The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 3 Fire from the Sky

“You speak of destiny as if it was fixed.” ― Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

Deep in the Great Valley, there resided several large trees that flowered in the spring. Unlike the tree sweet tree, however, these trees had flowers that were unpalatable to the residents, and as a consequence the trees were left largely undisturbed. Nonetheless, these beautiful trees were a magnificent sight from a distance, bestowing the valley with several canopies of crimson petals. It was a jarring transition from the sea of green that represented much of the valley.

A flying buzzer was hovering over one of these flowering trees. The buzzer was a very simple living thing. As a consequence, it did not possess an inner monologue like the dinosaurs, nor did it even have an intricate instinctual understanding of the world around it like the ground sliders (lizards) or fish. It did, however, have certain drives that grounded its behavior.

Right now, its most prominent drive was hunger.

The red petals and yellow stamens of the flowering tree made neural connections fire within the insect's simplistic brain. It needed food and a source of food was present. Accordingly, the action that it was assigned to do was to gather that food.

Its large compound eyes gathered copious amounts of information about the world around it, although only a small fraction of that information was actually processed by its simple brain. It primarily used color and movement to find its way around the world. Color could mean food, whereas movement most often indicated danger. It could see several copies of the red flower it was feeding upon, for instance. It could also see several images of the blue sky that resided above the feeding insect.

It did not see the blur of purple, however, until it was too late.

Chomp!

Chomper was preoccupied during his lunchtime "hunting" expedition for buzzers. The events of the morning were haunting his thoughts and making him question his actions.

I didn't mean to scratch Cera! Chomper thought.

But you did enjoy the chase and the catch! came another accusing voice from within his mind.

I would never hurt my friends! he internally retorted.

But I did, didn't I? I scratched Cera and scared Littlefoot. Now Cera is angry with me, and Littlefoot seems scared around me.

"What have I done?" Came the mournful question from the little biter. He was now feeling quite guilty over what had happened. He was beginning to question how much self-control he really had.

He then heard the sounds of soft footsteps in the grass. The maker of those footsteps had a very particular gait, which lead to a very quiet walk. Chomper knew from its sound that it must be Ruby.

"Chomper?" Ruby questioned.

Chomper looked up reluctantly. The young sharptooth had a very sad expression on his face and extra moisture in his eyes. His forelimbs, normally held up high with anticipation, were angled down as if burdened by a heavy weight. His posture and body language all told a tale of sadness.

My goodness, he is really depressed! Ruby thought, Surely my scolding earlier didn't do this?

"What is wrong, Chomper?" Ruby asked with an extremely concerned look upon her face, "I have never seen you this sad."

Chomper looked down for a moment and swallowed deeply. Previously restrained with effort, tears now began to flow freely from his eyes.

"I don't know if I should stay here anymore." Chomper replied.

Ruby did not know what to make of this statement. "Well, if you are not finding buzzers here, then there are other places in the valley. In the valley there are other places," she replied with some confusion.

"No," Chomper replied, "I don't know if I can stay in the valley anymore."

Uh oh, Came the immediate response in Ruby's mind. Her father had given her counsel on how to handle the young sharptooth before she went on her journey to the valley. She remembered it well. It occurred six seasons ago, just before she and Chomper went on their journey to the Great Valley...

......

Hanging Rock - Six seasons ago:

"Ruby, we need to talk about Chomper."

"Yes, daddy?" came her reply.

Ruby's father, Detras, was sitting comfortably at the family nesting area. He was an elderly fast runner with a distinctly purple hue and a kindly demeanor. The fact that he did not currently display that kindness indicated that this was a rather serious matter. This detail was not lost on the young pink fast runner who had just entered the nest.

"You have learned how to speak both leaf-eater and sharptooth," he began "and you have learned how to teach others as your efforts with Chomper have indicated..." He looked sternly at her.

"I know that you did not want me to stay around sharpteeth, but he needed a friend. A friend he needed!" Ruby replied, "His only friends were the leaf-eaters that hatched him. He was lonely."

Detras sighed. "I know we have discussed many times, but I still cannot approve of what you did. You put yourself in danger! Even though Chomper would not eat you, his parents would have been a different story!"

"But now they are friendly with us," Ruby added.

"Yes. But only because he begged them not to eat you." Detras looked indignant. They have had this discussion many times before, but Ruby still defended her actions. She had a loyalty to her that often times overrode her sense of self-preservation. It was a trait that he shared in his youth, which is why he tried to counsel her against this line of thinking. It had very nearly got him killed when he was her age...

"Anyway, that is not what I wanted to talk about today," Detras continued with a more sympathetic tone, "you know how to teach others even when they may be very different from you. This is why you are the one being sent to the valley with Chomper. You are the one who Chomper's parents trust and the best choice to convince the residents of the valley."

Ruby remained silent, listening intensely.

"However, you are my daughter," Detras's voice cracked a bit, "and here I am sending you in danger..." He looked at her intensely with the gleam of moisture in his eyes, "But you are ready, I feel. You have learned the lessons that we have taught you, but there is one more that you need to hear."

He stopped for a moment as if he were collecting his thoughts.

"I wanted to talk to you a bit more about sharpteeth. If you are going to care for and watch Chomper in the valley, then you need to know more about them."

"Yes, Daddy," Ruby replied.

"He is friendly now, but he is still young," Detras stated matter-of-factly with a wave of his forepaw, "and, assuming they don't tell you two to leave beforehand, he will eventually begin to take on the instincts of his kind."

"But he is a friendly sharptooth! He would not hurt his friends," Ruby replied.

"He would not do it intentionally, Ruby. But as he grows up certain instincts will begin to take hold," Detras said as he looked at his daughter sympathetically, "Just like the egg incident, remember?"

Ruby looked down, ashamed.

"I remember the day that you took that egg from those threehorns..." Detras began with a far-away look in his eye.

"I didn't mean to do it!" Ruby exclaimed, "I was trying to get fish, but no fish I could find, and it was there and... and..." She trailed off and shook her head, "I don't know."

"You did it because you were hungry, and we hadn't eaten in days." Detras replied, "That little incident nearly got you killed and gave me this scar." Detras shifted to the right to expose the scar on his right flank. "You were very lucky, Ruby."

Ruby simply nodded with a defeated look on her face.

"There will be plenty of food in the valley. Plants, fish, and many other things if the stories are true. So you shouldn't go through that experience again," Detras continued, "we fast runners only go through the 'hunger madness' when food is scarce, but with sharpteeth it is different."

Ruby looked at her father with inquisitive eyes. "How so, daddy?"

"They always have the hunting instinct in them. Even the young ones like Chomper. Eventually, catching buzzers and fish will not be enough to satisfy the need to chase and hunt," Detras looked at Ruby with a concerned expression, "if that time comes then you will have to lead Chomper back here, so that we can find his parents."

Ruby looked disturbed at this revelation but nodded nonetheless.

"You have to be careful, Ruby. If you can gain acceptance in the Great Valley, then perhaps we can use that goodwill to unite the Mysterious Beyond and the Great Valley against Red Claw," he spoke affirmatively, "but if you fail at this then we may lose our chance."

Ruby blinked but then quickly nodded, as the full implications of her journey became apparent to her.

......

Back to the present:

Ruby looked at Chomper with extreme concern. I must be very careful here, she thought to herself. She tried not to be conspicuous as she put more weight on her legs in preparation for running.

Chomper, being lost in his own thoughts, did not notice her change in demeanor.

"Why do you say that, Chomper?" she asked cautiously, "Have you been getting enough food? Have enough food you been getting?"

Chomper sighed. "Yes, I have enough food."

Ruby eased her stance. Well, it is not the 'hunger madness' then. "Then why do you say that you must leave?" she asked.

"I don't know if my friends trust me anymore," Chomper replied with a cry, "First I scared Littlefoot, then Cera blames me for hurting her tail..."

Ruby then took on a sympathetic look and placed her forelimb on Chomper's back. "Tell me all about it, Chomper. I am sure that your friends still trust you, but I need to know what exactly is wrong first."

Chomper looked hopeful and said, "Alright, this is what happened..."

Chomper then explained what had occurred with Cera. Several moments later, at the conclusion of his tale, Ruby nodded as she now understood what had happened. Not a loss of self-control either, looks like I overreacted earlier.

"Oh, Chomper. It sounds like an accident," Ruby said, "Cera is probably overreacting because something else made her mad."

Chomper looked surprised. "Really?"

Ruby nodded and replied, "Really. But if you have any questions, Chomper, you should talk to me or your friends about them. Do not leave them inside."

The two then embraced. "Thanks, Ruby" replied Chomper.

"No problem. That is why I am here," Ruby replied, "Now come on; I think the others are about to start a new game."

......

"Where have you two been?" Cera asked indignantly.

"I had to get lunch, unless you wanted me to play on an empty stomach," Chomper quipped.

"Um... Okay then," Cera paused, obviously being caught off-guard by Chomper's jest, "what are we going to play now?"

Ruby and Chomper both had a somewhat amused expression at seeing Cera flustered. Littlefoot, meanwhile, was looking more closely at Chomper. He seems to be in a better mood. Perhaps Ruby had a good talk with him. Seeing Chomper in better spirits made Littlefoot more at ease. He was quite concerned for Chomper earlier but had no idea how to broach the questions on his mind to him. In fact, he was afraid that he would have ended up making Chomper feel worse.

Ruby finally made a suggestion, "Perhaps we could play the pinecone game? We have not played it in a while."

Littlefoot, being eager to avoid Run and Hide for awhile, readily agreed with the proposal, "That sounds good to me."

Spike gave an affirmative grunt; while Ducky nodded her approval as well.

"Me think that sound good," Petrie affirmed from above the gang.

"Alright then, let's all search for a pinecone so that we can get started," Littlefoot declared.

The gang then scattered in search of a properly-sized pinecone. A pinecone that was big enough for each of the gang to throw, but not so large that the smallest of the gang couldn't handle it.

Ducky was searching the ground beside some trees. She then looked up at the tree beside her and found a cone that looked suitable for the game. She stretched as far as her body would stretch, but could not reach the pinecone. She then looked at Spike who was simply staring into the sky with a glazed expression on his face.

What is Spike doing? There is no pinecone in the sky. Nope, nope, nope! Ducky thought.

Ducky looked at Spike for a moment before asking, "What are you doing, Spike? There is no pinecone up there. But there is one in this tree. There is, there is."

But then she looked at the spot in the sky where Spike was looking.

The sky had erupted into a cascade of vibrant colors. A starburst of crimson filled a portion of the sky, whereas streaks of bright white were racing across the horizon. It was unlike anything that Ducky had ever seen.

"Look! There is a second bright circle! There is! There is!" Ducky exclaimed.

This caused the rest of the gang to stop their search and to look at the sky.

The sight that greeted the gang was unlike any that they had seen. Sure, they had seen falling sky rocks before, and Littlefoot had seen the "Stone of Cold Fire", but this was much different.

The sky was filled with falling rocks which made many hundreds of red streaks in the evening sky. It gave the sky the ominous appearance of blood that unnerved everyone who saw it. Within this aerial sea of crimson, however, there was an even more incomprehensible scene. A massive orb of blue in blue light could be seen in the sky. In its trail was an azure beam of dust, which seemed to divide the entire sky into two.

The orb also seemed to be rapidly increasing in size...

"It's going to hit us!" Chomper yelled in terror.

The gang looked on in horror as the blue orb seemed to get closer and closer. The leaf-eaters huddled to the ground and closed their eyes in fear of the inevitable, whereas Chomper looked on in shock. That was when the massive rock made impact.

Light.

An impossibly bright light was all that Chomper could see for several moments. Its luminescent white hue permeated the entire valley in its unearthly glow. It was as if the bright circle had decided to take residence in the valley. He had to cover his eyes in order to avoid being blinded by the display.

Then the blast wave hit.

A gigantic blast of wind and fury hit the gang. It was unlike anything that they had ever heard or experienced. The ground roared with the ferocity of a thousand sharpteeth, which was immediately followed by an earthshake. The gang was jostled about violently. The echoes of the blast, falling trees, and shaking terrain filled the valley. The screams of panic from the other residents could not be heard over the ongoing cataclysm.

Then, as suddenly as the crash had come, it ended.

"What... was that?" exclaimed Littlefoot.

He then shook himself off. "Is everyone okay?"

He heard murmurs and grunts from the rest of the gang. It seemed that they were bewildered and frightened by what had just transpired, but otherwise they were fine. That was when the shouts of their parents could be heard.

"Cera!" came a booming voice, "Cera!"

"I am here daddy," came Cera's reply.

"Littlefoot!"

"I am here, Grandpa."

The other parents were congregating around their children as well.

"We were so worried," Grandpa exclaimed, "Never before has such a thing fallen in the valley!"

"It fell in the valley?!" Chomper exclaimed.

"Yes, young one. It looks like some have been hurt, but none seriously," Littlefoot's grandfather explained.

The gang gave each other concerned looks. It looked like all of their parents were here and safe, but the idea that some of the other residents of the valley had been hurt did not sit well with them. Silence permeated the scene for a moment.

"Can we go see it?" Littlefoot inquired.

"Not just yet, Littlefoot. We adults need to find out what it is and if it is dangerous," his grandfather responded.

"That is right!" came the assured response of Mr. Threehorn, "We need to discuss this immediately."

Mr. Threehorn then made the long bellowing call that indicated an imminent meeting. The children sighed. Now they would have to listen to more arguing from the adults. This did not dampen their excitement, however. A wondrous new event had occurred in the valley. With their history of adventures, each of them knew that they would end up seeing the blue orb one way or another...

Meanwhile, the residents of the Great Valley were not the only ones to be surprised by the falling rock...

......

To say that Chronos was excited would be an understatement. He and his partner had insisted that the stories of the stone of destiny be investigated before they left the planet, but the consortium had disagreed. Now who is the laughing stock? he thought. They will be in for a surprise when they come to retrieve us!

"Did you see that?!" exclaimed Chronos as he looked in the direction of the impact.

"How could I not?" was the response of Logos, although her voice conveyed wonderment and not sarcasm, "So it begins. We must get to that stone before some poor fool activates it."

She could hardly believe that they were the ones to see the great stone fall. It was a legend in the worlds beyond and now it had proven to be true. This meant that it was up to them to ensure that it did not fall into the wrong hands.

"It looked just like how the old stories said." Chronos said in amazement, while looking at the sky in reverence.

Logos looked at him sympathetically, although his gaze did not meet hers. She had been skeptical at his plan when he first proposed to the Consortium that they go back to the planet in order to investigate anyway. She had been especially displeased when the Consortium only agreed when they consented to leave all of their technology behind. The words of the Commissar still rang in her head. "You two have done more than enough interfering with other worlds. We must make sure that you two are incapable of doing any more!" The Commissar obviously only agreed because this allowed him to get the two troublemakers out of the way for the foreseeable future.

She had agreed to go, however. For reasons utterly unknown to her she felt drawn to this hopeless idealist, who had the mind of a scientist but the heart of a poet. We have been here for two cold times... um... cycles, she thought, and we have already begun to take on the language and views of the locals. When it is our time to go, will we even want to go back? She then thought morosely, Will our forms even go back? No one has been form-shifted for as long as we have.

She shook her head. Regardless of if they stayed or went, they had a duty to the universe to ensure that the stone of destiny was neutralized. If it were misused then the damage could spread well beyond this planet. They had to keep their wits about them and complete their mission. It did not matter whether they considered it a mission for the home they left behind or for their new home.

Logos approached him and spoke softly, "Dear..."

"Huh?" Chronos responded, "Ah, sorry. We need to hurry, don't we?"

"Yes, we do," Logos replied, "We know the general direction of where it fell, but we do not know its location. Undoubtedly, everyone in visual range now knows of its existence."

"The valley that those kids were in was in that direction, wasn't it?" Chronos inquired.

"That is true, yes," Logos replied, "Regardless of where it landed, we will have to be quick in our travels. Since the consortium has abandoned us here I suppose we have no choice but to travel by foot."

Chronos nodded at the logic of her words.

"Well then, let's begin with Hanging Rock," he replied, "and work ourselves west."

The two rainbowfaces thus began their journey to retrieve the stone of destiny, or the Stone of Cold Fire as the beings of this planet called it. Both of them hoped that they would reach it before anyone else had a chance to use it.

But as they were soon to find out, fate had a far different idea...


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