The Seven Hunters

Chapter 32 A destination reached

“Finally... I'm here...” ― K. Hari Kumar

The nine dinosaurs advanced across the barren wasteland. Due to their “delay” on account of their “deaths” at the hands of Chronos, they had to again travel during the daytime. The heat and blindingly bright light of the bright circle assaulted them, but luckily the high winds were nowhere to be found. This made the remaining leg of their journey a far more tolerable experience than their initial day of travel. Although each member was feeling parched due to the lack of moisture, the occasional conversation still occurred to stave off the boredom of their monotonous journey.

“So… uh… We never did get to ask you about what happened after your change.” Chronos mentioned. They had simply deduced what had happened to the children on the basis of the adults’ testimony and what happened to the stone. He still remembered how traumatic it was when he and Logos were transformed for the sake of their previous mission, which was originally supposed to be a temporary change. It was a confusing and distressing experience.

Littlefoot continued to walk at the front of the pack, with Ruby and Chomper at his sides. Cera and the others were just behind the front, with the rainbowfaces following immediately behind them. He considered for a few moments how to begin answer his question, but then Spike decided to speak up.

“Well, we ran.” Spike said simply. “We ran from our parents. We ran from Red Claw. We ran to Hanging Rock.” He then looked back at the rainbowfaces, without stopping his forward progress. “We had no rest anywhere.”

Littlefoot joined in the conversation. “We began to get so hungry and our moods began to change.” He paused for a moment as both rainbowfaces nodded at his admission, he then looked back at the duo and noted rhetorically. “I am sure that you noticed.”

“But we took the wrong way to Hanging Rock!” Ruby noted. “It took us seven days to reach my mommy and daddy, but seven days were too long... We had to eat.”

Both rainbowfaces took on morose expressions at Ruby’s admission. Being forced to kill must have been a horrific experience for the children. It was a shame they were not spared that indignity.

“We killed a longneck.” Littlefoot affirmed. “His name was Rhett... he was a friend.” He then looked down, even after a month the shame still lingered.

Logos then spoke. “I... I am so sorry children.” What more was there to say?

Littlefoot shook his head. “Not much can be done about it, I suppose. After we... resolved... our hunger, we then went to Hanging Rock and talked to Ruby’s parents. They lead us to the lowlands, which is where we were earlier.”

Chronos and Logos both shivered at this. So the children were in the lowlands after all, which meant that the mournful wailing from the longnecks probably was related to the seven dinosaurs they were now traveling with. Yes, the children had adapted quite readily to a sharptooth lifestyle. It was simultaneously heartening and horrifying to see.

“So...” Cera now spoke, although her voice was lacking any venom or skepticism. “Your people are from the stars, right?”

Chronos and Logos both nodded, while Chronos gave a simple affirmation. “Yes... That is one way of putting it...” He figured that lecturing her on planets, moons, and space stations would be counterproductive at best.

Cera continued. “Well then, are their other rainbowfaces where you came from? Or were you changed like us?”

Chronos gasped slightly. He had not expected such a wise deduction from the former threehorn. However, she had indeed connected the clues and realized that they must have been through a similar experience as them. He then looked at Logos with an inquisitive gesture. Even though they were not currently active members of the Consortium, and any cultural contamination that they would do would more than likely be lost to the sands of time, he still had the habit of looking for permission before “bending” the rules on cultural contamination. Telling the children of their change would certainly be a huge violation.

Logos saw his gesture and sighed. Reluctantly she nodded and proceeded to tell a simplified version of their ordeal.

“Yes, child, we were different back home. We were changed in order to come here.” The other dinosaurs stopped their journey in order to listen to her affirmation. She suddenly had all of their attention. “The rainbowface kind was simply the form that was chosen for us. We were quite different back home.”

“If you were different and then changed, then you must have felt like us when we changed and became different!” Ruby exclaimed after Logos’s affirmation. “Was it hard like our change?”

Logos nodded. “Yes, child. But it wasn’t quite like yours.” She thought for a moment about how to explain. “We did not change diet, but everything else changed. We had fewer eyes...” The rest of the gang took on disgusted looks at this, as they had a hard time imagining creatures with more than two eyes. “We heard things in a different way. We smelled like a dinosaur does, with a sniffer, instead of how a buzzer does... And many, many other things.” She shook her head. “The change nearly drove us insane.”

None of the children knew what to say. From any other source the story would have sounded crazy, but this was the rainbowfaces talking so anything was possible. Finally, Chomper decided to speak.

“So... You’re like my friends after all. You all have changed.”

Chronos answered. “I suppose so. I suppose so. I guess that time is the great teacher when it comes to these things.”

Cera nodded. Her change was getting easier to deal with as time went on. She hoped that the trend continued as she was sick of the moral dissonance she felt every time she had to kill. “I hope so.”

The conversation having ended, the pack and the two rainbowfaces began to move again. They turned towards a wide ridge that seemed to rise out of the endless sea of sand. The pack continued to travel for several more minutes until they began to walk over the ridge in the inhospitable landscape. That was when Petrie made an exclamation.

“Green! Petrie see green!” The small flyer shouted happily. “No more spitting sand!”

The pack redoubled their efforts in climbing the ridge. It seemed that their days of wandering in the desert were coming to an end.

......

Outside of the Great Valley:

Vokal continued to flap as hard as her wings would allow. Ever since her brief encounter with the sharpteeth, she knew that she had to tell Volant as soon as possible. With them traveling into the Barren Wastes it was obvious that the Land of Shallow Waters were their probable destination. The sharpteeth were simply following their food. Now it was time for her distraught cousin and the other grieving parents in the valley to obtain their revenge. A journey to the Land of Shallow Waters would be a massive undertaking, which meant that she had to relay the news as fast as possible.

“There it is...” Vokal gasped for breath as she continued her break-neck speed. “Just a few more minutes...”

Soon the valley would have word on their hated enemies.

......

Back at the Land of Shallow Waters:

“Water! Finally!”

Cera’s exclamation matched the sentiments of the other dinosaurs. After two days of walking through an inhospitably dry landscape, they were now finally in sight of water. The sight of lush grass, leafy ferns, and other swamp vegetation also greeted their eyes. Their insatiable thirst could now be fulfilled.

Cheers erupted from the seven dinosaurs as each scrambled towards the small pool of water that was closest to them. As it was on the outskirts of a swampy oasis, and not part of the larger swampland further in the distance, it was simply surrounded by tall grass and not the lush vegetation that was visible in the far distance. But none of that mattered. Relief was in sight and their journey would soon be at an end.

Ruby was the first to jump into the blue water, its cool moisture a pleasant relief after the relentless, scorching hot exodus that they had been on. Shortly thereafter the others jumped in. Each proceeded to suck down the water as if it was their first drink in days, which it was. The rainbowfaces were only slightly more dignified in their response, guzzling water from the pool’s edge. They were just as thirsty as the rest of the gang and just as pleased to see their journey come to an end.

But of course where one journey ends, another begins.

“This is so nice. It is! It is!” Ducky affirmed.

“Indeed! It is so nice to be able to drink again.” Chronos agreed. “I am quite tired of the sand.”

Logos snorted in a humorous way. “I don’t think that you will find any disagreement on that point.”

Chomper then surfaced, having dipped under the water in order to clear the dried sand from his sniffer. He sucked in a deep breath, exhaled, and then spoke. “Finally, my sniffer is clean again!” He then shook some the water off of him, which would have soaked the nearby dinosaurs if they weren’t already in the water themselves. “It is nice to finally be able to smell!”

Littlefoot nodded at this. “Yeah... I almost forgot how good my sniffer is now, until the sand got in the way.”

Logos spoke without thinking. “Yes... Sometimes we don’t know what we have until we lose it.”

The conversations suddenly ended, as Logos’s comment reopened unpleasant memories. Each of the children, of course, had lost their families and their innocence to their transformation, whereas the rainbowfaces had lost their original forms and their chance to go home to a mission that had gone on for far too long. Yes, each had lost so much. However, they had also gained as well. They had their new instincts, new allies, new senses, and, most importantly, they still had one another. All was not lost.

“Well...” Littlefoot then spoke after the abrupt mood change. “I guess that we are here. Now we need to see if we can find Chomper’s parents. But first I think that we need to...”

“Hunt!” Chomper interrupted. “I am starving!” He noted with some of his usual good-natured excitement.

Littlefoot laughed. “That’s right, Chomper. I am hungry too.”

Chronos and Logos both looked at one another with unreadable expressions, a scene that was not lost on Cera.

“Don’t worry you two! We are not hungry enough to eat you.” Cera said with jocular humor. Even though she still felt some remorse over how they had to live, she seemed to rather enjoy toying with those who could be on the menu. She did not stop to consider the ramifications of this. “But...” She then looked at Littlefoot. “What should we look for? Are there any ground fuzzies here?”

Littlefoot thought for a split second, before shrugging. “I don’t know... None of us have been here before. Did Ruby’s parents say anything about this place, Petrie?”

Petrie nodded. “Not much. Just plenty of food. Plants... Meats... Eggs...”

Ruby frowned and placed a claw on her chin in a ponderous expression. “So my folks didn’t give us any details. They left the details for us.” She then looked at Littlefoot with an inquisitive expression. “Scout?”

Littlefoot paused for a moment to consider the situation. Then he nodded. “Yeah... I think that we need to scout here.” He then looked up at Petrie who was perched on Ruby’s head. “Do you think that you could look around Petrie? The rest of us could look for ground fuzzies while we are waiting.” Based upon their previous experiences, small mammals seemed to like tall grass with plentiful water, so perhaps their current location would be the best place to look?

Petrie nodded. “Sound good. Petrie take look around.”

As the rest of the pack began to separate into groups of two for the upcoming hunt, the two rainbowfaces backed away discreetly.

“Don’t mind us...” Chronos mentioned. “We will just be... uh... looking for green food.” He quickened his pace when Logos gave him a little nudge for talking unnecessarily. The rainbowfaces began their walk towards the main body of the Land of Shallow Waters, while the rest of the pack began searching around their current watering hole.

As the two groups diverged for their two very different diets, however, significant events were occurring back in the Great Valley.

......

Near the Great Valley:

Vokal proceeded to fly into the valley, carefully positioning herself above the high bluffs which separated the valley from the outside world. Despite her exhaustion, however, she was able to use the warm thermal updrafts from the barren rock to power her upward momentum. It made for a slower flight, but also for a far less exhausting excursion. The only disadvantage of this was that it could allow others to catch up to her.

Such as what happened in this case.

“Halt!”

Vokal looked above her to see another flyer approaching. How does this idiot expect me to halt in midair? She thought to herself. I suppose that I will need to land. She then proceeded to slow her speed by spreading her wings out wide and puffing out her chest to the front. As her drag increased and lift decreased, she proceeded to slow and drop from the sky. After a few moments, she landed on the nearby rocks with a soft plop. She then waited on the rude flyer with impatience.

“Identify yourself. All unknown visitors must...” The flyer then seemed to recognize something within Vokal’s appearance. “Vokal... Is that you?”

Vokal took a closer look at the adolescent flyer and her demeanor suddenly improved. “Flip? Is that you?”

Flip smiled broadly. “Yep! I have grown a bit since the last time you were here... Hard to believe it has been eight cold times...”

Vokal nodded. “Yeah... you were a small flyer the last time that I saw you. I was never one to settle down.”

Flip nodded in understanding at this. “I understand. I went wandering around for a few cold times myself, but I eventually found the valley to be far safer...” He seemed to become disturbed by something. “Well, until recently... You see...”

Vokal nodded softly. “I have already heard about Petrie and the other children, nephew.” Flip looked surprised at this revelation, so Vokal continued. “Volant told several of the far-walkers and the news has traveled far. Everyone has family or friends of some kind who travel to the valley for refuge, when an attack happens on one of us it is an attack on all.”

Flip nodded sadly and then sighed. “Yeah... The new security is because of that too. All new visitors have to be stopped and questioned. That was the decision of the valley.”

Vokal suspected this but still had a question. “Why would questioning other leaf-eaters stop sharpteeth?”

Flip shrugged before answering. “Chomper knew many of the valley’s secrets. If a leaf-eater enters through a new entrance then it could provide him a new way in.” He then shook his head for a moment. “Also, if anyone has seen those sharpteeth then we want to know.”

Vokal frowned grimly. “Well, Flip, that is why I am here. I saw them.” Her voice was still ragged from her non-stop flying. Despite this, her voice seemed to echo in Flip's head. Her pronouncement changed this from a long-delayed reunion to a matter of grave importance.

Flip took on a cold expression, before responding with grim solemnity. “Where were they?”

“They were in the barren lands between the lowland and the Land of Shallow Waters. I think they were heading for the Land of Shallow Waters.”

Flip nodded and seemed to think to himself for a moment. “Follow me to the watering hole, aunt Vokal. It seems that you need a drink. Then you will need to tell the others what you have seen. I think the entire valley will need to hear this.”

......

Back at the Land of Shallow Waters:

As the pack of seven, minus Petrie, began to hunt for ground fuzzies, the two rainbowfaces were well on their way to the main body of the Land of the Shallow Waters. As they walked through the steadily thickening blanket of grass, they could feel the humidity steadily increase. The Land of Shallow Waters existed between the confluence of the western mountains and the barren flat lands that extended for hundreds of miles to the south. As the rainbowfaces had long deduced during their initial explorations of this continent over two years ago, the tall mountains would squeeze the moisture out of the prevailing winds, drenching the land that they now were travelled within. The prevailing wind patterns, which then would lack moisture, would continue to blow across the barren lands, which gave rise to the predominantly dry and miserable conditions that they had travelled through for the previous two days. If it wasn't for the rivers and tributaries that nourished the Great Valley and the surrounding areas then the entire western part of the continent would have been as inhospitable as the barren lands.

Where they were now going had much more to offer in the way of wildlife, which also meant there were many more predators as well. Keeping that in mind, Logos kept the Repressor weapon in hand.

After several minutes of walking, Chronos decided to break the silence.

"So here we are... I mean...." He tried to put his thoughts into words, but it wasn't going well. "Where do we go from here?"

Logos smirked, but mentally she shared in his befuddlement. She was having just as much trouble adapting to not having her old purpose as he was. "I guess that is up to us." She then placed her hand up to her chin in a ponderous gesture. "Although if they do find the purple sharptooth's parents, I would rather not stick around."

Chronos nodded, now wearing a smirk of his own. "Yes... I am not sure that they would be as... well-mannered as their child." He then looked at Logos a moment before gesturing in an expressive manner. "And I would rather not test the Repressor on them... Would you?"

"Most certainly not. Stun would not work on them. A higher setting would be necessary if it came to that..." Logos agreed. "We should probably make our own arrangements for shelter."

The two rainbowfaces continued to steadily move through the tall grass as the trees and ferns began to become more prominent in their vision. They were now moving from the outskirts of the swamp and were now entering the swamp proper. They still had a sufficient range of vision in this vegetation to still see around them and ascertain that there were no immediate threats. If they continued into the swamp, however, then they could not be so sure of their surroundings. All it would take is a split second for a belly dragger to put an end to them...

"Perhaps it would be better if we stayed in the outskirts." Chronos deduced. "If we have enough warning then we can outrun or hide from any threat."

Logos nodded. "Yes, that would probably be best." She then looked around for a moment. There were plenty of pools of water all around, with large assemblages of tall grass, ferns, and water-tolerant trees surrounding them. It was quite a beautiful sight. Maybe they should search around here? "We have survived so long by watching and waiting. I fail to see why we should change now."

Chronos then pondered for a moment, it was obvious that something else was on his mind.

"What?" Logos inquired. It was not an annoyed tone, but rather more neutral in its delivery. She had long learned that it was better to get their thoughts in the open rather than wait until it was too late.

"What about the children?" Chronos began. "I mean... Their parents have no idea what happened to them."

"We can't tell the parents, Chronos." Logos chided softly. "We did more than enough when we told the children our identity. We may no longer be Consortium members, but we still need to live by those standards. They..."

"...Need to develop on their own terms. I know, I know." Chronos finished. Logos had a slight smirk on her face despite her annoyance at being interrupted. This was more familiar ground for the rainbowfaces. Logos being the voice of duty and regulations, with Chronos being the voice of dissent. "But surely we could help somehow..."

Logos nodded. "I have been thinking about that. We can't do anything now. It would be too dangerous to travel during the dry season, so we would have do it in the fall..."

Chronos was enticed by Logos's suggestion. "Go on..."

Logos smiled. "We can't tell the parents that their children aren't dead, they would think that we were mad, but perhaps we could begin to plant the seeds of doubt..."

Chronos finished the thought for her. "So that when the children eventually do try to reunite with them..."

Logos interrupted. "Exactly."

As the two rainbowfaces were conspiring on what to do when they eventually revisit the valley, a certain brown flyer continued his scouting run in this mysterious new place.

......

Shluck!

Gotcha!

Petrie had just caught his second ground fuzzy during his scouting run on the massive swamp that was now his home. He may have been ordered to perform surveillance on this new land, but that didn't mean that he couldn't catch the occasional meal. Undoubtedly the others were catching their fill in the outskirts, so he needed to do the same.

As he hastily consumed the last portion of the impaled mammal, the flyer briefly went over his findings in his head. He found that his memory seemed to have improved with his transformation, which was a good thing. In order to relay all of the observations that he would see in a scouting run, a very good memory was required. Nonetheless, he still needed to go over what he had seen on periodic intervals in order to refresh his memory. Now was as good of a time as any.

Let me see... Swimmers by the long windy water... Belly draggers all over the water... Longnecks in the forest. Am me missing anything? He pondered for a moment. Nope. That what me see. He still had yet to follow one of the tributaries of the major river that flowed through the swampy marshes. He hastily decided that would be where he would finish his current scouting run. He doubted that he would see anything of particular interest, however. For the most part, the Land of Shallow Waters seemed to have a modest amount of food, which was spread throughout the region. This ready supply of "red food" also meant that numerous sharpteeth were in the area, mainly in the form of belly draggers hiding in the waters. They would have to be very careful here. Even though belly draggers would seldom compete with land-dwelling sharpteeth due to their slow speed on land, they could be a very real threat in the water. Hunts around the water would be a danger to both predator and prey.

Eating the last piece of the mammal whole, Petrie pushed off of his powerful leg muscles and immediately took off into the warm, muggy air. As he slowly gained altitude, he opened up his wings in order to let the warm updrafts of air push him higher and higher into the evening sky. Finally reaching a sufficiently strong thermal updraft, he stopped flapping his wings and simply steered himself in the direction of the final tributary. He would observe the final unobserved area of this portion of the swamp and then he would report back to the others.

What initially greeted his vision wasn't anything out of the ordinary from what he had already seen from this place. Around this rather small tributary of the main river, the shoreline was covered with thick vegetation that made any sort of examination of the inhabitants difficult at best. The heads of belly draggers periodically appeared in the water. This was a sight that was obvious to the small flyer, but would be nearly impossible to see for any land-walkers in the stream. Well, impossible to see until the jaws suddenly appeared in their vision, that is...

Looking forward, Petrie could see a row of very tall trees outside of the bodies of water. These trees must have been survivors from before the waters reclaimed the land when the climate changed. Those trees were not often seen in swampy areas, so it was a very curious sight. Deciding that he would investigate further, Petrie shifted his wings and allowed the thermals to carry him where he needed to go.

As he approached the curious trees, he began to notice small details that he had missed when he was further away. There were distinct tufts of brown and blue on the tops of the trees. Flyers... Petrie's mind deduced. Make sense. See a lot from up high. Be able to fly from bad flyers. Petrie then thought about his statement for a moment. Like me. It was still odd for Petrie to think of himself as the predator, even after having lived as one for well over six weeks. Even so, a small sharptooth flyer like him would do little to scare full-grown flyers such as these. The blue and red crests, varying depending on the species, clearly indicated these flyers as males. This was more than likely a herd of traveling bachelors who either were unpaired with a female or, in the case of some species, didn't contribute to raising the children in any case. Such a band of pterosaurs would stay together out of protection from flying threats and would stay away from the better sheltering sites around the Big Water. Obviously mothers with children would have already secured those sites and would fight off any unrelated flyers that entered their territory. Petrie was far too young when he changed to understand these nuances of flyer life. However, he could deduce that these flyers were of his former kind and several related kinds.

Petrie began to shift his position in order to turn back towards the others. However, before he could do so, something familiar caught his eye. He decided to do one finally flyby of the trees. As he flew parallel to the flyer-filled trees, he could see the imposing form of a large adult brown male. A male that looked like the pterosaur that Petrie might have grown into if he had stayed a Pteranodon... It was a flyer that Petrie had not expected to see again after his transformation.

Uncle...


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