The Seven Hunters

Chapter 24 A Time to Kill

“You're late."

"Sorry. I was busy talking about my feelings and killing people.”

― Jennifer Estep, Spider's Bite

"So it has come to this?"

Spike was not surprised by the decision of the pack, but he wasn't exactly joyful at the prospect either. They had been finding fewer ground fuzzies and ground sliders in the last week or so. For the first time since their departure from Hanging Rock, the specter of hunger was again appearing on the horizon. At least this time everyone knew that they should resolve their hunger on their own terms, as opposed to becoming out-of-control killers. But knowing that intellectually was a far different prospect than emotionally accepting the choice before them. Spike supposed that he was more willing to accept the inevitable than others in the gang, but he still had reservations.

He supposed that he always would.

Littlefoot looked stoically at Spike and gave a firm nod. He and Cera both knew that the time had come, but they knew that the others may need some convincing. It was one thing to consider hunting in the days after their hunt of Rhett, when the killing instinct was still fresh in their minds. However, it was quite another thing to consider killing after becoming complacent in the lifestyle they had enjoyed over the previous month. The assistance of Detras in finding the lowlands had given them a chance to adapt to being hunters and to begin to develop the skills that they would need one day. Now it seemed that the "one day" had finally arrived.

It is time to kill. Littlefoot noted to himself.

Ducky, meanwhile, was trying to absorb what the pack had just been discussing. Why do we have to kill again? I do not want to kill! Oh no, no, no! She knew that their options were dwindling and that they would soon have to change food sources to something more stable than ground fuzzies. After all, that was what they had been talking about for the last week. However, that did not make the prospect of killing another dinosaur any less horrifying. For someone as empathic as Ducky the act of killing was not merely painful, it was soul-crushing. As her sharptooth name, Haven, attested to, she would have preferred to be a protector of others rather than their doom. But as they learned from their first hunt, you can only fight fate for so long before fate finally exacts a heavy price.

With those thoughts going through her mind, she reached a decision. She would do what was demanded of her in this hunt, but she would blame herself all the same. Yet, she had no desire to participate in the killing so she knew what role she should volunteer for.

Ducky sighed sadly. "I guess I will help. I will. I will." She said without enthusiasm.

Chomper had been watching the debate without giving much input. He reflected that he had changed much in the intervening month despite having not changed physically at all. When he resided in the Great Valley he was quite excitable and childlike, he noted. This display of innocence was not something that he would have gotten away with in the Mysterious Beyond and he supposed that his time in the Great Valley allowed him to experience childhood as if he were a leaf-eater child. He often wondered if being hatched by the gang had given him a drive to seek out such things, or if it were simply part of his personality. He supposed that he would never know for sure.

Now, however, he had been taking on a more pragmatic approach to everything. His conversation was often brief and to the point. His personality a bit more introspective and less extroverted. The friendship and childlike wonder that characterized him were still there, but they were being expressed differently. Is that because I have sharpteeth friends now? He thought to himself. He had always been a child of two worlds. Maybe he had acted more like a leaf-eater in order to fit with the leaf-eaters? Now that they were beginning to put away their leaf-eater ways it seemed that he was no longer suppressing his true instincts and feelings. Surprisingly, they hadn't even seemed to give those changes in him much heed. I guess they are following my lead. Chomper deduced. I hope that I am leading them in the right direction!

He put his thoughts aside for a moment and looked at the pack again. Littlefoot, Ruby, and Cera were discussing the herds in the lowlands and which would make for a better target. This was a very important consideration as not only the success of the hunt, but also their safety, was at stake in this venture. He decided to listen in to the conversation.

"I say we go after the longnecks that Petrie mentioned." Cera affirmed. "Besides, we all know how great they taste!"

How very compassionate, Cera. Chomper thought sardonically. She obviously wasn't thinking about Littlefoot's feelings at the moment. Hunting your own kind must be a difficult thing indeed. He had already done it once...

"Oh yes, Cera!" Spike mocked, interrupting the trio's conversation. "Let's go after the same herd that we terrorized a month ago. I am sure no one will want our blood or anything!"

Well put, Spike. Chomper noted. Spike had really begun to think like a sharptooth since the change. He had a good grasp on calculating risks and potential benefits. Cera, on the other hand, was always a bit too outgoing for her own good. It was one of her traits that had been unaffected by the transformation.

Seeing that Cera was about to make a biting comment, Ruby decided to interrupt. "Maybe we can have Petrie take a look? If he takes a look then we can see what is there?"

Littlefoot pondered this for a moment. "Yes... If we could hunt a weak or solitary dinosaur then we would have a better chance..." He looked about for a moment. "Petrie?"

Petrie flew down from his perch on an adjacent tree. "Yes, Littlefoot? Me here."

Littlefoot nodded. "Take a look at the herds and see if you can find any weaknesses. We can wait here."

"Me do it and let you know!" Petrie affirmed before flying off towards the watering hole. Petrie knew that the interactions between the herd members would give away their social status and alliances. And what better place was there to see these displays at work than the watering hole, where everyone congregated?

As the small flyer flew away, Chomper decided to bring up a very important topic with the pack.

"How well can all you of understand leaf-eater? I have been teaching you for a month now." Chomper spoke in leaf-eater. Unfortunately, what everyone else heard was something like this:

"How good do each speak leaf-eater? I teach all for month."

Chomper had gradually been teaching the others leaf-eater so that one day, they all hoped, they could perhaps let their families know what happened to them. However each of them were having difficulty in learning their old language. Leaf-eater lacked the nuance and nonverbal components of sharptooth and as a consequence this made the language sound simplistic and almost childlike. They also found that ambiguity infuriating as well. Whereas sharptooth had fine distinctions in order to clearly identify the intent and meaning of the speaker, leaf-eater did not. This made miscommunication more likely, as was the case now...

"We don't have time to worry about that now, Chomper." Cera chided. "We are preparing to hunt!"

Chomper smirked. "Yes, Cera. I kind of noticed." His sarcastic tone was lost on no one. "But if you can understand what the food is saying then you can hunt them better!" He added excitedly.

Ruby nodded at this. "Oh, I see. If they say what they are going to do then we know. And if we know what they are going to do, then they may not be able to do it!"

Littlefoot smiled "Yes! They can't plan a good defense if they are telling the herd what to do... Because we will hear it also."

Chomper smiled. "Exactly!"

With that, the pack continued to practice the leaf-eater language while they waited on Petrie to return with his report. Even if they could only pick out directions and names with any accuracy, that would give them a distinct advantage.

This made one thought stand out in Chomper's mind.

The poor leaf-eaters won't stand a chance.

......

From the air, everything looks peaceful. It did not matter if the dinosaurs on the ground were sharpteeth or leaf-eaters, from the air they very much looked the same. From this vantage point Petrie could almost forget that he was now a predator that had to kill in order to survive. He could almost pretend that the events of the previous month were simply a bad sleep story.

Almost.

Petrie was flying above the lowlands in search of vulnerable prey, a rather familiar undertaking for him at this point. At times he felt somewhat guilty that the others seemed to have the hard work in actually hunting for ground fuzzies, while he could easily dive upon his prey from above. He had finally made peace with his role, however, as he realized that no one else could do his task. The pack needed an aerial presence to seek out opportunity and avoid danger. He was the only pack member who could fulfill that need.

Still, however, he felt as if there was an ever-present gap between himself and the others. He had the glorious ability to fly and could see a view of the world that was lost on his companions. Likewise, he no longer could truly feel the same rush of danger and anticipation that the others felt on a regular basis. In the event of an attack he knew that he could always fly away from the danger, whereas his friends did not have that option. They would have to either fight or flee. He wondered why that option did not come to him more often when he was younger. He would often panic and cower amongst his friends as opposed to taking flight and helping his friends from the air. He had finally begun to lose this habit before his transformation, but his change to a predator had driven the last vestiges of it into the past. The naive innocence was gone.

Me must be what me must be. The small flyer thought to himself. Me flyer, so me help from air.

Putting his thoughts aside for a moment, he took a look at the prospects before him. The large watering hole was impossible to miss as it was a mass of blue in the sea of green grass below. It emanated from the adjacent stream, which had flooded and overflowed its banks many weeks before. The resulting pond of water lacked the aquatic vegetation or algae of the adjacent stream and therefore was more appetizing as a source of water for the assembled herds. There were three major leaf-eater herds that had populated this stretch of the lowlands for the last few weeks.

Taking a look to his west, Petrie could see the most intimidating of them. The threehorn herd was a truly magnificent sight from the air and a horrifying one from the ground. What it lacked in numbers it more than made up for in composition. It was made up of primarily male adolescents as far as Petrie could tell. They were only 12 in number but they were brimming with aggression. This was more than likely a breakaway group from a larger herd. Perhaps they be kicked out of herd for being mean? Petrie deduced. He had no concept of threehorn power dynamics or how young upstarts were often purged from established herds, so the entire situation seemed odd to him. In any case, the belligerence of the herd members meant that everyone else kept a wide berth from them. Two of its members had gotten into a confrontation with a longneck in the week prior, which had nearly led to a battle between the herds before cooler heads prevailed. The pack would certainly not find their next meal here.

Looking some distance to the east of the intimidating threehorns, Petrie could see the longnecks of Ali's herd. The sight of her herd brought many conflicting emotions in Petrie's mind. First and foremost was the feeling of guilt. He had contributed to the destruction of Rhett, his friend and the only friend of Ali's in her herd. Could he now help the others in causing her more grief? What if she was the most promising target? Could he then tell Littlefoot to finish what they had started over a month ago? The implications were horrifying, but Petrie knew that he would do what he must. Pity would not fill the emptiness of their bellies and mercy would not prevent the arrival of bloodlust. They had to be calculating now and pick the best target. Never mind who that might be.

Flying some distance above the herd, he could clearly see the Old One who was being flanked by two of her deputies. They still watch her and not young ones! Petrie noted. The young ones, Ali included, were still surrounded by the respective adults, who were spread out throughout the area around the watering hole, but it amazed Petrie that the strongest of the herd were protecting the leader and not the most vulnerable. Perhaps they could exploit this flaw one day? Taking a closer look, however, realization dawned on Petrie.

"Oh, me know why they spread out!" He exclaimed. "They hatching eggs!"

He could see that pairs of longnecks had congregated around assorted depressions in the grass. He could see the gleaming white coloration of the oblong orbs between the expectant mothers and fathers. This was certainly a possible new food source, but also a very dangerous one. None of them had any hope of going against a full-grown longneck, let alone one endowed with the maternal instinct to protect her young ones... But it was a possible opportunity to monitor, nonetheless. He would have to mention this to the others.

This only left the swimmers...

The multitude of swimmers that swamped the eastern side of the pond seemed to continue off for an indeterminate distance past the horizon. The lowlands were prime habitat for their teaming numbers as it not only provided them with plentiful food, but shelter as well. A sharptooth would have to be foolish to hunt them so close to a body of water. At the first sign of trouble the swimmers could immediately escape the danger. A swimmer on land was vulnerable, but a swimmer in the water was untouchable.

Petrie sighed. There did not appear to be any good prospects by the watering hole, nor any obvious weaknesses that the pack was ready to exploit. Turning back to his west and gradually rising in altitude, Petrie prepared to give the pack the bad news.

Wait! What that?

As he turned back towards the direction of the pack's territory, he noticed an object fluttering in the distance. It was a flyer! He would have to investigate further.

......

"How do you expect us to catch flyers?! They can fly, you know?"

Petrie had to smirk at Cera's commentary on his plan. Of course the idea sounded foolish at first glance, but Petrie had a plan.

"Yes, momma flyer can fly, but not babies!" He made a flapping gesture with both wings as if to make his point. "You scare momma and momma attack you, while me knock out nest!"

"So let me get this straight..." Cera began, still perplexed by the flyer's plan. "You want us to climb up the tree, get attacked by an angry flyer in the process, while you knock the babies out of the nest." She then stared at Petrie with an unimpressed expression, as she obviously found the idea to be crazy. "Is that your plan?"

"Yes!" Petrie affirmed, unaware that Cera was being sarcastic. "Isn't plan great?"

Cera could not contain her objections any longer. "Maybe for you! But what about us who get to be pecked by momma up there?" She looked at him in disbelief. "It doesn't sound too good to me."

"Petrie." Littlefoot began, eager to avoid a protracted argument. "I think hunting the flyers sounds like a good idea... But I think we need a better plan."

Petrie nodded and looked at Littlefoot expectantly. "Okay. What plan that?"

Ruby had to chuckle at the exchange between the dinosaurs. "I think that we need to make a plan before we can tell you the plan."

"Oh." Petrie now realized they were back to the planning stage.

"Well." Spike was now making his voice heard in the discussion. "Let's get moving then. We can plan while we get there, can't we?"

Littlefoot nodded. "Very true, Spike." He then looked at the others. "Alright, gang! Let's go!"

The gang then began to walk towards the trees that Petrie had mentioned. The flyer had said that they were well east of the watering hole and south of the stream. The trees would be the only elevated landmark within visual range so they would have absolutely no element of surprise unless they managed to somehow hide in the grass and completely evade detection... an unlikely scenario. However, Petrie's recommendation of an overt attack as a distraction followed by a covert attack on the nest had a significant risk of danger to the group. A full-grown flyer may only be about the size of Littlefoot and a third of his weight, but any fight would not be an even contest. All it would take is one rake to the eyes in order to permanently blind one of the pack... They were about to play a very high stakes game.

"So... Anyone else have any ideas?" Littlefoot probed the others.

Although he didn't want to air his concerns to the pack, he was quite concerned about the upcoming hunt. Threatening an adult, even an adult flyer, was a far different proposition than attacking a child. They were in a situation now where serious injury or death was a valid concern. They got lucky in their first hunt and were able to avoid that prospect. But now they either had to take their chances or go hungry for the day. If they went hungry then there would be no guarantee of a better outcome tomorrow. He supposed it was better for them to take their chances today.

"Well, you all can climb now, right?" Chomper asked. When he saw the others nod, he continued. "I can't with these little arms." He wiggled his arms as if he were disappointed with their size. "Well, at least I can help gather up the babies when Petrie knocks them down!"

Chomper was pleased that the rest of the pack was taking the initiative this time and not waiting for hunger to make the choice for them. However, he was quite surprised that Petrie had recommended going after another flyer. Littlefoot had acquiesced about going after the longnecks before their first hunt, the hunt that had killed Rhett, but he was the leader and sacrifices were expected of him. Petrie, on the other hand, did not have the burden of leadership placed upon him. Chomper reflected that a lesser dinosaur might have and say that no suitable prey had been found, as opposed to being honest and recommending an attack on his former kind. But it appeared that Petrie was willing to make sacrifices for the group. He felt a swelling of pride in the flyer.

"Will you be okay doing this, Petrie?" Chomper asked the inevitable question. "It must be hard for you."

Petrie sighed. "Me guess so... Petrie not want to think about it too much."

Chomper could understand that. He decided to spare the flyer any more contemplation of the actions he would soon have to take.

"Maybe it would be best if we split up for the attack?" Spike pondered.

Littlefoot stopped for a moment to consider what the green fastbiter had said. "Oh. Why is that?"

Spike thought for a moment. "If the mother has all of us to chase, she will have a harder time catching us."

Cera interrupted, as she now understood Spike's line of thinking. "...And that could give Petrie the distraction he needs!"

Littlefoot smiled. It seemed that a plan had been formulated after all. "Sounds good, guys!"

"Your plan might just work after all!" Cera exclaimed. She had somehow managed to combine both condescension and praise in her tone.

"Me told you so!" Petrie stated triumphantly.

The pack then continued on in the direction of their destination. It should only be a few more moments now. Littlefoot thought. Then we will see our prey. They were slowly advancing through the tall grass in the hope of evading detection for as long as possible. It would only be when they say the layout of the land around them, that they would consider their exact plan of attack.

"Here they be!" Petrie hissed quietly. Littlefoot gave a gesture telling the others to stop, as he crawled towards Petrie's perch on a nearby bush.

Littlefoot rose and saw the sight that had caught Petrie's attention.

Nearly two longneck lengths ahead of the pack stood five extremely tall trees. These were the 'water-root trees' that often grew were floods were common. The five towering pillars of treestars dwarfed everything in the immediate vicinity. The flyers had certainly picked the most defensible site for their young ones. All around the trees there was nothing but tall grass, although the grass thinned significantly near the trees.

Littlefoot then looked towards the tops of the trees.

Nearly two thirds of the way up the middle tree stood a massive bundle of dead vegetation. There is the nest. Littlefoot observed. Petrie is most certainly the only one who can reach it. He could clearly see the rather large form of the mother flyer on top of the nest.

"Um... Petrie?" Littlefoot inquired.

"Yeah?" Petrie whispered.

"Why don't we simply wait for her to get food? I mean, if you knock them off then we can grab our meal and run!" Littlefoot questioned.

"You mean food already on tree?" Littlefoot looked down in embarrassment as Petrie gave the obvious answer. "She not need to leave tree to get food."

Littlefoot sighed. "Alright, let's get this started. I think that you should come from the other direction, while we attack from the front and sides."

Petrie nodded. "Good plan. Me ready."

Littlefoot looked at Petrie for a moment before giving him a small smile. "Good luck!"

As the flyer proceeded to fly off in an indirect path to his destination, Littlefoot looked back at his companions. "Everyone else ready?"

At the flurry of nods and affirmative grunts, Littlefoot began to give their orders.

......

Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!

"Here you go, young ones!"

Flutter cooed at her small children as she proceeded to give each one their late evening meal. With a small gurgling noise emanating from her throat she then proceeded to regurgitate the berries into their gaping beaks. This was not a particularly enjoyable aspect of caring for infants, but as it was necessary to make her offspring grow and thrive, she did not complain. After all, the little ones could not yet eat sweet bubbles on their own.

Gradually, the little ones began to quiet down as their bellies were filled with mommy's latest offering. She continued cooing until they quite quickly feel into a deep slumber.

"Rest well, little ones." She cooed as she flew herself to a higher perch.

This was Flutter's first litter of younglings and she was determined to give them the best possible start in life. Her mother had raised her and her siblings in a rocky outcropping by the ocean. As a result, she had known little else but the crowded rocks by the shores of the continent. Her childhood was filled with territorial disputes and squabbling over food, as very nearly every square inch of the rocks was filled with flyer families. When it became her time to court a male, she knew that she would need to seek out a nesting site elsewhere. This patch of tall trees seemed to be godsend to her. They were tall enough to allow her to see any threats. They were full of tasty treestars and were close to berry bushes. In short, they seemed to be the perfect spot to raise her family. She was quite pleased with her handiwork.

She decided to begin the evening watch, as her young ones would surely sleep for the remainder of the night. At their young age, being mere hatchlings, they could not fly and pretty much had two settings: sleep and eat. As the males of her species did not take part in the raising of young, she was their only protection until she could teach them the basics of flight. She supposed that her constant vigilance was overly paranoid on her part, as her nest was quite secure, but she would not allow herself to grow complacent.

She looked at the view around her. The constant waving of the tall grasses were the only things in motion within the now-darkening lowlands. She could see the watering hole quite a distance away and the lumbering dinosaurs staying within its range. The scene was just like she wanted it: boring and non-threatening.

Until something caught her attention.

Another flyer? Here?

She saw a flyer in the distance, although she could not make out its species. It seemed to be flying towards the watering hole. Even though it was flying suspiciously low, she was not too terribly concerned about this development. She had seen flyers stop off in the lowlands before in the process of traveling elsewhere. Surely that was what this flyer was doing as well? Perhaps he was flying low because he was exhausted? The fact that he was here was not as concerning as the fact that she had not noticed him until now.

She groaned to herself. How can I be so blind! She had missed a flyer in her observations; perhaps she had also missed other things? I need to do better for my children! She chided herself. Putting the flyer out of her mind for a moment, she examined the scene around her a bit more carefully.

The grass was still swaying with the light wind as the bright buzzers (fireflies) began to make themselves known. Evening was fast approaching and the lands towards the horizon were already being covered in the cloak of night. Only about an hour of daylight remained before nightfall. Taking a closer look at the grass she found nothing out of the ordinary, the grass simply blew to the left and to the right in time with the easterly winds. The only disturbance in that pattern was where the red berry bush stood immobile to her west.

Wait a moment. A berry bush? There are no berry bushes that way!

Startled, Flutter looked closely at the 'berry bush' that had caught her attention. All of the leaves were bright red with the remainder of its bulk being covered by the grass. The leaves were only slightly moving, which was strange considering that the grass around it was swaying extensively in the wind. Two bright buzzers had also taken residence in its upper branch, as opposed to the bright buzzers elsewhere who were flying to and fro. She was confused by this development until she saw another one of its 'branches' rise from the grass. A 'branch' that had noticeable claws.

That's no bush! That's a fastbiter!

She suppressed a shriek as that would give away the exact location of her nest. Instead she dived off of her perch and proceeded to fly towards the intruder. She had to dissuade him from advancing any further.

Squawk!

She gave the warning call when she was well away from the nest. If it is smart then it will take the hint! She affirmed in her mind.

The fastbiter looked up and began to run towards the trees where the nest was located.

Idiot! She thought angrily as she proceeded to perform a dive at the intruder.

Squawk!

The brown fastbiter dropped and rolled as she struck out her talons.

Thud!

She only hit dirt. The red feathers of the fastbiter flashed below her as he rose and proceeded to run to the west, away from the nest.

Well at least that worked. She thought to herself, as she struggled to regain altitude. She was about at the height of her home tree when she heard something that disturbed her.

Roar!

She immediately swung her head to see what had made that sound when she saw something that took her breath away. As the brown fastbiter retreated a safe distance, several other fastbiters and a sharptooth were now steadily advancing towards her tree from the west. It looked like an ambush. Those malicious beasts! She raged. They won't make a meal out of my children! She flapped her wings in order to adjust her direction and then she advanced towards the yellow fastbiter who appeared to be the closest to her nest.

Squawk!

At the warning call from Flutter, the yellow fastbiter turned and proceeded to retreat back in the direction it came.

"Coward!" Flutter huffed, as she turned herself back towards the nest for a second swoop.

As she turned, however, she could now see that the brown fastbiter with red feathers had reappeared and was advancing into the open with the others. In fact, several of the others were now running around in wide patterns while watching her. What are they doing? She thought to herself. They aren't trying to go up the tree... She then looked back towards the grass where the yellow fastbiter had returned and was also advancing towards the others. And they aren't attacking me...

Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!

"My babies!" She screamed as she turned towards her nest.

There was that flyer! And he was clawing at the base of the nest, where sticks and bits of vegetation could be seen falling to the ground below. It had all been a distraction! They were trying to preoccupy her while this dastardly flyer took the children. A deep, blinding rage overtook Flutter as she saw the scene before her. This flyer would die!

Squawk!

As the tree raced towards her she could see the face of her enemy. Its brown crested head gave no hint of emotion as it stopped its assault on base of the nest. Its red eyes seemed to be watching her in a cold, calculating manner. She had no idea why this flyer didn't simply try and take one of her babies and quite frankly she didn't care. She simply wanted to eliminate him! She had threatened her children and that was a death sentence in her eyes. She did not stop to consider the possibility that a more extensive meal was planned by the flyer.

She struck out her talons as she approached the small flyer. At that very moment, however, Petrie dove into the small hole that he had made in the nest's base. The mother flyer's attack struck the base of the nest which was enough to cause the now weakened base of the structure to give way. With a sickening crash, the nest tilted over and sent its contents spilling into the air.

Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!

As she heard the shrieks of her children as they began to plummet to the ground below, she realized the magnitude of her folly. The flyer was trying to knock the nest down, and her hasty attack had helped him in his endeavor. Now all of her children were doomed.

"No!!!" She shrieked.

The small brown bodies of her flightless children seemed to be suspended in air for an instant in the mother's mind. As their mouths gaped open and called for their mother to save them, she knew there was nothing that she could do now. In a few moments they would all be gone.

After a few terrifying seconds the sickening sounds of small thuds and cracks could be heard on the ground below. The chirping promptly stopped as the bodies of her children now lay shattered and lifeless on the ground below. Her beautiful children were all gone. All of her hopes and dreams for them being crushed just like the broken bodies below. Her children and her happiness would never rise again. Now only the bitter pain of loss remained.

She took a breath as the reality of the situation took hold. My children...

Another breath. It is all my fault... I should have been more careful... I should have picked a better nest... I should...

Another breath. If only that flyer... That flyer...

Her rage rose again as she realized that the killer of her children still lived. She looked at the spot where her nest used to reside and saw the flyer slowly extricate himself from the ruins of the nest's base. He appeared to be shook up, but otherwise uninjured. That was something that she would soon remedy.

"Die sharptooth!!"

She dove after the small flyer as she had a new mission on her mind. The flyer had to die! She couldn't save her poor children but she could remove a worthless sharptooth from the world.

Thud!

She struck out again at the fiend, but he deftly dodged the attack and proceeded to fly around the tree. What he lacked in speed he more than made up for in maneuverability. Her attacks were missing their mark as he flew around and down the tree in a tight arc. She knew that she could finish him if he got into the open... But in order to do that she had to remove his protection...

She then proceeded to dive faster in her turns around the tree in order to make him steadily go downward towards the ground. That is right, sharptooth, when you run out of tree then you will find out what death feels like... She would exact her horrible revenge that she vowed.

Caw!

The sharptooth made an unintelligible call towards his companions below. Cry all you want, sharptooth, they can't help you in the air! She affirmed to herself.

The sharptooth flyer then suddenly broke away from the tree and began to fly just above the ground. She followed his lead and proceeded to gain speed as they flew in a linear fashion towards the west. She was now so close that she could almost feel the breeze from his flapping wings. In only a few more seconds this flyer would meet his end and she would have her revenge...

Suddenly, Petrie curled up his wings and dove straight into the ground in a sudden stop. Her attack overshot the flyer and she landed with a thud on the ground below. She shook herself off and took a look at the hapless flyer.

"My children... My beautiful children are gone!" She roared at the cowering flyer. "You will die for this sharptooth!"

She prepared herself for a final run at the exhausted flyer. Both of them knew that he couldn't get into the air fast enough now. These were his final moments. With a final step forward she prepared herself for the charge that would end it all. Petrie, for his part, seemed to take a put on a oddly stoic expression, even as unrestrained fear shown in his eyes.

With no fanfare, she charged. The air rushed against her ears as she let out a shriek and sprinted towards the flyer. She shifted her weight forward so that she could lunge and strike out at the loathsome murderer. As she approached the flyer she opened her beak and prepared for the final strike. This was it...

Crash!

Flutter crumpled to the ground as she felt a massive weight bear down upon her. As she crashed into the ground she could see a flash of green follow a topsy-turvy trajectory and flip over the flyer in an uncontrolled roll. The only thing that greeted her ears was the overpowering crash, her unsteady breath, and the roaring of her heart in her ears. She was still trying to process exactly what happened. That was when it hit her...

Pain. Unbearable stinging pain.

She clutched at her right wing, only to be greeted with a splash of crimson as her other wing dipped into the damaged appendage. She stared at the damaged body part in horror. The fastbiter must have shredded through her wing in the process of tackling her to the ground.

"Ahh!!!" She screamed as the pain intensified to unimaginable levels. She retreated her other wing from the injury in order to stop exasperating the already unbearable pain. She clenched her eyes shut and tried to ignore the agony. Only the sound of shuddering breaths and stifled whimpers greeted her ears. She knew that she was doomed as she awaited the end.

After a few moments passed since the attack, she opened her eyes and noticed the green fastbiter and brown flyer. They both looked back at the injured Flutter, the brown flyer with a look of relief and the green fastbiter with a look of absolute horror. The fastbiter then looked at her bloody claws and seemed to sigh deeply. If Flutter wasn't distracted by her own plight and the annihilation of her family, she would have found that reaction confusing. Why would a sharptooth be shocked by the act of killing?

Flutter closed her eyes again for another moment as a mournful and pained screech left her beak. She let her head lie prone of the ground for a moment as she lost herself in her agony. The sound of her rapid, shuddering breaths again reached her ears once she was again cognizant of her surroundings. With a slow shake of the head, she slowly lifted her upper body and again looked at her tormentors.

The fastbiter had lowered her head somewhat low to the ground and the flyer appeared to be whispering something into her ear. After a few moments, the fastbiter sighed and nodded slowly as the flyer seemed to pat the fastbiter's nose in a conciliatory manner. The predator then rose and looked over to her quarry. Flutter knew that this was the end.

Predator and prey locked eyes for a brief moment that seemed to drag on for ages.

Flutter's eyes only conveyed sorrow and pain to the killer. All of her efforts and the efforts of her family were in vain. She would not be able to continue her lineage. No one would remain who could tell her tale or carry on her legacy. All was lost.

The fastbiter's eyes betrayed unimaginable sadness without shedding any tears. The image of the ruined flyer reflected in the moisture of the predator's eyes. The reflection of her broken body caused the pain and suffering of the poor flyer increase exponentially. Was the pathetic shattered flyer actually her?

As Flutter struggled to breathe and felt her lifeblood rapidly spill out onto the ground below, she asked her soon-to-be killer a final, mournful question.

"Why?"

Flutter was stunned to see a single tear fall from the fastbiter's eyes, as the predator answered her in leaf-eater.

"I am sorry. I am so, so sorry."

Flutter was shocked at hearing a predator actually speak. She didn't have much time to consider this development, however, as the predator advanced for the final strike. The sound of rushing air and a flash of green greeted Flutter's senses for a split second, which was soon replaced with the terrible sound of ripping flesh and a sea of crimson covering her field of view.

Her world filled with unbearable pain as the sharptooth ripped through Flutter's undefended throat in a single bite. Her lungs expanded in an attempt to suck in a breath, only to fail as her lungs filled with torrents of sputtering blood. She had already taken her final breath. She suddenly felt quite lightheaded and incoherent even as she felt a last burst of panic. Mercifully, her vision began to cloud and her pain began to dissipate as her lifeblood poured from her body like a waterfall. Her prone body now faced skyward as her eyes gazed unfocused at the sky above. A sky to which she would never return.

One of the last things she was aware of was the sound of rushing blood leaving her body in spurts. A sound that was rapidly getting softer and softer... As that sound began to dissipate, she thought she could head something melodic in the background that almost sounded like cooing chicks. Such a lovely sound. She would have answered if she were still able.

Be right there children...


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