The Seven Hunters

Chapter 6 The Nightmare Becomes Reality

“But what if the monsters come?"

"Fancy." Kit looked away from the drama to stare at her sister, surprised. "We are the monsters.”

― Dia Reeves, Slice of Cherry

The darkness of the night was permeated by the light of the night circle. Its reflected light exposed an alien landscape unlike anything found in the Great Valley. A flat expanse of scorched land lay in all directions, the only discernible landmarks being the cracks in the parched ground. The desert was utterly barren and without vegetation of any kind.

None of that mattered to the young hadrosaur, however, as she had a far more pressing matter to contend with.

Roar!

"Ahhh!!!" Ducky screamed as she leaped to the right to dodge an attack by the advancing fastbiter.

Thud!

The fastbiter missed her mark, as her sickle claws instead ripped the dry ground. She immediately regained her bearings, however, and resumed the chase of the youngling.

The young hadrosaur had not slowed down and continued to run into the barren expanse. She had no idea where to go. She simply knew that she had to gain some ground on the fastbiter or she would never find her loved ones again.

"How did I get here?" thought Ducky, "I was asleep and now I am in... this place. I hope mama and Spike are okay."

She didn't have much time to consider these thoughts as she could begin to hear the panting of the fastbiter behind her. "Oh, no, no, no! She is catching up to me!" The distraught swimmer thought.

But then she saw them, multitudes of rocks dotted the landscape to her right. Perhaps she could trick the fastbiter and make her escape? She certainly had no chance in outrunning her pursuer.

The hadrosaur ran through the underbrush, zigzagging around rocks trying to get away from the advancing sharptooth. Despite her efforts, the Utahraptor was rapidly gaining on its prey. The small size of the youngling sharptooth helping her match the maneuverability of the leaf-eater. Eager, malicious eyes followed the quarry as the predator readied to deliver a killing strike.

"I am not going to make it," Ducky thought.

At that moment the sharptooth lunged at the young swimmer but missed as Ducky darted to the side at the last possible moment. The sharptooth instead caught a nearby rock, sending pieces of rock everywhere in the vicinity.

Ducky heard a roar of pain and, in a brief glance behind her, saw that the sharptooth was clutching at her nostrils, which had been sliced open by the sharp edge of the rock. Not wasting her fortuitous escape, Ducky continued to run as fast as her legs could carry her towards a nearby crevice in the desert floor. Perhaps she could find shelter there? The sharptooth would not be distracted for long. It was her only hope.

She advanced to the crevice in the desert floor and, taking a brief look at the direction where the sharptooth had been, realized that she had eluded the predator for now. The opening of the crevice was barely wide enough for the young swimmer and thus, Ducky realized, should protect her from the sharptooth. Catching her breath and no longer in imminent mortal danger, she began to think about the situation.

"How did I get into this strange place? Where are my friends? Where is Spike? I hope that they are alright."

Obviously not wanting to forsake her new found shelter and unable to help her friends in her current predicament, Ducky began to walk in the mysterious cave system that she found herself in.

She advanced for several minutes into the dark cave. It was a rather difficult trek, with large pitfalls and dark chasms marring its picturesque interior. But Ducky decided that she had to put some distance between herself and the predator. If she was wrong about the crevice being too small, or if the predator found another way in, well... The consequences were too terrible for her to contemplate.


Eventually, the cave began to open up into a larger space and the scene that greeted Ducky filled her with awe.

There was a very large chamber with a large red stone in the center that emitted crimson light that permeated throughout the chamber. At the sides of the chamber, there were seven openings in the walls, but six of the side openings were obstructed with large boulders. Based upon the state of the boulders, the rockslides that had blocked the paths must have happened very recently. She looked at the ground around the six blocked openings and gawked at what she saw. footprints! There were the tell-tale footprints of a longneck, a threehorn, a spiketail, a fast runner, and several others... It could only be the gang!

Ducky ran to the boulders blocking the opening that had spiketail prints and yelled as loud as she could. Hoping beyond all hope that she could get some indication that her beloved brother was safe and well. After several moments, however, she realized that she would get no response.

"He must have went through before the boulders fell and is on the other side, unless..." No. She would not consider the other possibility. She would try to alert the others and see if they were on the other side of the other openings. Perhaps they could figure out a way out of their predicament.

She tried yelling beside several of the other openings. She did this for several minutes until her throat was sore and her lungs burned from the exertion. Nothing. No response at all. That left just one more opening. Ducky's mind was racing. Perhaps all of the paths led to the same place? Perhaps she could find the others if she went through the remaining path?

Crack!

She turned to see what had made that sound to find that the boulders that had been blocking the paths had suddenly moved out of the way. A sharptooth flyer and four fastbiters were now in their place as well as a familiar sight...

"Ch... Chomper? Thank goodness you are okay!" Ducky said to the young sharptooth.

Chomper did not respond instead he made a few unintelligible gestures with his forelimbs to the other sharpteeth; and they began to follow close behind him. He had a grim expression on his face, and his eyes had the gleam of focused determination. He soon took on a stalking motion, with his head focused forward and his small forelimbs at the ready for an imminent attack. What had happened? Was this the same sharptooth that she considered a friend?

"Chomper? Ch... Chomper?! It is Ducky, remember? ...Chomper?" Ducky tried without success. The sharpteeth were still advancing on her, with her demise obviously in their intent. Apparently her old friend was no more.

Choking back a sob, and ignoring the stinging sensation in her eyes, she realized that she had only one remaining chance. She had to take the remaining pathway; perhaps she could lose her pursuers there?

She ran through the remaining opening and noticed that she was running through someone else's footprints... A swimmer's footprints! Perhaps she could get the swimmer's attention and get some help?

She ran as hard as her legs would carry her. Exhaustion, fatigue, and the painfully sore legs that she gained when running from the fastbiter being ignored through force of will alone. She had to find the other swimmer. She had to get help for her friends.

The swimmer's footprints became clearer and clearer as she advanced through the cave. Almost there, she thought. She saw a light up ahead, indicating a chamber with an opening to the outside. She yelled as loud as she could, hoping to get the attention of the stranger. But as she barreled into chamber she caught sight of a scene that made her blood run cold.

Blood. Blood was everywhere.

A rather young swimmer lay on the floor of the cave. Her throat was ripped from ear to ear. Her face permanently contorted with a visage of unspeakable pain. Eyes glazed over and seeing nothing. The swimmer had met a violent and sudden end. There was something familiar about this swimmer, but she couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Ducky had no other place in which she could go. The path behind her simply led to the rapidly advancing sharpteeth who wanted her blood. She could only venture straight ahead, regardless of her uncertainty and fear. As she advanced her feet began to be covered in the swimmer's still warm blood. Her disgust building beyond words, Ducky repressed the strong urge to vomit. Was this the fate that she had barely avoided? She was almost to the point of despair. Did her friends escape this cave? Would she?

She made her way past the grisly scene and found no escape at the other end. A large pool of water lay on the other side of the chamber, with the only opening being straight above, letting sunlight permeate the scene. There was no way out. Only a flyer could possibly find her now. She was trapped and alone.

She then heard the rustling of feet and saw the sharpteeth enter into the same chamber that she found herself in. She sobbed and thought mournfully, "I hope they make it quick. I do, I do. I'm so sorry Spike!" She then closed her eyes and awaited the end.

Several moments passed and nothing happened.

Confused, the young swimmer opened her eyes and looked behind her.

The six sharpteeth now surrounded her from the back. There were four fastbiters of several different colorations: yellow, green, light brown, and a dark pink. The four fastbiters took up positions on either side of Chomper, with the sharptooth flyer taking up residence on the head of the brown fastbiter. They all had apprehensive looks on their faces, which actually unnerved Ducky more than a malicious face would have. She had made peace with dying a few moments before, but what did the sharpteeth have in mind now?

Ducky decided to try to speak to Chomper again. After all, he was her friend, wasn't he?

"Chomper, it is Ducky, it is, it is! What is going on?"

Chomper did not speak. Instead, he simply took his right forelimb and pointed forward. Ducky looked in that direction and again noticed the pool of water. She was confused.

"You want me to go to the water?" Ducky inquired.

Chomper simply nodded, and the swimmer turned around. She had no idea what the sharptooth had in mind. Did Chomper simply want to show her something? If so, then why did he not speak to her, and why did he use these sharpteeth to chase her? Perhaps he wanted to kill her when she was least expecting it, perhaps to make it a more merciful kill? She didn't know what to expect anymore and simply was resigned to whatever fate threw at her at this point.

Advancing slowly, Ducky made her way towards the water. She moved up until her feet were at the water's edge and looked down.

Ducky gasped at what she saw.

Where her reflection should have been there instead was the reflection of a green fastbiter!

Ducky awoke screaming.

......

Littlefoot awoke with a gasp.

He looked around. He could see trees, the water from a nearby pond, and grass waving in the wind. He was still in the Great Valley.

It was just a dream, Littlefoot thought with a relieved sigh.

He had just had the most disturbing dream. He was fleeing from a fastbiter in a desert of some kind, quite possibly the same desert from his dream a night ago. He had escaped through a cave system only to find that Chomper and a gang of sharpteeth wanted him dead. He went through an open path only to again discover his corpse. As he crashed into the water in order to escape Chomper and his other pursuers, he noticed that a fastbiter stared back at him where his reflection should have been.

I thought that I had gotten over that, Littlefoot thought to himself. He had made peace with Chomper's fate so why was he still tormented with visions of a horrific future? I guess that I should talk to Chomper about this.

He then noticed something. He was many paces away from his normal nesting site. In fact, he was a good five minutes' walk from his grandparents. Did I sleepwalk? he asked himself. He had never walked in his sleep before, and the only people that he knew who sleepwalked were Guido and one of Ducky's aunts. I guess I'm lucky that I didn't crash into anything! he thought with some concern.

Yawning, Littlefoot decided that he needed to get back to the nest. He could tell his grandparents about the new development tomorrow. Right now, he needed to get some sleep.

With that in mind, he turned around and took a step towards his grandparents' nest.

...And promptly fell on his face.

"Ugh!" Littlefoot uttered in a pained grunt. What had just happened?

The little dinosaur then placed his hind limbs back on the ground before attempting to do the same with his forelimbs. He noticed that he was now angled at a much more forward stance than what he was used to. He lost his footing again, but was able to use his forelimbs to break his fall this time. He had no idea what was wrong. His hind limbs seemed sturdy and strong, but his clawed forelimbs no longer seemed to be doing the job.

His mind reeled at what it had just processed.

His clawed forelimbs?

Littlefoot then sat upon his haunches and looked upon his two forelimbs. An alien body part greeted his gaze. Before he had gone to sleep that night, all four of his limbs had the same stocky build of his sauropod heritage. Now, however, the curved claws of a theropod dinosaur greeted his eyes. Each of his forelimbs was now of a slender build with distinct reddish-brown feathers emanating from their sides. Just like Ruby, some part of Littlefoot's mind that was somehow not yet stupefied by the night's revelations noted. Each of the forelimbs terminated with a freely movable paw with three distinct digits and an equal number of razor sharp claws.

Littlefoot was dumbstruck with this development and he looked down in confusion. This only worsened his confusion, however, as he noticed his large sickle claws on his powerful hind limbs.

"I'm... I'm a fastbiter! How? Why?" the newly formed fastbiter questioned the night. He was quite overwhelmed with the transformation that he had just undergone, and he had no idea what to do next. He had become his greatest fear in the span of one night. Nothing in his short life could have prepared him for what he now was experiencing.

That was when his new sense of smell hit him.

Instantly the former sauropod was assaulted by a sensory experience that was unimaginable to any leaf-eater. His miniscule sense of smell had just been supplanted by the olfaction of one of the world's greatest predators, and the transition was jarring. Littlefoot could now smell hundreds of plants at once, whereas before he could only smell three or four. He could now smell all of the other dinosaurs that were within a kilometer upwind of him, whereas before he could only smell others when they were immediately in front of him. He not only could smell them by species, but he could also detect their sex, emotions, health, and other attributes just by smell alone, or rather, he could have done so if he would have been trained. For now, however, he was being assaulted with a perspective of the world that was utterly unknown to him.

From his new body everything smelled and felt different. It reminded him of when he was a new hatchling and the whole world was new to him, everything being unknown and exciting. The valley itself was now an alien place. New scents bombarded his mind without mercy as he held his snout and went into a fetal position. Then his own scent hit him, not overwhelming or incomprehensible, just there. He recoiled, shaking his head in an attempt to escape the intrusive scent. Unfortunately, it was now a part of him; it would go wherever he went. It was now as inescapable as his new body.

Littlefoot then clutched his head and groaned in pain. The transition was simply too much for him. Neither his mind nor his new body was prepared for the changes that had befallen him. It was inevitable that something would have to give.

For the second time that night, Littlefoot blacked out.

......

Ducky reopened her eyes and took in a shuddering breath.

She had just awakened from a horrific dream when she was overwhelmed by smells. It was an utterly unknown experience to the young dinosaur. It was as if the smells were bashing her head with the force of a hundred boulders. Eventually, however, the scents became more bearable, though no less alien, and she was able to recover.

I do not want to go through that again! Oh, no, no, no, Ducky thought with much apprehension, It hurt-ted and scared me! It did, it did!

She then shook her head, blinked, and decided to look at the land around her.

She was nowhere near the nest, her panicked mind noted, but rather she was closer to where the threehorns slept. I have never sleepwalked before. Oh, no, no, no. Ducky thought. It must have been such a bad dream that I ran in my sleep.

She then looked behind her and saw a sight that made her freeze.

It was a fastbiter!

Ducky observed that it appeared to be the same green fastbiter that had chased her in her dream. It appeared to be sound asleep, as its snores permeated throughout the valley. It also appeared to be rather plump, which meant that it ate well. She did not want to dwell on that last observation. Ducky suppressed a scream; she had to escape and warn the others.

She took a step in order to begin a brisk jog back towards the nest, but she did not get very far. The young dinosaur almost immediately tripped over her own feet and landed with a crash.

She let out a pained groan and decided to take a closer look at what may have tripped her. She looked down towards her feet and observed that the grass looked smaller than what she had remembered. She then looked up towards the forest canopy above and noted that some of the treestars now seemed to be within easy reach, whereas before they were all above her miniscule height. She appeared to be much larger that she had been prior to going to sleep that night. How did this happen? Ducky's mind questioned. She then began to take a closer look at herself.

Claws?

Sickle claws?

That observation hit Ducky like an earthshake. She was obviously now some kind of fastbiter, but how could this be? Dinosaurs simply did not change kinds. Her mind reeled with this new information, and the young fastbiter began to sob pitifully. She was now no longer a leaf-eater, but rather a hunter of leaf-eaters. How could she be expected to adapt to such a life? What would she tell her mama? What would she tell the others? The poor youngling had no idea what to do next.

Ducky then heard a surprised gasp from behind her which was immediately followed by a loud thud.

She turned and saw that the other fastbiter was attempting to flee, apparently, but was unsure on his two legs. Maybe because he has never had to walk on two legs before, a part of Ducky's mind deduced. Ducky began to sob a bit harder, as she now realized who this other fastbiter was. Poor Spike must have shared her fate.

Ducky then steeled herself for a moment. She would not be able to calm Spike unless she maintained some control over herself. She then began to advance in the green fastbiter's direction.

Are all of the others like me now? Ducky's mind inquired.

As the other fastbiter watched her approach, he attempted to run off again only to fall once more.

Ducky sighed deeply. "Spike," she began, "It's me... Ducky." Spike looked at her with a confused expression, but then he noticed his change in form. He then looked at her with a pitiful expression.

"We... We will get through this together. Yep, yep, yep!" Ducky responded tearfully. Trying, but failing, to use her cheerfulness to power through the dread and growing despair.

At least knowing that they had one another, the two siblings embraced and began to weep.

......

Claws. Sickle claws. Sharp teeth.

A yellow fastbiter with orange crest feathers was looking into a gently-flowing stream, glaring at her own reflection as if she were about to murder it.

Claws. Sickle claws. Sharp teeth.

Cera had stared down at the stream and observed her reflection for quite some time. If anyone would have asked her how long she had been doing this, she would not have been able to give an answer. It could have been several moments or an eternity as far as the former threehorn could tell. All that she knew in that moment was that her old life was over.

This made her feel a confusing tangle of emotions. Rage was the one that she was most familiar with from previous experience. She felt rage at whatever had made her forsake her previous happiness for a life of a predator. Despair was another she had experienced in the past, although she did not generally let others know of the fact. She felt despair for herself and for her loved ones. More than anything, however, she felt great apprehension and confusion. What would her daddy say? What would her mother have said? Would she have to begin killing just like those sharpteeth who killed her mother so long ago?

These conflicting emotions had resulted in a growing numbness in the young fastbiter. She could not tell whether that was from her current predicament or a defense reaction of her new mind, but this detached feeling was something that was new in her experience. In either event, it allowed her to avoid thoughts about her emotions for a moment and instead allowed her to consider her dilemma.

How could this happen? Cera thought to herself, This is like something out of one of Ruby's scary stories. She frowned to herself. How many sharpteeth had they injured or killed during their adventures? Was this a punishment of sorts? Were they being transformed into sharpteeth in order to restore some kind of balance in the world?

She shook her head. No, it had to be the stone! Yes, they had wished for the power to defeat Red Claw. Perhaps, the stone had interpreted their wish wrong? If that was the case then they all needed to gather at the stone and try the wish again.

Cera grinned in a joyless, yet determined, expression. The others have probably been changed too, she thought, I need to find them so that we can all go back to the stone.

Now with a mission to focus on, Cera was able to put her emotions aside for a moment. She would deal with them later. A threehorn never let feelings get in the way of doing what was necessary... even if the threehorn in question was not actually a threehorn anymore.

She shook her head and began to head in the general direction of Ducky's and Spike's nest. They had to get the wish reversed before morning arrived.

Thud!

Cera groaned. Perhaps I should learn how to walk on two legs first. The fastbiter resolved.

She then continued her journey at a much slower pace, taking great care to remain balanced on her hind limbs.

......

"Ugh!" Littlefoot groaned as he regained consciousness.

He arose slowly and reluctantly opened his eyes. What was that? his mind reeled. He could tell that the onslaught of smells had become more bearable, and he no longer had bursts of pain in his head. It was still overwhelming, and he couldn't make sense out of much of it, but at least he could think again.

He was still disoriented by his change in perspective. The aforementioned sense of smell was far in excess of anything that a leaf-eater could experience. His sense of hearing was also noticeably more acute. He could hear the snores of valley residents from quite a distance away. He also could hear the scurrying of small mammals in the bushes and grass, as they attempted to feed under the cover of darkness. Even his ability to see in the darkness of night was a bit more sensitive. He knew that it was the middle of the night, but he could see features in the distance that he previously could only see during the daytime and twilight. It was both beautiful and disturbing to the former longneck.

However, now that the sensory disorientation and the initial shock of his change were wearing off, his mind was turning to the ramifications of his predicament. He had watched his mother die attempting to protect him and Cera from a sharptooth. He had also experienced the terror of being chased by sharpteeth on multiple occasions during their various adventures into the Mysterious Beyond. He had fought against them all of his life and, with one exception, had thought of them with dread and foreboding. How could he now be one of them?

He looked up at one of the stars in the night sky. What would Mother have said about this? Littlefoot thought despairingly, How am I going to live like this? Surely I couldn't... I wouldn't... He could not even finish that thought. Despite his open-mindedness, there were certain thoughts that were too horrible for him to accept. The idea of him eating other dinosaurs was one of those. The idea of him betraying his friends was the other.

My friends. His mind raced. If it was the stone that did this to him, then some of the others may have been changed as well. I need to get them and make sure that... there are no misunderstandings. If the adults find them before they wake up... Littlefoot shook his head. I will find them and then we will decide what we need to do. Together.

His mind made up, Littlefoot again attempted to walk in his new bipedal stance. He was still very unsteady in his new posture, but he observed that if he went slowly enough he could avoid falling like he did earlier. Just one foot, and then the other. One, then the other... So his thoughts went. He had not had to think about walking since his earliest days as a hatchling, and those memories had almost faded into the ether of the past. To be so helpless in just attempting to take a step was a humbling experience for Littlefoot.

He was distracted, however, by a sudden sound in the trees above. He heard the soft flapping of wings and the movement of a branch somewhere above him.

Littlefoot stopped and went into an alert posture. If this was one of the valley residents then he had no idea how he was going to explain himself. Who would honestly believe that he was Littlefoot and that he just happened to change into a sharptooth during his sleep?

He then took a harder look and observed that the flyer on the branch above was a sharptooth flyer, which appeared to be in a state of shock. This was confirmed when the small flyer then began to speak in an uncertain matter.

"Um... Me... Me Petrie. Which are you?"

......

Cera continued to advance through the foliage of the valley, taking great care not to wake any of its inhabitants. The adults would stomp and ask questions later, Cera thought, Who would believe a fastbiter?

She was still quite far from the nest of the swimmers when she heard what almost sounded like Ducky's voice. It was a bit deeper and almost had a growling quality to it, but it was almost certainly Ducky's voice.

Cera crouched down as low as she could go and peaked behind some bushes.

She could clearly see two fastbiters in a small clearing. One was a bit pudgy and had a rather deep green coloration over much of his body. This made quite a contrast to his bluish-green feathers, which were found on the sides of his limbs and the top of his head. The other fastbiter was light green in coloration and had teal colored feathers on her body. Cera could tell very easily that this fastbiter was Ducky on the basis of her speech.

"That is good, Spike! One foot and then the other. Yep, yep, yep!" Ducky encouraged.

Well, it looks like I was not the only one who had difficulty with walking on two legs, Cera observed, before rising to her full height and emerging from the bushes.

Ducky and Spike both went into an alert stance when the intruder made her appearance. They flared out their crest and forelimb feathers and bared their teeth in what was, unbeknownst to them, an instinctual threat display.

"Easy. It is just me, Cera," Cera replied, and the threat displays were immediately dropped.

"Cera!" Ducky exclaimed. She then rushed at the yellow fastbiter and covered her in a relieved embrace, much to Cera' surprise. "Have you seen the others?"

Cera froze for a moment, still surprised by the hug, but then she shook her head. "No, I was just trying to find you guys. We need to get back to the stone and undo the wish." Cera affirmed. "I am sure this is all that stupid rock's doing!"

"Probably," A voice spoke from the bushes. The bushes were pushed aside and a brown fastbiter and a sharptooth flyer appeared. "We need to get Ruby and Chomper and try to find out what to do now."

"Littlefoot? Petrie?" Cera guessed, to which Littlefoot nodded. It seems we have all have the same colors as before, more or less, Cera thought. "Well, we need to hurry. I don't want my father to find us like this. Do you?" Cera replied.

The others couldn't argue with that logic. Taking great care to avoid falling over in their new bipedal stances, the four fastbiters and the sharptooth flyer began to advance in the direction of the Secret Caverns. All of them hoped that this horrible turn of events could be reversed. But now that the nightmare had become reality, how could anything ever go back to the way things were before?


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