Chapter 54 A hasty raid
“There is no shame in strategic retreat if it lets you remain strong enough to go after the enemy later.”
― Jane Lindskold, The Buried Pyramid
"When we heard what Red Claw was planning, we knew that we had to warn you all." Ruby affirmed to the assembled adults. "If we didn't warn you all, then all of you wouldn't be warned!"
As Ruby finished her explanation, the assembled adults began to murmur amongst themselves in a mixture of fear and confusion. They all knew that Red Claw was capable of butchery, but they were unaware of his personal vendetta against the valley. The announcement that he had a pack of fastbiters at his disposal did little to improve the mood of the residents as well. However, as was often the case, a dissenting voice emerged from the crowd.
"How do we know that this isn't one of Red Claw's tricks? Perhaps you are working for him?"
Before any of the pack could respond, another voice emerged. "Yeah! You're all sharpteeth now. Perhaps you are working for the bigger sharptooth!"
Littlefoot protested this. "We would never do that! You know us! You know we aren't that way!"
Another voice called out, this time from a swimmer. "We know that you were all troublemakers! Perhaps you haven't changed at all."
"We may have gotten into trouble when we were leaf-eaters... but we never intentionally harmed anyone..." Cera began to protest, but the yelling and arguing from the adults drowned out the rest of her words. With dawning horror, the pack began to realize that some of the adults were becoming unruly and preparing to charge in their direction. Even with Whitehorn's assurance of security, there was only so much that the threehorn could do if the adults began to submit to mass hysteria. With that in mind, Littlefoot took the initiative to defuse the situation.
"We will leave you now." At his words the adults began to grow quiet. "It is obvious that we are not wanted here." He then looked at his grandparents with sympathetic eyes. It seemed that both them and his father were on the verge of an emotional breakdown at the antics of the herds against their own flesh and blood. With that realization made, Littlefoot made one final request.
"Let us say goodbye to our parents and then we will leave you in peace."
"I can't believe that they acted like that! Urgh!"
Cera raged and stomped the ground in frustration. She and the other sharpteeth were now walking away from the south entrance into the Haven Valley. Their mission was complete, for better or worse. Their goodbyes had been given and the message had been relayed. Now all that remained was their journey home. Not the home that they left so many months before, but rather the home that they had made for themselves. It was time to end this chapter of their lives and to move on to fate as predators. It was obvious that nothing remained for them here. Lost in her thoughts, she was startled when Taunt laid his hand on her shoulder. She glared at him for intruding upon her personal space without her consent, but she did not pull away. That was when she heard Littlefoot's comment.
"At least... at least we got to say goodbye to our parents properly." He gave a weak, sad smile. "That is what matters... as for the rest of the valley..."
Taunt muttered at this. "After the way that they treated you who cares about the rest of the valley?" It was a sentiment that earned an affirmative snort from Cera. She was still furious with the valley and their lack of trust. However, not everyone was so quick to wash their hands of the valley.
"I think that they are just scared. I do, I do." Ducky made a broad gesture with her arms. "We all have killed before. Why would they believe us?"
Spike nodded at this. "We are what they fear now."
Breeze gave Spike a light nuzzle as he made his remark. She then spoke for herself. "At least it seems like your parents are doing okay. As long as they know that you are well then I think that they can move on."
Cera muttered at this. "You don't know our parents."
Breeze shrugged. "That maybe so, but I know what it means to be part of a family. Even if you have to be apart, just the knowledge that you are loved and remembered... sometimes that is enough." Upon realizing that Breeze was talking about Skytail, Spike reciprocated Breeze's earlier gesture by nuzzling her. It seemed that despite having an entirely different life, Breeze still understood their insecurities and emotions quite well.
Ruby now joined in. "Well, I guess that Spotter can still send messages back and forth between your parents and us. After all he gives me messages from my parents. From my parents he gives me messages."
"Me can do that. After all me want to talk to my mama too." Petrie affirmed.
Littlefoot sighed. "Yeah... That sounds like a plan. I just wish that we had more time to say our goodbyes... We had to leave in a hurry. I needed to talk to Shorty and my dad one more time."
Chomper smiled at that. "I am sure that they already know, Littlefoot."
Littlefoot looked at the purple sharptooth in confusion. Seeing this, Chomper continued.
"Oh come on!" Chomper gave an exasperated, yet somewhat amused sigh. "Between the way that you kept on stressing your brotherhood with Shorty and the way that Bron began calling him 'son', I think that they got the hint."
Ruby looked confused by this. "What hint is that?"
Chomper smiled. "Littlefoot?" He was allowing the former longneck to tell the story from his perspective.
"Well..." Littlefoot began. "I can't be the longneck that my father wanted me to be. Not anymore. So it is up to Shorty now. He will have to learn how to lead herds, how to court girl longnecks, how to avoid sharpteeth... us." He swallowed. "He will have to be the son that I cannot be anymore."
Ruby's mouth hung agape upon hearing Littlefoot's explanation. "You are still his son, Littlefoot. You should remember that even though I will remind you. You can't do longneck things anymore, but he will also think of you as his son."
Cera then spoke. "Yeah! If he didn't think of you that way then you would have gotten stomped long ago! You dad is as stubborn as you are!"
Littlefoot took the bait. "So says the former threehorn..."
In response Cera simply took a little bow in a mocking manner, as Taunt began to cackle in laughter at her sarcastic display. After a rather somber and expedited parting, it was nice to see the pack began to act like themselves again. After a few moments however, Cera began to realize that Spotter had disappeared. She looked around for a few moments, before seeing the brown sharptooth flyer perched on a nearby rock, his superior eyes staring at something in the distance.
"What's going on, Spotter?" She asked with some concern. "What do you see?" The other began to take notice of the flyer's antics as well and turned towards their friend. That was when he said three simple words that stopped them cold.
"Me see trouble!"
The teal flyer looked out at the departing sharpteeth with an expression of loss. After so many months of thinking that Petrie and his friends were dead, he had discovered that they were alive and well, just to be forced to lose them again. He knew that it would have to come to pass eventually, as they were now sharpteeth, but the manner of their eviction made something burn inside of him. They deserved better than that! He raged. They simply did what they had to do... They had to survive so they... He shook his head as he knew that his mind was going into dangerous territory. He could understand the rage of Ali and her mother's hatred at those who had hunted her daughter and harassed her herd, but urging the others to kill them off would achieve nothing. What was done was done.
As his disjointed thoughts raced in his head, he looked back towards the departing pack. From his vantage point on the top of the rock wall he could see them all clearly. Cera looked angry and frustrated, as he would expect based upon her personality. Both Spike and Ducky looked contemplative as they both appeared to be saying something to one another, whereas Littlefoot and Ruby both were shouting at something in the sky. What were they screaming at? That was when he saw him.
He was hovering in the air and seemed to be staring at something in the distance. Guido followed his gaze and couldn't see anything. Petrie must have better eyes than me... He thought to himself. Maybe I should fly out there and ask him what.... That was when he saw something that made him pause. Entering into his field of view was a very noticeable mass of light brown. It was still a half hour away at least, but it was clearly approaching at a brisk pace.
"Red Claw!" Guido screamed.
The pack's words were confirmed. Red Claw was fast approaching their location and that could only mean that an attack was imminent. He had to get the word out. Much of the herds wouldn't believe the pack, but maybe they would believe him? If nothing else, he could call upon the other flyers and get further evidence. As he was about to dive into a flight over the valley, however, a sudden call interrupted his thoughts.
He turned around to see that Petrie was flying full speed directly at his location. Guido immediately waved with his wing to indicate that he saw the flyer and briefly waited until he landed with a loud thud beside him.
"I saw him! Red Claw! We need to get..." But Guido was cut off by Petrie.
"Yes, you warn them! But me must tell you something. Something important..."
Guido listened intently to what the other flyer had to say, but then paled when he realized the full implications. "Petrie, you can't do that! The other sharptooth flyers may not believe you and the valley would attack you... They would think that you are a bad sharptooth..." Petrie soon interrupted him again.
"Me know! Me know! Littlefoot say same thing! Me ignore him too!" Guido could only shake his head at this, as Petrie continued. "You tell momma me not bad flyer but me have to act like one. If bad flyers think me one of them, then me get information from them. Then me act like me attack you and give you information."
"It will be dangerous, Petrie..." Guido protested even though he could tell that Petrie had made up his mind. His experiences had obviously change Petrie, he was not the same over-excitable flyer that he had once known. He was now a far more courageous and calculating figure. Guido was simultaneously impressed and concerned at this change.
Petrie smiled. "Me know. But it be dangerous for all of us now anyway. Let mom know."
Guido nodded. "I will, Petrie."
Petrie seemed to look up at that moment and apparently saw something that made him pause. With a grimace he spoke again.
"You know how me tell you that me attack to convince bad flyers?" Guido nodded at this with great trepidation. "Me have to do that now, act like you scared."
As Petrie lunged at the teal flyer and Guido reared back and desperately tried to dodge Petrie's faux attacks, Guido slowly approached the ledge in preparation for flying back into the valley. As he did so, he said one final thing to his dear friend.
"Take care, Petrie. You will never be a bad flyer to me."
As Guido flew off, Petrie could only look on. At that moment he realized just how much he missed his close friend and his family. Would he ever see them again? That was when another voice caught his attention.
"Sandstorm! I knew that you would be here!" Petrie looked up to see the form of Sierra flying over him. "Couldn't wait to start the action, huh?"
Petrie smiled a deranged smile. "Me start panic. Panic causes mistakes. Mistakes leads to dinner."
Sierra laughed a hysterical laugh. "Let's go one then! The pink one is supposedly leading the flyers." Sierra was obviously referring to Rinkus there, albeit with a mocking tone. "But when the blood starts flying we will do what we want anyway."
Joining in Sierra's laugh in order to fake enthusiasm, he took one quick look back at the valley, which was now in a full mobilization for the threat that was approaching them. He uttered one final sentence as he flew to an uncertain destination.
"Take care, Guido. Me hope me see you again."
"Hold the line! No sharpteeth can get passed us! It is our duty to stop them at all costs!" Whitehorn was roaring at the other threehorns, as they took their positions in a makeshift line at the south entrance to the valley. A familiar voice then called from the front.
"What about the children... sir." Topps added the 'sir' when he remembered his new social status. He was merely a deputy now. Whitehorn was now leading the threehorns.
Whitehorn glanced at Topps for a passing moment before responding. "The spiketails have formed a defensive parameter around the children." He began speaking in a soft tone, before remembering that he was the boss now and modified his voice appropriately. "We must make sure that it doesn't come to that!" He added more forcefully, hoping that no one noticed his momentary lapse.
"Yes, sir!" Topps responded forcefully. It was spoken in such a over-the-top manner that Whitehorn had no idea if he was saying the words in order to honor or mock him. With a grimace, Whitehorn moved on to the other members of the line and made sure that they were secure in their positions. A flyer soon interrupted his work, however.
"The south entrance is covered. Argo reports that his threehorns are ready." Volant reported with a messenger flyer's commitment to accuracy.
"Good, good." He then studied his line for a moment. "This is biggest entrance into the valley; we should have most of our reinforcements here. Gather the longnecks."
Volant nodded once, indicating that she got the message but was unsure if it should be sent or not. Under such circumstances, the messenger request confirmation.
"The longnecks should leave the south entrance then?"
Whitehorn grunted in frustration. "Yes! Only Argo and his forces should be there. We will hold the line here."
Volant nodded twice, indicating that the full message was received. "Understood." With that she flew off with great speed towards the other entrance.
The battle lines were now drawn.
"Red Claw wants us to make a distraction for the valley's flyers. If we do that then they won't see what is coming and he can divide and conquer." Rinkus intoned to the other flyers: Sierra; Ranklin; Glinch; and a newcomer called Sandstorm.
Or as his friends called him: Petrie.
"So attack the other flyers. Is that what you are telling us to do?" Sierra asked in an impatient manner.
Rinkus slowly responded. "Well... yes, you could put it that way."
Sierra gave an exasperated snort. "Then why didn't you put it that way!"
As Petrie rolled his eyes at the antics of the two sharptooth flyers, he noted that one of the others had taken on a predatory smile. That was when Glinch spoke.
"Would you two knock it off! Rinkus may look nice, but I think you are looking for tail in the wrong place." He then ended his insinuation with a boisterous laugh. That did not last long, however.
Ranklin gave Sierra a cheeky smile. "Do you think that it is time to take care of unfinished business?"
Sierra gave him a toothy smile. "Oh yes..."
The flurry of movement occurred before Petrie could even determine what he was seeing. With a sudden crash, Glinch was slammed against the adjacent wall as Sierra embraced his neck with his razor sharp teeth. As he thrashed about, Petrie could only hear bits and pieces of words.
"Come on... joking... can't breathe..."
In the tumbling of wings and teeth, blood could be seen splattering on the adjacent walls as Sierra's teeth had hit their mark. The actions of the stricken flyer now seemed to become more frantic and pitiful as it tried to escape from Sierra's rage-filled assault. Only snarling and gurgling could be heard from the two combatants.
Petrie opened his mouth slightly, only to have another flyer place a wing on his beak to shush him. As Petrie looked up at who had intervened he could see that Ranklin was shaking his head. With a low voice, he whispered at Petrie.
"Do not intervene here, this has been coming for some time..."
As Petrie took his advice to heart, he watched as the two flyers tumbled for a few more moments, but it was obvious that Sierra had the upper hand. As Glinch began to flail uncontrollably, Petrie could see spurts of blood begin to gush from the flyer's neck. It was only then that Rinkus spoke with noticeable boredom.
"You got his throat, Sierra. You can drop him now."
After a few moments of hesitation, Sierra threw the gravely injured flyer to the ground as if he were disgusted with him. Then, with deliberate slowness, he spat in the flyer's face. As Sierra stepped back, however, Petrie could stare into the dying flyer's eyes. In their black depths was a deep, primal longing for another breath. The last true desire that any dying person has. Intermingled in that, however, was a hopeless despair that Petrie had seen only a few times in his life. The look that a dying dinosaur gave when they knew that there was no hope, no chance of survival, and that they would spend their final moments alone. It was that look that he now saw in the flyer's eyes and it was horrifying.
Finally though, after a few moments, the eyes began to glaze over and the flailing of the body simply turned into the uncontrolled muscles twitches that often followed death. Glinch was no more.
"I have been looking to do that for quite a long time." Sierra muttered.
Petrie now spoke. "Dominance battle? Or you just want to kill something?"
Sierra looked at the flyer with an odd expression as Ranklin looked uncertain about the small flyer's question, but when Sierra laughed Petrie knew that he was safe.
"A bit of both, kid! He was trying to take over for a while, but Red Claw can't promote him if Glinch is dead, now can he?" As the laughter echoed across the rock wall, Petrie feigned mirth at Sierra's words, although he only felt disgust. This flyer insane!
Thankfully, Rinkus was there to get the meeting resumed.
"Well... Now that that is attended to. Let's go over the rest of Red Claw's plan..."
Petrie listened intently. Regardless of how dangerous, power-hungry, or insane these flyers were, he knew that it was up to him to alert the valley to their plans. Despite the logistics involved, Petrie knew that he could not afford to fail here. It was up to him.
"Quickly everyone! Into the stream!"
After Chomper's yelled instructions, the rest of the pack obeyed. After a few moments, there were eight sharpteeth shoulder deep in green, algae-covered water.
"Well this is disgusting!" Taunt muttered. "What is the plan, Path? Are we supposed to look pitiful and have the other sharpteeth take pity on us."
Chomper snorted. "Of course not, Taunt! That wouldn't work because the only one that they would take pity on is you." At this playful retort, both Breeze and Cera laughed out loud. Before Taunt could respond, however, Chomper spoke again.
"If the stream hides our scent then the other fastbiters can't smell us. If they can't smell us then we can sneak up on them."
Breeze then shrugged. "Then what?! There were at least twenty fastbiters in Calin's pack when he attacked us in the lowlands. How are we going to face off against all of them and live."
Chomper nodded. "If we do what I am thinking than we can delay them."
Taunt was exasperated at this point. "Yes, Path! But you see, I would like to live..." As Chomper rolled his eyes, Taunt continued. "You know, survive? Suck down breath? Not be eaten? I don't know, that whole living thing is rather important to me."
"Well... If you would like to keep on living, Taunt, then you should shut up and let Path finish his thought." As Taunt rolled his eyes, but went silent, Cera continued. "Now get on with it, Path."
Chomper soon continued his idea. "If we delay them long enough then we can buy the valley some time. Because if Red Claw is going for the south entrance then obviously the place for the fastbiter's to attack would be the..."
"North entrance." Taunt finished as he began to understand. "Divide and conquer."
Chomper nodded. "Yeah! So we need to buy time so that the attack fails. An ambush doesn't work if the defenders see it coming."
Littlefoot nodded and now intervened in the conversation. "And if we draw them into the stream..."
Ruby finished the thought. "Then they will be slowed down a lot." But then she took on a perplexed expression. "But Taunt is right, we want to live and we can't live if we are killed. So how are we supposed to not be killed?"
There was silence for a moment as each pondered that question. Obviously they would lose in a straightforward fight. They would have to have an advantage of some kind. They couldn't defend from the valley entrance because the residents didn't trust them and would most likely attack them as enemies. They couldn't fight from the stream for very long because they would sitting ducks for a pincer attack. They had to have some way to make an attack from the stream and retreat backwards without being overran by their enemies. It was with that in mind that Ducky spoke.
"Brother, do you still have all of the pointed sticks that we all made?" At Spike's affirmative nod and gesture towards the pile of sticks that he left on the shore of the stream, Ducky took on a predatory smile and continued. "I think that I have an idea. Yep, yep, yep."
Ali paced impatiently as she and the other children were congregated on the inner side of the rock wall, with the spiketail herd keeping watch over the entrances to the top of the wall. She understood why she had to be here, but that did not change the fact that she was now a mixture of bored and terrified.
So Littlefoot and the others... She quickly corrected herself. The sharpteeth were correct. They probably were just here to spread panic before the battle anyway, the monsters...
But even she did not believe her own thoughts. The pack had taken her best friend from her and harassed her herd. They had even threatened her life in their initial hunt, but they had not lied about the threat that now faced them. She had pushed even the possibility that they were capable of good deeds out of her mind when she realized what they were and what they had done, but now that their good intentions had been confirmed she was left alone and adrift. She had no one to confide in. Neither Shorty, nor even Tricia for that matter, would speak to her or look her in the eye. It seemed that her quest for vengeance had made her enemies on both sides.
She was alone.
As she could hear the sound of approaching footsteps in the distance and a sudden roar, she knew that Red Claw was near. The valley would soon be under attack. Feeling that she had nothing to lose, she decided to walk up to the top of the rock wall in order to think by herself and to attain some peace of mind. The spiketails were distracted by their guard duty and none of the other children cared about her fate. She knew no one would stop her.
In her departure, she didn't notice Shorty's piercing gaze following her.
"Alright, everyone! This is it! Hold the line and guard your partners. Strong or not, he isn't getting passed us!" Whitehorn called out to his forces, as they made a defensive line with their horns facing out. Right now they were maintaining a defensive line as a show of force to the dreaded sharptooth, but they would not hesitate to fight back if it came to that.
Threehorns did not retreat.
Glancing at Topps, he could see that he was entirely fixated on the sharptooth in front of him. It was amazing to Whitehorn that the elder had willingly stepped aside in favor of him. Usually such a willful transfer of power only happened between fathers and sons or when an elder was utterly incapable of performing the duties anymore. Topps, however, had simply requested that his daughter be permitted to speak and then leave peacefully. It seemed that this threehorn, who Whitehorn had replaced due to thinking that his judgment was faulty, actually was showing fine judgment. Was he wrong in assuming the leadership during Topps moment of weakness?
In this moment, however, there was no time for him to lose his train of thought. He berated himself inwardly. I am leader and I need to start acting like it! With a loud booming voice, he resumed giving commands.
"Lean forward a bit, Cator! We can't let him think that he has an opening!" He then paused. Now it was time to intimidate the fearsome sharptooth. "Alright, everyone! Stomp and present!"
As the threehorns stomped with their forelimbs and bobbed their heads in an aggressive gesture, the sounds of their show of force could be heard across the valley. Now everyone could tell that the battle had begun.
"We need to hurry along! It sounds like the battle has begun!" Bron shouted out from in front of the group.
Grandpa spoke between gasps. "I am sure the threehorns can keep it under control until we get there!"
"It doesn't seem right for the other entrance to only have a few guards." Grandma cautioned. "What if this is a distraction?"
Doc sucked down a breath as he galloped beside the longnecks. "Either way, I suppose that we have our orders."
Bron's voice could barely heard over the thundering footsteps. "I hope they are good ones."
From some distance behind, Ali's mother followed in silence.
Zarc stared at the scene in front of him. To his left was a stream that flowed into Brekan's Gulch, or Haven Valley as the leaf-eaters called it. It was a rather shallow and narrow stream that had over the span of millions of years, carved the opening into the valley's wall. Now only a remnant of the original roaring river remained. To his right was a field of short grasses and a few bushes. Besides the stream, there was little else in the outskirts of the valley to maintain any sort of plant life and it showed. This all meant that when they entered the valley they would have no cover to hide their advance. They would have to rely upon speed and speed alone in order to complete their mission, all while Red Claw feigned an attack on the other entrance.
What a bastard.
His feelings about his leader aside, Zarc knew that he had little choice but to complete the mission in front of him and to kill as many valley residents as possible. The killing of even a few children and elderly dinosaurs would greatly lessen their morale of the remaining residents, making the eventual assault on the Great Valley a more promising endeavor. If they were to induce a panic and drive the residents out where they would be vulnerable then that would be even better. But right now they needed to advance into the valley entrance...
Both Zarc and Calin turned their heads at the sudden sound and gawked at what they saw. A small green fastbiter had emerged from the stream and stepped on a stick, alerting them all to her presence. But this wasn't a member of their pack, nor was it a total stranger.
No. Zarc knew this fastbiter. He knew her all too well.
"You're going to wish that you never left the Land of Shallow Waters, runt!" Calin called out in a rage. A sneer clearly visible on his face. Zarc could only agree with his sentiments.
"Pack! Kill the intruder! But make this quick, we have our orders to complete!"
Zarc sprinted ahead in a full-blown run at the rapidly retreating fastbiter. She seemed to be running back into the stream. How unwise. Zarc affirmed, as a fastbiter's greatest defense was their speed. If they entered into water then they were sitting ducks until they dried off as the water would weigh them down. That was when he realized what she was doing.
"Wait! Don't go into the..."
The sound of splashes could be heard as six of his followers leaped into the stream and continued to advance on the intruder.
"...water." He finished helplessly.
Zarc sighed. This would undoubtedly slow them down. Although it was odd for this fastbiter to simply try to delay her pursuers by going into the water. It did not really alleviate the mortal threat to herself and it would slow her movement as well. She obviously did not think this all of the way through, assuming that this was some kind of plan on her part.
That was when he noticed seven water plants bobbing in the water. Each one seemed to be bobbing out of time with the gentle waves. As the six fastbiters approached the green fastbiter, shades of brown, pink, and yellow could be seen emerging from the water plants. He barely had time to register what was happening.
He was being tricked again.
"Oh crap!" Calin yelled from right behind Zarc. It sounded so distant, even though he was close by. That was when the bloodshed began.
Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
Sticks flew through the sky as fastbiters were impaled before they could react to the threat that now faced them. As the stream began to turn a shad of crimson, the screams of his comrades could be heard. He knew all of the victims by name.
"My leg! My bloody leg!"
That was Arven, the tracker. He had been part of Zarc's entourage since he joined the pack. He had even been his deputy tracker when he was made prime tracker under Calin. But now he was seeing his final moments play out like a bad sleep story. A yellow fastbiter grabbed the pointed stick with her teeth and brutally twisted it. The shrieks of pain and agony drowned out all other sounds in the vicinity. As the blood gushed in massive stream, Arven's thrashing and moans began less and less noticeable. Until finally he struggled no more.
There was Davron, the scout. A single pointed stick embedded in his throat. He never even had time to utter a scream. The sound of futile gurgling and the thrashing of legs was all that he could produce. After a few seconds he was gone.
Breven, the swift then fell. A pointed stick had grazed his shoulder, which caused him to pause and begin to turn back. But that opened himself up for an attack. A dark green fastbiter emerged from his hiding place and slashed with his talons at Breven's stomach, disemboweling him. A series of sickening gurgles and high-pitched scream emanated from the mortally-wounded sharptooth as he struggled in a pain-induces daze to try to gather his intestines back into his body. When the other fastbiter finally slashed his neck open it was a mercy killing more than a murder.
Zarc's mind became numb as he could hear the death screams of the other fastbiters. But the sights haunted him. Pointed sticks impaling torsos and gouging out eyes. Fastbiters being distracted by injuries to their legs or thighs, only to be disemboweled or to have their throats slashed. It was a depiction of hell on earth and his foolish orders had led six members of his pack to their ends.
At that moment something broke within the sharptooth. He was not like Calin. He had truly cared for his packmates. He had helped train them, listen to them, and even befriend them to the extent that the pack's dynamics permitted it. He had watched them mature and become well honed killing machines, but he never lost sight of the other aspects of their nature. Now their sudden loss made a primal instinct rise up in the fastbiter.
His mind cried out for vengeance.
As a pointed stick landed beside him, he grabbed it with murderous intent and began to approach the water. He did not respond to the screams of his remaining packmates to turn back. He had something personal to attend to.
Ali's body was resting against the rock wall, but her mind was anything but restive.
I... I guess that I can't blame them for trying to survive. But why Rhett? He didn't deserve to die! If only I hadn't gone after those treesweets. Then that would have never happened. That was when another thought entered her mind. A most unwanted thought at that moment. Then they would have starved. Would you have sacrificed seven for the sake of one?
Ali was in turmoil. She certainly realized now why sharpteeth and leaf-eaters lived separate lives. It was a sad fact of existence that most longnecks ended up as a sharptooth's dinner before they reached adulthood. Such was the place of longnecks in the great circle of life. But it was quite another thing to directly speak with the instruments of death and desolation. It was one thing to understand the harsh facts of life, but it was quite another to go out and live them.
And Ali had experienced far too many of those harsh facts in the last year.
It was then, however, that she began to realize that perhaps she had been looking at it from the wrong perspective. How did all of this look from Littlefoot's view? What would it be like to be starved to the point of madness? To be forced to either kill or starve to death? To realize that you had killed one friend and nearly slaughtered another? To yearn for meat and eggs every day of your life, with the realization that each meal was only a brief respite from the insatiable hunger that drives your life? To never see your parents or grandparents again?
To be chased out of the valley at the behest of your former longneck friend...
Damn it! What am I going to do? I really screwed this up! Ali lamented as she continued to contemplate the situation that the cruel hand of fate had dealt them all. Her thoughts were interrupted, however, by the sounds of a commotion down below. Hearing screams of pain and anguish, she raced to the top of the rock wall and gaped at what she saw.
A scene of utter bloodshed lay before her on the ground below. Fastbiters were screaming as they were impaled in place upon pointed sticks. Another seemed to be operating in a stupor as he struggled to find his missing organs that had fallen from his sliced-opened abdomen, only to be dispatched by Spike's agile claws. Still others were thrashing in the water as the stream turned red with the blood of the fallen. It was like something out of her worst nightmares, but it was as real as the bright circle. Littlefoot's pack was engaging the enemy in battle. They were risking their lives in order to defend a valley that had shunned them and shamed their parents. The act of selflessness that she saw before her made her tear up in shame. The valley was not worthy of such a sacrifice and neither was she. Everything that she thought about sharpteeth had been shattered in an instant.
But that was when she saw it.
A blue fastbiter was approaching the water with a spear in hand. His eyes seemed focused on the leader of the pack. On Littlefoot. It seemed that his other packmates were yelling for his attention, but he ignored them as he approached the edge of the water. As he placed the spear in the talons of his left foot, she knew what was coming.
"Littlefoot! Look out!" She cried out before she realized what she had done.
Littlefoot looked up from the fastbiter he had just dispatched and saw the advancing spear just in time. As he dived forward into the water, the spear careened above him and fell harmlessly into the water he had been sitting in just a few moments ago.
Ducky's spear did not miss her target, however. The scream of Zarc could be heard for miles around as his leg was impaled just above the ankle. He fell into a heap on the ground as the other packmates backed away and began to retreat from the stream. This engagement of the battle had ended.
Relieved by his escape from death, Littlefoot looked up at the rock face where the warning had come from.
That was when his eyes met Ali's.
Littlefoot was then promptly shaken by his rose-colored counterpart.
"Huh?" He answered in a daze.
"What is it, Seeker! What are you... Oh." Ruby muttered in disbelief.
"Yeah..." Was all that Littlefoot could mutter in response. The very longneck who had saw to it that he and his friends were expelled from the valley had now saved him from a grisly end. They would need to speak later.
But for that to happen there has to be a 'later'. At that realization, Littlefoot took stock of his surroundings. The rest of the enemy pack seemed to be advancing towards the valley entrance without their leader, leaving Zarc to bleed alone on the sandy edge of the stream. Quickly analyzing the situation, he called out to the others.
"They are heading towards the entrance. We need to pursue."
Taunt was unsure of the wisdom of that. "But the valley doesn't trust us. They will attack us on sight!"
Littlefoot shook his head. "You know as well as I do, Taunt, that some of the fastbiters will get through. Spiketails aren't agile enough to defend against a coordinated attack. We need to help."
Cera nodded. "What about him?"
Littlefoot looked up at what Cera was gesturing at. Up at the shore of the stream lay Zarc, his blue scales being colored red by the significant blood loss from his leg. He was dragging himself away from the shore in an attempt to escape from his enemies, but it was too late for that. With grim determination, Littlefoot gestured for the others to follow him as he grabbed the spear that had nearly impaled him earlier. It only took him a few seconds to reach Zarc.
"It seems that this is the end for you, Zarc." Littlefoot spoke in a cold monotone.
Zarc grunted in rage as he realized that he was not getting away from his pursuers. "My pack will avenge me!"
Littlefoot made a point to look around with a distinct sense of disinterest. "Will they? I don't see any of them here."
Zarc looked panicked. In a flurry of movement he looked all around him, but none of his 'friends' remained. Even Calin, the fastbiter that he had trusted like no other, had left him to his fate. A sinking feeling of betrayal filled him as he screamed in anguish.
"Time to die."
Zarc screamed at Littlefoot's declaration, but only for a moment. A spear to his chest quickly dispatched the former leader of the enemy pack.
Now they had a valley to help defend.
"I considered knocking you off of the cliff."
Ali jumped up and backed away at the sound of the voice. It was Shorty! He was looking down at the scene below from nearly half a threehorn-length away. He only looked up at her after a deliberately slow movement.
"But now I am glad that I didn't."
Ali sputtered. "How long were you here?!"
Shorty shrugged. "Long enough."
The two stared for a few short moments that seemed to stretch into eternity. It was as if an entire nonverbal conversation was being conveyed in their eyes. After the moment, however, Ali spoke.
"He is still him, isn't he?" There was no need to clarify who 'him' was. "Deep inside, I mean."
Shorty nodded. "It took me a while to realize that too, but it is still him." He then sighed. "You were right about one thing though."
Ali fixed him with a bemused glance, which caused Shorty to answer the unspoken question.
"They have to leave. They are sharpteeth after all." He paused as if to collect his thoughts. "But they deserved a better parting than that." His voice was harsher than he had intended.
Ali nodded. "I really screwed things up... but..." That was when she realized something. Rising, she looked down below to see that Littlefoot and his pack were quickly advancing towards the entrance. In the distance, several other fastbiters could be seen as well.
"They're heading for the entrance!" She screamed, which caused Shorty to look as well. "We have to warn the spiketails and the other kids!"
The two longnecks then climbed down the rock face with as much haste as they could muster.
Now the danger was heading for them.
Volant flew with great velocity as she swerved wildly to and fro in the sky.
The sounds of stomping echoed across the valley as the threehorns faced off with Red Claw, but it was up to her and the other messengers to relay information from the two defensive positions. As a result, they flew in parallel to one another, with one flyer going one way whereas another went the other. It wasn't real-time information, but it was as close as the flyers could muster.
That was until the sharptooth flyers showed up.
Now she was dodging and weaving through the air to avoid the massive flyer's attacks. She couldn't risk a potentially debilitating injury at this time. All of the other flyers were relaying messages and the ground-dwellers obviously couldn't help her. Her best option was obviously to avoid a confrontation, but that was greatly delaying her ability to relay her message. It was not lost on her that that was probably their plan.
The worst part about all of this was that she recognized this flyer.
Sierra's form was just as she had remembered it from the last time Pterano had entered the valley, except that Sierra bore the tell-tale scars from being scorched from the smoking mountain. His sociopathy was on clear display as his words reached her.
"Come on sweetheart... I promise that I won't hurt Pterano's sister..."
Oh Pterano. She thought to herself. You were always a poor judge of character. Any other person could have told Pterano that Rinkus and Sierra were up to no good, with Sierra being outright malicious at times, but Pterano couldn't see passed his pride. If someone validated his worth by praising him then they could get away with much in Pterano's eyes. Volant still wondered from time to time if her brother lived, but she often doubted that possibility. With few friends, the Mysterious Beyond could be a dangerous place. She certainly hoped that the last legacy of Pterano was something better than Sierra. But right now that was all that she was faced with.
She then heard a series of screeches. Sharptooth talk, she deduced. But she didn't look back as she continued her headlong flight. That made the voice behind her all the more surprising.
"Don't hurt me! But act like you hurt me!"
Volant turned in surprise. "What?! Petrie?!"
"Me attack you now. Roll!"
Petrie grasped ahold of his mother talons with his own and began to roll in an uncontrolled way. Despite his larger size than his siblings, he was still dwarfed by her, so she rolled in the air and took Petrie along with no difficulties. If it hadn’t been for Guido’s warning then she would have been at an utter loss as to what was going on.
"Me not bad flyer, but me have to pretend or be killed by bad flyer!" Hearing this, Volant rolled in the other direction and began to thrash about in order to make it more believable. She then spoke quickly.
"Guido told me, but why are you..." She was then interrupted by her son.
"No! Listen!" She went silent. "Red Claw's attack is a fake. Real attack is fastbiters."
As the two careened towards the ground, Volant knew that they had little time to finish this conversation. If they both rose then the other sharptooth flyer would know that their battle was a fake. They would either have to break apart from their headlong roll or one would have to make a controlled crash soon.
"A few threehorns are guarding the..." She was interrupted again.
"Not enough! Thirty fastbiters! They go after children and the weak! Warn others! Drop me!"
It took her a while to process that Petrie told her to drop him, but as soon as she did she let go and allowed the flyer to disembark. Taking a look behind, she could see that Petrie had crashed into the water below. She felt a pang of despair, until she noticed a slight wave of the wing and a wink from one of his eyes.
He is faking it... Volant felt a sudden rush of relief. No doubt this was part of Petrie's plan. Now the rest was up to her.
Steeling herself and taking a calming breath, she propelled herself full speed towards the south entrance. She had to warn the longnecks. They had to have reinforcements before the fastbiters arrived.
The lives of the valley residents depended on it.
High above the scene of Petrie's 'crash', and unseen by Volant, Sierra hovered with a noticeable frown on his face. The small flyer that he had seen as a budding example of himself was on the water and not moving. Not even a rising torso could be seen. It was obvious that Sandstorm was dead. His attempt to distract Pterano's sister had ended in failure.
"Damn it!" He roared to himself.
With a noticeable lack of control in his movements, he retraced his path and began to fly back towards where the other sharptooth flyers were staying outside of the valley. They had made their distraction, now it was up to the fastbiters to make their move.
Chomper couldn't hear much over the sound of their thundering footsteps. Only the sounds of their stomping feet and the whoosh of the air against his body made any sound. This made him feel as if he were in a world all to himself. A small bubble of calm in a sea of chaos. But he knew that the bubble of sanity would pop soon enough.
The enemy pack awaited them.
Despite his exhaustion, he struggled to keep up with his friends. He knew that he might not be the first to join in the battle, but he would participate all the same. He would not let his friends fight alone. He would not linger behind.
Looking up, he could see the north entrance of the Haven Valley, tall and majestic. Surrounded on either end by a tall rock wall, with only the narrow entrance providing entry into the valley's depths. It was through that entrance that he saw the first hints of trouble.
An adult threehorn lowered his horned head and threw a fastbiter against the rock wall, causing the carnivore to fall to the ground with a distinct thud. The predator would never rise again. However, between his feet and the feet of his two companions, the remaining multitude of predators could be seen gaining entry. The enemy pack had crossed the threshold. Now none of the innocents in the valley would be safe.
As they advanced closer to the trio of threehorns, a loud growl emanated from the entryway and the threehorns rejoined the line, blocking the path.
"We have to protect the children!" Littlefoot yelled at the enraged defenders. "The enemies are in the valley!"
One of the threehorns yelled in a mocking tone. "How do we know that you aren't one of them!?"
At that moment something snapped within Chomper. He had emancipated himself from his parents, crossed a desolate desert, and looked a hostile crowd in the face just to have the chance to help a valley that despised him. He was under no obligation to do these things, but he did it nonetheless out of the caring nature of his heart. But even that had limits.
"We don't have time for this crap!" He barely noticed Cera and the others look at him with concern. "I don't need to hear anymore spiketail crap from an arrogant horn-face! Lives are on the line!" Later on, when reflecting on his words, Chomper would conclude that it was a probably good thing that he said that last sentence in sharptooth.
He saw red. He was angrier than he could ever remember being. He had sacrificed so much for so little. Why did they not listen?
Thankfully, however, Cera said just the right words to the threehorns.
"If we were their allies, would we be caked in their blood?" This gave the threehorns pause. "Let us protect our families. Would you deny us that duty?"
The appeal to sacrifice and duty seemed to make something change in the threehorn guard's eyes, as he moved aside and yelled at the others under his command.
"Fantus, watch the entryway! Don't let any more of them enter! Vivus? Your with me! We have fastbiters to kill!"
With that the two threehorns and the eight sharpteeth entered the valley in order to drive out the invaders.
"Quickly! Up the path!" Shorty screamed, as the other children sprinted up the rocky ledge. The spiketails may be willing to defend the entrance to the best of their ability, but the best way to protect themselves was to not be seen. Let the fastbiters go after harder targets. With that in mind, and while the other residents were scrambling to fight the intruders, he and Ali were rounding up the other children and sending them up the path to the top of the rock wall. However, in his single-minded determination, he neglected to see where Ali was.
"Ali?!" He called.
He didn't immediately heard anything over the shouting and the trampling of feet, but after a few moments he barely heard Ali's voice in the distance.
"Quickly, Tricia! Come along!"
He could see the small longneck try to corral the pink threehorn. Tricia obviously did not understand the full implications of what was going on and was having trouble following the instructions of a longneck. I guess she has a bit of Cera in her, after all. Shorty noted. But the instructions could come from no one else at the moment. The spiketails, like Tricia's mother, were in the middle of defending the valley. It was up to them now. Only the children and juveniles could fit up the entryway onto the top of the rock wall.
And fastbiters. His mind added.
Shorty was anxious. They had to hurry if they were going to get everyone out of sight in time. If they failed to do so then the predators would know where they were. Then they would all be under threat. With his patience waning, he quickly nudged Tricia towards the entryway and called to Ali.
"Alright, come up here! We have to leave now!"
Ali didn't seem to hear him, however. "Where is Dinah and Dana?"
Shorty sighed. "I'm sure that they are already up here somewhere! Now come on!" With some relief, he noted that Ali was sprinting towards the entrance and towards safety. But that was when everything changed.
A sudden shout and a scream from a spiketail could be heard in the distance as both Ali and Shorty looked towards its source.
"Fastbiters! Hide children!"
Shorty quickly sprinted up the entrance, as he was confident that Ali was right behind. But a sudden scream caused his blood to run cold. Being cautious as not to give away the location of the other children, he peered over the rock that he was behind. The sight before him filled him with dread.
Ali was surrounded by three fastbiters in a rapidly closing circle. Her screams only seemed to make the fastbiters more frenzied in their task as they began to lunge and snap at their quarry. It was only a matter of seconds now.
In those heartbreaking moments, Shorty knew that there was nothing that he could do for the juvenile longneck. He also realized that any attempt to help her would give away the location of where the children were being sheltered. Dooming them all to the ravages of the sharpteeth. Had he never found out about Littlefoot's condition then he might have charged ahead in a foolish defense of Ali or shouted, giving away his location for the sharpteeth to hear. But the stories of his brother's trials and tribulations had taught him many hard truths and one of those was that the good of the herd took priority over the life of any individual. This was just as true for leaf-eaters as it was for sharpteeth. With that in mind, Shorty swallowed and tried to ignore the tears welling up in his eyes. Breathing a whispered “I’m sorry” to his companion, he turned towards where the other children were hiding.
And left Ali to her fate.
Ali's ears burned from the insistent screaming. Only part of her mind was even aware that the ear-piercing screams were coming from herself. The only thing going through her mind at the moment was the struggle to avoid being killed by her pursuers. But even she knew that this was a struggle that she was going to lose.
Ali's scream became a high-pitched shriek as one of the lunging fastbiters had succeeded in slicing into her back. As she barely struggled out of his grasp, she could feel herself begin to be overtaken by the spasms of pain that now overwhelmed her senses. She knew that the end had come. As the three other fastbiters began to advance towards her, she didn't move but instead closed her eyes.
I guess that I will see you soon, Rhett...
Ali's eyes jerked open at the sudden scream from in front of her. The fastbiter that had been advancing towards her from the left was now limping away from the scene with a pointed stick sticking out of his side, whereas the three other fastbiters were now focused on something else.
The voice that greeted her sounded angelic, even if Cera's words were not.
"Get out of here, you stupid flathead! Run while you still can!"
Ali struggled to her feet and made an attempt towards where Shorty and the others had fled. With a deliberate pace, she placed one foot in front of the other in order to scale the heights that the others had climbed. However, her battered body was not equal to the task. As her shoulder shook in an uncontrolled fashion, she realized what was coming before it finally hit. With a final shudder, her feet gave way and she collapsed to the ground. She knew that she would be unable to rise now.
The fate of this battle would decide her fate as well.
Cera had often felt angry in her life. She was well acquainted with that emotion. She knew the tell-tale loss of control that came with the first rush of adrenaline. She knew the subtle shakes that came with the emotion. And she knew the hollow feeling that came with the inevitable cool down. But this... This was different.
She felt numb. It was as if a cold darkness had possessed her. Now only intention and will remained.
The green fastbiter in front of her had a particular scent on him. The scent of young threehorn. She could smell their body odor, that she still knew from her threehorn days. She could smell their fear. She could smell their sadness.
She could smell their blood.
Despite the fact that she had killed her own kind before and had even slaughtered young threehorns in order to distract an elder threehorn from Dein, something about this fastbiter's actions filled her with rage. Something that she couldn't quite determine. Maybe it was the fact that she felt obligated to protect the valley. Maybe it was the recent reunion that she had with her family. But whatever it was, it filled her with a feeling of rage. Despite the orgy of violence that was taking place around her, she focused entirely on the hapless fastbiter. She would make him pay.
Cera approached the stricken fastbiter with the grace and tranquil fury of a predator. She gently bobbed to and fro, while her eyes conveyed no discernible emotion. It was a sight that would invoke fear in whoever was the recipient of their gaze. The fastbiter in front of her was no exception. As the sounds of battle raged on around her, she was singularly focused on this specimen. She would kill him, but first she would make him suffer.
She suddenly moved to her left, which he countered with a slow parry to his left. But due to his grave injuries from the stick sticking out of his side, he was far too slow. With a swift movement she slashed at his left leg with both of her razor-sharp talons.
A howl of unfathomable pain arose from the fastbiter as he fell to the ground. He would have no hope of moving now. No hope of escape. He would now know that regardless of whatever happened here, he would die today. His pack would not accept a cripple and her pack would not permit him to live. He was a dead fastbiter. Either way, the fallen threehorns would be avenged.
Hearing a shout to her left, she reluctantly turned away from her handiwork and saw that the rest of the pack was forming a makeshift defensive perimeter around Ali. Ducky had a noticeable gash to her shoulder and was barely maintaining a defensive posture. For his part, Spike stood in front of her in order to protect his sister. Of the others, Ruby and Chomper seemed to have a few lacerations, but they seemed to be minor. Despite her desire to avenge her former kind, she knew that she would have to back up the others before the situation got any worse. They were quickly being outnumbered by members of the enemy pack. With a frightening roar, she said one final taunt to the stricken fastbiter before assisting her friends.
"I will finish with you later."
"Flee while you still can! We will not hesitate to kill you!"
Littlefoot knew that his taunt would have little effect, but it might delay their enemies for a while. After all, that was all that they needed now. Time.
The two fastbiters that stood in front of him did not answer, but instead lunged at Littlefoot with murderous intent. Being careful not to collide with his other packmates, he dodged to his left and parried an attack from the shortest of the two threats. However, he was horrified to note that this left Ali open to attack.
The fastbiter who was advancing to the center of the circle was suddenly tackled by a blur of yellow. With a swift bite to the offender's rump, the fastbiter retreated from his assault. While not taking his eyes off of the threat in front of him, Littlefoot called out to Cera.
Cera for her part growled at the retreating fastbiter and launched a faux lunge at another, causing it to retreat from the immediate vicinity. After this was done, Cera yelled at her leader.
"We're in a bad area, aren't we?! We should move out!"
Littlefoot dodged another attack from the fastbiter he parried earlier, taking a glancing cut to his left forearm. With a swift strike of his talons, he caused the attacking fastbiter to back off and retrench at his new position, nearly two fastbiter lengths behind his original position. Littlefoot then addressed the yellow fastbiter.
"We need to protect Ali and defend the kids until reinforcements get here!" He looked around. There were several more fastbiters emerging from the trees and underbrush, many of them with fresh blood on their bodies and faces. How many innocents have they already killed or injured? The children were all gathered up, but there were still many small adults in the valley who would be easy pickings for fastbiters. It was almost too horrifying to contemplate. However, despite his feelings of obligation to those in the valley, he knew that they were being outmatched. With that in mind, he called upon a new strategy.
"Spike and Ducky? Help drag Ali to the entrance where the children are. We will cover you." Littlefoot spoke in leaf-eater, seeing to it that the enemy fastbiters could not understand his instructions. "Everyone else, cover them and retreat towards the entrance. Move! Move! Move!"
In a flurry of movement, and with noticeable pained moans from Ali, the pack sprung into motion. Ducky and Spike each placed themselves upon one of Ali's sides and proceeded to assist her in moving through the thick grass. Ali's blood covered the ground along the way. Meanwhile, the rest of the pack went into their well-practiced retreat strategy of having the two fastbiters in front retreat back and then charge forward slightly, whereas the two in back did the exact opposite. The result was a small group of fastbiters moving through a scene of carnage.
There were now eight fastbiters around the pack, but others were approaching from all around as they seemed to be heading into their area of the valley. The situation was fast becoming critical.
Fastbiters struck at Littlefoot and Cera as they tried to clear a path for the pack. As they moved forward they were besieged on all sides by the fastbiters that had decided to focus on them. Teeth and claw met flesh as the battle was engaged again and again. Finally, however, the pack approached the quasi-hidden entrance to the top of the rock wall. A narrow opening in the wall that went at a 45 degree angle towards the peak of the wall. It was well hidden by the foliage and the color of the rock, but it was not hidden in terms of scent. The odor of leaf-eater children could be smelled very well by the predators and they knew that they needed to block the passage before the enemy found it. As Littlefoot and Cera led the way for the advancing pack, they could see the fastbiters moving and focusing on Ruby and Chomper who were covering the pack's rear. With a slight upsurge of hope, Littlefoot thought that success must be at hand. That was when the fastbiters in front of Littlefoot parted, to reveal another fastbiter who was already situated at the entrance.
"Why hello, Seeker. Remember me."
They were too late. Calin was already at the entrance.
"Thank you for showing me the entrance, though I would have found it anyway."
Cera seethed. "Haven't you done enough!? How many have you killed today?!"
Calin gave a little laugh. "Oh, not enough for Red Claw's tastes. He wants a massacre, you know." He then smiled at the pack of fastbiters who now had enemy fastbiters surrounding them on all sides. "It is a shame that you didn't join us earlier... we could have been a great team..."
Spike spat at the tan fastbiter. "Die in a dung heap!"
Calin smiled even wider. "Charming... Why don't..." He was suddenly cut off by a frenzied ball of talons and teeth.
Spike and Taunt both tried to intervene. "Breeze! No!"
An orgy of violence commenced as both Spike and Taunt lunged at the tan fastbiter in order to assist their dear friend. For their part, the other pack's forces attacked as well, forcing the other members of the pack to defend their own positions.
Meanwhile, in the pile of bodies there was no telling who was friend or foe, not even the enemy pack members dared to intervene in the orgy of violence. Finally, however, Calin's tail and rump came clearly into view and two pack members grabbed the tail and pulled him from the savage melee. Taunt and Spike, for their part, to the opportunity and pulled Breeze off of Calin. Both Calin and Breeze looked brutalized as each had clawed at the other's torso with their forelimbs. Large blood gashes covered them from head to toe as their normal colors were replaced with crimson. It looked as if each of them had been dragged through a field of boulders and forced to stand. It was a horrifying sight. One blood-stained body stared at another. The eyes of each conveying nothing but rage and fury.
Calin raged at Breeze and her counterparts. "I swear upon my honor that I will skin you alive, you vile piece of filth!"
Breeze raged back. "You have to get me first, you bastard!" Her growl filled both her packmates and the enemy with a sense of dread. Breeze was acting with the fury of someone who had nothing left to lose.
At this point Taunt had an idea. "So... Who else wants to take us?" He then gestured at some of the other fastbiters. "You?" He gestured towards another. "Or how about you?" He then smiled. "You may kill us, but we will kill a lot of you first." He said the last sentence in a cold monotone. The taunt had turned into a threat.
Littlefoot then joined in the act. "Are you ready to die for nothing?" He bared his teeth. "We are not afraid to die for our honor, but you have no honor to defend!"
"You have already made your kills for your leader... Now begone!" Cera screamed. She had already incapacitated the murderer of the threehorn younglings, but others were still being slaughtered as they spoke. The sounds of screams could be heard echoing across the valley as fastbiters attacked anything that moved. The spiketails could be seen battling and chasing fastbiters in the distance, but the enemy pack had successfully distracted them from their true destination. They wanted to cause as much trauma to the valley as possible and that entailed one type of target.
Calin smiled, despite his injuries. He wanted more than anything else to strike down these insufferable fastbiters, but he knew that his mission was far more important than that. He could kill Littlefoot another day, but if he failed Red Claw then he would not survive to see the next morning. Of that he had no doubts.
"How do you like the show, Seeker?" He mockingly asked the other fastbiter. "Utter chaos! The leaf-eaters are running scared. Just imagine how it is going to be when we finally finish them off..." He then gave the pack a smirk. "I must applaud your efforts to grab a meal at our expense and to take a few lucky shots at our forces. Really. Bravo." The sarcasm was being laid on thick and despite the lack of time, Calin couldn't help himself. "But now that you have helped bring me back into the leadership.. I must complete my mission. I wish you the best of luck in escaping from the leaf-eaters..."
Littlefoot responded with a question. "And just what would that mission be?!"
Calin sneered. "Why... scaring these leaf-eaters out of their home so that Red Claw and we can bite them down to size." He gave a small chuckle. "That way there will be fewer for us to deal with next year... Now as much as I have appreciated this little chat..." He gave a dismissive gesture as three fastbiters guarded his retreat towards the entrance to the top of the rock wall. The children were now trapped.
"We won't let you harm the children!" Chomper protested. "They are under our protection!"
Calin and several of the other fastbiters laughed at the small sharptooth's proclamation. Why would they want to protect leaf-eaters? Calin pondered to himself. Food is food. Even if they despise me, surely they wouldn't risk everything just to deny me a meal.
"Why would you protect sapsuckers, runt?" One of his colleagues asked, to which Calin could only nod. He was wondering about that as well.
"Because they are in our territory." Littlefoot replied simply.
These caused more laughter in Calin's ranks, which he joined in with. These sharpteeth sure were an arrogant bunch.
"So you claim everything from the Land of Shallow Waters to this dung pit? Well... claiming and defending are two different things, runts. Now watch as we 'catch' your prey."
Calin sneered. He had taken far too long in dealing with these rivals. They were on a mission that required speed and ruthlessness. Their sharptooth flyers had broken the leaf-eaters' communication lines, they had distracted most of the adults by using Red Claw at the main entrance, and now they needed to kill as many as possible. As soon as they saw the cataclysm that had befallen their loved ones then they would panic and flee. Leaf-eaters were so predictable. Now there was the simply manner of spreading the destruction.
"Alright, packmates! Go get the children! We will take care of things here." Calin affirmed. He then gestured at the fastbiters to his left and they sprinted towards Littlefoot's pack. Littlefoot would now have the choice between losing his entire pack in a futile battle or abandoning the valley to its fate. He smiled.
This is going to be delicious!
That was when a scream could be heard in the distance.
Upon that explanation, Littlefoot and the others crashed to the ground and pushed Ali down as well. A move which was incredibly painful for the longneck.
"Ow! What is..."
Suddenly a flash of blue light illuminated the entire valley. A growing heat could be felt in the air as everything seemed to tingle and feel out of place. The static electricity was followed by a unique scent. The smell of ozone, like just after a lightning strike. This moment of surrealism was soon interrupted however by an impossibly loud bang.
Ali could not see much from her vantage point under the fastbiters, but she could hear the tell-tale sounds of falling boulders and screaming dinosaurs. The ground shook for several moments as a portion of the rock wall gave way. It was only when the sound stopped that she had enough courage to look up.
The entrance to the top of the rock wall was now blocked by rocks. The children were safe.
Littlefoot slowly rose to his feet as the enemy fastbiters looked dazed by the sudden onslaught. It seemed that Petrie's message to Guido had gone through and the rainbowfaces had put their 'pain rock' to good use. Now it was time to finish the job.
"Alright, guys! Wipe them out!"
He and the rest of the pack stood for several moments as they waited for the next attack, but none came. The enemy fastbiters were up and reorienting themselves now. So where were the rainbowfaces?
"Uh... Guys? Anytime now!"
Just then Littlefoot heard a crashing of small rocks at the top of the rock wall. Turning his head upward in order to see them, he could see Chronos looking on, while Logos was yelling something incomprehensible at the rock. This couldn't be good.
"Damn! It's a technical fault! Well calibrated my ass!" Littlefoot had no idea what any of that meant, but he did understand the next sentence. "You're on your own, kids!"
Littlefoot gestured for the others to resume their defensive positions. Their opportunity for escape had passed. Now they had no choice but to hold out until reinforcements arrived.
"Damn it!" Calin raged. "Now the other sapsuckers will know that we are here! So much for the blasted mission!"
One of his packmates asked the obvious question. "What in the name of sanity was that?!"
Another called out. "Was it a sky stone?"
"A fire rock?" Another offered.
As the murmuring and questions began in his pack, Calin shushed them with one exclamation. "Who cares what the damn thing was?! It has ruined us! Red Claw will have our hides!" He then looked straight towards Littlefoot's pack. "But before we have to leave, I say that we ruin them!" He gestured at Littlefoot with one claw. "Let us at least make this worth our while..."
Littlefoot and the others closed in and made a defensive circle around Ali. This was it. Thirty-some fastbiters against eight sharpteeth with literally nowhere to go. There could be no victory in such a battle, only death and defeat. Nonetheless, none of the pack lost their composure or their will to fight. They would not shame their comrades by showing weakness to the enemy. They would fight to the end. Only poor Petrie would remain to tell their tales and to sing their songs. The last legacy of the pack.
But that was when they suddenly heard the flyer speak.
"Hold on! Longnecks coming!"
The assembled members of both packs looked at the unexpected visitor from the air and noted his words. Longnecks were coming this way? Was it a trap? A distraction?
Regardless of the accuracy of the report, Calin gestured for his packmates to resume their pincer attack on Littlefoot and his friends. If nothing else they were going to finish this once and for all.
That's when he heard it.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
Thud! Thud! Thud!
I was so close!
Thud! Thud! Thud!
"Pack, retreat!" Calin reluctantly gave the order. They had little to be grateful for in this mission, but at least they would survive. He knew that they were not strong enough to face the wrath of the entire valley. Not yet. With a final look at his hated enemies he spat a vitriol-filled growl and then turned and ran.
He never looked back.