe and cared for.

When Ali had come up with the idea of going into the forest he found his opportunity to prove to her that he was more than a mere braggart. He didn’t mind the fact that they might get in trouble for their antics, as this gave him an opportunity to live up to his personal resolution. He would keep her safe while they searched for sweet bubbles. They would be in and out for a short time, or so the intrepid two sauropods had thought, and no one would notice their absence. If someone did, then they could simply say they were playing elsewhere in the grassland and lost sight of the herd. They would be reprimanded, of course, but not as badly as they would be if their parents knew they were in the forest.

But, like many things in Rhett’s short life, their journey did not go according to plan.

“I don’t know, Ali.” Rhett answered truthfully. “I think that we are lost.” Rhett wished that he could get her out of this situation, but he knew that fabricating knowledge that he didn’t have would solve nothing. I learned my lesson about that. The little sauropod thought to himself.

Ali sighed. She briefly thought that she would have liked Littlefoot to be here in order to help them out, but she immediately quashed that thought. Then he would be lost just like us. She thought guiltily. At least he had enough sense to leave the Great Valley only when it was necessary. Here I am getting us lost for sweet bubbles. She was quite angry at the situation, but mainly she was angry at herself. She had to admit that Rhett’s honesty was not in doubt on this journey. He wasn’t of much help in finding a way of it this maze of a forest, but at least he had been brave enough to share the risk with her. Rhett would have been better off not going with me and trying to talk me out of this. Ali noted morosely. He tries so hard to be Littlefoot, when all I need is for Rhett to be Rhett. She supposed that she was to blame for that. She resolved that she would tell him about her true feelings whenever they got out of this mess.

“Maybe we should try to follow the bright circle?” Ali offered. “We left when it rose and now it’s...” She then noticed that the small view of the sky she could see through the forest canopy was turning a deep color of red. It was obviously twilight and the darkness of night would soon follow. Crap. We are going to be in so much trouble. “...setting.” She then cleared her throat. “So if we go in the other direction, maybe we can find our way back.”

Rhett seemed to consider this for a moment before smiling at Ali. It was that confident and disarming smile of his that she greatly loved. “That sounds like a good idea, Ali! Let’s go!”

The two longnecks then headed in the general direction of the grassland using the setting bright circle as their guide. Unbeknownst to them, however, they had traveled far too deep into the great forest during their misadventure. They would not be able to reach the sanctuary of the herd before the darkness of night enveloped all.

......

In the darkness of the forest, seven pairs of luminescent eyes could be seen. The twelve pin points of green and two of red made for an ominous sight to any prey that would have seen it. The growls and barks of the assembled hunters silenced all of the buzzers which rested nearby. These seven were in the midst of preparing for a murderous enterprise. They had learned as leaf-eaters that the night was an herbivore’s worst nemesis, but now they were about to learn that it was a hunter’s best friend.

“Me don’t think me be much help. Forest too dark to see.” Petrie said to the others. “Me sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Petrie.” Chomper affirmed. “You have helped us a lot already.”

“Yeah! Let us take care of this!” Cera affirmed. Petrie had helped warn them of danger during both the journey out of the valley and the journey to here. Even Cera had to admit that they would have been trampled or eaten well before now if it wasn’t for the well-timed alarm calls of the excitable flyer. He would be of little use during the darkness of the night in a well-covered forest. He should be allowed to take a well-deserved rest.

Petrie was a bit taken aback by the gang’s well wishes and answered in a flustered voice. “Uh... Thanks. Me wait here.”

Now that left six participants in the hunt. There was Chomper, the temporary leader and designated killer of the group. He would kill whatever the others chased his way. At the very least, he could put their horror and killing another dinosaur at rest for this hunt. Then there was Ducky and Spike. Those two had been selected to be the scouts of the group. They would locate the two tasty morsels and tell the others. This would spare Spike and Ducky both of the guilt in directly taking part of the chase or the kill. Cera and Ruby, on the other hand, were designated by Chomper to be the main chasers. If everything went according to plan, then these two would chase the prey into Chomper’s grasp. Littlefoot, on the other hand, would be the backup chaser. He might have to take over the chase if the prey outmaneuvered the others. Likewise, Chomper told Littlefoot, he might have to make the kill if they get past Chomper. Littlefoot looked glum at this possibility, but nodded nonetheless. Chomper knew that if it came down to it, Littlefoot would take whatever action was necessary to help the gang. He might hate himself afterwards, but he would do it all the same. That was why Chomper placed that great responsibility upon him.

“Okay, guys!” Chomper began. “Everyone understand what they are doing?”

As the affirmative grunts and nods were made, Chomper continued his speech. “Remember those gestures that I taught you. We can’t let the prey hear us.” He had trained the others in basic sharptooth gestures such as those for “I see two”, “I smell one”, “attack”, and “back off”. They would need those if they were going to be successful tonight.

“We should search for their smell right now.” Chomper affirmed. “When the smell is strong enough, it will be up to you two.” He pointed at Ducky and Spike. “To let us know exactly where they are.”

He then looked towards Cera and Ruby. “Then you two will chase them towards me.” He actually began to smile at the thought of the hunt. The expression that Chomper gave would have scared them when they were leaf-eaters and would possibly have led them to telling Chomper to leave the valley. But, of course, they weren’t leaf-eaters anymore and they were barely suppressing their own bloodlust as it was. They had long since lost the right to judge.

“All right! Let’s get started!” Chomper exclaimed.

At his call, the six sharpteeth proceeded to sniff through the underbrush of the forest, trying to pinpoint in which direction the two sauropods had traveled. Finding the smell wasn’t difficult, but finding the direction in which it became stronger was a more challenging task. Finally, however, Ducky found a good scent trail.

“They went this way. Yep, yep, yep.” Ducky affirmed. The others then followed stealthily.

The hunt was on.

......

Ali shifted uncomfortably beside Rhett.

It soon became apparent to the two longnecks that they would not reach the sanctuary of the grassland before nightfall. Deciding that it would be best to rest for the night and try again in the morning, they had settled down to sleep. They wouldn’t be able to find their way in the darkness of night anyway.

However, Ali was having great difficulty sleeping on this night. This wasn’t just because of her inevitable lecture from her mother, she had already made peace with the fact that they would both be in serious trouble for running away. Rather, it was because she was outside of the protection of the herd. Despite her misgivings about herd life, she could always have relied upon the herd for support and defense in even the darkest moments. To suddenly be away from that protective community caused deep anxiety in the small longneck. I will never complain about the rules again! She thought to herself.

Ali jumped as a sudden loud snore arose from Rhett. My goodness! That boy can sleep through anything. She though sardonically, as she nudged him back onto his side. The snoring became more quiet and bearable, but Rhett did not awaken from his slumber. She sighed to herself. Well at least he is getting some sleep tonight.

Since she was not getting sleep any time soon, she decided to walk around for a bit. Perhaps she could resolve some of her worries as she paced? Then perhaps she could finally get some sleep.

Being careful not to stray too far from Rhett, lest she lose sight of him, she took stock of her surroundings.

They were situated in a small clearing deep within the forest. How deep she could not discern, as they had gotten lost early the day before. The trees were quite close together from an adult longneck’s perspective, but still relatively far apart from a child’s perspective. The massive trunks of the mighty trees left shadows that seemed to follow her ominously. Part of her mind screamed that there was no telling what horrors hid between those massive trunks. She could not see much farther than several of her lengths in any direction, which further added to her anxiety. Perhaps this was a bad idea. She thought to herself. I feel even worse now.

She was not aware that she under surveillance.

......

Found you! Spike thought to himself.

He and Ducky had led the pack to within a few tree-lengths of the location of their quarry when Chomper gave the signal for the pack to disengage. It was up to them now to pinpoint the exact location of the prey. Only then would they would send word to Ruby and Cera in order to begin the chase. First, however, they had to examine the terrain.

Chomper had told them that leaf-eaters often ran in the path of least-resistance when in a panic, so they should look for obvious paths in their surroundings.

Taking a quick look around, Spike could see that there were several large bushes on three sides of the small clearing that the two sauropods were located. Spike and Ducky were both peering through one of those bushes, as not to give away their location to the female longneck in front of them. He knew that the longneck was female, on account of her smell, not her looks. Although his eyes could see much better in the dark than they ever could as a leaf-eater, his night vision was short on detail. He could very easily pick up on the movements of the longneck, and her distinct neck rising from a stocky body, but he could not see her face or pick up on her expression. Nonetheless, she wasn’t running or looking his direction, so she obviously had not yet found them.

He then felt a tapping on his shoulder. It was Ducky!

She pointed at her nose with an exaggerated motion. She smells... She then raised one claw and pointed at her neck. One longneck. With a final gesture she pointed with both paws to her left and laid her neck on her paws. A sleeping longneck?! At his expression of surprise, she curtly nodded. It seems that both of their targets had been located.

Spike then tapped on Ducky’s shoulder and gave her a nod. He gestured towards the female longneck with both paws in a stalking fashion. It was time to get the chasers of the pack. They would chase them out of the clearing into the only path which wasn’t obstructed by thick bushes. That would be the best place for Chomper to lay in wait...

......

Ali shivered in anxiety as she considered how alone they were. They had risked everything for a bunch of stupid sweet bubbles. Sweet bubbles which we never found. She reminded herself. She had decided to leave out of a desire to seek adventure and she had tried to convince Rhett out of her own fear of going alone. This is all my fault! She raged at herself.

With shaky legs and an even more unsteady mind, she returned to their sleeping area and lay beside Rhett.

“Hey, are you okay?” Rhett’s voice echoed softly. “You’re shaking.” He noted with more than a little concern.

Ali was surprised to see Rhett awake and, emotional as she was at the moment, she decided to be honest.

“This is all my fault!” She raged at herself. “None of us should be here right now!”

Rhett was taken aback by this outburst and immediately shook away any remaining fatigue that he felt. He would not let her bear herself up over this.

“Don’t say that, Ali.” He reassured the young longneck. “I decided to come along too. We had no way of knowing that we would get lost.”

Ali took a shuddering breath and sighed. “I know. I know. But, I should have known better.”

After a few moments of the two laying next to one another, Ali began to calm down. Much to Rhett’s surprise, the female longneck began to chuckle.

“What’s so funny?” Rhett asked in utter confusion.

Ali let the laughter subside for a bit before answering. “You know, we are going to be in so much trouble when we get back.” Then, at the shear absurdity of the situation, she began to laugh again.

Rhett joined in the light laughter, as they both needed some respite from this crazy situation. They had abandoned their herd for a bunch of fictional sweet bubbles and gotten lost in a pitch-black forest. The entire absurd situation spoke to their youth, naiveté, and inexperience. Sometimes when the darkest times come, you either have to cry at the horror of the situation or laugh at its shear absurdity, and they both had decided to take the healthier option. Regardless of their failings, they both still had their wits about them and retained their determination to get through their current troubles. They both knew that if they stuck together that they could get through anything.

Finally feeling relaxed for the first time since the previous morning, Ali began to drift into a restful sleep. Noticing this, Rhett relaxed and attempted to return to sleep as well.

......

Good work, guys. Cera thought to herself. This should be easy.

Cera could not believe their luck thus far. They were hopelessly inexperienced, with this being their first actual hunt, but yet here they were with their prey literally sleeping in front of them. Well, one of them was asleep anyway. Either way, baring mishaps, the two longnecks simply did not have a chance.

However, she could not entirely dispel the misgivings within her mind. This was it. In mere moments she would begin the chase which would either result in failure and the possibility of starvation or madness, or else it would result in success and the knowledge that she helped to kill another dinosaur. It was quite literally kill or be killed and the starkness of her options was quite frightening to her. Was this the conundrum that faced every sharptooth that the gang had encountered? If so, then how could she judge them?

She shook her head in order to dispel the thoughts in her mind. She had no real choice now and the decision had been made. It was simply up to her and Ruby to do their part. She could deal with the aftermath later on. Right now she had a hunt to begin.

She took a brief glance at Ruby, who was in the bushes beside her. She awaited the signal from the former fast runner.

Ruby saw the glance from the former threehorn and gave her a "hold on" signal by placing both of her forelimbs in front of her. It wasn't that she wasn't ready for the hunt. She most certainly was, despite her misgivings. No, it was that they must be careful in their chase. As she found out during her brief stint as an egg stealer, a poorly executed plan could lead to disaster. Thankfully her father was there at that time... But he wasn't here today and she had to do this alone. If the others were ready to do this despite being former leaf-eaters, then she resolved that she would do everything that she could in order to ensure their success. The survival of the pack demanded this and she would not fail.

She observed the scene in front of her. The two longnecks were curled up beside one another in a rather adorable scene. She immediately choked down her revulsion in the realization of what she was about to do. After all, they had no choice now. They were sleeping in a small depression in the ground which resided between the various bushes on either side. The bushes existed on three sides of the sleeping pair, whereas the remaining side was open, creating a peninsula which lead inevitably to Chomper and death. It was a good plan, which spoke to Spike's good observation skills, Ruby noted. A less observant sharptooth might have simply chased the two in any other direction, in which case they could run in an unforeseen path. However, under their current plan, the actions of the two longnecks were quite predictable. She found nothing that she could add, so she determined that they were ready for the chase.

Looking at Cera with an unreadable expression, she gave her a curt nod.

Cera took in the sight of Ruby confirming her readiness with great relief. Now we can get this over with! Despite her feigned thoughts that this hunt was a distasteful necessity, even she had to admit that part of her looked forward to this hunt. Whether it was bloodlust, her hunger, or something else entirely, part of her wanted this.

And she was about to get her wish. Wasting no time, she decided to begin the festivities. Well, here it goes...

With a wave at Ruby, the two slowly began their entrance into the clearing.

......

Rhett was slowly beginning to return to sleep. He had had quite an eventful day. Between their unsuccessful attempt to find sweet bubbles in the forest and their uncertain journey out of the forest, they both had quite a stressful time. However, despite their precarious position at the moment, he actually felt some relief at how he had behaved himself during their journey. He had refrained from lying to Ali and had actually helped to keep her calm during their misadventure. He was finally beginning to act like the heroic dinosaur that he wished that he was.

He then turned in order to look at Ali. She appeared so peaceful during sleep. He wondered what she dreamed about at night. Did she dream of him? Of Littlefoot? Of her father? He remembered the one time that he brought up the question of where her father was and how he was greeted with a grief-filled expression. He immediately assumed that he must have met a violent end, just like most of his family. He hoped that she didn't have dreams about that. He often was haunted by the visions of what he had lost in the months after his herd was decimated and he didn't wish that fate upon anyone. In fact, his brief sleep which was interrupted by Ali was one of the most peaceful rests that he could remember. Perhaps his emotions were beginning to accept that he was not at fault for the deaths of his family members? Either way, he hoped that his second round of sleep of the night would be as peaceful as the first.

Crack!

Rhett rose with a start. What was that! Taking a look in the direction where the sound came from provided no obvious sign of what made it. Perhaps he was simply hearing things? Taking a second look, he still couldn't find anything. There were simply bushes and the greenish light from four bright buzzers (fireflies). Wait a moment, this isn't the season for bright buzzers! That was when he noticed one of the "bright buzzers" blink. Oh crap!

"Ali! Sharpteeth! Run!" Rhett yelled at the sleeping longneck, as he gave her a forceful push.

Ali woke up immediately upon Rhett's forceful warning. Despite his insistence on running, she looked around frantically in order to find the supposed threat. At first she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, but then she saw the four greenish lights which were close and heading right towards her.

"Ahhh!" Ali screamed as she bolted in the opposite direction.

Seeing that his friend had finally decided to flee, Rhett joined her in sprinting away from the predators.

Snap!

Rhett barely dodged the bite of a yellowish fastbiter as he turned away from the bushes and headed straight out of the clearing. He took a quick look behind him. He was gaining distance on the fastbiter! Ha! So much for being fast! He thought triumphantly to himself.

"Ah! Help!" Rhett heard Ali's panicked cry from in front of him.

A purplish fastbiter had appeared to sneak past him and was now pursuing Ali. The fastbiter was to her right, snapping at her from a location just inside a large line of bushes. Why wasn't he going for the kill? It almost appeared to Rhett as if the fastbiters were attempting to lead them somewhere. He immediately dismissed the thought. Why would they do that? He needed to help Ali get away from the predator, but how?

He looked from side to side and noted that the bushes cleared to their right. Maybe they could turn here and outmaneuver their pursuers? He figured that it was worth an attempt.

"Ali! Turn right!" Rhett yelled.

As the two sauropods turned suddenly into the opening, the two fastbiters seemed to fall back. Rhett beamed at this. We're losing them! Thank goodness sharpteeth are stupid!

As the two longnecks continued in their high speed run, Cera and Ruby reduced their speed to a steady jog. They exchanged a brief glance at one another and gave each other a wide grin. It was all in Chomper's paws now...

......

Ali was running as fast as she could, but she was quickly tiring. She didn't know if she could keep up the pace and escape from her pursuers. They seemed to have slowed from their initial velocity, but nonetheless they were still keeping up the pace with her. She knew that something would soon have to give.

She looked to her side and saw that Rhett was keeping pace with her. He had undoubtedly saved her life when he urged her to turn right. Part of her reflected that he was becoming the true hero that he had only pretended to be when they had first met. She would have to thank him whenever they got out of this. If they got out of this. Part of her mind added.

She noted that they were quickly entering another clearing. She could now see a bit more now that the glow from the night circle could shine through the clearing in the forest canopy. There were large patches of grasses and bushes in this clearing, whose existence were made possible by the absence of trees. The lack of trees led to a lack of discernible shadows in this small space.

After the duo had entered the clearing, Ali looked behind her and noted that the two fastbiters had stopped. They almost appeared to be waiting for something. What are they doing? Ali thought to herself. She then around her and noted that two more fastbiters had taken up positions by the trees on either side of them. They were trapped.

"Oh no, Rhett!" Ali screamed. "They've got us!"

Rhett appeared to look uncomprehendingly at the scene around him for a moment. Then, after the realization hit him, he noticeably swallowed and turned back towards Ali.

"Stay close to me, Ali!" Rhett called. He was absolutely petrified at the moment, but he knew that their best chance was to stick together. He was going through the same conflict that others go through when faced with a life-threatening situation. Should one take flight or fight? Now that flight was no longer an option, Rhett had decided to meet the threat head on. It was not a rational response, but then again, no instinctual responses are rational. His best friend was faced with certain death and he would not let her face that alone. He had made that mistake once. He would not do so again.

That was when they saw something enter the clearing that shocked them beyond all belief.

"Chomper!"

......

Chomper looked at the scene before him and nearly froze in his tracks.

Rhett and Ali? I have to kill Rhett and Ali? Chomper repeated in his mind. It was almost as if the entire universe were playing a sick joke at their expense. Of all of the leaf-eaters on the planet for them to hunt, it had to be two of Littlefoot's friends. Taking stock of the situation, he realized that the others probably had not yet identified them. The opening in the forest canopy in this clearing provided limited light, something that was lacking elsewhere as well. However, he could still understand the leaf-eater language and thus knew very well who these two longnecks were. If the gang had identified the duo during the chase then Chomper suspected that the hunt would have been botched, hunger or no hunger. It was up to him now to do what the others were unwilling to do. He would make the kill. But more so than any other kill in his short life, he would deeply regret this.

In order to avoid informing the others of who the prey was, he decided to speak in the leaf-eater language. The others could lament their actions after the deed was done, but this simply had to happen.

"I'm so sorry." Chomper said in a regretful voice. "I will make this quick."

Ali cowered behind Rhett as he looked at the sharptooth with a stunned expression.

Chomper then went into a stalking posture and advanced at the duo...

......

This can't be happening! Ali thought to herself. It appeared like this was it. She was going to die at the claws of Chomper, the only sharptooth that she had ever considered a friend, and no one would ever know what happened to them. Worst of all, she knew that this was all her fault. If only she hadn't been so foolish to leave the herd... If only she hadn't urged Rhett to go with her... But there was nothing that could change any of that now. So she cowered behind Rhett and awaited the end with her friend.

"Ali." Rhett uttered softly.

After a split second with no answer he tried again. "Ali!"

"Huh?" Ali responded. Her mind was still numb with the panic that comes with impending doom.

"The fastbiters are everywhere, except in front of us." Rhett stated the obvious. "We could run forward! We just have to get past Chomper!"

"But... Rhett..." Ali replied, but she was cut off.

"It's our only chance! Let's go!" Rhett commanded. Upon seeing Ali stand still with a perplexed expression, he tried again. "Let's go!"

With that Ali regained her bearings and joined Rhett in his run straight at the advancing sharptooth. They both were engaging in one final, risk gambit to escape their pursuers.

......

"What the..." Chomper uttered as the two longnecks sprinted in his direction.

As a sharptooth, he had become accustomed to having his food run from him or attempt to hide, but he was unaccustomed to the food running at him. With each sprinting side-by-side, he realized that he would only have a chance to attack one of them. Good strategy. He noted. Most leaf-eaters would either cower or fight futilely. It is a shame that one of you have to die...

As the two longnecks approached he could hear the footsteps get louder and louder. They were running madly, almost in a daze, towards an unknown destination. The two longnecks were acting in a panic, he noted. Dangerous. Some part of his mind deduced. Even an herbivore could become dangerous when it believed that it had nothing to lose. He would need to aim his attack well.

Stomp... Stomp...

Get claws ready. His mind commanded as he prepared to attack.

Stomp... Stomp...

Chomper then placed the weight of his body onto the toes of his feet in preparation for a lunging strike. He would have to make this count. Otherwise, it would be up to Littlefoot...

Stomp... Stomp...

The male was slowing a bit. Perhaps to make sure the female is okay? His mind deduced. He would make a far better target as he was distracted. The time was approaching.

Stomp...

Chomper could feel the rush of air as Ali ran past him. That meant that the male was a mere fleeting moment away. Now was the time to strike.

Shluk!

"Ahhhh!!!!" Rhett screamed in agony as Chomper's clawed paws sliced through his right hind limb. Chomper's claws ripped through muscle and sinew as the leg was ripped from knee to calf. Bright red blood spewed from the wound and splattered upon Chomper's prone body. He had put everything into his attack and it had paid off. The longneck may not have been mortally wounded, but he was certainly crippled at this point.

"Rhett!!!" Ali screamed.

"Run, Ali!!! Just run!!!" He screamed through the unbearable pain.

The two sauropods then ran out of the clearing, with the male lagging noticeably behind. As he slowly rose from his prone position, Chomper noted his handiwork. One of the longnecks was severely injured. The rest was up to Littlefoot at this point.

Your turn, Littlefoot.

......

Littlefoot couldn't see much from his vantage point, but he could see the blur of the longnecks as they ran past Chomper. Darn it! Why me! He complained inwardly. It was up to him to make the kill now.

With a heavy heart, he placed his weight upon the front of his hind legs and burst into a flurry of motion. First, he had to get closer to his quarry in order to assess their condition. As it was, he was unsure if Chomper had injured any of them. He had heard a pained yell, but he could not ascertain the source. If they have hurt Chomper... Littlefoot thought darkly to himself and he quickened his pace in his anger. He would soon deal with these longnecks...

As he advanced on the two longnecks, he could smell the beautifully sweet scent of blood. The smell was emanating from both the ground and the retreating longnecks. Chomper injured one of them. Good. Littlefoot thought to himself. The fact that one of them was injured meant that Chomper was probably not the one who screamed in pain. This greatly relieved the former longneck as he continued to advance on his former companions.

As Littlefoot weaved around the trunks of the plentiful trees in his advance on his quarry, he noted that the trunks were slowly becoming thinner and more plentiful. This was a clear sign that they were reaching the end of the forest and would soon enter the grassland where the herd was located. Littlefoot had to make his move soon or he would lose his chance. I can't let that happen. He thought. The gang is depending on me.

He had advanced within five body-lengths of the lagging longneck and could now notice that it was severely injured. He was stumbling and noticeably limping on his right hind limb. Chomper had made a very good strike on this one. Littlefoot reflected that this one would probably die anyway, as it could not survive in a migrating herd with such a crippling injury. This helped calm him about what he had to do. He would now simply be hastening the inevitable.

Suddenly the light of the night circle began to shine upon Littlefoot's face, as the trees fell behind him. Crap! They're out of the forest! Seeing that the injured longneck was within one body-length of him, he decided to make his move. Placing his weight firmly on the claws of his hind feet, he leaped at the longneck with all of his might.

"Ahhhh!!!!"

Littlefoot's attack had met its mark. His sharp sickle claws dug into Rhett's sides, securing Littlefoot onto his back. The weight of the fastbiter's body caused his claws to slice through the abdomen and begin to expose its contents on either side. This alone would have constituted a mortal injury. However Littlefoot, acting on this killing instinct, also bit into Rhett's back, greedily ripping at the flesh where his neck intersected with his torso. With a sickening crack, Rhett's vertebrae shattered under the pressure. With a violent lurch, Rhett crumbled to the ground and Littlefoot was sent hurdling off of the paralyzed longneck.

As he lay flat on the ground, the fastbiter struggled to catch his breath. The sudden fall had knocked the air out of him and for quite some time he was indisposed. After some time, however, he glanced in the direction of the collapsed body of the longneck.

He had done it. He had brought the longneck down.

......

Pain. Unimaginable pain.

Then nothing.

Rhett was horrified and confused by the sudden turn of events. The fastbiter had obviously caught up to him and had attacked him from behind. Now suddenly he couldn't feel much of anything at all.

He tried to will his legs to move in order to continue his escape, but nothing happened. Why... Why can't I move my legs! Why can't I feel my legs!

Rhett tried to scream but his voice only came out in a muffled wet gasp. With a horrific realization, he realized that he had a metallic taste in his mouth. He was bleeding internally.

I'm dying. Rhett realized. However, that realization did not strike him with any more terror than what he had already experienced. It seemed that as his body was shutting down, so was his ability to be horrified. The calm that often came before death had descended upon Rhett. For reasons that he could not explain, he knew that he only had moments left.

Was this what daddy felt? He reflected. He supposed that he would soon go to wherever his family went. He mused that perhaps that was why his family did not haunt his dreams during his last sleep story. Perhaps they knew that he would soon be joining him.

He could hear footsteps approaching his head as a brown fastbiter came into view. He had a grim expression on his face. Rhett fully expected that this was the end.

But the fastbiter did not advance.

Rhett observed that the fastbiter suddenly had a horrified expression on his face, as if he had seen a ghost. I suppose that is what I am at this point. He noted darkly.

His now immovable neck kept his head prone upon the ground, facing the brown fastbiter. However, he could now also see the rapidly retreating form of Ali. He could hear her shrieks of grief as she ran to the herd. At least she made it. Rhett thought to himself. At least I did that. Whatever misgivings that he had about his past evaporated as he noted what he had accomplished. He couldn't save his father or his siblings. He had hidden behind his mother as they were ripped to shreds in the attack on his original herd. For so long he had felt that he was a coward, that he could have done more. Now, in his final moments, he realized that at least Ali would survive. She would live, love, and continue on. Perhaps she would even tell his tale one day... She was his legacy. Secure in this knowledge, for a brief moment in his short life, he was at peace.

With his vision dimming and his mind becoming foggy, he had one final coherent thought.

I'm sorry, Ali. Live a good life.

And then he knew no more.


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