The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 33 Reunion of the flyers

I know how men in exile feed on dreams. ― Aeschylus

The flyer absentmindedly examined the scene around him. A few blue-crested adolescents were arguing about something unimportant on the branch beside him, each of them obviously being of a cousin species of sorts. A few other juveniles and young adults were on the branches above him in varying levels of conversation or contemplation. Kelran, the unofficial leader, if there was a 'leader' in this group, was seating on the limb below him dosing in the evening breeze. In past days he would have rather been the leader, using his charisma and charm to lead the others according to his vision. But now, he was reluctant to seek out such power. He remembered what happened last time he attempted to seek out its enticing but vengeful embrace. His exploits had nearly cost the life of a small swimmer and he knew all too well that he had more than enough blood on his wings without another to tax his conscience.

He had been following this band of flyers for the better part of a month now. It was the fifth such grouping that he had been a part of since his exile over two Cold Times prior. Even though a full-grown flyer such as him was usually quite safe from most predators, it was still generally safer to stay in a larger group. A group offered many more eyes to see advancing danger and a much more powerful threat to any sharptooth flyer that may be looking for a larger meal. The main threat in these groups was competitive battles for dominance and mates. Battles for mates were no longer a particular concern as the mating season had since come and gone. The mothers would all have younglings at this point. Likewise, dominance battles were often tied into battling for mates and territories, as none of the members of this band had either, there wasn't much to fight over.

"Sharpbeak!"

At the call of one of the juveniles, Pterano looked out towards the marshes where the juvenile was gesturing. Pterano had to stifle a laugh. It was just a small sharptooth flyer; far too small to be a significant threat to any of the assembled flyers, let alone a large group. Nonetheless, it was good that the flyers were being vigilant. He could not fault them for that.

"Oh come on! Are you afraid he's going to bite your ankles of something?!" Kerlan chided at the overly watchful juvenile. At his joke at the small flyer's expense, the other flyers erupted in jocular laughter. Pterano did not join in the laughter, however, as he saw the value in being watchful of his surroundings. The small sharptooth flyer could very well have been a scout who was helping out another sharptooth flyer. By being mindful of such small things one could avoid many dangers. His own life had been saved on a number of occasions during his exile by catching such small details. Perhaps he should give the other flyer some words of encouragement later? Although he overreacted, his razor-sharp perception could come in handy later.

Lost in his own thoughts once again, Pterano caught a closer look of the flyer as he was flying parallel with the group. The small flyer's eyes were fixed upon Pterano as if he had seen a ghost. It was a most unnerving expression. Although he was imposing, Pterano was certainly not the most threatening of his kind, nor did he have any dealings with sharptooth flyers since his exile from the valley. He could not determine any reason for why the young predator stared at him in such a manner. Something in his expression seemed to remind him of his young nephew who he left behind in the valley. It was a look of confused befuddlement combined with a sense of innocence. It was a very unique combination that he hadn't seen in over two Cold Times...

Shaking his head at the futility of his thoughts, Pterano turned his attention back to the makeshift herd of flyers that he now found himself. The others had turned their attention to other matters. Now would be the perfect time to discuss things with the chided juvenile.

"Don't feel ashamed, young one. You can never overlook such things. Even a small detail can indicate trouble." As the juvenile listened, pleased to have someone praise his efforts as opposed to mocking him, Pterano continued. "That reminds me of a time when I was in a similar situation..."

......

"So Pterano is still alive." Littlefoot said without much enthusiasm. He did, however, keep the venom out of his voice for Petrie's sake. He realized that Petrie still cared for his uncle, even if the blatant hero worship had long since ended.

Cera was not so tactful, however.

"Oh great. So instead of finding Chomper's parents we've found your uncle." Petrie's demeanor turned cold as Cera walked forward and continued her verbal assault on the flyer. "I guess that you can tell him that Ducky's a bit too heavy to kidnap now."

"He no do that! The other flyers do that!" Petrie protested.

"Flyers that he led!" Cera retorted.

"Guys..." Littlefoot cautioned. "This will get us nowhere..."

As Petrie paced on his perch in his anger, Cera strutted off in agitation as well. Cera knew that she did not help the situation, but she knew that her objections matched the views of the others. Pterano had repented for his actions in the end, and he had tried to stop his minions from doing them actual harm, but the flaws of his character were obvious in her opinion. She failed to see how any good could come from interacting with him.

Ruby and Chomper looked at one another awkwardly. When Littlefoot and the others had first talked to them about the Stone of Cold Fire and the rainbowfaces they had heard about Pterano and his exploits. Even though they knew the story, they still felt oddly left out as they were not in the valley during those events. As a result, they abstained from the discussion but instead listened intently.

"He doesn't know about what happened to us..." Spike offered.

"Who does?" Cera retorted in annoyance. With the exception of Ruby's parents and the rainbowfaces, no one else knew of their plight.

"No." Spike corrected. "That was not what I meant." He then walked in front of the pack in order to look at them directly. "All of our families think that we are dead... Except yours Ruby. Maybe we could actually talk to him? That is more than what we could do with our folks."

Cera grunted. "What good could he do? It isn't like our folks would believe him."

Ducky then spoke. "No, but he is a flyer. He is. He is. Maybe he could help us?"

Petrie jumped back into the discussion. "Yeah. He survive out here. Maybe he could help?"

Littlefoot pondered this for a moment. "I don't know, but I guess there is no harm in talking to him." He bit his lip in concentration for another moment. "But how would we convince him?"

Chomper then joined in. "Maybe he had that dream that Ruby's parents had?"

Petrie nodded at this. "Maybe..."

Littlefoot was skeptical of this. Ruby's folks had the same dream, but who knows about the rest of the parents. Furthermore, Pterano wasn't a parent. They needed to rely on something else.

Perhaps seeing Littlefoot's skeptical look, Spike spoke again. "Well, we know about what happened after we found the first 'Stone of Cold Fire'. Petrie could mention that to him."

Ducky nodded and looked Petrie in the eyes. "And you know the stories he told. Yep, yep, yep!"

Littlefoot smiled. Maybe they could talk to Pterano after all. He was doubtful of what good it would actually do them, but at least it would allow Petrie to reconnect with one of his family members before Pterano heard a darker story about their fate. Littlefoot knew that if he were in Petrie's situation, he would jump at the chance. He would not deny him this chance.

"I guess that could work." Littlefoot finally said with a kind nod. "But it will all be up to you, Petrie. I doubt that he will want to talk with a bunch of fastbiters."

Cera grunted again. "Fine. I guess you can try." She then looked at Petrie with an annoyed expression. "But I still think that no good will come from this."

Petrie cynically muttered under his breath. "Me not surprised."

Littlefoot hurriedly spoke again to head off any retort by Cera. "Alright then! I guess that is settled. Petrie will attempt to talk to his uncle and let him know about us. If he has been here awhile then maybe he could help us." He then cleared his throat for a moment as he was trying to change the subject. "But before you head off, Petrie." Petrie was already beginning to take flight upon Littlefoot's affirmation. Littlefoot's sudden recall caused him to nearly crash into the ground, much to Cera's amusement.

Petrie landed with a thud. "Huh?"

Littlefoot chuckled lightly. "I was saying, before you head off: what else did you see during your flight."

"Oh, Petrie nearly forgot." Petrie was embarrassed. In his excitement over his uncle, he had forgotten the original reason for his scouting run: to actually tell the pack what was around them.

As the small flyer gave a detailed report to the pack, significant events were occurring in the Great Valley.

......

Meanwhile in the Great Valley...

"Okay so everyone is here." Grandpa Longneck began. Although the death of his grandson still haunted him and his mate, he had begun to resume his duties as an elder in the Great Valley. One of these duties included presiding over the meetings and ensuring that the interactions remained constructive and cordial. Needless to say, many of the valley's residents were grateful to see him retake these duties from the threehorn.

"Yes." Topps replied. "But why are we here?" Although he would not admit it, he was glad to see the longneck begin to act like himself again. Despite his best efforts, he simply did not have the temperament to guide the herd discussions in a way that didn't border on imperious. It was nice to have someone else do the more 'diplomatic' tasks.

"I'm not sure." Grandpa Longneck began. "The flyers have called this meeting."

There were hushed murmurings from amongst the assembled dinosaurs. They were all having the same thoughts at the moment. Did they find Chomper? Is he back? Who will protect our children from him? Despite the best efforts of the dinosaurs, paranoia still reigned in the valley. The security at the borders had become a habit at this point, but despite that all of the residents still had lingering worries.

As if on cue at Grandpa Longneck's statement, several of the flyers flew into the center of the circle of dinosaurs. Flip had briefed the other flyers on what had been discovered and now they were going to share their information with the whole valley. Volant, who had become an unofficial leader of sorts for the regular scouting runs outside of the valley, stepped forward.

"Vokal has found Chomper."

The mutterings in the crowd suddenly rose to agitated conversation. Their deductions had proven to be correct: the flyers had found the hated sharptooth and his minions. But where were they?

"Quiet everyone! Quiet please!" Grandpa Longneck tried to regain control over the agitated adults. After a few moments the agitated mutterings became barely audible and the meeting could resume. "Vokal? Where were they?"

Vokal stepped forward and gave the best account of her findings that she could muster. "I was traveling away from Hanging Rock to avoid the dreaded dry season, when I got trapped by a sand storm in the barren lands."

"The barren lands?" Topps asked inquisitively. Although he had heard of the location from land-walkers, he had never been there himself. It was in the opposite direction from the path that the herds had taken to reach the valley.

Grandma Longneck had been there in her youth, however. "I remember that place." At seeing Grandpa Longneck's surprise, she continued. "It was before we met, dear. Back when I was in my mother's herd... It wasn't the barren lands back then, though, the climate changed..." She tried to get her thoughts back on track. She had several distinct childhood memories in that place and in its vicinity. "It is by the lowlands."

The swimmers nodded in understanding. The lowlands were well-known to the travelling swimmer herds, as it was accessible via the rivers and tributaries that went through its interior.

Flip then resumed her speech. "Yes... Based upon the direction that they were traveling, I think that they left the lowlands and were heading towards the Land of Shallow Waters."

"Good! They're away from us then!" A domehead muttered. Several in the crowd echoed his sentiments. If they were that far away from the valley, then the immediate danger had passed. But that was a sentiment that was not entirely shared by the parents who had lost children. Some wanted revenge or, at the very least, closure. They wanted to know why Chomper had done his outrageous deed and they wanted to ensure that his treachery would not be felt again.

Topps responded to the domehead's exclamation with annoyance. "There will be no security while that sharptooth lives. He knows our secrets." He looked at the assembled crowd with a grim expression. "We have to get rid of him."

"Are you serious?!" A swimmer called out. "We can't all go over there! What about the children? At least in the valley it is safe."

Another domehead critiqued her last statement. "Yeah... For now."

The crowd was overtaken by agitated mutterings from the adults. The silent rift that had opened up in the previous month was showing itself. Many of the residents were tired of the entrance guarding and constant scouting that went on in the valley. It made the peaceful confines of their home feel more like a stronghold than a refuge. They doubted the small sharptooth would stick around after his dastardly deed, and Flip's findings seemed to confirm their suspicions. Other residents, however, still thought it was a good idea to keep the new security arrangements. There was no telling how much the small sharptooth would tell others. Likewise, the sharptooth could come back later when they were least expecting it... Finally, only the parents of the lost children seemed to want to seek out revenge, whereas most of the other adults simply wanted to move on. Even Tria and Grandpa Longneck were of the opinion that they should move on with their lives... Topps and Grandma Longneck on the other hand...

"Silence!" Topps commanded. "One at a time!"

The crowd hushed for a few moments, but the angry mutterings continued. Most of them were based upon the security arrangements and not on the actual issue at hand. Topps then realized that the new security was probably not long for this world. The result of the adults had turned against the measures for the most part now that they knew the sharpteeth were well away from the valley. He could give on that front, provided that Chomper and his ilk were dealt with. That was non-negotiable as far as he was concerned.

"Perhaps..." Volant began to speak; at her words everyone became quiet. "Perhaps we could send a group out in order to find Chomper and his friends? There is no reason to risk everyone."

"That is true... I will volunteer." Topps offered. Tria sputtered at this and proceeded to walk towards Topps.

"And so will I." Grandma Longneck declared, causing her mate to look at her with concern. Undoubtedly, he would go wherever she may go. Even if it meant their end.

Tria then spoke up. "Topps you can't!" She protested his brashness. "What about Tricia? What about the other threehorns that depend on you? What about me?"

Topps sighed. "Tria... Something needs to be done. Chomper will be an even bigger threat when he grows up. He has to be stopped now while we still have a chance."

"Wait a moment." Another voice called out from amongst the crowd. It was Bron. "I can take care of it. I have been there before."

Everyone turned to look at the brown longneck. He had finally allowed his herd to leave without him several weeks prior, having felt that his deputy was more than ready for the task. About three-quarters of his herd had decided to resume their roaming ways, while the remainder decided to stay in the valley. Many of them had actually begun to help with the valley's defenses, becoming even more fanatical about security than the original residents of the valley. They knew of the dangers of the outside world all too well. Bron had never spoken at an assembly, nor interacted much with the others except to help keep watch over the valley's entrances. His only other actions over the previous month were to help the Grandparents and to be a father for his son. He was still an unknown as far as many of the valley's residents were concerned.

"Bron, you can't be serious!" Grandpa Longneck chided. "It is dangerous out there and you have Shorty..." Volant also looked at the brown longneck. She had a conversation with the longneck during his first journey... back when they had found the longneck corpse... had he forgotten everything?

"I don't have to go alone." He offered. "It is safer to travel in a herd." He then looked at Volant. "Volant, you mentioned the other day that there was a spiketail herd a few days away from the valley..."

"Yes." Volant confirmed. It was Tippy's herd, the loving friend of Spike... But what did this have to do with searching for Chomper? She had no idea what the longneck was going on about.

"They usually come around this time of year and then head to the Land of Shallow Waters, do they not?" He continued.

Bron gave a determined look. "Well then I could tag along with them until I find Chomper and his 'friends'." He nearly sneered at the word "friends". "I can simply follow the herd back during their return journey in the next Cold Time."

"But Bron... Take us with you." Grandpa Longneck offered. "You could use the help..." However, Bron shook his head at his offer.

"No, Grandpa Longneck. Littlefoot wouldn't have wanted me to do that to you. The sharpteeth are small and cowardly; I can take care of them."

Topps gave an appreciative nod to the longneck. He now realized where Littlefoot had gotten his adventurous spirit from. He still had a few questions though. "How do you expect to get the spiketails to accept you into their herd?"

Bron gave a slight smirk. "Well, they want to enter the valley in order to fill up before their long journey, right?" At Topps nod, he continued. "Just make including me part of the arrangement."

"And what about Shorty?" Grandma Longneck asked.

Bron pondered for a moment. "Let me talk to him."

......

Back in the Land of Shallow Waters:

Pterano was getting prepared to call it a night. The bright circle was beginning to fall behind the distant horizon and the brightness of the summer day was giving way to the darkness of night. As flyers relied upon their superior sense of vision in order to function, he would be of little use scouting or doing anything else come nightfall. It would be better to get a good night's sleep and greet the new day tomorrow.

That being said, however, he could not get the events of the previous day out of his mind. The juvenile flyer who had been mocked by the group when he called an alert on the small sharptooth flyer had reminded him of his beloved nephew in a way. Petrie was always trying to be a brave, adventurous flyer even though it was against his nature. What Petrie needed to learn, as did the juvenile he counseled, was to accept his nature for what it is. They needed to use their own personal gifts in order to become the flyers they wanted to be, as opposed to simply trying to imitate someone else. He noted, morosely, that it had taken him two years of exile to finally accept the flaws of his character and to attempt to address them. He didn't want anyone else to repeat his mistakes.

Ah, enough self-loathing for today. Pterano thought to himself. I can't do anything to change the past now... Had he have been thinking that same thought several years ago it would have been tinged with rationalization for his failings, but now it was simply an acknowledgement of reality. He found that as he finally accepting his responsibility that the haunting dreams of the herd he led astray began to become less frequent, but he knew that they would never go away. They were the price he paid for his own failings.

Looking in front of his perch, he noticed that he was by himself. This suited him just fine. The adolescents tended to keep to their own as did the blue-crested flyers. Pteranodons males, on the other hand, tended to keep to themselves. He supposed that such traits even persisted in a mixed-flyer herd. In front of him he could see the slowly flowing river and the multitude of trees and vegetation that made up the Land of Shallow Waters. It was this lush vegetation that made it a welcome destination for both leaf-eaters and sharpteeth. Leaf-eaters appreciated the foliage as food, whereas the sharpteeth appreciated it as cover. Pterano was quite glad that he, as a flyer, could avoid such dangers. Only the occasional sharptooth flyer served as a threat.

Not like the one in front of me. Pterano thought to himself. Wait, what? His eyes were not deceiving him. In front of the brown flyer, perhaps twenty feet away on a nearby branch, was the same small sharptooth flyer that he had seen earlier in the day. It was still looking at him with a curious expression. What a strange flyer. Knowing that the sharptooth flyer wouldn't understand a word that he said, he mused to himself.

"I'm afraid I am too big for you to eat, young one." He chuckled to himself. "You might have better luck with the smaller ones over there." He jocularly pointed with his wing at the juveniles in the adjacent tree. They were obviously also too big for a small sharptooth flyer to eat, so his follow-up comment was likewise made in jest. As Pterano began to turn away from the predatory flyer, he heard something that made his blood run cold.

"Uh... Me think those are probably too big also."

Pterano turned back in stunned silence. Did... It just talk? He had known about some omnivorous flyers that were somewhat bilingual, but usually to the point of understanding a few basic words in leaf-eater, not a complete sentence. Sierra and Rinkus were rare exceptions in that regard. Pterano was at a loss of what to say. What did this predator want with him?

"What do you want?" Came Pterano's blunt response.

The small predator seemed to look around in confusion for a few moments, before finally responding. "Me want to talk to you! Petrie hasn't seen you in a long time."

Pterano paled. What did this flyer know about Petrie? Surely Petrie hasn't been making friends with sharptooth flyers! Such a thing was ludicrous!

"How do you know Petrie?" Pterano asked cautiously. He flexed his muscles in preparation for possibly chasing down this sharptooth flyer if he ran away. If he did anything with Petrie...

The predator jumped from his perch and took a short flight to the same branch that Pterano was on. This flyer sure is a bold one. Pterano thought to himself. The small predator then began to speak.

"You don't understand uncle. Me Petrie." Petrie said this while gesturing at himself with his wings.

Pterano stepped back for a few steps. This flyer is clearly insane. He made a quick inspection of the flyer's head from a distance to make sure that the blood-sucking buzzers were not around his ears. Pterano had always heard that some flyers went mad when the infestation got too bad.

Petrie saw his uncle back away and realized that he had probably taken the wrong approach. Deciding that it was too late to stop now, however, he continued on with his point. "Me Petrie and me can prove it!"

Pterano looked at the small predator with a curious expression and laughed. "Fine, meat-eater, prove to me that you are my nephew! If you can do that then perhaps you should try convincing me that I am actually a threehorn!"

Petrie ignored his uncle's mockery, as it was understandable in this impossible situation, and decided to tell his tale.

"It all started with the Stone of Cold Fire..."

......

"Now look! I have no idea who you actually are, but I don't believe your story for a moment!"

Pterano was livid. He had no idea what was going on, but there was no way that this flyer's story could be true. He had been taken in with the story of the Stone of Cold Fire over two years ago only to be led astray by his own expectations. He was not now going to believe that this small predator was his nephew. It was insane!

"How do you explain what me know then?!" Petrie was livid as well. His uncle was being unreasonable. How else would a predator like him make up such a story?

"Who knows?" Pterano mocked. "Maybe you saw my nephew and decided to play a trick on me. Maybe you honestly think that you are Petrie because of a head sickness. Either way, I have heard enough of it!"

Petrie took in a deep breath. Perhaps it was time to mention things that only he and Pterano would know.

"Me remember when you told me to find out where the Stone of Cold Fire fell." He began. "Me remember when your helpers took Ducky..."

Pterano was beside himself. This flyer knew details that only a choice few would know. There was no way some random predator from the Mysterious Beyond would pick up on these details. But the story was too out there. It was like some horrifying tale that adults would tell their children in order to make them behave. How could it be real?

"Me remember when you save Ducky when she about to fall..."

But yet here was a flyer, who identified himself as Petrie, who knew details that only he could know. He had believed the stories about the Stone of Cold Fire prior to his exile to such an extent that he betrayed the trust of the valley yet again and earned their reprisal. After his faith in the stories of the original stone were proven false, he had felt betrayed. Not only by the stories but by himself as well. His own arrogance had made his believe that he alone could secure a glorious destiny for the flyers. He had wanted to believe so that he could have a chance to redeem himself after his botched leadership in the original journey to the valley. Maybe if he could succeed in that then the dreams would stop... The haunting memories of those he doomed to die...

"Me remember when you told me and siblings about..."

"Stop." Pterano asked in a strained voice. "Please stop... I." He then looked at the sharptooth flyer a bit closer. His chest was puffed out in a powerful gesture and his body language communicated indomitable confidence. It was very unlike the mannerisms that his nephew would have. But those eyes... His brown eyes seemed to have innocence in them. They also displayed a curious mixture of concern and confidence. Just as one would expect from someone who had gained strength after a long struggle, but still retained the mental scars of what came before. Pterano now realized the truth of the flyer's words. The sharptooth obviously believed every word that he said. Words could be faked, but the eyes could not lie. "I believe you." Pterano finished, before bringing Petrie into an embrace.

The moment was interrupted, however, by a sudden cough from the adjacent tree.

Both Petrie and Pterano quickly looked in that direction to see a flyer shift slightly in his sleep. It did not appear that any of the rest of the herd had seen their display, but they needed to avoid detection. If Pterano was seen talking with a sharptooth flyer then the others would suspect that he was up to no good. They needed to cut this short.

"Petrie..." Pterano began. "I think that we need to talk later. If we wake the others..."

Petrie nodded. It would be very unfortunate if they awakened the others. It was also possible that Pterano's sudden departure might wake the others as well, as he was a much larger flyer than Petrie and the branch would surely make noise upon him taking flight. So moving to another area was not really an option. Besides, Petrie needed to give Pterano some time to process what he had learned. Even though he had come to accept the story, signs of shock and concern were fresh on the flyer's mind. "Me be with my friends. One is a sharptooth and the others fastbiters." He waited a moment to make sure that Pterano had made note of his description of his herd. Then with tenderness in his voice, Petrie spoke one more time. "Me be waiting for you uncle."

Without another word, Petrie jumped from the branch and took flight. He was certain that he had made his point to the flyer, but it was obvious that he still needed time to overcome his shock. He wondered if it would be this difficult to convince their parents. If so, then it was highly possible that such a reunion would not be possible. The only reason that Petrie was able to approach Pterano was on account that he was not perceived as a threat to his uncle. If Pterano had known that the adults in the valley think that Petrie was killed... This reunion would not have been possible.

With great turmoil in his mind, Petrie flew off in the direction of his friends. He would assure them of his safety and then proceed to sleep. Whether his uncle could help them or not, they had work that needed to be done. The food wasn't going to catch itself, nor was the shelter going to find itself. With those thoughts in his mind, Petrie flew home in silence.

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