The Seven Hunters

Chapter 65 Preparations

“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”

― Common idiom

"We sent him to the valley to be safe from Red Claw and now look at him... He goes back to fight Red Claw."

Terri closed her eyes at the words of her mate. Dein was indeed correct that they had originally sent Chomper to the Great Valley in order to be safe from the vengeful Red Claw. That was back when they thought that they were his primary targets, not the valley itself. Back when the Great Valley seemed to be a sanctuary and not a valley under siege.

"He is with his friends. He can't have better company than that."

As she spoke she considered the irony of that statement. Back when Chomper was sent into the valley it was felt that he would be threatened by the leaf-eaters if anything. They had relied on the diplomacy of Ruby and the supportive words of his friends. Back then they were simply leaf-eaters, though Chomper did have a special affinity for them. In many ways Littlefoot was almost considered a brother or a second father by the small sharptooth due to the effects of imprinting. She remembered Chomper telling her that Littlefoot had never judged him despite being of the same kind that killed Littlefoot's mother. It seemed that the bond between them went both ways. However, Littlefoot was still a leaf-eater and their friendship would have had to end at some point.

Until the change.

Now his friends shared Chomper's fate. They were sharpteeth who had been tested by both hunts and battles. To any outside observer it would seem that Chomper's friends had been born and raised sharpteeth. However, she and Dein knew the truth. The only reason that Chomper and the pack were still alive was because of their change into predators. Had they had not been 'killed' in the valley then the adults of the valley would not had improved their defenses. Without those defenses and the help of the pack the Great Valley might have already fallen to Red Claw's apocalyptic plans. In a way that cursed stone had granted the pack the ability to keep Red Claw in check and it had granted her son the permanent friendship that he had yearned for. But like all things in nature there had to be payment in kind. For every successful hunt someone had to die. For every victor in battle there had to be a loser.

And for the great gift that had been bestowed upon them they would have to fight. She knew that her son and his friends would stand by one another until the bitter end. She just hoped that the end for Chomper was many years away.

"He could have better company."

Terri turned her head towards her mate. What was he going on about now?

"Dear?" She asked with her head tilted in confusion.

Dein sighed for a moment. A deep, growling sound emanated from the massive sharptooth. He was obviously considering something that he was not fond of. The proof of that was in his expression. Dein was not known for being especially introspective or reflective so to have him be lost in his own world was a rare experience. Terri, for her part, remained silent until he finally spoke.

"He could have us at his side."

Terri stared at her mate for several moments. Both of them had stood aside while Chomper and his friends had journeyed to the valley prior to the first battle. They may not have known that Red Claw's attack was imminent at that point, but they still allowed their son to venture off into danger. It was something that still haunted her to this day.

However, her son was emancipated at this point. He had asserted his rights as a member of another pack to venture off with those to whom he sworn his fealty. They had no right to obstruct him at that point and had they left their lands then they could have a battle on their claws when they returned. Despite the emotions involved they had made the right choice to stay behind. But now that they knew for certain that a battle was coming between the valley and Red Claw, could they really stand aside? Yes, they were trying to keep the bloodline going in the event that Chomper fell in battle, but what future would there be for their bloodline if Red Claw was allowed to be victorious? Would anyone be safe then? Would it even be possible to escape from his victorious hordes?

Terri frowned at the thought that just entered her mind. It was against tradition and instinct, but under these circumstances it was obviously the right choice. Even Dein had suggested the same.

"Well, dear... What do you think the valley will think about two sharpteeth entering their lands?"

Dein stared at her for a moment before responding jocularly.

"I don't really care; just as long as the longnecks don't greet us like they did the last time we entered the valley."

Terri smirked. By 'last time' Dein meant 'the only time'. When they had entered the valley it had been to look for their son after he had hatched. They had no idea at the time that the longnecks they had fought with were the grandparents of the longneck that their son had imprinted on. Nor could they have foreseen that he was one of the legendary five leaf-eater children who had bested Wrath, the sadistic son of Red Claw. It truly seemed that Chomper and his friends were fated to meet. That being said, Terri suspected that there meeting with the longnecks would be a lot more peaceful than there last encounter. At least she hoped.

"Well, dear. As long as the children do the talking then I am sure that we will be fine."

Dein snorted. "It isn't like any of us can speak the sap-sucker language. So they will have to do the talking."

Terri rolled her eyes. "A shame that they will miss out on your wit and charm."

In response to her deadpan insult, Dein lightly nudged her with his head, which caused her to mock fight him with her stubby arms. After a few moments, however, both of them settled down. It was still nighttime and both of them would need to retire early if they were to announce their intentions to the pack before they left early the next morning. But that was when they heard it.

Singing.

The packs were singing about those who they had lost.

Terri frowned. It was a touching display, but also a very sad one. Each song represented a loved one who had lived, fought, and died in the sharptooth way. It seem that regardless of whether it was Littlefoot's pack, Thud's pack, or Thud's new apprentices that sang that Red Claw had touched them all with his malice. She spoke sternly into the air.

"We will have to make sure that Chomper's song doesn't end for a long time."

She didn't turn around, but she heard Dein's response nonetheless.

"And make sure that Red Claw's song ends with his death."

As the two sharpteeth laid down and fell into a peaceful slumber, they had no idea that many miles away another pair was looking up at the same sky and thinking about the same pack.

......

The Great Valley:

"How do you think they are doing?"

Logos did not stir as her mate asked that question into the air. Both of them were resting on their backs, staring at the distant stars. Stargazing had been a hobby of each of them ever since they had been children. Even when they were on their original homeworld each would stare in awe at the majesty of nature. This wonder had only grown during their academy days. But it wasn't until they met one another that each found a confidant who shared their interests and temperament. Logos had to smile. It seemed that their decision to take their relationship to the next level was many years, and many planets, in the making.

However, Chronos's question did demand an answer. The children had been through an astonishing metamorphosis over the last year. In fact the biological changes were only the beginning. In a short span of time they had become formidable hunters, fighters, and schemers. They had gone from being innocent leaf-eater children to being feared in the Mysterious Beyond. Even though their intelligence and cunning had been with them ever since their first journey to the valley, it was obvious that the Stone of Cold Fire had greatly improved their abilities. This had undoubtedly helped them during their transformation.

"I am sure they are fine, dear." Logos answered softly. "The Stone of Destiny continues to serve them well."

Chronos remained silent for several moments as the two of them continued to look at the stars above. Logos then made an observation after looking at the fourth planet in the system.

"Isn't it amazing that of the three planets in this system that are suitable for life, it only exists here?"

Chronos gave a soft affirmative grunt. "It is. One is a hellscape; the other is an ice ball. Only this one harbors macroscopic life."

Logos looked over at her mate. She then noticed that he was already staring at her. She gave him a coy smile. "I thought that you were staring at the stars?"

Chronos smiled back. "Well, I have been staring at one..."

Nip!

Chronos reeled back. "What was that for!?" He had a surprised look on his face, but he wasn't really upset. He should have been used to Logos giving him a playful bite by now.

"That..." Logos coyly replied. "Was for trying to use one of Mr. Thicknose's suggested pickup lines."

Chronos blinked. "How did you know?"

Logos chuckled to herself. "Dear, for one thing you don't have a romantic bone in your body. So I know that you didn't come up with that on your own." Chronos gave a look of exaggerated offense, but Logos knew that he was simply being humorous in his own way. "And for the other thing, I know that if you came up with something that it would be better than that."

Chronos questioned her mockingly. "But I thought that you said that I didn't have a romantic bone in my body."

Logos nodded. "You don't. Whatever you would come up with would be incredibly lame, but at least it wouldn't be sappy."

Chronos stuck out his tongue at her in response. His verbal response was equally juvenile. "Well, my dear, we are all sap-suckers now so we should be fond of sappiness."

Logos smiled back. "I guess old habits die hard. You are a failed physicist who became an officer in the Consortium and I am a failed engineer who did the same. We aren't exactly the most romantic people in the universe, dear."

Chronos chuckled. "Yeah..." He then took on a cheeky smile. "But at least we aren't as bad as Mr. Threehorn."

Logos chuckled as well. "Yeah, at least there is that."

The two of them turned their attention to the stars again as each fell into a comfortable silence. To the two rainbowfaces there was nothing more romantic than simply looking up at the wonders of the universe. They would never again visit the distant worlds out there, but they still had their memories of back when they were interstellar explorers. Furthermore, they still had the ability to explore this world and to impart their sense of wonder onto the next generation. Overall things were going quite well.

Well, except for the whole 'Red Claw trying to destroy the valley and kill everyone in it' thing.

It seemed that Chronos had gotten into the same line of thought as her as he suddenly broke the silence. "What do you think about Whitehorn's latest idea?"

Logos considered the question for a moment before answering. "Well... He does have a point. Even though Red Claw will probably attack in the spring we still need to prepare defenses."

Chronos chuckled. "The valley did not seem enthusiastic about that idea."

Logos nodded. "Putting people to work is never a popular action. But with the support of the longnecks and flyers it was foregone conclusion his suggestion would pass."

Chronos could only agree with that. "Yeah... I guess the good deeds of the children helped to rehabilitate the longnecks in the valley's eyes. Though things aren't the same."

Logos gave an affirmative grunt. "Yeah... Things will not go back to the way things were before..." She then took on a smile as a thought grabbed her. "Speaking of which I think that it is time for us to go back to the cave."

Chronos looked surprised. "I thought that you wanted to look at stars tonight?"

Logos gave him a coy smile. "I thought that you wanted to look at 'one' star tonight. Perhaps you will get a better look at that star in the cave..."

Chronos could be thick at times but even he was not dense enough to not get the blatant hint from his partner. As the two rainbowfaces quickly disappeared into the cave that served as their home, peaceful silence descended upon the Great Valley. At that moment no resident could imagine how things would change in the days to come.

That evening would be the last peaceful night that the valley would have for quite some time.

......

Hanging Rock, the next morning:

"Rise and shine, kids!"

Detras tried but failed to suppress a smile as he heard the groans of the children. Fast runners were early risers by nature, but that did not apply for younglings. Their growing bodies needed all of the sleep that they could get. However, on this day the kids would have to get to work. They might have a journey on their hands.

Orchid was the first one to say something coherent. "Dad! Just a little more time..."

Detras was startled slightly when his mate embraced him upon entering the cave. He quickly recovered and returned the gesture as she then spoke to the groggy children.

"Come on, children!" She said cheerfully. "We might have guests today and we need to get some food for them!"

Arial rubbed her eyes and tiredly addressed her mother. "But..." She then yawned in her exhaustion. "...but what if they don't get here today? What if today they don't get here?"

Detras smiled. The speech impediment was rather common in his family line, though their tendency to repeat their words typically only occurred when they were flustered or tired, with Ruby being a noticeable exception. Even though he knew that she found it to be cute as well, it annoyed his mate to no end. It had taken her nearly a year before she finally gave up on curing Ruby of her vocal tick.

"Now, Arial..." Pearl began. "What have I told you about repeating yourself?" She then repeated herself in a playfully teasing manner. "What about repeating yourself have I told you? Do you see how annoying that repeating yourself can be?"

"Mom!" Arial protested as both Detras and Pearl laughed at her daughter's annoyance. She may have been agitated at her mother at the moment, but at least she was quite awake.

Detras finally regained his composure and cheerfully addressed his children again. "Alright, kids! Let's head to the stream and see what we can find. We will either get food for our guests or we will have a large dinner if they don't arrive..."

Now the children were motivated to catch some food. As the two children cheered and sprinted ahead, Detras and Pearl exited the cave side-by-side. Regardless of what the future held for them, they were together.

......

Ignis smiled at the scene below her. A fast runner family was gather fish from the stream in apparent harmony.

"Hey! That was my fish, Orchid!"

"Not anymore, sis!"

Nip!

"Ow! That hurt, Arial!"

"Now children..."

Ignis laughed. Well... near-harmony. She chuckled to herself. The antics of the two children mirrored her own memories of how she and her siblings would play and occasionally scuffle back in her father's pack. Those were happy times.

She sighed. Were happier times... Now she and her father were estranged and her siblings remained behind in the territory of her people. She did not regret her decision to take the fight to Red Claw, but she did regret the consequences of that choice. She would probably die out here with her fellow volunteers, never to see her family again.

Or would she?

The more that she considered her situation, the more that she realized that they might actually have a chance. They had a small group of hidden runners and a family of fast runners, but they also had the formidable valley as well. The leaf-eaters were the stuff of legends. Not only was the valley protected by numerous hidden entrances, but they were also protected by its reputation. What sharptooth would attempt an attack on over a dozen united herds unless he or she had truly massive forces? That more than anything else had kept the valley safe until now.

But times had changed.

Red Claw now had a massive force at his disposal and she could only assume that the coming of the Cold Time brought even more forces to his side. The valley may have met its match.

But then there was also the matter of Seeker's pack.

The hidden runners had heard of a ferocious pack that had kept Calin at bay in the Land of Shallow Waters, but they hadn't paid much heed to those rumors. That was until Rinkus tried to convince them that Seeker and Sandstorm had tricked Red Claw into attacking the hidden runners. Westron had not believed the flyer's words when he had first made his speech and Ignis did not believe them when they were retold to her after she joined the mission. It was just the sort of lie that Red Claw would say in order to confuse his enemies and embolden his allies. Despite Banton's angry attack on Petrie, no other hidden runner had bought the story either. The apathy of the other hidden runners was simply a matter of fear and complacency.

With her father being the main culprit.

She could only sigh at the thought of her father. Despite her anger at being struck by him that was not what upset her the most. No, what upset her was how he was willing to trust in the ways of the past despite the grave threat that their kind now faced. She had grown up looking up to him as a role model, but it recent years she had grown to see his faults in addition to his virtues. His conservative mindset was very good at maintaining power and order, but less well-suited to adapting to the unknown. She knew that now and she hoped that he would learn that someday as well before it was too late.

"Children are amazing things aren't they?"

Ignis nodded absentmindedly at Viscond's words. Taking this as an invitation he continued.

"I guess that this is the host family that Spotter was telling us about. The ones who will lead us into the Great Valley. Though I wonder why the valley would trust these fast runners. They can still eat eggs... wouldn't the valley consider them a threat?"

Ignis shrugged. She had to admit that the same thought had crossed her mind. "Maybe they had an arrangement with these fast runners. After all, Seeker's pack is rumored to have fought on the valley's side. So if the valley was willing to have sharpteeth for allies then why not a potential egg-stealer?"

She didn't turn around to see Viscond nod, but she did hear his response to her thought. "That is true, Ignis... but you don't know leaf-eaters like I do. They do not trust sharpteeth of any kind and they despise egg-stealers. So to have them form alliances with one another is almost unheard of. I wonder how that got started..."

The two hidden runners sat in silence for a few moments as they watched the family pile up fish after fish into two large heaps. The hidden runners were cautious by nature, hence why they were placing the family under surveillance until they made themselves known to them. But Ignis had to admit that they looked normal enough. There was no sign of danger here. There was just a happy family fishing together in a stream. Two children, a mother, a father...

Wait a moment. Where did the father go?

Ignis had gotten so absorbed into her thoughts and her conversation with Viscond that she had not noticed the father slip off away from the family. Despite the fact that he would not be a danger to them even if he were hostile for some reason, the fact that he had gotten out of sight annoyed her. She was supposed to be a good tracker and watcher. Now one of her targets had gotten away. Did he go to relieve himself somewhere? Did he go to fish at another area of the stream? She was just about to mention the sudden disappearance to Viscond when both hidden runners heard something that made them rise to defensive positions.

"Ah! I didn't realize that our guests were already here."

Both hidden runners rose to their feet and placed their clawed hands in defensive positions. The fast runner had sneaked behind them all without any of the other watchers noticing! They were awestruck at this development and more than a little freaked out.

"Who... are you?" Ignis choked out.

Detras smiled. "I am Detras!" He replied cheerfully. "The other three of us you were spying on was my mate, Pearl, and my two beautiful children, Arial and Orchid." His smile turned into a grin as he noticed that both of them had shocked expressions. "Oh! You are wondering how I knew that you were all spying on us?"

The two hidden runners nodded in exasperation. Was their technique this bad?

Detras continued. "It was simple really. I knew that you were coming because Spotter told me... And considering that you are all hidden runners, I knew that you all would probably spy before making yourselves known. The reputation of your kind precedes you..." Viscond sighed as Detras finished his thought. "When you consider that I already know the terrain around here and all the best hiding spots and secret passages... Well, it wasn't too hard to track down where all of you might be hiding..."

At that moment Westron broke through the crevice. "Halt intruder!" He then looked at the stunned expression of Viscond. "Sir! Are you alright..."

For his part, Viscond waved him off. "It is alright, Westron. This is our host, Detras." He then gestured towards the fast runner who gave a quick bow to the newcomer. The slightest hint of annoyance crossed his features as he elaborated a bit further on the fast runner. "It seems that he has some tracking skills of his own..."

The rest of the hidden runners then barged in behind Westron, who quickly gave them a 'stand down' order with a wave of his clawed hands. This caused an outburst from Detras.

"Goodness! It is a good thing that we have caught a lot of fish! There are quite a few of you, isn't there? There almost isn't enough for dinner."

Westron looked stupefied. "Dinner?"

Detras laughed. "Yes, dinner! It is only proper for the host to provide food for his guests!" He then gestured widely with his arms towards where his family was down below the bluff. "Now, come on! The fish aren't going to eat themselves!"

With a happy and self-satisfied expression, Detras walked through the group of hidden runners and went onto the mostly hidden trail that lead to where his family was still gathering fish. In the process, Ignis could have sworn that she heard the fast runner say 'I always wanted to do that!' but it seemed that no one else heard that exclamation. As he left the hidden runners began to follow a respectful distance behind the male fast runner. As Ignis and Viscond exited the crevice that had been their observation post, Viscond said only one thing to her with equal parts annoyance and awe focused on the fast runner who had showed them up.

"Where in the hell did he come from?"

......

The Great Valley:

Petrie was amazed by the speed of his journey to the valley. In order to get word out to the valley as soon as possible he had directed his uncle to wake him at the crack of dawn. It would be pointless to fly at night when most of his frames of reference would be lost, but he could waste no time in getting word out to the valley.

"Wake up, Petrie..."

"Urgh... Let Petrie sleep... Petrie tired..."

"Red Claw won't wait, Petrie."

Petrie snapped awake. Suddenly the events of recent days flooded into his mind and he again became aware of the necessity of his mission. Pterano and Nunti had to recruit the carrion flyers, while the duty of warning the valley fell upon him. For all that he knew Red Claw could already be in transit to the valley so he would have to hurry. He might be the only warning that the Great Valley received before Red Claw's imminent attack. His answer came quickly.

"Me awake. We need to leave now."

Pterano nodded. "Yes. I must admit... that I am unsure about my task. I am not even sure exactly where the flyers are."

Petrie placed a comforting wing on his uncle's shoulder. "Me sure that you do fine, uncle! Even if flyers don't follow, you can still help in valley."

Pterano gave a sad smile. "I don't think that my face would be appreciate there, Petrie."

Petrie gave a dismissive wave of his wing. "It no matter! Valley fight to live! Every extra flyer will help."

Pterano gave his nephew a smile as he returned Petrie's supportive gesture by placing a wing upon him. "Very well! I will help as well..." He then took on a confident expression. "And I am sure that I will be bringing help back with me!"

Petrie gave his nephew a smile. "That good, uncle! Me almost believe you..."

Pterano laughed at his nephew's faint praise for his attempt at charismatic speech. "You know, Petrie... only a year ago you would have believed that display word for word... what changed?"

Petrie shrugged. "Me grow up me guess... But me know that really important. We try to help valley." He then looked at his uncle with a knowing expression. "This first time you try to convince others since the valley?"

Pterano nodded. "I resolved to never use my words to mislead others after my debacle in the valley... yet here I am."

Petrie gave him a reassuring pat with his wing. "You tell them that Red Claw there and that meat wait winners. You not lie. You try to convince. It different."

Pterano spoke darkly. "I will still be sending others to die."

Petrie spoke softly in response to this. "That not be crime if you willing to do same." Petrie stared at his uncle. "This may be valley last days. This may be Petrie last days. Will you fight with us, uncle?"

Despite the probable disagreement with the valley on the matter Pterano's answer was unequivocal. "Absolutely. I will not let you all fight alone."

Petrie nodded. "Then we go do our jobs. Me meet you in the valley." He then paused before breaking away from his uncle's embrace. "Stay safe, uncle."

Pterano smiled at his nephew as he wished him well. "You too, Petrie. May the winds carry you swiftly."

Petrie smiled at the memory. His departure from the valley had occurred a mere six hours ago, but he had made remarkable progress in his flight. The passage of the storm had shifted the wind currents in the Mysterious Beyond to the standard winter pattern with powerful currents heading in the direction of the valley. As soon as he had gained altitude by using the thermal updrafts, he had simply opened his wings and followed the prevailing currents. With the swift currents at his back, he had covered more distance in mere hours than a two-footer could cover in a week.

In fact, the outskirts of the valley were already in sight.

The narrow ravine that had served as their trail out of the valley bended to and fro as some of the geographic features of the Great Valley are came into view. The Smoking Mountains, curiously without their name-sake smoke, stood in the distance like a silent guardian watching over the valley of legend. Also in the distance the rocky form of Saurus Rock could just be seen. Despite his nearly a year of experience living outside of the valley, he had to suppress a sense of nostalgia at seeing those sights again. He was returning home. His old home.

"No sign of Red Claw. Look like Petrie in time." Petrie noted to himself. However it was odd that he wasn't discovered by a flyer scout yet. They were endemic during the pack's escape from the valley and their first return to the valley. Surely they hadn't become so complacent that...

What that?

Petrie did a double take at the scene in front of him. At first it seemed like there was nothing in front of him, but then the slight forms of two objects could be seen in the sky. Each was smaller than Rinkus and Sierra so Petrie immediately calmed down, but their size did surprise him. There were no adult flyers in the valley that Petrie knew of that were that small. This could only mean...

Caw!

Petrie grinned. He recognized that flyer! Even though it was an alarm call, he could tell by the tone of the caller's voice exactly who that was.

It was Valaria, one of his sisters.

Quickly responding to the alert call with a 'stand down' call, he quickened his pace towards the duo. Surely one of the other flyers was a sibling of his as well.

Caw!

Petrie had to suppress a chuckle as his sister again issued an alert call. A tone of annoyance was clearly present in her voice as the intruder had dismissed her call. She undoubtedly wanted the alert to go out to the other flyers.

Smirking, Petrie then gave another 'stand down' call in order to pester his sister. He wondered how long he could keep this up before his mother or another flyer would come out and investigate. Would his sister get the point before that happened. Despite the immaturity of his actions, he was enjoying having a bit of fun at his sibling's expense. He had very few chances to be on the winning side of sibling pestering. In fact he was usually the target of his sibling's jokes and taunts. He did not harbor any real anger at his siblings for this as they nearly always did this in a joking matter, but it still felt cathartic to return the favor to his former tricksters. He was feeling quite pleased with himself until a familiar voice came from behind him.

"Pestering your sister, Petrie?"

Petrie shifted heavily to his left as he struggled to circle around to see the source of that voice. This action proved to be unnecessary as the source of the voice began to fly beside the sharptooth flyer. Petrie couldn't contain himself as the familiar face of his mother came into view.

"Momma!"

Volant laughed in both joy at seeing her son again, but also in hearing a 'vicious' sharptooth happily greet his mother. There was no doubt in her mind that Petrie was still the same old Petrie deep inside, regardless of whatever he called himself now. She quickly greeted her son.

"It is nice to see you again, Petrie!" The sound of Valaria giving the 'stand down' call could be heard in the distance. The fact that Volant was chatting with the sharptooth flyer was clear enough indication as to who this flyer was. "I must admit that I didn't think you would be back until the spring."

Petrie was about to answer when another voice greeted him from the other side of his body.

"Yeah, this is kind of surprising!"

Petrie swung his head towards the unexpected voice. "Guido!"

Guido laughed as he glided in formation with the other two flyers. "It is good to see you too, Petrie!"

Petrie sputtered a bit. "Me glad to see you, but how do you sneak up on Petrie. Me sharptooth! Me not suppose to be snuck on!"

Volant laughed at her son's distress. "Well, son... You may be very good at what you do..." She put an emphasis on 'what' as she obviously did not want to spell out or reflect upon how her son now survived by eating the flesh of others. "But we leaf-eaters want to protect ourselves. How do you like the new security measures?"

Petrie looked exasperated. "They good... They keep Petrie from seeing you." He reflected on this for a moment. "They could allow you to sneak up on bad flyers..."

Valaria then joined into the formation of flyers. She was flying just above Petrie. That was suspicious...

Petrie smirked. "You not poop on Petrie!?" It was both a question and a threat.

The smile could be heard in Valaria's voice as Guido tried to stifle a laugh. "The thought crossed my mind, brother. You were acting like a jerk..."

Petrie protested this humorously. "Of course me jerk! Me sharptooth!"

The rest of the flyers laughed at this. Even after everything that had happened they were still capable of flustering the sharptooth flyer. This was still the Petrie that they all knew and loved. After they settled down Volant's voice could again be heard.

"Your sister came up with the hiding technique, Petrie. It seems to work well. Whitehorn was pleased."

Petrie nodded. "Yeah... It work on Petrie." He then looked at his mother. "How it work?"

Volant opened her mouth but then quickly closed it. It was as if something had crossed her mind and caused her to immediately stop what she was doing. Her expression was then replaced with an apologetic smile. Her response to her son's question was equally soft and apologetic.

"I am sorry, Petrie. But I cannot tell you. Whitehorn's orders."

Petrie stared at his mother for a moment with an unreadable expression. His mother had kept secrets from him in the past, such as where babies came from and what the flyer 'gathering' entailed. However she had always done that in order to protect himself and his siblings from knowledge they were not ready for. He realized that now. But this was different. She was not keeping this information from this to protect him.

She was hiding it to protect them from him.

He was not a part of the valley anymore and he was a potential threat. Their parents surely realized that they would not willingly betray their own families even though they were now sharpteeth. However Petrie realized that if they ever became dangerously hungry then things could quickly change. Petrie did not like to think about the possibility, but he knew that if it were necessary to save Ducky or his other packmates then he would kill a valley resident. Despite the pain that his mother's refusal caused in him, he could not discount the sound logic of it. He was on the other side of the divide now. He was an adversary of his former kind. He would simply have to get used to being treated like one. Petrie's answer was spoken softly and without malice.

"Me understand. If me get hungry then even me could be threat."

Guido tried to cushion the blow.

"Petrie..."

Petrie shook his head at his friend. "It okay, Guido. Me not angry." Guido looked somewhat relieved at this though he still looked guilty about keeping something from his friend. "Me sad, but me understand. The valley have to keep safe and pack not part of valley anymore."

Volant's voice then greeted Petrie's ears. "I am glad you understand, son. It isn't easy on me either, but the valley voted to keep some of our secrets from the pack. I did not really vote for it but..."

Petrie smirked. He could assume which herd would be the loudest voice pushing for tougher security. "Threehorns?"

Volant nodded with a knowing smile. "Threehorns."

The four flyers had now settled into a stable flight into the valley. As they crossed over the threshold into the valley proper, the loud bellowing call of Whitehorn could be heard. It was not an alarm call, but a meeting call. It seemed that anytime a sharptooth was allowed into the valley constituted a reason to immediately call a meeting.

Good call. Petrie thought to himself. Valley under threat right now. However this caused a concerning thought to arise in his mind.

"Keep some flyers on watch!"

Volant nodded at her son. "They are, Petrie!"

She then stared at her son for a moment. She was so relieved and happy to see him that she had not thought to ask why he had arrived a season earlier than expected. His anxious words made a disturbing possibility pop into her mind about his journey. Maybe he was hear early because something bad happened... or was about to happen. She was about to speak when Petrie caught the meaning of her concerned look an answered the unspoken question with a grave voice.

"Red Claw not attack valley in spring. He attack in Cold Time!" His mother's look of shock was joined by gasps of surprise above and beside him. "Pack on way now! We bring allies."

Volant tried to calm her quivering beak as she tried to keep her flight level. The spiketail herds had agreed to rejoin the valley in the spring, which meant that they would not be available to support the valley for a winter attack. The valley would have even fewer defenders than they had in the Haven Valley! This did not bode well for the combined herds. Despite her mounting fear, her response sounded a lot more certain than she felt at that moment.

"We will need them, Petrie... We will need them..."

Without warning, Volant then gave the alert call. After a pause Guido, Petrie, and Valaria joined in as well. The message was now clearly sent. This was not just a meeting. This was a battle in the making.

They could only hope that the valley was up to the task ahead.

......

The Land of Shallow Waters:

"Alright, gang! It is time to go... Do we have everything?"

At Littlefoot's words, there was a moment of silence as each of the packmates seemed to be taking stock of their situation. Each of the pack members, including Thud and his new associates, were now fully dressed in their armor of vines. Each also had two pointed sticks stuffed between their vines and the skin of their backs. In this way they could travel quickly without losing their protection or their weapons. Despite the discomfort that all of this entailed, no one dared to complain. Each of them realized that it might be the very thing that kept them alive in the days ahead.

Spike was the first to respond. "I think we do." But his answer in the affirmative was tentative. "It is a shame that we are leaving so many pointed sticks behind..."

Ruby interjected at this point. "We only have so much room to carry them. We could carry more if we had more room."

Cera nodded. "Yeah... I guess that the hidden runners will have to do the best that they can. Maybe if we have enough time in the valley then we can prepare more?"

"Or maybe you could just have us carry them."

The eleven sharpteeth turned in surprise at the source of those words. It was Chomper's parents. Were they here to say goodbye to their son?

"Mommy! Daddy!" Chomper affirmed happily. "Are you here to wish us goodbye?"

Dein shook his head. "No, son. We are here to ask if you wanted two more sharpteeth at your side."

Chomper stared in stupefied silence at his parent's affirmation. After thinking that this could be the last time he would see his home or his parents... after thinking how poor their chances were due to Red Claw's change in plans... after several days of preparation and stress... it now seemed that the pack had something to be cheerful about.

As Chomper and his parents shared a tearful nuzzle, Littlefoot spoke with the confidence of a leader.

"We would welcome your help!" The rest of the pack began to cheer at their new allies, while Thud and his associates looked pleased but remained more subdued. The addition of two full-grown two-footers improved their chances but there was still every possibility than some or all of them might not return home. This might very well be their last journey as a pack. Nevertheless they all were sure that they would fight to the last sharptooth no matter the cost. If they had to die in the days to come then they would die together.

As Dein picked up some of the stockpiled pointed sticks in his mouth, Chomper asked one final question of his parents.

"What made you change your mind?"

Terri smiled slightly as both Tyrannosauruses began to move forward as the pack set off. Since Dein had his mouth full, she would speak for him.

"Our kind values family above all else, Path. Even over allies and individuals. But we were wrong about two things."

Chomper looked up curiously. "What was that, mommy?"

Terri smiled. "If Red Claw is permitted to win then our family won't have a future. We have to fight now while there is still a chance of victory, otherwise we will have to fight when there is no hope."

Chomper blinked at those profound words. "And the other thing?"

Terri nuzzled her son again as she allowed him on her back while she went into a stalking posture. Two full-grown sharpteeth and two packs of fastbiters would travel much faster if they didn't have to wait on a slower juvenile sharptooth. She then answered her son's question.

"We were wrong about what our family was."

Chomper looked confused by this. "Huh?"

As the stomping of the sharpteeth dominated the sounds of the landscape, Terri addressed her son's confusion. "Look around you, Chomper. What do you see? Because you realized something before we did." Chomper did as she asked and answered uncertainly.

"Uh... I see grass, trees, you and daddy..."

Terri finished Chomper's train of thought. "And your friends... we were wrong when we simply thought of our family as me, you, and your father. Your friends were with you when you hatched... they were there when you went into the valley... and they were there when you were attacked... they are as much part of the family as we are." She then looked sternly ahead. "We shall fight as one family."

Chomper could only nod at those words. His thoughts were in complete agreement.

And we shall win as one family.


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