The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 16 A Danger Diverted

“It is dangerous to exist in the world. To exist is to be threatened. We must live with threats.” ― Adam Levin, The Instructions

Spike awoke early the next morning. This would have been an extraordinary occurrence back when he was a stegosaurus, as he would often sleep until midmorning during his Great Valley days, but he found that it was becoming a more regular phenomenon now that he was a sharptooth. Since his transformation he had only slept in during the previous day, back when he was ravaged by hunger and sought the refuge of sleep. With the events of the previous night, however, that was no longer a problem.

Upon opening his eyes he noticed that the sun was just beginning its ascent at the horizon and that much of the land was still under the cloak of darkness. Notwithstanding their late night hunt, he had woken up at the break of dawn.

Urgh! The former spiketail thought to himself. Why can't I sleep like I did before?

Knowing that yearning for the past would get him nowhere, he decided to get up and face the new day. He groggily blinked his eyes a few times before finally placing weight upon his hind limbs and rising to his full height.

"Looks like I am the only one up." The fastbiter muttered quietly, not wanting to wake the others. He was almost envious of them at this point. He had gone from the easy-going member of the group to a whirling ball of energy since the transformation. Although he knew it was simply a trait of his new kind, one which he shared with the others, it still irked him that his mind wouldn't rest during his waking hours. He supposed that it was something that he would simply have to get used to.

Taking a deep stretch, Spike yawned before taking a look upon their handiwork from the night before.

Rhett's body, or what remained of it, resided some distance away from the sleeping gang. In their ravenous hunger, they had nearly stripped his body of its flesh. Only portions of the abdomen and upper torso still retained remnants of meat, whereas the remainder was nearly bare except for blood-stained bones. It would have been a terrifying sight to any leaf-eater, but it did not immediately evoke any emotions in the green fastbiter. Absentmindedly, he lamented how little food remained and debated how much to leave for the others. That was when the implications of his thoughts became apparent to him.

What are you doing, Spike? He asked himself rhetorically. This was your friend!

Upon reflecting upon their situation for a while, he decided that he would eat a small portion of what remained. Ducky and the others will probably need to eat more than I do. He affirmed to himself. He had eaten far more than the others had the night before.

Walking slowly to his destination, he observed the corpse for a few moments. Just hours before this had been a living dinosaur, capable of thought, love, and everything else that entailed. He had been their friend, albeit a distant one, and they had all done their part to end his life. Despite the necessity of what they had done, Spike was still feeling remorse for his part in the hunt. Would it be like this every time that they killed? As it was, he felt conflicting drives to apologize to the longneck skeleton in front of him and also to devour what remained. It was an unsettling combination of motivations.

"It's sad, isn't it?"

Spike turned around suddenly to see Ruby behind him. He was surprised to see that she had awakened without his knowledge. The fact that she could do that spoke volumes about her stealthiness.

Spike simply nodded. What more was there to say? Ruby continued to speak, however.

"I had to steal an egg once when I was younger." Ruby admitted, as if she was confiding a dark secret. Spike looked upon her with a surprised expression, but tilted his head as if to beckon her to continue. Ruby noted his willingness to listen and continued her story.

"We couldn't find any food at our old home. My mommy and daddy would feed me with whatever they could catch, but would go hungry. They were very hungry because they would feed me their catch." She continued. "I got tired of seeing them hungry... And I was getting hungry too."

Ruby then had a faraway look in her eyes, as if seeing a memory that upset her dearly.

"I was tired of the hunger, so I went looking for food. I was too young, but I went anyway." She affirmed. Fast runners were not usually expected to fish or catch snapping shells on their own until about their fifth star day, but she disobeyed out of concern for her parents. "A threehorn was away from the nest... and I took her egg." She then shook her head at the memory. "She almost got me! But my daddy distracted her and I got away!" She looked down in sadness. "He hurt his leg running away. But if he wouldn't have run away then he would have been hurt worse."

Spike was quite moved by her story, but didn't know what to say. If any of the adults had known about her exploits then she would certainly have been banished from the Great Valley. But more so than that observation, several other questions opened up in the fastbiter's mind. How hard of a life had Ruby lived while in the Mysterious Beyond? How many horrific stories had she been forced to keep to herself? He truly felt for her at this point. He could see some of his guilt and confusion being represented in her story.

"You did the right thing."

Spike had spoken without even thinking about it. In the instant he said it, however, he realized that he was indeed correct. When faced with a survival situation, anything goes. He certainly could not blame her for doing whatever she thought would save her family. Sometimes horrific problems required horrific solutions.

Ruby smiled a sad, knowing smile and nodded at Spike. She then said what was truly on her mind. "So did you. We all did the right thing last night."

Spike nodded, but then took a look at the corpse in front of him. Even if they understood the necessity of their actions that did not mean that other dinosaurs would. How could you explain the necessity of the kill to a leaf-eater who was potential prey? How do you explain it to a mother who has just lost a child? You couldn't and Spike knew it. He fully realized that he would not have been able to understand such a thing until he became a sharptooth himself. As it was, he knew that he would have a difficult time getting Ducky accustomed to these changes. Their transformation cut to the very core of her personality. She felt lost in this new reality. Spike resolved to be there for her, but he had no idea if that would be enough.

"Yeah." He affirmed. "But... I don't think Ducky sees it that way."

Ruby walked up to Spike's side and placed her forelimb on his back. With a flourish she then moved her other forelimb in a grand gesture. "Then we will need to remind her until she understands."

The two looked at the broken body of Rhett for a few moments before they heard the sounds of moving feet.

"You... Never told us about the egg before, Ruby." It was Littlefoot. He had heard the entire conversation.

Ruby was surprised and took a few moments to respond.

"No one would have understood, Littlefoot. I didn't understand until I was hungry. Unless one has been hungry then they cannot understand."

Littlefoot nodded. "I know, I know. I guess... I still don't understand it fully." He admitted. "We have to kill now. It's so horrible, but it feels so..."

"Right?" Spike finished for him.

"Yeah..." Littlefoot affirmed.

The three dinosaurs talked and kept one another company for a few moments as the sun rose and the other members of the gang awoke from their slumber. With their minds full of new knowledge about their rose-colored companion, and their bellies full of longneck, they then resumed their journey to Hanging Rock.

There was one problem, however.

They had to find their way back to the river first!

......

In a nearby field, two large fastbiters were roaming through the underbrush, looking for their next meal. They had caught the scent of the gang several hours before, but had since lost the trail. Notwithstanding their efforts, they made no attempt at stealth as it would be useless to try to hide in this terrain. Even if they were making the attempt, however, the banter between the two would have warned off any prey.

"Two days and no food! At least we had food when we were with Red Claw."

The complaint was leveled by a large green fastbiter. He had dark green stripes on his back and a pale underbelly. Despite his fierce appearance, he almost had a discontented manner about him. This was obviously due to his unresolved hunger.

"Oh, quit your belly aching, Thud!"

The retort was given by Screech, a grayish-blue fastbiter with dark grey stripes on his back. He was obviously annoyed with both the situation and his brother's antics. However, there was something else on his mind as well...

"I will quit my belly aching when my belly stops aching." Thud muttered sarcastically.

Screech decided to respond to Thud's complaint with a pointed reminder. "Just in case you don't remember, it was your idea to leave Red Claw. We could still be having food courtesy of the nut job if we didn't bail on him."

Thus couldn't argue with this logic, but rather again reiterated his point. "You agreed with me. Remember? He is mad. His plans will get us all killed!"

"True." Screech replied. "But if we don't find food soon, we will be as good as dead anyway. So quit your complaining and help me find some leaf-eaters, won't you?"

The two remained silent for some time, with each of them being involved in the fruitless search for meat. Their willful eviction from Red Claw's territory meant that they were now searching for new hunting grounds. Hunting grounds that were well away from Red Claw. Both of them knew that Red Claw would stop at nothing to eliminate his wayward henchmen. He was nothing if not vindictive. That was why they had departed in the night and traveled for as long as possible. They had escaped Red Claw's reach for the moment, but now the critical matter of food was becoming a pressing matter.

"We could have eaten Chomper and his insufferable friends if it wasn't for your slowness." Screech continued. He then looked at Thud with an exasperated expression. "Was that intentional?" Thud didn't reply, so Screech continued. "I don't understand your reluctance to kill the wannabe leaf-eater. Why do you want to protect Chomper?"

This was a discussion that they had several times in the previous two days, but each time Thud couldn't get his brother to understand. Thud felt that he owed it to the little biter, whereas Screech disagreed with Thud's sentiments.

"As I told you, when I was trapped under boulders after that earthshake, he helped get them off of me. I could have eaten him if I wanted and he knew that, but yet he helped me anyway." It had happened several seasons ago when the gang had gotten trapped outside of the Great Valley. Thud, Screech, and Red Claw had all given chase to the seven friends only to be disrupted by the earthshake. Although Thud had never told anyone, after he had escaped from the fallen rocks he kept knowledge about where the children were hiding to himself. With that one action he had quite possibly saved their lives, but nonetheless he still felt that he owed the little biter something.

"Yes, and you already paid your honor debt." Screech was quickly tiring of this conversation. He almost wished that Thud would complain about the lack of food again. It was less tiresome than the nonsense he was currently talking about.

"I refuse to hunt him."

Screech stopped in his tracks at Thud's show of defiance. Screech had always been the dominant one, the pack leader, until Red Claw showed up on the scene. To have Thud show such defiance was a risky move. He would not tolerate a move on his leadership, not even from his brother. He would need to clarify his intentions.

"Are you challenging me?" The question was not worded harshly, but it didn't need to be. Its mere utterance indicated its severity.

After a pause, Thud decided to respond carefully.

"...no."

Screech relaxed slightly at that affirmation. Internally, however, he was greatly relieved. He had no desire to fight his brother. They had gone through so much together. He would hate to risk injuring him or worse...

"But please don't force me to do this!" Thud pleaded. This was most unlike him. Thud was just as ruthless and brash as Screech was, so this sudden break in his demeanor did not escape unnoticed. Thud was not acting like himself, and Screech thought he knew why.

"Chomper reminds you of your son, doesn't he?"

At Thud's sudden pained expression, Screech knew that he was right in his suspicions. Thud's son, despite being an Utahraptor, was as innocent and naive as Chomper was. Or at least he was. He had only taken on a sterner exterior after... that incident.

"You will need to seek him out one day, brother." Screech shook his head. "Surely he would forgive you. After all, you are his father."

Thud shook his head sadly. "No. He would never forgive me for attacking his pack. He thinks of them as his family now." Thud was no longer maintaining eye contact with Screech. His brother had never seen Thud so upset. "If I wouldn't have joined with Red Claw, if I would have disobeyed his order..." Screech wouldn't let him finish.

"I joined Red Claw just the same as you, because we needed food. And you know full well that Red Claw would have killed us both if we resisted his orders in the canyon." Screech continued. "Brother, we didn't have a choice."

Thud didn't respond, but instead looked up at the sky. His mind was obviously in a very dark place as he revisited sad memories. He had lost a son. Not because of his son's death or disappearance, but because of Thud's own stupid decisions. If he would have only swallowed his pride and not requested to join with the cruelest, most-powerful sharptooth in the Mysterious Beyond, then he would still have what was left of his family. But his beloved mate had died when he wasn't strong enough to deter a rampaging herd of domeheads. From that day on, he vowed that he would never be weak again and that he would join with a pack that would make him among the strongest. But in the process he had lost himself and everything that he truly loved. Only now was he beginning to understand the magnitude of his mistake.

Screech looked at him sadly. They couldn't afford to not eat a dinosaur because of his brother's sentiments, never mind how heartfelt or understandable they were. However, there was something that he could do...

"We can spare Chomper if we encounter him again."

Thud's expression picked up noticeably on this news.

"However... his companions will not be so lucky." Screech continued. "They insulted us, brother! I do not take kindly to that! We will spare Chomper, but not his fastbiter friends."

Realizing that his brother's offer was not actually an offer, but rather an order, Thud nodded his approval at Screech's suggestion. He could pay his debt to Chomper once more and, for one day at least, put aside some of the guilt he felt at his failings as a father.

"Good. Now let's find those runts! I am starving!"

......

"Are you sure we are going the right way?" Ducky asked the rose-colored fastbiter.

Ruby sighed. The gang had gone way off track with their excursion to hunt the longnecks. However, they should still be relatively close to Hanging Rock. If only she could find the river again...

"I am sure that we will find the river if we go this way." Ruby replied. "Then we simply follow the river until we get to Hanging Rock."

"Yeah, unless the river dried up then we should run into it." That statement was from Cera. Ruby was slightly surprised by her magnanimous response. It seemed that having some meat in her stomach had greatly improved her mood. It was another reminder of how much each of them had changed.

The gang continued to follow Ruby as they went through the open field that they found themselves in. The grass was actually quite tall here, which was a marked change from their travels some days ago. If they encountered smaller sharpteeth in their current position then they would have some difficulty in seeing them, but larger predators like Screech and Thud would have no hope of sneaking up on them. Nonetheless, they began to quicken their pace.

"Guys! Look!" Petrie suddenly called as he descended from the skies high above. "Water ahead!"

The gang began to run in the direction that Petrie indicated. If they had found water then that might mean that the river could be close by. Petrie's scouting had given them advanced notice of their surroundings once again. As they ran through the tall grass, they suddenly encountered a clearing in the foliage. The sight that greeted them surprised them all.

A large lake filled the scene in front of them with a glorious swath of azure blue. They had not smelled the moisture on account of the wind blowing steadily in the other direction, but now they could all smell it clearly. It was a glorious sight, as they had not tasted clean water in some days.

"Water!" Ducky called out in excitement. She then began to run towards the shore, obviously eager to take a drink. After a brief pause, the others joined her in the sprint to the lake.

In their excitement over the water they stopped observing the terrain around them.

......

"Well... Well... Take a look at that!" Screech whispered to his companion.

Chomper and his pack of insufferable fastbiters were splashing and playing in the massive lake in front of them. It was a serene sign of innocence. However, preserving that innocence would not fill their bellies. Now that they were distracted, it was the best time to strike! Screech quickly determined a course of action before gesturing to Thud.

"I think that it is time for the belly dragger gambit." He replied. As skilled hunters they had memorized many of the more common hunting techniques and tricks. This would not be a haphazard affair like the previous hunt, nor a blunt force chasing strategy like they used when helping out Red Claw. No, this would be more strategic undertaking. The gang wouldn't stand a chance.

The fastbiters began to quickly rush through the grass. They hoped to catch their prey unaware.

......

The pack had drunk their fill on the clean, clear water and had begun to play in the water. This surprise respite was a throwback of sorts to their old lives. For the first time since their transformation they had a chance to play games. This was a small slice of innocence that many of them thought that they had lost during the previous night's hunt. Normally, during their leaf-eater days, Swimmer and Splasher would be the logical game for a water setting. But now the gang had settled on a new game.

"Gotcha!" Cera yelled as she surfaced from the watery depths and tagged Ruby.

"Alright, I am the swimming sharptooth now! Roar!" Ruby exclaimed playfully. The other began to swim away in varying directions, with some sinking in the water temporarily in order to avoid Ruby's "attacks". Even though they had changed so much, they were still the same playful kids they were before. But, of course, as sharptooth kids their games took on a different connotation...

Just as play trained leaf-eaters to flee from danger, play trained sharpteeth to be the danger.

Ruby looked around her and noticed a green silhouette appear in the water under her. Ducky was trying to escape from her by swimming completely under her. Impressive. Ruby thought. But, not impressive enough!

With a grin on her muzzle, she dived as well.

Ducky then surfaced.

"Where did she go?" Ducky muttered to herself suddenly.

"I don't see her! Nope, nope, nope." Ducky replied to her own question. It was her idea to swim under the former fastbiter as she assumed it was a move that she wouldn't expect. She was quite surprised at the gang's improvement in the water. It seemed that fastbiters had a bit of the swimming instinct in them. They were moving around far more naturally than they did as leaf-eaters.

Chomp!

"Ahhh!" Ducky screamed in surprise as she felt a light bite on her tail.

As Ruby surfaced, she laughed heartedly. "That was a good try, Ducky! But not good enough. If it was good enough then I wouldn't have got you!"

Ducky now laughed as well. "I thought it was worth a try. I did, I did!"

The others began to congregate around the duo as a lull developed in the game.

"Well that was fun!" Littlefoot replied. "But where is the river? We need to get going soon."

The others gave fatigued and unhappy sighs, but each knew that their leader was right. They needed to get to Hanging Rock before the hunger madness struck again.

Ruby smiled. "I know this lake. My mommy and I would often get fish here when daddy was off getting plants." She then began to smile a bit wider. "That means that we are close to the river and only a few days from Hanging Rock!"

"All right!" Littlefoot exclaimed in excitement, as the others joined in. They were back on track after their day-long detour to the longneck herd. Things were beginning to look up for the newly-formed pack.

"Well, then let's dry off and get going!" Cera grunted, but not out of exasperation, there was a good-natured bravado to her demeanor.

"Yeah. Let's find that river again!" Chomper exclaimed.

Suddenly a gruff voice came from the bushes.

"Oh, I don't think any of you will be finding the river..."

As the pack looked on in horror, Screech and Thud arose from the tall grass. They had been too distracted by their own play that they overlooked the possibility of attack. This was a very bad mistake. A potentially fatal mistake.

"Well, we will just swim away." Littlefoot threatened in the hopes that the two predators would decide to go after other prey. Surely, they were not known for their swimming prowess.

"Only one of you can swim well, as we saw in your game." Screech taunted. This filled Littlefoot with much dread. How long had they been out there watching, listening, and plotting? It was creepy beyond all measure.

"Which means that the rest of you are on the menu!" Thud finished, as he began to rush into the water. Screech then proceeded to enter the water from some distance to his left. They were being ambushed!

"Guys! Listen to me!" It was Ducky. "I have an idea. Just swim away from me and then go for the shore."

Littlefoot was taken aback by Ducky's sudden bravado. What was she doing? They wouldn't let her face this alone. It was suicide! That was when Littlefoot had a horrifying thought. What if the former swimmer was trying to take a way out of her sharptooth existence? He wouldn't allow that to happen.

But before he could intercede, Spike began to speak.

"Ducky... Don't risk..." But he never got the chance to finish.

"I know what I am doing! I do, I do!" The green fastbiter affirmed. "Go!"

At the former swimmer's uncharacteristic admonishment, the others began to do as she said. They began to head to Ducky's right, while keeping relatively close to the shore. Ducky, meanwhile, was heading into deeper water.

Ruby was frantic in her swimming efforts as she didn't want to meet her end at the claws of Red Claw's two henchmen. She wasn't sure what Ducky had planned but she hoped that it worked. They were out of options at this point.

"Ah!"

Ruby turned to see the others right behind her in a line as they swam away from their original location. Thud seemed to be pursuing Ducky, who still had some distance on the larger fastbiter, whereas Screech was rapidly approaching Spike. Oh no! Ruby thought morosely. He was always the worst swimmer... Now it seemed that he would meet his end in this lake from her childhood. It was an outcome she wouldn't have wished on anyone, especially not her dearest friends.

"Ah!! Help!"

The others, the two predators included, looked in the direction of the deep water. Taking advantage of this momentary distraction, Spike gained some distance between himself and his pursuer. But where did the scream come from?

"Help me... Glug! Glug!"

It was Ducky! She appeared to be in some distress in the water.

"Ducky!" Spike screamed from his location, ignoring the fastbiter that had been pursuing him moments before. His sister was having trouble in the water and there was nothing that he could do. He could not swim as readily as the others and he knew that he would be unable to dive for Ducky even if he could reach her in time. With a mournful heart, Spike realized that he was probably witnessing his sister's last moments. He was beyond despair.

Now seeing a more promising victim, Screech and Thud both ignored the others and advanced on Ducky. They would eat well tonight.

"Spike!" Littlefoot called to the fastbiter. "Spike!" But still he did not respond.

Smack!

"Spike!" Littlefoot had slapped the green fastbiter in order to get his attention. "Spike, we have to go now!"

"But Ducky!" He called out in despair.

"We have to go, Spike! Swim away and let me try something!"

At Littlefoot's reassurance, Spike swam in the direction of the others. The rest of the pack was now heading towards the shore in order to begin running from the lake. If they could run away on land then the water-bound fastbiters would have no chance in catching the pack. If only Ducky could join them...

"Hey you feckless coward! How about you hunt something more your size!" Littlefoot roared out. He had rattled them with insults before. He hoped that he could do so again. He was still at a loss of how to help Ducky after he got their attention, however. He would cross that path when he got to it.

Screech made an annoyed grunt, but looked at the brown fastbiter with an amused sneer.

"You won't distract us that easily, you pathetic weakling!" He then began to resume his swim towards Ducky while calling out insults at Littlefoot. "How do you like this? Your friend is out here all alone and will soon die at our claws... How does it feel to know that it is all because of your stupidity?"

"You heartless monster!" Littlefoot raged.

"Oh, I am heartless am I? What pitiful sentiment. We all have to eat and you are simply here." Screech continued his exposition, dripping each word with scorn and sarcasm. "I don't appreciate being insulted by worthless ankle-biters as you. Perhaps seeing the fruits of your pathetic leadership will teach you some humility? Either way, now that I will enjoy feasting upon your hapless friend!"

Littlefoot roared his rage at the two fastbiters, but he knew that there was nothing that he could do. He would be unable to reach them in time and even if he could somehow perform that feat, he wouldn't be able to drag Ducky out of the water and still survive. With tears rolling down his face and a pain deep in his heart, he did what he once resolved never to do.

He turned and began to swim away.

He still had five other members of the pack to care for and he knew that Ducky would have wanted him to protect them. But he resolved never to forgive himself for his failure. He vowed that he would remember this day for as long as he lived.

......

As she saw Littlefoot shout insults and then flee, Ducky felt a bit guilty about her actions. She did not want to cause the others pain, but she had to make this look believable in order to dupe the two predators. She would be unable to do that if she showed them that her distress was all an act.

"Well... Well..." Screech muttered to the former swimmer. "Looks like this is the end of you."

Ducky continued to feign difficulty. Sinking below the water, while flailing about wildly. She noticed that Screech and Thud were approaching quite closely. But they were not yet close enough.

What Ducky then saw as she briefly surfaced again surprised her. Screech actually looked at her with a softer expression. It was a look that she had never seen before.

"I am sorry dear. I will make this quick."

It seems that he does have a heart. Ducky thought to herself. I knew he had a good side to him. But I can't drop the act.

As she continued to flail and struggle, she gasped out a reply.

"You... gasp... don't have to do this!"

Thud then answered as he approached to her left.

"Yes... Yes... We do." Thud then began. He had a grim expression on his face, she noted. These two were not as hard as they looked and acted. However, that wouldn't save her unless she acted soon.

With a final, deep breath she closed her eyes.

And sank into the depths.

......

"Grab her!" Screech yelled.

As the two fastbiters struggled to grasp the sinking fastbiter, they lamented their bad luck. She only had to stay afloat a few more moments and they could have dragged her back to land. Now she was falling into the depths of the lake. Their efforts appeared to have all been for naught.

As the two fastbiters roared in anger at their predicament, they did not see the flurry of motion take place some distance away.

......

Gasp!

Ducky surfaced from the depths. As she regained her breath, she took a look from where she had escaped.

The two fastbiters were still struggling to find the former swimmer. They had lost sight of her as she sank into the lake and had not realized that she was swimming underneath them. She had made a clean getaway.

Not wanting to botch her chance, she speedily swam towards the shore. She had to catch up with the others. They must be so worried.

......

"I can't believe she's gone!" Cera cried as she was still trying to digest the news.

Petrie was unable to speak as he was bound up in his grief. Cera uncharacteristically allowed him to hug her leg as he cried for his lost friend. Ducky was his closest friend in the world and now she was gone. In his anguished mind, he hoped that she didn't suffer. That was not how he wanted her to experience her final moments.

Chomper and Ruby were both embracing in their grief. They had just been playing with the green fastbiter moments before and now she was gone. Ruby reflected that she now must have known what their victims must feel after losing a family member. Here one moment, gone the next. The fragility of life was on display for all of them to see.

Chomper meanwhile blamed himself for their recent disaster. He was the only born and raised sharptooth. As such, he should have known better than to not have one dinosaur be on watch. He should have warned them. He should have done more.

Spike, however, was having the worst time of it. It seemed that Littlefoot's gambit had failed. If only Littlefoot had not intervened... Spike could have sacrificed himself. He could have let Screech take him and Ducky would still live. However, despite his thoughts about self-sacrifice, he knew that such thoughts were folly. Ducky had been struggling in the water and his sacrifice would have done nothing to save her. She had sacrificed herself in order to save the others. He resolved that he would never be able to wrap his bind around her actions. Why, Ducky? He thought through his tears. There had to be another way...

"Goodbye, Ducky."

Littlefoot looked at Spike with a mournful expression, before closing his eyes in shame. He knew that they were all here mourning because of his failure. It was his poor decisions that led them to play without having someone on watch. It was his arrogance that made him insult his adversaries several days ago. All of this was his fault. He would never forgive himself for as long as he lived.

"Spike!"

I must really be losing it. Littlefoot thought to himself. I can almost hear her voice.

"Ducky?!" Several voices cried out, as Littlefoot opened his eyes.

There before him was the green fastbiter. Safe and sound.

The entire pack nearly smothered the poor fastbiter in their attempt to embrace her. The former swimmer had appeared to come back from the dead. How could this be?

"Ducky! How?" Littlefoot sputtered.

Ducky laughed at their response. But then, upon seeing Spike's tear drenched face, she stopped to place a calming paw on his back.

"I am sorry to make you all sad. I am, I am!" She replied. "But I had to trick them."

"But how did you do that?" Chomper asked in genuine curiosity. She must have had a stroke of genius in order to outsmart those two fastbiters. The pack had been in an unwinnable scenario. How did she pull victory from the jaws of defeat?

Ducky smiled as she began her explanation. "I knew that I could outsmart them if I was in the water. I acting like I had trouble and sank when they tried to get me." She explained to the impressed group. "I swam back to shore after I got away from them, and now I am here! Yep, yep, yep!"

"That is amazing, Ducky!" Chomper remarked, overtly showing sentiments that all of the others shared. "You are really beginning to think like a sharptooth now!"

Chomper had intended it as a compliment, but it still hit Ducky with mixed emotions. Her brilliant strategy had saved the rest of the pack, but it also represented her transition into the more strategic mind of a sharptooth. She wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

Sensing Chomper's miscalculation, Littlefoot decided to intervene in the conversation.

"You did a great job, Ducky! You helped save us!" He affirmed. "But, never scare us like that again. We all thought that you had..." He couldn't finish the sentence. "And it would have been all my fault!"

The others were surprised at Littlefoot's show of regret.

"Your fault?" Ruby inquired.

"I should have had someone keep watch. I should have known better." Littlefoot replied as he shook his head in regret.

Ducky walked over to Littlefoot and placed a paw on his shoulder.

"It wasn't your fault, Littlefoot. We all should have known better." She began. "We all need to learn from our mistake. We do, we do!" The two then shared an embrace, to which the remainder of the pack also joined in. After some time, the pack broke their embrace and Chomper suddenly had a thought.

"Speaking of learning from mistakes, we should get moving!" He exclaimed. "Screech and Thud will be after us soon!"

Littlefoot nodded at his affirmation. They indeed needed to redouble their efforts.

"Chomper's right. We need to get going." Littlefoot began. He then took a look at the pack, his pack, now complete once more with all of its members. He would do everything possible to ensure their safety and well-being. "Let's head to the river and follow it to Hanging Rock."

The pack then quickly picked up their pace as they advanced away from the lake. They were well away from the lake by the time the two predators again found their scent.

Much like in their previous encounter, the pack had won this round.


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