Chapter 25 A Familiar Duo
“If you are an egg seller, you should never start a fight in the market.”
― Vikrant Parsai
With a final gurgling sound and a shuddering gasp the flyer's chest rose no more. Ducky looked upon the scene in numb shock. She had just killed another dinosaur, with the tell-tale blood still upon her claws. A testament to her bloody deed.
Petrie advanced upon the fastbiter with slow, uncertain steps. He was still overwhelmed by the fact that he was still alive after his close call. Ducky had risked serious injury in tackling the charging flyer. When it became obvious that the flyer's wounds were not survivable, she had finished her off upon Petrie's prompting. However, Petrie soon realized, much more than a flyer had died on this evening. A bit of Ducky's innocence also had been slain on this day. She could no longer consider herself a leaf-eater, either in heart or deed. She was now what she had to be.
"Ducky..." Petrie started. He observed that Ducky's back was rising rapidly in sudden spasms. Ducky be crying. Petrie deduced. He sighed. He supposed that he knew that this moment was coming, but that did not make the situation any easier. He still felt lingering guilt over killing younglings of his own kind. He could very easily relate to how Ducky was feeling. Steeling himself for whatever may come, he started again.
"Ducky... You do what you have to." He stated softly. "Me no blame you."
Ducky took a shuddering breath. "Why?! Why, do we have to do this?!" Another sob left her. "Why do we have to kill?"
Petrie briefly took flight, despite the aching burn from his exhausted wings, and landed on her shoulder. He immediately put a reassuring wing on her head, a gesture which she readily accepted. He spoke softly into her ear.
"Me no know... But me know we have no choice."
Ducky sighed again. "If I only would have been more careful, maybe she could have been alright. But instead I kill-ed... Now I am a bad sharptooth. I am. I am." The tears resumed, but her breathing took on a more normal rhythm. Although part of her mind lamented what had happened, another was oddly at peace. She dreaded what that dichotomy might indicate.
Petrie answered immediately. "If you be more careful then Petrie might die!" Seeing that Ducky nodded at this and mouth an almost intelligible "sorry" at her thought, he continued more softly. "Her wing ripped. No flyer recover from that." He shook his head at the thought. "Better she die quick than die slow."
Ducky was silent for some time, before she answered again. "I know. I do. I do." She shook her head. "But it is so hard."
The two continued to stare at Ducky's handiwork for several moments, before they finally heard a sound behind them. Ducky turned and saw two very concerned dinosaurs staring at her. It was Spike and Littlefoot.
"Ducky?" Spike inquired. "Are you alright?"
Ducky simply gave a slight shake of the head. "The... mother flyer is dead." Neither dinosaur appeared to be surprised by this. Apparently they had already seen her handiwork despite her standing between them and the flyer. How long had they been there watching and waiting?
Littlefoot and Spike then proceeded to walk towards the morose fastbiter. Each of them settled on opposite sides of Ducky as Littlefoot looked in amazement at the dead flyer. He didn't realize that Ducky had that in her. He supposed that necessity was the mother of invention. Ducky was faced with a situation where if she did nothing then Petrie, her dearest friend, would be killed or seriously injured. She had taken the only action which would save her friend.
Spike nuzzled his sister for a moment, as she resumed crying softly. Spike sighed. Of all of the members of the gang, he would not have guessed that his sister would be the next to kill a dinosaur. He knew that any further explanation on their part would not really help. She simply needed to process what had happened and to make peace with her new reality. With that in mind, he glanced at Littlefoot and gave a slight nod. Littlefoot blinked, but then gave an understanding nod in return.
"Petrie? Let's go." Littlefoot softly called to the flyer. The two siblings needed time alone now in order to come to grips with what had happened. Meanwhile, he would go and ensure that the others secured the food. They would come back later for the fallen flyer.
As Petrie flew off slowly and Littlefoot returned to gather the others, Spike began to talk to Ducky.
"How do you feel?"
The question was equal parts ridiculous and understandable. It was ridiculous in that Ducky was obviously upset and the cause was open for all to see. However, it was understandable in that Ducky would need to let her emotions and concerns out. Spike understood that sometimes just affirming a thing can help someone find acceptance. Ducky was one of the most emotional and caring dinosaurs that he knew. He knew that she needed a moment of catharsis.
"Terrible." She stated simply. "She was just trying to fight for her babies... And I killed her."
Spike nodded at this simple statement and urged her to continue. "And what would have happened if you hadn't killed her."
Ducky looked away for a moment. "Petrie would be dead..."
Spike nodded again. "Yes... It was either him or her, and you chose." Ducky sucked in another shuddering breath at that thought. The responsibility was all hers. Spike continued. "We are the choosers now, Ducky. The choosers of life or death. The stone gave us no choice."
Ducky looked back at the dead flyer. Her wing and neck were both broken and ripped horribly. Blood stained the ground all around the shattered corpse. Her attack had been horrifying in its severity. Her actions were those of a calculating killer. And, she knew all too well, a killer was what she was now.
"I hate making that choice." Ducky affirmed. The tears had slowed, but a few still streamed from her red, predatory eyes. "How do I know that I am making the right one?" She looked at Spike in a confused manner as she gestured with her forelimbs. "I don't even know what is 'right' anymore. Nope, nope, nope!"
Spike looked at her for a moment, before too looking at Ducky's kill. "Neither do I, Ducky. Neither do I." He then looked at his sister with a grim expression. "But I know that we will figure it out together."
Ducky nodded. "And we can't do that if we are hungry..."
"No." Spike confirmed. "We must be what we must be..."
The two stayed there for several moments as they continued to process the events of the hunt. Slowly but surely Ducky began to come to terms with her new reality. In much the same way as Littlefoot had adapted after his kill, it seemed that a part of Ducky's new mind was helping her accept her role. She was stunned to note that her thoughts were soon shifting to thoughts of eating the tasty meat that she had liberated from the hapless flyer. Spike's cautionary words about hunger were quite apt Ducky realized. Even if it took her a while to realize what this all means, she resolved to do what she had to do. It couldn't be helped.
A few minutes later the pack was surprised to see Spike and Ducky both carrying the remains of the flyer on their backs and walking towards the pack's sleeping area. Littlefoot had told the others what had happened so they all expected Ducky to be utterly inconsolable. As a result, Chomper and Cera both stood wide mouthed at the fastbiter's appearance with the broken body of the flyer. Chomper was amazed at Ducky's apparent acceptance of the situation, whereas Cera was stunned at Ducky's brutality in the kill. The damage done to the flyer was truly horrifying. Ducky had obviously not taken kindly to the flyer threatening her friend.
"Ducky?" Littlefoot began.
Spike did not want the others to bring up an emotional wound that had so recently been mended, albeit slightly. As a result, he gave a gruff response to the unstated question.
"Are all of you going to stand around or are you going to help us with this? The flyer is heavy!"
After a momentary pause, the rest of the pack rushed to help carry the weight of the evening's main course. There would be more discussion and tears after the meal, but at least Ducky had begun her journey to acceptance. Each of them had participated in the killing and now three of them had personally drawn the blood of another dinosaur. The bonds of the pack which had already been forged in blood had just been retempered in the fires of their previous hunt.
The hunger of the pack had been resolved for one day, but each of them realized that the next day would mean a new struggled for survival. Those uneasy thoughts were put away into the distance, however, as the pack entered the restful world of sleep. Such concerns could be left for the morrow.
The next day seemed to come too quickly for the young sharpteeth. They had been up most of the night eating their plentiful prey and discussing the events of the day. The companionship of her friends further helped Ducky deal with her actions. She had helped her friends feed and survive. She had even directly saved Petrie's life. She slowly came to terms with what she was. She was a sharptooth now and nothing could change that.
The pack had decided to split up into several groups for a morning scouting run. Littlefoot and Chomper decided to check out the watering hole in order to check on the herds, whereas Spike and Ruby decided to follow the stream in order to check on any stragglers or newcomers to the lowlands. Petrie, as usual, had decided to scout from the air and munch on ground fuzzies wherever he found them.
Cera and Ducky, meanwhile, decided to explore in the open grassland itself. This not only would cover the last area not explored by the pack, but it would also allow the girls to discuss recent events. Despite their remarkably different temperaments, each had long ago found a confidant in the other. Ducky had been quite helpful in helping Cera understand her feelings concerning Tricia, as Ducky had plenty of experience dealing with siblings. Whereas Cera had helped Ducky deal with her lingering annoyance at Spike's antics back when during the bad cold time. The fact that they were both on the opposite side of the food chain did not change their relationship. In fact, that made their friendship all the more important.
"It still upsets me. It does. It does." Ducky was recounting her actions from the evening before. "She was only doing what a mother would do..."
Cera sighed. She bit back at the slight annoyance that was forming in her mind, as she could certainly understand Ducky's inner torment. After all, what if Cera had been forced to kill a young threehorn? How well would she have fared if she had to deal with the consequences of killing her own kind? Yes, she would cut Ducky some slack. She certainly deserved that at least.
"Yeah... But like you said: it was either her or Petrie. You had no choice, Ducky. You did what you had to do."
Ducky nodded. "I know. But it still hurts... It does. It does."
The two were silent for a few moments. The two had discussed Ducky's hunt for several moments, but it soon became clear that Ducky was recovering from her initial torment. The incident still haunted her, but she knew that she little choice in the matter. Even if she was not an innocent hadrosaur anymore, she could still value innocence. Even if she was a killer now, she could still value life. She was a sharptooth, but she could decide what that means to her. That knowledge gave her the foundation that she needed to recover and build a new life. She was glad that her friends were there to bestow upon her that knowledge. The only reason that she had not fallen apart was because of their support and comfort.
Ducky put aside her thoughts on the killed flyer family and instead began to focus on another thought that had plagued her mind lately. She turned to Cera and tried to catch her attention.
"Cera?" She began.
"Hmm..." Cera muttered.
Ducky licked her lips, she was uncertain were to begin with her question. "Do you think that we will ever get to see our mommies and daddies again?"
Cera looked down at that thought. It was something that had been on their minds ever since the change, but seldom mentioned.
"I don't know, Ducky... Even if we talked to them would they believe us?" Cera looked at Ducky with a questioning expression. "My dad probably wouldn't buy the whole dream explanation... He would just think that we are a bunch of crazy fastbiters." Cera licked her lips in nervousness. "And even if we do convince them, then what?"
Ducky was taken aback by Cera's response. "Then what? Well, we get to see our parents again. Yep, yep, yep!"
Cera sighed. "Yeah, but we couldn't stay, Ducky. We have to eat meat now." She then moved her mouth in an awkward way as if she were contemplatively trying to solve a maze as opposed to composing a sentence. After a moment, she let out the next thought that came to mind. "And... Would we just end up hurting them more? It's one thing to think that we are dead, but if my dad knew that I was a killer..."
Cera shook her head and looked away for a moment. Even if she had confidence with Ducky, she was not going to show weakness to the former swimmer. She quickly hid her watering eyes from Ducky's gaze.
Ducky was not fooled, however, and placed her clawed forelimb on Cera's shoulder. She gave her a sad smile before she spoke. "Then we will decide together, Cera. Either we will tell them or we won't, but either way we still have one another."
Cera nodded at this before showing her appreciation by nuzzling Ducky's paw. "You're right, Ducky, but it is just so hard sometimes... I wish we had never found that damn stone!"
The two continued their journey through the tall grasses, occasionally seeing something of note and resolving to tell Littlefoot of their findings. They thought that they had found a tempting target when they discovered a small longneck that appeared to be all alone. However, their hopes were dashed when the looming figure of the mother slowly rose from the hill in front of them. There was no way that they could challenge her and so they promptly fled from the scene.
They also closely observed the smells which greeted their nostrils. The number, age, and condition of the longnecks and threehorns in the area were carefully scrutinized and memorized for their future report. Cera reflected that it was creepy how readily they had taken to analyzing others by smell. There was an entire realm of existence that they had never truly experience until they had grown sharp teeth and claws. Cera wondered at times if she would ever change back even if she were offered the opportunity. She would not regain her innocence in such a reversion, that died the day she helped devour Rhett, and such a reversion would also take away much of what she now took for granted. Her clearer, more analytical mind. Her glorious sense of smell. And a deep almost indescribable sense of loyalty to her pack, that was now based on instinct in addition to the friendship that had formed long ago. She doubted that she would ever willingly give those up. Those traits were simply part of her now.
Speaking of smells, something smelled familiar...
Cera suddenly stopped and placed her nose to the ground. Ducky noticed this action and, rather than interrupt the fastbiter's concentration, decided to do the same to see what Cera had picked up. Cera began to analyze the smell, recalling her numerous smell memories in order to assist her. The pungent smell was both familiar and slightly rancid. Cera nodded to herself. This was obviously a scent left by urine.
Since the change, Chomper had been teaching them about the various smells that sharptooth focus on and what they mean. Of these lessons, Chomper's lessons on smelling the urine and fecal scents of other species was the most disturbing to the new sharptooth. Cera could chuckle at their naiveté back then, but at the time they had no frame of reference for focusing on such things. Relieving oneself in the valley was something to be done in private and away from where others could easily smell the results. The fact that dinosaurs outside of the valley did their business anywhere was one of those facts that formed a budding sense of arrogance in some of the valley residents. However, as Chomper taught, such smells conveyed important information for those who were willing to investigate thoroughly. The age, sex, species, condition, and intention of a dinosaur could all be indicated within their discarded waste. Common latrine sites were like bulletin boards of information for sharpteeth and that was something that they exploited with ruthless efficiency.
She followed the urine trail and found the main site of the dinosaur's release. She inhaled deeply and analyzed the smell more thoroughly. No wonder why it is familiar! This is from a fastbiter! She thought suddenly. It is male, but it is not from one of our males... Hmmm...
Ducky sniffed the site as well and went wide eyed, obviously reaching the same conclusion.
Cera sniffed again and went through her memories. She had only smelled the scent of a few other fastbiters since her transformation: Screech, Thud, and... Taunt! This is Taunt's scent! What is he doing in our territory? The scent was only a few hours old, but that was enough time for him and the rest of his pack to be anywhere in the lowlands. The scent gave away little in terms of personal information. The emotional state and intentions of Taunt were ambiguous with the exception of a small amount of agitation. Cera would have to tell the others of this information. New competition was not a welcome development in their new home. Easily attainable food was already becoming scarcer.
"It's Taunt." She stated simply to Ducky, who was in the process of smelling the same site that Cera had inspected. "I can't tell much more than that."
Ducky wrinkled her nose for a moment, before taking on a slightly more mischievous expression. Cera's opinion of Taunt was well known amongst the pack, as Cera had ranted about him for many moments after their brief encounter. Undoubtedly, Cera was cross over the fact that she couldn't read much from his scent. Keeping that in mind, Ducky spoke in a joking manner. "So his urine is as annoying as he is, huh?" Ducky attempted to keep her facial expression neutral in order to get as much of a rise out of Cera as possible. However, Ducky couldn't hold back her emotions and quickly began to laugh at her own teasing.
Cera sighed in an annoyed fashion, but couldn't hide the humor from her face. "Yes. I wouldn't doubt that every part of him is annoying." She took on a more serious expression. "Now come on. Let's find and tell Petrie so that he can tell the others."
The two exchanged nods and then ran in the direction where Petrie told them he would be scouting.
"Don't be so slow Strut! You don't want the leaf-eaters to catch us, do you?"
A tan Struthiomimus rose from the grass after berating his brother for his lackluster performance. How were they supposed to catch longneck eggs if they weren't even as fast as those lumbering giants? His brother may have been willing to feast upon leaves as the leaf-eaters did, but he had more dignity. Only eggs would satisfy his appetite.
"Oh come on, Ozzy!" His brother whined. "We have been trying to get eggs all day. There is plenty of grass here..."
Strut generally went along with his brother's desire to hunt eggs, but he had little patience anymore for his fixation on only eating eggs. After their nearly fatal encounter in the Great Valley so long ago, he had finally stuck up for himself and told Ozzy that he would eat leaves whenever he got hungry. Ozzy was not pleased, but after their misadventure in the valley he could hardly fault his brother's choice. As a consequence, Strut's whining was more of a result of annoyance than hunger. Due to his selective diet, only Ozzy was especially hungry.
In fact he was nearly starving.
"Fine! Go eat your green food! I will find eggs like a true egg-stealer!" Ozzy yelled, before finally storming off towards the longneck herd. He was in no mood to hear his brother's objections right now. If need be, he would find eggs on his own.
Strut observed the retreat of his brother's agitated form from view and sighed. He wouldn't let his brother risk his life out of his foolish pride and unique sense of dignity. He did hope, however, that he realized that his hunger was of his own making. One could not afford to be selective in the Mysterious Beyond.
"Fine, Ozzy! I'm coming!" He then proceeded to run in his brother's direction in an attempt to catch up.
The two might have been more careful if they realized who else was in the vicinity.
"You know, Littlefoot?" Chomper mentioned to the brown fastbiter. "Never mind how many times we do this; I am still amazed that we are hunting together."
The two were in the process of scouting around the watering hole for possible prey. As this was a scouting run in an open area, stealth wasn't actually a requirement. They had simply kept their distance from the herds and made observations. This gave them an opportunity to chat as they did their work.
Littlefoot was observing two small swimmer children drink from the water as their parents looked on. If only they would get a bit further away from the water... Littlefoot lamented. Swimmer children were very well protected if they stayed near the water, as they had a route of escape, but elsewhere they stood little chance. Herds in the Mysterious Beyond were wise about such things, however, so such a mistake was unlikely. Noted that Chomper had spoken to him, Littlefoot responded after a moment, while not taking his eyes off of his quarry.
"I know, Chomper..." Littlefoot muttered. "I know you're glad to have us around, whereas before..." Whereas before you would have eventually had to leave. He finished in his head. "And I find this quite fun..." He stopped for a moment as the dark implications of that admission hit him. "But it is still hard on us, you know? We never asked for this." Or did we? A thought in his head mocked. You did wish for the power to get rid of Red Claw. Now you may have it!
"I know, Littlefoot." Chomper affirmed. "But I am glad that all of you can stay my friends."
Littlefoot smiled, finally taking his eyes off of the swimmers who obviously were staying put. "Same here, buddy. Same here."
The two looked at the swimmers for a few more moments before realizing that there were no prospects here.
"Well, let's check out the longnecks. We're not going to find anything here." Littlefoot instructed.
"Yeah. Let's go." Chomper affirmed.
Little did they know that their paths would soon intersect with a couple of old acquaintances.
"Run!" Ozzy called out in a panic, as he held the egg in his claws. His stealthy approach into the longneck's nest had not been as masterful as he supposed, and now an angry sauropod was hot on his heels.
"Ahh!!!" Strut was right behind his brother in sprinting away from the thundering footsteps of doom. The longneck had five eggs in the nest and they had grabbed one egg each. Unfortunately, a single step on the vegetation comprising the nest was enough to make a loud crunch that alerted the resting mother. Both brother's had been guilty of being sloppy on this excursion. Now they were paying the price.
They were running towards the watering hole with all of their might, but each knew that they wouldn't be fast enough. The longneck was simply too fast. They would have to cut their losses before it was too late.
"Drop it and run!" Ozzy cried.
Strut did not need any more prompting and each egg-stealer dropped their recently acquired booty. The longneck continued to give chase for a moment, but stopped when she realized that her eggs were again planted on firm ground. She gave a final angry roar at the retreating menace, before engaging in the slow, laborious process of nudging her eggs all of the way back to the nest.
The egg-stealers, meanwhile, struggled to catch their breath after the panic-filled flight from the longneck. Not only had they nearly been killed in their incompetent attempt, but they lost dinner as well. Now Ozzy was not only hungry, but angry as well. All of his efforts from the previous day had been in vain.
Ozzy grunted in anger. "Oh, you numbskull! Because of you we lost the eggs!"
"Because of me?!" Strut was surprised by Ozzy's accusation. "You were the one who..." But he never got the chance to finish his thought.
"Yes, because of you!" Ozzy's angry confirmation echoed across the grassy fields. "We were so close to dinner... But you had to be clumsy!"
Strut looked nonplused for a moment, but then took on an angrier expression. He had put up with Ozzy's temperament for long enough, but since their stint in the Great Valley long ago, even Strut had developed a limit to his patience. And Ozzy had just crossed that limit. "Now look, Ozzy! You made noise too!"
The argument continued for some time as the two egg-stealers released their disappointment and anger over the day's events in their brotherly dispute. They may have ignored the outside world in their sibling argument, but other listeners were not so dimwitted.
"Hey, what do you know? Egg-stealers!" Littlefoot hissed in Chomper's direction. "We haven't seen one of these yet."
Chomper nodded. "Something seems familiar about these two..."
They listen for a bit longer at the squabbled between the siblings. In the process, they snuck closer and closer to the potential prey, using the tall grass as effective cover. It also helped that the two egg-stealers were focused on their disagreement and little else.
"Me? Judgmental? Ha!" Ozzy bellowed. "You just can't admit your error."
Strut snorted. "Ozzy... Be reasonable!"
Littlefoot's eyes went wide and he immediately looked towards his purple companion. The knowing look in Chomper's eyes confirmed that Chomper recognized these two as well. These were the same egg-stealers that had attempted to dispose of the two dinosaurs back when Chomper had first hatched. These were the same dinosaurs that Chomper's mother and father had chased from the valley. These were the same two threats from so long ago.
And they were all theirs.
Littlefoot smiled a malicious smile and then gestured with his head at the two egg-stealers.
Chomper saw Littlefoot's overt gesture and gave an enthusiastic nod. Chomper could finally finish what his mommy and daddy could not. He wasn't particularly hungry, having eaten the day before, but he salivated all the same. Today he hungered for the settling of an old score that had been formed during his infancy. He would not miss the opportunity. Now their old hunters would be the hunted.
The two dinosaurs then stealthily advanced on the hapless duo. They were utterly unaware of the advancing danger...