The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 55 Rise of the fallen

“Rise and rise again until lambs become lions”

― Robin Hood

As the enemy retreated towards the valley entrance, Breeze allowed herself to breathe a sigh of relief. She had allowed her anger to get the better of her and the others had to pull her off of Calin. As a result, she was now covered with lacerations from her head down towards her toes, but the stinging pain of those injuries were tempered somewhat by the knowledge that she had inflicted equal damage on her nemesis. She resolved to kill him one day even if it was the last thing that she ever did.

"How are you holding up?"

Somehow, the voice of Spike cut through the thundering sound of racing feet. In response she turned towards her companion and allowed herself to sigh.

"I am fine." She answered plainly, even though she was aware that this wouldn't satisfy Spike. Taking a look at his sister, however, she soon realized that she was not the only injured party. "How is Haven?" She asked with genuine concern.

As Spike turned to tend to Ducky, the former hadrosaur answered. "I have been better. I have, I have! But I think that I will get better."

Hearing this line of conversation, Littlefoot turned to Ducky as well. "Don't move your shoulder, Haven. That looks like a pretty bad bite. We should probably have Mr. Thicknose take a look at it."

"Yeah. Provided that they don't kick us out!" Cera noted, while looking in the direction of the approaching adults. She had a look of grave concern on her face, which caused Breeze to look as well. The sight that greeted her filled her with fear. She began her sprint even before Littlefoot gave the order.

"Everyone! Run!"

......

Utu broke away from the other longnecks and sprinted after the departing fastbiters.

I knew that they were tricking us! They will pay for this!

She couldn't believe that the other longnecks could side with Littlefoot and his friends. Even if he were a good lad during his longneck days, his actions as a sharptooth proved that he was the embodiment of evil. From attacking Rhett to stealing the herd's eggs, they had showed their true colors. Now they were running away after obviously taking part in the assault on the valley, such an action demanded only one punishment and she would not hesitate to carry out the sentence.

"Utu, stop!"

She ignored the screams from Grandma Longneck. As far as Utu was concerned, she had placed her misplaced trust in her grandson to the detriment of the entire valley. She owed the other longneck much, but she was going to right an unforgivable wrong. She was going to see to it that the sharpteeth were expelled permanently. They had slaughtered many innocents in the valley. Several spiketails lay dead or dying and numerous smaller dinosaurs were walking around with grievous injuries. There even appeared to be a small child laying on the ground... I thought all of the children were evacuated... Utu thought to herself. Then what is... That was when she saw it. A most horrible sight.

"Ali!"

Utu ran with all of her might to the stricken longneck, her legs burning with exertion. Her thoughts were now on the wellbeing of her daughter and not on the despicable sharpteeth. If she lost Ali... Her mind couldn't even process it. With her parental instincts driving out all reason, she ran the distance between her and Ali in no time at all. In a panic she nuzzled her daughter and cried for any answer.

"Ali! Ali! Can you hear me?!"

No answer came from the bloodied longneck. A terrible gash was clearly visible on her back, although blood was only seeping from the wound at a slow rate. Utu began to sob. Was her daughter to meet the same fate as Rhett?

"Momma?"

Utu sucked in a breath as her daughter called for her ever so softly. She wasted no time in answering.

"Yes, dear! I am here!" She was only tangentially aware of the other longnecks arriving at her location. "Don't worry. You are safe from those vile fastbiters now."

Ali groaned as she attempted to stand up, but she quickly fell down again. She seemed to look around for a few moments before speaking again.

"Where are Littlefoot and the others?"

Utu answered immediately. "They left when they saw me coming. Don't worry dear, I will make sure that they pay for this!" She could almost feel the other longnecks staring at her from behind, but she did not care. She would see to it that those fastbiters paid for what they did to her Ali. But that was when Ali shattered her view of what happened.

"No, mamma!" Ali's voice was weak, but clear. "Littlefoot saved me! He saved me from the other fastbiters..." She trailed off as her strength was fast declining.

"Ali! Ali!" Her daughter's sudden loss of consciousness filled her with dread. She couldn't lose her daughter! She just couldn't. She was all that she had left in this world. That was when she heard Grandpa Longneck begin shouting orders behind her.

"Bron! Grab some of the healing plants from the watering hole!" She looked his direction just in time for him to speak to her. "Utu? Bring Ali to the watering hole. We have some plants that might help."

Utu was still sobbing, but spoke before she dared to pick up her unconscious daughter. "I'm terribly sorry... I thought..."

Grandma Longneck quickly interrupted her with a soft voice. "Don't worry about that now. Let my mate and son-in-law tend to Ali. I will get my grandson and his friends back..." Utu noted that Grandma neglected to point out that Utu was the one who chased them off. "They may have ideas on how to help her as well."

With a nod of gratitude, Utu picked up her stricken daughter and placed her ever so gently on her back. Then with both speed and caution, she advanced towards the watering hole. The last thing that she heard before she left the area was the booming voice of Grandma Longneck calling for her grandson. Utu knew that she would have to apologize to the sharpteeth one day. She just hoped that Ali would live to see that happen.

......

"I think that we are far enough away now!" Chomper yelled at his companions.

Ruby stopped her headlong sprint and soon heard the sounds of her friends' speeding feet cease as well. It was only then that she decided to answer her purple friend.

"I hope that we are far enough now. But how far is far enough when a longneck is after you?"

Littlefoot could only nod at that statement. Taunt was a bit more vocal however.

"Yeah Seeker... Your family reunions are a bit dangerous!" It was meant to be humorous, but at that moment Littlefoot could only agree with Taunt's sentiments.

"I hope that Ali will talk some sense into her... After all we did help her out." He then looked again at Ducky. "Ducky, you really need to lie down. That injury looks pretty bad."

Ducky opened her mouth for a moment as if to protest, but upon Spike's urging look she acquiesced to Littlefoot's request. As Ducky lay belly-first on the ground, Littlefoot could see how deep the wound was. The fastbiter's bite had cut through the meat of her back right behind her shoulder. The injury continued with a laceration through the skin of the shoulder itself. Such a wound was not untreatable, and the rate of bleeding was not particularly worrisome, but the risk of infection would be extremely high. Littlefoot grimaced. They would definitely need the help of not only Mr. Thicknose, but also the rainbowfaces on this one. Ducky would need all of the help that they could get.

"Breeze? Ruby?" Both of the fastbiter's raised their heads at this. "I need you to get some healing plants. I don't care if you have to run around Utu... you need to ask Mr. Thicknose where they are so that we can get them." Seeing those two nod, he then turned to Spike. "Spike? You stay with your sister. Try to keep her still." He turned still to Cera. "And Cera?" But she was nowhere to be seen.

"Cera?"

At his concerned looks, Chomper answered. "I will go look for her, Seeker!" But Littlefoot shook his head at this.

"No, Path. If she gets herself into trouble then I might need to run fast and I can run faster than you. Go ahead and..." But he was then interrupted by an unexpected source.

"Littlefoot!"

His grandmother.

Hmmm... Seems that Ali called her mother off the attack... Littlefoot noted to himself. This changed the situation somewhat.

"Okay, Chomper. You go after Cera, but be careful. I will talk to my parents. Stay safe." He barely took the time to hear Chomper's quick "you too" before he sprung towards the familiar voice in the distance.

As Littlefoot sprinted off to the yells of his grandmother, he did not realize the full implications of what was going on a mere half mile away. Cera was taking care of unfinished business and was about to get far more than she bargained for.

......

Cera had finally tracked down the fastbiter she had crippled earlier. Even though it was hypocritical of her to be angry with a sharptooth for killing a threehorn when she had done the same in the past, she still felt that she had unfinished business to attend to with this dinosaur. His blood trail had led her straight to his makeshift hiding place in the bushes by the valley entrance. The tell-tale smell of fastbiter blood and fear greeted her nostrils. She was careful and approach her quarry cautiously, as she knew that a dinosaur with nothing left to lose was a dire threat. A quick strike at the vegetation in front of her exposed the sharptooth to the light. She was again face-to-face with her soon-to-be victim.

But there was something wrong. There was no movement in this fastbiter. No breathing and no stench of fresh fear.

He was already dead.

Cera hated to admit that she felt somewhat disappointed by this, which testified to her transformed mind. However, she realized that her mission here was done nonetheless. The enemy fastbiter was dead. A suitable ending for the sharptooth that had hurt Ducky and threatened the rest of the pack. As she turned away, however, she smelled something that gave her pause.

It was a scent that she had smelled before. It was vaguely familiar. It was like her and Tricia's scent but different.

That was when the realization hit her.

The green fastbiter in front of her had their scent on him. Their scent. Dana and Dinah. Her niece and nephew. 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.

He had killed them. Two lives with so much promise and hope quashed in an instant of terror and pain. Cera had not even had time to reunite with them during her brief initial stay in the valley and now she never would. They had gone to wherever the victims of sharpteeth go. She could only hope that it was a nice place.

Much nicer than where she had sent their killer.

When Chomper discovered Cera a few minutes later, he found her sobbing beside two badly mutilated threehorn corpses. Knowing that his words would solve nothing, he simply placed a comforting claw on her shoulder. It seemed that the valley's losses on this day went very deep.

......

Chomper had stayed with her until Petrie had arrived with word that Ducky was being cared for and the valley had reconsidered their eviction after their service in the battle. In her despair, however, none of that mattered to her. A part of her family had been taken from her forever. It was only when Chomper pointed out that they should be there when the children's father arrived that she became vocal again.

"Why should I bloody leave?! They are my family too!"

Chomper looked at her sympathetically, but retorted nonetheless. "Cera... They were killed by a fastbiter..."

Cera didn't get it. "So?!"

Chomper gave her a sad frown. "Argo will be upset when he sees this... He might attack you too."

Cera looked down. Chomper's words were true. Even with her daddy coming along as well, that was no guarantee of her safety. In the madness that comes with grief, Argo might attack her, family or not. All that he would see at that moment would be another fastbiter. Another killer. It was best to let the threehorn mourn and for her to move along. Her father and Tria would undoubtedly want to talk to her about what happened once the wounded were tended to and the defensive situation dealt with. With that in mind, she slowly walked to her father's nest, barely registering the comforting words of her packmates. She simply took in the smells of the family she had been away from for so long and tried to remember a happier time when they were all together. Before she changed. Before this terrible battle.

It was with those sad thoughts that Cera fell into a dreamless sleep.

......

"This is pretty bad, Ducky." The female rainbowface gently rubbed the gash with a bluish-green leaf, which made the green fastbiter grimace in pain. Spike grasped her claws in support. "But if we clean it then I think you will be alright."

"What about infection?" Came Littlefoot's concerned voice.

At this Chronos turned away from the special leaves he was mashing and looked at the brown fastbiter. "I'm afraid that with an injury like this, there will be infection."

This filled both Spike and Littlefoot with alarm, whereas Ducky closed her eyes tight due to the pain of having her injury cleaned by Logos. Seeing that he was causing them distress, Chronos continued.

"But we can give her something for that." He then gestured at the mixture that he was preparing on the rock slab. "I won't lie to you, this will taste awful. But it should fight the infection."

At this Logos spoke again. "Yes. You took a bite to the back, Ducky. You will need what Chronos has prepared for you."

Ruby now spoke. "Has this healing..." She was unsure what to call the mashed-up plants. "mash... has it worked before?"

Chronos gave the fastbiter an expressionless look, before responding. "It helped me when I was sick nearly a season ago. If it saved me from dying then I am sure that it will keep your friend safe."

"Ducky!!!"

The sharpteeth turned towards the sudden scream. The panicked form of Ura could be seen rushing to the scene. It seemed that Ducky's mother had just been informed of her grievous injury.

"I'm okay, momma."

Ura stopped when she saw the numerous blood-soaked leaves. She then looked at Ducky's back and could see the massive gash.

"Oh, Ducky!" Ura was nearly inconsolable now.

Spike decided to speak next. He realized that a fear-stricken mother would do no one any good. "It looks a bit worse than it is. The rainbowfaces are cleaning the wound... Ducky should be alright."

Ura questioned this. "Should be?"

Logos then responded, as she took a bit of the mash that Chronos had made and placed it in Ducky's mouth. "Nothing is certain in this world..." She placed a comforting hand on Ducky's side as she convulsed at the horrific taste of the medicine. "But she is getting the best treatment that we can give her."

Chomper then spoke. "The valley is lucky to have you as healers."

"The valley is lucky to have you as defenders." Logos responded in kind.

As Ura began to check up on her injured daughter, Littlefoot gestured for everyone but Spike and Ducky to follow him. "I think that we should give the swimmer family some time alone." No one disputed his logic there. "At least Stern Claw took care of the bastard who did this..." He then looked at Chomper with a concerned expression. "How is Stern Claw holding up?"

Chomper sighed. "As well as can be expected, I guess."

"That bad?" Despite how his words may have sounded sarcastic, he had no sarcasm in his voice. If it wasn't for Cera's insistence to be alone, he would be there right now comforting her. As it was he was at a loss of what to do.

Littlefoot nodded. "Stern Claw will need to talk to her family about this. She won't open up until she is good and ready. All we can do is be there for when she is ready to talk to us." He then looked at the others. "I think that we should go to our families for now to see how they are holding up. Breeze and Taunt..."

Breeze interrupted her leader. "I guess that we should stay near the rainbowfaces in case they need help getting healing plants. Ducky was not the only injury, you know."

Littlefoot nodded. "That sounds good." He then looked at the flyer. "Petrie? Let us know if the rainbowfaces need anything else."

"Sure thing, Seeker!" Petrie affirmed.

As the pack then scattered to their respective destinations, Littlefoot spared one final look in the direction of the threehorn nest. He could only hope that Cera would open up soon. They had been through enough pain and tragedy in their short time in the valley. There was no reason to keep those emotions bottled up inside.

Sighing, Littlefoot walked towards the distant form of Bron, which stood out in the distance. It was time to see how the family was holding up.

......

"Cera."

The yellow fastbiter woke up suddenly at the call of the familiar voice. She opened her eyes and noted that the brightness of the day had been replaced with the coming of night. The bright circle was about to set across the horizon. She must have dozed off for longer than she had expected.

"Yes, daddy?" She answered softly.

She heard a deep sigh from behind her as Topps took a deep breath. Then, unexpectedly, the massive threehorn laid down beside her, facing the setting bright circle.

"I just got done talking to Argo..." His face contorted into a look of discomfort. "I had hoped that I would not be the bearer of bad news again, but here I am telling family that their son and daughter will rise no more..." He looked down. "Cera, you risked your life out there for the valley and you helped to save many, many children. I know that you blame yourself for your niece and nephew, but you can't think of it that way."

Cera closed her eyes as Topps continued his conversation.

"After your mother and sisters died, I blamed myself. Oh goodness did I blame myself..." Cera could hear the tears in his voice, even if she had her eyes closed. She did not want to see her father cry, so she kept them shut. "But it was the herd that kept me going. I couldn't let the rest of them down. I resolved to lead them to safety never mind the cost. I promised your mother as much."

Cera finally was brave enough to open her eyes again and look at her father.

"Eventually, I got you back. But many others weren't so lucky. Only the smart, strong, and hard survive in the world, the rest are often crushed by the ravages of time." He then turned towards Cera. His eyes were piercing in their gaze. Cera felt in that moment as if her father were staring into her soul. "That is the problem, isn't it? Not just that we have lost family today... you see that you are one of the choosers of the dead."

Cera swallowed. Her father knew her all too well. She finally worked up the courage to speak.

"I have killed, daddy. Not just the fastbiters today. Not just longnecks, swimmers, and spiketails. But I have killed other threehorns before..." Topps closed his eyes at her admission. "I am no better than the fastbiter that I killed."

Her father was silent for a moment. Neither dinosaur said a word and Cera was left to her morose thoughts. Finally though, Topps spoke again.

"Did you kill for your own survival?" At this Cera simply nodded. "Did the fastbiter who killed Dinah and Dana do it for survival?" Cera simply shook her head at that. "Then there is a difference, Cera."

Cera sighed. "That doesn't make a difference to the victims."

Topps nodded. "No. No, it doesn't. But it should make a difference to the killer." He looked straight ahead, his features rigid and tense. "Cera, you have only thought of me as your father, but until earlier today I was a leader too. How do you think the others saw me?"

Cera could only give a slight shrug at this. She hadn't really given it much thought.

Topps continued. "You may think that you are a bunch of savages now, but many of us leaf-eaters are no better. Longnecks of Doc's kind will bash one another for mates and if the rival dies, then the winner will kill the remaining children. Spiketails will fight rivals even after they have been taken care of. And we threehorns... We are the worst in many ways."

Cera stared at her father with a stunned expression. What was her father talking about? He always said that threehorns were the best at everything... so where did this discussion came from?

"I have killed other threehorns before, Cera." She stared in silence at that admission. "In order to become herd leader, you will face many challengers and many of them will fight to the end. I was the end of many." He then looked at Cera with sympathetic eyes. "You have killed for survival, Cera. You have killed for food, family, and your friends. But I have killed for power. What does that say about me?" He sighed. "Regardless of if it is the threehorn way or not, I have more to answer for than you do."

Cera was absolutely flabbergasted. What could she say? The dinosaur that she had idolized for much of her life was now bearing his heart and soul to her. All of his insecurities, faults, and perceived failings as a dinosaur. It was both an enlightening and disturbing experience. It was like witnessing the death of a living god.

"You know that you did what you had to do, Topps."

Both heads turned to see the pink form of Tria approach them, with Tricia following behind.

"If you hadn't gone for the leadership then who would? Braston? You know that he would have led the herd to its destruction. You may have always wanted power, but you wanted it for the right reasons."

Cera was speechless. Her father wanted power for the right reasons in the same way that the gang had wished for power to defeat Red Claw. The intentions in each case were pure, but the consequences were dire to all involved. How much blood had she shed and would continue to shed throughout her life? How many nights did her daddy have to hide his true feelings over the hard actions that he had to take? She and her father were more alike than she realized. The change of species had made that far more clear to her. With that revelation in mind, Cera spoke again.

"I guess that we aren't so different, daddy. We each have done what we had to do. Now we have to live with it."

Topps sighed as his mate nuzzled him and Tricia began to jump around his massive feet. "I guess not..." He then closed his eyes and bowed his head a little. "But unfortunately for all of us, Whitehorn isn't so different from me either. He wants to have a meeting in a few days to discuss where to go from here. He wants all of your friends to be there as well."

Tria looked at her mate. "Do you think that he plans on evacuating?"

Topps snorted. "No. I think that he plans on fighting and the Great Valley would be the best place to have such a battle. But I fear that many will plan on fleeing to somewhere that Red Claw doesn't care about."

"So it is up to us to keep the herds together?" Cera asked, which earned her a nod from her father. "Well then! We have just the dinosaurs for the job, don't we?"

Topps retorted. "They don't really listen to me or the longneck anymore..."

Cera smiled. "No, but they will listen to those who sacrificed for the valley."

Topps could only nod in response. He hoped that she was correct.

......

"What's wrong, Shorty?" Littlefoot noted that the longneck looked utterly devastated as he rested at the top of the hill. Following Shorty's gaze, it was obvious why. Ali was resting on a makeshift nest some distance away from the hill, while her mother and Mr. Thicknose kept watch. Her injuries were far more severe than Ducky's and this deeply concerned all involved.

"I left her." Was all Shorty said in response.

Littlefoot looked at Shorty in surprise. "You did what you had to do, Shorty. You couldn't lead the sharpteeth to the other children. That would have been terrible!"

Shorty closed his eyes and seemed to ignore Littlefoot's words, though this did not discourage the brown fastbiter.

"Sometimes you have to make sacrifices..."

At this Shorty retorted weakly. "Sacrifices! My entire life has been sacrifices! I am tired of being the one who has to watch my loved ones die! I am tired of being the one who chooses."

Littlefoot could only nod. "Now you know how I feel."

Shorty did not speak further, so Littlefoot remained silent for a few moments as he watched Ali sleep from a distance. She had been through so much and despite the fact that she had made their time in the valley a difficult one, he could not find it in himself to blame her. They had taken a lot from her, even if they had saved her this time.

Possibly saved her. Littlefoot thought morosely. She seems to be in pretty bad shape.

The sound of loud footsteps could then be heard. Littlefoot did not need to turn his head to tell that Bron was approaching. The pattern of his footsteps and his smell were unmistakable. Littlefoot could also hear two other longnecks approaching, who were undoubtedly his grandparents. It seemed that the conversation between the brothers was soon going to be interrupted.

"You did what you had to do, Shorty." Bron's voice called out from the rapidly closing distance.

"You could hear me from way over there!?" Shorty asked with surprise.

A laugh bellowed from the massive longneck. "No, but I can tell what has you upset, Shorty. But you can't blame yourself."

Shorty began to pace at Bron's words. A look of confusion and disgust was on his face. "If I did the right thing... then why does it feel so wrong?"

Littlefoot could only give a sad smile to his brother. Despite Shorty's claims to the contrary, he was still an innocent kid at heart. He had been required to do something that no child should ever be asked to do and he was paying the price emotionally.

"Sometimes you have to make hard choices, Shorty. It is part of growing up. It is part of being a leader." Littlefoot offered. He had been through the same horror that his brother had: the choice of who had to die. The choice to do a harder right over an easier wrong.

"Well then, to the dung heap with being a leader!" Shorty growled.

Bron's words then surprised both brothers. "Not wanting leadership is one of the signs that you are fit to be leader."

"Huh?" Both Littlefoot and Shorty asked in unison.

Bron sighed as he sat on his haunches beside the two brothers. But the first question that he asked seemed to catch Littlefoot off guard. "Do you remember the last part of the Big Longneck Test, Littlefoot?"

Littlefoot nodded. "Yes, dad... but aren't we supposed to not talk about it until Shorty passes it?"

Bron chuckled. "He already has."

"Um..." Shorty seemed perplexed by this. "No... No, I haven't."

Bron nodded. "Yes. Yes, you have. You passed it today." He paused for a moment as the two grandparents sat on the opposite side of the two brothers. "When Littlefoot passed the test he had to prove three things. By climbing up a sheer cliff in order to catch a red treestar, he showed perseverance. By finding the hidden treestar by solving a riddle, he showed intelligence. And by choosing not to go across the lava pool even though he thought that would make him fail the test, he showed judgment." He then looked at Shorty. "You showed all three of those qualities today, Shorty. You showed perseverance by convincing the other children to fell to the upper rock wall, you showed intelligence by realizing that they would be safer there, and you showed judgment by sacrificing one member of the herd for the sake of the others. You showed good leadership today."

Littlefoot agreed with his father's assessment. "Yeah, Shorty. As the leader of my pack I have had to make hard choices as well. It is part of what comes with being a leader..."

Shorty looked down for several moments as he tried to process this. "Does it ever get easier?"

Both Bron and Littlefoot gave him a sad, knowing smile. Bron answered after a moment. "It will always be hard, Shorty. If it ever became easy to make those sacrifices then it would be time to step down as leader. But it does get easier."

Shorty sighed as he looked in Littlefoot's direction. "I guess that we are quite alike aren't we?"

Littlefoot chuckled a little. "Yeah. We both are leaders in a way. Although I am on the enemy side."

Shorty smiled. "Nah. You will never be the enemy to me."

As the longnecks bonded above Ali's nest, two other dinosaurs were having their own conversation about leadership.

......

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

Topps was a bit surprised when he got the summons from another Deputy, at the beginning of nightfall no less, to come and talk with the leader of the herd. Now the former leader was standing behind the new leader, Whitehorn. For Topps it was one of the more awkward situations of his life.

"Yes." Whitehorn answered plainly. "We lost several in the battle.

Topps nodded. "Yes... We lost several spiketails, we have a young longneck injured, and..." His voice broke for a split second. "Dinah and Dana were lost."

Silence prevailed for several moments as Whitehorn continued to look towards the night sky. When he did speak, a rough voice emerged from the brown threehorn.

"I failed them."

It was a simple statement, but one that communicated much to Topps. He remembered his great failures. Letting his pride get in the way of uniting the herds when the initial offer was made... Misinterpreting the attack on his herd as a frontal assault... Losing his first mate and three of his daughters in the process... Yes, he knew what Whitehorn was feeling. Breathing deeply, Topps decided to speak.

"You did the best that you could do with the information that you had. When Volant warned us what was happening, you did not hesitate to send reinforcements..." He tried to placate the other threehorn, but his attempt was cut off.

"You wouldn't have made that same mistake."

Topps pondered this for a moment. "No. But that is only because I have made that mistake before."

Whitehorn did not speak for several moments. Topps realized what was happening here and though it would have pleased him earlier in the day, it alarmed him now. There was only one time when an adult threehorn would show weakness like this to another adult and that was when one was preparing to allow another overtake them in rank. It was done very rarely, as a fight would be seen as a more honorable way to be overtaken, but in cases of illness or incompetence this other method was acceptable. But Topps was not going to have any of it. This young male had the support of the herd and had done a commendable job in leading the defense efforts at a time when the valley was divided. He would not allow his talent to be lost because he blamed himself for something that he could not foresee. Without waiting for him to make the offer of submission, Topps spoke.

"You are in the time of loneliness. The time of despair. I have been there. All leaders have been there. It is a battle that we must face and triumph over. It is a battle with ourselves." Whitehorn did not speak, but turned his head towards the elder threehorn. Seeing that he had his undivided attention, he spoke again.

"Leadership is a lonely task. Only your family will accept you as you are and even then you must not show weakness. You must put on an act in order to motivate the herd and in turn you must rely upon them to motivate you. Your life is no longer your own. Despite your power, you will feel powerless."

Whitehorn took that moment to ask the obvious question. "How did you deal with the deaths?"

Topps sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. "When you are as old as me, tragedies pile upon tragedies. From the time that I hatched, I saw three leaders rise and fall, two of them violently. I suspect you will be the last leader that I will see." This seemed to make a flash of sadness appear in Whitehorn's features, before they were subsumed into his impassive stare. "Even more of the herd suffered a tragic end. Many of them in order to maintain order. Or to put down challengers." He then looked at Whitehorn with a far-away stare. "As leader, threehorns will come and go... You will promote some for a time and then you will be forced to let them go when they prove unequal to the task or their task is finished. You will find challengers will come and will have to be dealt with. Some will be killed by you. Others by your deputies. All of them will be killed in your name." He swallowed a bit as his eyes focused on Whitehorn. "To be a leader is to be lonely. It is a lonely journey that will only end with your death or overthrow. It is a journey that you have only begun."

At this Topps walked closer to Whitehorn. To the point where Topps was violating his personal space. It was a threat, but not in the way that a threat would normally be conveyed.

"You are the best of the new generation, Whitehorn. You are the only one that has the judgment for the task and the support of the herd. If you are challenged, then I will stand by you until the bitter end. But if you sacrifice the wellbeing of the herd, just because you're too weak to handle the job, then I will kill you where you stand." Topps focused on Whitehorn with a fierce glare. "So what is it going to be?"

Whitehorn did not move, nor did his expression change. "I am not took weak for the job."

At this Topps noticeably relaxed and stepped back to a more respectful distance from the young adult. He was soon surprised, however, by Whitehorn's reaction.

He laughed.

"You really have to teach me how to do that, Topps. I think that you could make a sharptooth cry."

Despite the absurdity of the sudden change in the conversation, Topps could only join in the laughter. It seemed that Whitehorn's crisis of confidence had been resolved. Now they could begin to prepare for the difficult days to come.

......

At that same moment two pairs of yellow eyes were staring at a pitch-black rock. The eyes were the only thing that shined in the pitch dark cave. The night circle outside only gave the barest hint of light.

"So there is no way to discharge it without overloading it?" Logos asked with a concerned expression.

Chronos nodded, though only the bobbing of his eyes could be seen. "That is the case, I am afraid. At least the containment field didn't fail." His eyes then stared at his counterpart's with a haunted expression. "A milligram of antimatter suddenly contacting matter... The results would be too horrible to contemplate."

Logos closed her eyes for a moment as she contemplated what Chronos had just said. "Perhaps we should leave the Repressor here so that when it finally does fail the blast will be contained."

Chronos sighed, as he too closed his eyes. "Without overloading it I suspect it still has two more years of charge in it."

Logos deadpanned. "You suspect?"

"Yeah." Chronos answered. "We might have to overload it if what Red Claw has planned comes to pass. It would be better to lose some of us than to lose all."

Logos stared intently at the male rainbowface. She ignored the fact that he had considered them part of the valley, as she had already begun to do the same. However, his optimism about the Repressor stone neglected one important detail. "Your assuming that it would overload if we activate it." Her face noticeably contorted with a look of discomfort. "It might have to be detonated manually." Chronos closed his eyes when she made that connection. "You would be willing to sacrifice yourself for the valley?"

Chronos nodded. "I would..."

Logos closed her eyes. "So would I." She sucked in a breath. But let's hope that it doesn't come to that."

The two then sat in silence for several moments as the black rock stood between them like a harbinger of doom. Until the crisis was resolved one way or another it would haunt their thoughts. Of that both of them were certain.

Logos finally broke the silence. "I guess that we should tell Littlefoot about this."

Chronos's eyes stared into Logos's for several moments before he responded. "I agree. Though I am surprised to hear you make that suggestion."

Logos nodded. "He already knows about the stone, so no knew damage would be done... and besides..."

"The stone isn't going to last much longer anyway?" Chronos finished for her.

She nodded.

He did not turn his gaze away from her, but instead retained an inquisitive look in his eyes. "What exactly are we now, Logos?"

Her eyes seemed to take on a mischievous glint. "Well... two arms... two legs... a head... yep, it looks like we are still rainbowfaces!"

Chronos's eyes closed as an audible groan emanated from the rainbowface. "No, that isn't what I meant." Although he suspected that she knew that already. His next words were said with absolute sincerity. "You are no longer a Commander and I am no longer an officer... what do we do now?

Logos seemed to consider that for a moment before responding. "Mr. Thicknose seems to appreciate our insights." Chronos nodded at this as Logos continued. "It seems the valley looks to us as their healers."

Chronos affirmed that conclusion with another observation. "And Thicknose seems to think of us as his successors."

Logos agreed with the male's conclusion. "Yes... though I suspect that he will be the valley's resident know-it-all for quite some time." Her eyes then became a bit more distant as she seemed to consider something from far away. "I do wonder what 'we' are now though." Her eyes seemed to stare at something behind the male rainbowface, as if he were transparent.

Despite Chronos's tendency to overlook the obvious, the glint in Logos's eye conveyed her meaning quite well. A confusing cascade of emotions from recognition, to fear, to hope seemed to play in his eyes for a split second before a calmer gaze was restored to his eyes. His response was noticeably cautious, yet hopeful.

"I am willing to be whatever you want me to be."

Silence prevailed for several moments as the two rainbowfaces stared at one another with intense expressions. Neither one seemed willing to break the impasse. Then, with deliberate movement, Logos approached Chronos. He could feel her breath against the side of his face when she finally answered.

"I will consider it, Chronos. But not today... I need more time."

Chronos could barely breath when he gave his response. "As much time as you need... I will be here."

Logos seemed to linger beside Chronos for a few tense moments, before she wordlessly stepped to her usual sleeping place and laid down. With great resolve, Chronos did the same and tried to ignore the odd flurry of emotions in his chest. She had feelings for him as well, but she just wasn't ready. Even though they were several feet apart and intentionally facing away from one another, some part of him felt as close to her as ever. With a determined look in his eyes he made a declaration to himself.

And I will get closer to her still!

......

Two days later:

Littlefoot walked over to the nest with a feeling of deep trepidation. Here he was about to speak to the one longneck who had gone from loving him to becoming his worst adversary. The longneck from who he had taken the most. Her best friend, her innocence, her sense of security... She was entirely justified in her feelings of disdain. But yet, she had requested an audience with him. No one was more surprised than him when Utu came by and requested that he speak to her daughter. In fact, he had to talk the others into not following as they feared an ambush. No, he would honor the request in the manner it was given. Utu came to them alone, so he would go to Ali alone. Upon seeing the small longneck shift from her prone position, Littlefoot decided to announce himself.

"You wanted to see me?"

With a slowness that seemed deliberate, she rose from her prone position. Good, she can move a little now. Littlefoot noted. Ever so slowly, she placed all of her weight upon the left side of her body and gingerly moved her neck to look at him. Her face seemed serene but her eyes had a haunted look to them as she finally spoke.

"Hello, Littlefoot." She sighed softly. "I don't know where to begin."

Littlefoot could relate to that. Nodding, he sat down in order to be eye-level with Ali in her sitting position. Upon realizing that she was waiting for a response from him, he spoke.

"Perhaps we should start from the beginning?"

Ali nodded. "Yeah..." She took another sigh now. A far deeper one. But she did finally work up the strength to speak. "We used to be such good friends back when we were both longnecks. Even when Rhett drove us apart and you showed me his lies, you were willing to let him play games with us... You were incapable of holding a grudge." A slight smile appeared on her face as she said these words, but her eyes were still far away in their gaze. "Rhett changed, Littlefoot... Before you killed him he had stopped telling his tales and had tried to help around the herd. He even followed me on my damn foolish mission to get tree sweets from the forest... " A tear could then be seen flowing down her cheek. "When you came for us, he slowed down to check up on me... that is why he was injured instead of me..." Her eyes then fixed upon Littlefoot would a soul-piercing stare. "His final words were to tell me to run. Not to ask for help... not to scream in panic... but to tell me to get to safety... He was selfless."

Littlefoot could only look down at Ali's admission. It helped to not think about the lives that you took, lest you be unable to hunt again in the future. But Ali was uncovering the true cost of Littlefoot's kill that day. She made no doubt about what she lost and what Littlefoot took.

Ali continued. "The taking of the herd's eggs... the grief of the mothers... it affected us deeply. I believe that is what caused the Old One to die when she did." Littlefoot couldn't help but to tear up at that revelation. He hadn't meant to kill the Old One. He simply needed to feed the pack. But Ali continued before he could think much on that.

"The deputies competed for control. Deputy would fight against deputy. The old order was broken and the deputies began to think of the rest of us as their property instead of their duty... My mom and I had to flee when she killed a deputy who tried to violate another herd member."

Littlefoot's mouth opened in shock. Could that have been the longneck corpse that we ate on the way to the valley?

"When we got here I was so looking forward to seeing you. You were the only thing that gave me hope during all of those dark times and when I finally heard that you died..." She couldn't finish her thought. She simply took another breath and moved onto the obvious conclusion. "When I found out just what you were I was enraged. I could only see a killer. A betrayer of my trust and destroyer of my dreams. A sharptooth who could feel no remorse. I decided that you were really dead and that only the sharptooth remained."

In a motion that was slow and deliberate, she slowly walked towards the brown fastbiter and placed one of her legs by his jaw. In a cautious movement, she slowly moved his head so that it was no longer facing the ground. This action confused Littlefoot, but not as much as her next reaction.

She gave him a sad smile.

"But a remorseless sharptooth wouldn't cry."

Littlefoot placed one of his clawed hands to his face and observed that she was telling the truth. He had been crying. His hand was moist.

"And... remorseless sharpteeth wouldn't risk their lives to save me."

Littlefoot couldn't say anything. Despite himself trying to will his mouth to work, nothing would come out. What could he possibly say to this longneck from whom he had both taken so much and saved?

"You had no choice, did you? You were hungry and we were there."

Littlefoot nodded. "Yeah. I didn't even see who I killed until after I made the final strike." He grimaced at the memory. "Chomper had to comfort me afterwards."

Ali simply nodded as Littlefoot told his tale.

"I guess that it was after that when most of us decided, whether we admitted it or not, that we were stuck this way. After that... most of us tried to think of ourselves as sharpteeth and tried to forget our old lives." Littlefoot sighed. "At least sharpteeth don't have to know what it is like to be a leaf-eater. They don't have to think about what they are taking. They can just imagine that leaf-eaters are stupid and only good for food."

Ali gave a sad smile. "Kind of like what leaf-eaters think about sharpteeth, only in reverse."

Littlefoot nodded.

There was silence for several moments as the two dinosaurs came to terms with what had been said. Ali's worldview had been destroyed and Littlefoot had been forced to face the full consequences of his pack's actions. Both had much to consider and although they now had understanding, each knew that there was no going back to what had come before. Finally, Ali broke the silence.

"My mother will never forgive you, but I do."

Littlefoot released a shuddering breath that he had no idea that he was holding.

Ali continued. "I forgive you for all of the things that you have done and all of the pain that you have put me through. You are a sharptooth now and that is what sharpteeth do." She then looked at him with sad eyes. "Do you forgive me?"

Littlefoot spoke through his tears. "Yes, Ali. Of course."

Ali nodded and then turned away, facing her back towards him. The moment had ended. The necessary words had been exchanged. But yet the chasm remained between them. It now always would.

"My mother and I are leaving the valley. Doc has agreed to help lead us to another herd." She gave a slight sigh. "Doc seems as protective over his kid as my mother is over me. They both know that the valley is not safe as long as Red Claw lives." She then sighed. "This herd is made up of farwalkers. I doubt that we will see one another ever again."

Littlefoot suppressed a shiver as he realized that this both saddened him and filled him with relief. He spoke very softly. "Perhaps that is for the best, Ali." He then looked down. "I want you to be happy and safe. You will be neither around sharpteeth."

Ali nodded and then looked down as well. "Will you tell the others what I have said? I don't think that I can do this again..." She cut herself off as sobs emanated from the longneck. She obviously didn't want to have this conversation again. The emotions were too raw and she still had much healing to do.

"I will." Littlefoot affirmed. "And they forgive you as well, Ali. They wouldn't have risked themselves for you otherwise."

Ali nodded, before slowly regaining her composure. Then, with a grace that Littlefoot was not aware that Ali was capable of in her condition, she turned towards the fastbiter one last time.

"Best of luck to you and your pack, Littlefoot."

Littlefoot gave a sad smile as he returned the good wishes. "Same to you, Ali. Live a good life."

......

Later on, Littlefoot watched from the hill as Ali's mother placed her daughter on her back. Having already said his goodbyes to Doc, he did not stir as he watched the three longnecks leave the valley for destinations unknown. He doubted that he would ever see any of them again.

Best of luck to you all.

After a few moments, however, the stomping feet of Topps could be heard. This was followed by several other feet, as Littlefoot realized that his pack and their parents had all made the trek to track him down. However, it was the tell-tale voice of Cera that greeted him first.

"The meeting is about to start, Littlefoot."

Littlefoot rose and stretched in a lazy fashion. Now it was time for some very important decisions.

"Do you think that they will listen to us? The last time we asked them to listen, they didn't listen!" Came the welcome voice of his companion, Ruby.

Littlefoot smiled. "Oh, I think that they will." He switched to leaf-eater, so that Topps could understand him. "They are willing to listen to us, aren't they?

Topps snorted. "There were a few holdouts but Whitehorn knocked some sense into them." Littlefoot had to wonder how literally that Topps meant that. "The fact that you kids risked your butts for the valley helped convince them." He then sighed. "Now this plan of yours that Ruby was telling me about, that may take some convincing. Other sharpteeth helping the valley? Chomper's parents? Fast runners? They will call you insane!"

Littlefoot smirked and then took a look at Taunt, who couldn't understand any of this leaf-eater talk. "I get called that on a daily basis, so I should be fine. The other sharpteeth want Red Claw out of the way as much as the valley. We have a common enemy."

Grandpa then spoke. "I think that you are right, Littlefoot. But when do you think that he will try to strike? The valley is unpopulated now and..." That was when Littlefoot cut him off.

"Spring." Littlefoot affirmed. "That is when the Cold Time will have passed and the valley will be easier to reach."

Ducky, whose shoulder was now looking much better, then asked the obvious question. "Then we will need to be at the Great Valley in the spring!"

Littlefoot could only nod. That was when the fate of the valley would be settled.

......

"Calin. You are promoted to leader of the pack."

Calin stood impassive while Red Claw declared his promotion. It was a foregone conclusion in light of Zarc's passing. However, he would soon have to find some other way to ensure his security. His old injury from Skytail was still causing him trouble and any sign of weakness could invite a challenge. If only his tail...

It was at that exact moment that a blistering hot pain rose from the tip of his tail to the base. Despite his self-control, Calin curled into a fetal ball as waves of agony descended upon him. After several moments had passed, he was horrified to hear Red Claw speak.

"Please note fastbiters, Calin has been suffering from a tail injury for quite some time. But you are not to harm him or challenge him. He is my choice."

Calin could only look up at Red Claw and gasp his question. "You knew?!"

Red Claw laughed. A horrible laugh that shook the entire bluff. "I knew from the beginning. Did you honestly think that your tail ailment escaped the notice of my flyers? I know all Calin. The only reason that I kept you around is because you're the only fastbiter ruthless enough for the job to come." He then moved his head close to Calin's body, causing him to twitch in fear. "If you fail me then I will make you wish that I had killed you earlier."

Calin slowly rose and gave a bow to Red Claw as a show of submission. He was too terrified and in too much pain to even harbor thoughts of mutiny or discord. He was at Red Claw's mercy now. With the rest of the pack watching, they also knew his predicament as well. With Red Claw exposing Calin's situation bare, he could no longer attempt to rule with affability or patronage. Now he could only rule by fear, as Red Claw's support of his leadership was all that he had left. Red Claw had effectively neutralized any thought of mutiny in a single move. There was no doubt who the true boss was now.

"There is one other thing, Calin." Red Claw's voice echoed in Calin's head. "I will not tolerate any further attempts of mutiny from you."

Calin blinked. What is Red Claw talking about?

"Don't act like you don't know. Your conspirator, the flyer Sandstorm, told us everything before his tragic demise in the valley."

Calin was utterly confused. Who in the heck is Sandstorm?

"Your plan was so simple..."

Calin shook his head. It must be because I seem to have forgotten about it!

"The flyer thought that he was going to tell fastbiters about your conspiracy, but there are no major packs around where Sandstorm was going, so the fastbiter he was trying to find must have been an intermediary."

Calin stared at Red Claw. Whatever you say, Big Guy.

"The only major pack of any kind up there is the hidden runners." Red Claw then studied Calin for a moment. "I must admit that is an ingenious choice. Use stealth to go after your enemies in the pack... But now that the pack is firmly under my grasp." He then looked straight into Calin's eyes. "Since its leader is only going to live for as long as it is." Calin gulped at that affirmation. "I think that it is time for you to reaffirm your loyalty to me, Calin."

Calin stood up in order to bow again, but that was when Red Claw told Calin how he was going to reaffirm his loyalty.

"Your punishment, Calin, is to go to the land of the hidden runners and to slaughter them. You must ruin your alliance with them so that neither they, nor anyone else, will trust you." Calin could only stare back at the behemoth as he spoke. "I am the only reason you are alive right now and I will remain your only leader. Is that understood?"

Calin had no idea where Red Claw got the idea of a conspiracy involving hidden runners, but he knew that denying it would only invite death. He would have to agree to kill the hidden runners in order to prove his loyalty and to show that he had no security except that which was provided by Red Claw's word. With all of that being known, Calin's choice was obvious.

"When do you want me to kill them, Sir?"

"Immediately." Came Red Claw's reply. "You will leave at once and I will follow." It was obvious that Red Claw wanted the mission completed without any betrayal. He was going to supervise the handiwork itself.

With a final bow, Calin turned towards his packmates. They had hidden runners to kill, but this would only be a momentary diversion from their main goal.

The Great Valley would be next.

END OF ACT 3


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