The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 38 Comings and goings

“Some people come and go and are forgotten. But there are other people who share a part in our destinies. They come, they go, but they are never forgotten. They come, they go, but even after they go... they're still here. They never really went anywhere.”

― C. JoyBell C.

Hmmm.... This seems promising.

The fastbiter smelled the air for what seemed like several minutes. Smells did not travel as well in this rain-soaked valley that she found herself in. The smells of a variety of dinosaurs was overpowered by the scent of moisture. However, with vegetation like what was found in this valley, she knew that there had to be prey somewhere.

It would simply be up to her to find it.

She proceeded to walk through the thick vegetation of the field that she found herself in. It was overgrown with tall grass and curious bushes. It seemed almost familiar... in some way.

She shook her head. She never remembered herself hunting here before so she ignored the sense of déjà vu. She had to refocus herself onto the matter at hand: hunting. Everything else could wait.

Then she heard it...

Laughter.

She stood upon her hind limbs and peeked above the tall grass. There in a nearby open field was a small infant threehorn, which couldn’t have been older than one Cold Time. Better yet, the pink dinosaur didn’t appear to be with any adults or playmates. She was all alone and defenseless. The fastbiter smiled.

Perfect.

With slow, deliberate steps she advanced through the tall grass until she could just begin to see the outline of the small dinosaur through the vegetation. She then took another sniff of the moist air.

Only the smell of the small threehorn was present. The coast was clear for an attack.

But yet... There was something holding her back... something stopping her from beginning the assault. The threehorn seemed familiar in some way.

Nonsense. She thought to herself. I know of no threehorns, they are simply food to me!

She shook her head. It was time to stop thinking and get to work. With little warning, she sprung out of the grass.

“Ahhh!!!!”

The threehorn screamed as the fastbiter suddenly appeared to her right. She ran in a headlong sprint back towards the center of the valley. But, she was too far away... There was no way that she was going to make it in time. She had traveled too far away from the nest.

The sound of running footsteps began louder and louder until finally the threehorn felt a terrible pain in her hind legs. She shreaked in pain and began to tumble end over end in the open field. Her hind legs had been ripped asunder. She was now a sitting target for the merciless predator.

The fastbiter advanced more slowly now. She was quite satisfied with her hunt. The threehorn was incapacitated and would soon be dispatched. Not bad at all for a first hunt in an unknown location. As she advanced towards the small threehorn, it turned to look at the approaching danger. The small threehorn’s eyes opened as wide as a snapping shell and she began to mutter something through the pain.

“Cew... Cewa... Cera?”

......

Cera awoke in a panic.

She struggled to catch her breath for a few moments as the horrifying scene slowly dissipated from her mind. That is the third time that week. She thought to herself. Why can't my sleep stories leave me alone?

As Cera pondered her predicament in her sleep-deprived state, another fastbiter looked at his friend with some concern. This was the second time that he had been awakened by her nighttime ordeals. He initially didn't want to draw attention to her as he was fully aware of how much Cera's pride meant to her, but after a repeat of this situation he decided that it was time to risk her wrath.

"Are you alright, Stern Claw?" The brown fastbiter whispered at his companion. He had used the sharptooth version of her name, a trend that all of the others had been following since the hunting test they had fulfilled several weeks ago.

Cera turned towards Littlefoot. She was embarrassed to have her bad sleep stories be noticed by her friend, but she knew that lying about it would not make the situation any better. They had been getting worse as of late. With a sigh, she decided to tell the truth.

"I don't know, Seeker." She affirmed, using Littlefoot's new name. "It's the same sleep story every night..."

Littlefoot noted that she had a faraway look to her eyes and a morose expression on her face. This is unlike Stern Claw! Littlefoot thought to himself. If she is feeling upset and is willing to admit it then it must be really bad! With a grim expression on his face, he gestured to have Cera follow him away from the sleeping area. He figured that Cera needed some time to confide in privacy. Cera, for her part, nodded and followed wordlessly, her tail dragging behind her. Littlefoot could not tell if that was from fatigue, sadness, or both. He resolved to find out.

The two walked away in silence from the small depression that served as their sleeping area. Upon passing Dein's test and killing the threehorn family, the pack had exceeded the number of hunts that Skytail had once told them meant that a fastbiter was skilled enough to be on their own. There was no similar cutoff in the case of Chomper's kind, but nonetheless both of Chomper's parents had affirmed that Chomper could stay with his pack and sleep just outside of his parent's nest. It seemed that Chomper and the pack were now being considered sharpteeth and not just young biters.

However, the freedom of being on their own also came with a price in the form of the burdens that placed upon them. Cera was now beginning to strain under those burdens. Littlefoot, Ducky, Petrie, and Chomper had all killed dinosaurs prior to that unforgettable hunt, but the others had not yet taken that step. The strain was especially hard on Cera, as she had to kill another dinosaur of her former kind. A small dinosaur that Littlefoot suspected reminded her of someone she hadn't seen in several months.

Finally after a few moments of walking, the duo was by a nearby stream. With a deep breath, Littlefoot invited Cera to share her thoughts.

"I know you don't like talking about this stuff, but um..." He began uncertainly.

Cera sighed deeply in annoyance. "Yeah... yeah... I know. Just give me a moment, will ya?"

Littlefoot waited for several moments as the silence continued. Only the sound of buzzers and gently flowing waves could be heard in the darkness. Finally, Cera spoke again.

"How um... how are you adjusting to this?" She blurted out rather inarticulately.

Littlefoot blinked a few times. "What?"

Cera sighed softly. "To being... you know... what we are now."

Littlefoot nodded slowly at her statement. "Well, about as good as everyone else, Stern Claw. I mean... we all can hunt now and we all do sharptooth things..." He wasn't sure where Cera was going with this conversation. They had all put their misgivings about what they were aside months ago, or so he thought. But then again...

"Well, Littlefoot..." Cera began. The change to referring to him by his leaf-eater name was not lost on Littlefoot. "You were the first of us to kill... well... besides Chomper, of course..." She seemed to contort her mouth oddly as if she were searching for the right words, but they refused to be found. "That hunt... that hunt... was my first time killing another dinosaur, you know?"

Her voice sounded exhausted, Littlefoot observed. However, there was something more to this. He just wasn't quite sure what it was, but he was beginning to have his suspicions. "Is the little threehorn what you dreamed about?"

Cera looked down and turned away from Littlefoot to hide her face. Littlefoot instantly knew that he had gotten to the heart of the matter.

Cera took a breath. "I dreamt that I killed Tricia."

Littlefoot nodded as his suspicions were confirmed. However, he remained silent in order for her to tell him what she wanted to tell. He knew that she needed a listener right now more than she needed explanations. When she wanted him to answer her then she would let him know.

"I know that I would never..." She started. "But then again I never thought I would kill another one of... what I used to be." She had avoided saying 'what she is', Littlefoot noted. She continued after a brief pause. "I'm afraid of losing myself... Am I already gone?"

Littlefoot stood mouth agape as he saw Cera suddenly begin to sob. After his brief surprise at her sudden distress, he speedily ran over to her and quickly offered a nuzzle to his oldest friend. It seemed that Cera had held the internal crisis for far longer than all of the others and as a consequence she had the hardest fall. Littlefoot had simply assumed that her practical nature had allowed her to endure when the others struggled, but now he knew that she was putting on an act for the most part. Deep inside, she still thought of herself in some deep way as a threehorn. The act of killing a threehorn child had finally dealt the killing blow to the last vestiges of her old identity. Now she was in the identity crisis that they all were struggling with in their own way.

Littlefoot spoke to her gently. "You are still you, Cera." He was careful to use her leaf-eater name. "We have been this way for months now. We have had to kill and eat flesh. We have had to do... terrible things. But we are still ourselves."

Cera broke away and looked at the brown fastbiter with uncertainty. "Are we?" She then shook her head. "The stuff that I have done... I would have done as a leaf-eater. Most of my thoughts are about food and hunting. I even enjoy hunting..." She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. "I enjoyed it when I was hunting ground fuzzies... but with the threehorn..."

Littlefoot nodded. "That was different." It was an observation, not a question.

Cera nodded. "I hesitated and I felt bad afterwards, but I didn't feel bad because of killing her..." Littlefoot waited for Cera to finish her statement and he noticed with some concern the haunted look that came over her face. "I felt bad because part of me felt nothing at all. The screams... The begging... Part of me was indifferent to it all."

Littlefoot was beginning to understand now. He was absolutely distraught with Rhett's killing at his claws, but subsequent acts of stealing eggs and planning hunts had not fazed him much at all. The first kill was the hardest and then...

"We use sharptooth names now and play sharptooth games and I wonder where 'Cera' died and 'Stern Claw' was born." Cera continued. "I don't know whether I want to remember my old life or... or to just forget."

Littlefoot took a deep breath. He had made peace with his change, but he had not had the same reaction that Cera was having. He had despised the sharptooth that had killed his mother and feared them all of his life, but part of him knew that they had little choice in their diet. As a result, he was more willing to view himself as still being Littlefoot deep inside. Or am I lying to myself? Littlefoot thought suddenly. I have gone from an adventurous kid to a killer. Maybe 'Seeker' is all that remains anymore.

Littlefoot then shook his head. No, that was not correct. He still remembered his mother, he still remembered what is was like to be a leaf-eater, and he was never more cruel than necessary. He would have to set Cera straight.

"If you were truly gone, Cera..." Littlefoot was careful to use her leaf-eater name again. "...then why would eating Tricia in your sleep story make you upset?" Cera seemed to be taken aback by this. "You still remember what you were, right?" At Cera's nod he continued. "You still love your parents, right?" She nodded again. "Then you are still you where it matters." Littlefoot finished.

Cera took a deep breath and nodded her head. "I guess that you're right, Seeker." She had fallen back into her habit of using his sharptooth name. "It's just so hard... It would be so much easier to just..."

"Forget?" Littlefoot offered.

Cera nodded. "Yeah."

Littlefoot sighed. "I guess that is why we use our sharptooth names now... If we think of ourselves that way then it is easier to do what we have to do... I guess that as long as 'Seeker' remembers what it's like being the food then 'Littlefoot' will still be here, somewhere."

Cera looked up at the stars while he was speaking and simply gave an affirmative grunt at his statement. The two continued to keep one another company for several more moments, before both of them returned to the sleeping area and attempted to go back to sleep.

There were no more interruptions that night.

......

The small flyer groaned as his rest came to an end. As the first rays of sunlight reached his perch above the slumbering pack, his eyelids began to open at the unwanted intrusion of light. Morning had arrived and with it a new day. However, with a jolt, he remembered the events of the previous day.

Pterano gone. Petrie recollected. Uncle gone with the herd.

Petrie had remembered his discussion with his uncle from several days ago. It was the first time that Pterano indicated that his herd was leaving. It was a most difficult conversation for the flyers.

Petrie, my nephew, it seems that my herd will be heading out soon.

Petrie nodded at this. He suspected that this time had been coming for a while. That did not mean that he was looking forward to it, however. "So you have to go, uncle?" His voice was soft, but controlled. The leaf-eater Petrie would be very upset, but the sharptooth 'Spotter' knew better than to cry at the inevitable. There were simply some things that could not be changed.

Pterano looked circumspect and hesitated before answering. "Well, that is what I wanted to talk to you about. I am thinking about not following the rest of the herd."

Petrie blinked at this. "What? Why?" He wasn't upset that his uncle wanted to keep him company, but leaving the herd was foolishness. What if he were attacked by a sharptooth flyer? It was far safer in a large herd.

Pterano looked at Petrie with surprise. He obviously had not expected his nephew's response. "Well... um..." He hesitated with uncertainty, an unusual act on his part. "I figured that I could spend more time with you. The Land of Shallow Waters seems safe enough. I am sure that I can manage without the herd."

Petrie shook his head immediately. "That not good, uncle! Me not big enough to stop large sharptooth flyer! You should fly with herd; be safe."

Pterano looked at his nephew with surprise and tilted his head in confusion. He seemed to analyze his nephew for some time before responding. "You have changed, Petrie."

Petrie took on an unreadable expression at that affirmation.

Pterano quickly continued. "I don't mean that as an insult, but the old you would have not thought about things like that. You would have brushed them aside." Pterano then gave his nephew a small smile. "I supposed that my loneliness overrode my reason." He then nodded. "I guess that I should follow the herd... but will you be alright?"

Petrie returned Pterano's sad smile. "Me will be okay, uncle. Petrie will be sad to see you go, but me understand." He then bowed his head slightly. "Me just want you to stay safe."

Pterano offered his wing to Petrie and he readily accepted the offered embrace. Pterano then spoke again. "You stay safe as well, Petrie. I... I can't even to begin to understand how you must live now, but as long as your stay with your friends I am sure that you will be okay."

Petrie nodded at this, before noticing that he had wetness in his eyes. It seemed that he was not quite as hardened as he had originally assumed. He spoke softly. "Me can still try to visit you when you near here. We flyers can fly faster than others walk."

Pterano nodded. "That is true... The herd will be at the Red Coasts for the winter... Now that the mothers have vacated their nests..."

The mentioning of mother flyers and their children caused Petrie some discomfort on account of his hunt of a flyer family, but he hid his discomfort from his uncle. It couldn't be helped in any case.

"That is where we will be going, Petrie. Feel free to fly by if you should ever need anything."

Petrie broke the embrace and smiled at his uncle. "Me will, uncle. Me will."

Petrie shook his head at the memory. With the rainbowfaces having already departed for the Great Valley, the pack was truly alone within their own territory. The only leaf-eater adults that knew of their plight where far away from them and only reachable in a timely manner through the efforts of the small flyer. He was now not just their most important scout, but also their outlet in order to talk with their scattered allies.

It was a task that he would continue to perform admirably, he resolved.

"Hey, beak-face!"

Petrie groaned. That was Stern Claw's voice. It undoubtedly was time for their morning games. He just hoped that someone would defeat her today, lest she become even more insufferable than she already was. But her tendency to throw out taunts did not mean that he shouldn't join in the fun. After all, he was a sharptooth as well.

Smiling, he decided to trade an insulting greeting of his own. "Me coming, slow-walker!"

An irritated "Hmph!" emanated from the ground as he heard Stern Claw storm off.

Me finally getting better at this! Petrie thought to himself. It easy being jerk when others can't catch you! Shaking his head, he flew down to join the others in their impromptu gathering.

Me wonder what game we play today?

......

The pack still had plenty of food from their catch the previous night. In the process of chasing an adult, Dein had scared a young hadrosaur who then ran straight into the path of the pack. He had skillfully evaded the attacks from the pack, but after a spear thrown by Ruby struck him in the hip, the swimmer immediately crumpled to the ground. The prey was then quickly dispatched by Cera and Littlefoot.

Each of them quickly devoured some of the remains from the slain hadrosaur, as each was eager to begin playing. Purposeless play was a somewhat uncommon luxury in the Land of Shallow Waters, as the pack often spent most of their time hunting and preparing for hunts. They regularly would go for a day or more without having the time to even play 'Hunter and Prey'. Their instincts made the hunts feel like play to some extent, as the excitement and exhilaration of a hunt could not be matched despite whatever internal conflicts they still had about killing, but each of them desired the simpler pleasures that they enjoyed before their transformation from time to time. The act of play was one of the few remembrances of that time that they could still enjoy. Accordingly, the discussion around the swimmer carcass revolved around the upcoming game.

"How about Hunter and Prey? We have not played that in a while. Nope, nope, nope!"

Cera had to shrug at this. "True, Haven. But we haven't really done anything fun in a while. Unless, you count getting Spike out of the mud pool as being fun..."

Spike grunted indignantly. "I had to try to catch that swimmer! I never let good food go to waste!"

Petrie took on a sarcastic expression. "Well that obvious..."

Spike looked at the flyer with a deadly glare, while the others laughed heartedly. Despite being a swift and deadly fastbiter, Spike was still the heaviest of the group. He loved his meat, although with his physically active lifestyle much of it turned into thick muscle on his athletic build. However, after a few moments, even Spike had to give a slight chuckle at Petrie's comment. He knew the flyer meant no malice by his insulting statement, as fastbiters often used sarcasm, insults, and false vitriol to show their affinity for one another. As the only sharptooth statement went: If a dinosaur insults you and you want to kill them, then they are your enemy. But, if a dinosaur insults and you don't want to kill them, then they are your friend.

Seeker then spoke up. "How about 'Tracker and Hider'? We haven't played that game in a while."

Ruby nodded at this. "Yes, that sounds like a good game to play. Hopefully, I will play the game good!"

The others nodded and grunted their agreement as well. The game had been decided.

......

The rose colored fastbiter slowly walked through the underbrush. She had been caught twice and now was tied with Cera. If she could just catch her one more time then she would be the winner of today's match, as all of the others had been caught multiple times. However, it seemed that the pack was getting much smarter in avoiding being tracked. Between the trick that Chomper had taught them of walking through water in order to hide your scent and her own idea of walking multiple times in different intersecting paths, the job of tracker had become much more difficult as time went on.

Maybe if we had known these tricks as leaf-eaters then we could not have been chased as much! Ruby thought to herself. Of course, maybe if I didn't ponder so much then I could find someone!

She stopped in a clearing and took another deep breath.

She winced slightly at the torrent of smells that reached her nose. Spike had apparently used some of the foul-smelling fruit that sickens sharpteeth and smeared it nearby. She shook her head. How was he able to use that stuff? It is making me sick smelling it! How was he able to smell it and not get sick? Pushing that unsavorily scent aside in her mind, she could smell a few other things of note. There was moisture and the tell-tale smell of ferns in the air, a constant presence in this swamp that they now called home. Other than that, there was simply the smell of ground fuzzy urine and pheromones from the various herbivores. Normally those pheromones would have been a promising sign for a potential hunt, but right now they were only a distraction. She was hunting for Cera, not for food!

She sat down on her haunches for a moment in order to catch her bearings again. I guess that I could try to retrace my steps. She pondered to herself. Or I could go to the stream and smell for them there. They might have left a scent when they crossed over the water. While she was thinking to herself, however, she heard a small rustling in the grass behind her.

She turned and immediately took on an alert posture.

She stared as the tall grass that stood behind her. The grass was gently swaying in the breeze, but there did not appear to be anything amiss in the vegetation. But I was sure that I heard something... Ruby thought to herself. She took another tentative step...

There! She thought to herself.

Between some of the blades of grass she could just see a flash of tan. The tan was far too pale to be the coloration of Cera's, but perhaps it was simply the swaying grass playing games with her eyes? The only pack member that had a color even close to tan was Cera's... It had to be her!

With a smile erupting on her face, Ruby went into a stalking posture and leaned forward. She had to sprint and tackle Cera before she could sprint away. She would only have one shot at this. Ruby took one final breath and slowly exhaled. Her heart beat accelerated in anticipation of the upcoming chase and her feet twitched in excitement. She was ready for this! Without any warning, she sprinted into the grass and dived upon the hiding figure.

"Ahhh!!!"

Ruby dove back from her catch when she heard the scream of a male voice. This wasn't Cera! This was someone else! With extreme trepidation, she took several steps back and took on a defensive posture. The stranger that she had pounced on did the same. As both fastbiters circle one another, Ruby screeched a series of three warbles. This was a clear sign to her packmates that an intruder had been found. They would be running to her position shortly. After performing her duty in the matter, Ruby decided to break the awkward silence between herself and the mysterious stranger.

"Who are you, stranger? Why are you in our territory?" The response was blunt and unkind, but such was the appropriate response to competitors who dared enter their territory. Was the stranger hostile or simply lost? She could take no chances here. It would be better to be harsh and powerful as opposed to being soft and kind. Weakness could get you killed far more quickly than rudeness.

The tan fastbiter smiled slightly and gave Ruby a cordial wave, which caused her to tilt her head at the mysterious stranger in confusion.

"The name's Calin."

......

"There it is!"

Doc turned in the direction of where Bron was looking. A land of seemingly lush vegetation and plentiful waters stood in front of them, a sudden departure from the barren lands that they had just crossed. It would be a welcome change of scenery for the spiketail herd and the four longnecks.

"Yes. So it is." Doc answered gruffly.

Looking to his side, Bron could see that Stomper was continuing to follow and imitate Shorty's mannerisms, much to the green longneck's annoyance. It seemed that Stomper had no one near his age in order to play with or look up to... until now. Now the infant longneck was acting like Shorty's shadow. He barely stifled a laugh, knowing that would make Shorty even more embarrassed at his current predicament. It was as if Shorty now had a little brother of his own...

The last thought sent a shiver of pain and remorse through the tall Bron longneck. He had a brother... and now he is gone.

Doc saw the sudden change in the brown longneck and knew that the demons from his past were again haunting him. He recognized the signs, as he had experienced them in the past. The loss of a mate and the loss of a son could do terrible things to a parent. Doc could see the anger rise and the determination follow. He shook his head. Just don't leave your child an orphan, Bron. No need to leave another child without a parent.

Despite his misgivings, however, Doc knew that he would help the stranger when he decided it was time to strike. Those sharpteeth had killed far more than Bron's son. They had killed the brave and mischievous youngling that he looked forward to seeing on his visits, Littlefoot. It saddened him that he would no longer be part of future of his kind and that allowed him to feel the same rage that Bron now felt. I was right about sharpteeth all along. Doc thought with some remorse. I should have never backed down. I should have told Littlefoot to disown the purple fiend. Yes, Chomper would pay for his betrayal.

Both of them would make sure of that.


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