The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 67 A hard sell

“I make little account of victory. Nothing is so stupid as to vanquish; the real glory is to convince.”

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

"It's not your fault, Pterano. I am sure that we will find them eventually."

Pterano was nearly beside himself with fear. He and Nunti had set off for the carrion flyers four days ago and had yet to find the elusive flyers. It was true that the pack's instructions were inexact on how to get where the carrion flyer had indicated, but he couldn't help but dread the possibility of not finding help in time. His nephew, his friends, and the valley itself was preparing for battle and the least that he could do is provide all of the assistance that he could. The last thing that he wanted to do is to arrive at the Great Valley without the promised help. It would again confirm the failings of Pterano to the valley. But that was not the worst part.

It would also confirm his own failings to himself.

After the first two days had passed with no sign of the carrion flyers, his nightmares of those who died under his leadership returned in force. Their screams greeted his slumber and removed any chance of finding respite even outside of his waking hours. Now he had no escape from his internal torment. His failures were clear for him to see.

"We just have to keep on searching. We can do it!"

Pterano looked over at Nunti. His young protégée was so similar to Petrie in many way. Well... similar Petrie in his leaf-eater days. He was bustling with enthusiasm and still had confidence in Pterano's abilities. Not even finding out about Pterano's previous misdeeds and failures had ruined the younger flyer's view of the elder. Nunti's words still echoed in his mind.

"You are not who you were before. You are who you are now."

Pterano sighed. He supposed that was true. He had grown in many ways since his exile had laid bare his many failings in a way that he could no longer ignore. He was a changed flyer. He may not have changed species in the way that Petrie and his friends had, but he was nonetheless not the same person. Now if only he could show the Great Valley that fact...

"I do wish the carrion flyer had been more exact..." Pterano lamented. "I wonder if he lied to Thud?"

Nunti nodded. "Carrion flyers are a fickle group. I wouldn't put it past him."

Pterano looked at his companion with a curious expression. "It sounds like that you had some dealings with them."

Nunti made a disgusted look. "Back when I was a youngling we had carrion flyers which would circle back and forth along the bluffs where we lived. They were notorious for leading other flyers astray whenever they asked for directions."

Pterano looked perplexed. "Why would they do that?"

Nunti made a shrug-like motion with his head. "Who knows? But my mother told us that they thought differently than other flyers. We think in directions, star patterns, and landmarks. Carrion flyers think in terms of food."

Pterano considered this for a moment before speaking. "But their food..." He tried to ignore the disgust as he considered the idea of eating rotten flesh. After all, if he was going to recruit some flyers then he would have to deal with the carrion flyers' unique eating habits. "...varies from day to day. Dinosaurs don't really die in the same places."

Nunti nodded as he adjusted his wings in order to shift his direction slightly. "Yeah. I guess they think of the world as something that changes with no certainties. An odd way of looking at things."

Pterano could only nod at that, although he had to consider the advantages of seeing the world that way. I thought of the world as having certainties. Landmarks only occur in certain places... stars circle the same pattern... the Warm Time always follows the Cold Time... but what if I am wrong about that? What if the carrion flyers are right? I have changed and Petrie has certainly changed...

Pterano shook his head. He didn't have the luxury to simply give in to introspection. They had to try to use the carrion flyer's inexact directions in order to find the other flyers. Then Pterano's work would truly begin.

"Is that... a longneck skeleton?"

Pterano nearly collided with Nunti as he swerved in the air to focus on what his counterpart was looking at. He instantly realized that Nunti had found what they had long been looking for.

"That is a longneck skeleton!" It was many miles away and just barely visible in the dark bluffs, but it was clear what it was. "We have found it!"

As the two flyers flew towards the long sought-after destination, each of them were hopeful of finally getting help for the besieged valley. They had no idea that events were currently in motion that would soon change the defensive strategy in a big way.

......

The Great Valley:

"How exactly do the residents plan to protect themselves when this canyon is wide open?"

Viscond had examined the Hidden Canyon for many moments while his fellow hidden runners inspected the odd scents and sights that greeted them there. It was most unlike any place they had visited before. However, this did not eliminate the fact that the valley had glaring deficiencies in its defenses. Why hadn't the leaf-eaters noticed that before?

Ignis tentatively grabbed some of the broken branches that had been strewn about and sniffed it. After making a disgusted expression on her face, she threw the offending branch to the side. It was only then that she answered Viscond's rhetorical question.

"Maybe they expected this place to be well hidden... The sap from these branches do make the area smell uninviting."

Viscond paced for a few moments before nodding. "Yes, that is true. But it isn't a very good strategy for a large pack. If their goal is a large raid and not a solitary hunt then the disorientation from the smell would not be much of a deterrent."

"Then what would you recommend?"

The thundering footsteps of a brown threehorn echoed across the canyon as Whitehorn arrived on the scene. Detras and Pearl followed from behind and were reacting with minimal distress at the smell in the canyon. A slight wrinkling of their faces was the only hint that they found the smell unpleasant. It seemed that the smell was effective at disorienting sharpteeth, but not leaf-eaters or omnivores. This could be a grave issue depending on which kinds of sharpteeth that Red Claw had in his pack. It would take only one unaffected dinosaur to lead the rest to the hidden valley entrance...

Viscond sighed. "Well the threehorn guards will be good to protect the hidden entrance, but..."

"But?" Whitehorn pressed. Despite what could be expected from his prideful species, he did not have an insulted look at having his guards implied to be insufficient. Instead, he had a curious expression on his face. His first priority was to ensure that the valley was well defended.

"I am not sure that it will be enough." Viscond admitted. "The longnecks mentioned that the fastbiters got in last time and nearly got the valley's children." As he said this the expression on the threehorn's face noticeably turned downcast.

Whitehorn looked down. He still considered that amongst one of his greatest failures. Had the pack not been there to distract the fastbiters, the valley would have lost the next generation. So great was his shame that he had even offered his leadership back to Topps after that fiasco. He had not overlooked this fact in the aftermath of the first battle, as he let the hidden runners know.

"I considered that. We plan on having some of us rush into the Hidden Canyon in order to delay and distract the intruders."

Ignis nodded at the direction where the conversation had gone. "Let some of the valley residents take the place of the allied pack... A good idea. But what about Red Claw learning from his mistakes?"

Whitehorn looked confused by this. "What do you mean?"

Ignis looked at the threehorn with a bemused expression. "Well... Red Claw isn't just going to attack the exact same way that he did before. Just like after any failed hunt, you need to learn from your mistakes and try again."

Whitehorn's expression turned dark. Ignis had just given him a reminder that despite their willingness to help, the hidden runners were still omnivores. Hatchlings and eggs had undoubtedly been killed by these dinosaurs in the past. Just like Littlefoot's pack they were allies that would be considered enemies under any other circumstance. Despite his misgivings, he knew that he couldn't simply turn away their help. Especially in this time of great need for the Great Valley. But he would keep an eye on them.

"Well... we will help the children to escape if it comes to that." Detras offered from behind the massive threehorn. "That little longneck and the swimmers have used stinking sap to hide their scent and we have tracked down some of the most promising cave paths. So the children should be safer this time around."

"But what about the leaf-eaters that you send out here?" Westron questioned. Viscond's deputy had been silent until now.

"What about them?" Whitehorn was soon getting annoyed about his strategy being questioned so ruthlessly. But he gritted his teeth and put up with their questions for the good of the valley. He had to get this right.

"Well..." Viscond looked around at the Hidden Canyon with cautious eyes. "The Canyon is narrow but fastbiters could go around the defenders." He sighed when he saw that Whitehorn was not getting it. "If they can encircle the defenders then they would be massacred. Any leaf-eaters out here would be lost."

Whitehorn sighed. "We have to delay the attackers in the event that they attack through here. It is always possible that they will not and simply attack the main entrance." He took on a ponderous expression as he spoke directly to Viscond. "We only have two options: we could either try to delay the attackers out here or we could fight them once they break through the defenders. I know that the best defensive position would be by the entrance, but it is still possible for fastbiters to break through... some of those fastbiters are small and our defenders are large."

Ignis closed her eyes as she now understood Whitehorn's concern. "...and if they broke through then they could attack you from both sides... They would gain the advantage."

Whitehorn nodded before speaking in a joyless voice. "That is the situation."

Silence reigned for several moments as the would-be defenders of the valley considered the situation. They would have to send their biggest and strongest fighters to keep the large sharpteeth at bay, but the fastbiters would be a major complication. If they broke through the defenses, which was likely, then they could surround the defenders in the valley. Worse yet, they could attack valley residents indiscriminately causing mass panic and a failure of their defensive lines. That would spell the end of the valley. The other option, letting defenders delay the attackers outside of the valley proper, was fraught with its own problems. The defenders would certainly be killed and there was no guarantee that they could succeed in delaying the attackers. There were no good options.

"What if we did some of the defending?"

Whitehorn stated at Ignis with a bemused expression. "You? The hidden runners? What good could all of you do?"

Ignis made a wide gesture with her arms. "Well... we can't fight fastbiters claw to claw, but we could distract them! We are called hidden runners for a reason after all. If we come from the shadows and begin to claw them then that should disrupt them."

Viscond nodded his head in agreement. "That is a fine idea, Ignis! We can really be a thorn in their sides if we used the orange death in order to give our attacks a bit of extra sting."

The fast runners and Whitehorn both looked perplexed at the mention of 'orange death'.

"The orange death?" Whitehorn finally asked.

Viscond smirked. "You know the little plant that has bulbs on it but no blooms? The one with orange, stinky sap?"

Whitehorn thought for a moment. "Yeah... There is some by the Thundering Falls. Why does that have to do with this?"

Viscond smiled. "It has everything to do with it. The sap is poisonous. Even a small nick can cause severe pain. To say nothing of actually eating the plant..."

Whitehorn stared at the hidden runners with a mix of interest and concern. This little exchange confirmed that the hidden runners were both more dangerous and useful than he had first supposed. However, it was time to get back to the reason he had tracked down the hidden runners in the first place.

"Well then you all can brief the valley on your idea. The meeting has been assembled."

......

"I didn't like how the threehorns talked to my daddy. They were mean!"

Orchid's protest was delivered with great contempt as the small fast runner remembered how every aspect of their plan was scrutinized by the various threehorns. The two longnecks had been more accepting, but it nonetheless was a very contentious gathering. Orchid and Arial, having no prior experience with the valley's decision making, had no idea what to make of their parents' less than welcoming questioning by the valley. Shorty, however, was there to clue them in on what actually happened.

"Don't worry, guys... the threehorns are always like that." Shorty had a mocking smirk on his face as he recalled his few interactions with Cera back when he visited the valley from time to time. "They never want to admit that they are wrong... but they aren't all bad."

This simply earned an irritated "hmph!" from the fast runner. He was not one to get irate at things, but he was not impressed with how the adults had treated his family. Unlike the children of the valley, the adults had been standoffish and paranoid. A far cry from the welcoming valley that they had been promised. But then again... they had only seen the beginning of the meeting before Mama Swimmer had found them spying on the proceedings and hurriedly escorted them back to the other children. As a result they were unaware of what was currently occurring...

......

"So it is agreed then?" Grandpa Longneck inquired. It seemed that the adults had come to a consensus on the matter at hand. "The hidden runners will help distract the attackers if they enter the Hidden Canyon and the fast runners will help protect our children?"

Murmurs of agreement emanated from the crowd and no voices of dissent were raised. This was not exactly an enthusiastic response, but it was as positive as could be hoped at the moment. The valley would not turn away its newly found help. Not even if that help came from dinosaurs who were usually adversaries.

"Good. Then it is agreed." Whitehorn affirmed.

The crowd of adults began to shift uncomfortably as a period of uncertainty now descended upon them. Was the meeting now over or was there more to discuss? No member of the valley wanted to be seen as leaving prematurely, lest they be considered disrespectful of the valley's decisions. As a result, one of the respected elders would usually give the signal that the meeting was over in order to prevent an awkward ending to the meeting. Seeing that the meeting had reached that stage, both Whitehorn and Grandpa Longneck opened their mouths in order to proclaim the meeting over.

But Grandma Longneck spoke first.

"There was one thing that I wanted to talk to Ruby's parents about... but it can wait until after the meeting. I take it that the meeting is over now?"

At the nod of her mate and the somewhat flustered threehorn, the meeting adjourned with each of the parents returning to gather their children from Tria's watch and everyone else returning to their grazing areas. The hidden runners, for their part, began to head back to the Hidden Canyon in order to plan their strategy and to catch some small prey. Unlike Chomper during his time in the valley, they were a bit more aware of how predation of even non-dinosaurs could be perceived in the valley. As the meeting area swiftly cleared there were soon only four occupants in the meeting circle: the two longnecks and Ruby's parents. Feeling a bit awkward, Detras decided to start the conversation even though he had no idea what the longnecks wished to discuss.

"You wanted to talk to us, Mrs. Longneck?"

Grandma did not answer right away but instead signaled with her neck for them to follow her. In response, two confused fast runners and an uncertain Grandpa Longneck followed beside her. As they began to walk away from the meeting circle she then spoke again.

"Have either of you seen where Ruby used to live in the valley?"

She noticed that her mate took on a more understanding expression when she had spoken these words. Their eyes met for a moment as if a nonverbal conversation was happing between the two. But it was a conversation to which the fast runners were not privy. As a result when Pearl spoke she had a perplexed tone to her voice.

"No... did she not live out in the open with the rest of the residents?"

Grandma Longneck frowned at this and simply shook her head. Her response was almost apologetic as she gestured with her neck.

"Do you see those caves over there?"

Detras and Pearl both looked up at the two nondescript holes in the rock wall.

"Um... Yeah?" Detras confirmed.

Grandma Longneck nodded. "Those are a few of the entrances to the Secret Caverns, which you have been exploring in order to help hide the children... Ruby and Chomper lived in one of those caves."

Detras sighed at this. "The valley wanted to keep the meat-eaters separate from the leaf-eaters." His voice showed no contempt or accusation, it was simply expository. "An understandable compromise."

Grandpa Longneck now spoke for the first time. "It does not upset you that we put them aside when they lived here? That they were kept apart?"

Pearl smiled at that. "No... I must admit that I was surprised that the valley took them in at all." The two fast runners looked at one another for a moment. "I was not as optimistic as my mate."

Detras responded with a sigh. "I had my doubts as well and for a time I thought that we might be forced to raise Chomper by Hanging Rock, but I figured that we had to try. We had to build up good will so that the Great Valley and the..."

"...Mysterious Beyond would unite against their common enemy, Red Claw. It would be our only hope for a grand future away from the tyrannical fiend." Grandpa Longneck smiled as Detras looked at him with surprise. "Your daughter was quite steadfast on that point. It was because of her that the valley was convinced to let them stay. In the process we heard that speech several times."

Detras sputtered. "Ruby remembered all of that? I... just expected her to give you the gist of that message..."

Grandma Longneck laughed. "Well... she did repeat herself a bit in that odd way that she does. But she certainly got the point across."

Detras had to laugh a little at the mention of his daughter's vocal tick, whereas Pearl simply gave a slightly amused sigh. Pearl had tried so hard to break Ruby of that particular speech problem. It was at that time, however, that Grandma Longneck asked a question that neither fast runner was expecting.

"I take it that you met our grandson?"

Pearl nodded and started to answer before Detras could speak. "I had a discussion with him actually. He seemed like such a sweet kid, though he was struggling to learn how to live as a sharptooth."

"He spoke to you soon after the change?" Grandpa Longneck inquired.

Pearl nodded. "They came to us right after..." She hesitated there, not wanting to cause the longnecks pain by mentioning how the children were chased out of the valley by their own parents and caregivers. "...they had to leave. They were quite upset and exhausted. Littlefoot was especially upset about his first hunt."

Grandma Longneck closed her eyes as she nodded her head. "He told us that he killed Rhett. When Ali's mother mentioned that in the Haven Valley, the kids had to leave because the residents got too unruly."

Detras tilted his head curiously. "Who is Ali?"

"The best friend of the longneck he killed." Grandma answered grimly. "She was also one of Littlefoot's best friends before..."

The dinosaurs all became silent at that news. It was no wonder why Littlefoot was so devastated. Not only had he killed one of his friends in order to satisfy the pack's hunger, but he had also killed the best friend of one of his closest companions. How else would someone react after that? It was only several moments later when Grandma spoke that the silence was broken.

"They reconciled before she finally left the valley. Littlefoot did not tell me, but I saw them talk without malice." She sighed. "I guess that is the best that could have been hoped for."

Grandpa echoed that sentiment. "We had hoped that Littlefoot and Ali could have kept the herd going, but I guess that is up to Bron now. Littlefoot is no longer a longneck and, in any case, he has his eyes on someone else."

Grandma chided him slightly as she gave him a wink for leading the conversation in the desired direction. "Now dear, we can't assume too much... He and Ruby are just good friends for now...."

As intended, this caused the two fast runners to look at one another with surprised expressions as they contemplated this new information.

Grandpa Longneck continued with the conversation. "...But you know how things could develop in the future."

Detras placed a hand on his head as he shook his head. "Alright. You two can knock it off."

The Grandparents looked at him with confused expressions as he turned to look at them with a knowing smirk.

"The entire purpose of this conversation was simply to mention that."

Despite the deadpan manner in which he spoke, Pearl was worried that her mate might begin to act a bit aggressive. He was quite protective of his daughter.

"Dear..."

Detras waved her off and gave her a gentle smile. The message being clear: I am just messing with them in the same way that they messed with us. As he did this, however, Grandpa Longneck spoke again.

"True. That has been on our mind and we didn't know how to break the news. But we also wanted to make sure that there were no hard feelings over how Ruby was treated... We feared..."

Detras shook his head. "You worry too much, longneck. Ruby did not have a unkind word about the valley. Well.. except for chasing her out of it, but you had no idea that was her at the time." He then looked up at the two longnecks with a contemplative expression. "We have talked to Petrie from time to time and he has told us about how Ruby and her friends were doing. But we haven't actually seen her in over two seasons. I wonder how much she has changed."

Grandma Longneck spoke gently to the concerned father. "She seemed very confident and strong when we last saw her. Had they not talked to us and explained themselves you would believe that they were all normal sharpteeth. We owe the well-being of the valley's children to them."

Pearl looked down. "It sounds like that our girl has grown up so much. I can't wait to see her again. I just hate that it has to be under these circumstances."

Detras embraced his mate as he spoke a few words of comfort. "I am sure that we will get through this fine, dear. We have plenty of help on our side."

The two massive longnecks looked at the touching display with kind eyes. As they watched the fast runners, however, another sight became visible in the not-so distant foliage. A very noticeable pink tail and a purple crest was visible behind some bushes. There was no doubt who these troublemakers were. With a laugh, Grandma Longneck informed Detras and Pearl about the whereabouts of their adventurous children.

"You know, dear. It wasn't until recently that I began to see bushes with pink and purple feathers appear around the valley."

Pearl immediately caught the innuendo in the longneck's words and looked towards the bushes. "Arial! Orchid! What have I told you about staying with Shorty?!"

Both fast runners emerged through the bushes with chastised expressions. Both of them looked at one another with knowing looks, but said nothing.

Detras placed both of his arms on his hips. "Well... What do the two of you have to say for yourselves?"

"It was his idea!" Arial sputtered out as Orchid looked at her with disbelief.

"You were the one who called me a scaredy-egg for not doing it!" Orchid retorted.

Arial placed a clawed finger on his chest. "If it wasn't for your bright feathers then the mountain wouldn't have found us in the first place!"

Both longnecks rolled their eyes at again being referred to as 'mountains' by the younglings. They had to admit that was a new nickname that they had never experienced before.

"Well regardless of how the mountain caught you..." Detras spoke with sarcasm as he chastised his disobedient children. "...you were supposed to stay with Shorty. I am sure that he is beside himself with worry."

Both fast runners looked down in shame. Like most children their misdeeds were not committed out of malice. No, their misdeed was committed out of not considering the consequences of their actions. Finally Arial spoke with an apologetic voice.

"We didn't mean to make Shorty upset."

Detras nodded his head at his two children. "Well then... I guess that you two should go apologize to him."

Loath as they were to interfere with a disciplinary issue, Grandpa Longneck felt compelled to speak. "I guess that we could lead you to Shorty. We are overdue to talk with our adopted grandson anyway."

Pearl smiled. "Thank you, longnecks. I guess that we can talk about Ruby and Littlefoot's friendship when they both arrive at the valley. I had expected her to settle down and find a good fast runner, but that was before the change... I guess that our first grandchildren will be little fastbiters..."

Detras paled. "Now, dear... we have a long while before we have to worry about that. Or at least we had better be! Ruby is far too young to be thinking about that!"

Arial asked the obvious question. "Thinking about what, daddy?"

Pearl interrupted. "About adult things, dear. Don't worry about it."

"Aw, mom..." Arial protested. "Why does Ruby get to do adult things?"

The longnecks tried to hide their laughter as Detras took on a concerned expression. "She doesn't get to do adult things. Well... not those adult things..." He sighed. "Dear? Some help here?"

Pearl gave him a kind smile. Her mate was good at many things, but when it came to explaining things to the children he was often out of his league. "What your daddy means is Ruby is growing up and..."

Caw!

Pearl looked around in confusion. "What was that?" For their part, the two children clung to their mother's legs in a defensive gesture as they had been trained to do in the event of an unexpected sound.

Caw!

Both longnecks looked at one another with concerned expressions. That call could only mean one thing.

"That..." Grandpa spoke with concern. "...was two alert calls! The flyers have found sharpteeth! Two sharpteeth are heading towards the valley!"

......

The Shadow Bluffs:

Pterano shifted uneasily from the perch he had taken for himself. Even if it wasn't for his important mission he would have still been a nervous wreck in this very moment. Carrion flyers covered every bluff, each of them being sated upon the numerous corpses that lay below them. Carrion flyers were not normally hostile to other flyers, especially not when they were full and a plentiful source of food was nearby. However, he could not disregard the instinct in his mind that reminded him that these were meat-eaters. Unlike his nephew he had no reason to believe in their good intentions.

Then there was the sights and smells that lay below him...

The bloated and half-putrefied bodies of several dozen longnecks greeted the open air. It was obvious where many of them had been feasted upon with ferocious hunger. Little remained of their faces as now only the bloodied skulls remained for the most part, but the positioning of their skulls and eye sockets left a nightmarish image. It was as if they had died looking into the heavens for a miracle that never came. Four small longneck skulls completed the horrific picture. They had been dragged away from what must have remained of their owners' other bones. Pterano was glad that little else remained. He couldn't stand to see children hurt in any way, even if the children in question had already met the end of their earthly suffering.

"That herd was incredibly stupid coming up this way! There is no food up here!" He shook his head. "I wonder what they were looking for? A nice barren place in which to die in?"

Pterano tried to hide his disgust as one of the carrion flyers mocked the dead with his callous wit. Another carrion flyer soon responded to his comrade's tirade with a callous joke.

"Well there wasn't food then, but there is now!"

Another carrion flyer, obviously an older individual, then joined the conversation.

"I remember this herd, young ones... It used to be led by an older longneck. She didn't lose many members but the herd provided some of us carrion flyers with plenty of food."

This caused the carrion flyer that told the joke to become a bit confused. He asked his question in the undignified manner in which one would expect to be greeted by ones of their kind.

"Hey old-timer! If none of the idiots died before then how could the herd provide anyone with food?"

The older carrion flyer smacked the jocular one with his wing, which caused a muffled protest. Now looking sternly at the two other carrion flyers the elder spoke again.

"As I was saying... The herd would often best a desperate sharpteeth and that sharptooth corpse could provide a wandering scoundrel like me with food for several days. I suppose we won't see any more of that now... Enjoy the feast while it lasts."

Another carrion flyer spoke up at that note. "Yeah... I suppose that we all will need to move on in a few days. Some of us have already left."

Pterano had to avoid retching at the both the callousness of the flyers and the smells coming from the disemboweled sauropods that lay on the ground below the bluffs. Even with the reduced sense of smell that was a trait of the flyers, the stench was overwhelming.

"Should we get started, Pterano? They obviously don't have a leader to talk to... I guess that we just talk to the group then?"

Pterano looked at his young protégée. Nunti's questions matched his own view of the situation. The carrion flyers obviously lacked anything in the way of social graces or complex leadership structures. Besides the banter between friends and family members they had heard no conversations of interest. They would have to convince the flyers to join with them, but they would have nothing in the way of leverage of which to convince them...

How am I suppose to even start this? Pterano thought to himself. Besides a few grumblings and a carrion flyer telling be to 'buzz off' they have taken no interest in us.

Pterano sighed. He would simply have to use his skill at oratory in order to gain a following. Considering that carrion flyers apparently only cared about food and their well-being there was only one way to begin his speech.

"Greetings, flyers! I am Pterano and I come with a proposition for all of you."

An immediate heckler arose in the crowd. Pterano recognized him as the flyer who mocked the dead longnecks earlier. "Are you offering to be food later? Because right now that is the only proposition that would interest me."

Laughter erupted from the various gatherings on the nearby bluffs. Pterano knew that he would have to redirect the conversation if he was going to hold their attention.

"I am not offering to be food... but my proposition does entail food for anyone who comes with me."

The heckler then turned his head back towards the flyer. "Alright, sapsucker, you suddenly have my attention. Where is this food that you speak of."

Pterano gave a disinterested wave of his wing. He had to act disinterested about the valley otherwise the carrion flyers might balk at his proposal. He spoke with a cautious tone.

"The food will be in the Great Valley. It seems that Red Claw plans on attacking there."

"Oh?" Another carrion flyer questioned suspiciously. "And how do you know this?"

Pterano looked at the flyer who had spoken with a disbelieving expression, as if he couldn't believe the stupidity of the question. Question the intelligence of a question and your opponent won't dwell on the question. Pterano noted. Even if the question was entirely valid. He spoke with a disbelieving tone.

"Are you telling me that you have not seen Red Claw's pack or heard about the size of his forces? I overheard a sharptooth flyer trying to recruit another into Red Claw's pack... The recruit refused and paid the price."

The speaker of the question looked miffed at having been humiliated, but as Pterano had suspected the flyer changed the topic of his next question.

"This flyer knew leaf-eater?"

Pterano nodded. "Yes, I actually knew the lad... I chased him off one day and was surprised to hear him mock me in my own language... I suppose that is why Red Claw wanted him in his pack. If you can understand what the food is saying then you anticipate what they are going to do..."

The story was a complete fabrication, of course, but Pterano hoped that it would do the trick. The story itself was not extraordinary. Pterano was waiting for the flyer to come back with another question meant to weaken Pterano's reliability when another voice called out from the crowd.

"Who cares about the twit who was killed? What about the food?!"

Pterano cleared his throat. The carrion flyer had just given him another opening. "Yes... As I was saying, Red Claw plans to attack the valley and from my sources... I trust that he will attack in the coming days."

"Your sources?" A questioning voice called out from the distance.

"Other flyers... reliable sources." Pterano lied easily. "They have seen Red Claw's pack and have alerted me of this development."

The flyer who had been mocking him previously again entered the fray with a smirk and skeptical eyes. "And do tell us, sapsucker... Why are you telling us this? Why have you flown all this way just to let us know that many of your fellow sapsuckers are going to be killed? Why do you see fit to lead us to a feast?" The carrion flyer approached Pterano ominously. "Do you expect us to save your precious valley?" The sneer could not only be seen on his face but also could be heard in his voice.

Time seem to freeze in that moment. Pterano now realized that his original intention of telling the carrion flyers that Red Claw was a threat to them all would not work here. He was dealing with flyers who had few scruples and were fixated on getting their next meal with minimal risk. He had dealt with such characters before when he gained the companionship of Rinkus and Sierra. There was only a few ways to deal with such characters. You could either appeal to their wants, which Pterano had already done, or you could hide your own intentions to get the fiends to do what you want without them knowing about it...

That's it! Pterano exclaimed internally. I know how to hide my intentions!

Pterano took on a conspiratorial look. He could play the villain if that is what the act required. "Alright, flyer. You caught me!"

The other flyer took on a satisfied grin as Pterano continued his routine.

"My intentions are not entirely noble. In fact they are not noble at all..." He scanned the faces of the assembled flyers as they began to take interest in his words. As if the hint of a scheme suddenly indicated that the stranger might have something interesting to offer the group. "You see... I don't want to actually help the valley... I was just going to tell you that to convince you of my intentions... But since we are amongst like-minded fiends here... I want you all to help me get revenge."

"Revenge?!" The carrion flyer asked. "Why would we help you get revenge?"

"For one thing..." Pterano answered. "You will get food from the certain casualties from the battle... But more importantly you will help me get revenge on our common enemy."

"Common enemy?" Another voice called out, which caused Pterano to smile as he stole a trick from Petrie's repertoire.

"Oh yes... Have you ever considered what happened to the carrion flyers who you have lost this year?"

Pterano took on a serious expression as he paced on his perch. It was not an unreasonable assumption that a few flyers would go missing each year from disease, predation, or general misfortune. The fact that the others began to look around themselves confirmed that he had struck a nerve, however. No one liked to believe that their parents, children, or friends had died due to their own misfortune. No... It was far easier to blame one person for all of that trouble... Pterano knew that all too well from his own history of being a scapegoat of sorts to the valley. Now he would use his own history to play the carrion flyers masterfully...

"Red Claw's flyers killed them. He kills those who refuse to join or that steal their kills... After the valley is gone do you think that his emboldened flyers will leave you all alone?"

Silence reigned as the carrion flyers took in this information. Several of them looked ready to join the crusade, whereas those who probably did not have any companions didn't seem to care. So now was the time to finish his sales pitch.

"I know that many of you probably don't want to fight to save a bunch of ground-dwellers... I don't either... But if Red Claw's flyers remain then they will be a thorn in our sides for ages to come." Pterano made an offering gesture with his wings. "I only ask that you help me kill those insufferable sharptooth flyers... That way I will have my revenge on those two who have wronged me and all of you will have rid yourselves of a threat to your livelihood."

The silence persisted for several moments and Pterano was beginning to doubt whether he had made enough of an impact. But then the words of the questioning carrion flyer confirmed his success.

"So all you want is revenge in return? An odd request. Those flyers must have messed you up bad in order to make a sapsucker become a vengeance seeker."

Pterano turned away. In front of him he could see the form of Nunti who had a subdued smirk on his face. His younger counterpart obviously approved of Pterano's act of manipulation. They both now saw the utility of Petrie's exaltation to do whatever was necessary for the greater good, no matter how distasteful that might be. With that in mind, Pterano finally addressed the flyer.

"You have no idea... Death is too good for them..." He then turned around with a steely look in his face. "So what is it going to be? Who else is ready to draw blood against our enemies?! Who is ready to maim those who have maimed us?! Who is ready to shame those who have betrayed us?!" He then flapped both of his wings to the ground in a show of aggression. "Who is ready for blood?!"

As the sickening howls of the carrion flyers emanated from the group, Pterano knew that he had made his sale. That was the call that carrion flyers made only when a carcass was within sight. They obviously knew where their enemies were and were prepared to render horrible vengeance upon those who they believed were a threat to their endeavors.

As Pterano turned away once more from the carrion flyers and prepared for the journey back to the valley, he spoke softly to himself. With his eyes clenched shut and uttering words that only himself and those fallen dinosaurs whom he had let down so long before needed to hear.

"I failed to keep you all safe... I watched as the sharpteeth ripped you apart... I watched as my failure was clear to see... but I promise you this: I will not fail your descendants. I will keep them all safe."

He opened his eyes as Nunti looked at him from the distance with a concerned expression.

"...or at the very least I will die trying."


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