The Seven Hunters

Chapter 1 A Longneck's Nightmare

“Then stop trying to throw logic at nightmares. Sometimes the monsters are real, Anita. Sometimes they're real and the only way to defeat them is to be the bigger monster. ― Laurell K. Hamilton, Bullet

Littlefoot was beginning to suspect that he was not very good at this game.

Every single hiding spot that he had selected had proven to be a failure. He had originally chosen a log as his hiding place, only to find that his tail stuck out of the log. After being ferreted out by Spike, he had then attempted to seek refuge in a cave. This refuge was transitory, however, as Ruby soon picked up his trail and chased him into a corner. Most recently he had sought shelter in tall grass, only to have his serenity interrupted by Chomper's playful roar. He was running as fast as his bulky longneck legs could carry him. He most certainly did not want to be "it" again.

Chomper appeared to be enjoying this chase far more than he was, Littlefoot dryly observed.

Littlefoot decided to charge into the forested area of the valley in order to lose his pursuer. "I may not be able to outrun him," Littlefoot thought, "but perhaps I could outmaneuver him." Littlefoot then began to zig and zag around the trees. He quickly looked behind him and saw Chomper begin to fall back. "Heh... This is actually beginning to work," he thought triumphantly. He then turned forward again to see that he had run right into a dead end. A fallen tree, far too large for him to traverse, lay in front of him. To his left lay the fast-flowing stream. "Darn!" he thought, "I guess that I have to go left." He then began to turn in order to access his only possible escape route.

That was when he felt a slight pain in his tail.

"Ow!" Littlefoot yelled, "Okay, okay! I am the chaser again. You don't have to actually nibble at my tail, you know."

Chomper laughed. "Oh, come on, Littlefoot! I was just playing. It isn't my fault that your tail is the easiest thing to grab." he said while licking his lips.

Littlefoot rolled his eyes and responded, "Alright, I guess it is my turn now." He then closed his eyes and began counting to twenty, "One tree star, two tree stars, three tree stars..." Littlefoot heard the scampering of feet and knew that Chomper was busy finding a new hiding space. Littlefoot suppressed a groan at his predicament. It was his turn to be the "sharptooth" again.

"Nineteen tree stars, twenty tree stars. Alright, here I come!" Littlefoot then opened his eyes and looked in confusion at the scene that confronted him.

He was surrounded by a desolate landscape. The ground was without vegetation or moisture. Not a single tree, bush, or drop of water would present itself in the landscape. Even the sky was formless, without a sky puffy in sight. It was an impermeable dome of azure blue. This land was the embodiment of death and despair. He was the only living thing that could be seen.

"W... Where am I?" Littlefoot mouthed out, "How did I get here?"

Littlefoot then began to panic. "My friends! My grandparents! Where are they? Are they here?" He then began to call their names in the hope that he can find some of them.

"Chomper! Ruby! Cera! Spike! Petrie! Ducky!" Littlefoot bellowed to the silent landscape, "Grandpa! Grandma! Anyone!" The only sounds that reached his ears were the echoes of his own voice. It was as if the land itself was trying to mock him.

Littlefoot looked down and began to tremble at his predicament. This was impossible. One simply doesn't close their eyes and magically go from one land to another. It simply did not happen. And yet... he was here. He was glad that his friends and family were spared being sent to this barren hellscape, but at the same time he was sad that he was alone. He and his friends had gotten through many seemingly impossible situations together, and he would have felt much more confident if they were with him. However, as they were not present, he supposed that he had to get out of this on his own.

He began to walk through the mysterious desert that surrounded him. With each step, his feet cracked the parched ground. The scorching hot ground threatened to burn his feet, and the sensation was nearly unbearable. It reminded Littlefoot of how the ground acted when the herds had to flee the Great Valley after the swarming leaf gobblers had eaten all of the tree stars. He had hoped that he and his friends would be spared going through something like that again. Apparently he was not so lucky.

He advanced through the landscape for an indeterminate amount of time. Littlefoot noted that the bright circle didn't appear to fall here, and the night circle didn't appear at all. It almost seemed like this place was in perpetual daytime. A daytime without sky water or relief of any kind. What sort of madness was this?

The landscape did not help his disorientation. The land appeared utterly formless in its lack of valleys or ridges. It was nothing but a flat expanse, with cracks in the ground giving the landscape its only discernible features.

Even his sensations did not spare him from this infernal monotony. After many hours of traveling (or had it been days?), the only sensation that his feet could perceive was unbearable heat and aching pain. His mouth and throat were so dry that even if he were to encounter another being in this place, he doubted that he would be able form words with his parched mouth. His eyes were so dry that it felt as if his eyelids were locked into place. His stomach grumbled at the lack of sustenance or moisture. Thirst, hunger, and pain were the only companions that this place provided Littlefoot.

After some time, Littlefoot became exhausted by his travels and decided that he could not continue. He fell to the ground in his exhaustion and immediately blacked out.

He opened his eyes. How long he had been unconscious was an open question. The landscape has not changed, nor had the bright circle fallen. He cried out in anguish, only to hear someone clear their throat behind him.

Littlefoot carefully placed his forelimbs firmly on the ground and struggled to find the strength to lift his hind limbs. "Is this how it feels to die?" Littlefoot thought to himself, "Is this what my mother felt when she could no longer move?" He would have cried if he had any tears left to do so. With a herculean struggle Littlefoot was finally able to get himself back on all four feet. Littlefoot allowed himself a groan of pain and then proceeded to turn around and see the being behind him. He turned his neck and saw...

"A fastbiter!" Littlefoot screamed.

Littlefoot attempted to move out of the way, but his legs failed him and he was sent tumbling to the ground. Being unable to move and to the point of exhaustion, Littlefoot closed his eyes and awaited the end. At this point he was resigned to his fate. He was just glad that his friends and grandparents were safe in the Great Valley. At least they would live on.

"Are you so eager to die?" the fastbiter asked, "I seldom have a meal offer themselves up so freely."

Littlefoot was stunned to hear the fastbiter speak to him in leaf-eater. "Y... You can speak?"

The fastbiter laughed, "Of course I can speak. If I couldn't speak then how could I be able to make you an offer?"

Littlefoot was perplexed and simply croaked out, "An offer?" He failed to see what this fastbiter could offer him as he was surely soon to perish in this depressing hellscape. Littlefoot had not seen food or water in what felt like ages. Even if he could be given those, his legs refused to serve him any longer. How could a fastbiter help him at this point? And why would it want to do so?

"I can provide you with all of the food and water that you desire. I can even remove you from this rather lovely scenery." he said with a flamboyant wave of his clawed forelimb, "but you will need to close your eyes and be willing to look upon the world from a new perspective." Littlefoot began to question him, but the fastbiter stopped him with a sardonic smile and a wave of his claw. "Sorry little one, but no questions. Either yes or no."

Littlefoot was thinking that he had little to lose. Even if this fastbiter was simply a lunatic, what was the worst that could happen? He was as good as dead at this point anyway. So he gave the only answer that made sense.

"Yes." Littlefoot replied, and then he closed his eyes.

Littlefoot couldn't put the sensations that he then felt into words. The best description that he could possibly give was that he simply felt wrong. It was as if his mind was no longer his, and his body was no longer under his control. He heard muffled sounds and unique smells, but he couldn't make sense out of any of them. He knew that his body was moving and active, but he could not determine what was happening. His physical eyes may have very well been open, but his "mind's eye" was closed.

Then he tasted it... Food. Glorious food. He thought that he would never taste its like again. He couldn't tell what he was eating as it wasn't anything that he had ever tasted before. But it filled his insatiable hunger all the same. After several moments of gorging himself on the newfound food, he heard the fastbiter's voice again.

"Now, open your eyes and see your fate."

Littlefoot opened his eyes and saw an incomprehensible sight. He was looking into a watering hole and saw that the water was gleaming red. That was not what immediately caught his attention, however. In the red water he saw the reflection of Chomper! He quickly looked around and did not see any sign of Chomper. Where was he?

He looked in the watering hole again and moved his head. The head of the reflection also moved. He turned his body and likewise the body of the reflection moved. He then moved his stubby forelimbs and they moved as well.

Wait a moment. His stubby forelimbs?

He then looked at his own body and saw that he not only had stubby arms, but that he was also standing on two large hind limbs. And he was purple. He was in Chomper's body! How could this be?

He was disturbed by this revelation and began backing away from the reflection, only to fall over when he tripped over something wet.

Disoriented, he slowly got up on his... er... Chomper's hind limbs and looked at what he tripped over. The site that greeted him horrified him beyond words.

He had tripped over the body of what must have once been a young longneck. Large chunks of flesh were missing from its hindquarters and back. Its viscera were now exposed, and buzzers had begun to commune at the new food source. Blood saturated the entire scene in a sickening shade of crimson. Its neck was ripped from side to side, which nearly decapitated the unfortunate longneck's head. He then looked up to the longneck's head and blanched when he saw what was left of its face. His face.

He was staring at his own corpse!

"How? Why?" Littlefoot muttered. He could not comprehend what he had just gone through. What did all of this mean?

"I knew that we couldn't trust YOU!" boomed from a voice from some distance away. "How could you do this Chomper? Betray your own friend?!"

Littlefoot looked and saw the huge, hulking form of Mr. Threehorn charging in his direction.

"It wasn't me! I would never..." Littlefoot pitifully spoke.

"No excuses, sharptooth! Now it is time to pay for your crime!" the threehorn boomed.

The last sight that Littlefoot saw was the massive feet of Mr. Threehorn crashing down towards his face...

"Ah!" Littlefoot awoke with a startled cry.

He breathed heavily in gasps and looked around him. There was grass, bushes, trees... All of them under the long-absent cloak of nightfall. He also saw the two massive forms of his grandparents beginning to shift around. He was alive? It... It was just a dream!

He took in a relieved breath. "Sigh... It was all just a dream."

"Are you alright, Littlefoot?" Littlefoot heard to his side, "Your sleep stories seem to have troubled you."

"I'm... okay, Grandpa." Littlefoot replied, "I am glad that it was just a sleep story." Littlefoot then began to lie down, but he still looked somewhat troubled in his facial expression. Although the visions that he saw were not real, he still was troubled by their uncertain implications. What did these horrific visions mean?

Grandma Longneck raised her neck and asked "Would you like to talk about it, Littlefoot? Obviously it still troubles you."

"Okay." he replied and then took some time to collect his thoughts. Where could he even begin?

"I was playing Run & Hide with friends when suddenly I was placed in a hot and dry place." He swallowed a bit and continued, "I couldn't find any water or food, and I nearly died, but a sharptooth made a deal with me to see things from another view." He then looked at his grandparents with frightened eyes. "I was in Chomper's body and he had killed..." he nearly said him, but thought better of it. "Uh... a longneck, and Mr. Threehorn went over to trample me." He looked away and shook his head, "It was very scary, and it made no sense." He then looked inquisitively at his grandfather. "What could it mean, Grandpa?"

"Oh, Littlefoot!" Grandpa began. "Sometimes our sleep stories mean nothing in particular. But sometimes they tell us what our instincts want us to know."

"Instincts?" Littlefoot asked inquisitively. "What are those?"

"Instincts tell us what we must do. Instincts tell us when we must save the bright circle. Instincts tell us who we love and how to love them. Instincts tell us what is dangerous to us. That is what instincts are," Grandpa stated. "Do you understand, Littlefoot?"

"I think so. Instincts are those feelings that guide us." Littlefoot looked for confirmation at his grandfather.

Grandpa nodded at Littlefoot's understanding. "Even I have scary sleep stories from time to time. They help to remind us of what we should be afraid of. Sometimes even the eldest of us need a helpful reminder." He then looked at Littlefoot with a wry smile. "I have had several sleep stories where I have been concerned for your safety. Your adventures in the Mysterious Beyond have not helped."

Littlefoot looked somewhat guilty and glanced down. "What is my sleep story telling me to be afraid of? Surely not Chomper! He is a friendly sharptooth. I was there when he hatched. He would never hurt his friends!"

"You saw part of the dream from his body, did you not?" Grandma questioned, which earned a nod from Littlefoot, "Then your instincts are warning you about something that you can't change. Chomper is a sharptooth, and he must eat meat in order to live. That is his role in the circle of life, and nothing can be done about it."

Littlefoot nodded once more at his grandmother's words and spoke, "I feel sorry for Chomper in a way. He must have to control his instincts all of the time when he is around us." This caused Grandpa Longneck to shift uneasily and look worriedly towards his mate.

Littlefoot did not notice the display and continued, "I am glad that he is a good sharptooth and can keep these instincts under control." He then yawned and closed his eyes again. "Goodnight, Grandma and Grandpa."

"Goodnight, little one," the two said in unison. Although neither of them would openly state their anxious thoughts on the matter to their grandson, both of them were thinking the same thing. Chomper is a "good sharptooth" at the moment, but for how long would that last? Littlefoot had finally begun to ask the same question that they had been asking for the last two seasons.

They both hoped that the question would have a good answer.


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