The Seven Hunters

Chapter 53 Storm clouds

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

The parents all seemed to break away from their loved ones as Chomper's form emerged from the bushes. Here was the purple sharptooth that they had hated with the intensity of the bright circle. The one who they had all assumed to be the instrument of their children's doom. A figure of betrayal and hatred in the valley. The only dinosaur that the valley had ever taken the extraordinary step of voting to track down and assassinate. His name had become a curse, not to be said in polite company.

But now they all knew the truth.

As Topps saw the purple sharptooth slowly walk towards the longnecks, he felt more than a pang of guilt. He had very nearly killed the sharptooth during his panicked exit from the valley. He had even gone so far as to break his horn in the process. Now here he was with the children that he thought had been lost months before. It had felt like that several lifetimes had passed since those momentous events, but now he could see how little things had truly changed. His child and her friends were still obviously friends in their new lives and Chomper was part of that. Topps was not ignorant of the harsh realities of the world; he knew that the very fact of the children's survival surely depended on the purple sharptooth. After all, only he could have taught them the skills that would necessary to exist in the Mysterious Beyond.

To kill... To hunt...

With a heavy sigh, he looked back at his daughter who still had tears of joy in her eyes. He gave her a knowing look, to which she simply nodded. He knew what he needed to do.

"Chomper?" He called out hesitantly.

The small sharptooth stopped suddenly and seemed to pause for a moment. Then, in a very hesitant fashion, he turned towards the source of the call. It was only then that Chomper responded.

"Yes?"

Topps wasted no time in getting to the point. "You... You helped them, didn't you?" On its face, it was a stupid question with an obvious answer, but it still needed to be said.

"Yes, daddy!" Cera responded immediately. "He helped us learn how to use our sniffers, how to track, how to hunt..." She cut herself off suddenly once she realized what she had just said.

Topps noticeably winced when Cera made her statement about learning 'how to hunt', but he was not really surprised. Ever since Chronos had told him the story about the stone, he had several weeks to contemplate the idea of his child becoming a sharptooth and everything that entailed. This did not mean that he freely accepted this twist of fate. Far from it. But he was passed the point of being shocked by the revelation. He suspected, however, that the others would have a harder time coming to terms with that reality.

At this point, Tria swallowed and spoke to the sharptooth. "Thank you, Chomper. Our children are still alive because of you."

Topps looked back at his mate, who had a slight smile on her face. She simply gave him a knowing nod. He realized that she knew that he would have a hard time admitting he was wrong about Chomper, so she made the difficult move for him. To ensure that Chomper knew the feeling was mutual, he quickly nodded in Chomper's direction. After all, he knew that if he failed to do so then Tria would compel the matter.

Chomper seemed to calm a bit at the kind response that he received from the threehorns. With some curiosity, Topps watched as he began to growl at Littlefoot in a conversational manner. After a few moments of listening, Littlefoot began to growl back. It seemed that the two were having a conversation of sorts, much to the bemusement of Littlefoot's grandparents and the other parents. When Cera and Ducky began to growl as well, Topps decided to intervene.

"Would any of you like to say something in a way that we can understand?" He said in a deadpan manner. He had no idea what the children had been talking about. It could have been anything from the weather to how longnecks tasted as far as he knew. Luckily for him, Cera spoke and gave him some context to their conversation.

"Daddy, we didn't just come here to visit... there is something else that we need to talk about..."

At that moment, Topps decided that he didn't like the wary sound of Cera's voice.

"Alright." The sound came from Grandpa Longneck's direction. "Maybe we should gather around and listen to what our children have to say."

......

"Well, if he wants a fight then let's give him a fight!"

Littlefoot had to smile a bit at the bravado of Cera's father, but the issue was more complicated than that.

"Well, it's not just Red Claw..." Littlefoot offered. "He also has a pack of fastbiters that does his bidding." He then looked at his grandparents and pushed some of his feathers aside to show the massive scar on his neck. "We have met them before."

"Oh, Littlefoot!" Grandma Longneck exclaimed while looking at the massive injury. His grandfather also stared at his grandson's wound in disbelief. A wound such as that was usually lethal.

Chomper nodded at Littlefoot's words. "Yeah. And Red Claw has some flyers too..." He then gestured at Petrie. "Petrie talked to some of them."

Volant looked at Petrie with surprise, to which Petrie responded with a look of discomfort. However, after clearing his throat, he soon elaborated on the tale.

"When me was flying to Pterano..." Petrie began.

"What does he have to do with all of this?!" Topps demanded, before Tria tried to gently shush him.

"Me getting to that!" Petrie responded in some agitation. "Me tell him to tell all of you about us. But he tell someone else to tell you. Because you not believe him."

Topps snorted at Petrie's words. "You are correct there. We almost didn't believe the flyer he did send."

Petrie nodded at the threehorn's words. He felt sorry for whoever his uncle did send to convince the parents. It must have been a thankless task. "But before me get to uncle, other flyers find me! Rinkus and Sierra!"

Volant reacted with concern at this. "Oh dear! They didn't hurt you did they?"

Petrie shook his head firmly. "Me convince them that me bad flyer too. They told me what Red Claw planning. It not good." At the expectant looks of the adults, he continued. "Red Claw want to kill valley, be he too weak to kill valley now. He want to hurt valley now that adults in Haven Valley. Haven Valley not as strong."

Grandma longneck turned to Grandpa in a concerned gesture. "My goodness, he is right! It would be harder to defend Haven Valley. The entrances are large!"

Ura now offered her own concerns. "You're right! You mainly relied on the fact that sharpteeth wouldn't find the place. But if Red Claw has fliers..."

......

There was nervous chatter and discussion for several moments as the adults deliberated on what this meant for the adults in the near future. Should they evacuate? Should they prepare a defense? However, after a few moments Topps made a suggestion that seemed to resonate with everyone.

"We will need to call a meeting tomorrow. All of the herds will have to discuss this." He then looked at the Grandpa Longneck. "I don't think that they will listen to us anymore."

At this revealing admission, Grandpa Longneck could only nod. This led to the obvious question by Littlefoot.

"What does he mean, Grandpa?"

Grandma Longneck shook her head and tried to calm her grandson's concerns. "Don't worry about it, Littlefoot. We can talk about it tomorrow during the meeting." However, as soon as she had said it, she realized the folly of her idea. The children were sharpteeth. How were they supposed to simply waltz into the valley meeting? The parent already weren't on the best terms with some of the other adults now that the truth about the children was out in the open. However, they valley should hear the story from the source...

"I guess... that we need to bring the children to the meeting as well." She offered weakly to the others, unsure how they would take the idea.

Tria was accepting of the idea, but with reservations. "I'm not sure how the valley will take the idea of sharpteeth in the valley. Maybe we can have them see their siblings first at the entranceway before going to the meeting?"

Ura nodded. "That would be good. I am sure Spike and Ducky would love to see their brothers and sisters again."

"Oh I would! Yep, yep, yep!" Ducky affirmed.

Spike then spoke. "I can't wait to finally talk to them!"

Ura and the other parents look at Spike with surprise. "You can talk now, Spike?!" Ura muttered.

Spike seemed to realize how much of a shock this would be to the adults and quickly explained himself. "Yes... I could only speak sharptooth before, but Chomper taught me leaf-eater again." He was cut off from speaking more when Ura hugged him tightly, a gesture which Ducky also joined in.

It was at this time that Ruby made her presence known from the bushes. "So we wait out here until morning and then in the morning we go in?" She asked in her usual manner of speaking.

Topps smiled at the sound of her voice. He had felt great guilt when Chronos pointed out that he had been forced to tell Ruby's parents of her death. They had not been told of Chomper and Ruby's survival by the flyer so they were unsure of their fate until the two dinosaurs had showed themselves.

"You're alive!" Topps exclaimed, but then he quickly regained his composure. "Um... Yes. Yes that sounds like a good idea." He then looked at Cera. "That way, Cera, you can see Tricia again before the other adults can complain about sharpteeth being in the valley."

Cera was happy at this news. "How has Tricia been?!"

Topps smiled. "She was sad about your 'death', but she has been growing. She can say many more words now and she even crushed her first rock a few days ago."

Grandma Longneck smiled at the scene of father and daughter catching up on lost time. They were in an extremely difficult situation with the intentions of Red Claw and the fate of the children was still to remain apart from them, as they simply couldn't settle back into the valley. However, the mere fact that their children lived and were well placed her heart at peace. Much of the guilt and regret that had built up over the last nine months was dissipating with the sight of their children's love. Her moment of peace and tranquility were soon interrupted, however, by a comment from Cera.

"Don't even joke about that, Taunt! Or I will rip out your spleen!"

Cera seemed to immediately look embarrassed about the fact that she said that aloud. Or perhaps that she said it in leaf-eater. Grandma deduced. However, Littlefoot soon came to the yellow fastbiter's aid.

"Well, Cera..." Littlefoot said with obvious coyness. "Before we go to sleep and prepare for our big day tomorrow, perhaps we should introduce our other friends." He then gestured towards the bushes and gave a few odd hand signals. As if on cue, an orange fastbiter with black stripes and a grey fastbiter emerged from the foliage.

The adults considered these two sharpteeth warily. These were not their children, but rather sharpteeth that had been born and raised that way. This gave them all some pause.

Spike was the first to speak up. "This one right here is Breeze." He then gestured for her to come towards him and she did so, earning a quick appraisal from Ura.

The orange one seemed to stare at Cera for a while with an almost bewildered look. Finally, she decided to introduce her friend.

"This insufferable, foulmouthed, fiend is Taunt." Her introduction made the members of the gang all laugh out loud. However, Cera then gestured for Taunt to go towards her.

Taunt moved towards Cera with the utmost caution, obviously being frightened by the stern-faced threehorn that was staring at him with unknown intent. He carefully positioned himself behind Cera and took on an unassuming posture. However, Taunt's noticeable fear seemed to please Topps and he did nothing more to escalate the situation. That was when Ducky decided to have the last word.

"So when we all visit our brothers and sisters tomorrow, are all of you bringing your boyfriends and girlfriends along too?"

This made Topps sputter and take on a stunned expression. He may have prepared himself for the revelation that the children were now sharpteeth, but he was not ready for that revelation.

As Grandma Longneck struggled not to laugh at the threehorn's stunned expression and the sheer insanity of the situation, she heard Bron mutter something to her side.

"Topps stunned into silence. I thought that I would never see the day."

Sleep did not come easily to the sharpteeth. Their parents and grandparents had reentered the valley in order to watch over their other children and to get them ready for the reunion the next morning. Likewise, the lingering questions about Red Claw's threat to the valley still resonated in the minds of the sharpteeth and their parents alike. Would the valley listen to them? Would they even be permitted to speak at the meeting? It was obvious that something had changed in the leadership of the herds, but none of the sharpteeth was quite sure what that was. It was only the next morning when they reunited with their families at the outskirts of the valley that they began to have their questions answered.

......

The next morning:

Cera awoke with a start.

The sun was just beginning to peek above the horizon as the lingering darkness began to be overtaken by the signs and sounds of a new morning. Today was the big day when they all would be reunited with their siblings. They would have that brief moment of welcome respite before the uncertain meeting would begin. She had no idea how the other adults would take the news of their transformation, or how they would respond to the news that they were about to bring. To be honest, she wasn't looking forward to it. She remembered how the adults would argue back when she was still a threehorn and it was very chaotic then. She hated to think what it would be like now after so much had happened.

Smiling, she slowly rose from her resting place. She was eager to wake the others so that they could get this started. She was not about to let her lack of sleep get in the way from meeting Tricia after such a long absence. With this in mind, she turned around to wake the others...

Only to find that they were nowhere to be seen!

Cera quickly sprinted from her sleeping place, tripping over Taunt in the process, and began sniffing at where the others had been sleeping the night before. She could tell by the freshness of their scents that they had left a few moments ago. Cera was enraged. How come they had left to see their parents without waking her first?!

"We told them to let you sleep for awhile; it seems that you needed it."

Cera jumped at the sudden intrusion of Tria's voice. Tria spoke with some humor, but Cera did not feel anything humorous at the moment. Who knew how long they would be permitted to visit with family before the valley would tell them to leave? For that matter, they might actually be chased out again for all she knew. She didn't want to waste any more time that could be spent catching up with her family. With that in mind, she jabbed Taunt with her claws, waking him up again.

"Ouch! What did you do that for!?" Taunt exclaimed.

Cera took on a toothy smile. "Come on, Taunt! It is time for you to meet my family."

Taunt paled at this. "I think that I met them enough already... Your dad looked at me like I was a buzzer to be stomped on."

"Well... that certainly is an idea." Cera deadpanned.

"Hey!" Taunt protested.

Cera laughed at his antics. "Come on... It is time for you to have a proper introduction. Besides... if you don't show up then I will tell my daddy what you said back at the meeting last night."

Taunt sprung to his feet. "You wouldn't dare!"

Cera smiled. "Would I?" She then gestured for Taunt to follow. "Come along, Taunt..." Taunt gave an exasperated sigh as he reluctantly followed behind the former threehorn.

Tria watched the scene in front of her with obvious amusement. It was obvious that Cera and Taunt where quite a pair, although she knew that Topps would not be very welcoming of any male courting his daughter. Let alone another fastbiter. Tria could only shake her head at the absurdity of the situation. Despite still being a youth, her stepdaughter was growing up fast.

......

Meanwhile, near the northern entrance of the valley, Littlefoot was catching up with his grandparents. All of the longnecks in the family were there: the grandparents; Bron; and Shorty. For his part, Littlefoot was joined by Ruby and Chomper, who were telling the grandparents about their fight with Calin.

"And then we had the idea of going to the mud pits. If we went to an area where there were only two entrances, than that would force them to attack us 2 at a time." Littlefoot was explaining. "It evened up the odds."

"But we were too late!" Ruby protested. "Calin had already ripped you throat open and I wasn't there! I wasn't there when he ripped open your throat!"

Chomper sighed. "You can't blame yourself, Ruby! We had to find some help!"

Littlefoot nodded at Chomper's words. "Chomper is right, Ruby. You also helped to nurse me back to health. I may not have lived if it wasn't for you." He finished his gentle chiding by giving her a light nuzzle, a gesture that she reciprocated.

Grandma Longneck looked at the scene with a slight smile. Despite the change in species that her grandson had undergone, the undertone of love and affection was still clear for anyone to see. Littlefoot was obviously too young to even contemplate mating or raising a family, but the obvious affection between Ruby and him were leading to an obvious conclusion. However, not wanting to ruin the moment, she remained silent.

Sparing a look at Grandpa, however, she could see the same knowing expression in his eyes. It was obvious that Littlefoot had found his companion. They had hoped for so long that perhaps Ali would be that special someone for their grandson, but it seemed that fate had other ideas. Either way, they were happy that Littlefoot had someone to call his own.

It was at this time, however, that Grandpa decided to ask a question that had been on his mind ever since he learned of Littlefoot's fate.

"Littlefoot, you have killed..." He quickly modified his statement. "You all have killed. How..." He sighed. There was no diplomatic way to ask this question and even though this truly was his grandson, he couldn't shake away the uneasiness of knowing that Littlefoot killed other leaf-eaters for a living. It was abhorrent in so many ways. Thankfully, however, Littlefoot finished the question for him.

"How can I eat others when a sharptooth killed my mother? How can I be the same thing as what I feared for so long?" He asked simply, which earned him a nod from his grandfather. Even though he had implied the question in a more far more diplomatic manner than Bron, the question still irked Littlefoot. It was a simple matter of biology now, he had no choice. Did the bright circle have to justify why it rose each morning? Did the breezes have to justify why they blew across the seas? Did the streams have to justify why it flowed downhill? It was simply the natural order of things and he was on the other side now. He knew that his grandparents knew this as well, but accepting the harsh reality was a far different matter than understanding it. With that in mind, even though Bron and Shorty had already heard the tale, Littlefoot decided to give his grandparents the full story.

"It all started when we couldn't find enough ground fuzzies to keep us from going hungry..."

......

"Why are we going outside the valley, momma?"

Ura smiled at her children. She had tried to protect her children from the rumors that had been floating around the valley about the missing children out of fear that they may turn out to be wrong. She was only partially successful in that endeavor. This morning, however, she knew the truth and it was time for her children to do the same. It was time for them to be reunited with their sister and adopted brother, even if it was only for one day.

"Children, you have heard the rumors about your sister Ducky and brother Spike being alive... haven't you?" Upon hearing their somewhat subdued affirmations, she continued. "Well last night your sister came home."

The collective shout of happiness from the enumerable children was immediate and deafening. They had been shackled with the burden of Spike and Ducky's 'deaths' for so very long. Death was not an uncommon occurrence for swimmers in the Mysterious Beyond, but the children had been spared that harsh reality in the Great Valley. That was, until Ducky and Spike disappeared. Now that the truth was out, the children were utterly ecstatic. The questions began immediately.

"Where are they, momma?"

"Are they okay?"

"Where were they?"

"Are they in trouble?"

Ura chuckled a little at her children, as tears began to flow from her eyes. "No, children. They are not in trouble. But they have changed... They are... different."

"How are they different, mommy?"

"Why are you crying? Are you hurt?"

"No, children I'm not hurt." Ura affirmed. "I'm just happy... As for why they are different..."

"Sharptooth!"

"Ahhhh!!!"

The children began to hide behind their mother as two familiar sights greeted Ura's eyes. Ducky and Spike were both advancing towards the family, but had stopped in their tracks at their siblings panicked screams. It seemed that they had expected Ura to have explained everything to the children before they got there. That probably would have been wise. Ura chided herself. However, now that the reunion was now in progress, she decided to finally explain the new reality to their children.

"Don't worry, children! These two sharpteeth won't hurt you."

One of the brothers didn't understand. "But mama! They're sharpteeth!"

Ura nodded. "Yes, dear. But these aren't just any sharpteeth... Do you all remember the Stone of Cold Fire? Well..." As she began to explain the whole situation to her children, Ura couldn't help but hope that the others were having an easier time then she was.

......

"Ahhh!!! Flying sharptooth!"

The scream emanated from the nest as Petrie flew in without preamble. The outburst caused Petrie to turn towards his mother.

"Me thought you tell them?" He asked with some concern.

Volant nodded. "I did, but they still seem to be afraid."

"Mama, fly away! There is a sharptooth here!"

Petrie sighed. "Me may be sharptooth, but me also Petrie!"

At Petrie's telltale manner of speaking, the shouts and panic died down. Petrie's voice was unmistakable. They may not have believed their mother's words when she first mentioned the change, but now they had no choice but to believe. Nonetheless, they looked upon Petrie with expressions of shock that had become all too common as far as Petrie was concerned.

"So... So it's true!" One of his more intrepid brothers spoke out. "You... You're a sharptooth now?" The fear was still present as some instincts were hard to override.

Petrie nodded. "Yep. Me sharptooth flyer now." Upon seeing his siblings begin to become more concerned at that affirmation he decided to temper it somewhat. "But me not bad sharptooth! Me only kill when me need to. Me usually eat ground fuzzies and fish!"

A nearly unanimous chorus of "Ewww!" echoed across the nest as his brothers and sisters gave their frank assessment of his diet. It seems even turning into a sharptooth did not prevent Petrie from being a subject of criticism for his siblings. In the past this would have filled him with sadness, but right now it actually seemed quite welcoming. It reminded him of simpler times. When his biggest problems were avoiding ridicule and hanging out with his friends. Now he had much more to worry about.

"So you have eaten other things?" One of his sisters asked.

This question disturbed Petrie somewhat. It had an obvious answer, but he was unsure how his siblings would take the answer. Regardless, he decided that the truth would be the best policy.

"Yes. Me eat other things."

"Other flyers?" One of his brother's questioned.

"When Petrie was starving? Yes."

At this affirmation, several of Petrie's brothers and sisters backed away towards the very back of the nest. Even Volant took a somewhat unreadable expression as she stared at her son. It was at that moment that Petrie realized that she may have suspected how far he had gone to get food, but this was her first confirmation of her suspicions.

Silence reigned in the nest for a few moments as the siblings seemed stunned by Petrie's admission and was trying to come to terms with it. Volant was also somewhat taken aback by the bluntness of Petrie's confirmation. He had certainly changed from the innocent flyer that he had been. After a few moments, however, she asked a probing question that only an empathetic mother could ask.

"How did that make you feel?"

On the surface, the question seemed innocent enough. However, Petrie could now tell what his mother was up to. She was trying to get him to open up. To express what it was like for him to be what he now had to be. Some part of his mind recoiled at the idea of letting himself go and admitting his faults and insecurities to anyone, even his family. But he ignored that side of himself. He owed it to his family and to himself to give a proper account of his feelings. Even if he often pretended to be untouchable in order to avoid the emotional pain of his life, he knew that his 'mask' was an illusion. The Petrie of old still remained. With a somewhat shaky voice, he answered his mother's query truthfully.

"Me feel bad afterwards." He admitted in a soft voice, which made his brother and sisters look at him in a somewhat more sympathetic way. "She just trying to protect her nest..." This caused many of his sisters to cringe and gasp at what was implied by those words. Volant, for her part, now had tears beginning to pool in her eyes. "But pack starving. If me not kill then we die. Me have no choice." The tears were now running down Volant's eyes. "She attack me afterwards... Me would die if not for Ducky. Ducky slashed her wing and then finish her..." Silence reigned in the nest at those words. "Ducky cry about it for a long time."

The stillness of the nest was only broken by Volant's soft crying and Petrie's own sobbing. This was the first time that he had truly opened up about his experiences and how they made him feel. Even when he talked to Pterano about it there was an element of secrecy in order to not admit weakness on his part. However, in front of the knowing eyes of his mother, Petrie could tell no lies. After a few moments, Petrie spoke again.

"Me sorry me be here. This be a mistake. Me leave..."

That was when a large wing blocked his path. It was his mother! Soon thereafter, several other small bodies congregated around him as well.

"No, Petrie. You don't have to face this alone. You have done a lot of terrible things, but you had no choice." Volant was openly crying now. "The valley won't allow you to stay, but you don't have to face this alone." She then placed her wing on his chest. "You will always be my son, Petrie. Never forget that."

As the entire family embraced in a scene of mass weeping and hysterics, Petrie was surprised by his own emotions. This was actually one of the happiest moments of his life. Yes, he had admitted his faults to his family and yes they did not truly understand his pain. Yes, they were all crying right now. And, yes, he was still confused and bewildered by the entire experience. But despite all this they were still willing to listen to him and accept him as one of their own. In that moment three welcome words were echoing in his mind.

Me not alone.

It was at that moment the sound of heavy breathing and a sudden crash could be heard. Immediately being distracted from the familiar embrace, Petrie and the others turned towards the entrance of the nest. Petrie gasped when he saw what was before him.

......

The teal flyer stood in shock at the sight in front of him. Could he have heard correctly? Could that sharptooth possibly be Petrie?

He had rushed back from his latest scouting run when he had heard the rumors about what had happened to the children. He had hoped that Volant could tell him more about the possibility of them being alive. Of Petrie being safe. That was when he had heard shouts from the nest. Amongst the shouts were "Petrie!" and "sharptooth!" In a panic he had hurled himself at the nest and glided to the best of his ability, which in the current wind conditions wasn't very well. But despite his disorientation from crashing into the nest, the sight in front of him caused him to stop in his tracks and take notice.

"Guido..." The sharptooth said as if he had seen a ghost. The voice sounded foreign and deeper, but it still had a very noticeable pattern to it. A pattern that he had heard from only one other flyer. The next sentence from the flyer, however, confirmed his suspicions. "Me glad to see you."

Guido could barely notice that his beak hung agape as the fantastic stories that he had heard were suddenly confirmed. If this was Petrie then... then... He hurriedly looked up at Volant, who simply gave him a sympathetic nod. With unsure feet, Guido stumbled up to Petrie.

"Me was going to find you next Guido, but me talk to family firs..."

Petrie's words were cut off by Guido's tearful embrace.

......

"You're not alone, Cera... I can't understand what you have gone through, but... you are not alone."

Cera nearly teared up at her stepmother's kind words. She had already made peace with her new reality, or so she had told herself, but the calm understanding of her stepmother seemed to touch something deep inside. Perhaps she was not quite as at peace with herself as she had been led to believe.

"Cera... still love you." Tricia spoke with much better enunciation that Cera thought possible. Her sister had grown so much in the last nine months. In response to this Cera nuzzled her sister, eliciting a giggle from the pink threehorn. It felt so good to finally see her family again. But she forgot about one little detail...

"Now what about the strange fastbiter that you brought with you?" Topps demanded.

As the eyes of the threehorns were now fixed on the orange fastbiter, Cera allowed herself one anxious thought.

Well, this should be interesting...

......

"Well, I guess that we need to get the meeting started soon. The bright circle is rising and the threat from Red Claw is real." Grandpa affirmed. His speech very quickly changed the focus of the three sharpteeth.

Littlefoot sighed. "I guess that you are right."

Chomper looked concerned. "Do you think that they will even let us get to the meeting? Will they chase us out again?!" A small hint of the young sharptooth's excitability was on display with that question. Although his question did have a legitimate point.

"Don't worry, children. We will keep you safe." Grandma Longneck affirmed. "Although, I don't know how the meeting will react to be honest." She sighed. "They will probably tell you to leave afterwards..."

Ruby then spoke up. "It is alright, Grandma Longneck. If we have to leave, then we leave. We have left before."

Littlefoot nodded. "Yeah... We could always keep in touch through Petrie!" He affirmed happily. "But this is not our home anymore. Sharpteeth do not belong in the valley."

As Ruby and Littlefoot both absentmindedly held hands, Chomper noticeably rolled his eyes at the antics of the two. It didn't even look like that the two were aware of their actions. However, it had not escaped the notice of Grandpa.

"I wonder how Ali will react when she sees you two acting like that!" Grandpa Longneck stated with some humor, before taking on a more serious tone. "I'm sure that she will be glad to see all of you. She seemed depressed when I saw her."

"She is here!?" All of the sharpteeth said in near unison. Bron and Shorty looked shocked at this news as well.

"Yes. She had been here for nearly a week now. It seems that she has lost much in the last year." Grandma Longneck affirmed. "Poor girl."

Littlefoot was nearly in a panic. This was an expression that was shared by Bron, Shorty, Ruby, and Chomper as well. Only his grandparents seemed confused by the lack of joy at the mention of Ali's presence in the valley. Littlefoot had neglected to tell his grandparents about Rhett or the attack on the herd's eggs. He had simply mentioned killing a dinosaur and stealing some eggs. In this case the details were very important. In this case they were damning. Taking a deep swallow, Littlefoot spoke.

"Grandma? Grandpa? There is something really important that you should know..."

......

Taunt stared at the threehorn as he emitted a series of grunts and growls at the fastbiter.

"Uh... Cera?"

At Taunt's question, Cera immediately cut him off. "Shut up, scales-for-brains! My daddy isn't done talking!"

The grunts and growls continued for several moments as Cera seemed to nod and take mental notes of her father's 'words'. For his part, Taunt couldn't make any sense of it. It was just a bunch of sap-sucker nonsense as far as he was concerned. However, he knew that whatever the threehorn was saying was dead serious, so he refrained from making any sudden moves or mocking statements. Even though Cera was the sole translator here, he didn't want to risk that her father would correctly guess that he was mocking his words or mannerisms. He had a strong aversion to being crushed or gored. Thankfully for Taunt, however, Cera soon gave him a translation of sorts.

"Well, daddy said quite a lot but here is a summary: he doesn't trust you, he doesn't want anyone to hurt or mistreat his daughter, and if you do then he will personally rip you limb from limb..."

Taunt opened his mouth, but then promptly closed it. He quickly decided against making a mocking gesture at the massive threehorn and instead settled on stating his thoughts to Cera.

"Is your dad always this scary?"

Cera laughed. "Only when he sees sharpteeth."

Taunt retorted with a snort. "You are a sharptooth too, unless you have forgotten."

Cera laughed, but then began to emit a series of grunts and growls again at her father. Another long conversation in leaf-eater then occurred to which Taunt had no way of following. After a few moments, the large pink female began to join in as well. Well this is certainly nice. Taunt thought to himself. I am stuck between two threehorns who are debating my fate in a language that I don't understand. It seems the joke is on me this time. Ha. Ha. He noted without humor. Instead, he felt a mixture of anxiety and concern. He had absolutely no idea how this was going to turn out.

He nearly jumped when Cera called his name.

"Taunt?"

"Huh?" He muttered in confusion.

Cera smiled. "Say yes."

Taunt tilted his head in confusion. "To what?"

Cera sighed in exasperation. "Just say yes before my father crushes you."

"Gee, how can I argue with that logic?" Taunt deadpanned. "Yes." He finally relented.

After another brief exchange of words in leaf-eater, Cera turned back to Taunt and whispered into his ear. "You will be glad to know that my daddy is willing to tolerate you."

Taunt blinked. "Um... Thanks I guess?"

A series of bellows then emanated from the massive threehorn. He didn't need that translated for him. That was a herd call, which was meant to either call out a warning or a meeting of some kind. So this was it... The meeting was finally happening.

"Well, here we go." Cera affirmed. "Are you ready for this?"

Taunt shrugged. "Are you?"

Cera shook her head. "Not really, but we can't delay any longer. We have to do this."

Taunt nodded at Cera's words, before placing a hand on her shoulder in a loving gesture. He looked up to see that Topps had fixed him with a suspicious glare, but nonetheless the threehorn continued to move ahead at his mate's prompting. It was certainly a good thing that they were not going to move into the valley, because Taunt doubted that he would survive more than a few days under the threehorns scrutiny. However, as they moved forward towards the entrance, he asked the one question that was on his mind.

"What did I say 'yes' to anyway?"

Cera laughed. "Daddy didn't want me to submit to any boy. So he wanted to make sure that you acknowledged that I was the boss in the relationship."

Taunt paled "What!?"

Cera continued laughing. "Too late now! Unless you want me to tell my daddy..." She cautioned with some mirth.

Taunt fumed and decided to resort to an appeal to tradition. "But only females submit to males..."

Cera snorted. "Yeah... Tell that to Terri." She then smiled a predatory smile at Taunt. "And even if that were true then you could simply be the 'female' in this relationship. You already nag like one..." Cera countered with some sexism of her own.

"Why you little!" Taunt protested. However, his usual banter with Cera was cut short by a commotion from in front of them. He could see Volant and Petrie speed towards them, with the rest of the pack and their parents following close behind. It seemed that the meeting call of Topps had spooked them all for some reason. But why would that be the case? Taunt asked himself. We agreed to call the meeting after the reunions... As soon as Petrie got within earshot, Taunt asked the obvious question.

"What is wrong, Spotter?"

Petrie landed with a thud and struggled to catch his breath. "We have problem! Big problem!"

Taunt blinked a few times as he could hear the others beginning to shout in leaf-eater. "What kind of problem is that, Spot..." He never even finished his question, as a sight caught his eye from a distance. In front of a massive herd of leaf-eaters of all types stood a large longneck with a smaller one to its side. Both of them had looks of outright contempt fixed upon the sharpteeth and their parents. It looked wrong. It looked very wrong. There was something very disturbing afoot and he had no idea what it was. That was until Cera answered the unspoken question for him.

"That is Ali! We were the ones that took her herd's eggs... and we killed her best friend!"

Taunt closed his eyes at this news. Of course it couldn't be as simple as informing the valley in a meeting or meeting Cera's authoritative father. No... They had to encounter the one dinosaur in the world who hated them more than anything else. He couldn't imagine a more problematic or dangerous complication. The next few words from Breeze matched his thoughts exactly.

"Oh crap!"

......

A confusing and unintelligible chorus of voices emanated around the assembled adults as they took notice of Chomper and the other children. Now the truth of the matter was confirmed for them all. The children had been changed into sharpteeth and forced to flee from the valley. This was a happy occasion for many of the adults, but not for them all.

Not for those that Ali and her mother had already spoken with.

Clearing his throat, Topps attempted to bring the mass of adults under some semblance of control. "Alright, everyone!" As several of the adults began to lower their voices, Grandpa Longneck tried to get the meeting started.

"Let us tell you about the glorious news." He began. "Our children are alive... although fate has changed them." He looked at the assembled adults with a look that communicated both mournfulness for the change and joy at their reunion. In many ways he was just as conflicted as the children. "Despite that... they are still the children that we knew and loved... and they have brought us a very important message."

There was murmuring at this news, as the adults were obviously nervous about any message coming from sharpteeth. However, their confused mutterings was interrupted by an angry interjection by Utu, Ali's mother.

"Those... monsters attacked my herd and killed Ali's best friend! Why should be trust any of their messages! I say that we crush the fiends and be done with it!"

The mutterings of the herds now became agitated and uncontrolled. The claims of the longneck had now caused immediate discord in the ranks of the adults. Nearly all of them had experienced loss at the claws of sharpteeth, so to hear that the children were capable of such butchery caused a visceral reaction. Seeing this, Ura tried to appeal for order.

"Now come on, everyone... These are our children..."

Ali's mother interjected angrily. "Your children or not, they cannot be trusted!"

Volant angrily shrieked. "Let them have a chance to say their case!"

"To the dung heap with their case! They're sharpteeth!" She retorted back.

The adults were now uncontrollable. Several of the threehorns were noticeably taking on defensive positions around some of the others and other dinosaurs were becoming obviously belligerent. Utu was trying to rouse the herds to anger and she was succeeding quite well. If this kept up then the herds might try to attack the children or even expel the adults in their way... The situation was becoming dangerous for everyone involved.

Grandma Longneck seethed. Upon hearing Littlefoot's story, she could understand why Ali and her mother would be enraged at the sharpteeth and even why they sought revenge, but they were doing this at the expense of not only the children, but also of her friendship with the grandparents. She had encouraged the valley to take them in despite the prevailing paranoia. She had even quashed the questions about her reasons for leaving her herd and joining the valley. Was this the way that Utu repaid her kindness? By trying to instigate a mob to attack her own grandson and perhaps even threaten them as well? She knew that the influence of the old elders was greatly reduced after the revelations of covering-up Chomper's previous stay in the valley, but this sudden turn against those who had led them with honor for so long... It was maddening!

"Now, I think that is enough!" Topps angrily interjected. "They carry very important news that we need to hear!"

At this one of the threehorns stepped from the assembled adults and challenged the elder male. "I think that we are tired of hearing you tell us what is important!"

Grandma Longneck looked on in horror as it seemed that the two threehorns would come to blows, but then another sight caught her attention. Other threehorns were joining the challenger, walking behind him in a show of support. Now no less than half of the threehorns seemed to be rallying against their former elder. Not even Topps could stand up to a challenge like that. With unblinking eyes, he addressed those who had joined with the upstart.

"Well, Whitehorn, it seems that the herd follows you now. Do you plan on killing what lays in front of you?" Tria tried to intervene between the two males, screaming hysterically in the process, but several other threehorns blocked her path. This simply had to run its course.

Whitehorn seemed to size up Topps for a few moments. His brown complexion and snow-white horns stood in contrast the elder with a broken horn. It was a picture of youth and ambition versus maturity and wisdom. Despite this, the younger threehorn sighed at his predicament. With a wary voice, he spoke.

"I hope that you don't force me into that." Whitehorn admitted. "You deserve better than that, elder. You have led us through many rough days... but if you do not step aside then I will do what I must." The next words were spoken in a cold monotone. "I must do what is in the best interests of the herd."

All of the other dinosaurs stood in shock at the turn of events in front of them. The revelations of the cover-up by the parents had weakened their standing amongst the herds and now one of the elders was being challenged. Such an event would have been expected in the Mysterious Beyond, but the drive for dynamic leadership was lessened in the lush circumstances of the valley. But now the further revelations about the children's misdeeds had pushed the potential challengers into action. One way or another, the threehorns were seeing the end of a dynasty. Nearly everyone expected Topps to fight until the bitter end and to die in a position of leadership. He did not seem the type to retire into a position of respected elder, but his next actions surprised everyone.

"I will step aside on one condition that you listen to the children. I gave Cera my vow that I would let them speak here. Surely you would not ask me to violate my promise to my own daughter?"

Whitehorn seemed to consider the words of the elder threehorn with careful consideration. Topps seemed to know that he was beaten, but he would use what little leverage that he had left in order to ensure his daughter's safety. The opportunity for Whitehorn to take the mantle of leadership without a fight would be a tempting one for any threehorn. If one was injured in battle then he could be challenged in turn by any opportunist, but to become leader without sustaining any injuries in the process...

No one else in the herd dared to move as the two threehorns were locked in a battle of wills. Finally, however, Whitehorn spoke.

"Consider this your last victory as leader, elder threehorn." Whitehorn said in a haughty, but honorable tone. "I will allow your daughter and the other children to speak. Now assume your place."

In a movement that was both unbearably slow and nearly impossible to believe for the dinosaurs present, Whitehorn assumed a place of implied leadership towards the front of the adults, whereas Topps and Tria moved to the mass of assembled threehorns with Tricia in tow. Cera could only look on in disbelief. Grandma Longneck could not imagine the confusing combination of emotions she must have been feeling at that moment.

For his part, Topps had the slightest of smiles on his face. From the jaws of defeat, he had pulled a victory. He had saved his daughter. He had saved the children. There was no way that Whitehorn could permit any threat to the children now. He would ensure that the rest of the threehorns were in check, and with them, the rest of the valley.

After a few moments, Whitehorn spoke.

"Well, then... Get on with it. What do you sharpteeth have to tell us?" He did not acknowledge that they were the children of the parents, he simply referred to them as their current kind. This was not an unexpected opinion from a threehorn.

"Who cares what they have to..." Utu began.

Grandma Longneck had enough, with her rage at the breaking point she erupted at the other longneck. "You ungrateful fiend! Is this how you treat our kindness!"

Utu sputtered. "Your kindness? Is that what you call having a grandson that kills your daughter's best friend?" The two longnecks were now on the verge of squaring off. Their eyes were locked and necks at level with one another. It seemed to the onlookers as if another battle was soon to take place.

"Dear!"

"Grandma, stop!"

Grandma Longneck ignored those familiar voices as she continued her walk to the subject of her anger. "You rave about my grandson being a killer? Why, Utu... are you not the same? Worse yet, you are a killer of your own kind."

Utu seethed. " What would you have me do? Let her be raped? I had no choice!"

Grandma Longneck was now within striking distance of the other longneck. In her anger she retorted back. "And neither did my grandson!"

Utu screamed. "You lie!"

Utu immediately bound forward with every intention to attack. Her tail was raised to counterbalance her forward motion as her feet galloped in a full-fledged trot. With all of her neck muscles tensing up she rolled her neck back and struck at her foe with all of the strength that she had.

Grandma Longneck could only prepare to do the same as she braced for impact...

Slam!

Grandma Longneck fell to the ground, her momentum stopped in its tracks. It was as if she had struck a stone wall! She quickly shook her head. She had to get up. She had to respond. She couldn't let the other longneck land an undefended strike upon her! She had to fight back! She had to rise! With uncertain feet she slowly rose from the ground and stopped. For what was in front of her was not Utu.

It was Doc.

"Sorry, ladies. But I am afraid you two will have to fight some other time..." Doc muttered.

"How dare you! She was asking for it... She..." Utu could be heard protesting from somewhere behind Doc's massive body. She sounded even more discombobulated than Grandma felt at the moment. Doc's only response was a shrug-like motion with his shoulders. It was then that she felt her mate's presence.

"Dear! Are you alright?"

She smiled weakly. "Well... I could be better. Doc isn't very comfortable to run into!"

As the two nuzzled and she was helped to her feet, she could hear Ali mutter concerned questions to her mother on the other side of Doc. It was heartbreaking for her to realize that all of this hatred for Littlefoot and the others had sprung from real tragedy in the longneck's life. She had lost everything that she valued because of the actions of her grandson. Even though the hatred was misplaced, as Littlefoot intended no malice, the damage was still done. Now the love that had blossomed between Ali and Littlefoot had turned into a raging torrent of loathing. The line between love and hate could be impossibly thin and now they had crossed that threshold. In that moment, realizing the pain being felt by everyone concerned, Grandma could only feel empty.

That was when she heard the threehorn speak again.

"Alright, sharpteeth, say your piece and begone! Tempers have flared enough!"

She slowly turned and faced the circle where the sharpteeth were now situated. Littlefoot and Chomper both seemed to look at her with some concern, whereas Cera was noticeably looking towards her father in the crowd. He was only a spectator now... The mantle of leadership had since passed on. Finally, however, Littlefoot seemed to clear his throat and took a long look at the crowd. Then he began his speech.

"We have some very bad news about Red Claw..."


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