The Seven Hunters

Chapter 41 Complications

“To save all we must risk all.”

― Friedrich Schiller, Fiesco; or, the Genoese Conspiracy

No... Not like this.

Littlefoot stared at the charging longneck in horror. Of all of the ways he could have reunited with his father, this was the one that he hoped would never come to pass. His father was now charging at him and his friends in a murderous rage. Tippy's corpse lay between the three dinosaurs, having been dropped when Bron started his chase. Undoubtedly Bron now thought that they had killed Tippy... He was outed as a killer even before he could talk to his father. If he even would get that chance.

Littlefoot was so distracted by his own thoughts that he froze in place. In a panic, his two friends tried to get him out of his stupor.

"Seeker! Seeker!"

"We need to get moving!"

"Oh no!"

Smack!

Littlefoot turned his head in astonishment at the sudden assault. It was Ruby! She had slapped him across the face in order to get him out of his melancholy. Rather than be upset at this development, he immediately came to and realized that he had to be a leader.

"Let's go! Head for the forest!" He shouted in sudden imperiousness.

The three dinosaurs launched into a headlong sprint towards the nearest forest, some half mile away. However, Littlefoot's distraction had cost them a lot of time. Bron was steadily gaining on them.

......

Run all you want, you bastard! My son will be avenged!

Bron ran with undaunted resolve towards the three fleeing sharpteeth. However, his focus was on one of them in particular.

Chomper.

He didn't know which sharptooth had dealt the killing blow on his son, but he did know that if it wasn't for Chomper then Littlefoot would still be alive. Instead, the purple sharptooth had allowed sharpteeth into the valley and betrayed his longneck friend and his beloved companions. Bron owed it to himself and the valley to complete his mission. Not only did Bron's guilt-ridden heart demand vengeance, but the valley itself needed Chomper's pack eliminated. If the sharpteeth outside of the valley learned of its secret entrances and weaknesses... The consequences were too dire to imagine.

"Bron!"

The longneck heard Doc call his name in confusion, but Bron paid him little heed. He was fixated on his sworn mission. For Littlefoot, Tippy, and all of the others that these fiends had killed, he would end Chomper's reign of terror.

Nothing would stop him now.

......

Ruby spared a quick look at her companions as they continued their hasty retreat.

Littlefoot was sprinting slightly ahead of Chomper, having recovered from his momentary shock at seeing his father again. He still had an almost glazed-over expression on his face, as if he were running in a trance. She feared that the sudden confrontation by his father had broken something in her close friend. She and Chomper at least had access to their parents and they knew of their children's fate, but Littlefoot and the others lacked that luxury. It seemed that they were doomed to simply being seen as part of the enemy. As the sharpteeth who had "killed" their beloved children. She hoped that the sense of loneliness and betrayal would eventually fade from Littlefoot's eyes, but it seemed that fate was not letting their past stay behind them.

In fact, Bron was keeping up with them.

Taking a look behind her, she could see that Bron was now only about ten longneck lengths behind them and not losing any distance. They had faster movements, but Bron could take wider strides. It was odd, however. They had easily outrun longnecks and threehorns before, but yet they couldn't seem to shake Bron from their trail. It seemed that he was pushing his body to its limit in his single-minded desire to catch them. It was both heart-breaking and frightening.

She turned back to the direction they were traveling. They were only about ten longneck lengths away from the safety of the dense forest. They only had to maintain their run for a few more moments and they would be free.

Thud!

Ruby turned suddenly in order to ascertain the source of the noise. It was Chomper! He had tripped and fallen in the grass! Bron would be upon them in mere moments. She had to do something!

With little regard for herself, she sprung into action. Despite the increasing volume of the longneck's thundering footsteps, She immediately ran to the side of her friend. Her sudden action was caught by Littlefoot after a moment's confusion and he too ran towards his friends.

"Path, we have to go!" Ruby screamed as she lifted him off of the ground. To the relief of both fastbiters, he seemed to still be aware of their dire situation and immediately resumed his sprint in the direction of the forest. But it was too late...

Crash!

Ruby barely caught sight of Littlefoot tackling Chomper and pushing him out of the way when the ground around them seemed to explode in a torrent of mud and debris. The fastbiters careened end over end as the surge of dirt and mud covered everything that they could see. After what seemed like ages, but was only a split second, each came to rest in a prone position. Ruby was too stunned by the sudden percussion to quite realize what had happened. But then the realization hit Ruby: the explosion of the ground, the sudden percussion... Bron must have struck out with his tail!

That was when they heard Bron's rage-filled voice.

"Chomper, you evil brute! This is for my son!"

Turning her head in fear, she could see that Bron was preparing his tail for another strike.

......

Chomper could see the massive appendage rise into the air and he knew that he and his friends only had a few seconds left. With that in mind he tried to buy some time.

"I didn't hurt Littlefoot!" Chomper protested loudly in leaf-eater. He knew that Bron wouldn't believe him based upon how the other residents of the valley had acted after their discovery on the fateful night, but he figured that he would at least try. While he waited for the massive longneck's response, he began to jab Littlefoot in the ribs. The fastbiter was slowly beginning to stir, as the near miss of Bron's tail had discombobulated the poor dinosaur. Littlefoot had to be alert for them to have any chance of escape.

"Don't lie to me you worthless dung pile! I heard the stories from the valley! I saw Littlefoot's bones by the forest!" Bron stomped the ground in rage, which caused all of the dinosaurs in the vicinity to vibrate with the ground. Littlefoot began to stir from his position and joined his friends in looking up at the massive sauropod. Distantly, Chomper could also hear much more muffled footsteps in the background. Doc was approaching. They were fast running out of time.

"Do you have anything to say, sharptooth?!" Bron roared at Chomper. His tail was cocked in preparation to strike. Bron was entirely fixated on the purple sharptooth. Even if they were to scatter, Chomper knew who Bron would aim towards.

Chomper closed his eyes for a moment, before taking a deep breath. He quickly gestured with his two small arms, telling his two companions to run in opposite directions of him. He knew that he would be unable to avoid Bron's strike, but he would make sure that his friends were alright. Bron's single-minded fixation on him gave both Ruby and Littlefoot a chance. With tears beginning to well up in his closed eyes, he made one final request of his friends.

"If this goes badly, tell mommy and daddy I was brave."

Both Ruby and Littlefoot looked horrified at Chomper's sudden resolve and Littlefoot began to protest. "Path..."

That was when Chomper opened his eyes.

An odd, serene expression was set in those eyes. It was as if they contained wariness beyond Chomper's years. Whereas Bron's eyes only communicated rage and determination, Chomper's conveyed an odd mix of determination and regret. A determination to save his friends even if he couldn't save himself and regret that he would never be able to say those words that he needed to say. Although he knew that his friends knew them anyway. With a sad expression, he spoke what he thought would be his last words.

"You're making a terrible mistake." Without pausing he hissed in sharptooth. "Now, guys!"

Following Chomper's plan, both Ruby and Littlefoot ran in opposite directions away from the purple sharptooth as Chomper began to run away from Bron in the direction of the forest. He heard a final taunt from the enraged longneck.

"Not as bad as yours!"

Chomper ran with all of his might, but he knew that his situation was hopeless. Even though his body continued its retreat, he internally awaited the final blow that would put an end to his short life.

"Ahhh!!!"

At Bron's sudden scream, Chomper knew that it was all over. He would never see his friends again. He would never be able to tell his parents how much he loved them. He would never be able to grow up and perhaps start a family of his own. His lineage would end with his inauspicious death by the actions of a rogue longneck. At that was left was the final blow by the massive tail of his best friend's father. Which would be ending his short life at any moment.

Any moment now.

Any moment...

Wait, I am still alive?

Without breaking his stride, Chomper took a glance back at the massive longneck and could see that he was struggling to remove a splinter of some kind from his rear leg.

Wait, a splinter? Chomper glanced back at the figure for a moment. It wasn't a splinter, it was a spear! But who had speared Bron? Whoever it was saved his life. As the feeling of relief washed over him, he felt a presence to his left. He immediately turned and saw two green fastbiters catching up to him.

"Keep running, Chomper!" Spike called.

The lighter green fastbiter then spoke encouragingly. "We're almost there. Yep! Yep! Yep!"

As Chomper looked towards his destination, he could see that Ruby and Littlefoot had both made it and they were being joined by Cera, who was clutching a spear in hand. The rest of the pack had come to their rescue.

As Chomper ran into the safety of the thick forest, he could hear Doc's footsteps stop, presumably at Bron's location. That was when he heard something that made his blood run cold.

"I swear on my son's honor, Chomper, I will kill you! I will kill you if it is the last thing that I ever do!"

Chomper looked towards Littlefoot, who was now on the verge of collapse he noticed. His eyes were tearless, but his expression still conveyed shock and horror. Ruby and Cera were both at his side whispering some words of comfort, but they didn't seem to be having much of an effect. Ducky and Spike both simply looked on. The pack had stuck together and came to one another's aid, but their leader seemed to be directionless now that his father had made an appearance. Each of them now seemed concerned that he would be unable to function at all.

After a few moments, however, Littlefoot seemed to regain some of his composure and he mutely gestured towards home.

In solemn silence, the pack quietly resumed their journey to their home. None of them were looking forward to the inevitable conversation that awaited them.

......

Terri quite enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon. She, like most other large biters, conserved her energy during times of plenty and there was no more enjoyable way of doing that then taking a mid-afternoon nap.

Snort!

She opened her eyes. Well, the nap was good while it lasted. Terri thought to herself, as she gave Dein a slight nudge with her forelimbs. He didn't even stir, as nearly nothing could awaken Dein when he was peacefully asleep. She didn't really want to wake him up anyway. She simply wanted him to roll over so his snoring would cease.

As the snoring did not abate, she rolled her eyes and proceeded to get up. That was when she saw the children enter the clearing. I wonder what they have been up to today? She thought to herself. That was when she caught sight of Chomper and Littlefoot both limping at the front of the group.

"What happened, Path?!" She exclaimed loudly, as Dein immediately woke from his slumber. Both sharpteeth looked towards Chomper with concerned eyes. Not only was he and Littlefoot injured, but the others seemed quite shaken up as well. Was it a hunt gone bad? A dominance battle in the pack? The possibilities ran through her head like raindrops.

Path looked reticent, Terri observed, as he seemed to try to process what to say. However, Littlefoot soon answered for him.

"My father happened."

Terri looked at the brown fastbiter with some confusion, before the situation began to dawn to her. Littlefoot, or "Seeker" as her son had renamed him, used to be a longneck. Therefore, his father... Oh dear!

Terri took a quick look over at Dein, who had now risen to his full height, and the two shared a brief glance. It seemed that her mate's mind had made the same deductions that she had. He went from a look of some confusion to a look of grim resolve. His face communicated one thought to her: this was far more than a simple skirmish. If Littlefoot's father truly believed that Chomper killed his son then this would not be the last they would see of him. She returned a halting gesture with her forelimbs as she turned around to face the children once again. She knew that Dein would be hell-bent on removing the threat, but she realized that she had to be delicate here. This was Littlefoot's father, after all.

"Gather around, children. Let us take a look at your injuries and then we will talk about this..."

......

"Then we stabbed Bron with the pointed sticks. We did, we did." Ducky finished.

Dein nodded. It seemed that the pack's strategy of using pointed sticks had proven useful yet again. They could not take down a full-grown longneck, of course, but they could cause enough damage to distract the beast. It had proven to be enough to save his son. For that he was eternally grateful.

"You two saved my son..." He then gave the two fastbiters a nuzzle. Ducky freely accepted the gesture, whereas Spike gave little reaction.

That is an odd reaction. Dein mused. In response he took a closer look at the green fastbiter.

Spike looked utterly exhausted. Not only did his body show signs of physical fatigue, a sign that was shared by all of the others, but he also had dreariness in his eyes. A sign of mental exhaustion. Upon reflecting for a split second, Dein figured that Spike was still distraught over the loss of his friend, Tippy. The fact that Spike's friend had died was mentioned in passing during Ducky's story, but Dein could tell that it was not a mere afterthought to the green fastbiter. No, this was something far more hurtful.

Although Dein could not relate to having a leaf-eater friend, he could understand the agony of losing someone due to a situation that is out of your control. It was a fact of life for sharpteeth that even though you may consider another sharptooth to be a friend, they may die in dominance battles or fights over mates. In such circumstances, no reprisals could be launched, nor condemnations made. If a dinosaur called another out in single combat or a were to enter into another's territory, then the dinosaur in question was responsible for their own demise as far as tradition was concerned. Dein had lost more than a few acquaintances under such circumstances and he could do nothing to avenge them without being in the wrong. It was a fact of life that he eventually learned to accept, but not without regret for those he lost.

He looked at Spike again. I need to make him understand that he did help one of his friends today. He couldn't help Tippy, but he did save my son. Dein sighed softly. I hope he gets the message.

Dein continued. "Had Chomper died... I don't know what I would have done. Thank you both." He then gave them a second nuzzle. He was pleased to see that Spike returned the gesture this time. Although Dein knew that Spike's pain would not heal overnight, he was relieved that Spike was again showing signs of responsiveness. He knew that as long as Spike was responsive then the rest of the pack would attend to his emotional needs. They were far better at emotional support than he was.

As Dein raised his head after nuzzling the two fastbiters, he noticed the expressions of the rest of the pack. Path was still consoling his mother over the ordeal, while Terri was still teary-eyed at the thought of potentially losing Chomper. Both he and Terri had their run-ins with death in the previous month; the last thing that they wanted was for Chomper to have his own brush with mortality. Thankfully his friends were there to save him.

Looking at the remainder of the pack, Dein could see that both Cera and Ruby were staring at Littlefoot with more than a little concern. Littlefoot. Dein thought of the former longneck in his original leaf-eater name, as it was an echo of that life which had confronted him on this day. The poor leader of the pack had come face-to-face with his father and had been nearly killed by the same. What would Chomper have done if he faced me and I... Dein couldn't even finish that thought. To be threatened by your own flesh and blood, even if they were now a different kind, was too horrible to contemplate. Dein knew that what he would have to talk to Littlefoot about would haunt the poor fastbiter, but he had no choice. Bron was a threat to his son and to all of Littlefoot's other friends. He would have to be dealt with, father or not.

"Littlefoot?"

The use of Littlefoot's leaf-eater name, or rather the equivalent in the sharptooth language, was not lost on the others as they all turned and looked towards the massive sharptooth. Dein was not concerned with all of them, however, he was only fixated on the dinosaur that he had called.

Littlefoot was hunched over in a pose that communicated exhaustion. It almost seemed as if it was only the leaning of Ruby's and Cera's bodies against his that kept him upright. His eyes, which were now fixed upon Dein's, were free of tears but still had a haunted look to them. Yes, the day's events had taken their toll on Littlefoot. Dein decided that he would not rush the poor fastbiter. He would wait until he was ready to respond.

"Yes..." Littlefoot muttered softly.

Dein sighed. He was not the most diplomatic sharptooth. In fact, that was quite an understatement. However, he was still reasonable enough to recognize that he would have to be gentle in how he broached this subject. With that in mind, he began his statement.

"I know it must be hard for you, Littlefoot. But... You are the leader of your pack." The tone was firm, but understanding. Dein was trying to appeal to Littlefoot's leadership qualities so that he would recall his first duty. His duty to the rest of the pack. "What do you think needs to be done here? How can you keep them safe?" Dein knew that he was being manipulative, but Littlefoot needed to confront the reality of this situation sooner rather than later. The longer that he reflected on his previous life and his previous relationships, the harder it would be for him to do what needed to be done.

Littlefoot gulped. The former longneck took on a grim expression, as he proceeded to look down at the ground. He seemed to be deep in thought, but after a few moments he responded to Dein's questions.

"He... he won't stop chasing us, will he?" It wasn't really a question as Littlefoot and the others already knew the answer. "And we can't talk to him... He won't give us a chance..."

Dein nodded. "And none of us would allow you to risk yourself like that. You nearly died today, Seeker." He returned to using Littlefoot's sharptooth name, as he had succeeded in shifting the former longneck's focus to his leadership duties.

Littlefoot took in a shaky breath. "I can't kill him..." There it was. The obvious end result of Bron's quest for vengeance. If he was truly hell-bent on the destruction of the pack, then either he would succeed in killing them or they would have to strike first. "I can't kill my own dad! I'm not a monster!"

Littlefoot immediately collapsed in broke into tears. The emotional dam had broken under the combined weight of his obligations and memories. As Dein watched both Ruby and Cera come to the fastbiter's aid, he felt some guilt about driving Littlefoot into this state, but he knew that is was necessary. Littlefoot would be unable to function in the emotionally-numb state that he had been in previously. At least now he could confront his emotional turmoil and reflect upon what had to happen. Depending on when Bron wanted to strike next, they may not have much time. All of the sharpteeth needed to agree on a strategy in order to remove the threat to their survival. In order to do that, Littlefoot had to be a leader again.

Dein gave an apologetic look to Terri, but she did not give him the angry expression that he had expected. Instead, she returned his apologetic gaze with a sad, knowing expression. It seemed that she understood what he was doing quite clearly. For that, he was quite relieved. It appeared that they would have to take out Bron and Doc sooner or later, whether or not Littlefoot actually helped in the battle or not. In order to take that step, Littlefoot needed to be prepared for the harsh reality that faced them.

Dein slowly kneeled down and lowered his head towards the grieving brown fastbiter. It was as if Littlefoot already mourned for his father. Dein mused that Littlefoot probably felt as if his father were already dead even though he was currently among the living. His father simply viewed Littlefoot as another sharptooth. With that in mind, Dein decided to speak directly with Littlefoot.

"I know that this is hard on you, Seeker. No one should ever be placed in this situation." The brown fastbiter again focused his attention on the massive sharptooth, as the other two fastbiters continued to comfort their leader. Seeing that Littlefoot was again focused on him, he continued. "No one is going to ask you to help... take your father down." Littlefoot was beginning to shake in grief, but he kept his gaze on Dein. "But you have to realize Seeker that we can't let him hunt all of you down. We have to do what we must in order to defend the pack. You understand?"

Without waiting for Littlefoot to respond, Ruby whispered at him. "We're sorry, Littlefoot... But if your dad attacks us then we have to do what we have to do." Her voice conveyed sadness mixed with concern, but there also was firmness there. A firm resolution to do whatever was required to protect the pack. It was a firmness that Littlefoot's voice usually contained and that verbal echo seemed to awaken something within Littlefoot's psyche. Both fastbiters locked eyes for a moment as each seemed to convey their thoughts through a nonverbal language of their own. Each pair of eyes staring deeply into the yellow depths of the others.

Littlefoot slowly broke eye contact and gave a light nod at Ruby's comments. Taking a moment, he briefly looked at the rest of the pack. Cera continued to look at him with a concerned expression, which was a mannerism that she shared with Ruby at the moment. His emotional breakdown had caught her by surprise and she had reacted in an almost sisterly way. There were no biting comments, no sarcasm, and no appeals to strength. She appeared to simply want him to get back to his old self. He then looked over at Ducky and Spike, the two who had saved Chomper and quite possibly Ruby and himself. They looked back with concerned expressions. Ducky's eyes were red with the evidence of crying, whereas Spike's gaze simply conveyed sympathy. Finally, Littlefoot looked back towards Chomper, who was looking back towards his best friend from his current location, by his mother's massive foot. It seemed that entire pack was stopped in anticipation of their leader's next move.

An internal battle had been waged within Littlefoot's mind. A battle between memories of the days past and his current obligations to the pack. A battle between family and his friends. A battle between a hopeless dream and a harsh reality. Littlefoot had always been the idealist of the group in many ways. But now he was being faced with another unwinnable situation. The first time that he had been faced with one of these, he had finally resorted to hunting - leading to Rhett's death at his claws. Would he now have to do the same to his father? Had it come to this? With dawning horror, Littlefoot realized that he had already made up his mind. He would do anything to protect his friends, as he now considered the pack his family. In fact, they were the only family he had left. He would kill for them and, if necessary, he would be killed for them. He would never forgive himself if it came down to killing Bron, but he knew that he would do it all the same if there were no other alternative.

Again looking at Dein, Littlefoot simply nodded his head. "I will do whatever it takes... But I don't think that I could..." This was harder than Littlefoot ever anticipated.

Dein lightly nuzzled the brown fastbiter. "Don't worry... We will take care of the kill if it comes to that... But we need to know that you will help keep everyone else safe."

Ignoring the sense that his world was collapsing around him, Littlefoot took a deep, shuddering breath. He then gave the only answer that his sense of duty would allow him to give. "I will."

......

As the sun sank below the horizon, Chomper stared at the figure by the forest. Everyone else had settled down to go to sleep, but Littlefoot remained at the threshold of the trees, seemingly looking at the night sky. Taking a deep breath, he began to walk towards the lone fastbiter, but was suddenly stopped by a familiar set of claws that had grasped ahold of his shoulder.

Chomper turned his gaze to the dinosaur that had stopped him and noted that Ruby was shaking her head slowly. "Littlefoot needs to be alone for a while, Chomper. He needs to think by himself so that he can be himself."

Chomper blinked. He didn't quite understand. "But he is sad! We were all trying to cheer him up earlier. Why shouldn't we try to help him now?"

Ruby smiled a sad smile at the purple sharptooth. "Trust me, Path; I would help him if I could. But right now he needs to think alone. Do you remember when I would go to my thinking place back in the valley?" At Chomper's nod, she continued. "There are some truths that you have to find for yourself, Path. There are some paths that you have to walk alone."

Chomper pondered this for a moment, but he still didn't understand. "I don't get it, Ruby."

Ruby smiled with a small amount of amusement. "I know, Chomper. But you will one day." She then spared another look at Littlefoot's long shadow that seemed to grow out of the night circle's light. She decided that she could provide some encouragement to the small dinosaur. "If he doesn't come back to us soon then I will check on him. Okay, Chomper?"

At Chomper's reluctant nod, both dinosaurs turned and walked back to the sleeping area. Littlefoot was being left alone in order to consider his troubled thoughts.

......

Littlefoot was totally unaware of the others watching him from a distance, as he stared at the full night circle. Its brilliant light seemed to mock the darkness that permeated the rest of the sky. It was a perfect metaphor for the small hope that bubbled inside of him despite the grave darkness of his inner thoughts.

He knew that it would be hopeless to have the pack confront Bron and try to explain their situation. For one thing, Bron wouldn't believe them and the pack wouldn't have enough time to provide proof until his father and Doc would crush them underfoot. An open conversation was therefore impossible. That only left the possibilities of waiting until Bron attacked and responding... or attacking first and gaining the initiative. Both of the possibilities would put his own father's blood on his claws. He may not be directly responsible for the killing blow, but he would have contributed to his death nonetheless. It was a horrifying possibility that seemed to become more real as time went on. If only there was some way for him to explain himself without risking the entire pack...

That was it!

With a sudden determined expression on his face, Littlefoot began to advance into the forest. He knew exactly what he had to do.

He had to confront Bron alone.

......

Meanwhile, outside of Haven Valley:

"So here it is." Chronos intoned as the small valley came into sight.

It was hard to believe that they had traveled so far to get to the Great Valley, only to be forced to leave it nearly as soon as they had arrived. But that was what a voracious swarm of swarming buzzers could do. Now here they were at what the residents called The Haven Valley, a place that they first encountered the last time that the valley had been beset by the ravenous insects. It would have to sustain them until the valley became lush again.

"It appears so." Logos muttered. She frowned at the scene before her.

It would have been much easier to put their plans into operation within the Great Valley, but they would simply have to settle with what fate had given them. As soon as the residents got settled down, they would impart their manufactured story to some of the other residents. They had to plant the seeds of doubt on the matter of the children's "deaths". Only if they did this would they have a chance to be reunited with their parents. Despite their claimed dispassionate interest in this world, each had developed a sense of duty when it came to these children. Not only where they intelligent and brave, but they were also the next step of evolution for their respective species. They would try to give them every chance to succeed.

Without any further conversation, the two rainbowfaces followed the others into the valley. Hopefully they would be safe until the vegetation returned to the valley.

......

None of the dinosaurs present noticed the pair of yellow eyes watching them from above. The sharptooth flyer seemed to examine the herd for a few moments, as if he were making a head count, and then fixed the herd with a wide smile.

Red Claw will be very interested in this!

Without making a sound, he slowly turned towards the south.


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