The Seven Hunters

Chapter 27 Taunts and Reprisals

“If I were a magician, I’d hand out broken compasses. It’s all about misdirection.”

― Jarod Kintz, At even one penny, this book would be overpriced. In fact, free is too expensive, because you'd still waste time by reading it. (Yes, in case you are wondering, that is the actual title of the book.)

"Make sure that you mark them all! We want them to know we mean business!"

Skytail was encouraging them to fulfill their mission with impunity. They had to let the rival pack have no doubts about the strength and intentions of his pack. By marking their sleeping area with their scent they were sending a very clear message. They were five strong and they were challenging their right to reside in the lowlands. This would leave the rival pack only two options. Either they could acknowledge the strength of his pack and flee from the lowlands, or else they could meet their challenge with a reprisal of their own. If threats failed to yield the desired outcome then they could take the lowlands by tooth and claw. Skytail was certain, however, that it would not come to that. If the leader of this pack was as smart as Skytail figured that he was then he would see that he was beat and go to a more defensible position.

"Alright, that's good enough! Let's get out of here!"

The other pack members wasted no time in rising from their places and proceeding to vacate the cave. They did not want to be present when the other pack returned to their home. That would most certainly invite a fight.

As the others began to sprint through the tall grass, Taunt stopped for a moment and looked back towards the cave that they had just desecrated. To violate a pack's home is one of the most egregious violations that one could do to other sharpteeth. He knew that he had just contributed to putting the rival pack into an unfortunate position. They would either feel the need to retaliate for this insult or else they would evacuate their home. Admittedly, his leader had chosen the most humane and least dangerous option by making a show of force, as the rival pack would probably take the hint and leave. However, he still felt some guilt for their actions. He wouldn't want to be treated like this if he were put into their place.

Well, I guess it can't be helped. Taunt thought morosely.

Shaking his head, he turned back to where the rest of the pack had fled and resumed his sprint. Now only time would tell how the other pack would respond.

......

"Where have they have gone? Hopefully, they are home so that they aren't gone." Ruby exclaimed. The remainder of the pack had been searching for Littlefoot and Chomper but had little success in looking for them around the watering hole. Perhaps they chased some prey across a long distance? Or maybe they simply went home? They eventually decided to return home and resolved to resume a more thorough search if they could not be found back in the cave.

"I am sure that they probably caught something and are waiting for us to arrive so that they can gloat!" Cera responded sardonically. Littlefoot seemed to be reveling in annoying her over the last few days. Sure, she had been a bit of a braggart in the weeks prior, but surely Littlefoot's commentary was a bit excessive. Of course, the others did not quite see it her way, as their poorly suppressed chuckles at her comment indicated. They had been on the receiving end of her bragging in the same way that Littlefoot had and they were enjoying Cera's comeuppance.

Petrie was the next to respond. "Me no know about that. When we get there then we find out!"

The band of the sharpteeth continued their journey through the tall grass of the lowlands. After a few moments, however, they heard a sound that made them stop in their tracks.

Roar!

The sound was coming from the direction of their cave and it was clear what the source was. It was Littlefoot! The roar was one of profound, unrestrained anger. Without speaking, the entire group began sprinting in the direction of the cave.

"How dare they?!"

That was from Chomper. The seething anger that radiated from his words was lost on no one in the vicinity. Even the leaf-eaters in the area cowered at the sudden commotion. They may not be able to understand the words, but they understood one thing: There are sharpteeth over there and they are angry!

After a few moments of running at break-neck speed, the band arrived at their cave and began speaking at once.

"You okay?!" Petrie squawked.

"What's going on?!" Cera and Ruby shouted nearly simultaneously.

Littlefoot and Chomper both turned to look at their newly-arrived friends and stared for a moment. Each trying to bite back at their anger before they spoke. Chomper was finally the first to respond.

"Smell!" It was a command, but the other members of the pack took a moment before they seemed to understand what Chomper meant. Slowly but surely, each raised their nostrils into the air and took in deep breaths. That was when the scent hit them.

Fastbiters. Other fastbiters.

The implications of what they smelled suddenly came upon them. The rival band of fastbiters that Cera had smelled earlier had invaded their territory, intentionally marked their home, and then fled the scene. They did not understand the entirety of what this gesture meant but they could deduce one thing that it communicated.

We can find you anytime. You are not safe.

The rage built up silently for a few moments before it suddenly came forth in a torrent.

"How dare they invade our home?! This isn't their home to invade!" Ruby declared angrily, with a raised fist for emphasis.

Cera stomped the ground with both of her hind limbs and her forelimbs, in an almost realistic replication of how she would have responded as a threehorn. She began to pace sideways as if she were contemplating charging an unseen enemy. The other pack was lucky they were not here. Cera was in a murderous rage.

"I do not like this! Nope, nope, nope!" Ducky responded angrily. Her classic triple affirmation not showing any of her usual happiness, but rather expressing her agitation. She was not quite aware of why she was so angry at this moment, but something deep within her instincts told her to be angry.

Spike grunted in agreement with the others, his teeth were bared in a fuming expression. He then advanced into the sleeping area and sniffed his regular spot. He reared back when he smelled the torrent of scents.

Urine. They had "marked" their home in a very literal sense of the word.

"I will kill them all." Spike spoke in a low voice, the lack of shouting actually making the affirmation even more creepy and disconcerting. Spike wanted blood. "Let's track them down and finish this!"

Littlefoot was inclined to agree, but he realized that his emotions were getting the better of him at the moment. He understood, of course, that the actions of the rival pack were despicable, but he did not realize the full implications of what had happened. What was the rival pack trying to communicate? How should they respond?

Littlefoot looked towards Chomper for a moment and asked a pointed question.

"What is the meaning of this, Chomper? What are they trying to do?"

Chomper looked at Littlefoot with a look of amazement for a moment, before he seemed to understand something and sighed. He would have berated another sharptooth if they had asked such a stupid question, but he realized that the rest of his pack had not been raised as sharptooth and therefore had no knowledge about the types of challenges and reprisals. This was a very delicate matter. A wrong move could escalate to outright combat and death. Despite their anger they had to respond carefully here.

Chomper shook his head as he began his answer. "It is a challenge, Littlefoot. They are putting us on notice."

Ruby looked at Chomper darkly. "Well we have gotten the notice! But how do we put them on notice!"

"Yeah!" For once Cera agreed with the rose-colored fastbiter. "How do we show those morons who is boss?!"

Chomper appreciated the spunkiness of his friends, as he shared their sentiments, but as his anger turned to concern he realized that they needed to be careful here.

"Uh... What they did was a warning... They could have attacked us instead..." Chomper replied.

Littlefoot asked the obvious question. "Why didn't they? We didn't know they were here."

"Yeah..." Chomper nodded. "But an attack is dangerous. Most sharpteeth try to avoid them if possible."

Ducky sputtered, an odd response coming from her. "Sharpteeth avoiding attacks?"

Chomper nodded. "Yes. A sharptooth avoids attacking unless he is certain of winning." He then looked at Cera and Ruby who were on the other side of him. "A sharptooth who fights often will die young. Or at least that is what my mommy always told me."

Ruby seemed to understand. "So they are trying to avoid fighting by scaring us? They think that if they scare us away then they don't need to fight?"

Chomper nodded. "Exactly!"

Cera was enraged. "Well, I am not going away! I say we fight!"

As the others pondered for a moment on the proper course of action, Petrie gave a lone voice of dissent. "Well, the food is getting scarce-ier. Maybe we should leave?"

Spike answered immediately. "Never!" He then advanced towards the flyer, which caused Petrie to fly towards Littlefoot and land on his back. "They have insulted us and I won't sleep until they submit to us!" Despite being sharpteeth for over a month, the imperious desire for power and dominance was still a relatively new phenomenon for the pack. No sharptooth of any worth would willingly submit to an enemy unless it was necessary for survival. There was no shame in fleeing from an unwinnable battle in order to fight another day. Fleeing from an evenly-matched battle, however...

Cera nodded. "Yeah! And besides there are seven of us, but only five of them! There are only five scents here. I say we take em'!

Littlefoot tried to play devil's advocate. "Even so, Cera, one of us could get hurt or worse..."

"So we should just run off?!" Cera responded angrily.

"NO!" Littlefoot yelled. "But we need to be smart and think about what we are doing!" He then punctuated his points. "They were born fastbiters. The know how to fight. We do not." He then shook his head. "I don't think a fight would go well for us." He admitted the last point reluctantly. He did not want to dwell on his pack's weaknesses, but if he was going to make the best choices for his friends then he had to accept reality. Right now, the reality supported Petrie's idea of running away. Unless they could find a third option...

"Maybe we can mark their home?" Ruby offered.

Chomper shook his head. "They will probably be guarding their home. They will be expecting us."

"Maybe we can challenge them?" Spike offered. "We are inexperienced, but they don't know that."

Ducky was concerned, however. "But what if they called our bluff. That would be bad. It would. It would."

Littlefoot continued to think as the others continued to argue about the best course of action. Ruby noted his ponderous expression and asked a question to her leader.

"Any ideas, Littlefoot?"

Littlefoot looked at Ruby with a forlorn expression, before shaking his head. "Not yet... We can't let this go unpunished! But I don't want any of us to be hurt!"

Ruby nodded and raised a claw to her chin in a ponderous expression. Her sharptooth name, Ponder, seemed quite apt in her current expression. If only we had a way to mark their home! If we could do that when they are home then it would really make them scared of us! She then took on a frustrated expression. But if they are guarding their home then how can we sneak into their home? They will see anyone who walks by!

In her frustration she looked back towards the remainder of the pack, who were still arguing about the best course of action. Chomper and Spike were both arguing about the merits of directly challenging the rival pack, but little progress was being made. Littlefoot, meanwhile, was looking at Petrie who seemed to be following the discussion from a distance. It is a shame that Petrie would not be much help in a fight or in marking the rival... Wait! That's it!

Ruby looked at Littlefoot, who seemed to have the same idea based upon the smirk that had formed on his face.

"Are you thinking what I am thinking, Littlefoot?" Ruby probed curiously.

"I think so..." Littlefoot replied with a huge grin. "Could you go find some branches, Ruby? Petrie will need them if we are going to do this right."

Ruby smiled. This should be interesting... She looked forward to seeing how this situation developed. If they were lucky then perhaps they could avoid bloodshed.

Shortly thereafter, Littlefoot's lingering stare at Petrie finally gained the notice of the others.

"Littlefoot?" Cera inquired.

"Let's mark the rival pack's territory." Littlefoot answered absentmindedly. "We won't even have to go there..."

The rest of the pack looked at their leader as if he had gone mad. How were they supposed to mark the rival pack's home if they did not actually go there and do so?

"Okay, I've got branches. Now we need to rub on them! We need to rub on the branches!" Ruby suddenly affirmed from the threshold of the cave. The others hadn't even notice her leave as they were so focused on their argument.

"Rub on branches?" Cera inquired.

Littlefoot smiled. "Yes, and then Petrie will do the rest..."

Petrie nearly fell off of his perch when he heard Littlefoot call his name. "Me will?" Petrie had no idea what he was supposed to be doing. What did those two have in mind?

Littlefoot nodded and then waved his paws to indicate for the others to gather around. When they had all congregated around him, he and Ruby began to discuss their plan.

"Alright, guys, this is the plan..."

......

Me don't like this! What if they catch Petrie on the ground?

The rest of the pack had done a thorough examination of the lowlands in order to pinpoint where the rival pack was located. They were careful not to actually encounter the rival members, as the entire point of this exercise was to avoid a direct confrontation, and they had given Petrie a general idea of where their shelter was. It was now up to him to do the rest.

He looked at the area around him. There was a rather large crevice, perhaps extending for ten full-grown longnecks in length, which extended to the north. The crevice did not quite create a valley worth of the name, as it was maybe only about half a full-gown longneck in depth and the same distance in width. Whatever forces that had created the pack's own cave seemed to have also created this particular geological formation. It was quite defensible, but far from where the herds in the lowlands congregated. It was obvious why the rival pack wanted to move into the pack's territory. When that was added to the consideration that the food sources were becoming scarcer...

Ignoring his racing thoughts, Petrie looked at the crevice more closely. On either entrance there were fastbiters keeping guard. An orange fastbiter with black stripes stood at the north entrance, whereas a gray fastbiter stood at the south entryway. It was obvious that their home shelter must be in the crevice itself. He took a look at the crevice below and noted no other dinosaurs, but there were several distinct indentations near the middle of the crevice.

There we are...

Smiling, Petrie gripped the branch in his talons extra tightly and proceeded to dive to the crevice.

......

Taunt examined the area around the north entrance. There had been absolutely nothing of interest happening since he began his watch several hours ago. Nonetheless, he kept his vigil. He did not want to be the one who had to explain to Skytail why the rival pack was able to retaliate during his watch. No, he would keep up his mission until the others arrived after their hunt.

Hmm... What is that?

A small flyer seemed to fly by the crevice as if he were searching for something. Must be looking for ground fuzzies. Doesn't sound like a bad idea... Ignoring the flyer as unimportant, he returned his focus to the terrain in front of him. If he and Breeze kept their visual then their home was safe. Considering that it had been nearly half a day since their challenge, it was obvious to Taunt that the other pack must be preparing to leave the lowlands. Any self-respecting pack would have responded by now. Undoubtedly they were choosing the smart option and leaving their territory to the superior pack.

Sorry, Cera. Taunt thought to himself, remembering the yellow fastbiter that he had met nearly a month ago from the rival pack. But we are in control here.

If he had known what was going on in his home, however, then he would not be so cocky.

......

Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!

Petrie carefully rubbed the treestar-laden branches against the indentations in the ground. Five unique fastbiter scents emanated from them. These were undoubtedly the sleeping areas of the rival pack members. Petrie had found his target.

Littlefoot, Ruby, and the others had rubbed their bodies and, in the case of Spike, urinated on the branch in question. By rubbing it against the sleeping areas of the rival pack Petrie was returning the favor to the other pack. Now they would see what it was like to have their security violated. Petrie was careful in his deliberate brushing to make sure that his body never made contact to the ground around him. He could leave no evidence of how the pack had seemingly accomplished the impossible. They had to think that their rivals were mysterious and dangerous. They had to know fear! They had to be shown humility!

Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!

That last of them! Now me can leave no evidence!

Slowly rising from the crevice, Petrie then flew back towards the watering hole. The rival pack couldn't find the evidence of his trickery if it was at the bottom of the water!

The brown flyer smiled a toothy smile. Petrie wished he could be there when the rival pack discovered what had happened.

......

"How could this happen?!" Skytail roared at the two shamed guards. "You two were supposed to stand watch!"

Taunt had seldom seen Skytail this angry and was visibly cowering, a rare expression from him. "We were, sir! I never moved from my spot!"

"Then how do you explain this!" He roared. "Our entire home, marked! They have met challenge with challenge. You know as well as I do what that means..."

Breeze paled as Taunt looked down in shame. Vigilant spoke after a pause. "Do we escalate... or back down?"

Scarflank gave his opinion immediately. "I say that we escalate. If they don't back down then we could still carve out a territory, could we not?" He was not open to attacking the rival pack, especially since they had apparently managed to outsmart their rivals, but he was under no impression that the rival pack was highly superior to theirs. For now he simply assumed that Taunt and Breeze had gotten into one of their usual verbal sparring matches and let them down. They needed to probe their rival's strengths and weaknesses before any fight. Sporadic challenges on a one-on-one basis would be a good way to do that.

Skytail responded. "Even a limited engagement might escalate into a full fight. We should meet them in pack on pack. That way if it escalates into a fight we will be at full strength."

The rest of the pack then took in the leader's idea. The might have to soon enter into a full engagement with the rival pack. Usually such engagement ended with one side retreating or both sides stalemated in the exchanging of verbal challenges. However, deaths and serious injuries were also possible. Skytail did not phrase his idea as an order, but rather as a suggestion. This indicated that he felt that it was a matter that should be decided by consensus, as each would be risking their lives in such an endeavor. This was something that the pack would have to consider carefully.

"Wait, check this out!"

Every head turned at Vigilant's exclamation. Skytail, who was rather annoyed that his solemn proclamation of the stakes that they faced was interrupted, responded with a frustrated response.

"What, Vigilant?"

Vigilant looked at Skytail with a horrified expression. Whatever she had seen had discovered obviously spooked her.

"Their scents are all around where we sleep, but nowhere else!" She exclaimed. "They snuck by you two." She gestured at Taunt and Breeze. "Which is disturbing... But how did they hide their smell?" She looked at Skytail with utter fear and repeated herself. "How is a pack scent-less?!" She exclaimed. "What kind of pack did we pick a fight with?!"

Skytail jumped up and tried to check Vigilant's findings. He tried to keep his emotions in check, but he was having difficulty as the reality of the situation began to dawn on him. The rival pack, all six of them, had apparently snuck right by their two experienced members without being seen. They had then rubbed their scent all over the sleeping areas. And then they had escaped without leaving any evidence of how they entered their home. No tracks. No scents. Nothing.

The others began to sniff around as well and made the same findings. Panicked mutterings began to be uttered amongst them. The pack was quite spooked by this turn of events. Even if Skytail ordered a confrontation now, his pack would be prone to panic and run at the rival pack's threat display. He already knew that this engagement was lost. That did not concern him at the moment, however. What concerned him were the implications of Vigilant's findings.

Have they angered a pack of ghosts? Are the Hidden Runners that he was told about as a child true and not simply a child's tale? He had not felt this much fear since he was a small child. This changed everything. A pack that could do this could do anything. What was stopping this rival pack from killing them in their sleep if they so desired? No scent, no tracks, and no visual signs. The original insult was his idea, he noted. This left him with one raging question in his head.

I have endangered my entire pack. What have I done?

He then looked at Taunt and Breeze with an apologetic expression.

"We have underestimated our rivals." He then looked back towards the north entrance, where the two longneck younglings that they had killed laid prone and exposed. He knew what he had to do.

"We have to make amends..."

Taunt and Breeze both gasped. Skytail had never backed down to anyone. Nevertheless, they could not disagree with his reasoning, as they were now facing something that they didn't fully understand. A pack which could be practically invisible and scent-less was a horrifying threat indeed.

With great sadness and apprehension the pack began to walk towards the two longneck corpses. There would be a confrontation between the packs today, but not in the way that they had originally foreseen.

They simply hoped that the rival pack would be forgiving...

......

"And if they make this sound: Rarr! Rarr! How do you respond?"

"We make the same call and then click at them?"

"Exactly. And then?"

"Then we advance in a line and rear our heads back and forth?"

"Yes. That is how your kind responds to a threat from a rival."

Chomper was going through the finer points of challenge rituals with Littlefoot and the rest of the pack. It was important that Littlefoot understood what to do, as the rest of the pack would simply follow his lead. They had to use proper form when and if the other pack met them as disorganization could indicate weakness and invite an attack. If, however, they performed well then they might be able to avoid a fight or, at the very least, be able to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the other pack before engaging in battle. Such battles usually ended when one side fled, but it was still possible that serious injuries could be sustained on both sides.

Chomper had never imagined that he would be going through these lessons with the pack, but yet here he was. They had to dissuade the other pack from evicting them; otherwise they risked an uncertain future elsewhere. With no sign of his parents and no allies to call upon they would be in a very desperate situation. They had to fight for their territory if it came to that.

"What if they apologize?"

That question came from Ducky. Chomper considered it for a moment. If their plan worked then it would certainly spook the other pack and perhaps they would try to rectify their actions. It was a long shot, as Petrie would probably have left some of his scent back at the rival pack's home and thus give away their methods, but it was worth considering.

"Then they would do the greeting call, as I have shown you. Then they would act submissive, like this..."

Chomper then bowed his head low and walked with a shuffling gait towards Littlefoot.

"They would then offer an offering of some sort."

Littlefoot blinked. "Then what do I do?"

Chomper shrugged. "That would be up to you... You could dictate your terms then. You are the pack leader."

Cera grunted lightly at that affirmation, but she did not challenge the statement. Despite her confidence in Littlefoot, she was still uncomfortable with having so much authority in one dinosaur. Where he could effectively dictate the pack's fate with one word. To be fair to Littlefoot, he was not quite comfortable with the idea either.

Rarr! Rarr!

There was the greeting call. This meant that the other pack was approaching, but it did not indicate their intentions. Either way, they had to make a strong showing here.

Rarr! Rarr!

"It sounds like they are by the watering hole!" Ruby offered.

Littlefoot nodded and seemed to take on a stern appearance. Upon seeing this change in demeanor, the others took on harsh expressions as well. It was now time.

"Let's head out. Remember your displays!"

Petrie took to the air and stayed some distance away from the pack. He did not want to give away the secret of how they marked their territory to the other pack, as that would defeat the entire purpose of what they had done, so it was agreed earlier that Petrie would stay out of this particular interaction. Petrie had already done his part. This was simply between the land walkers now.

With that the pack went out with all six members in a line. Their steps being synchronized exactly. Their expressions being fixed on the unseen destination in front of them. They then returned the call in kind.

Rarr! Rarr! Click! Click!

Step... Step... Step... Step...

Rarr! Rarr! Click! Click!

They continued walking in the direction of the rival pack for several minutes. All the while, they returned the calls of the rival pack at set intervals and continued walking in step. They had to show uniformity and power here, Chomper had taught them earlier. A show of strength here could deter a battle if they did it right. Likewise, if a battle did occur, then perhaps they could spook the rival pack by their threat display and provoke them into a panicked retreat. Either way, they had to follow their instincts and training now and be the fierce sharpteeth that they now were.

Finally the tall grass of the lowlands gave way to the shorter grass by this area of the watering hole. They could now see the rival pack. It consisted of five fastbiters, seemingly not much older than they were. Each was arrange along a straight line which was now directly in front of their pack. Their facial expressions gave nothing away in terms of their intentions or motivations. To the side of the group, two longneck corpses lay prone on the ground. That could either indicate a peace offering or a display of fighting prowess, as the intentions of the rival pack was not yet known. Either way, they had to act hard here.

Rarr! Rarr!

Littlefoot's pack immediately stopped at his sudden call. The other five stayed behind, while Littlefoot took a single step forward and rose to his full height. He then stared at the rival pack's leader with unblinking eyes and a fierce expression. The other five fastbiters then began to pace back in forth while making aggressive gestures at the opposing pack. The dichotomy between the calm and unblinking Littlefoot and his aggressive companions, added to the fearful, statuesque display. This was something that Chomper had once seen small biters do in a threat display he had witnessed on the island where he and his parents had once lived. He was unsure if it was appropriate for their respective kinds, but since it was the only one that he had seen from beginning to end he had decided to teach it to the pack. He hoped that it would be intimidating enough.

The rival pack faltered slightly as the pack performed their display, but otherwise gave no response. It was the other leader's turn now.

The opposing leader, a greenish-blue fastbiter, then advanced a step and stopped for a moment. The members of the pack held their breath in anticipation of what was about to happen.

Then, with a heavy sigh, he lowered his head in a sign of capitulation and stepped forward slightly in a few shuffled steps. He did not fall to his knees as a sign of unconditional surrender, but he did signal an end to the day's exchange of threats and reprisals. He was conceding, in effect, the territory without a fight.

Littlefoot did not change his expression, but rather continued to stare at his counterpart. Chomper was quite clear that the display should not be broken until words are exchanged. Accordingly, he hid his satisfaction with the events of the day and retained his outward display of ferocity.

The leader then gestured with his right paw and two of the other fastbiters grabbed a hold of the two longnecks and meekly dragged them in front of their leader. So they were peace offerings. Littlefoot concluded. This has gone better than I could have hoped.

"We offer this as a sign of reconciliation." The rival leader said in a tone of voice that communicated both meekness and shame. It was the tone of voice that one would use if they were unaccustomed to losing. "The day is yours. We will honor your territory."

Silence. Not a single word was spoken as everyone was waiting for Littlefoot's response. He could very well expel the other pack now and they would have no choice but to accept his terms. However, no one had asked Littlefoot what he would actually do in this situation. His response was as much a mystery to his own friends as it was to his rivals.

"Your offer is accepted." Littlefoot began, choosing his words very carefully. "What is your name?"

Skytail was surprised to be addressed directly, but he answered after a moment's hesitation.

"Skytail is the name I have earned. Blueclaw is the name I was given."

Littlefoot nodded. "I am Seeker." He then looked at the rival pack's members for a moment before continuing. "Why did you insult us, Skytail? Is that the usual way you invite yourselves into someone's home?"

Skytail winced at Littlefoot's stinging rebuke. He was incensed that this fastbiter, who was smaller and undoubtedly younger than he was, had brought him so low. However, he bit back on his anger. These fastbiters obviously had talents that he could not even begin to fathom. He would answer the leader's question.

"We... needed a new place to live. The food was getting scarce... So we came here."

Littlefoot smiled slightly. "And you thought that you could displace us?"

Skytail simply nodded.

"What will you do now, Skytail?"

He paused. He had not actually discussed that matter with his pack mates, but he pretty much knew what he had to do. With some trepidation, he answered.

"We will leave the lowlands and try our luck elsewhere. There is nothing left for us here."

Skytail then began to retreat and rejoined the rest of his pack. He looked at them apologetically before giving them the signal to retreat. They then turned their backs to the other pack, a sign of defeat in this context, and began to head away from the watering hole.

"We will eat the longnecks together."

The rival pack stopped where they were as Cera and Spike both looked at Littlefoot as if he had lost his mind. As Skytail looked back towards Littlefoot with a look of confusion, Littlefoot continued.

" You have shown that you are reasonable, now we will show the same." Littlefoot began. "I would much rather have close allies than distant enemies. If you are willing to ally with us then you may stay at your home." Littlefoot then offered his paw in a receptive gesture.

"Littlefoot!" Cera hissed in an angry manner. What is he doing?! Her thoughts raged. They don't deserve an alliance after what they did to us!

Chomper, however, could only smile at Littlefoot's surprise move. They were inexperienced and they were going to have to leave this area soon anyway. So if they could gain five permanent allies then it would be worth the extra competition for a few weeks. An alliance that is vowed, as opposed to an alliance that is simply agreed upon, cannot be broken without those involved losing face. Chomper was surprised that Littlefoot remembered his talk about that several weeks ago. It seemed that Littlefoot was listening to his lessons far more than he let on.

Skytail slowly approached Littlefoot as both packs looked on in amazement. Littlefoot took on a curious expression, but otherwise did not change his stance or demeanor.

Skytail then bit down on his own paw.

Littlefoot blinked. Chomper had not told him anything about this!

As blood began to trickle from Skytail's paw, he explained. "I have never made alliances, Seeker. Alliances mean obligations. Obligations mean risk." He then shook his head. "If I agree to this then it is to the death. I would expect the same loyalty from you as I expect from my pack... and in turn you can expect the same from us..."

Littlefoot nodded. "Of course!"

Skytail continued. "If we do this then we make a vow. We swear in blood."

Littlefoot paled slightly as Chomper looked on. Chomper had never gotten to tell him about exactly how alliances were made. As it was, Chomper was not quite sure how fastbiters entered into such arrangements. But now they knew. Littlefoot knew that he had to act fast or else it would be seen as a sign of incompetence or weakness.

So he bit down on his own paw.

Littlefoot ignored the painful sting as blood began to trickle out of the slight wound. Finally, with a flourish, the two fastbiters joined their paws in a show of unity.

"We will shed blood for one another as we have shed blood today!" Skytail intoned.

"Until death!" Littlefoot affirmed. He was improvising as he did not really know if he was doing the vow correctly or not.

Skytail nodded. "Until death!" It seemed that Littlefoot had improvised adequately.

As the two leaders then stepped back from one another, the members of each pack silently reflected upon what had just happened. Neither of them would ever be the same again.

The former rivals were now allies.


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