The Seven Hunters

Chapter 59 Love and war

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,

And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

There they are.

Viscond scanned the desolate scene in front of him. From the high bluffs he could see for miles around. Being the Mysterious Beyond, the land was barren and without significant vegetation, which further extended his range of sight. The scene was bleak and dreary, which suited his mood at the moment.

Down below, the lumbering form of Red Claw could be seen with the pack of fastbiters following his lead. The fastbiters were obviously looking for something with great intensity. They would dart about and sniff the wind before retracing their steps and resume following the massive sharptooth.

What are they looking for?

They were obviously far too strong, both in terms of numbers and strength, for the small band of hidden runners to be any threat to them. However, Viscond was not planning for a full-frontal assault or even a nighttime skirmish. No... He was planning on something else entirely.

With a swift gesture, he grasped the hidden runner behind him and gestured towards the bluffs several miles away. He then moved his mouth about as if he were eating something and grasped his chest. Seeing that his companion was not understanding what his leader was saying, Viscond leaned over to his ear and whispered very quietly.

"It's time that they eat some orange death. Don't you agree?"

Now comprehending the leader's message clearly, the other hidden runner gave him a smirk. With a quick bow, he departed and gathered the other five hidden runners as well. Viscond allowed himself a moment to stare at his enemies below before he joined his comrades in preparing for the task ahead.

Aright you monsters! Let's see if all of you are as dumb as you look!

......

The Great Valley:

The partially devoured foliage of the Great Valley stood out brightly in the mid-morning sun. After the terrible battle, the valley residents had reluctantly decided to return to their original home. Food would still be an issue, but at least the valley was more defensible in the event that Red Claw came back than the Haven Valley. The decision of the spiketail herds to stay in the Haven Valley until the coming of spring made the food situation even more bearable. Besides, they had to prepare the defenses for the expected battle in the spring and that would take time and planning.

In the recovering valley, however, there was one small dinosaur with something else on his mind entirely.

What am I doing? Come on Chronos! Think!

The male rainbowface paced with agitation. He had been so certain about himself when he had woke up that morning. He was convinced that it was time for him and Logos to take their relationship to the next level. But now he was filled with doubt.

Before they had begun their final mission on this planet, they had been comrades for many years. He was the Lieutenant and she was the Commander. They had explored this planet and many others; paving their own path and, in the process, disregarding the pervasive conservatism of the Consortium. She would always protest when he interfered with other cultures and planets, but she never took the obvious step of censuring him. In some cases she would even participate in his 'inadvertent' interferences. She would not admit it, but she was as much of a troublemaker as he was. As their reputation became more and more prominent, the leadership would continue to place them together on missions in order to keep the trouble contained. They couldn't remove them due to their political friends, but they also weren't about to let them spread their ideals to other impressionable officers.

Then had come the final mission. The mission that had sent them to this planet for good...

They had been sent to this planet with practically nothing. They only had a standard Communicator and a Repressor in their possession. Officially this was to prevent contamination, but in reality their enemies in the Consortium hoped that they would get themselves killed on this planet. They had no medicine. No second chances. While they waited on the Stone of Cold Fire to supposedly arrive they were all alone. Just him and her.

As could be expected, they grew closer together as they worked and lived together over the first year. By the time the second year of their mission came around, they were still Commander and Lieutenant. They had a good professional relationship and each considered the other their best friend, but that was all that they were. But then came the sickness...

"I seem to be... quite cold... Commander."

Logos looked at Chronos as if he had lost his mind.

"Cold? It is very warm today, Chronos..." She then place a hand on his head. "...but not as warm as you." Her voice suddenly became very concerned. "How do you feel, Lieutenant?" Her change to formality hinted at the danger of this situation. She always became more formal when she was under fire. Disassociating herself from the situation made it easier to confront what needed to be done. That was a lesson she had learned well from officer training.

"Uh... I seem to be shaking..." He then attempted to move and nearly fell over in the process. Logos placed a stabilizing hand under his shoulder. Despite her formal tone, the concern in her voice was obvious.

"Go back to the sleeping area, Chronos. I fear that you have what the locals call a fever."

Chronos looked at her with a dazed expression. "I'm sick?" This was not like on Consortium worlds where a sickness could be treated swift and effectively by the best in modern medicine; they were on a primitive world. His original body did not have anything like a 'fever'. This was a new concept that they learned about when they first appeared on this planet. The only thing that they really knew was that getting a fever was usually one of the last things a dinosaur ever did.

"Yes, Chronos." Her voice was mournful now. "You are very ill."

He had gotten sicker as the days dragged on. Logos attempted everything that she had heard recommended from others. Sweet bubbles that supposedly had healing properties... tree stars that were claimed to lower fevers... bark that was declared to bring back the worst cases... everything was tried. In the end, it seemed that Chronos had run out of time.

"Chronos?"

"Hmmm..." He was half delirious. But her voice seemed to bring him back to awareness.

"Here, try to eat these. These are night flowers." She would tell him later that a female youngling longneck from a passing herd had recommended it to her. It had apparently saved a family member of a longneck she had met once before. By this point of time, she had given up hope, but she tried it anyway.

He slowly consumed the bitter flowers. He was just ready for this to be over. He had struggled for many days with no relief. He just wanted to close his eyes and go asleep. He was not sure if he would wake up again. He wasn't sure if he cared anymore.

"Can you hear me, Chronos?"

Chronos did not stir. It appeared that he was completely unconscious.

Logos sighed deeply. "I never told you..." She paused as if she were composing herself. "You're my best friend. I trust you with my life. You're insufferable... insubordinate... unprofessional..." Her voice broke. "But I wouldn't change any part of you."

A soft hand touched his shoulder.

"Don't die on me!" She whispered with unrestrained emotion. "You don't get to die until I do!"

Logos always assumed that Chronos was unaware of the events of that night. The night when the night flowers did their magic and saved his life from certain death. She believed that her words and emotions were lost in the silence of the night.

But he had heard every word.

After he recovered, Logos was warm and supportive but yet there was a certain distance in her. Despite the words that he had heard during his crisis, they were back to simply being Commander and Lieutenant again. Perhaps he had dreamed up the one-sided conversation during his fever-induced delirium.

Now, however, he was tired of ignoring the bond that obvious existed between them. They had witnessed the fall of the Stone of Destiny, a legend that had suddenly become real. They had survived Galek's plot to destroy them and the planet. They had secured the ascendance of their interventionist faction in the Consortium. They had helped the children adapt to their changes by planting the seeds of acceptance in their parents. And, most recently, they had helped fight a battle from which their adopted home still bore the scars. They had nowhere else to go. They had no one else who could understand who they were and what they had been through.

They only had one another.

But that was where his difficulties began. He only had a passing knowledge about how rainbowfaces bonded with others and, for that matter, how they chose a mate. What he did know, however, was utterly foreign to him. In his old kind, mating was the final thing an individual did as it concluded their lifecycle. For obvious reasons, it was something that was put off until old age. The eggs would live on to be raised by the community, the parents would not.

The urges of his body were easy enough to understand and control. If he were incapable of it then he would not have been selected to take a new body in the first place. However, his thoughts were much more confused. How far did he want to take this? Did he simply want her to admit her feelings to him? Or did he want to raise a family with her? How much of these feelings were from 'him' and how much were from his 'new' body? Were they one and the same now? He had no idea and it was infuriating.

He sighed deeply. These feelings probably have a biological element, so I need to know how my kind attracts mates. Once that is attended to then we can talk freely. This decision, however, only solved one part of the problem.

"But how can I find out how to do this? I can't just go up to Mr. Threehorn and ask him 'Excuse me, sir. But I am clueless about my species and I have no idea how this thing called 'romance' works. Can you help me seduce my love?' He stomped on the ground. The entire situation disheartened him. But that was when an unexpected voice broke him out of his introspection.

"Well for one thing I wouldn't ask Mr. Threehorn about romance."

Chronos turned in stunned horror. He had said all of that out loud!

"My observations have confirmed that threehorns are the least romantic of the leaf-eaters. Unless you find smashing into rocks and belligerent screaming to be attractive attributes."

Chronos sucked in a deep breath. How much had Mr. Thicknose heard?

"You... heard all that?" He asked with some amount of fear.

Mr. Thicknose nodded. "I did. Don't feel too bad about not knowing much about romance. Trust me, knowing the facts about love won't necessarily help you find it." He then gave a slight laugh. "You don't see a lot of miniature versions of me running around do you?"

Chronos shook his head. Well, at least he thinks that I am just a clueless love struck dinosaur and not the actual truth. But that still doesn't solve my problem. I need to learn how my species does this. Maybe if I can woo Logos instinctually, then she will listen to me intellectually. But who would be willing to teach me...

With a firm stare at Mr. Thicknose, Chronos asked one simple question.

"My friend, what can you tell me about attracting a female?"

......

"So these carrion flyers may work for food... but we don't know where they are..." Ruby placed a claw on her chin in a contemplative expression. "If we can't find them then how does that help us?"

Cera nodded at this. "Why didn't your parents just recommend that we grab a snuggling stick or something, that would be about as effective!" As soon as she had said it, however, she regretted it. She had no right to take out her frustration on Chomper. As it was she had no right to expect Chomper's parents to help them defend the valley anyway.

Chomper growled in anger. "They weren't recommending a certain group of flyers, Stern Face..." His intentional butchering of her name got an immediate reaction from the yellow fastbiter.

"What did you call me!"

Chomper was about to respond when another voice intervened.

"ENOUGH!"

The two sharpteeth went silent and glared at one another at the sudden exclamation of their leader. It was a rare occurrence for Littlefoot to lose his cool, but this entire discussion has frustrated him to no end.

"Path? What were you going to say?"

Chomper looked down and sighed. He then licked his lips before answering. "My mommy and daddy were telling us to seek out carrion flyers in general. If they know that food is available... like after a battle..." He tried to avoid the thought that some of the 'food' after such a battle may be himself or his friends. "...then they might join on our side against the sharptooth flyers."

Cera now had enough time to calm down slightly. As a result, her response was less caustic than before. "But that still doesn't tell us where to find them. Or how to convince them. Or why your parents refused to help."

Chomper sucked in a deep breath. How was he going to explain this to his friends? They had experience as leaf-eaters and fastbiters, but they were not brought up in the two-footer way. As a result they were unaware of their views on packs and families.

"Mommy and daddy need to protect the family line. If we all go into the valley then all of us could be lost." He looked at Cera sadly. "The needs of the family are more important than the needs of any member. My mommy always told me to save myself if something happened to them." He stared directly into her eyes. "I would want them to do the same. The family must go on, even if I don't."

Silence permeated the scene for a brief moment as the pack digested that information. It seemed that two-footers were more alike than they first appeared. They simply placed family on the same pedestal as the pack in fastbiter life. Chomper's parents leaving him to his fate was not an act of selfishness, but an act of self-sacrifice. They had to protect the future of the family, and any future offspring, from destruction. Even if that meant the loss of their beloved son. It made them all feel a bit ashamed of their surprise at Dein and Terri's decision. No one felt worse than Cera at that moment. A deep melancholy seemed to fall upon the pack.

After several moments passed, an unexpected voice finally interrupted the quiet.

"Me have idea."

Eight heads turned to stare at the small flyer, who was resting on a tree branch. Littlefoot then encouraged him on.

"Go ahead, Spotter. What do you have in mind."

Petrie cleared his throat. "Well, when me at the gathering of the flyers there were many flyers there. Even sharpbeaks."

Taunt butted in at that point. "Let me get this straight... The sap-sucker flyers allowed meat-eaters to get close to their communal orgy?"

Littlefoot and Ruby both covered their faces in their clawed hands and groaned. They realized where Taunt's comment was going to send this already horribly derailed conversation.

"It not orgy! ...whatever that is... It where flyers make babies!"

Despite himself, Littlefoot knew that Petrie's comment was the last straw. With a heaving chest and shaking limbs, he erupted into laughter. The others soon joined in. Petrie's innocent remark was the catharsis that they all needed after a rather trying discussion. Perhaps now they could finally get somewhere.

"Spotter not trying to be funny..." Petrie lamented.

Littlefoot sucked in a breath as he brought himself under control. "Of course not, Spotter. We won't interrupt this time." He gave a half-hearted glare at Taunt to make his point. For his part, Taunt responded with a toothy grin and a firm nod.

"Well, me need to talk to Ponder's family anyway. Maybe me can find uncle Pterano afterwards and ask where carrion flyers go?"

Ruby continued for Petrie. "Then you could ask for their help... Their help you can ask for..."

Littlefoot tilted his head slightly. Yes... That might just work... With a nod to himself, he proposed his plan to the group.

"Spotter? How about you talk to Ponder's parents first? Then you can rest here for a while before flying off again."

No objections were raised. Petrie's mission was set.

......

The Great Valley:

"You wanted to talk to me, Logos?"

The massive longneck looked down upon the much smaller dinosaur. An adult longneck spent much of his or her time eating in order to survive and on this day she had been eating her mid-afternoon meal with her mate. She was quite surprised when Logos had walked up to her and requested a private audience. The fact that she wanted to talk to her and not Chronos or Mr. Thicknose made her suspect that this was a ladies' only conversation. Her mate sensed this too and simply gave her a knowing nod. Now her and Logos were in a secluded area of the valley. With some hesitation, Logos finally spoke.

"Yes..." She paused for a moment as if she were considering how to word her concerns. Despite her pause, her next few words were blurted out as if she had not considered them at all. "It's about Chronos."

Grandma Longneck nodded as she ate another mouthful of leaves. Slowly swallowing them, she spoke. "I suspected as much. Did you two have a disagreement?"

Logos looked up at her in confusion. "Huh? Oh no, nothing like that." She paused for a moment and sighed. "He just... We are close friends and I care for him deeply... but I know that he wants more." She twisted her mouth in a sign of agitation. "It just scares me... you know? I've never considered taking it to that level... Sorry, I'm babbling."

Grandma Longneck looked down at the rainbowface with a mix of sympathy and surprise. They weren't mates already?! My goodness... They have been acting like mates since I've met them. Their arguments and banter back and forth were well known across the valley. They were universally seen as being odd and mysterious, but the valley had grown to accept them due to their knowledge on healing plants and other matters. You could find them talking with Mr. Thicknose or assisting another dinosaur with some difficulty on any given day. Even the perpetual curmudgeon Topps had reluctantly mentioned that they were 'not as useless as they looked'. To hear that the two close friends weren't already together was quite the shock. With that in mind, Grandma spoke.

"Well if he likes you and you like him then there shouldn't be any difficulty. Have you told him about your feelings?"

The rainbowface shook her head. "I have been trying to discourage his interest..." She answered softly.

Grandma was flabbergasted. "Why?"

The female rainbowface sighed and sat on her haunches. A dejected look rested on her face. "I never thought about being... a mother." Grandma Longneck noted the pause before mother. It was almost as if Logos thought that motherhood would have been the death of her. "I... uh... never knew my parents... I don't know how these things work."

Grandma blinked in understanding. It was obvious that Logos was not speaking about the 'facts' of life here, she was speaking about how to care for children, how to live with a mate, how to resolve the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Yes, that was quite a different situation altogether. Each kind of dinosaur had its own way of dealing with childcare and domestic relations. The rainbowface way of life was unknown to Grandma but she did know one thing: regardless of everything else it all came down to love and trust. If the two had that then everything else would be manageable.

"Do you love him?" Grandma asked suddenly.

Logos looked surprised at the sudden question. "Yes. Yes, of course!"

Grandma nodded. "Do you trust him?"

Logos looked unsure where this was going, but she answered anyway. "Yes."

Grandma stared directly into her eyes. "Do you trust him with your life?"

Logos did not hesitate. "Unquestionably. He has earned that trust many times over."

Grandma looked a bit surprised by that response. How many times had they found themselves in such a life-threatening situation? It was yet another mystery to add to the cryptic enigma of those two. Nonetheless, she did not allow herself to get sidetracked in her discussion with the rainbowface. Her next statement was resolute.

"Then that is all you need. I won't lie to you Logos, being mated with another is not all happiness and bliss. There will be arguments and disputes. There may be challengers. The addition of children will only make those hardships grow. But if you truly love and trust one another then you can survive whatever the world throws your way." She smiled at the rainbowface. "You should tell him how you really feel."

Logos sighed, but nodded nonetheless. "I guess you are right. I am letting my own fears and insecurities get in the way. I mean.. I am supposed to be beyond that. After all I am the Comm..." She cleared her throat. "Uh... I mean thank you Mrs. Longneck! You have given me a lot to think about."

Grandma smiled. "Yes, I guess that I have. But the hard part is over, you already know who you want. And he already wants you. All you have to do is say..." As Grandma turned to look at the field in front of her, she could see that Chronos seemed to be attempting some kind of dance. In time with Mr. Thicknose's instructions, he was twirling and ducking to and fro. "What in the blazes is Chronos doing?"

Logos mouthed out without thinking. "I already say that all of the time." But then she actually took a look at the scene in the distance. "What is Mr. Thicknose trying to teach him now?"

......

"Alright, now you twirl to the left and pivot."

Chronos attempted to do as Mr. Thicknose instructed, but instead landed flat on his back. They had been at this for several minutes, but he had no signs of noticeable improvement. It was quite disheartening. With a sigh, he asked the obvious question.

"Are you sure that this is what my kind does to woo a mate?"

Mr. Thicknose shrugged with his shoulders. "I am not completely sure. The farwalkers say that the colorful ones often dance when they find love." He seemed to consider something for a moment. "But again... the farwalkers also say that they put their heads in the ground when danger comes... and I haven't seen you do that." He then grunted. "Maybe you are what they call a colorful runner?"

Chronos sighed. "You're not sure what kind I am!?"

Mr. Thicknose again shrugged. "Until you two came to the valley I barely saw any of your kind. The only rainbowfaces that we had migrated before I could learn anything from them. When it comes to mating displays, all that I know is what the farwalkers tell me."

Chronos looked down. This day just kept on getting worse and worse.

Mr. Thicknose broke the silence. "Should we try the 'colorful runner' technique then?"

Chronos slowly rose from the ground. "Fine! What do I have to lose?"

......

The Mysterious Beyond:

"Their stench is stronger over here, sir!"

Calin groaned as he looked back towards the source of that voice. My own packmates are as stupid as spiketails in a stampede. He lamented. How can they not understand this simple concept?

"That is because they looped back towards the stream, you ignorant numbskull! It is an old tactic. Run into the stream going one direction, then deviate and go the other direction." He growled in agitation. "They are trying to lead us astray!"

The other fastbiters quickly scattered in order to follow the stream in both possible directions. If the deserters had tried to trick them then the pack would have to search for where their scent emerged from the stream. Only then could their actual direction of movement be determined. More pertinent, however, none of them wanted to stick around Calin in his current mood.

Calin's eyes were glazed over in a crazed expression as his face communicated a mix of paranoia and rage. If he failed to catch the deserters then Red Claw may begin to doubt his decision to support him. Without Red Claw's support he had nothing. He had no doubt that his fellow packmates would revel in the chance to remove their despotic ruler. Worse yet, however, three of his own packmates had the gall to flee from him! The insolence! Did they not know who they were running from?

I will find you cowards! And when I do I will make you wish you were already dead!

From a distance Red Claw looked at the scene with a grim expression. Inside, however, he was quite pleased with the results of the search thus far. True, they were no closer to finding the deserters, but that was not what he was looking at right now.

He was looking at Calin.

It had been his plan all along to recruit the young and ambitious. By forcing them to kill or be killed he had weeded out the weak and timid. Now all that remained were the ambitious and strong. These fastbiters had no other prospects. No families. No honor. No hope for the future. They were the perfect army. He had ensured that they killed their pasts so that only Red Claw's glorious future would beckon to them. Better yet, the most ambitious and depraved of them all had finally risen to the top. He had no doubt that this was the fastbiter that he could rely on to lead the expendable spearhead of his assault on the valley. Calin's only hope for survival was to serve Red Claw and that now showed in his actions. He was scared and angry. Calin was snapping at his packmates and ready to kill anyone who got in the way of the mission at hand. He was like a lightning storm. Full of fury and without restraint.

How beautiful. Red Claw observed. What gives him his strength also makes him vulnerable to me.

Growling softly to himself, Red Claw resumed his trek towards the stream. He did not need to see any more of this display. Either Calin would return with a report of success or failure. Thereafter, Red Claw would either give slight praise or pointed censure. In either case, Calin's fears would be preyed upon and the fastbiter's paranoia would grow further still. Making him easier to control and more determined to complete their ultimate mission.

Red Claw gave a slight smile. Yes, this was turning out to be a great day after all.

......

The Great Valley:

♪ Chirp! De—Chirp! Chirp! ♪

As Chronos attempted to replicate the song that Mr. Thicknose was describing from memory, three pairs of eyes were staring at the distant scene from a nearby hill.

"Don't you think that you should let him know? He seems to be embarrassing himself." Grandpa Longneck spoke with a mixture of empathy and amusement. It seemed that the ladies had finished with their conversation. He had rejoined them when he heard laughter emerge from the trees. Despite how impolite it was, he had to admit that some of the laughter at the male rainbowface's antics was now coming from himself.

Grandma then spoke. "He is right, Logos. You should probably just tell him now and spare him..."

♪ Chirp! De—Chirp! Chirp! ♪

She was then rocked by a fit of laughter at his latest attempt. "...from this!"

Logos nodded. She had tears in her eyes from laughing so hard at seeing her friend's attempts at singing. "I will talk to him about it tonight, don't worry." She dried her eyes. It was amazing that he had not heard them despite their laughter. "But I think that I want to see if he can get this song right..." A smile was plastered on her face.

"Tormenting the male." Grandpa intoned, with more than a hint of humor. "I should have known that letting you two girls talk alone would only lead to mischief. Am I next?"

Grandma looked at him with mirth in her eyes. "Well that depends, dear... Are you going to alert the poor soul?"

Grandpa smiled back. "No... No... I am afraid that Chronos definitely needs more time to work on his tune. I would hate to interrupt that."

The two longnecks and the rainbowface shared another laugh at Chronos's plight.

♪ Chirp! De—Chirp! De—Chirp! ♪

As the song continued, however, Logos was thinking to herself and considering her decision. She had reached one conclusion.

Good things come to those who wait, Chronos. I won't leave you waiting much longer.

......

The Mysterious Beyond:

"Help me!!!"

The fastbiter's desperate scream was cut off as she suddenly began convulsing on the ground. The seizures were so violent that the packmates unlucky enough to be congregating around her were slashed by her uncontrolled, flailing claws. It was the shrieks of the panicked packmates that finally alerted Calin.

"What is going on!" He demanded in a rage. Both the onlookers and those who had been injured stared at him with fearful expressions. It seemed that none of them wanted to give him the bad news. Finally, however, one of them spoke.

"Two of us have fallen ill! We have to get out of here before the sickness spreads!" The mistake of presuming to give Calin demands was met with a deep slash to the speaker's face.

"Ahhh!!"

Calin stared down at the fastbiter as he clutched his face with his now bloodied claws. He had made the terrible error of speaking to Calin with anything but calm respect and now he had paid the price. He would have a scar to remind him of that lesson for the rest of his life.

"I am the only one who gives orders." Calin spoke in a cold monotone, as the offending fastbiter shook in fear. Pleased by this response, Calin returned to the matter at hand and walked over to the fastbiter who had convulsed.

"What was she doing before she collapsed?"

None of those present spoke. They had all seen what happened to their comrade. They were all fearful of Calin's continued wrath so they remained silent. This caused Calin to erupt at the nearest fastbiter.

"WHAT HAPPENED!?"

A choked scream emanated from the male, but then he spoke, more out of self-preservation than anything else.

"We were searching, sir... really... but we were hungry... and uh... we ate some dead fish that we found on the shore..."

Calin glared at the fastbiter. It wasn't until he finally began to urinate in fear, that Calin turned towards the others. He had made his dominance known and that was more important than a few dead packmates. Now he could move on to other matters.

"Show me the fish."

The two packmates who he addressed looked at one another in agitation, before one of them spoke.

"The others already ate them, sir. We.. uh.. were too late to get any. But there was one left that no one wanted... uh..."

Calin quickly grew tired of his fear-induced rambling. With a scream he demanded that he get back on track.

"Then show me!"

......

The tan fastbiter sniffed the fish for quite some time. An odd expression crossed his face. A mixture of recognition and anger. Confusion and rage. Then, as soon as it had graced his face, it was gone. The same blank, calculating stare appeared on his face as had graced it moments before. It was as if the dark-hearted fastbiter had allowed emotion to cross his features in order to feel some novelty for a brief moment. And now the moment was gone.

"The fish was poisoned. This is the same vile crap that the bastard Skytail used on me. It seems the deserters are smarter than our two fallen comrades."

Even if it wasn't the deserters that pulled this stunt, it was best for both morale and motivation that he claimed that they were. An unknown assailant would spread fear amongst the pack, whereas having the deserters be the culprits would motivate the others to seek their annihilation. Most importantly from Calin's perspective, however, it was best to claim to know the truth even when ignorant of it. To show one's ignorance communicated weakness, whereas to make a claim was to present strength. With three deserters already in flight from the pack, the last thing that he wanted to do was to show weakness.

Calin didn't look back. He didn't need to see them to know that the other members of the pack were awaiting his orders. He decided not to keep them waiting.

"Tempting as it is, don't eat your fallen comrades. We don't have the time and we can't risk further poisonings." His expression took on an annoyed expression as he barked out one final order. "Resume your search!"

The pack scattered. The search had to go on.

Calin arose to follow his packmates, but then he stopped. With a slow panning motion, he looked at the stream around him and the bushes beyond. His face gave away no emotion as he did this. The same expressionless stare greeted the scene as he had a few moments before. It was only when he had looked at the entire panorama around him that he finally allowed himself to depart.

He had not seen the hidden runner watching him from downwind. He had a grim smile planted on his beak.

I have only just begun!

......

The rainbowfaces’ cave:

Chronos stepped into the cave with a downcast expression. This was one of the most depressing and disheartening days that he could ever remember. He had spent hours practicing dances and songs from dinosaur species that probably were not even related to his current kind; a byproduct of having Mr. Thicknose assist him on the basis of rumor. But all of his attempts ended in embarrassment. In his despair, he decided that he would put off talking to Logos about his feelings. Regardless of whatever acts that the instincts of his kind demanded be done in order to win her affections, he obviously was not the rainbowface for the job.

He collapsed into his normal sleeping area with a distinct thud. He was in no mood for small talk or contemplation. He simply wanted the memories of this day to fade as he entered into the world of dreams.

"I see that you decided not to try the song."

Chronos opened his eyes at Logos's comment. She saw that!?

"In fairness though, it was better than the dance."

He now rose in order to face her. But he was still at a loss of what to say. What could he say.

"Why did you feel the need to woo me, Chronos?"

Chronos sputtered. "Uh... I thought that maybe... that maybe there was some biological component that I was missing... that uh..."

......

Logos smiled. He is so cute when he is flustered. Although that makes him make less sense than usual. Not wishing to prolong his torment any longer, she finally spoke.

"I was not being held back by instincts, dear." She shook her head. "And even if I were then dancing a yellowbelly dance or singing a fast runner song wouldn't really do anything for me."

Now Chronos was angry. "You let us practice all that even though you knew they were from the wrong species?! How did you even know all of that anyway?"

Logos laughed. "Because I read the briefing document before I went planet-side, Chronos. Some of us actually read those before going on missions, you know?" She ended her statement with a wink.

Chronos was speechless. The fact that she was being so open about this... did that mean...

Logos continued. "I didn't need my instincts attended to, dear. I just needed time. You will be glad to know that Grandma Longneck helped me to realize something." She walked a bit closer to him. "I was afraid because of how our old kind did things... I was still thinking of this as an end, but for dinosaurs finding a significant other is just the beginning."

With a swift movement Logos grabbed a few tree sweets and placed them into her mouth and slowly began to chew. Chronos paid no heed to that change, however, as he was still fixated on her recent words.

Chronos found his voice again. "Does that mean that..."

He was immediately cut off as Logos joined her mouth to his and forced the tree sweets down his throat. He gasped and attempted to recover his breath at the sudden intrusion. His then choked out a response made in surprise more than fear.

"What... What was that?"

Logos laughed. "That, my friend, is how rainbowfaces propose. Supposedly."

Chronos coughed a bit as he was still recovering. "Gah... And I thought that singing was bad!"

Logos rolled her eyes. "Oh trust me Chronos - it was! But at least it..."

Taking the initiative now that her mouth was open, he grabbed a few more tree sweets and forcibly shoved them into her mouth from his. If the act of communal feeding was how his species selected a mate, then he was going to do the deed. He had spent all day achieving nothing but failure in his attempts; it was time for his initiative to finally pay off.

Logos gasped when she recovered. "What in the hell was that?! I already proposed!"

Chronos gave a coy smirk. "No, you demonstrated. I was the one who proposed."

Logos glared at him. "Well thank goodness we only have to do that once."

Chronos smiled broadly. "So do you accept, Mrs. Rainbowface?"

Logos whispered in his ear. "What do you think, Mr. Rainbowface?"

On that night they were no longer the Commander and the Lieutenant. Much like how their former kind would die upon the creation of new life, those titles and responsibilities were now dead and committed to the realm of memory. Now only the couple remained. Despite the fact that they had been rainbowfaces for years, it was only now that the life that they had begun in the Consortium was truly over. A new life now awaited them.

And they never looked back.


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