The Seven Hunters

Chapter 21 The Reunion that Wasn't

“They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite”

― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

"Shorty!"

Grandpa Longneck was beside himself with panic. They had just turned away for a moment to eat breakfast and when they turned their heads, Shorty was gone. At first they suspected that he had simply gone to the river in order to drink some water or reflect, but after some time it became apparent that he was nowhere to be seen.

"Shorty! Where are you?!"

Grandma joined in the chorus. She was even more concerned than Grandpa was at this point, if that was even possible. Bron had entrusted them with his adopted son, their adopted grandson, and they had managed to let him slip out of their sight. They had grown to expect the occasional adventure from Littlefoot, but they did not suspect the same out of Shorty. Even as they yelled for the small longneck's attention, they knew where he had gone. There was only one real possibility.

"Oh dear! He must have tried to find Bron!" Grandma stated what had now become apparent.

As much as he didn't want to admit the reality, he couldn't discount what all of the signs were pointing to. Shorty must have decided to break his promise to Bron and seek out Littlefoot as well. It was bad enough that Bron, a full-grown and experienced longneck, had decided to strike off on his foolhardy mission. But to have a youngling do the same... Littlefoot had managed to survive his fair share of adventures, but Shorty was not as cautious as Littlefoot. He was prone to bouts of bravado and, as a consequence, had not been subjected to the Great Longneck Test. The fact that Shorty had left alone did not spell well for his chances, and both of the elder longnecks knew it.

Grandpa stopped for a moment and bowed his head in defeat. It would be no use yelling for him if he was outside of the valley. They only had two options now. Either they could seek him out for themselves, leaving the valley behind, or they could wait for the youngling to return on his own. Right now, he didn't know which would be the better option.

He looked at his mate with a forlorn expression. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. His expression said it all.

What do we do now?

Grandma shared her mate's expression and pondered for a moment. They were faced with two options, neither of which was particularly enticing. They could leave the valley in order to search for Shorty. However, in the event that Shorty abandoned his search and came back to the valley, then he would more than likely leave again to seek out his caregivers. Likewise, they could simply stay in the valley. But if they did this then what would they tell Bron if Shorty never returned? How could they possibly tell him anything else other than they had done everything that was within their power to find Shorty? With that final thought, she knew what they had to do.

"We have to find him."

Grandpa sighed. He figured that was what she would say. He couldn't fault her decision, but he was quite concerned with their probability of success. They were not getting any younger and they would make tempting targets for any sharpteeth of significant size. They also didn't know in which direction Shorty had decided to flee. However he could take a guess.

"He must have gone out the same exit that Bron took!" He deduced. "We should begin looking there!"

......

"Seen anything?"

Shorty sighed. He tried to go out the same exit that Bron had taken, but he had quickly found that the security was far too heavy. No, he had to try another path. Although now he doubted that his second choice of an exit was going to be any easier.

"Nothing. I almost wish we would actually see a sharptooth. This is so boring!"

Shorty had been listening to the inane mutterings of these two threehorns for the better part of an hour. He knew that if he didn't escape from the valley soon then he would be discovered and miss his chance. Littlefoot's grandparents would never let him out of sight after he pulled this stunt. He had to make his move soon.

"Don't say that, Garnus! Sharpteeth are not something to joke about!" The companion of the battle-happy threehorn chided, before deciding to question his companion's competence. "Besides, knowing you I would have to do most of the fighting!"

"Ha! You know that I am the better fighter!" The other threehorn taunted in response to the other's insult.

Argh! Threehorns are so stubborn. No wonder where Cera got that from! Shorty then felt incredible sadness as he reflected that Cera was more than likely dead. But... But... She might be alive! She and Littlefoot had survived through impossible situations before. The young longneck reflected. He wouldn't give up. He would have to continue his journey.

And it seemed like circumstances were finally beginning to take a promising turn for the longneck.

"Oh yeah?! Then prove it!" One of the threehorns challenged the other. The two threehorns then began to circle one another in preparation for a battle of wills. Now that each had placed their pride on the line, Shorty knew that neither would back down until one was injured or brought to the ground. With their fixation on their petty dominance battle, they would be doing little to watch the entrance. Now was his chance!

Crash!

As the two threehorns locked horns, Shorty ran speedily through the open entrance. He had lost quite a bit of time waiting on the security to become distracted. He would have to make up for lost time.

......

Stomp! Stomp! Stomp!

The loud lumbering footsteps of the two sauropods echoed across the Great Valley. Grandma and Grandpa Longneck had proceeded at their fastest pace towards the entrance where Bron had vacated the valley. Their loud yelling from earlier and their current journeying had not escaped the noticed of the valley's residents.

Topps sighed. One of the flyers had informed him of Shorty's disappearance some time earlier. The panicked yelling of the grandparents had given away the situation without any need of the flyer to inquire further. As soon as he had heard the news, Topps had ordered one of his deputies to see to it that the defenses at the valley's exits were redoubled. Now they not only had to ensure that sharpteeth stayed out, but also that one of the valley's residents stayed in. Topps lamented the fact that Shorty seemed to share Littlefoot's adventurous nature. It was the last thing that the grandparents needed right now.

"Mr. Longneck? I have alerted the guards to watch out for Shorty." Topps affirmed. He hoped that they were not thinking about what he suspected that they were.

"He has probably already left." Grandma Longneck affirmed. "We have to find him."

Crap. Topps thought to himself. I am getting far too old for this.

"It isn't safe out there." Topps tried to reason with the longnecks. This was an odd situation for the threehorn, as he was usually the more proactive one. However, he knew that they were not thinking clearly right now. He had to try. "We could send..." But he never got a chance to finish his thought.

"Let us pass." Grandpa Longneck demanded. It was spoken softly, but it brokered no disagreement. Topps knew that further obstruction would get him nowhere. Nonetheless, he would try to reach them as he let them pass.

"Very well." He consented, as he gave a gesture to the domeheads watching the entrance. The domeheads then broke rank and opened up a path through the entrance. Topps was not finished, however. "But let me say what I have to say."

Grandma Longneck's expression did not change, whereas Grandpa sighed. After a brief pause Topps got an answer from Grandpa. "Go ahead." It was spoken without enthusiasm.

Topps collected his thoughts for a moment before speaking. "It would be much safer to let a flyer do the search. They can fly away if it gets too dangerous."

Grandma Longneck interrupted. "But if Shorty is attacked, then we could protect him. A flyer could not."

Topps continued. "Yes, but there is no guarantee that you will find him. Who knows where he went?"

Grandpa Longneck retorted. "He obviously wants to find Bron. He probably went out the same way that Bron did."

"Perhaps, but none of the guards have seen him." Topps began. As Grandma attempted to interrupt again, he continued his thought. "Just let the flyers do a scouting run around the valley first. That is all that I ask." Taking her hesitation as a positive sign, he continued. "He probably hasn't gotten far. If they find him then they can have him travel back. If not, then you could go on your journey."

He sighed again. Though he would never admit it, Grandpa Longneck had become a trusted friend over the years. Despite the insufferable sense of superiority that Topps sensed from all longnecks, the adversarial exchanges between himself and Grandpa Longneck had more often than not led to positive outcomes. A grudging respect had developed between the two and Topps did not want to see the ancient longneck throw his life away in an ill-advised venture. He hoped that he would see reason.

The two longnecks looked at one another for a long moment, before Grandpa Longneck responded.

"Very well. But if they don't find anything then we will have to do what we must."

For the first time in several minutes, Topps noticeably relaxed.

"Brakus? Go get Volant..." Topps began.

"Already here!" Topps noticeably jerked at the unexpected voice. It seemed that the behavior of the longnecks had also been noted by the elder flyer.

"Are you ready to begin a search?" Topps began.

Volant nodded. "Of course. If Shorty is near the valley then we will find him."

......

Shorty was running at a brisk pace from the mountain pass that he had taken. I have to get away before they start looking for me. The longneck thought to himself, unaware that a search party was already being assembled. Not even thinking about the possibility of being seen by flyers, he was running in the open.

He had never taken this pass out of the valley before. On all of the occasions that he had entered the valley with Bron he had taken the north pass, as the herd usually turned at Hanging Rock and went straight towards the valley. He was unsure if he could easily reach his father from this path, but he figured that he had to try. It was what Littlefoot would have done in his place.

He took a quick look around. He was on the edge of a bluff that rose above the Mysterious Beyond and followed the contour of the rock wall surrounding this section of the valley. The bluff was barren of most vegetation, with the exception of a few grasses and shrubs. In terms of possible routes that Shorty could take, he noted several meandering paths all around him. One led downward into a narrow crevice and looked quite dangerous. In fact, he wondered if he would ever be able to escape if he took that route. I don't like the idea of being trapped in the Mysterious Beyond. Shorty noted. He immediately determined that path was not an option; he needed to look at the others. The second path was the most obvious. Taking this path would simply involve following the bluff along the curvature of the rock wall. Shorty was left wondering if it actually went anywhere or not. Perhaps it simply followed the bluff that surrounded this section of the valley? Perhaps it led nowhere in particular? Shorty was fast losing confidence in his mission.

That simply left the third path that Shorty had noticed. It was a small crevice that led up the rock wall. It was only about as wide as a small longneck. Shorty supposed that he could climb up that path if the need should arise, but what would that accomplish? It led up to the top of the rock wall and Shorty was certain that Bron did not go that way. This path was out of the question. However, when he looked up that crevice he noticed something that he didn't expect. A flash of teal and green feathers.

"Hi there! What are you doing?" The bundle of feathers asked.

"Ahh!!" Shorty screamed as he darted for the nearest crevice in the bluff. What is that thing?! He thought in his panic.

Shorty then heard a thud from the landing of a very light body.

"Hey, don't be shy! I don't remember anyone being scared of Guido before." Guido was quite confused by this sudden intruder. What was a small longneck doing out here in the Mysterious Beyond? Perhaps he was looking for the Great Valley? But if so, then where were his parents? There were too many unanswered questions.

Shorty, meanwhile, was beside himself with worry. He had just begun his journey out of the valley, but if this weird looking flyer told the others then his journey would come to a sudden end. He couldn't allow that to happen!

"It's okay." Guido tried again. "You can come out now."

But the more Shorty thought about his situation, the more that he realized that he had no choice. He would have to confront this flyer and convince him not to tell the others. With that in mind he walked out into the open.

"Ah! There you are." Guido pondered for a moment as he placed his wing to his beak in a contemplative expression. "But... Why are you here? The Great Valley is that way." He pointed with his wing as he made that observation.

Shorty gulped. He might as well tell the truth. This flyer did not look like the flyers that were on watch duty in the valley. Perhaps he was an outsider? Either way, perhaps he would be responsive to his dilemma.

"I have to find my dad." Shorty said stoically. "He went to look for my brother and I can't let him do this alone."

A spark of recognition went off in Guido's eyes and he seemed to age in front of Shorty's eyes. The burden of repressed emotions and irreconcilable regrets returned to the forefront of the flyer's mind. He knew exactly who this longneck was. He had heard the stories from the other flyers the night before of the despairing longneck and his adopted son.

"Shorty?" At Guido's question the small longneck looked down in defeat. Yes, there was now no doubt of the longneck's identity. The flyer could very well understand his motivations, but he could not condone his actions.

Guido sighed and decided to begin again.

"Shorty, it is dangerous out there." He shivered at the thought of his previous excursions into the Mysterious Beyond. There was legitimate fear there, but he also cherished the memories of his adventures with Petrie and the others. This was especially true considering he had no memories of his life before he entered the valley... But now these cherished memories were tarnished with extreme sadness. His friend was gone. He couldn't shake the feeling that he could have done something... anything... to have saved him from his fate. Now only shame and fear remained. "I can fly away from danger, but you can't. You shouldn't go out there alone."

Shorty sighed. This flyer obvious was not an outsider and knew exactly who he was. He would either have to dissuade the flyer from telling the others or he would have to flee and hope the others would not catch up. His options were limited. Shorty decided to try to appeal to the flyer's empathy.

"I have lost my brother and now I might lose Bron too!" He bit his lip. Come on! Don't cry! You're stronger than this! He raged at his weakness in his head. "What would you do in my situation?"

Guido gave Shorty a small knowing smile that radiated no happiness. He knew all too well what Shorty was going through. He would have to make Shorty see that his actions were foolish.

"I would mourn what I lost and try to move on." He said softly.

Shorty raged at this. "Well I won't! You don't understand! I have lost something that you can't even begin to understand!"

The small longneck was crying now. His emotions, having previously being restrained the thoughts of his planned journey, were on full display. He obviously was not thinking rationally now, he was simply running on emotions. Guido tried very hard not to take the longneck's vitriolic words personally. He would simply show him that he understood Shorty all too well.

"I have lost a friend too, Shorty." Guido answered softly. Shorty did not answer, but his expression indicated that Guido had his attention nonetheless. "Petrie... Was like a brother to me. He accepted me as I was, even when the others would not." Guido looked down in regret. "We... had adventures with one another, but I wasn't with them on that night..." He then looked at Shorty, with each of them being a window into the other's grief. "I will never forgive myself for that."

Shorty swallowed hard as he searched for the right words.

"I... I have to try!" He stated quickly. "Littlefoot would have done the same for me!"

Guido nodded and sat down beside the longneck, whereupon Shorty decided to do the same. Shorty's thoughts about a quick exit were forgotten for the moment.

"He probably would have, Shorty." Guido stated matter-of-factly. "But... What if you were in his situation?" He paused for a moment to search for the right words. "Dead, more than likely." Well, so much for being subtle. The teal flyer chided himself as he noticed Shorty take on a despairing expression. "Would you have wanted him to risk his life on a pointless journey?"

Shorty quickly shook his head.

Seeing that Shorty was seeing things from his perspective, Guido continued. "What would you want him to do?"

Shorty sighed. Seeing from Guido's perspective had shaken his faith in his current mission. He was endangering himself, scaring his grandparents, and breaking his promise to Bron, all for a hopeless dream. The dream of finding Littlefoot alive again. He was truly acting foolish.

"I... Would want him to live a good life." The longneck answered softly.

Guido simply nodded, as he saw some of Petrie's siblings fly above. Ah, it seems that Mama Flyer has sent out a search party. He looked back towards Shorty, who was now crying against Guido's feathers. Well... I can make this less painful for him.

One of Petrie's sisters landed beside Shorty.

"There you are! The entire valley is looking for you!"

Another sibling then spoke up from the air. "They are going to be so mad when they find out that you left the valley!"

Shorty decided that he wouldn't resist his punishment. He had done this to himself. He had no one else to blame. With that in mind, he began to speak.

"I'm sorr..." But he was interrupted by Guido before he could finish.

"Uh... Yeah... Sorry about that!" Guido began. "Shorty wanted to talk about things, so we went to a quiet place."

The sibling that had landed looked surprised. "So you didn't try to go after Bron?"

"I..." Shorty began again, only to again be interrupted by the teal flyer.

"Oh no! He wouldn't do that." Guido answered for him.

The small flyers seemed to consider this as they began to fly back towards the valley.

"Tell the others that I will bring Shorty back when we are finished!" Guido called towards them.

"We will." The flyer who had landed answered in an understanding voice, before taking off again. She was quite relieved to not have to do another scouting mission outside of the valley and she knew that her siblings felt the same way. She could understand the need of the two dinosaurs for companionship in these dark times. Sometimes one simply needed to talk to someone else who had been through the same thing that you have experienced. She had her brother and sisters, but who did those two have?

As the flyers flew out of hearing range, Shorty looked at Guido with a surprised expression.

"Why did you do that? You could have told them the truth."

Guido gave him a small smile. "I think that you have been through enough." He then looked around. "Let's go back. I think that I have an idea that might help out Bron."

Shorty's expression brightened at Guido's statement and he slowly rose to his full height.

The two dinosaurs then began their journey back to the Great Valley. It was up to Bron now.

......

Miles from the valley, meanwhile, Bron continued his lonely search for his lost son.

He had left the north pass and decided to take the direct path to Hanging Rock, which was the same route that his herd usually took but in reverse. He had heard from some of the other adults that the sharpteeth had taken another route that meandered around the valley. He was unsure where the sharpteeth could have gone, but he knew that both routes intersected a day's walk outside of Hanging Rock. What would take him the better part of a day to transverse would instead take the sharpteeth several days. He just might be able to catch up to them by taking the more direct route. Or so he hoped.

The bright circle was beginning its descent from the sky and Bron knew that evening was soon approaching. He would have three or four hours of daylight at best. I need to quicken my pace! He thought glumly.

Taking a quick look around him, he could see that he had arrived where the two paths intersected. A narrow ravine surrounded by two large rock walls indicated the end of the path that the sharpteeth had supposedly taken. The only question was where to go now? He didn't see any sign of sharpteeth footprints or, for that matter, any sign of Littlefoot. If only he could find some clue...

There! His mind screamed.

He looked to his left and noted a footprint embedded into the dirt. It was underneath an outcropping of rock beside the rock wall. It was for that reason that the sky water had not washed it away. It was a rather small footprint. The footprint of a small two-footer sharptooth. He knew who this belonged to.

Now I've got you, Chomper!

With renewed determination he followed the direction of the footprint in the hope of eventually catching up with the sharpteeth. And his son.

......

"So can you do it?!" Shorty asked excitedly.

Guido had just told his plan to Volant and the other adults. Shorty was worried about Bron being out there all alone. Perhaps, if he had aerial surveillance then he could have an advantage if sharpteeth were encountered. Even a few minutes of warning would be good enough to make a hasty retreat. Likewise, since flyers had the gift of flight, they would not be placing themselves under significant danger. Especially if the flyer in question were an experienced adult. This idea had appealed to Shorty immensely. His dad could be safe and he wouldn't have to frighten his adoptive grandparents in the process.

"Well... I don't know, Shorty." Grandpa answered cautiously. "Volant has already done a lot since the attack."

Before Shorty could respond, however, Volant responded for herself.

"I will do it."

Both grandparents looked surprised at her response. Grandma then decided to speak.

"Are you sure Volant? You have been doing so much already"

Volant waved off her comment with a wave of her wing. "It is no problem. Bron is not just looking for Littlefoot, you know. If he somehow does find Littlefoot alive then I have no doubt that my Petrie will be there too." She answered truthfully. "If he is willing to risk his life in the search then the least that I could do is to help."

With a few short pleasantries between the adults, the flyer flew off. She left a noticeably relieved family of longnecks behind as she entered into a world full of uncertainties.

......

Longneck footprints!

Bron had discovered the footprints left by Ali's herd during their migration. It seemed that the sharpteeth had decided to follow the herd in order to find a suitable meal.

Cowards! Bron thought with fury. Chomper had been cared for in the valley as if he was another one of the children. They had given him their trust. Now he had betrayed that trust by hunting his former friends. Bron would never forgive this outrage.

No. He told himself. Littlefoot has gotten through tough situations before. Perhaps he and his friends are now on one of their adventures? No one found the bodies...

He repeated those words in his mind as he set off in the direction of the longneck footprints. It was almost a foolish hope at this point, but he had to keep his faith in his son's survival. It was the only thing that was keeping him going at this point.

......

Volant was flying at full speed towards the intersection of the two paths. She had told Bron about the route that the sharpteeth had taken and she had heard from the others that Bron had taken the northern pass. It was obvious then that he was trying to catch up to the sharpteeth by taking a more direct route.

I must keep up! She chided herself.

She hated to admit it, but she was not as athletic as she was in her younger days. The numerous scouting trips she had taken in the previous week had done much to exhaust the flyer. Notwithstanding her exhaustion, however, she was making good time on her journey. A flyer at full speed could travel in a few hours what would take a land-walker a full day. This was a good thing, because evening was fast approaching.

Look at that!

She suddenly noticed the tell-tale prints of a massive longneck. They were freshly made and untouched by wind or sky water. He must have gone this way. Volant deduced.

She quickly adjusted course and followed Bron's footprints. In order to speed her progress she stopped flapping and allowed her wings to extend as far as they were able. Now that she was over an open expanse of sun-scorched ground, she could feel the warm air rising from the ground below. She could ride this expanse of warm air and quickly accelerate her journey. And save some energy. She admitted to herself. She wasn't getting any younger.

As the minutes went by, she noticed quite a change in the ground below. It went from scorched ground to green grassland. The thermals were not as strong here, but they were still sufficient to keep her aloft. Unfortunately, however, this change in terrain hid Bron's footprints. She hoped that he hadn't changed direction. If so, then she might never find him.

Looking ahead with her powerful sense of vision, she stared out at the horizon. From her vantage point she could see the grassland continuing for miles, with a curious hill blocking her view of what came after... That hill must have been at least several hours away for a land-walker, which means that he surely couldn't have reached it by now. So where was he? All that she could see was the expanse of green, a hill in the distance, and several smaller hills rather close by. Those hills all had vegetation, expect for one that appeared to be barren. That is odd. She thought. A brown hill in a sea of green.

If she could have done so and stayed aloft, she would have slapped herself.

That is no hill! That's Bron!

She quickened her pace towards the lumbering giant. He wouldn't have to complete his mission alone.

......

The next day:

Bron awoke with an uncomfortably hot feeling radiating over his body.

"Urgh!" He exclaimed. It appears that I overslept.

He looked out at the expanse that lay before him. He had decided to call it a day the night before when he saw the bright circle begin to fall behind the horizon. He knew that he would not be able to get any good searching in during nightfall, so it would be best to rest and wait until the next morning. However, he had apparently underestimated his own exhaustion from the traumatic events of the previous two days. It was the baking heat of the bright circle in this shade-less grassland that had finally awakened him.

As he rose to his full height, he looked back towards the direction of the Great Valley. Volant had found him the night before and had briefly talked to him. She had promised to come back after the bright circle had risen to its full height. He was surprised by her offer and had politely declined her help, as he did not want to endanger someone else. However, what she had said next opened his eyes to how his journey had affected everyone else.

......

"Thanks for the offer, but I don't need any help." Bron stated politely. He was quite surprised by the flyer's initiative in trying to help him. However, he would not have anyone else risk their lives on his behalf.

"Well, Shorty would seem to disagree." Volant retorted.

"Shorty?" Bron was surprised by this development. "I'm sure that he knows that I can take care of myself..."

Volant took on a serious expression and looked at Bron with an almost impatient expression. "I'm not so sure. We found him just outside of the valley earlier. He claimed that he was just talking to Guido, but I am not stupid. He was trying search for you before Guido talked him out of it."

This greatly upset Bron. "He promised me that he would stay in the valley! I will need to have a talk with that boy when I get back." He thought that he had taught Shorty better than that. Littlefoot quite possibly had been killed when his adventurous side got the better of him... He didn't want Shorty to fall into the same trap.

"Well, I think that it is you who needs the talking to." Came the unexpected retort from Volant.

"Huh?" What did the flyer mean?

"Have you even stopped to consider how your departure has affected everyone else? How it had affected your herd? Your family? Your son?"

"Of course I have!" How dare this flyer question his good intentions! He continued his answer in a frustrated tone. "I have placed my herd in good hands and Shorty understands why I am doing what I'm doing!"

"They may understand, but they are not coping well." Volant answered sternly. "They care about you." She punctuated each word with emphasis. "Especially Shorty." She then flew over to an area closer to Bron. "They don't want to lose you too. Have you thought about that? How would they cope if you died out here?"

Bron sighed. His journey, though born out of good intentions, also was selfish in its single-minded determination. He had failed to take the needs of his loved ones into account. He could finally see it now. How had he been so blind?

Volant nodded as she could see that he was beginning to accept the reality of the situation.

"Okay." Bron said simply. "I accept your help. And..." Bron paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. "Tell Shorty that I am doing fine."

Volant smiled. "I am sure that he will be glad to hear that. I will see you when the bright circle is at its highest, longneck." She looked around for a moment at the rapidly darkening scene around her. "And good luck."

......

Bron groaned at the memory. He had been so blinded by his grief and insecurities that he had neglected everything else. He would have to make amends when he returned to the valley. No. He stopped himself. When he and Littlefoot returned to the valley. He had to maintain that hope. His search was not finished yet and it wouldn't be finished until he found Littlefoot. One way or another.

Slowly turning back towards the footprints that he had been following, he decided to resume his journey.

......

Several hours later:

"So this is here the longneck herd congregated." Bron observed, seeing the multitude of footprints and the indentations obviously left by resting longnecks. It was odd, though. The multitude of habitation signs seemed to indicate that the herd had stayed here for quite some time. However, this area was not a good place for a herd to congregate. There were two large forests on either side, he noted, but a distinct lack of food in the grassland in-between them. Why didn't the herd stay closer to the forest edge? Where they looking for something? If so, then what was it?

"Not a very good area." Volant observed.

"No." Bron affirmed. "No, it is not."

Bron began to move away from the main site where the herd apparently had congregated and attempted to look for any sign of the sharpteeth in the surrounding area. If Littlefoot and his friends had survived and Chomper's betrayal was not actually a betrayal, then it would be logical to assume that they had gone with Chomper willingly. For the life of Bron, he couldn't understand why they would go with a pack of sharpteeth anywhere... Or for that matter leave the valley for well over a week... But it was the only option that coincided with the possibility of Littlefoot's survival. Therefore, he had to entertain the possibility.

Away from the herd site, there wasn't much to see besides a seemingly infinite expanse of grass and two impenetrable forests which established the boundaries of the grassland. If only he could see the footprints of the sharpteeth, or for that matter the footprints of a longneck not associated with the herd, then he could know that he was on the right track. But until then...

"I think that I have found something!"

At Volant's sudden call, Bron rose and ran a short distance away. Not immediately seeing what had caught her attention, he asked the obvious question.

"What? What is it?" Bron asked in confusion.

Volant responded immediately. "Footprints by the forest!"

Bron ran over to where Volant had directed her gaze and felt a rising sense of hope at what he saw. Footprints. Longneck footprints. These footprints were very small. In fact, they were about the size of Shorty's. Or Littlefoot's! Bron's mind deduced.

"Are these longneck prints?" Volant asked, obviously oblivious to Bron's inner turmoil.

Bron's mind continued to put the pieces together. The prints did not come from the herd as far as he could tell, but rather originated from the forest itself. Of course. Bron thought to himself. Littlefoot tried to follow Chomper and took a different route, through the forest. This would be safer, as large sharpteeth couldn't fit between the plentiful trees. If these were Littlefoot's prints. No, there were his prints. They had to be! His mind affirmed. Then he could find Littlefoot if he simply followed them.

Unfortunately for him, he did not notice the prints from Ali which were much less noticeable due to her lighter build. Consequently, he had reached the wrong conclusion on whose prints these were. As far as Bron was concerned, they were Littlefoot's.

"Yes! Yes they are!" Bron affirmed. Wasting no time, he ran off in the direction of the footprints. His son had to be this way! He would soon get to the bottom of this situation. He didn't care why his son had run off with Chomper or the pain that he had put his family through; right now he just wanted to welcome him back into the fold. There was still time to make amends. He could spend time with his son like a true father should. He could start again.

Volant followed from the air. She observed Bron's excitement and redoubled effort. If these are Littlefoot's prints. Her mind deduced. Then Petrie might be close behind! She was elated. Hope was not lost! For the first time in over a week she felt an emotion akin to happiness. Hang on, Petrie! Mom is coming!

The two quickly sped across the area looking for any sign of their children. However, Volant was the first to see the horrible sight.

No! Please no!

Bron did not see it until a few seconds later and for several moments thereafter he was unable to process what he was seeing.

Before both of them was the skeleton of what had once been a longneck. Most of the flesh had been stripped of the remains and nothing remained on the corpse to indicate its identity. The skeleton lay in a prone position with its empty eye sockets staring in Bron's direction. As if it was asking a final question of him. Where were you dad?

Bron collapsed to his knees as he screamed in anguish. Oh no! It was true all along. He thought mournfully. My son is gone! As he began to openly cry he heard the sound of mournful sobbing from behind him. Volant had come to a mournful conclusion as well. If Littlefoot was gone, then Petrie was more likely no more as well. Bron was too far gone in his grief, however, to pay her much heed.

He slowly moved his head to Rhett's skeletal head, mistaking its true identity for Littlefoot's. As he nuzzled the remnants of the long-since fallen longneck, he decided to make his peace with his beloved son. He hadn't been there for him enough in life, but he could repay his debt to his son. It was the only thing that he could do for him now.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, son!" He said through gasping sobs. "I can't bring you back... I couldn't save you..." He trailed off as his thoughts turned to his regrets. "But I can promise you two things, Littlefoot. I will take care of Shorty. I wasn't much of a father to you, but I won't make the same mistake with him..." He paused for a moment as he sucked down a shuddering breath. "And I promise you one more thing, Littlefoot."

Bron's eyes hardened as he focused on the sharpteeth footprints that he saw retreating from the longneck's corpse. With frightening resolve and calm rage he made one vow that he would follow to the death.

"Littlefoot, I will avenge you."


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