The Seven Hunters

Chapter 50 Informing the herd

Not only must the message be correctly delivered, but the messenger himself must be such as to recommend it to acceptance.

― Joseph Barber Lightfoot

The fastbiter watched as the bright circle rose across the horizon. The dark shades of night disappeared under the radiant gleam of the sunrise. A symphony of colors: reds, oranges, and yellows; emanated from the rising orb. However the brightening sky did not match the mood of the morose fastbiter at all. To her a cloud still hung in the air. An absence, a loss, which would not be lifted. It was as if she were going through life while missing one of her senses. It all seemed unreal somehow. Shallow. Fake.

"Breeze?"

Spike's voice seemed far away to Breeze, for she was still lost in her thoughts. She still longed for the close friend who would never return. The fastbiter that she had considered a brother. She had restrained these feelings while they were fleeing to the protection of Littlefoot's pack, but she could not restrain them anymore. The absence had now festered into a chasm. A chasm that she felt was insurmountable. It was only when Spike placed a comforting hand on her shoulder that she broke out of her trance.

"Hey. Are you alright?"

She sighed. She supposed that there was no reason to lie. With a slow shake of the head she indicated her answer in the negative. She was not alright. She was absolutely mournful. With trembling claws she awaited the onslaught of questions. The concerned looks. The needlessly in-depth interrogation. She awaited the inevitable.

But it never came. Instead, Spike simply sat beside her and watched the bright circle rise. No words were exchanged. No intrusive glances were made. He simply sat beside her while she watched the radiant orb rise into the sky. She found this demeanor odd, but she did not resist his company. It felt good to have another warm body beside hers. A presence which was not imposing like Taunt, nor controlling like Littlefoot, nor ponderous like Ruby. But rather a presence that simply was there for whenever she wanted to open up. She hadn't had that since... since...

Since Skytail.

She barely noticed the comforting embrace while she wept. Her emotions, which had been restrained for so long, were now pouring out like a flood. All of the anger. All of the sadness. All of the regret. It all came out like a confusing symphony of misery and torment. It was a purge of deepest feelings in her soul and like a flood, it was uncontrollable and feral. It was only when her whimpers died down and she was shaking like a leaf that she noticed that Spike had supported her the whole time. Not judging. Not interpreting. Just being there when she needed. For that she was eternally grateful.

"Sorry..." She choked out. "I was... I was..."

Spike calmed her with a few soft words. "It's okay. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

Breeze shook her head. "No... I think I want to. I've kept it inside for too long." She took in a sucking breath. "I miss him so much... He was like a brother to me."

Spike nodded, while not breaking the embrace. "Skytail?"

Breeze nodded against his shoulder. But Spike did not say anything further, he was waiting for her to talk when she was ready. After a few moments, she spoke again.

"He... was like a brother to me, you know? His parents took me in when I was orphaned... When I had no one..." She took a few moments to catch her bearings. Spike did not interrupt but simply gave her the time that she needed. "I thought of him like a brother... but I guess I also thought of him as something more." She choked back a sob. "I wanted to spend my life with him. And now he's gone!"

The crying was more violent this time now that the truth was out. Spike, for his part, leaned back in order to accept more of the mournful fastbiter's weight. Several minutes went by before Spike decided to speak again.

"He isn't truly gone, you know?"

As the grey fastbiter looked at him with a confused expression, he continued.

"You remember him. You remember his songs, his deeds, his love..." He then pointed at her chest. "As long as you have that then he will always be in your heart."

She shook violently at this statement. "But that won't bring him back!"

Spike didn't react to her outburst, but instead continued. "No. We won't see him until it is our time to move on... Until then we can only live in a way that would make him proud of us." He then smiled at her. "That is the way that we honor his memory."

Breeze was silent for several moments as she leaned against the green fastbiter. For his part, Spike was silent as well. His existence as a mute leaf-eater having taught him the value of silence. After a few moments, however, Breeze spoke again.

"Thank you, Finder." She sighed mournfully. "I just need some time to sort out things."

Spike nodded. "If you need any help you know where I am."

Breeze broke away then. She rose to her feet and tried to stand alone for a few minutes. Spike did not budge, but rather stayed put in a show of continued support and concern. After a few moments, Breeze regained her composure and addressed the green fastbiter once more.

"Taunt means well... but he would have overwhelmed me with concern. How did you..." She trailed off. Not sure of her question.

Spike fortunately understood what she was getting at.

"I was mute as a leaf-eater." This caught Breeze off-guard. Her facial expression indicated surprise mixed in with pity. "I learned the value of silence and when it was best to listen." Spike answered plainly. "Sometimes those who speak too much miss what it is truly important."

Breeze now smiled for the first time that day. "Well thank you, Spike. I think that I am okay now." Her next actions, however, caught the former spiketail by surprise.

She licked him on the cheek.

As he looked at her in surprise, she gave an embarrassed smile and quickly sprinted away. He was pleased that she had obtained her emotional catharsis, but was confused by her gesture. What did all of that mean? He was frozen in that position for several moments until the sound of flapping wings caught his attention.

"Oh no! They looking at tail here too!" Came the mocking response from the flyer.

Spike growled in a mixture of amusement and annoyance. "Oh, shut it, beak-face!" Then, realizing the implications of Petrie's return, he turned towards the flyer and asked. "Wait! How did it go? Did your uncle get the job done?"

Petrie shrugged. "Me tell uncle, but it up to him to do the rest." The flyer then took on a more contemplative expression. "But a lot going on! Bad stuff!"

Spike sighed. "Well, knowing our luck it couldn't be good news now could it? Let's go get the others..."

As Spike and Petrie headed to where the others were sleeping, the bright circle continued to rise in the sky. It began to rise into the clouds, as the clouds' shadows began to cover the ground. But was this an omen of light conquering the darkness or an allusion to darker days to come?

......

The Red Coast:

Nunti stared at the display in front of him with a mixture of amusement, interest, and disgust.

Despite being rather young, he was not entirely ignorant of the facts of life. He knew how to care for himself, how to collect food, and how to get along with the other flyers in his herd. However, he was still extremely young and as a result he often found himself making mistakes which led to ridicule by others in his current herd. In fact, the only member of the traveling herd that seemed to give him the time of day was Pterano. When he panicked at the approach of the small sharptooth flyer, the others ridiculed him but Pterano had sat him down and explained to him the importance of keeping your eyes open.

"So you see, young one, it is important to keep your eyes open. You never know when even a small detail could be what saves you."

Nunti pondered this for a moment, before responding to the elder. He was the first adult that had spent any time talking to him since he left his mother's nest. The first year of his independence was quite a lonely one...

"But shouldn't we be afraid of all sharpbeaks? Even if he was just a small one..."

Pterano nodded. "It depends. You are now at the Time of Great Growing, so you are probably safe from a single sharpbeak, but if there are many of them and they are hungry... then that could be quite a different situation." He then seemed to think for a moment. "Most sharpbeaks eat fish, so usually they are only a threat to our young."

Nunti nodded. "So that's why my mother would be so afraid of them..."

Pterano beamed at the young flyer. "Exactly."

Nunti still had a question, however. "It is odd that they can't speak. They must be stupider than us."

Pterano shook his head at this. "Not quite, they can be quite intelligent." His eyes seemed to take on a darker expression, as if he were remembering an unpleasant memory. ...dangerously intelligent. Some can even speak out language."

"They can!?" Nunti had never heard of that possibility.

Pterano nodded. "Indeed. Though I would be cautious of believing what they have to say. Many of the other leaf-eaters ignore them since they usually eat fish and they can't be chased off by the ground-walkers... But they can be devious when it suits them."

Nunti took a hard look at Pterano. "It sounds like that you know this first-hand."

Pterano didn't answer but simply resumed eating his meal. He obviously did not want to speak further on the matter.

As the memory of his first conversation with Pterano faded from his recollection, his attention again turned to the scene in front of him. He almost wished that Pterano were here to tell him what all of this meant.

He was sitting near the coast with some of the adolescent males and disinterested females. Some of the older mothers would not breed, but they would still congregate to wish their newly adult daughters luck in the courtship rituals. Likewise, many of the weaker or less successful males would stand apart from the display and simply watch for an opportunity. Most females would only mate with the strongest males, which had the most impressive crests. However, there was always the occasional female with odd tastes in a mate. These were the females for which all of the other males would be on the lookout. It was their only chance really.

Nunti only knew the basics of courtship and as a result, most of the particulars confused him greatly. Why were the males squawking at one another while waving their head crests at one another? Why did most of the females find this alluring? When would he be expected to participate in this ritual? Would he even stand a chance once he reached full size?

He then turned his head back to the females which were waiting by the shore. The older females were holding back and occasionally whispering to their daughters. They were undoubtedly assisting them pick the better 'champions' in order to ensure that their bloodlines remained strong. The non-participating males, however, had no such whispers of encouragement or guidance. Only the females were aware of their extended bloodlines, with many generations of females keeping track of one another, whereas the fathers did not participate in the raising of children. As a result, an odd paradox developed. The males were in many ways the most unbound in flyer society, being free to mate with as many females as they wishes provided that they were the most impressive of a highly competitive field. However, at the same time, they were forced upon the end of their childhoods to enter this competitive world with no guidance, no support, and no easy prospects. Whether Nunti became a dominant male in the future or a lifelong bachelor, he knew that his fate was truly in his hands. It was both liberating and terrifying.

It was these haunting thoughts which burdened his mind on this day. He was truly on his own. It was with these morose thoughts that Nunti realized that he needed to create a new support network. He needed to find like-minded friends. If he couldn't find that in his current flyer herd, then perhaps he could join with one of the countless others that were currently here? It was that final thought that was interrupted by a sudden voice from behind him.

"Ah, Nunti! How goes your first gathering?"

Nunti jumped at the sudden incursion. However, upon registering who was talking to him, he immediately turned around and responded.

"Pterano! I figured that you were... well... you know..."

Pterano froze for a moment, before laughing. "Afraid not, young one. I long settled on the solitary life..." Pterano then looked at the females which were congregated all over the coast. "What about you? See any that strike your fancy?"

Nunti snorted. "Until I am older and stronger it might be better for me to not look too closely..."

Pterano nodded. "True. Very true." He then turned his attention back to the cliffs and the ongoing dominance displays which were still going on full force. "It seems that neither of us has any work left for us here, except to wait for the herds to separate again." The elder flyer then looked at Nunti with an odd expression. "I seem to have a problem, Nunti."

Nunti was taken aback by this. Pterano had just used his actual name, instead of calling him 'young one'. Obviously something serious was going on. With that in mind, he listened carefully. "What problem is that, Pterano?"

Pterano sighed. "I have just been given a messenger mission from some close friends of mine... Some friends that I owe some favors to..." His beak shook a bit on that statement, but he continued. "I need to do this, but I cannot be the one to do this."

Nunti was perplexed, but he did not interrupt. "They want me to give a message to the Great Valley. I trust that you know of the place?" At Nunti's nod, he continued. "I got into... some trouble there... so I cannot be the one to give the message." He sighed again. "They can't even know that I was the one who was given the message... Someone else needs to be the one the spread the news."

Nunti interrupted at this point. "I will do it." At Pterano's surprised expression, he continued. "There is nothing for me here. At least nothing this season... You have been a great help to me, sir. Let me help you now."

Pterano opened his beak slightly, before closing it again. It seemed that Pterano was stunned by his sudden acceptance. His beak may have communicated surprise, but his eyes conveyed pride. He was pleased with the younger flyer.

"Such eagerness and kind-heartedness. You remind me of someone that I used to know, Nunti. I trust that you will grow up to be just as courageous as he is." Pterano praised.

Nunti took a slight bow. "You honor me, sir."

Pterano retorted. "I am endangering you."

"Sometimes they are the same thing." Nunti countered.

Pterano nodded. "True..." With a slight pause, he sighed and continued. "This will be a rather long message. I trust that your mother told you of how messengers do their work?"

Nunti smiled and gave an enthusiastic boast. "I was the best in my nest! You can count on me!"

Pterano laughed. "Good... Good..." He then cleared his throat and took on a more serious expression. "All right... This is what you need to tell the valley..."

......

The Land of Shallow Waters:

"Is everyone here?"

The entire pack was assembled. Like a sentinel, Chomper stood at Littlefoot's right side, while Ruby and Cera were assembled to Littlefoot's left. Spike, Ducky, Breeze, and Petrie were some distance away and were talking amongst themselves. There was obviously a sense of excitement amongst the pack as they were about to carry out a journey that many of them thought that they would never undertake. A journey to the Great Valley. A journey to their old home. Their reaction was completely understandable.

However, at this point it was also counterproductive.

"Hey everyone!" Chomper yelled. "Listen up!"

At the sudden outburst, everyone started to calm down and look towards the four at the front of the group. They were now ready to get to work.

"We have all heard what Petrie has to say." Littlefoot affirmed. "Now we need to make sure that we are ready for this." At this point he turned towards Taunt and Breeze. "Have you two decided on what you want to do?"

After a pause, Breeze stepped forward. She had a neutral expression on her face. "I guess that we have worked out a deal with your parents, Path." She turned her expression towards Chomper. "They need help to defend our territory, so Thud will help guard the place."

Cera sputtered at this news. "What!?"

Taunt shrugged and stepped forward himself. "We were able to talk them into it. My father will help guard the place and if he fails..."

Littlefoot did not hide his surprise in his expression. "I am sure that your dad will do fine. But how did you convince Dein and Terri? They aren't exactly the most..."

Cera offered the missing word. "...diplomatic?"

Littlefoot snorted. "Yeah."

Breeze then responded to their query. "They know what this trip means to all of you and they didn't want to split the pack... Plus Thud did prove himself by saving me and Breeze. Dein did make us promise one thing, however."

Ruby was curious. "What was that?"

Breeze's mouth quivered for a moment. "Guess we're going to be on run-down duty for a cycle of the night circle."

Run-down duty was euphemism for being the ones charged with chasing prey into the range of the larger sharpteeth. Although they had started out hunting in such a manner, it was now seen as somewhat demeaning as both two-footers were capable of hunting on their own and the pack was well-trained to hunt as a unit. This duty did not really trouble them in terms of inconvenience, but it did hurt their pride. Which was more pressing to some members of the pack than others...

"What?! What does he think that we are? His lackeys?!"

With some humor, Chomper answered truthfully. "Yep." At Cera's enraged look, he continued. "My mommy and daddy are the bigger sharpteeth. We have to do what they say."

With some annoyance, Cera grunted and dug at the ground with her talons. But she refrained from giving a retort. Dein and Terri had done so much for them, so this additional chore was not too much to ask. Especially if they were going to guard their territory in their absence and even tolerate Thud's presence. However, Cera was not one to admit she was wrong, so she simply gave a huff and walked backwards some distance. She would not rage against the decision, but she would not embrace with open arms either.

Littlefoot sighed. "Well, looks like we have some work ahead of us then. But I am glad that you two will be able to join us. It wouldn't be right for you two to be left behind after... after all that has happened." The death of Skytail was still fresh in everyone's mind. It seemed that the Taunt and Breeze were recovering nicely after finally meeting up with their surviving friends. They knew that they couldn't replace Skytail, Vigilant, or Scarflank, but they could still be there for the two fastbiters. Their reality was not what it once was, but they knew that they would be united for whatever may come. All of this was left unsaid, but some of the most profound truths did not need to be acknowledged, they simply needed to be lived.

At that point, Taunt said another truth that had not yet spoken. "You're going to warn the Great Valley about Red Claw, but what if he attacks while we are there?" His words came down on the others like an avalanche of boulders. Each had simply assumed that they had time to warn the adults and for them to seek shelter elsewhere. But what if... "Do you think that Breeze and I would simply let you fight alone? If you fight then we fight. We are a pack after all!"

Littlefoot was about to acknowledge Taunt's affirmation of friendship when the tender moment was interrupted by a sudden roar.

"Son!"

At the sudden roar of Terri, everyone turned and saw that Chomper's two parents were approaching. Chomper took the opportunity to sprint after them and after a few moments he embraced his mother's massive foot. His efforts in turn earned him a nuzzle from Terri's snout. This was a gesture that was repeated by Dein as well. It was obvious that the three sharpteeth were getting their goodbyes out of the way before their epic journey. They had trust in Chomper's friends, but they still were concerned for his well-being. The well wishes were both unnecessary and certain. By giving their consent to this venture, they were putting a massive responsibility on Littlefoot's shoulders.

Seeing that his friend was saying his goodbyes to his parents, Littlefoot looked at the other members. Despite being eager to get the journey started, his voice conveyed noticeable fatigue. "Well guys, let's go get my dad and Doc. It is time for us to get started."

At that point, Cera asked the obvious question. "How do you think your dad and Doc are going to take the news about Red Claw?"

Littlefoot simply turned towards his yellow companion with a somewhat menacing expression.

"I feel sorry for any other sharpteeth we happen to meet on the way to the valley."

Cera nodded at this and gave a slight smile. They all knew that the longnecks would be on board for the defense or evacuation of Haven Valley. Now all that awaited them was the journey there and the long overdue reunion. Uncertain days lay ahead for the band of unlikely packmates, but they all knew that they were in this together.

......

The Haven Valley:

"So that's why fire rocks can form such sharp points."

Mr. Thicknose nodded at the male rainbowface's words. Chronos, was his name if he remembered correctly. He had always wondered why the black stones from smoking mountains, or fire rocks as they were called, could be so brittle and form such fine points when broken. But the other dinosaur's explanation was quite interesting. He never realized that the rock had bubbles in its...

Mr. Thicknose frowned as he could see that the female rainbowface, Logos, was now whispering in agitation at Chronos. For his part, Chronos had the expression of a child caught stealing from a sweet bubble tree. He couldn't make out what the female was saying, but he couldn't escape the thought that him being told of this little piece of knowledge might have caused a domestic dispute of some kind. It was odd that Chronos only shared his little bits of wisdom with him when the female wasn't around. This was odd behavior for a male to hide details from his mate. Logos is his mate, isn't she? I have only seen mates argue like this. In either case, Mr. Thicknose knew nothing of such romantic matters besides what he picked up from others. His knowledge on all subjects was mainly limited to what he heard from farwalkers on their journeys across the world. But he had never gained as much knowledge on the mundane and celestial, rocks and stars, as what he had picked up from these rainbowfaces. It made him wonder where those two had come from.

"What have I told you about discussing..."

"It caused absolutely no harm, I assure you..."

"Blah... Blah... Blah... Are you even listening to yourself?"

Mr. Thicknose sighed. He knew better than to intervene in such domestic squabbles, but he really felt sorry for Chronos and he most certainly did not relish the possibility that their little chats could be coming to an end. It was odd anyway, the female had told him a few things as well when the male wasn't present. Then why would she... Ah... Mr. Thicknose smiled slightly as he came up with an idea to save Chronos from the verbal onslaught. His words interrupted the argument with all the subtlety of a rock crashing into a stream.

"Oh, Logos! There you are. Nice of you to join us." He then cleared his throat slightly as she tersely looked his way. "I wanted to thank you for telling me about those healing treestars. Those will come in handy the next time someone gets stung by a flying buzzer."

In an instant the Logos's facial expression fell into a personification of defeat, whereas Chronos looked at her with a mix of disbelief and amusement. He looked like a threehorn does right after he obtains his horns. The tables had turned quite suddenly.

"Oh... So you exchanged some information, did you?" Chronos responded with a smirk.

Logos made a placative gesture. "It was for the health of the younglings. They could get hurt and if I could help..." She then looked down in an expression of uncertainty. She then responded in a whisper that Mr. Thicknose could barely hear. "I don't know where to draw the line anymore."

Chronos's expression softened somewhat, but he still had one biting remark left. "What happened to being the 'Commander'? What happened to avoiding contamination?"

Logos walked over to Chronos and, placing a hand on his shoulder, began to whisper into his ear.

Mr. Thicknose shifted uncomfortably as the two had an extended exchange via whispers and gestures. He couldn't make out a word that they were saying, nor could he deduce on whether he should leave or not. He was never the best at reading the body language and intentions of other dinosaurs, which was why he often kept to himself even in his younger days. However, he did not want to interfere with their private resolution, so he quietly began to move away from the duo. He simply hoped that he would be able to talk to them again. The rainbowfaces were good company and he would miss their discussions if they ever left.

A good conversation is hard to come by...

The rainbowfaces intervened before he could even finish that final thought.

"Mr. Thicknose?"

At the sound of his name being called, he turned towards the source. He noted with some trepidation that it was Logos.

"We... uh... We will talk to you tomorrow. There is plenty more that we can tell you about rocks and healing plants, but first me and my friend need to talk about some things..."

Mr. Thicknose's mind somewhat doubted that the designation of 'friend' was sufficient after the display that he had just seen, but he wisely kept that deduction from reaching his mouth. Instead, he simply wished them well.

"I look forward to it. See you two tomorrow then."

Seeing the two rainbowfaces leave, he chuckled to himself. Oh, to be young and in love... He mused. I never bothered with it. It seemed like too much trouble. With the thoughts of the rainbowfaces out of his mind for a moment, he turned to eating the vegetation from a nearby tree. His hunger was ignored while he engaged with his marathon conversation with the rainbowface, but now that the distraction had departed his hunger returned in full force. As a result, he engorged himself on the plentiful leaves as if he hadn't eaten in days. His furious eating was eventually interrupted however, by an angry scream from nearby.

"Who do you think you are?! Our children are dead!"

Mr. Thicknose stopped for a moment. Some unfortunate fool had upset Topps and was now paying the price. However, the event of Topps going unhinged was not a rare occurrence, so Mr. Thicknose resumed his slow eating. It was only when he heard another voice join in the chorus of condemnation that he took serious notice.

"Who put you up to tricking us? Have you no shame?!"

The sound of Grandma Longneck yell in a rage was a different circumstance all together. With a mixture of curiosity and concern, he rushed in the direction where the voices were.

......

"The message that I give is true."

Mr. Thicknose could now see the agitated scene in front of him. Volant had just struck the poor flyer and was shouting almost incompressible threats in his direction. Whatever he was saying had upset them beyond the point of no return.

"Your children are alive."

His mouth went agape. Mr. Thicknose had heard some unbelievable tales in his life, but this was absolutely beyond the pale. The children were most certainly dead. They had seen the sharpteeth leave the valley. They had seen the Stone of Cold Fire turn dark in the alley's grief. Bron had discovered his son's bones. There was no doubt that the children were dead. To have someone send the valley a messenger that was obviously trying to trick them. To give them false hope. It was unconscionable.

"I can prove it!" The flyer spoke in a panic as the other flyers were now circling around him with murderous intent. "I was told five things that only the children's parents would know!" As Volant continued to advance on him, he screamed. "Please! I am just the messenger! Do you have no shame?!"

"Stop." Volant spoke in a frightening monotone as she continued to advance right into the flyer's face. "Give us your 'proof' flyer. After it fails to convince us then you can tell us who sent you..." Her next words were spoken in a silent rage that even made Mr. Thicknose feel disturbed. "Either they will pay the price... or you will. I lost my son... my son... and I will not have his memory mocked." The flyer was now quaking at the mother's threat. "Now speak!"

The male flyer sucked in a breath. He obviously knew that his life... or the life of his sender... was hanging in the balance. Wasting no time, he began to speak.

"Mr. Threehorn? Your daughter's proof is the story of what she did when she was hatched." He cleared his throat in fear. "When she was only half hatched she rammed into your mate's nose and her egg broke."

Topps interjected at this point. "Many threehorns hatch by ramming into things! It is part of who we are!"

The flyer resumed, now visibly shaking and closing his eyes. "She continues, by saying that she then attacked a stinking buzzer, which sprayed her in the face. Or at least that was the story that you told her when she asked."

To the shock of everyone present, Topps collapsed to the ground as Tria rushed to his side. The longnecks ran to his side as well and silence descended upon the rest of the gathered adults. Mr. Thicknose found himself wondering what caused this sudden reaction, when Topps's mournful cry answered the question for everyone in the valley.

"Only I told her that!" He sucked in a breath as a painful sob emanated from the threehorn. "She made me promise to tell no one else. She didn't want anyone to know that the buzzer defeated her."

Silence descended upon the valley. No one dared speak a word as the threehorns try to comfort one another. After a few moments, however, a soft voice broke through the cloak of quiet.

"Mama Flyer?" It was the male flyer. At her name being called, Volant turned in slow trepidation. "Your son's proof is the story of what happened when you flew away and left him in the nest..."

As the secrets were told to the assembled adults, a chorus of disbelieving cries echoed across the valley. The amazing truth was shattering everything that they thought they knew. But it opened up more questions than answer. Where were they and why had they not returned? Why did they not come and tell the adults themselves? Why did they leave Chomper and thus subject him to the wrath of the parents? Where did those sharpteeth come from? But none of those were as important as one question.

"Are they okay?!" That question came from Ura, Ducky's mother. "Are my babies alright?!"

The male flyer answered slowly. "They are fine or so my sender tells me." He paused for a moment, struggling to remember the rest of his message. Between being threatened with death and being constantly interrupted, the adults weren't making his job easy. In fact, after this experience he resolved to never be a messenger flyer again. "They are coming here to reunite with all of you." At this news, all of the parents rejoiced until the flyer continued.

"But... they want you to meet them just outside the valley. Their parents only."

Volant did not understand this request. "Why?"

The flyer then finished his statement. "The very last thing that they told me is that they had changed and they wanted to explain it to their parents first."

Confused muttering broke out amongst the crowd as this cryptic statement was processed by everyone present. What did they mean by change? What changes could they not tell their parents about while they were in the valley?

For his part, the male flyer edged backwards in preparation for fleeing from the valley. He was quite finished with this place and their residents. Right now, he simply wanted to escape with his life and sanity intact. No wonder why Pterano got into some trouble here! He thought to himself. They're all crazy! Pterano must have been the only sane person here before he left! As the meeting continued around him, he flapped his wings and took flight. No one stopped him.

......

As the confused questions continued to circulate around the impromptu meeting, one voice arose out of the crowd. It was Topps.

"I... I think that I may know what happened..."

Several of the adults now began to move in Topps's direction in order to hear his explanation. Mr. Thicknose was one of them. The revelations of this day had shattered his view of life and death. It also threw everything that he thought he knew about what happened to the children. It was great that they were still alive, but it was also created a great many unanswered questions. He was eager to begin finding out the answers. That was when Topps spoke again.

"I think that it may have to do with the Stone of Cold Fire. It reminds me of a tale that I heard once..."

As Topps went into his amazing tale, Mr. Thicknose was only tangentially aware of the two rainbowfaces who were watching the scene from beside him. As a result, he did not hear the comment from Logos.

"So it begins..."


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