The Seven Hunters

Chapter 46 An unexpected arrival

A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.

― Arnold H. Glasow

"What? Don't have anything to say?"

Calin was quite enjoying this moment. Not only was he going to put an end to Goron's ambitions and secure his own security as a second-in-command under Zarc, but he was also going to rid the world of the upstart who had insulted him. Even though Calin's attempt to join Littlefoot's pack was entirely for the purpose of assessing its weaknesses for the eventual "recruiting drive" he still couldn't stand being considered unworthy by those he considered his inferiors. He now knew that when he finally accepted into his pack whoever was wise enough to switch sides, and there was almost always a few that did so, that he would still see to it that Littlefoot died a horrible death. Only Skytail's antics had infuriated him more. A dinosaur who not only insisted that high-minded ideals like honor had any meaning, but who also was willing to fight and die for it, was antithetical for Calin. He would see to it that Littlefoot knew in his final moments just how worthless those ideals were.

He heard some kind of unintelligible grunt come from Littlefoot as he looked up at Calin with a snarl and then proceeded to charge to his left. To his surprise and annoyance, the other sharpteeth in Littlefoot’s pack made a similar sprint in the same direction. Meanwhile, the rest of Calin's forces, being fixated on a pincer attack, simply charged into the circle according to their original plan of attacking them on all sides. They were unaware, Calin realized, of the strategy that the opposing pack was now using.

To attack a superior enemy at its weakest point.

"No you fools! Charge behind! Charge behind! Don't let them escape!"

However his other packmates were too fixated on the original plan to consider how the situation had just changed. They were not charging around the circle in order to intercept the pack when they inevitably broke through the circle of fastbiters, which meant that Littlefoot's pack would be in a position to run away and regroup when they finally broke through. Calin's fury rose to its breaking point at the shear ineptitude on display from his forces.

With a growl deep in his throat, Calin smacked the fastbiter to his side and forcefully nudged him towards the outside of the circle. Even if the rest of the mongrels that were his packmates were unable to grasp the situation, he was going to be sure to not let Littlefoot outsmart him. He and his partner would intercept them before they escaped too far, or so he hoped.

Despite his thoughts of victory, Calin couldn't help but cringe when he heard Littlefoot crash into his target.

......

Littlefoot felt as if he were in a daze. He had never been in a fight before except for when it involved prey. But now here he was, fighting against his own kind in what was certainly a fight to the death. As the adrenaline powered through his system, he could feel the thundering of his heart and the burning of his lungs. All that was real now was the target in front of his eyes. He had to break through the blue fastbiter if he and the others were going to break through the enemy blockade. As the blue fastbiter looked upon the advancing threat with a look of surprise, Littlefoot placed all of his weight on the back of his hind limbs and launched himself into the air. With great precision as he sailed the intervening distance, Littlefoot directed his massive claws at his target.

Thud!

A sickening thud emanated from below Littlefoot as his razor sharp talons impacted the blue fastbiter's skull. He could feel the weight of the other carnivore dissipate as his body crumbled to the ground in a motionless heap. With much of his momentum being dissipated by the crushing blow, Littlefoot quickly landed upon the ground in a loud crash. Acting on instinct, he extended his forelimbs and raised his tail in order to balance his falling body, before again bounding forward in an impromptu leap.

As he regained his footing and continued to sprint, Littlefoot could hear the welcome sound of the others running beside him. They had escaped from the pincer attack! But now they had to run and evade their pursuers until they could find help.

And he knew just the place to seek shelter.

"To the mud pits!" He cried out in leaf-eater, as not to alert the enemy to his plan. "Ruby and Chomper, go get Bron! Everyone else, follow me!"

......

Seething with hatred and determination, Calin charged ahead of the fallen fastbiter and kept pace with the retreating pack. They had tricked his packmates masterfully. His own forces were now confused, with some trying to charge at the retreating dinosaurs and others waiting for further orders. He decided to not keep them waiting.

"Chase after them you incompetent bastards! Are you not fastbiters?! Run!"

As he shouted off his enraged order, he continued to run after his quarry. He was now pleased to hear the sounds of running feet matching his own as he began to advance on the slowest member of Littlefoot's pack, the purple two-footer.

Calin smiled. If he could hurt or kill that specimen then it would enrage his parents, which would prove useful when Goron came onto the scene from the east. Calin fully planned on having the sharptooth's parents do the dirty business for him. Killing one of Littlefoot's friends would just make the act all that much sweeter.

That was when their quarry decided to split into two groups.

To Calin's dismay, he could see four of his minions break off and chase after the rose colored fastbiter and the two-footer. Littlefoot was pulling another trick on his pack and Calin would have none of it.

"Follow me, you dimwits!" He snarled in frustration. "Ignore those two!"

As Chomper and Ruby sped off in an attempt to get help, the two packs remained locked in a race for survival. The remaining four fastbiters in Littlefoot's pack were now up against a force that was twice their size. Their only hope rested in their speed and their ability to get help.

......

Dein ran as fast as his massive legs could carry him. His son was in danger! From other fastbiters no less. His fear was only overshadowed by his insatiable anger.

How dare they invade our territory! Do they not know who we are?! Do they wish to die!

He briefly took note of the flyer that was now flying in front of him. Spotter was obviously struggling to catch up after having flown a great distance to tell them the news of the attack. Dein had no right to ask more of him, but he decided that it was time to do so nonetheless.

"Spotter? Fly high and see if you can find them! We need to know where they are!"

The flyer seemed to not respond for a few moments, before finally letting out a weak call. Dein watched as the flyer opened both wings in an expansive gesture and let the warm air carry him aloft. Dein felt a momentary feeling of compassion for the flyer. He lacked the ability to help in the fight, but he was still determined to help his friends anyway he could. It was heartening to see that his son had such friends.

He only hoped that they could hold out long enough for them to arrive.

......

The four fastbiters were keeping pace with one another, running side by side in their headlong sprint towards the mud pits.

"We are outpacing them!" Littlefoot proclaimed loudly to the pack. "Now we do what we planned!"

Cera wanted to ask for clarification, but then she remembered what Littlefoot was referring to. Way back when they had first taken residence with Dein and Terri, they were tasked with the mission of planning for defense. It was one of the numerous little exercises and tests that Dein had put them through during The Time of Training, but now it seemed that it was finally time to put their plans into action. They had no experience fighting their own kind, let alone fastbiters who were probably stronger and certainly more skilled than they were at the act of killing. Their only hope was to use their own cunning to their advantage.

She hoped that would be enough.

With some trepidation, but with pride, she spoke out to the rest of the pack.

"I will help Seeker cover the front." She wasn't going to wait for an objection. "Spike and Ducky? You're backup!"

Littlefoot then spoke up between gasps. "Remember... We have to hold out... until they get help..."

Both Ducky and Spike grunted their understanding as they bounded into the undergrowth in front of Littlefoot and Cera. As Cera advanced into the foliage immediately after them she could clearly see the outline of the mud pools come into view. The thick, viscous mud which gave the mud pool its name was completely obscured from this angle by the tall wall of grass which grew around its outline. This ensured that any entrants into the area would be unaware of the danger until it was too late. The pack, of course, was planning on using this to their advantage.

Spike and Ducky immediately bounded to the left and parted the grass at a particular place in the grass wall, revealing a submerged tree that had been knocked over into the mud pool. Terri had been the one to knock down the tree and she had told them of how to use it to their advantage. From the area where they had entered the mud pits, the tree was at an angle, thus any dinosaur bounding after them without looking would fall directly into the suffocating mud. As for the others, it would be up to them to fight until backup arrived to relieve them. Cera hoped that they could hold out that long.

With anxious yet steady steps, three of the four fastbiters sprinted across the tree until they were nearly half an adult longneck length into the mud pool. It was at this point that Cera looked back and could see that the other pack was emerging from the foliage. She could also see that Littlefoot was quite a ways back and was directly facing the adversaries across the mud pool. They could not see that Littlefoot was on a tree from their vantage point, Cera realized, so they had no idea that a direct charge was out of the question.

Cera gulped. This was it.

Taking a look behind at Spike and Ducky, she gave an encouraging smile. "You guys got our back?" She asked at the two other fastbiters. At their grunts of affirmation, Cera looked back towards her adversaries and snarled. "Good! Then let's show these upstarts who is the boss!"

With a confident stride that did not match her inner turmoil, Cera sprinted to Littlefoot's side. She resolved that she would be with him from when the battle commenced to when it finally concluded.

She just hoped that they all would live to see its conclusion.

......

Chomper was quickly tiring, but both he and Ruby continued to run towards the spiketail herd. They absolutely had to warn Bron so that the pack could have some assistance. Everyone else was counting on them. So despite his exhaustion, Chomper struggled on to perform his duty for his brave friends.

That is, until he heard a surprised yelp from Ruby.

Chomper immediately looked up. It was Taunt! And Breeze! And...

"Thud!" Ruby screamed in agitation as she backed away towards Chomper. The absolute last thing that they needed was to have another ill-meaning fastbiter to be after the pack. But... Chomper wondered to himself. Why did Taunt bring him here?

"It's okay!" Taunt quickly affirmed to his friends. "Me and my father have... reunited. But your pack is in danger!"

Thud was Taunt's father! Chomper thought as the realization began to dawn on him. Chomper barely had any time to process that bombshell, however, when his mission called to him.

"We know we're in danger!" Chomper affirmed.

"They sent us for help! We need to get Seeker's dad!" Ruby added.

Just then they could hear the rumbling of distance footsteps. In the distance Chomper could see what looked like a massive pack of fastbiters advancing through the underbrush... But they weren't alone.

There were two longnecks chasing after them.

"What the... What is this?!" Thud called out in surprise.

Ruby smiled. "It looks like we didn't need to get Seeker's dad after all."

......

"So there you are, you bastard!" Calin had lost his usual faux joviality. Littlefoot was very quickly disrupting his plans. "I'm afraid that you have only delayed the inevitable. Are you sure you don't want to take our generous offer?"

Calin sneered at the brown fastbiter and the yellow companion that was situated at his side. He didn't have to wait long to hear Littlefoot's infuriating response.

"You're generosity?! Ha!" Littlefoot mocked. "Why would we want to join with a pack of idiots such as yourself?" As Littlefoot paced in place, Calin could see two of the more intrepid members of his pack begin to prepare themselves for a charge. They were all too eager to silence the dinosaur that had outsmarted them and continued to insult them. Calin had to admit that he was looking forward for Littlefoot's violent end as well. "Your ultimatum was to either join or die. We choose death. So come on, you cowards! Either stand and fight or run away like the hatchlings that you are!"

There are some moments that seem to stand still in time, Calin reflected, and this was one of those times. As soon as Littlefoot had made his final taunt at his pack, Calin realized that there was no way that he could restrain them. There would be no strategy to this battle. There would be no respite for either side. His own followers were enraged and fixated on killing. There was nothing that he could say to impede them from an immediate attack.

As he and five of his other fastbiters prepared for a charge of their own, the other two members of his particular troop charged headlong at the brown fastbiter. Their teeth were bared. Their claws were primed. Their eyes were fixated on the one that they wished to slay. There was no doubt that they would be on their target in but a few seconds.

But yet, Littlefoot and his yellow companion stood stoically in the face of the unstoppable onslaught. Are they mad? Calin thought to himself. Or is there something that I am missing? Looking around in that split moment, he saw something that made his blood run cold. Around the tall grass that seemed to envelope the scene, he could see dried mud. Recently dried mud. Likewise, he could smell the tell-tale smell of moisture in the air. Littlefoot and his friends aren't standing in a field of grass! Calin suddenly realized. They are standing in the middle of a mud pool! He began to shout his warning...

But it was too late.

The two most adventurous members of his troop bounded through the tall grass at the same exact moment. Their massive velocity carrying them forward into the unknown beyond the thick foliage. That was when he could hear the horrifying sound of splashing mud in the unseen depths and the panicked screams.

"Mud!"

"Damn It!"

"Help... Me..."

Calin rushed to the front as his horrified companions stood behind. As he parted the grass he could see the fate that had befallen his packmates. One of them had fallen head first into the mud and only his tail and hind quarters could be seen. The sounds of gurgling and the rising bubbles of air indicated that he was drowning in the brown prison of mud. The other was desperately gasping for air and trashing in the thick mud, but it was obvious that he was slowly sinking into the depths. They were both several fastbiter lengths into the mud pool due to their momentum when they charged forward. As such, neither he nor his companions could advance into the mud to retrieve them in time. If they attempted that feat, they would only end up as victims of the mud pool themselves.

"Calin!"

"Please..."

"Gurgle..."

For any other dinosaur this turn of events would have caused heartbreak and a feeling of profound failure, but not for Calin. Right now all Calin felt was unspeakable rage. In one small act of trickery, the opposing pack had wiped out half of his forces. As they lay drowning in their muddy grave, Calin vowed that he would not wait for backup to arrive. He would not wait to kill.

He wanted Littlefoot for himself.

......

There was something quite different about seeing your own kind die.

Ducky had seen it all. The insults that Littlefoot had so craftily shouted at their adversaries. The resulting charge of the enraged fastbiters towards the mud pool. The massive splashes as the dinosaurs fell into the thick, suffocating muck. But the sounds of death were something else entirely.

"Please... I don't want to die... please."

"Ardu... I am sorry... I am so sorry... It wasn't worth it..."

"Why..."

They had made a point about being quick on most of their kills when they hunted. As a result, the true loneliness and sadness of the act of dying seemed distant to her. Even when she had dealt the killing blow onto the mother flyer, the distraught mother had seemed to take on a calm recognition in the end that it was all over. But these poor souls did not have that luxury. They were being forced into suffering a slow death from which there was no escape. In their final moments, with their other packmates being unable to inflict anything upon them, they were bearing their final mournful thoughts and regrets into the open.

And it was horrifying.

"I'm sorry mother... I just wanted to live..."

"Help..."

Ducky had been there, just like the others, when Calin had made his recruitment pitch. He stated that Red Claw was building a pack in order to challenge all who stood in their way and that the only way to join this pack was to be able to prove that you were stronger than your packmates. To prove this, you would have to kill your companions. Calin said that his pack was currently understaffed so that he would accept three from Littlefoot's pack and that the weaker members would have to die. That was the only way in which any of them would be permitted to live. They would have to commit the ultimate act of betrayal and become persona non grata to the rest of sharptooth society so that Red Claw knew that they were loyal to only his mission. None of them accepted that offer, of course. They had chosen to die together as opposed to dying apart. None of them would willingly betray the others.

But these poor things... They had made that other choice. They had chosen to kill their families or packs in order to have a chance at survival. The depravity of being forced into such a sick situation made something in Ducky snap. Her sharptooth name may have been Haven, but she knew that she would provide no sympathy to Calin or Red Claw. They had willingly and gleefully made these dinosaurs betray their own innocence. Now, she and her pack had been forced to kill them.

"Mother... Mother..."

"Please help..."

Their enemies were little other than children themselves and like children they were calling in anguish to their own parents for assistance. But they had no parents, not anymore. Ducky supposed that she should feel some contempt for these dinosaurs who betrayed their own families, but she couldn't bring herself to do that. In a way, they were victims just as much as the ones that they killed were.

"Gasp! Can't bre..."

"Gurgle..."

As the final screams of struggle and sobs of despair began to go silent, Ducky could see Calin beginning to rouse the remainder of his cowering forces. The battle was about to recommence.

And for once in her life, Ducky was prepared to kill.

......

Zarc was concerned about this change in plans.

"What are you doing, Calin? We should wait for backup. Especially if we want Goron..."

Calin interrupted immediately. "He killed my people!" Calin couldn't care less about that, of course, but his affirmation would only confirm his good intentions with the naively idealistic Zarc. "I have to fight him!"

Calin then moved his head closer to Zarc's and whispered in his ear. "Besides... There will be enough left to keep Goron occupied and then we can complete our mission."

Zarc sighed and whispered back. "How should we do that? If the sharpteeth don't intercept Goron then..."

Calin interrupted. "Then we attack him on the log as he is trying to cut down the rest of Littlefoot's pack. No questions are asked during dominance battles."

Zarc protested. "Red Claw will not like that."

Calin offered a curt reply. "Red Claw only talks to the leader of the fastbiters. If you don't tell him how Goron dies, then there won't be a problem."

Without a further word, Calin looked back at the remaining four fastbiters. "Come on you sap suckers! Get to attention!" As the fastbiters reluctantly rose to their full height, Calin continued. "The loss of our friends is unfortunate, but we still have a mission to complete! They gave their lives for this mission. Are you going to sit around and do nothing while their killers laugh at us?!"

Both of the fastbiters gave grunts in the negative, as Calin elaborated on his plan. "Zarc and I will charge down the tree first, that is when I want the rest of you to..."

......

Crash!

Another fastbiter disappeared under the massive tail of Doc. The pack troop of twelve fastbiters had now been reduced to ten. Both of the rampaging longnecks had taken one life in their unexpected strike on the pack.

"What in the name of sanity is this?!" Goron cried. The longnecks were almost acting like sharpteeth in their ruthless pursuit of the fastbiters. They had not attacked the spiketail herd, nor harmed any of the longneck younglings, but it seemed that the longnecks still wanted to strike a blow against the racing predators. It was a most unusual sight.

"Sir!" Came the panicked words of one of the fastbiters who were keeping pace with Goron. "I caught his scent, sir... Calin's."

Goron had to suppress a groan. For once he was glad to hear that Calin was nearby.

"Lead the way, tracker! Because the opposing pack sure as blazes isn't here!"

What Goron didn't see was the purple sharptooth and the four fastbiters following close behind the massive brown longneck. If any of Littlefoot's fellow packmates were here then this would have communicated one thing:

Help was on its way.

......

Every part of Littlefoot's body was full of trepidation. He could feel the racing of his heart and the rapidness of his breath. The bitter taste of adrenaline filled his mouth. Despite his best efforts to appear stoic in front of his enemies and allies alike, his limbs shook slightly in anticipation of what could come next. Some part of him had hoped that the loss of the two fastbiters would dissuade Calin from continuing his assault on the pack, but it seemed that his hopes were misplaced. Now only the imminent battle awaited him and his close friends. He fully realized that it might be the last thing that ever awaited them.

He looked to his side. Cera was in a fighting posture, with her forelimbs extended in anticipation of what was to come. Her eyes seemed fixed on the entrance onto the fallen tree they were currently standing on. However, possibly sensing his eyes upon her, she turned to look into Littlefoot's eyes. He couldn't help but give her a slight smile and an encouraging nod.

She blinked at his response, before reciprocating the gesture and extending her forelimb to his. He returned the gesture and grasped his hand onto hers. The message was simple:

We are in this together.

However, as soon as it had started, the moment was over. Each fastbiter quickly resumed their vigilant posture in preparation of the attack that was certain to come. They didn't have to wait for long.

Littlefoot's ears went on alert as he heard the sound of clicking claws on the massive fallen tree. Two forms the appeared through the tall grass. The tan form of Calin was the most noticeable, with his expressionless face conveying little to the brown fastbiter. It seemed that Calin was done making taunts and threats. He was going to let his claws do the talking.

The second fastbiter which appeared was one that Littlefoot recognized from Calin's initial threat to the pack. He was blue and nearly as large as Calin, with his head coming up to the height of Calin's eyes. He had a somewhat wary appearance, Littlefoot noted. This was quite a departure from Calin's unreadable expression. In a way it was both encouraging and disheartening to see that this dinosaur had legitimate feelings. It was encouraging as this meant that he was just as susceptible to his emotions as Littlefoot, but discouraging in that it meant that Littlefoot was about to potentially kill another dinosaur such as himself. He did not feel that same way about Calin, whose previous actions had pretty much made him a monster in Littlefoot's eyes.

The clicking stopped for a moment, as it appeared that both of the opponents were sizing up Littlefoot and Cera. Littlefoot tried to put on as neutral of an expression as he could. He didn't want to give either of them anything to work with. He and Cera were slightly smaller than their two adversaries and he didn't want to expand their opponent's advantage any more than it already was.

For a moment Littlefoot wondered if the two dinosaurs were going to exchange insults or threats with their counterparts. However, the moment of silent examination soon ended with no words being exchanged.

That was when Littlefoot noted that both fastbiters were crouching in preparation for a charge.

Here we go. Littlefoot thought grimly. Oddly, the realization that the battle was imminent made something change in the brown fastbiter. His anticipation and fear seemed to fade away into an odd kind of numbness. This was a sensation that Littlefoot had only felt a few times in his life: right before he killed Rhett and during their battle with the raging threehorn. His emotions and deeper reflections seemed to be covered up under an eclipse of concentration. The time for thinking had ended and the time for fighting had begun.

The sound of clicking feet suddenly rose to a loud roar as the two fastbiters began their charge. They were nearly ten fastbiter lengths away from their quarry when they began their headlong rush and they were rapidly approaching the two defenders.

Nine lengths... Eight lengths...

Both Cera and Littlefoot crouched into a leaping posture. They would meet their adversaries with an attack of their own.

Seven lengths... Six...

Littlefoot had to take an educated guess on how best to handle this situation. His gamble was that Calin would attack with his talons in a leaping assault. He would respond with a leaping attack of his own.

Five lengths... Four...

Almost time... Littlefoot prepared for what was to come.

Three lengths... Two...

Littlefoot leapt in a near vertical leap as Calin continued to barrel straight ahead. With dawning horror, Littlefoot realized that he had miscalculated horribly. As his attempted claw strike at Calin's back glazed off of its target, Calin responded by dodging to his left and ramming into Littlefoot's side pushing him directly into Cera. As both fastbiters struggled to avoid tumbling off of their own platform, he could hear shouts and screams coming from behind. He then realized what had transpired.

The rest of Calin's pack was entering the fallen tree from the other side of the mud pool.

They were now fighting a battle on two fronts.

......

Spike heard commotion from behind him, but he couldn’t be bothered to assist Littlefoot and Cera.

Because he and Ducky had their own problems to deal with at this point.

He quickly reared his head back as the fastbiter lunged at his throat with his razor sharp teeth. He aimed a swift raking of his clawed forelimbs to the attacker’s face, but he too reared back before the attack could reach its target. Both Spike and the lanky orange fastbiter in front of him seemed to be sizing one another up. A battle of wits was commencing even before the first attack could reach its target.

“Ah!”

Roar!

Beside him, Spike could hear Ducky are her opponent do the same. It sounded as if Ducky had been hit, but that Ducky had gotten a retaliatory strike in on her adversary. Sparing her a brief glance out of the corner of his eye, he could see a noticeable scratch on her chin, but nothing too severe. These opponents seemed to be much more cautious than their counterparts who were fighting Cera and Littlefoot. That was when Spike had a sudden idea.

They don’t want this battle. Calin is forcing them into it!

That realization hit Spike like a thunderbolt. Although, he reflected, that it should have been obvious. All of the opposing pack members had been recruited through violence. Additionally, if the dying screams of the fastbiters who drowned were any indication, they were just as vulnerable and capable of regret as he was. They were simply being forced into a horrible situation and they had chosen a different path than what Littlefoot’s pack was currently choosing. Under such circumstances, it was obvious that their morale would be perpetually low and that they would have lingering reservations about “recruiting” more dinosaurs, as it brought back horrible memories of when they were “recruited”. This revelation in mind, Spike quickly spoke to Ducky in leaf-eater.

“Haven? We will charge at them at the same time! Let’s try to drive them back! Don’t defend, just claw at the body and bite at the neck!”

At her affirmative grunt, Spike let out an imperious growl and both packmates charged at the opposition. It was time for Spike’s strategy to be put to the test.

......

Littlefoot sprung to his feet just in time to dodge a lunge from Calin's jaws. It was all Littlefoot could do to regain his balance and avoid tumbling off of the fallen tree that he was standing on. As Calin sprung forward with another lunge, Littlefoot knew that he had to act or else begin to cede his defensive position to Calin. With a swift movement of his torso towards Cera's position on the other side of the tree, Littlefoot nearly went into Cera's line of defense. He then used his change in position to make a strike of his own.

A sudden growl left Calin's muzzle as Littlefoot struck out with both of his clawed hands at Calin's exposed side. The wounds were superficial but they were enough to make the tan fastbiter retreat back some distance. Littlefoot did not have any time to admire his handiwork, however, when Calin's partner took that opportunity to strike at a new target.

Pain. Searing pain. Littlefoot couldn't see the other fastbiter, but he could feel his shoulder being dug into. In attacking Calin, he had left his own back exposed to the other combatant. Now he was bearing the consequences of his initiative.

Then as suddenly as the pressure on his shoulder began, it suddenly ended.

Littlefoot took a brief glance beside him and noted that the other fastbiter had just gotten a face-full of fastbiter talons. Cera had used her opening masterfully and had dealt a strong blow to her adversary. With the other fastbiter now bleeding from above his eyes, he and Cera were now locked in desperate combat.

Swoosh!

Littlefoot dodged another lunge from Calin. However, Calin did not seem to be trying to drive home the attack like his partner. Rather it seemed that he was holding back. What could he be up to?

Swoosh!

Another dodge this time to his right. Littlefoot examined the eyes of the fastbiter in front of him. His eyes seemed fixed upon Littlefoot's in a state of almost fanatical concentration. That was when Littlefoot pieced it all together. The sporadic lunges... the focused eyes... the cautious response... Calin was testing him for weaknesses.

Swoosh!

A sidestep to his left. Littlefoot now knew that he would have to drive home the attack lest Calin figure out his strategy better than Littlefoot knew it himself. Calin may not have been capable of empathy, but he surely had a high intellect. Littlefoot did not want him to use that to his advantage. As Calin went to make another lunge, Littlefoot decided to go on the attack. He met Calin's lunge with another of his own...

"Ahhh!!!"

Both dinosaurs leapt backwards as their respective attacks met one another. Calin had succeeded at ripping away a few of Littlefoot's crest feathers, whereas Littlefoot's assault had opened up the skin above Calin's snout. Calin was now shaking his head furiously as undoubtedly he was overwhelmed with the sudden smell of his own blood.

Littlefoot then took the momentary lapse in order to examine his partner. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Cera was down!

......

Cera was struggling furiously against the grip of the other fastbiter. His blue jaws were now enveloped around her right shoulder, as her jaws were likewise wrapped around his. An epic battle was now taking place for control. Whoever lost their grip first would leave their necks open for attack. A fatal mistake. As a result, both she and her adversary were locked wrestling on the ground while their teeth ripped the other's shoulder to shreds. She could feel immense pain from her battered shoulder and she could taste his blood on her lips, but the only thing that she could see from her prone position was his blue hide. As her teeth began to slip from that same hide, however, she knew that she was slowly losing her grip... It would only be a matter of moments before his shoulder was free and her neck was exposed. Then it would be all over for her...

Shluck!

"Ahhh!"

As she felt the predator suddenly release her from his grip, she lunged at his retreating throat. Missing this target, she instead succeeded in biting into his delicate snout. The beautiful taste of gushing blood and muffled screams reached her ears. She may not have dealt a fatal blow, but she knew that this fight was over.

Finally releasing her foe before he could mount a defense with his clawed hands, he retreated with great speed from the yellow fastbiter. She had won the day! Now for the other fastbiter...

She turned her gaze to the scene beside her and froze. Littlefoot stood facing her retreating opponent with bits of blue hide hanging from his mouth. Littlefoot had obviously come to her aid in her time of greatest need. However, his gaze was averted from the threat which was right next to him. In a split second that seemed to last for an eternity, Cera opened her mouth to warn her beloved friend.

But she knew that she was too late.

......

Calin knew that everyone had their weakness. Some dinosaurs even had several. If you could find another weakness and exploit it then you could destroy even the mightiest of foes. Littlefoot had dodged all of his attacks skillfully. He had even used an excellent strategy in fighting in the middle of a mud pit in order to force a battle on equal terms. However, his weakness became apparent soon enough.

His caring for others.

Calin smiled as he steeled himself for the final attack. Littlefoot was busy biting into Zarc's back in order to help his friend. How utterly pathetic! Empathy was certainly not a weakness that Calin suffered from.

The brown fastbiter then rose from his crouched position as Zarc hastily retreated from the aggressive yellow fastbiter. Now Littlefoot was right where he wanted him. Placing all of his weight on the back of his hind limbs, Calin prepared for his charge. The last thing that he saw before his jump was the yellow fastbiter take a look in his direction. She began to open her mouth when the realization of what was about to happen finally dawned upon her.

Too late, youngling. Seeker is mine!

......

Littlefoot could see that Cera was finally safe from her near-fatal encounter. The other fastbiter was in full retreat down the fallen tree and she was slowly rising from her prone position. He gave a concerned expression at his dear friend, but the look that she gave back was not what he expected.

Fear.

What could she possibly be afraid of? The other fastbiter was gone and that only left... Quickly raising his forelimbs in preparation for an imminent attack, he didn't realize that he was already too late.

Thud!

A terrible blow struck Littlefoot's skull as his body suddenly buckled under the force of a massive weight pressing down upon his back. Somehow he maintained consciousness although everything that happened next seemed to occur in a daze. In a response that seemed to come from his instincts, he placed more weight on the back of his hind limbs and reared back in an attempt to buck his opponent. He tried to ignore the pain from his head injury and from Calin's massive hind claws on his back as he clumsily rolled over to his side. This finally succeeded in sending the tan fastbiter off of his exposed back, but it also exposed his neck and underbelly to his opponent.

Shluck!

Littlefoot step backwards away from his adversary, who was now lying upon his haunches. Calin's eyes seemed to go wide for a moment before taking on a satisfied grin. Without a word, he then turned his back on the brown fastbiter and ran from the log.

Everything seemed to have stopped as far as Littlefoot was concerned. The sounds of battle from behind him had died down, the two fastbiters that he and Cera had been fighting had retreated, and now only the pain from his head and neck seemed to break the stillness of his perceptions. With unsteady claws he grasped his neck with firmness and then pulled them away.

Blood. His own blood.

With an almost delirious expression, he noted the drops of blood that seemed to be falling onto the log below. The brown hue of the tree was now taking on a crimson appearance as his lifeblood slowly fell in unsteady drops.

So this is how it ends...

He turned slowly to look at his companion whom he had saved mere moments before.

Cera was looking at him with an expression of stunned horror. It was as if a possibility that she had never considered was finally coming to pass. Her mouth was open in an expression of shock. As if any words that she had prepared to say had been sucked away by this turn of events. He could also see Ducky and Spike returning from their end of the log. They all had numerous scratches and abrasions but they seemed unharmed, some part of his mind processed. Only their wide eyes and shaking forelimbs indicated that anything was amiss. The rest of his friends were alright... Only he would be facing the end.

Knowing that these could very well be his final moments, Littlefoot gave an apologetic smile to the ones that he loved. He was sorry that he wouldn't be there when they were reunited with their parents. That he wouldn't be there when Chomper inevitably took command of the pack. That he wouldn't have a chance to say goodbye to his absent friends.

At least they are safe...

Finally feeling too delirious to stand anymore, Littlefoot stumbled to his knees. He could see the brown log filling his field of vision as he slowly slumped to its surface. For some reason the ground seemed especially welcoming at the moment.

Before he lost consciousness, he thought that he heard someone calling his name...

......

Calin ran across the log with a bounce in his step. He had finally dealt a fatal blow to the cheeky bastard who had insulted him. Even if he couldn't have the other members of his pack as new recruits, the imminent death of Goron and the slaying of his adversary had put Calin in a rather good mood.

That was until he saw Zarc.

"Zarc?" He asked with some concern. The blue fast runner was lying prone on the ground clutching at his shoulder. Taking a closer look, Calin could also see that he had deep gashes on his back as well. The two fastbiters had certainly done a number on him. "Are you alright, Zarc?" He finally asked. He may not have cared about Zarc as a personal matter, but as he was his only chance at long-term survival, he was relying on Zarc's continued good health.

Zarc looked at him with an expression of grim determination. "I will be... Let's just get out of here! If Goron is as tough as he says he is then he can deal with this!" It was an insult that was simultaneously a challenge. If Goron failed to live up to it then it would reflect poorly upon him and Red Claw would reward his poor performance with death. Likewise, if Goron lived up to it, then they could kill him while he was weakened and claim that the success was their idea. Calin could easily read the subtext in Zarc's words and he was pleased that he was still on the same page despite his significant injuries.

Calin was about to respond when he heard the sound of thundering footsteps. Ah, that must be the rest of the raiding party... Time to throw Goron to the... As he could see fastbiters suddenly appear through the foliage of the trees and into his line of sight, he could also see two massive forms in the background. One was green and the other brown. Longnecks? What are longnecks doing here? Seeing Goron's speeding form, he asked the obvious question.

"What is going on?!"

Goron gasped in exhaustion. "Longnecks, two-footers, fastbiters... Everything is attacking us! We have to get out of here now!"

Both Calin and Zarc looked back towards where the fastbiters had arrived from to see an unbelievable sight. Two full-grown sharpteeth, two adult longnecks, several fastbiters, and that damn purple sharptooth were all emerging from the foliage. Calin was having difficulty in believing what he was seeing.

How many allies do they have? How is this possible?!

The desperate situation did not leave much time for reflection, however, as Calin and Zarc both followed Goron in a hasty retreat from the advancing forces. Calin could hear the thundering footsteps get louder and louder as they went around the mud pool. He and Zarc, despite his injuries, could easily outpace the advancing threat, but the others were having more difficulty. In fact, Calin observed, Goron and the other fastbiters from his force were badly lagging behind himself and Zarc. This gave Calin an idea.

He coughed in Zarc's direction, which elicited a curious look from the obviously pain-stricken fastbiter. With a curt head tilt backwards, he told Zarc to slow down. As they did so, the other members of the pack began to overtake them. Each was too exhausted and afraid to pay attention to what was going on around them. They did this until they finally were running beside Goron, with each of them being at his sides. Calin looked again in Zarc's direction.

He simply gave him a toothy smile and a roll of the head.

As if in unison, both fastbiters slashed at Goron's ankles. As the crisp sound of ripping flesh and snapping tendons reached their ears, they watched the massive juvenile crumple unceremoniously onto the ground below. Screams of anguish and pain emanated from the fallen predator as his great speed had finally failed him for the last time. As he attempted to rise from his prone position, both of the conspirators sprinted away at breakneck speed. Goron was now left abandoned to fend for himself.

As Calin sprinted off, he could hear shouts of protest from the fallen fastbiter as the sounds of thundering feet came closer and closer.

"Calin, you bastard! Damn you! You only care for yourself! You will pay for... Urk!"

As the sounds of crunching bones resonated across the mud pits, Calin knew that their actual mission was completed. Goron was dead, Zarc could be elevated to pack leader, and Calin was safe for the time being. The loss of several fastbiters and the failure of the 'recruiting drive' were of no consequence really. After all, Calin had gotten what he had come for.

And that was all that mattered.

......

Bron stopped his charge when he saw the two massive sharpteeth make quick work of the fallen fastbiter. The other enemies appeared to be in full retreat. For whatever reason they had decided to attack Littlefoot's pack, they were surely regretting their decision now. They were victorious.

He spared a look at the massive longneck to his side. To say that Doc was in a state of confusion would be quite the understatement. In the span of a few moments Doc had be informed by Bron that Littlefoot and the other children were sharpteeth, he had heard Chomper yell that Littlefoot was in trouble and needed help, and he had seen what Bron assumed were Chomper's parents appear out of nowhere and charge ahead of them as if they weren't there. Even if Doc doubted the stories of the sharpteeth around him, he knew that there were too many for him to fight. For once in his life, Doc appeared quite concerned.

"I think... those are Chomper's parents." Bron offered. Doc simply gave a mute nod. He did not appear to be enjoying this situation at all.

Suddenly the two sharpteeth turned around and seemed to study the two longnecks. The dark green one appeared to take particular notice of Bron. As the two sharpteeth began to stalk forward towards the two longnecks, Doc took a defensive stance. Bron was about to tell him that wasn't necessary, but truth be told Bron wasn't sure that was correct. Do they think that I am a threat? Bron asked himself. Gee... You only attacked their son. Why would they be upset? Some other part of his mind mocked back.

As Bron began to take a defensive posture himself, Chomper appeared between the two longnecks and emitted a series of warbles and grunts.

Roar!

In response to the two sharpteeth's roar, the little biter again emitted a series of grunts, which was returned with another roar. This happened several times before Bron worked up the nerve to ask Chomper what was going on.

"I am telling them not to kill you. Do you want me to stop?" Chomper asked bluntly.

After a simple shake of the head from Bron, the exchange of roars and grunts continued. Finally, they appeared to take on a less aggressive stance and the dark green one emitted one more roar.

"They say that you are safe for now. But they are not pleased with you, Bron."

Bron suspected that the actual words were something much more ominous, but Bron nodded his appreciation anyway. He had nearly killed Chomper in his initial attack, before he realized what really happened to Littlefoot. Had someone had nearly killed his son he would have reacted with similar hostility. For once he couldn't blame a sharptooth for threatening to kill him.

"This is madness, Bron." Doc spoke in a toneless voice.

Bron looked at his otherwise silent companion. "I know. But somehow I have to make sense of it. Surely you believe me now?"

Doc simply nodded. It seemed that Bron had gotten the only words that he was going to get out of the massive longneck. He simply wondered what was going to happen when Doc’s mind finally processed what had transpired. Would he be accepting of the new reality that they now faced or would he ratchet down on his anti-sharptooth mentality. Doc was obviously in shock at having many of his certainties in life be utterly destroyed in the span of a few moments. When that shock wore off, however, Bron feared for the outcome.

Sighing, Bron looked towards where the other fastbiters had congregated.

From his vantage point he could see the obvious figures of Cera, Ducky, and Spike. Their yellow and green colorations stood out in the sea of brown mud that surrounded their defensive site. However, he could not easily identify some of the others that were rushing onto the scene. A flyer was approaching from the air. Was that Petrie? Well that would make sense... There was also a trio of fastbiters who seemed to be slowly heading towards the area as well. One was grey, whereas the other was orange with noticeable black stripes. There also was an adult green fastbiter that Bron recognized immediately.

Thud? What the blazes is Thud doing here? None of the others seemed to be threatening him or paying him much heed, so Bron guessed that he must have been an ally or a guest of the pack. Bron's expression grew grim. I will have to discuss this with Littlefoot. Does he know how many valley residents died because of Red Claw and his minions? How could he ally with one of them? His thoughts were quickly interrupted however when Ruby suddenly burst onto the scene and ran up the long log. The sounds that followed would haunt him for days to come.

Mournful shrieks arose from the gathered crowd. It was a most horrifying sound to hear a predator mourn. The high pitched screams seemed to convey sadness and rage in equal measure. It was a sound that Bron had never heard before and that he hoped he would never hear again. Upon hearing the unnatural sound he took stock of his surroundings and realized something that had escaped his notice until then.

Littlefoot. Where is Littlefoot? Is he... No...

With all of the speed that he could muster, Bron waded into the mud pool. His massive build and strong legs was more than a match for the relative shallow mud pool as he powered his way to where the predators were gathered. As he approached he could see that all of the assembled fastbiters were assembled around something. Something that was being embraced by Cera and Ruby.

As he got closer to the assembled crowd his struggles in the mud became more and more vocal until finally Cera looked up and saw the approaching longneck. She placed a hand on Ruby's shoulder, a gesture which was rebuffed as she kept her embrace on whatever she was protecting. After a few low grunts, however, Ruby looked up and could see the massive dinosaur that had traveled to their location. She seemed to hesitate for a moment and gave him an expression that almost looked apologetic. In a movement that seemed to take ages in Bron's mind she carefully put down the object that she had been holding. It was only now that he realized that there was a crimson liquid all over Ruby, Cera, and the log.

Blood.

They had been forced to fight a battle after all. They had been too late to spare them that.

Now quaking in fear himself, Bron looked up at what lay upon the log. As both Ruby and Cera backed away he could see what they had been embracing.

His son. His beloved son.

With shaking legs and a broken heart, he dropped his massive head down to his fallen son. His brave, brave son. His mind couldn't process the cruelty of it. The shear barbarity of it. To have reconciled with his beloved son only to have him snuffed out. His son had died protecting those he loved and now all Bron could do was watch the aftermath. Why did life have to be so cruel? Why...

That was when he felt it. It was barely noticeable, but it was there all the same.

A heartbeat.

Littlefoot was still alive.


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