The Seven Hunters

Chapter 42 Enemy mine: A new perspective

“Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As Chomper's breathing slowed down to a steady rhythm, Ruby knew that the small sharptooth was finally asleep.

The poor little biter was deeply concerned about Littlefoot. This was a sentiment that the rose colored fastbiter and, for that matter, everyone else in the pack shared. She had the luxury of still being able to contact her parents, albeit from a distance. But Littlefoot was now left with no one. The only parent which he now had contact with wanted the fastbiter dead. None of his family knew of his fate. This was a fate that was shared by Spike, Ducky, and Cera of course, but it was far more prominent in Littlefoot's case. It was far more tragic when the unreachable goal was right in front of your face, as opposed to a distant memory. Bron's arrival meant that no one could simply let go of their old lives and move on with being sharpteeth. No... Now they had to confront their pasts. It was not an undertaking that appealed to any of them.

Being careful not to wake the others who were resting right beside her, Ruby rose from her prone position and stretched. She had promised to check up on Littlefoot and she supposed that she had better make good on her promise to Chomper. With hesitant eyes, she looked towards the edge of the forest where Littlefoot was sitting previously.

But no one was there.

She blinked. Had Littlefoot gone deeper in the forest in order to get more privacy? Had he decided to sleep away from the pack for the night? Knowing that she wouldn't get her answers simply staring at empty space, she advanced towards his last known resting spot. Perhaps it was time to put her tracking skills to the test...

......

Littlefoot creeped through the tall grass in a slow, methodical fashion. Despite his resolution to confront his father alone, his mind was screaming its objections to this course of action. The possibilities of what could happen were plain for him to see. He could be killed. He could be chased. At the very least, he could leave disappointed at his father's response. However, he knew that he had to try. He would not write off his only chance to speak with his father one last time, nor would he willingly condemn the longneck to death. He had to take this chance, no matter how small, in order to explain his side of the story to his wayward parent. Of that he was unwavering.

However, there was still the question of how to approach him.

This was something that Littlefoot had thought about for several moments. He couldn't just wake Bron up and tell him that he was Bron's son. No... That would be a good way to get killed. He needed to gain the longneck's trust (or at least cooperation) through other means and then he could slowly reveal the truth. Although the former longneck was hesitant to be dishonest with his father, he knew that the consequences of inaction would only lead to Bron's death in self-defense or, worse yet, the death of Littlefoot and his friends. If avoiding that outcome meant lying to his father then that was something that he would do.

He knew exactly the story he would use as well.

It was obvious from the threat that Bron screamed upon their escape and his single-minded focus during the chase that Bron wanted Chomper dead. Apparently he blamed Chomper for Littlefoot’s "death" and the "deaths" of his friends as well. So that was the angle that he would use. If Bron thought that he was willing to betray Chomper and lead Bron to the wayward sharptooth then perhaps that would give Littlefoot enough time to try to convince his father of his story. If not...

If not, then Littlefoot would try to escape and do what he had to do. He had to give his father the best possible chance of avoiding a date with death, but if his sole remaining parent insisted on bringing harm to his friends then Littlefoot knew that he would do whatever it took to protect the pack. He could hate himself later. It would simply be one more unforgivable transgression built upon nearly a half year of unsavory deeds. Littlefoot almost couldn't recognize himself anymore.

Littlefoot leaned himself closer to the ground. He could tell that he was getting closer to the spiketail herd as he could hear the distinct rumbling from the sleeping multitudes. The stench of the robust herbivores was also becoming overpowering. He had heard others joke about Spike's odor back when they were herbivores in the valley, but with his improved sniffer he had to admit that spiketails diffidently had a distinct stench. Shaking his head at his momentary burst of wistfulness, he decided to peek over the grass and take a look at what lay before him.

Spiketails. Dozens upon dozens of spiketails lay before him. Each lay prone on the bare ground in a scene of restful slumber. Only one of the herd members seemed different than the others. A large... Female... Littlefoot could deduce from the scent radiating from her direction, was shifting uneasy in her sleep. There was no male accompanying her as soft moans and sighs could be heard emanating from her mouth.

That must be Tippy's mother. Littlefoot thought to himself. Poor Tippy...

Littlefoot only spared a few moments, however, before resuming his visual search. The nearly full night circle gave him enough light to examine the land around him. His enhanced sharptooth eyes were able to pick out details that his old herbivorous body would have overlooked. He needed to find Bron. But curiously he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary in his range of vision. Maybe he should try another area or...

There they are!

To his far left he could see two much larger forms. These dinosaurs were obviously not spiketails. These were the sleeping forms of Bron and Doc. The pack's potential downfall. He would have to approach them carefully. But he would have to be mindful of unforeseen dangers. It wasn't typically the known dangers that got you, it was the unknown...

Crack!

Littlefoot crashed to the ground in a defensive maneuver as he swiveled and raised his claws in a protective pose. Someone had snuck up on him! But how could that be? He was the best at sneaking on prey in the pack. In fact only one of the pack was better than him at that feat and that was...

"You are here, Littlefoot. But why are you here?"

Ruby.

Littlefoot sighed. He had wanted to go alone as he knew that the rest of the pack would try to stop him. However, it seemed that his hopes of a clean getaway were now dashed. He supposed that he had to salvage the situation. With a hesitant gesture, he raised his clawed hand and gestured for Ruby to move in closer. As she did so, Littlefoot whispered into her ear.

"I can't let Bron end it like this... I have to stop him."

Ruby stared at Littlefoot for a few moments in disbelief. Then she placed her forelimbs at her sides in a show of indignation. Ruby was furious. Her whispered response was very nearly a hiss.

"I won't let you, Seeker! I am a friend and friends don't allow friends to kill themselves." As Littlefoot took on a dark expression, Ruby stared right back and pointed a single claw at Littlefoot's face. "I care for you, Seeker. Everyone does. Even if you don't think that you deserve it."

Littlefoot was taken aback by Ruby's impassioned retort and took a moment to compose himself. Finally after a brief moment he responded.

"I am not going to kill myself, Ruby. That is not why I am here."

Ruby shook her head. "That may be so, Seeker, but Bron will kill you all the same. It is too risky!" She sighed in exasperation. "What would you tell your daddy in order to make him believe you anyway? Because I don't think he would believe you regardless of what you tell him."

Littlefoot sighed. Ruby was at least getting to a point where he could tell her his plan. He supposed that it was time to let her know what he had in mind.

"Well... You see... I am thinking about tricking him..." Littlefoot then elaborated on his exact plan. It took several moments and Ruby seemed ready to interject at several times, but she allowed him to finish. "So that is what I plan to do."

Ruby stared at Littlefoot for several moments. It was an expression that made Littlefoot want to crawl under a rock. He knew that this was not going to go his way.

"That is crazy, Seeker. He could crush you before you have a chance to speak... he could think you're crazy and then crush you... There is too much that could go wrong!" She then placed her clawed hand on his should and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Seeker. But you have to go back to the den..."

Littlefoot shook in agitation. "I won't go until I try to stop my dad!"

Ruby sighed. "Then I will get the rest of the pack, Seeker. As your friend, I can't let you do this. I can't let you do this because you are my friend."

Littlefoot collapsed to the ground and began to look despondently at the fastbiter. His emotional state was not lost on Ruby.

"It will get better, Littlefoot." She apparently figured it was time to use his leaf-eater name as he was reflecting on that part of his life. "I don't know how... But it will get better."

Littlefoot shook his head. "Not for my dad! And not for me!" He then rose to his full height in a manic frenzy. Some of the spiketail's in the adjacent herd began to stir. Littlefoot noticed this and immediately lowered his voice, but not his emotions. "If I kill my dad or sit aside and watch him die then I will never forgive myself. Do you understand?" His tone brokered no disagreement. "I don't care who you are. This is something that I have to do. If it doesn't work..." His voice broke for a moment, but he recomposed himself. "If it doesn't work then we will do what we must... But right now, I must do this."

Littlefoot awaited the rose colored fastbiter's rebuttal, but none came. With some trepidation, he looked back in her direction. He immediately observed his pink counterpart shake her head in an exasperated expression.

"Fine, Seeker. But I am going with you."

Littlefoot shook his head at this. "No... Ponder, I can't have you risk..."

He didn't get to finish that statement, as Ruby grasped both of his shoulders with her clawed hands. Her counterpart brokered no disagreement. "Shut up." Littlefoot blinked at that most un-Ruby-like statement. "You just told me that it was worth risking your life to stop your daddy. That stopping your daddy was worth risking your life. If that is so, Seeker, then you have to accept that it is worth having me tag along. Because I would never forgive myself if I allowed something to happen to you."

Littlefoot was taken aback at his friend's expression of loyalty and love. He was so shocked that he almost didn't know what to say. Words would not do his emotions justice. Instead, he only said one thing.

"You're... You're a true friend, Ruby."

Ruby's expression softened. Littlefoot's grateful expression and use of her leaf-eater name communicated volumes that words simply couldn't express. Knowing that any further words would be inadequate, she gave an equally understated response.

"As are you, Littlefoot."

With no further words being exchanged between the two fastbiters, both of them emerged from the tall grass. They had a meeting with Bron to attend to. The consequences would be anyone's guess.

......

Meanwhile, high above the lowlands:

Despite the coming of the night, Petrie continued his flight over the darkened expanse that was the lowlands. The former home of the pack seemed so peaceful in the black void of the night, but the darkness was broken by the magnificent light of the night circle. It was because of the night circle that Petrie decided to fly on, despite the pervasive darkness. He still remembered where Skytail's pack used to reside and he felt that he could still find it. There was just enough light.

There it is! Petrie thought to himself. Old home.

Petrie could see the former residence of the pack. He knew that Skytail's pack had planned on moving into to the small cave after Littlefoot's pack left, so it only made sense for Petrie to begin his search there. Having not been present for the recent developments involving Calin, the flyer still hoped that when he found them he could get more information on the mysterious fastbiter. It would also be a good chance to catch up with their old allies. They hadn't had a chance to speak with Skytail's pack since their departure several months ago. It would be good to catch up with old friends.

Feeling determined, Petrie silently descended from his height and directed himself towards the welcoming cave.

......

The barren land, just outside the Land of Shallow Waters:

Night had also fallen on the barren lands outside of the Land of Shallow Waters. In the dust covered expanse only the reflected light of the night circle gave any illumination. Yet, that was enough to make the arid land visible to those with keen night vision.

And Calin, being a predator, was one of those.

Stopping for a moment in his monotonous jog, he looked up at the night circle. Superficially there was nothing special about the brilliant orb. In fact, Calin never bothered to pay careful attention to celestial features anyway. Staring at stars and reading omens into their movements was a vapid superstition that he left to the weak-minded. He couldn't care less about how they moved, why the existed, or even what they actually were. They didn't seem to help him in any discernible way except to bring light to his night hunts. However, something different was going on tonight. Calin could feel it. A feeling that he couldn't quite explain. Something instinctual that seemed to scream in his subconscious. But for all of his peering at the night circle, he could see nothing out of the ordinary.

"Heh... It's just the same grey ball." Calin muttered to himself.

Feeling a bit useless staring at the orb, he promptly resumed his journey across the sand. It was time to begin to put his plots into motion. Ever since the incident with the other fastbiter pack his life had taken a turn for the worse.

"Argh! Damn tail!" Calin hissed as he clutched the suddenly pain-stricken appendage. He was indisposed with pain for several moments to such an extent that tears actually threatened to appear in his eyes. But after a few moments the pain eased. That had been the worst attack in several days.

Sucking down a deep breath, Calin recomposed himself after a moment. Normally, he would feel a slight throbbing pain and know that a major attack was on the way. He had used this knowledge to his advantage and hid the true extent of his disability to the others in his pack. Any sign of weakness would have meant a challenge for leadership and a prompt death for the tan fastbiter. It was a system that he quite approved of when he was the dominant fastbiter.

When, that was. He was certainly not the leader anymore.

He soon learned that the orange substance that he found on his tail after Skytail's attack was from a poisonous sap. He deduced that Skytail must have poisoned him, hence why he had attempted a seemingly fruitless final attack. Skytail wanted Calin dead even from the grave. Calin suspected that a weaker dinosaur would have granted Skytail his final wish, but Calin resolved to spite the fool. Calin refused to die until he was good and ready.

After three days of worsening pain, Calin finally decided to leave the pack one night when everyone else was asleep and to find the plant that had been used against him. After many hours of crushing plants that look similar to the ones around Skytail's final stand, Calin finally found the culprit. A robust looking green plant with small green bulbs. Pleased with himself, he grabbed the plant and went back to the pack. He was not so pleased the next day, however, when he asked if anyone in the pack knew what the plant was. Calin made up the story that he had once seen a fastbiter use it on a rival and that he was simply curious, but he suspected that his second-in-command, Goron, knew the truth. As Goron smiled a predatory smile, one of the pack members informed him that it was called the agony bush. If the sap were to get into an injury it would cause no real damage, but it would result in permanent pain that would radiate from the sight of the injury. Many dinosaurs would throw themselves off of cliffs in order to stop the unending agony that the plant inflicted. Needless to say, Calin was not too pleased to learn about the instrument of his troubles.

The bastard wanted to push me to suicide, but I am stronger than that! Calin thought through the pain. I won't grant him the satisfaction.

The next few days were among the most challenging in Calin's life. He now knew that he had a permanent disability that, although he could hide it for hours at a time, would eventually force him to show weakness to the other members of the pack. That would be a death sentence for Calin. He needed time to regroup and ensure his own survival. For a few moments he actually considered leaving Red Claw's alliance, but he soon dropped the idea as that would certainly get him killed. He also couldn't simply resign and let Goron get the position. In another pack that would be acceptable, but in his pack that would be seen as weakness. No, he had to find a way to be stripped of his leadership without being killed in the process. That way he could learn to hide the searing pain and retake his position of power. After a few days of pondering, and a few close calls as far as pain attacks were concerned, Calin finally had an idea.

"You wanted to see me, Calin? I trust you have not failed in your mission?"

Calin cringed at the insinuation. Failure would mean death for those responsible for failure. Thankfully, that was not what he was going to report to the massive sharptooth.

"No, Red Claw. We have killed two adult swimmers."

Red Claw nodded. "Good. I would hate to have to lose you, Calin. Your foolish decision to attack the spiketail herd without my reinforcement made me question your worth. It is nice to see that you are finally doing something right."

Calin was careful to keep his expression neutral. He hated to be talked down to like this. He knew full well that Red Claw didn't care about his pack anymore than Calin did. Red Claw's interest, like Calin's own, was simply for the accumulation of power. Red Claw was angry at Calin because many useful fastbiters had died in the battle. The put down had also given Red Claw another chance to make Calin suitably humbled. Or, at least, it would if Calin's were capable of humility.

Calin cleared his throat. "Um... sir... There is one thing I wanted to talk to you about."

Red Claw looked at the fastbiter oddly. Few talked to Red Claw more than what was necessary. The fact that Calin was risking more time around the sharptooth was an exceptional occurrence. Red Claw simply gestured for Calin to continue.

"The pack is very large and strong, sir, but it could be stronger." This was the hard part, Calin mused, faking compassion, an emotion that he never really felt. "And I am responsible for the weakness of the pack. My orders cost many lives." He did his best solemn expression. "I... I think there is a way that I can undo the damage."

Red Claw tilted his head at this. "Continue..."

Calin nodded. So far so good. "I could acquire some new members from other lands. The Land of Shallow Waters and the Land of Blue Lakes have both been overlooked so far. I could lead a few expeditions to see if any suitable candidates are available in those lands."

Red Claw's face was impassive. "That may be a good idea, but surely a lower ranked dinosaur would be better suited for the job. Perhaps Goron or..."

"No, sir." Calin interrupted. When he saw Red Claw's surprised face, he immediately continued. "My apologies, sir. But I need to make amends and... Goron needs to gain first-hand leadership experience in case I am killed."

And assuming that he isn't the one to do it. Calin mused.

Red Claw stared at him for a few moments and Calin feared that he would refuse, but then the massive beast answered. "Very well. You will go to the Land of Shallow Waters, as it is closer. You will scout out for other suitable recruits. If you find any then the pack will join you in claiming the new recruits."

Calin was extremely pleased. But that was until he heard what Red Claw said next.

"And Calin..."

Calin looked at the large tyrannosaurus. "Yes, sir."

"Make sure to bring Goron with you... That way you can personally supervise him as he gets leadership experience." Red Claw seemed to have a gleam in his eye. With an obvious show of malice, he added: "Be safe."

Calin shook the memories from his head. So now here he was, with a contingent of six other fastbiters including his hated rival and second-in-command, Goron. He suspected that Red Claw intentionally picked adversarial deputies so that the fastbiter leader would always feel threatened from below. If that was the plan, then it was incredibly successful. No one could plot against Red Claw when they were too busy avoiding plots from within their own pack.

Knowing that Goron was untrustworthy and would challenge him as soon as he knew that he could get away with it, Calin had acquired a new ally. One that could be a bit more malleable than the insufferable Goron.

"Zarc!" Calin called happily. "I see that you are still here. I figured that you might have gone to sleep."

The blue fastbiter, who was only slightly shorter than Calin, seemed to scoff at that. "I do as I'm ordered. I know what happens to those who don't."

Calin smile grew slightly. Yep, there is the reason I like Zarc. He is loyal and honest to those who he trusts. And for some reason he trusted Calin. This made him the perfect tool. "Well, that is true. I do have news on the packs in these lands."

Zarc looked at Calin with an inquisitive expression. "Good news or bad news."

Calin gave a slight nod. "Interesting news."

The other fastbiter's mouth fell slightly in stunned silence, but he then immediately composed himself. Calin had just dropped quite the revelation on the other fastbiter.

'Interesting news' was the code that they would use in the event that the leadership plan would be put into action. Calin knew that he could not survive for long as the leader, but he could survive at a lower rank with the backing of a stronger fastbiter. Thus he found Zarc, a useful fool who trusted Calin for some odd reason. It seemed that Zarc had felt personally grateful when Calin had appointed him as a tracking leader and he had never forgotten that kind gesture. Calin had not done it out of sympathy, of course, but nonetheless the misconception had apparently gained Calin an ally. An ally he desperately needed now.

Calin had explained to Zarc how Goron was certain to take the reins of leadership soon. Zarc had asked him why Calin suspected this and he, uncharacteristically for him, decided to tell the truth. He knew Zarc's character and knew that the reveal of Calin's disability would further solidify the other fastbiter's trust and appeal to his empathy. True enough, it worked. Zarc was concerned that Calin would not last long without a challenge to the leadership. Calin also shrewdly mentioned that Goron would probably kill all of Calin's allies as well in order to remove threats. This was hyperbole, of course, but it worked to concern Zarc about his own safety should Goron come to power. He soon was quite open to Calin's planned conspiracy. Calin would lead Goron into a situation during their expedition where one of two things would happen: either they would succeed in their mission and ensure that Goron died in the process; or they would fail in their mission and both Zarc and Calin blame for the failure on Goron, who was leading the mission. In either case, Calin would be free from Goron. He would either be dead from their treachery or from the justice of the remainder of the pack, who would fear Red Claw's reprisal. After the fun of killing Goron was out of the way, then there would be the simple matter of Calin recommending Zarc for the leadership of the pack for which Zarc would promise Calin protection as Zarc's second-in-command.

It was a brilliant plan, Calin reflected. Now all he had to do was put it into action.

Zarc tilted his head to the left and raised two claws. This was obvious code for Calin: Goron had two of his goons within hearing distance of the conversation. Calin would have to be careful here in how he described the situation.

"There is a pack of fastbiters and a flyer. But they also have a two-footer with them." Calin answered truthfully.

Zarc nodded his understanding. "Did the two-footer have parents? That would be quite a mess."

Calin smiled. "I did not see his parents." The implication was clear: but they are there. "It might be best for us to take two routes in order to surround the fastbiters. This would be the perfect opportunity for my deputy." Another clear message: have Goron take a path that I recommend, straight into danger.

Zarc nodded one last time. "Excellent. I am sure Deputy Goron will be pleased with your findings. Come back and rest, Calin. I am sure that we will need it for the morning."

Calin smiled. Yes, I am sure that we will.

With no further conversation, both fastbiters slowly walked towards their temporary encampment. Come the morning, they would travel to the main encampment and alert Goron. Then the real fun would begin.

Whether the members of Littlefoot's pack came back as unwilling recruits or corpses, Calin didn't particularly care. His formal mission was not his true objective anymore. All that mattered is that soon Goron would be dead and hopefully that cheeky bastard Littlefoot would join him. He looked forward to slaughtering them both.

......

Where are they?! They not there!

Petrie was beside himself with worry. The den of Skytail's pack was empty. Entirely empty. Worse yet, it showed no signs of being inhabited within the last several days. It was not beyond the realm of possibility that the pack could have departed for another home, but Petrie still feared for the worse. Whether it was some throwback to his panicky nature as a leaf-eater, or something instinctual that he couldn't quite define, he felt great trepidation at this development.

Deciding that he couldn't sleep in his current emotional state, Petrie decided to continue his search in the lowlands. Which is what he was doing now. The bright light of the moon provided just enough illumination to make his efforts useful. He doubted that he could see much detail, but he could certainly spot a fastbiter if it were in the open. With a flurry of head movement, he scanned the scene below him.

The tall grasses of the lowlands seemed to flow like ripples in a stream. Their brilliant green color was muted to a dull grey in the darkness of the night, which only added to water-like appearance. The dark silhouette of trees dotted the landscape from time to time, but the only constant was the swaying fields of grass and the river.

River seem bigger. Petrie thought to himself. Lowlands get wetter?

Petrie was beginning to piece together how the lowlands had changed since the pack left. Right before they had left, the lowlands seemed to be running dry and prey was becoming more scarce. But now it seemed like a second wet season had graced the lowlands with its presence. Perhaps the pack could have stayed here a bit longer... Though Petrie was glad that they moved on. Chomper had been reunited with his parents and they had helped the pack immensely in their adoption of the sharptooth life. They now had the skills necessary to survive in an inhospitable world. Me could not get education like that in the lowlands. Petrie thought introspectively. Dein say learning is pain. Me have to feel pain to... Wait! What that!?

Petrie stopped his forward motion and hovered in stunned silence. The outer edge of the night circle had begun to take on a reddish crimson color. The color of fresh blood. A full lunar eclipse was beginning as the shadow of the Earth passed over the visage of the moon, but neither Petrie nor any of the dinosaurs could have known this. For them it was either seen as a strange celestial event or as an omen of things to come. The effect on the poor flyer was to be left with a feeling of dread and foreboding.

Petrie sighed. Now deciding that spending any more time on his fruitless search would only worsen things, he decided that he needed to perch somewhere for the night. He could resume his mission in the morning. With a cursory eye, he looked at the dark silhouettes of the trees in search of a suitable place to rest. Looking up the river he could see a large tree that seemed to reside right next to the overflowing water. Its dark form stood in stark contrast to the grass, which was now turning from grey to red as the night circle's color changed with the coming of the eclipse. It was as if the entire lowland was bleeding from some unseen injury.

Petrie's unease grew.

As he proceeded to slow his speed and descend upon the massive tree, his eyes caught something in the night circle's light. It was almost invisible due to the tree's shadow in the moonlight, but a bright burst of reflected light was emanating off of some object in the distance. With some curiosity, Petrie steered clear of the tree and tried to take a closer look at the mysterious object. With a slight plop, Petrie landed and took a closer look. He immediately knew what these were.

Bones. Petrie thought to himself. Me getting scared over bones. Silly Petrie. He was internally berating himself for being so scared of his situation. The moon was probably just going through one of its phases and Skytail's pack had probably just moved on. He assured himself that he was freaking out over nothing. But yet...

That feeling of unease remained.

Petrie looked back at the bones with a look of annoyance. With a sigh, he proceeded to fly over and get a better look. As soon as he resolved this mystery that his brain was fixated on, then he could calm down and go to sleep. As he flew over the tree's shadow and allowed his eyes to adjust to the lower light, he mused that he was beginning to act like his old leaf-eater self. Being scared at everything that was unknown or different. Me supposed to be a big sharptooth now. He berated himself. Not scaredy egg! This just bones. They nothing...

As he looked up from the ground at the bones, he could see that his eyes had adjusted. Though at that very moment, he wished that they hadn't. He could recognize the bones in front of him.

These were the bones of a fastbiter. A young one.

Petrie couldn't know for sure if these were from one of Skytail's friends, but when taken together with the abandoned den, it painted a grim picture. The bones were rather fresh. In fact, there were still bits of flesh hanging on the skull. Despite his misgivings, Petrie knew what he had to do. He had to make sure. What the eyes could not see, the sniffer could reveal.

Paralyzed with horror and fear, Petrie forced himself to walk to the skull of the hapless fastbiter. With great trepidation, he secured his wing on what remained of its snout, and he sniffed into the vacant eye socket.

Petrie's eyes went wide in shock as he fell backwards from the skull. It was as if something had broken within the flyer. After several moments, however, Petrie braced himself on the ground with his wings. His eyes clinched closed, with his face facing the ground. His body began to shake with repressed emotion as his breathing became labored in his grief. Only a barely choked out whisper identified the source of his grief. The identity of the friend he would never speak to again.

"Goodbye, Skytail...”

......

The skeleton of his son continued to question him. Tears were somehow flowing down his son's empty eye sockets as worms continued to eat the remaining flesh on his otherwise skeletal back.

"Dad? Why weren't you there?"

"I'm... I'm sorry, son. I was with the herd. If only I would have known... I could have stopped Chomper... I could have..."

Bron stared at his front feet. They were caked in blood. His son's blood. Because he was responsible for allowing Littlefoot to continue his friendship with Chomper. He could have forbade it, but he did nothing. He was just as guilty of his son's murder just as much as Chomper was.

"Why? First you let mother die and now me..."

"Son... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."

Bron woke up with a start.

That was the second time that he had that same sleep story since he arrived at the Land of Shallow Waters. As he arrived at the apparent home of the traitor Chomper, it seemed that his own subconscious was reminding Bron that he was also guilty in his own way. He wasn't there for his mate when she died and he wasn't there for Littlefoot either. He had truly let down everyone that he loved.

As he blinked back the tears that had started, he looked towards the small green longneck that was still resting peacefully beside him.

Well, not quite everybody. Shorty is still here.

Bron was quite certain that caring for Littlefoot's adopted brother was the only thing that kept him going anymore. Well, that and trying to avenge his son. He may have been a terrible father in his own eyes, but he could still protect that one small part of Littlefoot's legacy.

Unsteadily, Bron rose to his feet, being careful to avoid putting much weight on his injured foot. The fastbiter had done quite a number on him. Whoever Chomper had selected for his allies were definitely dangerous. This motivated Bron even more to bring Chomper's reign of terror to an end. First the children, then Tippy... It had to end here! Of that, Bron was resolute.

The journey to the watering hole was slow, but steady. He needed to wash the taste of adrenaline in his mouth from the terrible sleep story. Perhaps a long cool drink would also help him get his thoughts together. His feelings of guilt and revenge were becoming mixed in recent days. He was almost wondering if he wasn't going mad. With Chomper haunting his waking hours and his son haunting his dreams, Bron's life had become a nonstop spiral of despair.

Finally arriving at his destination, he looked down at his reflection in the water. The night circle, now blood red, gave him an almost horrific appearance in the water. As if he was staring at himself drowning in blood. Suddenly, the thought of taking a drink no longer sounded too appetizing to him. With a sigh, he debated whether to turn back. That was when he heard an unexpected greeting.

"Hello, Bron."

Bron turned, but he could see no one. The voice had come from behind some nearby bushes. The weirdly accented voice had not identified itself, but yet it sounded familiar somehow. Bron couldn't quite figure out why. His response was gruff.

"Who goes there?"

Bron fixed his eyes at the bushes where he thought that he had heard the voice. That was when he heard a second voice. A feminine one this time.

"Sharpteeth who will lead you to Chomper."

Bron stood in silence for a few moments. But then he laughed. A cruel, humorless laugh. How could this be happening? Were they offering to turn on their leader? Why in the hell should he believe them?

"Oh! Did he teach you all leaf-eater? How very courteous of him. I guess he wanted you to know what the food was saying!" Bron was working himself into a frenzy. He never thought he would be having a conversation with a sharptooth, let alone the ones that killed his son. That was when the other part of her statement registered in his brain. They would lead him to Chomper. He already knew his answer to that.

"Why would you do that? Did he treat you as well as he treated his friends!?" He responded cruelly. "You all killed my son! You killed many of the valley's sons and daughters! There will be no deals! No mercy!"

The male answered. "I did not kill your son and neither did my partner here... But if you are willing to follow us then we will lead you to the others."

Bron gritted his teeth. He could deduce where this was going. "I spare you in exchange for the others?"

There was silence for a few moments. Then there was a monotone answer. "Yes."

Bron's appearance darkened as he considered the offer. This would be his best chance to find Chomper and to eliminate his allies. If that meant temporarily using a few sharpteeth then so be it. Furthermore, it would be nice for Chomper to taste betrayal just like he had betrayed his son. It would be poetic justice for the purple sharptooth. Bron smiled at the thought.

"I accept." Bron called out imperiously. "Show yourselves and lead the way. But if you try to betray me then I will put an end to you and find the others myself..."

As Bron stood in silence, two fastbiters appeared out of the foliage. One was brown and the other was pink. The pink one seemed unreadable, whereas the brown one appeared to be frightened. That was one emotion that Bron was glad to induce in the enemy. If he had his way, it would be the only emotion that they would ever feel. After a few moments, the pink fastbiter nudged the brown one and they both began to walk forward slowly. Bron studied them for a moment.

And then he began to follow.


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