The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 37 A graduation in blood

"We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause."

― William James

Dein had surprised the pack in the morning with two special announcements. First, he had informed them that he had provided them with breakfast, leftovers of an adult threehorn. This was a pleasant change from the requirement of catching all of their own meals over the last several days. Second, he had told them to relax until the sun was at its highest in the sky. He informed them that their task on this day would be the hardest thing that they had ever done and that each of them needed to be well rested and prepared. He would tell them their mission at high noon, and they should be prepared to form three groups. It sounded like a hunt was coming.

Understandably, the second announcement filled the pack with foreboding and dread. After quickly eating their meal in silence, each member of the pack broke off to relax in their own way. Petrie decided to fly in order to calm his nerves, whereas the others discussed amongst themselves and decided to break up into their respective groups. After all, each group member needed to be acquainted with what the other was thinking prior to conducting any hunt. The failure of any one member could doom the hunt or lead to serious injury. If only they knew what their mission actually was...

"Hmph! This is so frustrating!" Cera muttered. "How are we supposed to plan anything if we don't know what we are doing?"

Ducky looked at the yellow fastbiter and shrugged. She knew that this was simply Cera's way of blowing off steam. It was infuriating that they had to basically plan their actions with absolutely no idea what they were going to be asked to do. But Ducky supposed that was probably part of the test. Perhaps they were supposed to learn to think on the fly? They couldn't learn how to do that if they obeyed orders all of the time.

"I do not know, Cera. Nope, nope, nope!" Ducky answered. "But maybe they are training us to think fast? If we do not know what to do, then we have to learn what to do!"

Cera snorted. The situation must have Ducky flustered as well if she was repeating herself. "Don't start talking like Ruby, Ducky. That gets old fast." Seeing that Ducky actually took on an annoyed expression at her accusation, Cera quickly continued. "I guess you might be right. But it's just so annoying."

Ducky sighed, temporarily putting aside her annoyance at having her way of talking mocked and nodded. However, a thought suddenly came to mind. If they were going to hunt today then only she, Littlefoot, and Chomper would have any experience killing other dinosaurs. The others had only killed insects, eggs, and ground fuzzies. A far different proposition than killing another being that was capable of talking and thinking like yourself. This filled Ducky with misgivings. "Uh... Cera?"

"Hmmm?" Cera was only halfway paying attention. She was still fuming about their situation.

Ducky continued after a pause. She supposed that there was no delicate way of asking the question. "Are you ready to kill?"

Cera looked at Ducky as if she had claimed to be a longneck. "Kill? Ha! Who has the record for killing the most ground fuzzies?" Cera bragged.

Ducky frowned. Well, Chomper does actually with fourteen... But she knew better than to get sidetracked correcting Cera, especially when Cera's ego was involved. Besides, she had a more important subject to discuss. "Not ground fuzzies, Cera. Dinosaurs."

Cera blinked. Yes, that was a bit different. "Um... Of course I am! I mean..." She trailed off for a moment as Ducky gave her a stern look. Ducky's look communicated one thing: be honest with me right now! You not fooling me! Cera finally looked down for a moment and answered truthfully. "I don't know..."

Ducky didn't speak for a few moments. She was waiting for her friend to get ready to speak again. She had been friends with Cera long enough to know not to rush such things.

"I mean..." Cera continued. "We used to be... we used to be leaf-eaters..." She then looked at Ducky with a horrified expression. "How did you handle it?"

Ducky looked at Cera with an unreadable expression. "Well, you talked to me the next day. I did not handle it well, did I?"

Cera looked down. "It... it will be different..." She paused. "Ground fuzzies don't talk..."

Ducky shrugged. "Well, they squeak..."

Cera roared. "That's not what I meant!" She then stopped herself when she saw Ducky's concerned expression. Did I just do that? She questioned herself. "I'm sorry Ducky... I... uh..."

Ducky nodded. "I know. I do. I do." She consoled her upset friend. "I went through this before. Are you ready to... do what we have to do?"

Cera gulped and looked at the ground for a moment, before again looking at Ducky. "It will be hard but... Yeah... Yeah I will be ready."

While the two friends were comforting one another over the possibility of hunting dinosaurs, Littlefoot and Ruby were having a conversation of their own.

"You seem quiet today."

Ruby looked over to Littlefoot. Yes, I suppose that I have been quiet. She agreed internally. She had been preoccupied by the blood stone that her parents had given her. She had placed it by the pack's resting area for safe keeping, but what it represented still haunted her. Was her current predicament caused by random chance or was it meant to be? The fact that the question was unanswerable did nothing to calm her nerves. The possibility that had given her comfort the night before had caused reservations this morning.

"Yes, I guess that I am." She admitted reluctantly. "Its... what we talked about yesterday..."

Littlefoot nodded. "Yeah... I can see how it would confuse you..." He thought for a moment. "Just remember that we are all in this together, alright."

Ruby nodded, but then sighed. "I know, but I am not sure that knowing is enough." She then closed her eyes for a moment. "I'm not sure that I am ready for what we have to do."

Littlefoot blinked for a moment. "Well, we have killed before..."

Ruby shook her head. "You have killed before. I have only killed eggs, snapping shells, fish, and ground fuzzies. Killing dinosaurs would be..." She paused for a moment. "...horrible."

Littlefoot nodded. "I know and when I did it... I was upset." He had to admit that was quite the understatement, as it took Chomper's careful attention to calm the former longneck down after he had killed Rhett. "But we have to do this now. When the Cold Time comes we have to hunt whatever we can find." He then absentmindedly opened his arms in a welcoming gesture. "And if you break down we will be here for you."

Ruby took Littlefoot's gesture as an invitation and, without thinking about it, embraced Littlefoot in a loose hug. "Thanks, Littlefoot. We need to stick together if we are going to live together."

Littlefoot was taken aback by Ruby's embrace, but did not push her away. He figured that she needed some time to regroup after the emotional rollercoaster that was the Time of Training. It was during these times of hardships that they were reminded of what they missed the most. The safety of the valley, the comforts of their previous lives, and most of all, their beloved parents. He would be more than willing to comfort Ruby in her time of need.

Neither of them questioned why they continued to hold claws even after the embrace was over. For each of them it simply felt like the right thing to do at that moment.

Their tender moment, however, was soon interrupted by a familiar voice.

"Okay, kissing time is over, you two."

Littlefoot turned around with a sour expression as Ruby looked embarrassed at the sudden intrusion. Spike had a satisfied grin on his muzzle, while Chomper appeared to be holding back a laugh. Chomper's eyes appeared apologetic, but his mirth indicated that he appreciated the humor. His feelings were not shared by Littlefoot.

"What do you two want?" Littlefoot asked with thinly hidden annoyance.

Spike shrugged. "Dein is getting ready to give us our orders... I figured that I would let you two know."

Littlefoot responded gruffly. "We're coming."

Spike tried to hold his snicker and tapped on Chomper to follow him back to the nest, while Chomper gave an apologetic nod to Littlefoot. As Ruby and Littlefoot followed the purple sharptooth and the dark green prankster, Littlefoot whispered in Ruby's ear. "Let's hope that he doesn't tell Cera. Then we will never hear the end of it!"

Ruby nodded and whispered back. "Yeah, Cera never lets things drop..."

"What are you two whispering about over there?"

Littlefoot and Ruby both sighed. It seemed that Cera had now caught up to the duo without them knowing. If our attention is this frayed during hunting then we are doomed. He thought to himself. What has me so distracted all of a sudden?

"Nothing!" They responded in unison, much to their mutual embarrassment. This caused Spike and Chomper to both burst into laughter, while Cera gave the two dinosaurs an odd look. Hopefully they will drop the matter right here. Littlefoot thought to himself. However, Ducky soon quashed those hopes.

"But you must have been whispering about something. Yep, yep, yep." She replied in her usual innocent way. "Otherwise you would not be whispering."

Ruby interjected at this point. "Littlefoot was just comforting me..."

Spike interrupted from the front. "Oh... Is that what it's called?"

Ruby's face fell as she was not in the mood for their usual exchange of teasing. She was seriously concerned about what she would soon have to do and she did not want to play a part in the usual exchange of playful insults. Littlefoot was also to the point of erupting in rage as well, until an unexpected voice interrupted the exchange.

"That's enough!" It was Cera! "We have a lot to do today, let's... just try to play nice, okay?"

This surprised everyone into silence and the pack resumed their forward motion towards the sleeping area. Littlefoot was glad for the truce offered by Cera. I guess that she is trying to put her sarcastic ways behind her. I thought that I would never see the day. Maybe this is the last we will hear of Spike's accusations? As they approached, however, Cera whispered one more thing to the duo.

"We can talk about you two love flyers later..."

Littlefoot scowled. Damn it!

......

Meanwhile, in the Lowlands:

"Run!"

Skytail's pack had evaded their pursuers from the previous night by using the river to their advantage. They had managed to use the river in order to hide their scent and had taken refuge in their old home. However, in the process of trying to leave the lowlands at dawn, Calin's pack had again discovered them. Calin had anticipated their strategy.

"To the river! Run!"

Skytail's voice was hoarse and ragged from several minutes of sprinting. With the enemy pack hot on their heels, they had no time to rest or regroup. They simply had to flee or die. And at the moment Skytail had to admit that the latter seemed like the more likely option.

To the astonishment of Skytail and the others, the enemy pack seemed to be keeping pace with the pack of Utahraptors. This was unexpected, as the Velociraptors and smaller fastbiters in the group should have been unable to keep up with larger strides of Skytail's pack. They are afraid of falling behind. Skytail deduced. They all got into the pack through treachery or being force to fight their packmates to the death... No one wants to be seen as weak... What Red Claw had created was an abomination that may be unstoppable. A pack built from traitors on the basis of fear meant that the fastbiters were not bound by any sense of honor or reason. Their only duty was to themselves and Red Claw. Their only way of surviving was to serve the pack and Red Claw. A member of a pack such as that would fight to the death in order not to be seen as the weakest link. How could anyone reason with such madness?

Skytail spared a glance to his sides. To his right, Taunt and Breeze were keeping up, but were quickly tiring. He knew that they would be spent by the time that they reached the river. What would they do then? To his left, he could see that Vigilant and Scarflank were beginning to fall behind. They were about half way between the front of the pack and their enemies, nearly a longneck length behind. If anything happened...

"Ahhhh!"

With dawning horror, Skytail looked back to his left to Scarflank tumbling uncontrollably. His headlong sprint did not allow for much time to maneuver and as a consequence, he must have not seen the obstruction until it was too late. His massive bulk began to careen toward Vigilant, until she too was crumpled under his large body. Within moments, both of the packmates lay prone upon the ground. Scarflank appeared to be stunned, but Vigilant was clearly clawing at her packmate as she desperately tried to regain her footing. She knew what their lives were at stake.

Only slowing slightly, Skytail stared in horror at his fallen companions. His trusted friends. He knew that he could do nothing to save them without losing himself and the remainder of the pack in the process. The enemy horde was simply too great. He called out in anguish to his friends. "Get up!" His voice began to break as he pleaded to his fallen comrades. "Please! You have to get up!"

But it was too late.

In horror, Skytail and the others saw the pack rapidly overtake their two companions. An orange juvenile Utahraptor leapt at Scarflank and landed squarely on his back, causing him to let out a bloodcurdling scream. The Utahraptor's claws ripped through his fellow raptor's back exposing the delicate muscle underneath. Now in a panicked frenzy, Scarflank rolled off of Vigilant, which caused the Utahraptor to tumble off of his target. Now finally able to regain his footing, Scarflank knew what he had to do.

"Run!" He commanded to Vigilant. With the resolve of a dinosaur that no longer had anything to lose, he turned towards his pursuers. He couldn't save himself, but perhaps he could save the ones that he loved. The only ones who had ever accepted him during his troubled life. He knew that this would be his final stand.

Immediately two Velociraptors lunged at the brave raptor. With a swift maneuver, he deflected the blow of one of the Velociraptors and tried to roll to the side. However, the second Velociraptor hit its target.

"Ahhhh--ack!"

Scarflank flicked the Velociraptor off of himself, but it was too late. His neck had been sliced open. Grimacing, he tried to ignore the grievous injury and searing pain. He again rose and again confronted his attackers.

A small raptor approached the injured dinosaur with overconfidence and attempted to strike at Scarflank's neck. With a swift pivot to his left, Scarflank evaded the clumsy attack and swiped the feed of his attacker with his tail. As the raptor fell to the ground, Scarflank leapt upon its exposed underbelly with his sharp talons. A sickening roar emanated from the raptor as his torso was simultaneously ripped and crushed by the heavier adversary. Scarflank had struck down one attacker.

Almost immediately, however, another challenger approached from Scarflank's side. A Velociraptor lunged towards his throat, but Scarflank deftly dodged this maneuver. Curiously, the other fastbiters seemed to be ignoring him and instead ran past his position, as if they were after other targets. Scarflank ignored this detail as irrelevant and continued to defend himself.

The Velociraptor seemed to be undaunted by his comrades' actions and made another attack, which Scarflank dodged albeit much more slowly. For some reason unknown to him, his vision seemed to be getting cloudy and his feet were no longer obeying his commands. He also couldn't seem to catch his breath.

That was when he noticed the blood gushing from his neck.

So this is how it ends... He thought morosely. The first attacker had wounded him mortally after all. He could feel a blow to his left leg that he couldn't seem to deflect and another to his back that he barely noticed. The Velicoraptors were finishing him off with small strikes throughout his body. A body that he could no longer defend. Slumping to the ground, his vision began to fade as his body failed him. The final sensation that he felt was a sudden blow to the back of his neck.

Scarflank's tragic life was over.

Vigilant cried out in anguish at seeing the fate of her friend as she continued her frantic run. She knew that she had no hope in fighting the pack, so she did not dare stop her desperate sprint. Her legs burned with exertion as she struggled to catch up with the rest of the pack. She had always been a swift fastbiter and there was no stronger test of her abilities than this. She would not let Scarflank's sacrifice be in vain. She had to persevere. She had to survive.

She was slowly getting closer to her remaining three friends, but so was the enemy pack. She could feel their hot breath against her heels. She could feel the vibrations from their trampling feet. She knew that any misstep now would mean a quick end. With her heart beating like it would hop out of her chest, she continued her frantic pace.

Taunt was beside himself with grief and terror. Scarflank was a mostly silent, but loyal protector in the pack. He had helped him on a number of occasions and had often talked the others down from throttling him for the occasional ill-advised prank. Taunt had considered him amongst one of the best friends he had ever had.

And now he was gone.

There had been no time for goodbyes and condolences. No time to say things that had been unsaid for far too long. No time to even reaffirm their friendship. As suddenly as the pack would kill a leafeater, Scarflank had been taken from them. Would this be the sad fate that awaited them all? A life snuffed out without anyone left to tell the tale?

Taunt bared his teeth and steeled himself. They had to survive. The memories of their pack had to live on in story and song like their ancestors before them. He would not allow his friend to fade from memory.

"There's the river!" Skytail cried. His voice between a hoarse yell and a sob.

Their destination was in sight, but their enemies were at their heels. The same haunting question echoed through their minds: would they meet the same fate as their fallen comrade?

......

Dein looked at the children with an unreadable expression. They had passed the test of endurance and proven that they were physically strong enough to join a pack. Their leader had passed the test of leadership to confirm that he was willing to risk everything to support his comrades. And they had passed the tracking test, of which Dein had no doubts that they would. That only left one final task for the children and there was no way to ease them into it.

They had to get over the act of killing.

He knew that only four of the children had actually killed before. Chomper, who obviously had to kill during his time on the island, had many victims to his name prior to his time in the valley. Littlefoot, who had killed his friend Rhett during the pack's time of hunger, was the first of the former leaf-eaters to shed the blood of a dinosaur. Petrie, who had killed the babies of the mother flyer, and nearly lost his life in the resulting attempt at retribution against him. And Ducky, who struck down the mother flyer in order to prevent the death of her close friend. That left the others: Cera, Ruby, and Spike. Before they could even entertain the idea of taking down larger prey, the remaining children needed to cross that line. To help in a hunt was one thing, but to actually kill another dinosaur was quite another. This was true to sharpteeth, but especially true for the former leaf-eaters that stood before him.

"Today, children, you are going to become the sharpteeth that you need to be." Dein began, as the seven children stared at him in anticipation. He could smell the concern and excitement radiating off of them. They thought that they were ready for what was coming. We will see about that. Dein thought ominously. "Those of you who have never killed a dinosaur... Step forward."

With some trepidation, Cera, Ruby, and Spike walked in front of the pack. He could clearly see Spike's unease and a slight shake to Cera's hind legs. Only Ruby appeared somewhat calm at being called out. Dein continued.

"You all will kill today." At that proclamation, Cera closed her eyes while Spike let out a barely audible sigh. Their time of innocence was soon about to pass. "Before I can train you in how to take down larger prey, all of you must know what it is to be the chooser of the dead." He stared at the three gravely. "You will become that today."

The remaining four dinosaurs began to look amongst themselves in nervousness. The same thought was undoubtedly going through their minds: What does he have in store for us?

Dein turned towards the others now. "Today we are going to engage in a joint hunt. I have found the target that I want and Petrie..." The flyer suddenly looked at the massive sharptooth in trepidation. What did he want?

"Yes...?" Petrie muttered in nervousness.

Dein continued. "I already know who we are going to kill, but it will be up to you to find him. You must prove your flying and tracking abilities, Petrie. You are the flyer... that is your role." Technically, this was not part of test, but he had to improvise with the small flyer. Petrie obviously couldn't take part in the direct assault on the dinosaur, but he could do his part. What do sharpteeth flyers do for a test anyway? Dein thought to himself. Do they even have tests? Shaking his head, he continued. "Your target is brown threehorn." Cera looked up with some trepidation at that statement, as he continued. "He has an injury to his back leg and a scar by his eye. He seems to be a loner, except for his family, you will not find him by the rest of the herd." He then looked at all of the children in turn. "He will be the dinosaur we will kill tonight." Looking back towards the three dinosaurs immediately in front of him, and making his gaze linger at Cera, he finished. "He had three children, how convenient." He had selected him for that purpose. "You three will harass and kill the children, whereas the rest of us will kill the father. Once this is done, then I know that all of you are ready for whatever lies ahead."

Littlefoot thought for a moment as the orders echoed in his mind. "Mr. Sharptooth?"

Dein nodded. "Yes, Seeker. Any questions about today's hunt?"

Littlefoot shook his head. "Uh... no... not really. But... what happened to the mother?" If they had another threehorn to deal with then that would have complicated the hunt significantly.

Dein smiled. "Don't worry. I already took care of that. How did you enjoy breakfast?"

Littlefoot nodded at this while Cera took an audible gulp. They had eaten leftover threehorn for breakfast.

Dein took a deep breath. "I know this won't be easy on you kids, but you have to toughen up. You have fed on ground fuzzies and eggs, but the time comes when you have to be what you have to be." He stared at Littlefoot in such a way that it was as if he were staring into his soul. "Regardless of why you are sharpteeth, that is what you are now. You have no choice but to accept that fact." He looked to his right and could see that Terri was looking approvingly at his speech. He had to admit that he had taken some liberties with the children upon her urging. His father had simply told his to 'suck it up' during his Time of Training. But he supposed that special circumstances were in play here. "Good luck, children."

With several muffled instances of "thank you, sir" being uttered by the pack, the speech came to an end. Now they simply had a difficult task ahead of them. This brief lull in the activity gave Terri an idea, however.

"Chomper?"

Chomper turned at having heard his nickname called. He only allowed his friends to call him anything but Path. "Yes, mommy?"

Terri smiled. "This might be a good time to teach your friends some of our culture, son. Littlefoot told me about you performing the naming ceremony on them."

Chomper looked away somewhat embarrassed, while Cera made a sarcastic remark. "Are you using our leaf-eater names now? I thought they were considered silly or something..."

Terri smiled. "I suppose it won't hurt around family, but don't spread those names around. Otherwise, they will think that I was a horrible parent. Who would name a child 'Chomper'?"

Littlefoot sighed and looked somewhat glumly. After all, he had named Chomper. "Well, I thought it was a good name."

Dein snorted. "Oh, come on! That would be like... I don't know... A longneck naming a kid 'Tree Star'!"

Ducky blinked a few times at this. "Huh? My aunt is named Tree Star!"

Terri sighed. "Alright! Alright! Enough with the names." She chuckled to herself. Part of the reason she was doing this was to calm the agitated children. They obviously had a lot to think about before tonight. She then turned her attention back to Chomper. "Before you and your friends hunt today, perhaps you could tell them a story, Chomper. Do you remember the parable of the serpent and the ground fuzzy?"

Chomper nodded. "Yeah... It was the one you told me after my first hunt, wasn't it? The one about why we shouldn't take too much?"

Dein interrupted. "Yes, although it is also about revenge... depending on why the story is being told..."

Terri nodded. "Perhaps you could tell it to your friends before they get started. They should learn how not to kill, before learning how to kill."

Chomper smiled. "That sounds great!" He then looked at his friends. "Gather around, everyone! Here is the parable of the serpent and the ground fuzzy..."

......

Back to the Lowlands:

Damn it!

The pack had arrived at the river with little time to spare, only to see that it had overflowed its banks. A torrential amount of water was flowing down its treacherous rapids. There was no way that any dinosaur, even a swimmer, could fight its unstoppable current. It looked like this was the end of the line for the pack. Skytail was heavy with grief. Scarflank had sacrificed himself to save the pack and this was what happened? He didn't want to believe this cruel turn of fate.

"Oh, isn't that tragic..."

The mocking tone of Calin again reached Skytail's ears. Calin spoke with a conversational manner, as if he were passively mentioning what he had for breakfast the previous day. It was obvious that the death of Scarflank and the injuries to those under Calin's charge did not trouble him in the slightest. To him it was just another day.

"It rained up north, you know." Calin mentioned in passing, as he absentmindedly cleaned his sickle claws on the grass below him. He seemed more concerned about the buildup of dirt on his feet than the accumulation of blood on his claws. "That is why the river is flooded." He then turned his attention to Skytail again. "I guess you should have paid more attention to the weather. tssk... tssk... tssk..." He smiled a toothy smile. "So... What is it going to be then? Are you going to fight us?" He then lazily raised his claws in a mockery of defensive gesture. "Are you going to beg us?" He then got down on his knees in a pleading gesture.

Skytail's rage was at a breaking point. He could not take any more of this psychopath. It was bad enough facing their deaths in such an inauspicious way, but he refused to die at this fiend's claws. He griped the ground below his feet with his sickle claws in preparation to charge at Calin.

"Or maybe you will take your chances swimming?" Calin mocked finally. "That would be a shame though... All of your meat gone to waste... I suppose only the fishes would have a meal. Won't you share it with us instead?"

Skytail looked at the plants around them, as they were plants that he recognized from his childhood, and began to absentmindedly clean his sickle claws against them. To everyone else around him it simply looked like a nervous gesture, but Skytail was formulating a plan. A plan that might just save his friends.

Skytail then looked at his three remaining packmates. Vigilant looked to be on her last legs. He doubted that she would survive a swim, but that would be her best option for survival. She certainly wouldn't survive a fight with the pack which surrounded them. Breeze looked at Skytail with sad eyes. She had been his friend and companion for as long as he could remember. She knew that they would be parting now. Their chances for survival were remote. Taunt also looked at his leader with compassionate eyes. Skytail had no doubt that if he ordered Taunt to sacrifice himself for the pack that he would do so willingly. Their pack was how the natural order was supposed to be, not Calin and Red Claw's perversion of the system. The pack came first even if that meant the end of the individual.

Even if that meant the end of the individual.

Skytail took a long look at the orange sap that was accumulating on his sickle claws and then took a deep breath. He knew what he had to do. With a slow turn towards his companions, he whispered as firmly as he possibly could.

"When I charge, jump into the water and let it carry you. I will jump in after you." He hated lying, but he knew that she would understand in time.

Breeze protested softly, as tears began to appear at the corners of her eyes. "Skytail..."

Skytail shook his head and whispered back. "Just do it please. And remember our stories..."

"Some final words being exchanged? Or perhaps you are preparing for battle?" Calin mocked. "Oh this should be interesting! I can't wait!"

Skytail slowly turned towards Calin and returned his smile. This gesture caused Calin to frown somewhat as he was obviously trying to read his adversary. He was smart enough to know that an enemy with nothing left is the most dangerous enemy of them all. Such an enemy would hold nothing back. Calin kept his position, however, as he was loathe showing any weakness or doubt. Finally Skytail decided to answer his adversary's taunts.

"Oh, a bit of both actually." Skytail muttered. "It is quite nice to have friends to actually talk to when times are dark. Of course, you would know nothing about that..." Skytail then took on a ponderous expression as he approached slightly closer to Calin's pack, who were waiting for the order to finish the pack off. "Did your parents ever tell you about the parable about the serpent and the ground fuzzy?"

Calin looked bemused for a moment, but then laughed. "No, they did not. They were too busy trying to keep us fed to worry about children's stories."

Skytail took on a fake look of sadness at that. "Aw... That's a shame. It's such a good story..."

Taunt and Breeze both approached the edge of the bank as quietly as possible. Vigilant, after regaining her bearings after a few moments, edged closer as well. All three were waiting for the order to jump and wondering what their leader was up to. Meanwhile, Skytail continued.

"Well, I am afraid that I am not as good of a storyteller as my parents, but I will give it my all. In the days before sickle claws, belly draggers, and spiketails; in the times before longnecks and threehorns; in the ages before dinosaurs and flyers, there were simply the ground fuzzies and those who hunted them. The hunters in those ages, like the hunters of this age, were governed by a code of conduct dictated by their instincts. Most hunters of ground fuzzies were careful not to kill too many of them, as they were their food, but there were always brutes..."

Skytail glared at Calin with the intensity of a thousand bright circles. There was no doubt who he represented in the story.

"The serpent was one such brute. He killed indiscriminately. He killed those of his own kind. He ate the eggs of rivals. He killed ground fuzzies even when he wasn't hungry." Skytail stepped a bit closer and looked at the ground as if he were considering something. "He took more than he gave. The ultimate crime of a hunter."

Calin snorted "Bah! Hunters take! Such is the way of things."

Skytail ignored Calin's rebuttal. "One day the serpent attacked the burrow of one such ground fuzzy and killed a mother, leaving her children motherless. Then the next day the serpent came back and killed two of the children. Finally, the father ground fuzzy couldn't take anymore of the injustice and he called upon the Night Circle to grant him revenge."

Calin stared at his adversary with an amused expression. What was this? Story time? He figured that he would let the fastbiter amuse himself for a bit more. After all, chasing his pack had been the most amusing thing they had done that week. He would hate to spoil the fun prematurely.

Skytail continued. "The Night Circle answered the ground fuzzy's plea and told him thus: 'Eat this plant and die. In your death you shall have your revenge!' He ate the plant as directed and promptly passed away."

Calin then spoke up, as some of his other packmates commenced laughing at the story. "Is that it?! The Night Circle told the ground fuzzy that he would have his revenge if he offed himself and he committed suicide!" He looked at his packmates with an amused expression. "It's almost a shame we have to kill you, Skytail. Are you sure that you don't want to join us and discard the slow weaklings you call friends? You're the best source of humor we have had in weeks!" Due to his conversational tone, Skytail couldn't tell if he was serious or not. There was no telling what was going on in that twisted mind.

Skytail smiled slightly and finished. "Then when the serpent came the next day, the children were nowhere to be found and only the body of the father was visible. Not wasting any time, the serpent ate the father in one gulp and slithered away. Suddenly, however, the mighty serpent began to fill ill and slowed to a crawl. He couldn't move and his vision began to flicker. Finally he saw a small ground fuzzy approach him. The serpent called out to the small fuzzy: 'Have you come to mock me, ground fuzzy? When I recover I shall eat you as I have eaten the others!' The ground fuzzy twitched its nose and responded: 'I am my father's avenger, dread serpent. I am here to finish what my father started.' With great precision and determination, the ground fuzzy burrowed into the serpents throat, killing him."

Skytail then took a look at his three comrades. "If I don't make it, avenge me! Now, jump!"

Taunt, Breeze, and Vigilant both dove into the raging river as their beloved leader charged at Calin. Calin brought his claws up to defend against Skytail's assault, as Calin's packmates prepared to dive onto the advancing threat. With as much speed as he could muster, Skytail leaped at Calin and extended his sickle claws at his defending arms. He was going for a hit. Any hit upon the killer of his friends. As his body descended upon the contemptuous fastbiter, Calin dodged to his right in order to avoid the attack. As a result only the back of Calin's tail took a hit from Skytail's sickle claws. As Skytail collided with the ground below, he could feel the claws and teeth of Calin's minions rip into his flesh.

It is done. Skytail thought with some satisfaction through the pain. Goodbye my friends.

"No!!!" Taunt cried as the currents swept him away. The last view he could see of his beloved leader was the other pack diving upon him and a sea of red gushing out of the onslaught. His cherished friend was being ripped to pieces and there was nothing he or the rest of the pack could do about it. Finally, after a few moments, the currents carried him and the other two raptors away from their leader's last stand. They would not meet their fate in battle, but rather in the rapidly flowing waters of the treacherous river. Their survival was in their own hands now.

After the remaining raptors were out of sight, Calin called to his forces. "Eat your fill of the fallen... they are of no further use to us." He then clutched the small wound on his tail while giving a hiss of pain. This caught the attention of some of his packmates.

"Are you alright, sir?'

Calin grimaced. He was usually far better at handling pain than this. Undoubtedly his 'concerned' packmate was simply looking for any sign of weakness in order to challenge Calin's position. Hiding his discomfort, Calin answered resolutely. "I am fine! Tend to you bellies! We need to be ready to move out when the boss says so!"

Calin wondered why he was suddenly reminded of the serpent in the story Skytail told. Oh well, he had better things to think about then the mad ramblings of a dead raptor.

He tried to ignore the searing heat that was beginning to course up his tail.

......

Darkness began to descend upon the swamp as the Bright Circle proceeded on its journey to the horizon. It was now twilight and nightfall would soon be upon the residents of the Land of Shallow Waters. The sounds of buzzers and gently flowing water could be heard throughout the expanse. A scene of peace and tranquility.

But looks could be deceiving.

High above the green trees, blue waters, and opaque mists, a pair of yellow eyes were examining the land. The flyer that they belonged to was facing downward in his observation of the land below, while his powerful wings continued to keep him aloft in the moist air. The flyer did not have the same capacity for smell that other sharpteeth possessed, but even he could smell the tell-tale smell of water and algae. It was everywhere in this land of moisture. It was both a smell of new life and decaying death. As both intermingled in this land of unseen mysteries.

The flyer seemed to scowl, if his beak could be said to have the ability to make such a gesture, as he obviously was not seeing whatever he was looking for. His eyes darted from side to side even as his head stayed completely still. His agitation was becoming clearer and clearer by the moment, as his wings began to beat faster in agitation. He would have let out a scream of annoyance if that wouldn't have betrayed his purpose.

Then the flyer seemed to suddenly do a double take at something on the ground below. Making a careful maneuver with his powerful wings he began to hover in place. A technique which required much more power to maintain, but which gave him a far greater ability to focus on the target he was assessing. The flyer gazed intently on whatever he saw below as a smile appeared on his face. Without breaking eye contact, he began to fly backwards a few meters and allowed his wings to take broader flaps in the moist air. Yes, the flyer certainly had his target in sight.

His triumphant call radiated out into the approaching night.

......

"Sounds like Petrie has found him..." The massive sharptooth muttered to his assembled pack. "He has passed his test. Let's see if the rest of you have what it takes."

Littlefoot grunted at the not so subtle taunt. "We are ready, sir."

The six members of the pack present were lined up two abreast. Littlefoot and Chomper were at the front, with Cera and Ruby behind them, and Spike and Ducky taking up the rear. Both Cera and Littlefoot had pointed sticks in their hands, an idea given to them by Petrie from something the 'brilliant' rainbowfaces had shown him. Dein has no idea what to make of that development, but he would not dissuade the children from trying their own strategies. He remembered how his mate's construction of a 'bridge', as Chomper had called it, had saved him from a muddy grave in the mud pools so long ago. He had learned from that experience that some ideas sounded crazy until they actually succeeded. Although he was still doubtful that sticks would help them in what was about to come.

Turning his thoughts away from past exploits, Dein again focused on the hunt at hand. He had decided to get the hunt started. "Well then... This is your hunt...." The emphasis was on the word 'your', the pack would have to plan and carry out the hunt. Dein would simply be the muscle in the operation. "What is your plan?"

Littlefoot paused for a moment. "Chomper and I will get near the threehorn and distract him, while Cera and Ruby will go after the kids. Ducky and Spike will cut the kids off after the chase begins..."

Dein nodded. "So an initial distraction, an attack on the weakest, and then the final assault when the father is distraught." His voice gave no indication of if he thought it was a good plan or not. Littlefoot supposed that this was part of the test. They had to succeed or fail on their own merits. But surely Dein would stop them if the plan was suicidal, wouldn't he? Dein continued. "Well then, you had better get started..."

With a curt nod, Littlefoot looked back at his companions. They had already assembled themselves into their respective pairs, with the exception of Chomper who was slightly behind Littlefoot. Pointing at Spike and Ducky, he motioned for them to go in first and then motioned towards his eyes. The message was clear: they would scout first and then report back. Then the bloody task would begin.

......

Roh sighed at the coming of the night. It had only been a day since his beloved mate had been struck down by the wicked beast of the swamp. That night had started like any other.

"Dad.. We're thirsty..."

"It's late, Ann. It can wait until morning..."

"It's okay, dear. I can go get some water. Fetch some large tree stars, will you?"

But it might not be safe!

Don't be silly... The river is only a short distance away. You watch the other two young ones. I will be right back.

Moments went by as he watched his two youngest sleeping peacefully in the crisp night air. They were so innocent and unaware of the life their family had to lead. They were shunned by the nearby herd because of his father's misdeeds. He had committed the crime of challenging the leader and losing. The successor to the leadership, the previous leader's son, had kept the punishment in place. The grudges that permeated threehorn society often were passed down for generations.

That was when he heard the screams...

Now he was truly alone in this treacherous place. He had gone from having a mate and three loving children to being an only father with no margin for error. If anything happened to him then the entire family would be wiped out.

The massive threehorn yawned. He had to admit that he was utterly exhausted. He had spent the previous day comforting his young children and explaining to them that mommy wouldn't come back. The day was especially hard on his daughter who had seen the attack on her mother. She would carry those emotional scars for the rest of her life. None of the family could eat on account of their grief and the horror of the night before.

Finally lying down, he took a final look at his three children. They looked so calm and happy in their sleep stories, but the next day would surely bring the reminder of what they had lost. They would need to again be comforted. Roh closed his eyes and prepared for sleep. He couldn't be there for his fallen mate, but he could protect her living legacy. The three younglings were all that he had left.

He didn't see the two pairs of eyes examining him from the bushes...

......

"The threehorn is asleep, Littlefoot."

"Hmmm... A change of plans might be in order then."

......

"Daddy!"

Roh awoke with a jolt and immediately went to his feet.

The children!

He looked to where his children were supposed to be and noted that four fastbiters had surrounded them, growling threateningly. No! Not again! He thought morosely. He would save them! He wouldn't let these cowardly brutes take those that he loved. Never again!

Without thinking, he went into a full charge at the yapping fastbiters and let out a roar of his own. A torrent of emotions went through the father in his headlong assault. Anger. Grief. Sadness. Disbelief. Would his children meet their end here? No. He resolved to himself. Not if he had anything to do with it. Operating on pure instinct the rampaging threehorn could only see red. Blood would be shed tonight.

As he approached the fastbiters, they broke ranks and ran. Yes, run cowards! But that was when he felt a terrible pain in his right front foot.

"Ahhhh!!!" He roared.

He looked towards the site of the injury and could see a stick embedded in his right foot. He must have stepped on it during his wild charge. It had impaled the side of the foot and half of it remained outside of the wound. It was only when he stopped his charge and looked at the wound that he saw another fastbiter, a yellow one, rush back into the bushes. It had been a trap!

That was when he could feel the vibration of heavy footsteps. The beast was back.

......

The collision of the two dinosaurs caused the swamp to shake. The threehorn had just enough time to reorient himself towards the advancing sharptooth in order to deflect his bite and push him away with his massive horned head. The two were now circling each other and exchanging growls. The trap had not quite worked as expected. The threehorn had not been taken out in the initial assault. Now they were evenly matched: a full-grown Tyrannosaurus and a grief-mad Triceratops. None of the fastbiters witnessing the onslaught doubted that this would be a fight to the death. Had their failure cost Dein his life?

"Go, daddy!" Chomper called out, as he, Ducky, and Littlefoot approached the scene. They knew that there was little they could do in this battle in order to turn the tide. But they had to think of something!

Elsewhere in the swamp, three threehorn children were fleeing for their lives. They were running in an erratic pattern away from the clearing where their father was fighting Dein. Close behind them, three fastbiters were in pursuit. A rose colored fastbiter was bringing up the front, taking long strides that seemed to be effortless. She obvious had prior experience running. Close behind, a dark green fastbiter with blue feathers was approaching. He was a bit larger than his two companions. Finally, bringing up the rear was a yellow fastbiter who seemed to be having second thoughts. She was obviously not exhausted by her run, but her pace was rapidly slowing. Each of them was unaware of the close battle taking place in the clearing, having fled upon the threehorn's charge. Their only concern was to kill the threehorn children and pass the test.

Or in the case of Cera, questioning her resolve.

Cera was unsure of herself. The three threehorn children were so like Tricia that she was nearly too distraught to continue. Was this what they had become? The murderers of children? It was one thing to help kill other prey, but to kill her own kind... her former kind... It was horrific! It was simply too much for the former threehorn. With each scream, she could hear Tricia in her head.

"We.. Runun... Runun!"

Damn it! Cera thought to herself. Now she was close enough to actually hear their yells and screams. With the ground fuzzies she could pretend that they were unthinking meat sacs, same with eggs, but this was not the case with these younglings... The pack was about to kill living dinosaurs tonight and she knew that she couldn't stomach it. It was just too much.

"Nono! Treree.."

She looked in front of her. The three younglings had ran straight towards a fallen tree. Their avenue of escape was blocked. They were now doomed.

With quick thinking, Ruby ran towards the right side of the children, whereas Spike did the same thing on the other side after a momentary pause. Cera, for her part, stooped in front of the three children. They were now trapped. It was simply up to them to make the killing blow. But would any of them have that in them?

......

Both dinosaurs were now bleeding from their continued battle. The threehorn had massive gashes to his head and neck, whereas Dein had injuries to his massive legs. The battle thus far was a draw, but any misstep by their combatant could result in a quick death. There was no margin for error.

Crash!

Roar!

Seeing a gap in the sharptooth's defenses, the threehorn impacted the Tyrannosaurus's hind leg with his massive horned head, causing Dein to lose his footing for a few terrifying moments.

"Daddy, no!" Chomper cried. Was he going to lose his dad, just like he had nearly lost his mom? The poor sharptooth was beside himself with worry. The test had quickly turned into a battle of life and death.

Chomper's two fastbiter friends, however, had an idea almost simultaneously. Thinking quickly, both Ducky and Littlefoot ran towards the lumbering threehorn and let out a series of snarls. The threehorn briefly turned their way, before concluding they were not a threat and turning his attention back towards the sharptooth. That was all of the time that Dein needed.

Now with both combatants back on their feet and circling one another, the terrible battle resumed.

......

"Well, I guess this is it then?" Ruby called uncertainly at her comrades. "We have to..."

Spike simply nodded. He was sick at the realization of what they were about to do. How did his sister manage to kill the mother flyer when Petrie was threatened? The cowering threehorns reminded him of Ducky's siblings in a way. So innocent and playful. To imagine actually killing them...

Cera was now nauseated at the task ahead of them. I can't do this! She raged at herself. It would be like eating Tricia! It's sick... It's wrong... Making up her mind, she realized that she would rather not do this despite that fact that they would either have to or starve in the Cold Time. She would rather be called a coward. She was unwilling to take this final step.

"Guys, I can't do this! It's just so wrong!"

At Cera's explanation, Spike and Ruby both looked at her with uncertain eyes. They were conflicted as well and were hesitating at delivering the killer blows to the children. Their mental anguish, however, was cut off by a horrific sound.

Crash!

"Get up Dein! Get up!"

......

Dein had fallen for a second time when Roh crashed into his legs. This time he was prone on the ground, apparently being knocked unconscious.

"You have to get up!"

Littlefoot and Chomper were both trying to rouse the incapacitated sharptooth, but it was to no avail. They knew that a momentary distraction wouldn't work here and that the pack couldn't take out the threehorn on their own. It seemed that this was the end of Dein, their gracious benefactor.

"No!!!"

Littlefoot turned in surprise, to see that Chomper had latched himself onto the threehorn's tail. The threehorn, in his surprise in anger, was attempting to shake the little predator off. It was a brave but foolish thing to do. Whenever Chomper was knocked off of the tail he would certainly be crushed. With his father knocked unconscious, his son's sacrifice would be in vain.

"We have to help him!" Littlefoot yelled to Ducky. With little regard to their own safety, both Littlefoot and Ducky began to attack the threehorn's feet in an attempt to distract him from both Dein and his son. It was a valiant effort, but each knew that they were in desperate straits. With that in mind, for the first time in his life, Littlefoot yelled out a distress call.

Caw!

......

"Oh no! They're in trouble!" Ruby called out in a panic. "We need to help!"

Spike's eyes darted from to and fro in the resulting confusion. "Help how? It's a threehorn!"

Cera mind was in turmoil. Not only was she faced with the act of killing younglings, but now it appeared that the others were in distress from the adult threehorn. How could she or anyone else stop such an onslaught? Threehorns were the most powerful leaf-eaters on the planet, what weak points could they possibly use to... No. Oh no.

Cera looked back at the three small threehorns, who were still huddling and crying together. She knew what she could used to distract the threehorn, but she was unsure if she would ever forgive herself.

Ruby looked back at Cera. "What are you doing?! We have to help!"

Cera yelled back. "We are helping! Now do what I do..."

With unsure paws and a growing feeling of nausea, Cera approached the small threehorn in the middle and bit down on her hind leg.

"Ahhhh!!! Da... da... Ahhhh!!!" The small child cried, as her two siblings screamed in terror.

Cera carefully ripped down the sibling's leg in order to cause maximum suffering. She had to make her screams and cries as loud as possible. She tried to ignore the sweetness of the blood in her mouth, the screams echoing in her ears, the mournful cries of the traumatized siblings, or the quivering of the child she was now ripping apart. A symphony of sensations that made her simultaneously hungry and disgusted. Excited and disturbed. The important thing now was to distract the father and give them a chance of victory.

She could hate herself when it was all over.

Through her own mental anguish and the deafening screams of the child she was hurting, she could barely tell when the others joined her in slowly disemboweling the other children.

......

"Ahhh!!!"

The screams of the massacred children cried out into the night. A horrible, mournful cry that struck foreboding in all who heard them.

"Children! No!" Roh completely disregarded the fastbiters and the battle at hand and turned towards the muffled screams. He broke into a full run as he struggled to find them in time. Completely unnoticed, Chomper slumped off of his tail and landed on the safety of the firm ground. His gamble to buy his father time had worked.

"Ahhh!!!"

The screams changed from a high pitched scream of pain into several screams. The fastbiters had gotten them all. As he ran in horrified silence, the screams began to take on a hoarse, gurgling sound. And then the voices were silent.

He stopped. This couldn't be! This simply couldn't be! But the screams did not return. Only the silence in the dark swamp greeted him. His family was gone. Only he remained.

In rage, he turned back and charged towards the massive Tyrannosaurus. His family was gone, but they still could be avenged. He would see to it that the monster who killed his mate would meet his end. His rage-filled thoughts contained little else.

That was when he felt it.

A slight stinging pain came to the edges of his perception. A pain that wasn't there moments before. Not stopping his run, he looked down at his thigh by his right hind leg where the pain had started and saw that a massive torrent of blood was now gushing from the wound. A pointed stick fell to the ground as well, having been ripped from the wound by the massive blood flow. A single brown fastbiter backed slowly away from the threehorn. He had hit his target. The deed was done.

Roh struggled to resume his charge, despite the steady loss of energy, but he began to feel incredibly dizzy. The brown fastbiter had dealt a mortal wound... but he could still get his revenge before he rejoined his family in the land of death. The sharptooth was still down... still defenseless... He just had to go a few more seconds... just a few more...

That was when a massive weight fell upon him and knocked him to the ground.

Groggy and losing consciousness fast, he saw the tell-tale shape of a Tyrannosaurus looking down upon him. Another... No... He thought to himself morosely. His entire family gone and he couldn't even avenge them. Pointless... Pointless... His mind sadly concluded, as the large sharptooth ended his life with one stomp of her foot.

"Mom!" Chomper cried.

"Terri..." A groggy Dein called out nearly simultaneously. He was still struggling to get up after his ordeal.

Terri looked over at her mate. "It sounded like you were having some trouble. Bite off a bit more than you can chew?"

Dein rolled his eyes. "Damn you woman! Can't I get any sympathy?" His words were unkind, but his tone was playful. He was just happy to still be alive.

Using her body as a support, Terri helped Dein off of the ground. "I seem to be back to my old self again." She affirmed to her mate. "But it looks like you need to rest for awhile." He snorted at this as he steadied himself on his feet. He was still woozy from the threehorns powerful blows.

Chomper wasted no time and hugged his father's toe claws. A gesture that earned him a nuzzle from both parents. Taking a look at Ducky and Littlefoot, Terri decided to speak.

"You dealt a mortal blow to the threehorn, Littlefoot. I have never seen a young fastbiter do that to a healthy threehorn. He would have died even without my attack." She then paused for a moment. "But I am sure that Dein didn't want me to wait..." Dein nudged her at rubbing in the fact that she had saved his life, but then the two leaned on one another in the sharptooth equivalent of an embrace. Despite their faux vitriol, they both knew that they had a close call today. She had nearly lost her mate. "No more solo hunts, Dein." She demanded. "I am well enough to hunt again. We will do it together." She then looked at the three children. "All of us."

After a few moments, the embrace ended and the two sharpteeth were able to take stock of the situation. Finally, Terri asked the pertinent question.

"So, did they pass the test?"

Dein looked at the two fastbiters before him and his own son. Looking back towards the bushes, he could also see the other three arrive. Each was coated from head to toe in blood. Each wore dour, contemplative expressions on their faces. They had slaughtered the threehorn children in order to save him, despite the turmoil that it had caused them personally. All of them had risked their lives and their sanity in order to do what had to be done. They were ready to confront the realities of their new lives. In light of this, there was only one answer that he could possibly give.

"Yes. Yes they did."

......

Location unknown:

"Gasp... cough... cough..."

Air. Wonderful air. Taunt had little recollection of what had happened after his dive into the raging river. There was blue water and white mist. The rolling green of the land around him as he tumbled in the cacophony of water. And...

Skytail.

His mind rebelled at that memory. The recollection of his dear friend being ripped to shreds, while he could do nothing to save him. He raged at fate for placing him in such a situation. He would have rather joined his leader in death than flee like a coward, but that was what Skytail had made them all do. He had obviously planned this in order to ensure a possibility of their survival. In his honor and commitment to duty, Skytail had willingly sacrificed himself and now both he and Scarflank were gone. It was just him and...

The others. Did any of the others make it?

Still gasping for breath, Taunt attempted to rise from his position, only to fall again. His legs were failing him, it seemed. The struggle with the river having weakened him beyond exhaustion. he looked to his sides. There was only jagged rocks and the river in the distance. This doesn't look like the lowlands at all... He noted to himself. How far did we go?

Coughing again, he resumed his search for his friends. But a terrible thought came to him: what if he was all that was left? What if the others had not survived the hopeless swim? What would he do then? The pack's existence couldn't end like this! He had to find someone... anyone... who survived this tragedy. And then they would deal with Calin and his pack of mongrels.

Looking to his right, he could see a rock that was a bit different than the others. It was gray, whereas most of the other rocks had a brown color. That's no rock, that's a raptor! He thought suddenly. That's Breeze!

"Hang on! I am coming!" He croaked, as he stumbled towards his fellow companion. Please be alive, Breeze! Don't leave me here alone! As he struggled to keep his footing, he came crashing down again. This knocked the air out of the poor raptor as he rolled on the rocks. Taking a few raspy breaths, he began to claw his way towards his friend. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he reached his destination.

What greeted his was a soaked Utahraptor, with no obvious sign of life.

Please... Breeze! Don't be...

"She is alright, Taunt. She is just resting."

Taunt froze. He recognized that voice.

"The other... I am sorry... I'm afraid that she didn't make it."

Taunt choked back a sob. So Vigilant wasn't able to survive the journey down the river. He had feared as much. That only left him and Breeze as the last legacy of the pack. What would they do now? And how did they survive the swim? Who carried them to shore? A sudden realization reached Taunt. It had to be the dinosaur who was talking to him right now.

"I wish that I could have done more..."

With his arms wrapped around his legs for warmth, Taunt slowly turned his head towards the soft-speaking dinosaur. He knew the voice, but seeing the face was something else entirely. He was face-to-face with a raptor he thought that he would never see again. With a hesitant voice, Taunt spoke to the dinosaur who had saved them.

"Dad?"

......

The lowlands:

"Thanks for your help back there! I have never seen that many fastbiters!"

Bron heartedly thanked the other longneck. He and the spiketails were holding the fastbiters at bay, but Tippy and Shorty were nearly picked off by a clever fastbiter. That was when the mysterious longneck made his presence known. A few flicks of his massive tail sent the forward group of the fastbiters running, the rest began to flee shortly thereafter. The mysterious longneck, however, was not one to brag.

"Just did what needed to be done."

Bron took a closer look at the longneck and noticed a tell-tale scar on his right eye and large gash on his right flank. The gash appeared to be far more recent than the scar on his eye. He must have seen much in the way of battle.

"Dad..da..."

Suddenly the mysterious longneck turned and his expression softened. A small infant longneck, born no later than the last Cold Time was looking at the mysterious longneck with a happy expression. The mysterious longneck smiled slightly. Without a word he picked up the small longneck with his mouth and placed him on his back. His voice called out with much more emotion and compassion than his previous gruff statement had indicated he was capable of.

"You be careful there, young one. Remember what your mother taught ya."

Shorty had rejoined Bron and was by the massive longneck's front feet. He had demanded to go with his father on his journey to avenge Littlefoot. Bron had initially resisted, but Shorty noted that the spiketail herd would provide protection just like Bron's old herd had provided. Finally, Shorty's perseverance had paid off and he was allowed to come along. He had been bored on the long journey, with no longnecks to converse with besides Bron, but he had played a few games with the spiketail named Tippy. It seemed that both dinosaurs had lost friends in Chomper's betrayal and they had struck up companionship on that basis. Right now, however, a question raged in the little longneck's mind.

"Where is his mother?"

As soon as he had said it, Shorty regretted his decision as the mysterious longneck again turned distant and frowned.

"I and Stomper are all that remains."

Bron's face fell, a gesture that Shorty repeated. He didn't intend to bring back sad memories to the hero of the hour. Bron answered after a pause. "I am sorry for your loss..."

The longneck sighed. "It is what it is... I should get going..."

Bron looked at the longneck with concern. "Wait! You could have protection here. I am sure after what you have done that the herd will allow you to tag along..."

The spiketail leader spoke up at this. "Yes..." Although his tone of voice was a bit more reluctant. "We have been forced to have two longnecks come along on our journey, I fail to see why one more would be much worse."

The mysterious longneck seemed to want to initially decline the offer, but the playful chattering of his son on his back seemed to cause something in the longneck's expression to change. "Alright. Thank you for the hospitality... Where you all going?"

The spiketail leader turned and began to head out with the rest of his herd in tow. "The Land of the Shallow Waters... Try to keep up..."

The mysterious longneck gave a slight snort at the spiketail's obvious lack of enthusiasm, but joined with Bron at the rear of the herd. After a few moments, Bron asked a question that was on his mind.

"So, what's your name, friend?"

The mysterious longneck looked at Bron for a moment. Bron's expression was welcoming, but had a hint of melancholy in it. A sign of deep distress over a recent loss. He also couldn't help but notice that Bron's 'son' was of a different kind that he was. It seemed that Bron was a bit of a mystery himself. Well, no reason for my name to be a mystery. The dinosaur thought to himself.

"The name's Doc."

END OF ACT 2


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