The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 40 Rage

“Anger is useful only to a certain point. After that, it becomes rage, and rage will make you careless.”

― Lauren Oliver, Pandemonium

Several weeks ago:

"This doesn't look like the Lowlands." Breeze offered warily.

Thud looked at her with a confused expression. "I should hope not! You are in the Bay of Rocks. We are about a three days trek from the Lowlands."

"How?" Taunt offered. "How did we travel that far down the river?"

Thud looked at the two raptors with a confused expression, before finally realizing what they were implying. Then he looked outright startled. "You followed the river from the Lowlands?"

Breeze nodded. "Yeah... That is where Skytail..." She took a shuddering breath. "That is where we fled."

Thud shook his head slowly while having a look of awe on his face. "It is a miracle that any of you are still alive."

Taunt shook his head. "If there were miracles then our friends would still be here. But we are all that remains. Red Claw and Calin took them from us!"

Thud looked at his son sadly, but spoke softly at his exclamation. "They may be gone, son, but as long as you remember their deeds then they are never really gone. Both of you remain despite the odds against you. It seems that fate doesn't want your pack to fade away so easily." At their contemplative expressions, he offered a question. "Did your pack have any allies that you could join with?"

Taunt nodded. "Yes, there was that pack led by Seeker. They were going to the Land of Shallow Waters the last time that we saw them."

Thud placed his claws to his mouth and pondered for a moment. "I guess that we can head that direction after the two of you are well enough to travel."

Breeze puffed out her chest at his comment. "We are well enough, we just..." Her statement was broken up by a coughing fit on her part.

Thud gave her a slight smile. "Like I was saying, we will rest here for a few days and then we can get moving. It will be a hard journey to the Land of Shallow Waters. After all, I am not exactly the best guide when it comes to traveling that direction... If only Screech was still here..."

Taunt observed his father's sudden melancholy and decided to ask the obvious question. "Dad, where is uncle Screech?"

Thud gave his son a look that communicated Screech's fate. Taunt nodded sadly. It seemed as if he and his father were all that remained of the once large extended family.

Thud sighed. "So much has happened... I guess that we should each tell our respective tales." As Breeze and Taunt both settled down to listen, Thud decided to tell his side of the story. "It all started when we got tired of Red Claw's crazy fixation on the valley...

......

"And then we woke up here."

Taunt had just finished his retelling of their final battle as a pack and its aftermath. Now that both Thud and the two young fastbiters were acquainted with the events leading up to their reunion, silence dominated the scene. Neither of them was fully aware of the despair and heartache the other had been through until it had been laid bare for all to hear.

Taunt now realized that Thud was a victim of his own alliance and that his father still harbored regret and guilt over his brother's death, whereas Thud now realized the full depth of his son's loss. After Thud and his son had left on not so good terms, Skytail and the rest of the pack had acting like an adopted family to the small fastbiter. Now that most of them were gone, it was reminiscent of the loss of his mother and the betrayal of his father all over again. Must everyone that he loves be taken from him?

Thud, for his part, had no words to placate his grief over his son's loss and hardship. He realized that if he wouldn't have joined with Red Claw then everything would have been different. He could have spared his son the loss of losing his remaining parent to a foolish alliance with the enemy, and he could have been there for when his son needed counsel. For now, however, all that he could communicate was his grief and regret. To that end his nuzzled his son, who reluctantly accepted the gesture.

"You're still a bastard." His son offered as his father pulled away from the gesture.

"I know." Thud responded sadly. "But I can try to be a father again... if you let me."

Taunt looked at his father for a long moment, his eyes giving nothing away. After a few moments, however, he averted them somewhat. "Part of me wants to hate you..." He shook his head at the thought and looked away. "But I can't do that... I don't have it in me. You were just like me after I left the nest... A screw-up screwing-up in a screwed-up world."

Thud averted his eyes somewhat at his son's admission. "I guess that we both need to get our act together then." He offered with a slight smile.

Taunt nodded. "Yeah..."

Silence again took hold over the group for several moments, until Breeze interrupted the two by clearing her throat.

"Uh... It's not that I am not grateful for you saving our lives and all, but is family time over now? We need to decide what we are going to do."

Thud and Taunt both looked at one another and began to laugh. After so many moments of tension between the two, Breeze's untactful statement was enough to elicit some humor from the two fastbiters. After a few moments Thud spoke.

"She obviously has been around you too much, son."

Taunt could only smirk and give a slight nod as Breeze gave an annoyed "Hmph" in response. After a few moments, however, the three fastbiters moved on to the more pressing matters that faced them.

"Well, we need to get food. A swimmer herd is quite close by, so that will last us a while. The journey to the Land of Shallow Waters will be a bit tricky though." Thud stopped speaking for a moment and placed a claw by his chin as if he were pondering a difficult problem. "We need to avoid the sandstorms."

Breeze nodded at that. "Yeah... It was unpleasant when Skytail and I went through the barren lands..." She trailed off as she continued to remember the close friend that she had lost. She had known Skytail since his family had taken her in as an adopted sister. The loss affected her especially hard.

Taunt unconsciously leaned against Breeze, a gesture which she reciprocated. Thud noticed this and decided to change the topic, lest the two fastbiters again be lost to their grief.

"So um..." Thud began, as the two fastbiters again focused on the adult. "The pack that you were allies with... what were they like? Who were they?"

Taunt and Breeze took a long look at one another. Thud could not quite see their facial expressions, but it look as if they were having an entire nonverbal conversation as he waited. Finally, Breeze nodded and Taunt again looked at his father.

"Our allies are a mixed pack, believe it or not. One two-footer, one flyer, and five fastbiters with feathers. Quite the combination."

Thud looked horrified at his son's words, as there were only five fastbiters with feathers that he knew of and he had chased them in the Mysterious Beyond. The inclusion of a flyer and a two-footer only confirmed the identity of that pack.

Thud answered with a wary voice. "You are allies with Path's pack?" Obviously Thud's previous history with his son's allies would be quite a complicating factor. What would Thud have to say when they finally met? Sorry about trying to kill you? And these were his son's allies... I really screwed things up...

Taunt looked somewhat surprised, but nodded. "Yeah... Though Seeker is their leader. You knew Path in the Mysterious Beyond?"

Thud gave a noncommittal grunt. "We met."

Taunt didn't know what to say about that, so he decided to let the matter drop. Breeze, however, knew that there was part of the story that would be the hardest for Thud to accept. Nonetheless, she knew that depending on how Thud knew Path it would make a big difference in how their allies reacted. She began to whisper at Taunt in hushed tones. After a few moments, Taunt looked up again and gave his father a slight smile. The smile communicated no humor, but rather seemed to almost be apologetic. Surely his father would think that his son had gone insane after he relayed this tale.

"Well, dad, that's not the complicated part..." Taunt began. "You see... Seeker and the rest originally came from the Great Valley..."

"They let sharpteeth into their valley?!" Thud asked in surprise.

Taunt looked a bit uncertain at his father's exclamation. "Uh... no... not exactly..."

......

Back to the present:

This should be enough for the little biters. Calin thought to himself. I can't believe their leader was so naive. Idiot.

Calin was half-carrying, half-dragging the corpse of a young spiketail towards the clearing that Seeker had directed him to bring his offering of food. This was the first step in the process of being accepted into a pack. First an offering had to be made and, if the pack required further proof of worth, then a challenge would be given. Calin had no doubt that he would pass any challenge that the pack placed upon him. And once he finally gained their trust...

That was going to be the tricky part, Calin realized.

Calin realized that he was different from a rather young age. He would notice his siblings acting concerned for others and feeling exuberant at the family's successes. At first he thought that these reactions were a fiction that everyone followed in much the same way that a storyteller would get worked up over a story that he knew that he made up. However, it soon became apparent to the young biter that was not what was going on. There was a certain something that he lacked that the others seemed to have. He did not take this as a disadvantage, however. Far from it. Everyone else allowed their emotions to govern themselves, but he was delightfully free of that burden. He could do the deeds that others would shy away from. He had the courage to pursue his own interests over those of his "loved ones". He had no time for weaklings or those who cared for them. There were only "useful" dinosaurs and "useless" ones and he felt no need to bestow sympathy onto the useless ones. Accordingly, when he finally left his parents to find a pack with his older siblings, he only had his own benefit at heart. That made it so easy to turn on them years later when Red Claw and his recruits made them an offer that they couldn't refuse.

"How can you do this, Calin! We're family!"

"You're a competitor, brother. I plan on living."

"Brother... We... We could take them on! Some of us could escape! What would father do? What would...urk."

While his brother attempted to talk to the uncaring sibling, Calin kicked at his brother's throat, sending a spray of blood onto his other siblings who were huddling behind the bulk of the mortally wounded fastbiter. Calin smiled at his superb handiwork. The fool had let his guard down around his opponent. The idiot deserved to die.

With a small smile he advanced towards the remaining siblings who had foolish struggled against their 'recruiters' earlier. They were all huddled together in a whimpering mass, still shocked by their older brother's death and Calin's willing betrayal. They would be easy pickings for Calin.

"I am not my father."

Calin was so distracted by the prideful memory that he nearly bolted upright when he heard Littlefoot's call.

"I see that you brought an offering. I think that the rest of the pack will be satisfied."

Calin looked towards Littlefoot for a moment, before taking on a more pleasant facial expression. "I am glad that you approve, Seeker." His eyes locked with Seeker's, who seemed to be analyzing the tan fastbiter with a noncommittal expression.

Littlefoot stared into Calin's eyes for a moment, as if he were staring into his very soul. He noted Calin's smile, but something about it seemed fake and disingenuous. As a result, Littlefoot's smile soon turned into a slight frown. Littlefoot noted with some interest the look of confusion that transpired over Calin's face over the sudden change of expression. He couldn't help but present Calin with the same fake mannerisms that Calin exhibited in droves.

"I have determined a challenge for you, Calin. If you succeed then we might let you into the pack, but if you fail then you must leave our territory."

Calin frowned at this. "You might let me in if I succeed."

Littlefoot nodded. "Might. Your challenge is to successfully help us in our hunts for the next cycle of the night circle. If the pack is impressed with your efforts then you may stay. Otherwise you will go." Littlefoot returned to the fake smile that he had presented Calin with earlier. Calin seemed to be giving little away of his true feelings and neither would he.

Calin noted Littlefoot's smile and took on a dark expression in response. This fastbiter was toying with him. He did not like to be toyed with.

Littlefoot continued. "Now don't be angry... You will be allowed to have your fill on the pack's catches during this time. We won't starve you. But we have to make sure that you are... the right fit... for our pack." He concluded his remarks with a beaming smile at the smug fastbiter.

Calin did not respond for some time. He was struggling to get his anger under control before making a diplomatic response to the rival fastbiter's challenge. It would not be wise to start a battle in his own territory. No... He would simply revert back to his previous plan of action. As he debated his next course of action, he fixed Littlefoot with an off-putting expression of thinly-veiled contempt. At this expression, Seeker seemed to nod. As if Calin had confirmed something for the other fastbiter.

Littlefoot had been uncertain of whether Calin was trustworthy, but his odd reactions to Littlefoot's challenge confirmed his worst suspicions about the strange fastbiter. He obviously was putting on a fake face for the pack. Ruby's story from a few moments before about fake-faces now seemed to be prescient in its accuracy. Littlefoot knew that he could not retract the challenge that was offered without losing face, but he already knew how he would end Calin's efforts. He would simply use Calin for free labor for a few hunts and then evict him from the territory on the grounds that the rest of the pack found him to "not be the right fit". Littlefoot would not allow such an obvious threat into their midst as a fellow pack member. His internal monologue was soon interrupted, however, by Calin's careful response to the challenge.

"I see." Calin offered. He tried to bring his anger under control. He had no plans on actually joining the pack for any significant amount of time, but only for long enough to do his work. Now, however, this cheeky fastbiter had prevented him from joining in a timely manner. Worse yet, he had insulted Calin with his lackluster challenge. He would enjoy watching Littlefoot die when the time came. "In that case I decline my request for membership... My offering is offered to keep the peace." Calin's voice was seething.

Littlefoot noted the tone of Calin's voice and wasted no time in proclaiming his response. He immediately removed the smile from his face and gave a curt nod. "The pack accepts your peace offering. Now leave." Calin's offering meant that he would not be chased out, but he nonetheless would be taking his leave of the pack. The abruptness of Calin's actions, however, made something sink in Littlefoot's stomach. Something wasn't right here. Something wasn't right at all.

As Calin rapidly departed from the clearing, Littlefoot raised his right paw and gestured in a forward motion. Suddenly, the remaining pack members emerged from the tall grass upwind, where they had been hiding. If Calin had attempted anything dangerous they were prepared to mount an ambush. Now, however, they had much to discuss.

"What a creep!" Cera exclaimed.

Ducky nodded at Cera's statement. "I do not think that he was telling the truth. Oh, no, no, no!"

Chomper walked to the front, where Littlefoot was standing, and whispered into his leader's ear. "Should we kill him?"

Littlefoot was taken aback by Chomper's sudden question, but he couldn't fault the logic of that option. They were dealing with a competitor who would now more than likely consider them an enemy. Furthermore, the fastbiter in question was obviously untrustworthy and probably malignant. Chomper had been a sharptooth for far longer than any of them and for Chomper to suggest killing another sharptooth meant that his instincts were telling him that trouble was imminent. However, Littlefoot knew that he had offered Calin safe passage out of their territory, so he gave Chomper a shake of the head.

As Chomper nodded and retreated back to where the others were, Spike advanced towards the offering. The spiketail was laying face down on the ground with its back towards the pack. However, Spike noticed something disturbing familiar about the scent of this spiketail. Something that he couldn't immediately identify.

Shaking his head at this momentary distraction, he proceeded to grip the spiketail's tail in his mouth and pull the body towards the rest of the pack. As he proceeded on his task, Cera and Ruby approached from the side in order to help Spike's efforts.

That was when an audible gasp caused everyone to stop what they were doing.

Spike let go of his quarry and looked in the direction of the sudden outburst. It was Cera. She looked wide-eyed at something near the front of the spiketail. Tilting his head in an inquisitive fashion, he walked in Cera's direction.

"What is it, Cera?" He asked as he walked to her position.

Cera seemed to trip over her words for a few moments, before responding intelligibly. "Spike... I don't know how to tell you this..."

Spike didn't wait for Cera to spit out the words and instead looked at where the terrified fastbiter's eyes were fixed. Spike looked at the face of the dead spiketail in front of him and froze. He knew this spiketail. He would recognize that face anywhere.

It was Tippy.

......

"Tippy!! Tippy!!"

Doc awoke with a start at the sudden exclamation from one of the spiketails. He had decided to take a midday nap before searching for the sharpteeth that had killed Bron's son. The sudden alarm calls and frantic yelling, however, put a quick end to that.

"What's going on, ma'am?" Doc offered to the panicking female.

"Oh!! It's my son, Tippy! I can't find him anywhere!"

Doc could then hear some of the other spiketails join in the chorus yelling the missing spiketail's name. The possibility of a young one leaving the herd in a place like this was a dangerous one. There were many places for a child to get trapped, injured, or hunted by sharpteeth. Sharpteeth...

Doc frowned. He hated sharpteeth.

"Ma'am, I can search for your son... But can you watch my little one?" He offered the female.

The mother spiketail seemed to be taken aback by this. "Thank you... but it is dangerous out there!"

Doc shrugged. "All the more reason for me to find your kid."

Doc then picked up Stomper from his back and placed him beside the spiketail. "Now you be careful, young one. Stay with the spiketail." The grateful mother then immediately nuzzled the somewhat shy infant, while he emitted a worried coo at his father. Doc smiled at his son. "I'll be careful... now be a good boy for dad, will ya?" The child gave another coo, more subdued this time, as Doc gave his son a light nuzzle.

His son attended to, Doc immediately began stomping off in the direction that the spiketail said Tippy was last seen. For some time, only the rhythmic drumming of his feet could be heard over the panicked calls of the spiketail's.

That was until another set of stomping feet could be heard approaching. He stopped for a moment.

"Bron." Doc called.

"Doc." Bron answered.

Doc paused for a moment. He knew that telling Bron to go back to safety would be a futile gesture, as he was now driven by the same drives that drove himself. Doc never wanted to see another son left without a mother in the same way that Bron never wanted to see another parent lose a son. Knowing that Bron would be helping his search whether he wanted it or not, he simply decided to urge him on.

"Let's get a move on then. The spiketail couldn't have gone far."

The two longnecks then resumed their journey into the swamp.

......

Silence dominated the pack as Spike stared at his dead friend in mournful silence. His beloved friend was now gone forever. Although they were not the ones who killed the small spiketail, they were the ones who commissioned the act. They were the ones who requested an offering to humor the upstart, Calin. They were the ones that set out the events that led to Tippy's untimely demise.

Gradually, as the thought of what had happened began to plow through the fog of memories in his mind, Spike began to shake. He was overwhelmed by grief and anger. It was bad enough that he was considered dead by his family and would forever be doomed to feed upon the flesh of others, but now even his beloved friend was deprived of life before his time. The inherent unfairness of life caused something to break within the mournful fastbiter. In his limitless grief he let out a bloodcurdling scream.

......

"What was that?!" Bron asked as a sudden roar permeated through the entire swamp.

Doc stared in the direction of the scream, which was near where they were originally heading. Thinking for a moment, he answered the other longneck. "Sounds like a sharptooth... Tippy might be in trouble."

Looking at one another briefly, both longnecks began to run in the direction of the scream. Each was in a hurry in order to protect whoever might be threatened by the unknown predator.

......

"Finder!" Cera hissed Spike's sharptooth name in exasperation. She was well aware of the massive shock that Spike had just been put through. He hadn't even known that Tippy's herd was in their territory, let alone that Tippy was the victim of a hunt they requested. However, she was also very aware of the danger of giving their location away with the spiketail herd so close by. They weren't exactly in the center of their territory anymore. They were open to attack if anyone discovered them.

Littlefoot jumped into action and ran beside his overwhelmed friend. Ducky followed close behind as she was concerned about her adopted brother. She knew that he and Tippy were close despite only having the opportunity to meet with one another on two occasions, the loss had understandably shattered the former spiketail's heart. As Ducky pressed herself close to Spike in an attempt to comfort the grieving fastbiter, Littlefoot stood behind and tried to speak words of comfort.

"I'm so sorry, Finder... We had no way of knowing that he was in the area... or that Calin would go after him..."

Spike shook his head and lightly pushed his sister away. "We requested the hunt! We wanted Calin to prove himself and now look what we have in return!" Spike was livid. His body was shaking in a mixture of grief and anger that was soon turning into rage. "A dead friend for a meal and a new enemy in Calin!"

Littlefoot gulped. He couldn't exactly disagree with Spike's assessment. Calin had not left the pack on good terms as he had rejected their challenge and Tippy was dead. They all had hoped that after they killed the threehorn family so many weeks ago that they could put aside the memories of their leaf-eater lives. They had begun to almost always use their sharptooth names and all of their games were sharptooth games. An outsider could have been forgiven for thinking that they had been sharpteeth for all of their lives, but the recollection of who they used to be still remained. The sudden death of Tippy only reinforced the turmoil between their beloved past and harsh present. It seemed that the echoes of the past wouldn't allow them to forget what they used to be.

Spike broke down again into sobs. His anger had dissipated almost as soon as it had arisen, being replaced with the numb emptiness of a friendship that would never be returned. Both his instincts and his pragmatic nature wouldn't allow him to deny the reality in front of his face, but that didn't make accepting the reality any easier. Tippy was gone and there was nothing that he could do about it.

With slow steps, Littlefoot walked towards Cera and Ducky who were attempting to support Spike from a distance. With a few brief looks exchanged between the three fastbiters, he spoke authoritatively. "You should get Spike out of here. Bring him back to the den. Seeing Tippy like this... isn't going to help."

With a few slow nods, the two fastbiters tried to get Spike to follow them back to the den. The poor fastbiter obviously needed time to rest and think about his loss. This was something that only time would heal. As the three fastbiters began to walk away, Ruby whispered into Littlefoot's ear.

"What... um." There really wasn't any tactful way of asking the question. "What should we do with Tippy?"

Littlefoot looked back at Ruby with a slightly angry expression, but when he saw Ruby quickly look away in fear and regret, he quickly sighed and recollected himself. He couldn't get mad at Ruby for considering the subject of food. Nothing would be gained by having Tippy go to waste. Go to waste. Ha. I guess that I am a sharptooth now, to have a thought like that. He thought without humor. He quickly shook his head and answered the rose colored fastbiter in a soft voice.

"I guess we can drag him back towards the den, but... not too close to it. We don't want Finder to find him, you know."

Ruby nodded. "I guess that would be best..." She trailed off and placed a comforting hand on Littlefoot's back. "Let's move him before somebody finds us."

Littlefoot heard footsteps approaching and saw that Chomper had joined them and was giving Littlefoot a sympathetic look. They were all in this together. He had no doubt that as long as they stuck together that they could get through anything. Even something as senseless as the loss of Tippy.

In silence, each of them bit down on Tippy's body and proceeded to drag it towards the den.

......

Bron and Doc had quickened their pace when they heard the loud roar earlier. They were now in the fastest trot that a full-grown longneck could manage. As the sound of stomping echoed across the swamp, they couldn't tell if they were getting close to their destination. The grass and other vegetation made finding dinosaurs and following tracks nearly impossible. They were operating blind in the search for their latest lead.

To speed up their search, Bron suggested that they split up while remaining within visual range of one another. That way each could call the other for backup if they found Tippy, while they could still double their coverage area. Accordingly, Doc was now by the river bank in his search, whereas Bron was fast approaching a clearing in the lush vegetation.

That was when he saw it.

Blood.

There was blood all over the clearing and a depression where a body must have laid. Bron's heart quickened its pace as the possible implications of that finding began to dawn on him. Following the trail of blood with his eyes, he could see that it led out into the tall grass that was adjacent to the clearing. He couldn't see much through the grass, there was only the vegetation waving in the wind and...

Something purple.

He looked closer and could see the tell-tale shape of a tail peek out of the grass, followed by a familiar face. He knew that face. With rage building deep inside the longneck, he didn't even think to call for Doc's help. The only motivation of the longneck's brain was the destruction of the sharptooth that killed his son.

"Chomper!"

For a brief moment the eyes of the two dinosaurs locked despite the distance between them. Bron's eyes communicated nothing but malice and contempt, whereas Chomper's showed surprise and palpable fear. Chomper's two companions also observed the newcomer with looks of dawning horror and dropped what they were dragging behind them. The body of a young spiketail. That was when Bron's rage-filled brain made another deduction.

Tippy. They had killed Tippy.

With a rage-filled roar, Bron charged at the three sharpteeth as they began to bolt away from their pursuer. Littlefoot and Tippy were going to be avenged if it was the last thing that he ever did. He would make sure of that.

The chase was on.


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