The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 26 An egg-regious plan

“I’ve got a sizeable retirement nest egg. It’s an ostrich egg, and it’s going to make an omelet so big that it’ll produce enough leftovers for decades.
”

― Jarod Kintz, The Days of Yay are Here! Wake Me Up When They're Over.

"Uh... Ozzy?"

Strut attempted to interrupt his brother's tirade as he looked in horror at something behind him. Ozzy, however, was too deep into his argument to pick up on the signs of his brother's distress.

"Why you!" Ozzy raged. "You are not getting out of this..."

Strut began to step backwards as the figures grew closer to the two egg-stealers. Now realizing that his eyes were not deceiving him, Strut decided to become more forceful in his reaction. He jumped up and pointed at the advancing threat.

"Sharpteeth!"

Ozzy was stunned for a moment, before finally registering what his brother was talking about. Quickly glancing behind him, he tried to look at what his sibling had seen.

Only to see a fastbiter and sharptooth rapidly sprinting straight at him.

"Run!!!" He yelled in an uncontrolled panic.

With the two sharpteeth fast on their heels, both egg-stealers began to run for their lives.

The hunt was on.

......

I can't believe that we are going to do this!

Taunt was traveling with the rest of his pack through the lowlands. Due to the nature of what they had planned, they did not wander in the open, but rather were sneaking towards their destination. If the other pack knew of their actions then undoubtedly a battle would ensue. They had to be very careful here.

"Down!"

Every member of the pack then crashed to the ground at their leader's warning. Hopefully the tall grass would hide them from any prying eyes. But what could have spooked the leader?

Suddenly a flash of tan went by as two sharpteeth followed close behind. The sounds of panicked yells and thundering feet greeted the pack as the dinosaurs went passed. It was a curious sight, with two juvenile sharpteeth chasing two full-grown egg-stealers across the grassy fields. They must have either found two especially fearful egg-stealers, or else caught them by surprise. Either way, it appeared that two of the members of the rival pack were preoccupied with a hunt.

That will make our job easier. Taunt observed.

The leader of Taunt's pack, a greenish-blue male, rose as he saw the dinosaurs sprint past. They were too preoccupied with their hunt to pay his pack any notice. Smiling, he gave the order to resume their mission.

"Let's go!" He hissed.

Taunt arose from his crouched position. His orange hide and black stripes standing out vividly against the tall grass. He noticed the others arise as well. After a few short moments, everyone was again ready to go. Being uncertain about how to proceed, he looked to the pack leader.

"Hurry up! We need to find their territory before they come back!" He affirmed to the pack.

Without further debate or discussion, the pack advanced through the underbrush. Taunt walked slowly behind his fellow fastbiters as he slowly took stock of their situation. Although he understood the necessity of what they were about to do, he was very uneasy about the potential consequences. He was rather fond of the yellow fastbiter that he had met of the other pack. Likewise, he had to respect how they had apparently survived despite appearing utterly incompetent a little more than a month prior.

Perhaps they are a pack of orphans? Taunt reflected. That would explain why they are so young and inexperienced. Fastbiters of their kind often went off to form their own packs as soon as they gained some experience in hunting. This was not due to poor parenting, or a lack of familiar love, but rather due to differences in survival needs between younger and older fastbiters. Juveniles obviously had to focus their hunts on smaller prey and young dinosaurs, whereas adult fastbiters often went after entire herds in order to bring down the occasional weak or sick dinosaur. Likewise, a juvenile fastbiter would be a hindrance to a large pack of adults in their hunts, whereas an adult fastbiter would only attract unwanted attention to a relatively vulnerable pack of juveniles. Hence, upon the fulfillment of their third joint hunt a fastbiter would traditionally leave their parents and seek out others of their age group. It was simply the way that it was.

Taunt had followed that same journey during his childhood, which he supposed was not truly over. He had been raised by his loving mother and by his attentive father during a rather joyous and caring childhood. He had been taught the old sharptooth tales, the sacred songs of the fastbiters of his lineage, and the basics of hunting and survival. Although he started out as an especially clumsy and awkward infant, his parents had showered him with love and understanding as the years went by. It was during these formative years that he developed his wit and rather caustic sense of humor. He had first learned to laugh at himself before he turned his wit upon others. It was a trait and coping mechanism that had served him well.

But then the time came when he had to depart from his loving parents. It was a day that he remembered well...

......

Several seasons ago in the Mysterious Beyond:

He was not named Taunt back then, as he had not yet earned his pack name. He was simply named Firehide.

"You've done well, son!" Thud's voice echoed through the narrow canyon.

They had just killed an adult threehorn that had been separated from her herd. The threehorn had appeared somewhat fatigued and confused during the fight, which probably indicated why her companions had abandoned her. Threehorns, as Firehide had figured out from his father, despised weakness and would often expel members who could no longer serve the herd. This was usually a death sentence for the threehorn concerned and a guaranteed meal for the lucky sharpteeth who found them.

"Thanks dad!" Firehide's voice responded.

Firehide was elated to hear his father's praise. Despite the fact that this was now his third successful hunt with his parents, he still was haunted by his unsuccessful attempts during his younger years. As a late hatchling he actually needed help emerging from his egg. Under normal circumstances an infant who was too weak to escape from his egg would be left to die, but his parents were desperate for a child after so many seasons of trying that his mother decided to break with tradition. In the years that followed, he was so awkward and weak that he often couldn't chase down the smallest of prey. He remembered a rather tragic conversation with his parents during a time when food was scarce.

I am sorry, Crimson, but I couldn't find anything today.

Seriously dear! We will surely starve at this rate. We need food, Thud!

I know... I know... How is Firehide holding up?

He is still sick as usual... I don't know how much more of this he can take. He was already so weak even before the food went away...

It is okay, mommy...

Firehide? Go back to the nest, dear. You need time to recover...

If you two can't find enough food, then go ahead without me... I am holding you back and I don't want you to starve.

Don't ever say that, Firehide!

Dad...?

Don't ever say that. One way or another, we will get through this together. I will never leave you behind!

His father seemed to notice his son's sudden melancholy and suspected that he knew the cause. "You have certainly become a skilled fastbiter." He then clasped his clawed paw on his son's shoulder. "Don't reflect too much on the past. What is done is done."

Firehide stopped for a moment and took his father's words in for a moment. "Thanks, dad. It is just kind of hard to not think about it, you know?"

At this point his mother got into the conversation. A tan fastbiter with reddish highlights on her arms and legs, she was a striking presence. "Of course, dear. But you got through those times. We all did."

After a few moments of the small fastbiter family exchanging nuzzles, they settled down to their hard-earned meal. After many moments of gorging themselves on the fresh kill, Thud looked at Crimson with a sad smile. She paused for a moment before sadly nodding. They were prepared to get to the important task at hand.

"Firehide, you have made your third joint hunt with us." He said these words with a sense of formality that really did not fit in with Thud's usual demeanor. He continued with a more heartfelt tone. "You know what that means. Don't you, son?"

Firehide gulped at the realization of what his father was getting at. He had passed his three tests of courage, as the fastbiter songs had often called them. He was now ready to move on to the next stage of life. A stage apart from his parents.

"Yes, father. Yes I do." Firehide nodded gravely at this statement. He was unsure how he was supposed to go about leaving the nest, but he knew that he would be expected to go about it soon.

Crimson and Thud both nodded at Firehide 's understanding.

"But how am I..." Firehide was unsure how to ask the question that was on his mind. "How do I join a pack of my own?"

Thud smiled mischievously at his son for a moment, before giving his a facetious answer. "Well, you could always walk up to a pack and beat up the strongest member." Firehide looked at his father with an annoyed expression. "That way you can lead your own pack from the very beginning!"

"Dad..." Firehide protested at his teasing. Crimson, meanwhile, was suppressing a chuckle. Even though Firehide was now certainly strong and agile enough to enter the juvenile stage of life, he was not a particularly strong specimen. Most certainly not strong enough to assume leadership of a pack by force. She decided to interject before Thud could get in another joke.

"Typically you can simply ask a pack to let you join. You remember the summoning call, do you not?"

Firehide groaned and then nodded. Of course he did. It had taken him and his father hours to get him to make the appropriate calls and gestures as that custom demanded.

"Well..." She continued. "If you call them nicely and present food as proof of your competence, then they should give you a chance to join." She then smiled at seeing Firehide's relief. "Many small packs would welcome a good hunter, son. I am sure that you have nothing to worry about."

Thud smiled as well and gave his son one last piece of advice. "After tonight, son, you will no longer be part of our pack, but you will still be family." In other words, you are still loved but you cannot stay with us anymore. "If you ever need advice, you are always welcome to find us again. Just remember your place, my son." In other words, you are to enter our territory as a stranger, although you are family. Do not expect to stay or hunt here unless you bring food as an offering to us.

"I understand, father." He then looked over to his mother, who was suppressing emotion to the best of her ability. "Mother." Firehide tried to suppress the tears than now threatened to emerge from his eyes. The lessons from his parents on how to control oneself not being forgotten by the small fastbiter. "I will never forget you."

Thud blinked. Did Firehide see some moisture in his eyes? "Nor will I forget you, son. But I have a feeling that we will see one another again. Remember that we will always be here for you."

......

Back to the present:

Taunt shuddered at the memory. About two seasons later, he had heard from an acquaintance in another pack that his mother had died at the feet of a threehorn and that his father and uncle had sworn an alliance with Red Claw. Then his own father had helped to attack his own pack! So much for always being here for me! Taunt observed grimly.

"Taunt!" A soft hiss emanated from one of his pack mates, a swift gray female named Breeze.

"Huh?" Thud has lost track of what he was doing. He had simply been following the others while allowing his mind to wander to other things.

She smiled at his confused expression. "Focus on what we are doing, will ya? I guess we need to rename you Sky Puffy!"

Taunt looked at her with an annoyed expression, before making an obscene gesture at her with the claws on his right foot.

Breeze chuckled softly at Taunt, as she had gotten a rise out of her counterpart. They had not started on the best of terms, but over the seasons they had gotten used to their peculiarities. Normally a fastbiter who raised his foot and then pointed his sickle claw in a downward expression would be inviting a fight. That gesture indicated that the other dinosaur was too stupid to even raise their claws while running and hence was slow both in mind and body. A grave insult to any fastbiter. However, coming from Taunt, one simply learned to take that gesture as his way of responding to ridicule. As a consequence, she settled with simply taking a bow as Taunt rolled his eyes at her response.

"Knock it off you two!" The leader hissed in the direction of the two friends. "We are almost there!"

With that, the pack continued their journey towards the rival pack's territory.

......

"Me no understand. How can Taunt be here?"

Cera nodded at the small flyers difficulty in understanding this new development. She could hardly believe that they had to deal with that pack again, either.

"All I can tell you is that we smelled him." She placed emphasis on the "we" as there was little chance of two fastbiters coming to the wrong conclusion on the same smell. "...And if Taunt is here then his pack must not be far behind." She let those words come slowly as she wanted to make sure that their implications set in amongst the assembled pack. They might have quite a problem. It all depended on the intentions of the pack.

"Oh my!" Ruby was the first to respond. "If Taunt's pack is here then they might not want us here!" Taunt's pack appeared to be diplomatic enough, based upon what they had experienced during Cera’s first encounter with Taunt when they had inadvertently entered into the territory of his herd. But now Taunt’s herd were the invaders... That changed things.

Spike too was trying to process the possibilities that now faced them. "What do you think they will do next? They weren't exactly happy to see us when we stumbled into their territory."

"I don't know..." Cera admitted. "But I don't think they want competition."

"But we were here first! Yep, yep, yep!" Ducky protested.

"That may be so, Ducky. But I don't know if they care about fairness or not." Spike cautioned. "What if we end up hunting the same dinosaur?"

Cera sighed. "Let's find Littlefoot and Chomper." She suggested. "We need to find out what to do with our new 'guests'."

The pack then set off to find the two dinosaurs. Then they would attend to the rival pack.

......

"Here we are!" The leader beamed at finding the other pack's sleeping area to be unoccupied. Luck was certainly shining upon them today. "Now let's make our presence known!"

The rival pack had apparently made their home in a small cave that seemed to arise out of nowhere in the sea of green grass that covered nearly the entirety of the lowlands. The repeated floods and annual dry seasons had caused weathering of the rocky substrate underneath the rich soil. As a result, crevices often appeared in rather unexpected places, which lead to the deep understructure of interlocking caves. Even though flooding would undoubtedly be a concern in such a home, it would provide ample protection against the elements and any herbivores seeking revenge. The leader of the rival pack obviously wasn't a fool.

Skytail rose to his full height as his bluish-green hide seemed to shine like a gem in the dark crevice they currently found themselves in. This small cave brought back many old memories for the juvenile fastbiter. As the others began to scout out the area, he took advantage of the lull in activity to contemplate the rush of memories that now confronted him.

He had been the leader of the pack for four seasons now. It had all started with him and Breeze as a pack of two, when they were both expelled from their family. He had befriended Breeze during his childhood ever since she had saved him from a rockslide that had nearly sent him to an early grave. When her family was killed during a hunting mishap, his family was more than willing to adopt the gray fastbiter who had saved their son's life. They had both made a vow to join together as pack mates in a cave much like this. The cave that served as his family's nesting site. As a result of her adoption into the family, they both completed their education under the tutorage of his parents and both fulfilled the tests of courage at the same time.

Over time three other members had joined the pack. The third member, Vigilant, had joined upon impressing the duo with her good observational skills. Her offering upon requesting to join them was the promise to give them ten baby flyers without being attacked by the mother. She accomplished this by learning the mother flyer's patterns flawlessly and slaying all of the babies in one swift and brutal attack while the mother was foraging for food. The mother, after mourning the loss of her children bitterly, had left the nest that now only contained a reminder of her failure as a mother. Then Vigilant had simply taken the corpses and offered it to the two fastbiters. Upon seeing such a skillful display by the brown fastbiter, they had unanimously accepted her request to join the pack.

The fourth member was Scarflank. Although his blue coloration and large scar made him stand out, his general demeanor was very reserved and introverted. He had simply offered up a threehorn youngling as proof of his use to the pack and was quietly accepted. He seemed to be very tight-lipped about his childhood and Skytail could only assume that it had not been a happy one. Nonetheless it seemed that Scarflank was slowly beginning to break out of his shell and relate to the others in a normal way. Skytail was glad to see that Scarflank had found a better family in the pack than he apparently had in his biological family.

The fifth, and as of yet final, member to join was Taunt. Even if Skytail lived a hundred years, he swore that he would always remember how Taunt had made his request to join the pack. It had started not long after Scarflank joined the pack...

......

Several seasons ago outside of the Lowlands:

"Get out of here, you runt!" Breeze shouted at the odd fastbiter. "This is our catch now!"

The other fastbiter looked at her with surprise. His orange coloration and black striped made him look impressive on the surface, but his small size meant that he could easily be pushed around. Breeze used this to the pack's advantage.

"I caught it fair and square!"

Roar!

The orange fastbiter ran off in a headlong sprint at Breeze's roar. Pathetic! Breeze though to herself. There is already a pack here, runt! You had better find your own territory!"

......

"I am telling you, Skytail, someone stole my catch!"

Breeze was absolutely livid. She had severely injured a young fast runner, only to have it sprint away into the forest they currently found themselves. The smell of blood permeated the scene of her attack and followed the trail that the dying dinosaur had traveled in her final mad sprint to get away from her killer. As if that wasn't enough, the footprints of the hapless dinosaur were also easy for everyone to see. Curiously, however, here was a site where the footprints stopped and the blood seemed to pool. As if the dinosaur had died here. However, the trail of blood then resumed into a nearby stream, but no footprints were present. It was almost as if someone had dragged off the fast runner.

Skytail sighed. "I don't suppose there is much we can do, Breeze." He shook his head. "The stream has a fast current and will disrupt any scent. I am afraid that we will have to find something else."

Breeze roared in frustration before storming off.

......

"Breeze, wake up!"

Skytail's excited exclamation immediately woke the gray fast runner. It was pitch black outside, what could possibly be going on at this late hour?

"What is it?" She asked groggily.

"Your fast runner!" He said excitedly. She immediately arose at the mention of her lost catch. "Look!"

She quickly glanced at the area where he was gesturing and gawked at the sight of a decapitated fast runner. It seemed that something had gotten its head, but had left the rest. Her hunt hadn't been in vain after all.

"Wow! Where did you guys find it?" She asked with appreciation.

Skytail shook his head. "It wasn't any of us. It was left here by someone else..."

Breeze's expression turned dark. Somebody had taken the time to capture one of her catches and then return it to her? What was that suppose to mean? Was this a threat? A reprisal of some kind?

With some unease, the pack laid back down to sleep. They would investigate the matter in the morning.

......

A few days passed without anything out of the ordinary occurring. But then the thief struck again.

"Who swiped our food?!"

It was a most unusual occurrence to hear Scarflank speak at all. Let alone yell out in anger. Skytail took notice immediately.

"What happened, Scarflank?!" He asked with some concern.

"Somebody has taken some of our catch!" He then gestured with an agitated claw. "See? That entire leg was untouched last night and now it is mostly gone!" Just as he had reported, the threehorn corpse was now missing most of a hind leg.

"It seems we have a thief..." Breeze remarked. "And I think that I know who it could be..."

"Oh." Skytail spoke in a flat tone as he suspected that he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear. "And who would that be?"

Breeze paused for a moment. "There was this pathetic fastbiter who I found the other day. I had been tracking this longneck youngling for a while when he came out of nowhere and took it from me!"

Skytail looked unimpressed. "Did you actually catch the dinosaur first, or did he?"

Breeze sighed. She knew that he would not approve of what she had to say next, but she would answer truthfully all the same. "He did." She spoke reluctantly. "But surely he found the dinosaur because of me! I had been searching for so long and..."

Skytail cut her off. "What did you do next?"

Breeze answered after a pause. "Well I took the food, of course. I was the one who found it first, after all."

Skytail sighed at that point and cupped his head into his paws for a moment. He spoke without looking up. "So you stole the food that he caught and you think that he now stealing from us. Is that correct?" The tone of his voice brokered no excuses or diversion. He wanted a straight answer from his pack mate and friend.

Breeze looked down in shame. "Yeah..."

Skytail nodded before continuing. "The pack may threaten, Breeze, but you know better than to make enemies on your own. When you make enemies you are also making the pack more enemies."

"I'm sorry." She breathed out. She knew that she had acted hastily and she had no one to blame but herself.

"Very well. But we still have a thief to deal with." Skytail answered.

There was a momentary pause as everyone digested the leader's words. How were they going to deal with this new threat?

"Oh? And how do you plan on doing that?"

Everyone looked up at the new voice. It had come from an orange fastbiter with striking stripes. It was their thief.

"There he is! Let's show him who is in control here!" Breeze raged.

Skytail waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. "Let's see what he has to say first." He then took a step forward and locked eyes with the culprit. "You certainly have some gall to steal from a pack such as ours. What do you expect to accomplish?"

The stranger responded almost immediately. "I expect to make a point."

Skytail laughed at this. "Well, you have certainly done that. Now leave us in peace, will you. You wouldn't want to incur our wrath, little one."

"No." The stranger answered. "No, I don't think I would want that." Skytail relaxed at that affirmation as it appeared that a violent confrontation was becoming less likely. "I would much prefer to join your pack."

This time, the entire pack burst out into laughter. The stranger looked annoyed at this display, but then seemed to take on a cheeky demeanor. This stranger certainly was bold.

"Join our pack?!" Skytail answered, trying desperately to regain some semblance of composure. "You have stolen from us twice and you insult us with your words! What offering could you possibly offer us to prove your worth?"

The fastbiter responded with a flourish of his forelimbs. "Have I not already showed you my worth? I have shown you how quick and quiet I am by stealing from you while you slept."

Breeze growled at this, but Skytail seemed thoughtful.

"Very well." Skytail began, which made the others look at him with distress. Surely he couldn't be thinking about rewarding him for his misdeeds. "A swift and quick dinosaur could be useful. If he is willing to serve a pack more than he is willing to serve himself." He took another step forward as he again locked eyes with the mysterious stranger. "Give me two flyer eggs and the heart of a threehorn and I will let you join the pack."

"You can't be serious!" The stranger protested.

Skytail smiled. "Oh but I am. I want you to promise us that you will either complete this challenge and join us, or fail and leave us alone. Do you agree or not?"

The stranger looked down. "I give you my vow."

Good. Skytail thought to himself. The fool has agreed to my difficult challenge. After he fails then he will no longer be our problem. He then had a final passing thought. And if somehow he succeeds then he would be a good addition, provided that none of us eventually kill the annoying runt.

"Good. You have until the bright circle appears tomorrow."

......

The pack then congregated around the threehorn as Skytail gave some final instructions.

"I don't care how good he is. He may be able to find the flyer eggs in time, but he won't be able to get near the threehorn younglings while they are protected by their herds at night." Skytail affirmed. "But we need to be vigilant. He could try to take the heart out of your friend here, for example." He gestured towards the threehorn corpse as he mentioned this.

"Well, then why don't we take the heart out?" Vigilant inquired. "Then he would have to catch and kill a threehorn on his own?"

"Yes." Breeze began. "And why did you give him a chance to begin with?"

Skytail sighed. "He had a legitimate grievance against us and he did make a request to join our pack." He then looked sternly at Breeze. "As you know, Breeze, a request to join a herd requires the offering of a truce and a challenge. If we attacked him then we would be acting like rogues and if I didn't offer him a reasonable challenge in order to prove his worth then I would be showing cowardice." He then looked at the others. "And I am not going to make his challenge be fighting one of you for a place in the pack." That was a standard practice for some packs, but it often led to a brutal and fearful existence for those who were at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy. "I value each of you too much to risk you like that, even though you are a pain sometimes."

Breeze nodded sadly. She was being unreasonable, she realized, but that other dinosaur simply made her so mad. She was certain that was a common occurrence when he was involved.

"Now come on... We need to organize shifts in order to watch the threehorn and be ready to accept his offering if he gets them." He looked at each of his companions. "I will hold first watch; all of you need to choose when you will take over."

......

"Hey!"

Breeze turned as she could see the annoying stranger come into view. Surely he hadn't achieved the challenge that Skytail had decreed? She approached cautiously.

The stranger dropped two small flyer eggs to the ground.

"I have done the first part of the challenge." He affirmed. "Now it is time for the next part..."

Breeze smiled a sarcastic smile. "Good luck!" She knew that he didn't have a chance.

......

Scratch... Scratch... Scratch...

What is that? Scarflank pondered. He decided to investigate.

Looking around at the threehorn, he noticed nothing out of the ordinary. The original wounds all remained on the corpse, with only the small insects incurring further bites into the flesh of the dinosaur. Taking a look at the chest region, he noticed that it was still intact. The heart was safe.

However, it will soon rot. He lamented. Perhaps I should eat a little while I still have a chance.

As he began to rip into the flesh, he didn't notice the scratching continue unabated.

......

"Well, the bright circle is about to rise! It looks like our guest didn't make the cut." Breeze noted happily, she then added with fake disappointment. "What a shame."

Skytail gave a sardonic expression to Breeze. It looked like that he had kept his side of the agreement, now it was time for the stranger to keep his.

Scratch... Scratch... Scratch...

"What the heck is that?!" Skytail exclaimed.

Splat!

In an explosion of viscera and gore, the stranger came gushing out of the chest cavity of the threehorn. The severed heart was clutched in his claws. Neither of the pack members could believe what they had just seen. The newcomer had just secured the last part of Skytail's challenge. But how did he escape the notice of the rest of the pack?

The newcomer seemed to foresee the question of the amazed sharpteeth and gave a quick explanation. "None of you were watching the top of the threehorn! I climbed to the top and dug down."

"You ate your way through the dinosaur?" Skytail could clearly see the bright circle now shining through the gaping hole in the threehorn's chest. Despite what his eyes were seeing, however, he was still having trouble to accept the reality of what was in front of him.

The newcomer smiled a cheeky smile. You shall be Taunt. Skytail thought to himself. I don't care who you are or where you came from, but your very nature seems to taunt everyone.

"Welcome to the pack, newcomer. Let's go find some prey so that we can give you a proper name." Even though the newcomer's pack name had already been determined, Skytail had to go through the proper tradition. "And stay away from Breeze... I can protect you from most threats, but I am not sure about her..."

Breeze snorted as she moved aside to allow the newcomer to join into their circle.

Little did he know at the time, but Firehide would be renamed Taunt on that very night. The rest was history.

......

Back to the present:

"Skytail?"

Skytail shook his head and refocused at the task at hand. Come on, Skytail, you're not a child anymore! Focus! He put aside his reminiscing about the past and realized that they were in the process of scouting the rival pack's shelter. That meant that he needed to make sure that they found what they were looking for.

"Did you find their sleeping areas?" Skytail asked suddenly.

Vigilant nodded.

"Good!" Skytail smiled. "Let's get to work!"

......

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the lowlands:

The two egg-stealers were running for their lives through the nearly blinding torrent of tall grass that lay in front of them. They were quickly beginning to tire as the fastbiters had been chasing them for the better part of an hour from the watering hole towards the large field of grass that made up a majority of the lowlands. The sharpteeth could still track them easily by scent, but the egg-stealers only had their eyes as a guide, which were effectively useless due to the high grass. These soon became apparent when Strut tripped over a root.

"Ah!" Strut screamed as he fell to the ground with a loud crash. All of his forward progress was stopped as he heard the sharpteeth rapidly approach. He whimpered. It looked like this was the end of him.

"Strut?!" Ozzy cried. He knew that if he left now then he would surely escape, but his brother would not be so lucky. Never! Ozzy thought to himself. I won't let anything happen to my brother! With a fearful cry, he turned around and began to sprint towards his brother. He could already hear the loud crashing as the fastbiters were tearing through the grass in order to catch up with the duo. Ozzy fully realized that by taking this action he was probably condemning himself to die. After a few terrifying moments he caught up to his sibling and grabbed his arm.

"Come on, Strut! We have to get moving!" He yelled as he pulled.

"Ah!" Strut cried. "I... I think it's busted, Ozzy!"

Ozzy looked at his brother with a panicked expression. This couldn't be happening! What could he do?

Strut looked at his brother with a sad expression. Ozzy wouldn't quit, but Strut knew that this was his brother’s only chance for survival. "Ozzy, run!"

Ozzy looked at Strut with an uncomprehending expression. "I am not leaving you, Strut! Now get up!" He pulled again and got Strut to his feet, but Strut soon fell over again... If Strut's leg wasn't broken then it was surely badly sprained. It would take days to heal... and they only had mere moments.

"I'm sorry, Ozzy." Was all that Strut could say.

Suppressing a sob, Ozzy now realized that there was nothing more that he could do for his brother. He quickly rose and prepared to leave while he still could. As he turned back to the direction in which he had been running, however, he could see the brown fastbiter in a crouched position. Quickly turning to the other direction, he noticed the purple sharptooth taking the same stance. It looked like his luck had run out. Surprisingly, some part of Ozzy was comfortable with this. They were together for all of their adult lives; it was only fitting that they would be together in death as well. He was simply sorry to see it end this way.

Wait a moment! He thought to himself. These are rather young sharpteeth! Maybe I can fight them off? It was a long shot, but it was better than waiting here for the sharpteeth to devour them. He then got between himself and the purple sharptooth and got his paws up in a defensive position. The purple sharptooth looked at him with an odd expression. Why does this sharptooth seem familiar? Ozzy questioned himself.

"So you can care about someone other than yourself!" The purple sharptooth mocked. "I guess I was unworthy of that, huh?"

Realization dawned on Ozzy. Can this be? Is that the same sharptooth that we hounded in the valley? It had been so long ago. He had long forgotten about the incident until reminded of it today. Apparently when you are the one threatened with destruction, you are less prone to forget... Ozzy now realized why this sharptooth had chased him down. It wasn't about hunger. It was about revenge. He now knew for sure that he was going to die.

Ozzy spoke with a fearful stutter. "Just let my brother go... It is me that you want, right?" Despite his often hostile demeanor and bitter disagreements with his brother, he always had his best interest at heart. He realized now that it was his mistake from so long ago that had gotten them into this mess. He resolved to get his brother out of it at the very least.

Strut protested at this. "Ozzy... Don't!"

Ozzy reacted angrily at his interruption, although his heart wasn't really into it. "Oh shut up, Strut!" Upon seeing Strut on the verge of tears he added, most uncharacteristically for him. "...Please." The sadness and desperation in that one word communicated volumes to everyone in the vicinity. Ozzy knew that this was probably the end. In the event that the sharpteeth accepted his offer, he didn't want his brother's last memory of him to be one of anger.

This appeared to give the sharptooth some pause. He actually seemed quite uncertain of what to do. He growled at his brown companion, he emitted a series of hisses and screeches back. The purple sharptooth seemed angry for a moment as he gave a rather loud roar back at his pack mate, but after another round of hisses the sharptooth seemed mollified somewhat. The purple sharptooth then gave Ozzy a rather toothy smile.

"My leader would like to talk with you... Don't make him angry..."

Ozzy gulped, as he turned towards the brown fastbiter. He wondered what a fastbiter could have done to impress a two-footer enough to call him 'leader'. Ozzy suspected that he didn't want to know the answer to that question.

"You wronged us, Ozzy..." Ozzy immediately wondered how the fastbiter knew his name. Duh, he probably heard your brother calling your name. Some part of his mind deduced. "You tried to kill my enemy..." There was now a flurry of hissing again between the sharpteeth. "Um... sorry... You tried to kill my friend and I don't take kindly to that."

Ozzy was now absolutely petrified. Good. Littlefoot affirmed. That will make it easier to get them to do what we want. Assuming that I don't butcher the leaf-eater language again! He though while reflected on his misspoken word from a moment before. It still amazed him how unintuitive leaf-eater now seemed to his predatory mind.

"You two would feed my pack for maybe two or three days... Assuming Spike limited himself, of course." Ozzy could hear the purple sharptooth chuckle as the brown fastbiter continued to speak. Neither of the egg-stealers felt like laughing. "But eggs could keep us fed for quite a long time..."

Ozzy decided to inquire about what the fastbiter had in mind. "You want us to gather eggs?"

Littlefoot smiled. "Exactly. And if you do what you are told you will be alive and full... But if you attempt to cheat us, we know your scent now..."

Ozzy nodded as he knew that he had no choice in the matter. "We will do whatever you say!"

"Good!" Littlefoot beamed. "As you know, the herd of longnecks has had several eggs laid, but they are well protected. My pack can provide a diversion, if you can gather the eggs for us..."

Ozzy nodded. "Ok.. Okay... but my brother is really injured... He..."

"We noticed." Littlefoot spoke flatly, which immediately shut Ozzy up. "We will not do this for a few days." He then looked up in the sky for a few moments, as if he were checking something. "The next night where the night circle does not appear, you will meet us here. Then we will make our move."

Ozzy and Strut both gulped at Littlefoot's imperious tone. They had been given an offer that they couldn't refuse.


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