The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 57 Rallying of the packs

When you become part of something, in some way you count. It could be a march; it could be a rally, even a brief one. You're part of something, and you suddenly realize you count. To count is very important.

― Studs Terkel

"Well thank goodness that is over!" Came Cera's annoyed explanation.

Littlefoot had to roll his eyes at the yellow fastbiter's antics as Chomper couldn't help but to laugh at her annoyance. They were getting close to finishing out their stint on "run-down duty" for Chomper's parents. On this day they had chased a domehead into the clutches of the two sharpteeth. It was a success overall, although they left second-rate pickings for the fastbiters. Hence, Cera's annoyance.

Taunt shrugged. "Oh, it wasn't that bad. We got to chase something and then we ate it. That is a good day to me!" He was in good spirits despite the situation, an opinion that Cera did not share.

"They left us the flank, Taunt! The flank!" She stared at him as if she did not understand his lack of distress over this fact. Seeing that he was unmoved, she continued. "I prefer to eat something that doesn't smell like a domehead's backside."

Breeze didn't get the reference. "But we did eat the domehead's backside."

Cera stomped her feet. "That is the point!"

At this point most of the others could not contain themselves anymore and erupted in laughter. Cera, for her part, looked at everyone else as if they were insane. What was so funny about this situation?

"You should see the look on your face, Stern Claw!" Ruby exclaimed. "The look on your face you should see! You didn't know that we were messing with you?"

Cera's eyes narrowed. "So all of you agree with me then? About the run-down?"

Ducky nodded. "Yes, silly. We didn't get good meat today, but you are much angrier about it than us. You are, you are."

Chomper's laughter had died down by now as well. "But look on the bright side, Stern Claw. It will be over in a few days. Then we can hunt for ourselves again."

Cera grunted. Had she still been a threehorn then this little prank by her friends would have enraged her to the point of storming off, but she was no longer that dinosaur. Vitriol and taunts were their way of acknowledging one another now. She would simply mark this down as a loss and get back at each of them later. That was the fastbiter way. Nonetheless, she wanted to get the conversation onto other topics.

"So what do we do now? Should we sleep early tonight and go on an early hunt?" Her eyes were directed at Littlefoot as he would give the relevant orders if that were the case.

Littlefoot's eyes met hers as he considered this for a moment. Normally that would be a pretty good idea. They could get some food for themselves rather than only get the leftovers from Chomper's folks. However on this night he had already made plans.

"Actually I think that we should have a pack meeting tonight."

The others looked at him with inquisitive eyes.

"About what, Seeker?" Spike asked with some concern. "Has there been word about Red Claw?"

Seeker shook his head. "Oh no, nothing like that. No, actually I was thinking about doing something that Taunt recommended."

Cera put her face into her clawed hands. "Well this isn't going to end well..."

Taunt made an exaggerated gesture as he pretended to be offended by Cera's snarky remark. "I would have you know that not all of my ideas are crap."

"Yes, Taunt. But most of the time they are crap. They are, they are." Ducky retorted, much to both Taunt and Cera's surprise. After a round of laughter passed at Taunt's expense, Littlefoot decided to continue before the taunting interrupted the meeting further.

"Well, I don't think this idea is crap." Littlefoot affirmed. "We are all sharpteeth now. We have faced battles and hardship. We have experienced loss and sorrow. I think that it is time for us to act as other fastbiters do." He then looked at the pack intently. "I think that it is time that we begun to sing our songs."

Before Cera could make a dismissive remark, Breeze spoke. "That is a great idea!" A happy smile erupted on her face, which was still a relatively uncommon event even the far removed from her first pack's demise. "It has been so long since I have sung a proper song. I am sure Skytail and the others will enjoy this!"

Taunt nodded, as the others processed that. "Yes, we may not be able to hear them, but they can hear us. Let us make the night hear our words!"

Seeing that the two born-and-raised sharpteeth were enthusiastic about the idea, the others began to look at Littlefoot. They had sung basic songs in the valley and Skytail had taught them songs that youngling fastbiters would sing, but they had no introduction into the ballads that adult fastbiters would sing. It would be a new experience for them.

Seeing their uncertain faces, Littlefoot tried to reassure them. "Don't worry, guys! I am sure that if we sing out of tone then at worst the ancestors would laugh at us." Truth be told, Littlefoot wasn't sure about the idea of his mother and the others watching over him from the stars, but he had seen too many unexplained things in his life to completely disregard the idea. "I am sure that they need to laugh every now and then. Besides... how else are we going to learn without trying?"

Chomper nodded his head at this. "Yeah! But.. um.. what songs are we going to sing?"

Chomper was somewhat taken aback when both Littlefoot and Taunt looked at him with toothy smiles. Littlefoot then spoke.

"I think that you should do the honors tonight, Path."

Chomper sputtered. "Me?"

Littlefoot nodded. "Yes, it will be your star day soon. I think it would be nice if we gave you this honor. You know some two-footer songs, don't you?"

Chomper nodded. "Yeah! My daddy taught me a few." His facial expression turned to a somewhat concerned one. "Uh... you don't want me to sing the ones about how fastbiters are annoying ankle biters, do you?"

Taunt stood up. "What?!"

Littlefoot had to suppress a laugh before responding. "No, Path... Perhaps something a bit more inviting."

Chomper smiled. He knew just the song.

"Okay, everyone! Gather around!" As everyone gathered into a circle with the canopy of stars surrounding them, Chomper continued. "This is a story that I heard from my daddy when I was little. It was one of my favorites."

Cera interrupted. "But we need a song, Path. Not a story."

Chomper shook his head. "That is a distinction leaf-eaters make, not sharpteeth. A story is a song and a song is a story. Both must be said with reverence and power."

Ruby was taken aback by Chomper's words. "Is that so, Path?"

Chomper nodded. "Yeah, that was what my mommy and daddy told me. When one sings for the ancestors, only the best will do." He then stopped to think for a moment. "This song is about Brekan the Cruel. Legend has it that he was the two-footer who claimed the Haven Valley so long ago."

Ducky had a realization. "That was why sharpteeth called it Brekan's Gulch!"

Chomper nodded. "Exactly! The story goes that after the two-footers of the gulch killed his parents over a territorial dispute, he went up to avenge them. During the times that followed only the memory of his parents sustained him." He then closed his eyes and his face took on a solemn expression. His next words were said with a dignity that seemed unreal coming from a juvenile sharptooth such as himself. "I will now recite to you the Song of Brekan. My ancestor."

Silence descended upon them all as they eagerly awaited the ballad from the purple sharptooth. No one knew quite what to expect, but when the singing began it surprised them all.

♪♪ The days are long and nights are dark, the herds run

I follow them away down distant trails, my journey goes on

From the Black Pillar to the gulch of my enemies

Where my rivals wait in valley deep ♪♪

♪♪ The brilliant stars shine far and wide

The dark sea of the sky, the unknown afar

In the dark of the unknown is a star so precious

My hatching star that shines from beyond ♪♪

The mysterious and ominous tone of the song was not lost on Littlefoot as he listened carefully to his friend's words. The song obviously communicated that Brekan was journeying to the gulch that would one day carry his name in order to avenge his slain parents, but it communicated so much more as well. The entire song evoked a longing for something that would forever remain out of reach, but yet still drove the sharptooth onward towards his destiny. It was a longing that Littlefoot could understand very well. He supposed that all sharpteeth could.

♪♪ When family is long gone and I have no one to befriend

I keep them in my thoughts, one day they will be avenged

For so far I have traveled and so long I have journeyed

My hatching star has guided me thus far ♪♪

♪♪ Herds fleeing, paths wide, just south of there

How I wish that I were home again and not here

There the sun was warm and the wind was gentle

But yet my destiny awaits, blood on the sand ♪♪

Spike couldn't help but shiver at the song's words. The longing for a home that no longer existed for him was something that Spike could relate to very well. However, the deep introspection of the verses called to him more than anything else. It was as if Brekan was speaking through the ages and imprinting his struggle and emotion onto Spike's very soul. This was a type of immortality that leaf-eaters could never have. Oh yes, they could have stories told about them, but in a few generations they would be twisted beyond recognition. This song though... It was obvious that this song had lasted for generations. It simply felt too real for it to be otherwise.

♪♪ When family is long gone and I have no one to befriend

I keep them in my thoughts, one day they will be avenged

For so far I have traveled and so long I have journeyed

My hatching star has guided me thus far ♪♪

♪♪ When family is long gone and I have no one to befriend

I keep them in my thoughts, one day they will be avenged

For so far I have traveled and so long I have journeyed

My hatching star to me you are ♪♪

The entire pack sat in silence as Chomper finished his song. Only the sounds of insects and the gentle breeze could be heard as Chomper left the center of the circle and took his usual place. The words were too raw and fresh for any of them to speak. However, after a few moments Ruby finally spoke.

"That was beautiful, Path. I never thought that I would feel for someone named Brekan the Cruel."

Chomper nodded. He spoke in a subdued tone, which was an aftereffect of the role he had just had to fulfill as singer.

"Thanks, Ponder. Yeah, the songs I know come from my ancestors both good and bad. But most of the time they weren't either. They were just trying to do the best that they could."

Taunt nodded at this. "I suppose that is all that any of us can do really."

Silence descended upon them again as they digested that information. They had already begun to see the world as being made up of shades of grey as opposed to being black and white, but how far could they take that logic? Could they try to understand Red Claw using that standard? Would sharpteeth be singing songs about him in the future? What about the monster that was Calin? What about the other fastbiters of his pack who had to make a sadistic choice: death or kill or a loved one? None of them had an answer to that question, but Ducky offered up her thoughts.

"I guess that all we can do is learn from them and try not to repeat their mistakes. Oh, no, no, no!"

Chomper smiled at this. "Yeah, Ducky. I guess that you are right."

Spike then had a question for the purple sharptooth. "The last verse of the song, where he is referring to the his hatching star as if it were a person.. what does that refer to?"

Chomper shrugged. "No one really knows. Some think that Brekan was referring to his dead parents, but others think that he may have been referring to a long-lost love. I don't suppose that we will ever know for sure."

Ruby looked down with a distraught expression. "He seems so sad in that song."

Chomper nodded. "Sometimes those who do the most damage, like Brekan the Cruel, have their origins in pain."

Littlefoot nodded. "He wasn't born a monster, other monsters turned him into a monster." He then thought for a moment. "Maybe that is the lesson of the song. Don't let your battles turn you into something worse than your enemies."

Chomper shrugged. "I don't know, Seeker. But it is a good lesson anyway." He then looked at the other former leaf-eaters, as he realized that they probably didn't understand the intricacies of sharptooth songs. "My daddy always says that a good song tells many stories. Each person who hears it will hear it differently."

Littlefoot smiled. "Well, we are glad that you sung it, Path!"

He then turned to face the rest of the pack. "Thanks, guys! This has been a great star day celebration, even though my star day is a few days away."

Taunt asked an obvious question at this point. "So two-footers do celebrate star days? I mean, even Brekan the Cruel was referring to his hatching star, for crying out loud!"

Chomper shrugged. "Don't fastbiters have star days?"

Breeze shook her head in the negative. "No. We acknowledge our packmates in other ways."

Cera took this time to make a biting comment. "I guess that you are more alike the sap-suckers than you realize, Path!" Her tone of voice indicated that she was just joking with the sharptooth. Chomper had an excellent retort, however.

"That may be." He then put up his stubby arms in an exaggerated shrug. "But I am not as much of a sap-sucker as those who used to be sap-suckers."

Littlefoot laughed at this but decided that he should stop the exchanged before it went any further. They still had more time to sing and there was no reason to waste the opportunity.

"Taunt?" The orange fastbiter turned towards Littlefoot. "Wasn't there a song that you wanted to sing?"

"Oh, you're singing a song? This I have to hear!"

The entire pack turned their heads to look at the dinosaur who had made the sudden interjection.

"Thud?" Littlefoot questioned.

"Dad?" Taunt queried. "What are you doing here?"

Thud laughed. "As you know, Terri and Dein have decided to let me stick around in your territory since I helped them to watch it in your absence." Taunt seemed to suppress an urge to seem joyful at his dad's sudden arrival. This was the first time that he had intruded on the pack's territory since Chomper's parents removed the restriction from him. However, he was still technically entering another pack's territory without providing an offering. That was taboo. Taunt seemed ready to say something when a fish suddenly came flying at his head.

Splat!

"What the hell was that for?!" Taunt choked out as the other members of the pack began to laugh hysterically. Littlefoot was first to answer, however.

"The pack thanks you for your peace offering, Thud. Though you did not have to throw it at one of my packmates." Littlefoot's chiding, however, was half-hearted. Thud's response was also made in half-jest.

"My apologies, Seeker. I saw that my son was about to speak and I just couldn't bear to hear my son lecture me on etiquette." This caused Cera to laugh hysterically as Taunt looked somewhat disgruntled. "I am sure that you understand."

Littlefoot nodded. "Of course!" He was still trying to suppress his laughter and failing miserably. "Take your place in the circle, Thud. We are in the process of singing songs to the ancestors."

As Thud sat down at the rim of the circle, Taunt gave him a good natured half bow to indicate that no hard feelings actually existed. He may have enjoyed taunting others, but he would still show his father due respect. He had helped to guard their territory after all when they were in the valley. Not to mention the assistance that he gave him and Breeze after their escape from Calin... There was still awkwardness between them, but that was now the usual distance that appeared between fathers and sons when they chose their own path in life, not the animosity that existed before.

With all eyes focused upon him, Taunt went into the circle and looked at his packmates. It was time for him to show them how fastbiters sang their songs.

"Alright guys, the following song is about Skytail the Wise."

......

"Stay close to me! We have no idea if the sharpteeth are still around here or not!"

Viscond hissed the orders at his packmates as he slowly snuck into what used to be his brother's lands. The events of the evening were still playing in his mind. Haunting his mind as darkness had begun to fall on the land.

"Dead! Mommy's dead! Daddy's dead! Everyone's dead!"

He ran as fast as he could to the screaming youngling as he pushed his packmates out of the way. He recognized the voice of that youngling. It was one of his brother's children! If something had happened to him...

He ran beside the distraught child and quickly waved towards two of the females in his pack to come close. The child would certainly need some comfort in her time of despair. With the calmest voice he could manage, he asked the child a question.

"Are you hurt?"

The child shook her head. The poor thing was shaking like a leaf. She must have ran for miles to get here and who knows the horrors that she had seen? He then decided to ask a second question before he would allow the females to tend to the child.

"What happened?"

The child wept. "Fast.... biters... Red... Claw....Brother.. they kill brother and babies..." The rest of her words were unintelligible as she began to cry uncontrollably. With a grim face, he gestured the females over and they began to try to calm the poor child. He, meanwhile, was just beginning to contemplate the significance of her words.

Viscond paled. If this was truly the work of Red Claw then this meant one thing.

His brother was already dead.

Ever since he had gotten the horrible news he had tried to keep his distress hidden from his packmates, lest they become panic-stricken as well. He had to be a beacon of strength here. He had to figure out exactly what happened. He had to find out if his pack was next.

After he sent the children and the child-caring parents to hide in the forest, he took the remainder of his packmates on a journey to the territory of his brother's pack. Despite the fact that the journey only took two hours, it seemed to take ages for Viscond and his pack. Many of them had relations in his brother's pack. The very idea that they could all be dead was too horrible to contemplate.

"Oh no! No!"

Viscond resisted the urge to tell his packmate to be silent in the event that the fastbiters were still here, but the sight that greeted him silenced even that urge.

Before him was a half eaten hidden runner. Only the half of the face of the hidden runner was still intact as much of its head, torso, and groin were devoured. Blood covered the entire scene. It was at that moment that Viscond realized that the dead hidden runner looked familiar.

"Br.. Brother?"

He ran to the side of his fallen brother and covered his face with his clawed hands. This was the worst possible outcome. If his brother lay slain without any of his attendants nearby then that meant that the pack was either destroyed or its survivors had fled. His worst fears had been confirmed. Despite his previous struggle to maintain his composure, he began to sob with wild abandon. It was only when one of his packmates placed a hand on his shoulder that he returned to his senses.

"I am very sorry, sir. But..." His counterpart seemed ready to vomit. "You need to see this, sir." As Viscond arose and began to follow his packmate, he noticed that they were heading for his brother's nest. In his grief-induced stupor he could barely register the screams and sobs coming from around the nesting sites. It seemed that he was not the only person to lose family on this horrible day.

Then he smelled it.

Blood.

Viscond quickened his pace as he approached his brother's nest. The scent of blood was overwhelming. That was when his packmate grabbed him by the shoulder again and spoke to through grief-stricken sobs.

"I am so, so sorry, sir! No one should... should... have to see this..."

Viscond walked on as his counterpart broke down apparently at that sight he was about to see. He was soon at the threshold of the nest, which was hidden by thick vegetation on all sides. He noticed that his feet were suddenly wet, which caused him to look down.

Blood. His feet were covered in blood.

Sucking in a deep breath, he pushed the vegetation aside and looked in horror at the scene before him.

The entire nesting site was drenched in blood. The vegetation was coated red with the splatter and the ground was drenched in the crimson fluid. There were bodies everywhere. That was when he saw her.

Crena.

Crena was his first love, who had eventually chosen his brother over him. That wound still stung but he had long since made peace with her decision. Now she lay dead at the threshold of the nest. Her neck sliced open and her eyes focused forever at the sky. A permanent look of terror and pain on her face.

Oh Crena! You didn't deserve this!

Walking forward through the hellish scene in front of him, he could begin to see other details. Pieces of bodies lay everywhere. Some part of him registered that those were pieces of his brother's latest clutch, but the emotional part of his mind refused to acknowledge that reality. They had been ripped to pieces. Then he saw a small body that looked eerily familiar.

Tulane.

His beloved nephew lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood. His intestines were splattered all around him and they showed signs of having been moved after the fact. With a shudder, he realized that he must have been disemboweled and survived for some time afterwards. How much had the poor thing suffered? That realization broke something in him as he became violently ill.

The sounds of retching, sobs, and a muffled scream emanated from his throat for the next several moments as his body reacted to the horror all around him. This was terrible beyond belief. The fastbiters had not just killed the entire pack, an act of excess that even a sharptooth would not resort to. They had obviously killed many of them in intentionally cruel ways. A line had been crossed.

With a shuddering breath, he rose back to his upright position. He no longer cared that he was covered in his family's own blood. He just needed to make sure that this would never happen again. Red Claw and his allies had gone far too far. They were a threat now to hidden runners everywhere. They could not remain neutral in light of this barbarism.

He was about to turn and leave this nightmarish scene, when he saw something that caught his attention. Tulane had something in his mouth. Despite some part of his mind telling him to not look, he walked over to his fallen nephew and opened his mouth anyway.

Only to see a hatchling hidden runner fall to the ground.

They forced him to eat his own brother... His mind refused to process this new information. They... They... The despair that he had felt at his loss changed. It changed into an unstoppable rage. A maelstrom of grief and anger welled up in the distraught hidden runner as he contemplated what his nephew's final moments must have been like. They had all been killed in the most brutal ways... not for food... not for needs... but out of a desire to torture and kill. This was an outrage that he would avenge. He didn't care if he or his packmates died in the conflict. This atrocity would not go unpunished.

His enraged screams echoed through the night.

......

"Alright guys, the following song is about Skytail the Wise."

The entire pack sat in silence at that affirmation. The loss of Skytail was still fresh in the minds of Breeze and Taunt. The psychological scars still remained. However, each of them knew his song. It was something that he had always added to when he had come across a new challenge or adventure. Now it seemed that it would remain unfinished.

For the rest of the pack, however, this was an occasion both solemn and mysterious. What had Skytail said about himself? How did one go about composing a song? That was when Skytail elaborated on the matter.

“I know that you guys don’t have much experience with fastbiter songs. But in our tradition, the packmates make up the verses to their songs and they grows longer with each time that they are sung. My own song and Breeze’s are quite long, but not as long as Skytail’s. He lived an adventurous life.” Taunt’s eyes filled with sadness at that affirmation. He lived. Now he lived no more. Not wishing to dwell further on what could not be changed, he continued. “Please listen while I sing the song of Skytail.”

♪ Father we are leaving, we are receiving

Our right to stand on our own

We cannot stay here, we have learned what we must know

Now it is time to roam ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

Chomper listened with great intensity at Taunt’s words. In most cases Taunt was extremely jovial and jocular in his interactions with others, but none of that was on display here. He was bearing his heart in order to sing Skytail’s song with utter devotion. It was a side of the fastbiter that he had seldom seen.

The words of the first verse also seemed to speak to him in a very personal way. Just like Chomper had done some weeks ago, Skytail and Breeze had left their parents’ nest as well. Despite the overly formal words, Chomper knew that event must have hurt the two dinosaurs deeply. The difficult parting from the parents was a common feature of sharptooth life. It did not need to be elaborated in the song for that reality to be expressed. It was already implied.

Not wishing to miss out on any of Skytail’s song, Chomper quickly stopped his introspective monologue. He could contemplate all of this later. Right now he had a song to learn.

♪ I hunt longnecks fleeing, I am succeeding

In my attempt to live free

Breeze at my side, I am content

Our pack is her and me ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

Breeze had to smile at that verse. She and Skytail had lived for many months as a pack of two until Vigilant arrived and successfully completed her challenge. It was a liberating time. But as happy as those times were, they were nothing compared to after the rest of the pack finally came together.

She was unaware that she was crying until Spike placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. The song brought back a confusing array of emotions from joy to sadness, but she would not trade those memories in no matter what sorrow they brought. The fallen pack members were her dearest friends. She would acknowledge their memory until the day that she died.

♪ A silent intruder sees us, but she will not flee us

A challenge is made

Two at my side, Vigilant joins us

A trio that shall not fade ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

As Taunt sang this verse, he was left with a sense of profound loss. Vigilant was a very bright and friendly fastbiter, but he had not gotten to know her as well as some of the others. Worse yet, her song had only just started when she died. There were only two verses to her name, not enough for a proper song. But at least she would live on in Skytail’s song. It was the only kind of immortality that could be offered for the fallen. They were gone, but their memory would carry on.

♪ The troubled one seeks us, and beseeches us

No family has he

A challenge made, a challenge sustained.

Scarflank joins us three ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

Spike had always saw some part of himself in the troubled fastbiter, he reflected. Although it was true that Spike had a loving adopted family, he still could relate to the deep loneliness that Scarflank endured. Spike had to endure it due to his muteness and odd mental perspective, whereas Scarflank endured it due to a lack of a loving family.

At least he died with his true family. Spike sadly reflected. He died with the ones who took him in.

♪ The thief stands afield, refuses to yield

Breeze wants his blood

But I decline, a test I gave he

The courageous son of Thud ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

Cera had to smirk at this. So Taunt is forever immortalized as the thief? Fitting. However, despite her snarky thought, she was deeply touched by the song. Skytail’s song was not simply focused on him, as Brekan’s was, but rather it was focused on those he knew and loved. He wanted his friends to be immortalized along with him. He wanted his song to be their song.

Cera looked down. Skytail was a lot like Littlefoot in many ways. I can only hope that we don’t meet a premature end like he did. He deserved better than that.

As she dwelled on those thoughts, the song concluded.

♪ Now we are five strong, we carry on

Through uncertain days

But we do not fear, we are together

Come what may ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

At the end of that verse, Taunt looked up with a curious expression. It was an odd mixture of askance and pleading. Littlefoot and the others did not know the meaning behind that gesture, but luckily Thud did.

“Skytail is no more and he cannot complete his song. Would anyone like to finish it on his behalf.”

There were uncertain looks exchanged between the packmates as each of them considered this. It was up to those who lived on to finish Skytail’s song and to see to it that it was communicated to future generations. It was both a heavy burden and an honor. Their words would be the final say for Skytail’s saga. No one wanted to do the great fastbiter a disservice by giving the song anything less than their absolute best.

Finally, after several moments, Littlefoot walked forward towards the center of the circle with deliberate slowness.

With a deep bow, Taunt retreated to his place at the periphery of the circle and watched Littlefoot intently. It seemed that the new leader of the pack would be eulogizing Skytail by providing an ending to his song. The new beginning would honor the end of the old order.

With an uncertain expression and trembling claws, a nervous Littlefoot sang with far more strength and certainty than he was feeling at that moment.

♪ In battle my end was met, my friends wept

But my friends will live on

Because of my sacrifice, they remain

Into destiny they journey on ♪

♪ The stars shine on bright

Through the ethereal night

Though I know not where I go

I know that I will go there with you

My journey goes on ♪

Silence descended upon the pack as the song was finally given a proper ending. From this day on Skytail would be remembered as a pack leader who sacrificed himself in order to save his friends. In order to save those who he had dedicated so much of his life to supporting and defending. His honorable deed would long be remembered.

“Thank you, Seeker.” Taunt spoke through his emotion. “Skytail would have been honored by that.”

Littlefoot forced himself to smile. “I hope so. I only wish that I had the chance to speak with him again.”

Breeze put a clawed hand on his shoulder. “We all do, Seeker. We all do.”

It was at this point that Thud stomped on the ground in a rhythmic pattern, capturing the attention of all who were present. Just before Littlefoot was about to ask what he was doing, he noticed that Taunt and Breeze were now doing the same. Shrugging at Chomper and the former leaf-eaters, he went ahead and joined in the display. He was completely unaware of what they were doing.

“What... exactly are we doing?” Chomper finally asked.

Thud smiled at the purple sharptooth. “This is a fastbiter ritual, Path, but since you are in their pack I am sure that you can join in as well. We are going to thank the night circle for giving us light on this night.” And show our strength to any other fastbiter packs in the area... He added in his mind. Most fastbiter rituals had a practical purpose underneath the pretext.

Littlefoot looked up at that explanation. Oh. This must be the roaring at the night circle. I always wondered why Skytail’s pack would do that in the lowlands. I never had a chance to ask.

Chomper had a far different connotation to the ritual, despite the fact that he was joining in the rhythmic stomping himself. “My daddy hates it that fastbiters roar at the night circle. He says that they do it just to annoy two-footers.”

Thud laughed. “Does it annoy two-footers?”

Chomper nodded.

“Then all the more reason to do it!” Thud smiled at Chomper’s somewhat annoyed expression, but the purple sharptooth continued the stomping anyway. As Littlefoot’s friends had never done this ritual before, Thud decided to explain. “We stomp in rhythm to put our thoughts aside then once we let go we can roar our emotions into the sky. We sing to think, but we roar to feel.” He smiled as he saw that Littlefoot and the others were closing their eyes and giving into the primal impulse deep inside. Determined not to be left out even though he was technically a ‘guest’ of the pack, he closed his eyes and gave into the instinct as well.

......

Roar!

Dein woke up with a start.

Oh damn it! Don’t tell me that the other fastbiters taught Chomper’s friends about that!

Terri woke up as well, but smiled at the sound.

“Isn’t it great dear? Chomper and his friends are bonding.”

Dein growled. “I was sleeping perfectly fine before they began to ‘bond’.”

Roar!

Another chorus of roars erupted at the night circle. Dein’s distress made her chuckle. He always did find fastbiters to be annoying. “Don’t worry dear, I am sure that they will be done before the night is over.”

In response Dein rolled over and gave a muffled response before he went to sleep again. “Oh, that’s bloody reassuring!”

As the pack continued to roar at the night circle, Terri allowed herself to fall asleep. Despite the fact that Chomper was no longer at the nest, she was glad that he had found a pack that accepted him.

The rest of her night was filled with peaceful sleep stories.

......

Just outside of hidden runner territory:

What have I done?

Verok stared at his reflection in the stream with a forlorn expression. The striped green fastbiter’s face was still drenched with the blood of the hidden runners. The blood confirmed his guilt, whereas his eyes confirmed his guilty conscience. He had done many questionable things since he was forced into the pack, but none as bad as this.

He felt dirty.

When he and his siblings had heard that Calin was approaching they decided to split up in the hopes that if they were found separately then they would simply be enrolled in the pack and not have to fight their kin.

They had been right.

Due to the loss of many fastbiters in the Battle of Haven Valley and the Battle of the Land of Shallow Waters, Red Claw had become more lax in allowing fastbiters to join. They no longer killed solitary fastbiters, they would allow them to join provided that they seemed hard enough for the task to be asked of them.

But this was too much. This wasn’t a battle, this was cold-blooded murder.

He knew that he could tell no one else except his brother and sister, but they had to get out of this pack before it was too late. Before they became lost in the barbarity that permeated everything that Red Claw and Calin touched. They would have to work on their plans of escape to somehow avoid Red Claw’s retribution. Running was not a permanent option, they would have to eventually fight back against their pursuers. And he knew of only one pack that might be strong enough to stand up against Red Claw’s horde.

Seeker, you’re our only hope now.


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