The Seven Hunters

Chapter 70 Battle for the Hidden Canyon

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

"Hold the line!"

Whitehorn looked out at the massive horde in the distance. He had seen battle in his time. He had been there when the herds had found the Great Valley and he had been present in the battles that the threehorns had faced in the journey to their home. But in all of his years he had never seen anything like this. Even with a solid line of nine threehorns making a defensive line, there were at least three times as many fastbiters facing them. Juveniles... adults... every age of predator was present. Even with their reserves guarding the back of their line there was no way that they could hold them all in the event of a full-fledged attack. They had never anticipated something like this.

But it could have been so much worse had Valaria not informed them of what was coming. She had given them just enough time to call their reserves from the interior of the valley. As a result, the longnecks stood in the distance. They were ready to tail swipe any predator who managed to bypass the threehorns.

Growl...

Several of the threehorns edged forward as a pale tan fastbiter threatened the line with a ferocious growl. This earned an immediate response from Topps.

"Hold the line! They want us to overreact! Make them come to us..."

Whitehorn looked towards the battle-tested veteran. He was still acting like he was the leader of the herd despite the fact that he was now but a deputy under Whitehorn's command. Nonetheless Whitehorn did not mind the elder's orders to his comrades. That was part of the reason that Whitehorn had kept him as a deputy in the first place. He needed a stern voice who would do what was necessary without fear of the social consequences. He needed someone with the courage that came from age. Topps was just that individual.

"Right!" Whitehorn affirmed. "Make them come to us! Cover the threehorn next to you! Trust the others to have our backs!"

The herd settled down immediately at this. It was a testament to how much trust the valley residents had in one another that they were willing to trust the others in covering their flanks. This solidarity seemed to disturb the fastbiters.

I don't think that they were expecting our response. Now it is time to take the initiative.

"Everyone, advance in pace with me and then retreat! Let's see if these baby-eaters are stupid enough to get trapped in our wake!"

......

Calin gave a series of two clicks to indicate that his forces should retreat two threehorn lengths behind. He had no idea what these stupid beasts had in mind, but he did know that staying in place was not a wise idea.

Damn horn faces! We need to get to their flanks if we are going to do anything!

The fastbiters retreated with mixed results. Several of the fastbiters in the front of the line were nearly crushed as the threehorns advanced with great speed. A clear testament to the danger of having so many predators in such an enclosed space. The fastbiter's greatest weapon, their speed, could not be realized in such close quarters. Calin considered ordering a more extensive retreat when he saw something that confused him.

They're retreating? But why... He then saw some of the more hot headed members of the pack begin to advance. It was in that instance that he knew what the threehorns were planning.

"No! Wait to advance as a group!"

The three who had advanced began to retreat just in time as the threehorns advanced in a coordinated charge. With Calin giving a claw gesture and one click, the rest of the pack stayed in formation. Shortly thereafter the threehorns stopped at the same location that they had halted their charge previously. It was obvious why this was the case.

The ravine widens passed this point... they don't want to give us an opening into the valley. Hmmm...

"They can't go past this point without making us an entrance!" Calin exclaimed. "Froth's Group, prepare to make a charge from the left! As soon as you see an opening attack according to plan!"

Upon Calin's barked orders, Deputy Froth rushed to an area just behind the narrowest part of the ravine. It was an area where the threehorns would not be able to directly see him until they rushed past the narrow spot. Of course if the threehorns did that then he would have his opening. Calin's plan was beginning to come together.

Calin smiled internally. If there was one saving grace to his plan it was that threehorns were stupid. "Okay, when the threehorns charge again I want everyone to retreat five threehorn lengths, then follow Froth's group into the valley!"

Calin was bursting with anticipation now. It was just a matter of moments until he could complete his first objective: make inroads into the valley and scatter its defenses. Once that was complete and Red Claw was in the valley, it would be as good as over. Victory would be his. Not even his hated enemy could stop him now, wherever he was.

"Hey, Tan Ass! Catch!"

Calin jerked back as he looked into the sky. That voice! That hated voice. How could he have tracked him down and what did he have planned? As if to answer his question a cascade of sticks fell from the sky like rain.

"Ahhh!!!"

"My shoulder!!!"

Calin seethed. The damn pointed sticks were being used again! Worse yet, from his vantage point he could not really see Seeker's pack or attack them. They were being attacked from an area where they could neither defend nor regroup. As his fastbiters began to retreat back some distance from the narrow part of the ravine, he realized that he would have to retreat and regroup. He was in an indefensible position. He began to raise his arm in order to give the order.

But that was when everything changed.

......

"They're retreating! Let's take them out!"

Whitehorn looked at the voice with grave concern as the entire line began to move forward of their own accord. It seemed that the entire line had been overtaken with the rage of their species. Despite the futility of his words, Whitehorn could see this debacle in the making for what it was.

A disaster.

"No! Hold the line! Hold!"

But it was too late as the line charged into the ravine.

......

Cera's mind recoiled at the scale of the debacle below her. The threehorns had charged ahead in their exuberance at possible victory and had ignored the deeper mission at stake here. Even before the threehorns had crossed the threshold into the ravine, she realized the magnitude of what she was seeing.

The defensive line was failing.

She could hear a choked sob from behind her as the fastbiters poured behind the advancing threehorns and began to sprint into the valley. All of her packmates could realize what this meant. The longnecks would only be able to stop a few before the others would enter the valley's interior. Then no one would be safe.

She collapsed to the ground in despair as she could feel Taunt's arms wrap around her body. The valley was going to be destroyed and it was all because her former people couldn't hold their act together! Was this how it was going to end? After all of their suffering and struggle did it have to end like this? Her friends deserved so much more.

She sucked in a deep breath as she could see Chomper begin to whisper something to Littlefoot. It was obvious that the battle was more than likely lost and with it their families and friends. As much as she detested the thought, she knew that if it came to that she would ensure that her pack survived no matter what. They had been through so much together and had stuck together even when no other companionship could be found. She would fight beside them to the death or, if it was the pack's decision, she would retreat to the Mysterious Beyond. With tears in her voice she asked a question that shamed her to even contemplate.

"Seeker?"

Littlefoot continued to listen to Chomper as it seemed that their leader had mentally shut down at the scale of the defeat that lay before them. She repeated using a name that she knew would grab his attention.

"Littlefoot?"

Littlefoot seemed to shiver for a moment as he slowly began to turn around. It was only then that she noticed that Ruby was behind him and had also been trying to reach him. Such were the depths of Littlefoot's despair that only now he was aware of his friends. Finally the brown fastbiter's tear-filled eyes looked into her own.

"Littlefoot, we need to decide right now. Do we retreat or do we end this? The other entrance is open, but our time is running out."

Littlefoot opened his mouth in shock at this as he looked down in stunned realization. This was it. Life and death. Honor and expediency. Living another day or dying with one's family. They were all faced with the most horrible of choices. If they all died here then no one would even remember their names, but if they escaped without defending those whom they loved then would they be worthy of survival? Did they even really have a chance to save the valley anymore anyway?

"I say that we stand and fight."

All of their eyes turned to Breeze, who had a resolute expression on her face. For his part Spike nuzzled his friend and nodded his approval of her words. He didn't need words to convey the depths of his love for his former home.

"We should not leave behind our mommies and daddies! Oh, no, no, no!"

Ducky then took her place beside Spike. She would fight beside her brother, no matter the costs.

"My mommy and daddy are here and I plan to fight beside them!" Chomper exclaimed.

"My mom and dad are helping people they don't know." Ruby affirmed. "Who would I be if I didn't help people that I do know?"

Taunt nodded his head as he continued to comfort Cera. "I say that we end this today. Skytail sacrificed himself because he believed in all of us. I will not tarnish his memory by turning tail and running."

Littlefoot frowned grimly. "None of us are running. We have to end this today. We have to save whoever we can."

Cera nodded. That was the spirit. "Then give the order, Seeker."

In that instant Littlefoot seemed to come back to his senses. The battle was more than likely lost and he had been crushed with the burden of what to do now that the safety of his pack was contrary to his mission. However, they had all made the choice for him. Between the choices of retreat and death, they had all chosen death. Now that they no longer had any hope of survival in their minds this meant that they could do anything without fear. Calin could take nothing from them that they were not offering up anyway. A familiar lesson rang in Littlefoot's head at that moment.

Beware the sharptooth who has nothing to lose.

Littlefoot frowned with determination. He knew what they had to do.

"Alright, everyone! Let's fight them until we can't!"

The entire pack ran down from the rock wall with tremendous speed as Littlefoot continued to shout out orders. The pack doubted that they would survive what lay ahead but they were resolved to take as many of the enemy out with them. If they were going to die today, they would make sure that they had plenty of company.

......

Shit! That was too close!

Volant shifted to the right as the sharptooth flyer barely missed ripping into her wing. She had no idea where this second wave of flyers had come from but they much more numerous than the defenders that joined her in the sky. What had initially looked like a victory had quickly degraded into a rout in the making.

She swerved to her left in order to dodge an attack from another flyer that approached her from below. She frowned as she realized what the enemy's strategy was.

They're attacking in pairs! One to distract and another to press the attack!

With this knowledge in her head, she realized that their current situation was untenable. If they continued to defend from outside of the valley then they would very quickly be overwhelmed by the superior force. However, a retreat to the valley would entail risk to the valley residents and the flyer messengers, including her own children. However she was now left with little choice. They had to retreat and regroup otherwise there would be no defenders left in the air. With great reluctance, she gave the order to retreat.

Caw!

......

"To your left, dear!"

At his mate's words Grandpa Longneck whipped his tail with a thunderous crack at the offending fastbiter. As the crumpled body of the predator went flying into the rock wall with great speed, a resounding crack confirmed that it was no longer a threat. That was the third fastbiter that they had killed on this day.

However, it clearly wasn't enough.

For every fastbiter they had stopped several more sprinted into the valley's interior. There was no doubt now that the weaker residents of the valley were vulnerable to the terrible attack. The defense of the valley had failed. Now it was simply a matter of limiting the damage. Even if the valley did survive then some of its residents would not.

"Dear, look out!"

Grandpa Longneck bellowed in pain. A terribly stabbing sensation erupted from his abdomen as a terrible ripping sound reached his ears. In the seconds that followed he could not move or think. The pain was too much. A searing agony that destroyed all reason and sense. It was only when a familiar voice reached his ears that he regained some measure of awareness.

"Grandpa! No!!!"

With blurry vision the massive longneck looked towards where the voice had arisen. A small fastbiter stood there. He felt that he should recognize this predator for some reason, but the pain was making thinking rather hard. The fastbiter's features were distinctly brown with a very prominent crest of crimson red on his head. A color that matched the ground around him. His pain-addled mind tried to make sense of that.

Red... Why is the ground red?

That was when he realized the origin of the red substance on the ground.

It was blood. His blood.

It was only then that he noticed that the brown fastbiter, his grandson, was approaching him with a pointed stick. This filled the longneck with more than a little confusion.

"Littlefoot... Why..."

Without warning Littlefoot threw his spear with great accuracy and Grandpa looked with great confusion at where it seemed to have landed. It appeared to have embedded itself in his abdomen, but yet the spear did not cause any additional pain. A most odd finding. However, the mystery soon resolved itself when a fastbiter fell off of his side with a resounding thud, with the spear embedded in the fiend's belly. Littlefoot and his friends quickly dispatched the attacker with multiple stabs.

It was only then that Grandpa Longneck got a good look at his abdomen.

The fastbiter had landed towards the top of his abdomen and rode down the longneck's side, causing a massive tear in his body. The smell of blood and viscera was overwhelming as his ripped abdominal muscles greeted his sight. He had been ripped open. He had only been spared disembowelment by the smallest of margins. However, the significance of his injury was immediately clear to the longneck and everyone else present.

It appears today might be my last...

"Dear!"

He turned his head with a pained expression as his mate touched his neck with hers. As he felt her racing heartbeat against his body the pain seemed to ebb away, simply to be replaced with a sense of loss. At best his mate would be left alone after this day and at worse they would join one another in death. It was then that the panicked voice of Littlefoot reached his ears again.

"Grandpa! You have to lay down! Maybe one of the rainbowfaces..."

With a pained groan, the longneck shook his head. "No, Littlefoot. The valley comes first."

Littlefoot looked to be at the verge of tears as he approached his grandfather. His friends stayed behind as Chomper seemed to be barking out orders of some kind. After a few moments, only Ruby and a fastbiter that Grandpa remembered was named Swift remained on the scene as they began to approach Littlefoot from behind. Knowing that his grandson's friends were going to make the moment between grandfather and grandson short, he nuzzled his son and gave him a sad smile.

"Your dad is by the other entrance, Littlefoot. That is where we will be going. Help your friends drive the enemy in that direction."

His grandson looked up with a pained expression. "Grandpa..."

Grandpa Longneck teared up at this, but he held firm. "Go, Littlefoot! I will be alright!" As if to prove his point he began to move forward despite his grievous injury. "The best way that you can help me is to help the valley!"

Littlefoot teared up at this. "Alright, grandpa! I will send them your way!" He then turned and rejoined his two friends as they prepared to follow the enemy into the valley. Before he did so, however, he shouted one last thing to his grandfather. "I love you, Grandpa... Grandma... stay safe..."

As his grandson disappeared into the thick foliage of the valley, he could hear the muffled cries of his mate against his neck.

"You're a terrible liar."

Grandpa smiled a sad smile.

"I know, dear... But I still have some fight left in me."

His mate looked at him with a serious expression as she willed her tears away.

"Good. But don't think that you're dying without me!" Her voice betrayed her emotion, but each knew that they had no choice but to carry on and fight the battle that had been given to them. "Let's show the sharpteeth how the valley fights!"

......

Guido looked at Valaria with a distressed expression as the longnecks began to walk in the direction of the Hidden Canyon entrance. Each of them had heard the order to retreat from Volant and each of them remembered her orders to stay put if the sharptooth flyers got into the valley, but these developments were not anticipated. The defensive line had been broken and with the threehorns being forced to maintain their line in case Red Claw decided to attack, this meant that the valley's best fighters would be unaware of the threat inside the valley's walls. That is, unless someone told the defenders in the Hidden Canyon entrance.

"We have to tell Bron! The longnecks won't get there in time, but we can!"

Valaria appraised Guido with an agreeing expression. "You took the words right out of my beak." She then seemed to age several years in one moment as she took on a deeply contemplative expression. "You fly low and I will fly high... hopefully one of us will make it..."

Guido gulped. This was truly it. The battle had come to them and now they were in mortal peril. However, Guido knew that he would not fail the valley. If Petrie could risk all for the good of his friends, then so could he. With a final glance at the aerial battle in the distance, he gave encouraging words to his friend.

"May the winds guide you, Valaria."

Valaria smiled a radiant smile.

"You as well, Guido."

It would be the final words that they would ever say to one another.

......

"You know, Petrie. I don't think that Thud or... what was his name again?"

Petrie smiled at Flap's momentary lapse of memory. It was obvious that she had more important things to do than to catalog all of the various sharpteeth that her brother had befriended in his travels.

"That would be Leap." Petrie answered.

Flap nodded at this. "Alright... Well I don't think Thud or Leap are really helping the camouflage situation. Do you?"

Petrie considered the situation for a moment before realizing that his sister was correct.

"Thud? Me think you should go back to entrance. You not hidden like hidden runners."

The green fastbiter paused for a moment before nodding. With a firm pat on the shoulder he directed Leap to join him as well. They could always enter the fray if the hidden runners needed backup, but they would be more of a hindrance than a help when it came to surprise attacks. In silence, they moved back into the valley from the Hidden Canyon entrance. From there they would reinforce the defense provided by Bron and Chomper's parents.

"Petrie!"

Petrie nearly jumped at the exclamation. A lull had arrived at the Hidden Canyon after the retreat of the fastbiters and the sudden interruption by the two flyers was the first action that had occurred in several moments.

The implications of having his two of his brother's join him were immediately apparent in his mind. They were the backup messengers, which were only to be used if communications broke down between the two entrances. Brother was supposed to be at midway point. This not be good! With an agitated voice, he went straight to the heart of the matter.

"Brothers! Why you fly to Petrie? Other entrance okay?"

The closest of his two brothers, a light colored flyer named Cloud, spoke in a hoarse voice. That was the first time that Petrie noticed that he was out of breath. His brothers must have flown as fast as their wings would carry them.

"We don't know! Mother gave an alert call..."

Concern dominated Petrie's expression at hearing this news. He had not heard the alert call from his position in the ravine so this was the first time that he had heard that the flyers were in battle. Had his duties not demanded his presence here then he would be out there assisting his mother. But his concern soon turned into trepidation at the next words out of his brother's beak.

"Then we heard an alert call from the threehorns, but we have not heard from sis or Guido..."

Petrie's mind nearly broke at this news. This could only mean one of two things. Either the alert call was called off and no messengers were sent out to warn the other entrance, which did not seem likely as his brothers had not heard the all clear... Or the messengers were unable to send out the warning...

A choked gasp from Flap indicated that his sister had reached the same horrifying conclusion as well, though Petrie was too fixated on his own thoughts at that moment to dwell on Flap's emotional state.

Guido... Valaria... Petrie's expression turned to one of rage. His beloved sister and his best friend might very well have been fighting for their lives in the sky above because of the damned sharptooth flyers. Despite his assigned duty to the Hidden Canyon, he would not allow himself to sit by while his friends fought alone. No... He would get to the bottom of this.

"Riser... Cloud... stay here and be messenger for Hidden Canyon..." He quickly ordered his brothers as he turned towards his sister. "...Flap, follow me! We got to help Valaria and Guido!"

As the flyers departed quickly over the rock wall, they did not hear Dein growl his concerns to his mate.

"I guess that Spotter forgot that he was the only one here that can speak both languages."

He then turned towards Bron who, based upon his concerned expression, must have come to the same conclusion. It would be difficult to coordinate an effective defense without a translator. Thankfully, but as yet unknown to the assembled dinosaurs, they had several dozen potential translators to fill that job.

"Need a translator, huh?"

Dein looked down at the small green feathered dinosaur. It was one of the hidden runners.

"You can speak both?" Dein spoke with incredulity, but he soon realized the stupidity of being surprised of this discovery. After all, many omnivores could speak both out of necessity, so why not hidden runners. With that in mind he spoke again and followed the sharptooth tradition of knowing who your allies were. "What is your name, hidden runner?"

The hidden runner seemed to puff out her chest in a prideful way before answering.

"I am Ignis, the daughter of the great leader." She then looked at the poor longneck who was obviously deeply confused by the sudden turn of events. "Now let's talk to the longneck so that he knows what is going on."

......

Calin rushed through the underbrush with a wide grin on his face. They had finally entered the valley! Now they would have the opportunity to put Red Claw's diabolical plan into operation.

"Look! Swimmers!"

Calin frowned at the exclamation from his deputy. Around the large stream in the center of the valley stood nearly a dozen adult swimmers. They appeared to be gazing into the water, but then quickly shifted into a defensive position as the fastbiters were discovered. At first the logistics of having defenders stay behind in the valley seemed quite foolish from Calin's perspective, but then he realized what they were probably doing.

Ah! They must have been looking for bellydraggers. A shame we don't have a few of those... they would have come in handy! His face then contorted with concentration as he considered their next move. He had to give his forced orders soon otherwise they would begin to attack targets of opportunity. Now was not the time for that...

"Chase them into the water, but do not press the attack!" Upon hearing groans of protests from his group, he continued. "We are to attack the other entrance from behind! We can't do that if we are bogged down in the middle of the valley! Now come on!"

With terrible efficiency the predators advanced upon the helpless swimmers.

......

"Everyone, retreat!"

This was exactly what Ura was concerned about. Though she could not fault the strategy of searching for bellydraggers coming into the valley from its water supplies, this mission did have one drawback: it weakened their defensive lines. Now fastbiters had apparently entered in the valley. Their worst fears had been realized.

As her sister followed her into the water, she could hear the others follow as well. This was their best strategy in fighting a horde of fastbiters. On open lab the swimmers were not particularly fast, strong, or brave, but in the water they had far more options. With that in mind she barked out orders for the others.

"If they try to come in the water, drown them! They are not the swimmers here! We are!"

This seemed to calm some of the frayed nerves of the panicking swimmers as most of them turned towards the predators as they approached the water's edge. It was a show of strength that even a dumb sharptooth could understand. If they wanted the swimmers' meat then they would have to fight for it. They were in their element now.

Much to Ura's surprise, however, the fastbiters then turned and continued into the valley. They were ignoring the swimmers and heading towards the north.

"Yeah! Retreat, you cowards!"

"Die in a dung pit, murderers!"

Ura did not join in the euphoric enthusiasm of her kind after seeing this display. This was too easy. Far too easy. The fastbiters must have been after something else entirely. That was when she noticed the direction that they were taking and considered the ramifications. A terrible thought entered her mind.

Oh no! They are heading towards the Secret Caverns!

......

"Ha! What do we have here?"

Valaria flapped her wings as hard as she could. She and Guido had attempted to fly out and warn the other entrance, but the aerial battle had now moved into the valley itself. It was only a matter of time until they were discovered.

And now that time had come.

"Come closer, kid! I don't bite!"

Valaria continued to fly as the sharptooth flyer's unintelligible taunts came closer and closer. Despite her best efforts she simply couldn't match his speed or maneuverability. Worse yet, it seemed that enemy flyers were coming from all directions, whereas her mother and the others were nowhere to be seen. Had they been wiped out? Was she about to join in her mother's fate? Terror flooded the flyer as she heard a yell from below.

"Hang on, Valaria! I can..."

Choking back a panicked sob, she interrupted her friend.

"Don't you dare, Guido!" Guido was a better glider than a flyer and in any case he would be useless against what she was facing. "Just go warn the Hidden Canyon! Ahhh!!!!"

A terrible pain exploded through her wing as the flyer's claws ripped into her delicate flesh. The sound of shredding flesh and the wetness of warm blood greeted her perception as her entire body spasmed in pain. As she thrashed about under the powerful grip of the predator, she could feel his breath upon her neck. His flapping was the only thing keeping his prey airborne as his talons compressed her chest with tremendous force. She knew in that moment that her brief life had come to an end. The valley may survive in the end but she would not be part of it.

"Valaria! No!!!"

Valaria barely heard Guido's grief-stricken yell. It seemed so far away somehow. As if someone was speaking to her through a tremendous cloud. In fact, everything felt that way. Her breathing... her pain... her awareness... it all seemed to be fading away. As if she were about to fall asleep. It was then that she had her final thought.

I'm sorry momma... I tried... I tried so hard...

She never felt the bite which decapitated her.

......

Guido stared at the scene in shock. A moment before Valaria had been alive... flying. He had grown quite attached to Petrie's siblings after Petrie and his friends had been presumed dead and though Valaria was Petrie's sister, she had been like a sister to him. A flyer who would never leave you without making you smile. A flyer whose calm reasoning had been instrumental in preparing the defenses for the flyers. A natural leader in the making, just like her mom. Now she was gone. No time for a goodbye. No time to tell her what she had meant to him and everyone else. Valaria was no more.

In his mind Guido knew that he had to carry on... that he had to deliver his message. It was Valaria's last order. It was the only thing that she could do for her now. With tears in his eyes and trembling wings, he again took to the air.

Minutes passed as Guido flew on.

Flyers could be seen everywhere, engaged in combat and fleeing. The sharptooth flyers were well on their way to establishing aerial control over the valley. The only reason why he yet lived was because he was too insignificant to be noticed. But Guido couldn't focus on any of that. One of his best friends had just died before his eyes. Her head bitted off and body discarded. It was a terrible image that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

"Guido!"

He could almost still hear her voice. I'm so sorry, Valaria...

"Guido!"

Guido looked up. That wasn't a memory! It was Petrie! Now the grim task fell upon him to deliver the news to his best friend. In despair and exhaustion he plummeted to the rock wall and landed with a thud. Petrie and Flap were upon him in mere moments. Petrie's voice did not hide his concern.

"Guido, what in the hell happened!" Petrie seemed to look him up and down for a split second. "Where is Valaria?"

Guido shook with a sob as he turned his gaze to look into Petrie's eyes. His expression brokered no confusion on what had occurred as Flap broke down into tears. Petrie, for his part, seemed to remain in control as his sharptooth physique gave little away, but Guido could see the rage building in Petrie's eyes.

"How?" Petrie asked. His deep pain was apparent in his voice.

Guido tried to speak, but only a pained sob came out. It was only on the third try that he was able to speak coherently.

"Valaria's dead!" Guido finally confirmed verbally what they all knew. "A sharptooth flyer killed her! Sharpteeth flyers are everywhere! Fastbiters are in the valley!"

Petrie reared back at this onslaught of horrible information. Based upon what had occurred in the Haven Valley, he had assumed the battle was going well, but now it seemed that the battle had actually turned against them. Their defenses were broken through and the enemy was in the valley itself. Guido spoke before Petrie could even verbalize a response.

"Your friends are chasing the fastbiters... They will try to force them towards your entrance."

Petrie closed his eyes in a mix of concentration and emotional turmoil. Yes, trying to force the invading force into a pincer attack by the Hidden Canyon would be the best strategy. But Petrie couldn't shake the feeling that they were all being played for fools somehow. As if his pack's response wasn't playing into the enemy's hands. But in this terrible moment he knew that he had little choice but to take the logical course of action. Choking back his own emotion, he gave his distraught sister and Guido his instructions.

"Flap? Guido?" Both were slow to respond, but they eventually looked his way. Both were still trapped in the throes of grief, but he had little choice but to force them to carry on. "Go to Hidden Canyon and let them know what happen."

Guido interjected in a mix of grief and confusion. "And what will you do?" The small teal flyer was obviously fearful of losing another friend today. Petrie answered immediately.

"Me will cover your retreat. Now go!"

As his sister and dear friend took to the skies, Petrie looked to the skies in front of him. The sharptooth flyers were the only flyers that could be seen as the valley flyers had either retreated or... Petrie couldn't finish that thought. There would be time to mourn after the battle was over, but now was the time to fight. There were times when he lamented his sharptooth instincts, but now was not one of those times. He would do whatever was necessary.

As if on cue, two sharptooth flyers began to head in the direction that his companions had traveled. Petrie frowned in determination as he took to the skies in one swift burst of energy.

"If it a fight you want then Petrie give it to you!"

......

The swimmers having been sidelined, Calin and his nearly thirty comrades continued their run through the valley. With the exceptions of a few of the valley's smallest residents, the fastbiters had not stopped to engage into battles. They had simply done their best to make their presence known and struck down a few residents in order to strike terror into the valley.

First crush their morale, then crush them!

Calin couldn't help but smile. With the valley in a panic this would make what would follow all the more easy to accomplish. Now all that they would need to do is to loop back towards the Hidden Canyon entrance and then...

Wait! What is that smell?

The other fastbiters looked amongst themselves in confusion as their leader stopped suddenly. They had not been fully briefed on Red Claw's master plan and thus only Calin and his deputies were reacting with confidence. The surest way to ensure that the underlings followed orders without question was to make them dependent on their leaders for guidance. If he had given everyone the orders then they could have implemented their own interpretation. However, Calin's sudden stop surprised even his deputies, which lead to one of them swallowing his fear and addressing his leader.

"Sir? What is it?"

Calin smiled. "Children... They hid their children in those caves..."

The others looked at the cave entrances in surprise. It was a reasonable choice to hide the children in one location, but it also had a major disadvantage.

It made it easier to kill them all.

Calin had not prepared for this possibility. He had assumed that the children would be protected very well and that they would simple have to wait to massacre them when the two-footers and adult fastbiters entered the valley en masse. But now the valley had given him a prime opportunity. An opportunity to kill the valley's morale in one swift move. Even though it went against their orders, Calin simply couldn't pass this up.

"Arvil?" As his deputy went to Calin's side, he continued. "Send a few fastbiters into the caves... If the parents are distracted for their children then that will make our job all that much easier."

Without a word, Arvil gestured to three of his comrades and then sprinted into the open cave. The invasion of the valley was looking like an unparalleled success. But he still had a mission to complete.

"Alright, everyone! Now we need to head to the Hidden Canyon and..."

The sound of thundering feet interrupted Calin's words as the massive forms of two longnecks and innumerable swimmers came into view. He could recognize one of the longnecks as one that they had injured in their initial assault. Normally the appearance of three longnecks would be an unwelcome development, but in light of what he was planning this worked out quite well.

"This is the end of the line for you, Calin!"

Calin turned just in time to see one of his followers be struck down by a spear, which caused the speaker of the threat to yell at his own forces.

"Hold your sticks, runners!"

Beside Littlefoot was a large collection of hidden runners, each one donning the same vines that the members of Seeker's pack were wearing and holding the same spears. Calin could not have known it at the time, but the unexpected attack had led to half of the hidden runners assisting the leaf-eaters in defending the valley. All Calin could see were the two hidden runners that had disappeared into the Secret Caverns and the masses of them that had congregated around his forces.

Calin did not drop his smile. Hidden runners, longnecks, swimmers, and Seeker's pack... perfect! Surely there aren't many left defending the Hidden Canyon now! The tan fastbiter licked his lips in anticipation. These developments were unexpected but they certainly worked into his advantage. He gave his orders with a sense of rising euphoria.

"Now, everyone!"

As Calin's pack sprinted away from the advancing dinosaurs, both leaf-eaters and Seeker's pack gave chase. None of the valley dinosaurs realized that they had fallen right into Red Claw's trap.

......

"Ha! Look Kralle! This little peon wants to play!"

Kralle smiled at his companion's taunt. After driving back the adult flyers into the protective walls of the valley, the sharptooth flyers had little resistance in the vicinity of the rock wall. They had been ready to press the fight into the valley's interior when the first young flyer had come by. Kralle had quickly dealt with the puny specimen and dropped her pitiful body to the ground below. Her sweet blood still lingered in his mouth. Now it seemed that another flyer was asking for similar treatment.

Without saying a word to his companion, he flapped his wings and adjusted his course to intercept the pathetic upstart. That was when another voice called out to him.

"Don't even think about it! He is mine!"

Kralle stopped his forward progress at the other flyer's command. It was not wise to challenge Sierra.

......

Petrie dropped several feet in shock at seeing the pale flyer appear between him and the other flyers. This was a flyer that he had hoped to never see again. A flyer that had cause him nothing but misery.

"Well... So we meet again Sandstorm."

Petrie adjusted his flight pattern, which was met by a similar change in direction by Sierra. Before either knew it each of them were circling the other in a wide arc. It would take a shout by one for the other to hear, but neither seemed ready to close the distance. Petrie out of fear and Sierra out of an emotion that seemed disturbing coming from him.

Curiosity.

"You tricked us! Everything that you did was a lie. Every promise... every decision..."

Petrie swallowed as he prepared to speak to the specter of insanity that was flying in pace with him.

"Yes. Me trick you all. Now you know what it be like!"

Sierra seethed. For a moment Petrie expected the flyer to press the attack, but he still held his place in the circle. This actually unnerved the small flyer more than an attack would.

"Do you like what we have done to this place, Sandstorm?"

Petrie turned with surprise at the voice from behind him. It was Rinkus. In Petrie's distracted state Rinkus had joined into the foreboding circling of flyers. Quickly adjusting his flight path, Petrie changed course as the two fiends followed close behind. The circling had now turned into a chase. A chase that Petrie could not allow them to win.

"We have destroyed your precious valley. The flyers have fled in terror... The land-walkers have met our fastbiters... The natural order is righting itself. It is a shame that you were too blind to see that."

Petrie seethed at the flyer's insinuation as he spoke a taunt of his own.

"Natural order? Nothing be natural if Red Claw behind it!"

Petrie quickly dived into the ravine below in order to gain speed then with a terrible twisting motion he made a sharp turn so that he was flying in the opposite direction that he had been flying previously. He had hoped to gain some distance on the two predators, but the voice that echoed in his ears confirmed that he had not been quite as successful as he had hoped. They were still gaining on him.

"Oh?" It was Sierra's voice. "The strong crush the weak seems like the natural way to me, kid!"

Petrie grunted with exertion as he struggled to gain speed. He had wasted much of his potential energy by diving from a great height. The fact that the duo was still gaining on him did not bode well. Still he had one chance that he could take...

"You think you strong? You nothing without help!" Petrie mocked as he continued to flap with all of his might. "Me trick you easy, just like you trick Uncle Pterano!"

He heard sputtering from the flyer. Yes... this working... Petrie then began to clutch the orange plant that he held in his talons. Get closer Sierra...

"What do you know about him?!" Sierra raged.

Petrie smiled as he could hear the wing beats of the two flyers get closer and closer. He would only have one chance at this and he would have to time it masterfully. The longer he could distract them the better.

"You not figure it out already?" He could hear the flapping of the flyers behind him. They were quickly advancing on him. "Me know things only leaf-eaters know. Me know you history with uncle. Me know all your secrets, but you no know mine!"

An enraged shriek came from behind him. "I know that you are about to be dead! That is all that I need to know."

Petrie could now feel the wing beats near him. All that he needed was a momentary distraction to make his move. With that in mind he spoke to the fiend one last time.

"Me never told you my real name..."

The breathing of the flyer could be heard behind him as he advanced through the ravine. Petrie could see the shadow of the flyer advance towards his own on the ground below. It was only a matter of moments. As soon as he saw the flyer's shadow project its talons from its body, Petrie made his move.

"Me Petrie!"

In a swift movement that pushed his body to the limit, Petrie rolled in the air and blindly struck out his talons towards the flyer which had been pursuing him. Without warning a blinding cascade of orange mist enveloped the air between them, covering them both in the noxious cloud. It was at that moment that the pain began to register in the flyer's mind.

"Ahhh!!!"

Petrie's pain scream echoed across the ravine as Sierra's shriek nearly deafened the flyer. Petrie couldn't think. He couldn't speak. He couldn't even move due to the terrible pain the inundated his eyes and face. It was only when he saw the ground approaching that he began to flap his wings wildly in a desperate attempt to cushion the coming crash.

......

Ruby sprinted beside Littlefoot as they chased the fastbiters through the valley. With longnecks on either side of the pack and swimmers backing up the large force, the fastbiters were wisely not engaging them in battle. However, something was eating at Ruby's mind. For some reason that she couldn't place it all seemed too easy.

"Something isn't right here!"

Littlefoot gave a slight glance in Ruby's direction as she made her feelings known. Yet he continued leading the others towards Calin's pack. He gave no other indication that he had heard her, but that was to be expected. He was the leader and had to limit himself to giving orders in the heat of the moment. He could not allow himself to confuse the others through useless chatter.

The mass of dinosaurs soon passed through the thick forest and entered into the Dark Ridge, where the overhanging bluffs of the rock wall cast shadows on the surrounding land. This was their cue that they were approaching the Hidden Canyon entrance. Soon they would drive the enemy towards Chomper's parents. Then it would be a matter of pursuing them and finishing the job. Littlefoot's orders were to be expected, but were nonetheless necessary.

"Chase them out of the valley! We must show no mercy here!"

Grandma Longneck was the first to speak.

"But Chomper's parents will be in the way!"

Littlefoot nodded. "I will tell them to let us through!" The brown fastbiter then sucked down a breath. He had not run like this is quite a while. "But first we need to catch them in our trap!"

......

Calin smiled. This was going just as he had planned. The entrance to the Hidden Canyon was beginning to come into view as they sprinted towards the narrow opening in the rock wall. The large leaf-eaters would only be able to enter one at a time and that would ensure their escape.

Then their plan could fall into place.

Calin gave the order to proceed. "Advance into the Hidden Canyon! All is going to plan!

In a few short moments the pack approached the well-hidden passage in the rock wall. Had Calin not been here then the others would have most likely missed it. Red Claw had entered it once before and had told Calin and his deputies. Only Red Claw's inability to fight the combined forces of the valley prevented an attack on its residents, but now he had the forces to do the job. Now the valley would see how useless their so-called 'secret passages' were.

Calin elicited an excited yelp as they entered the narrow crevice. He couldn't believe how well things were going. He watched as several of his deputies proceeded to run in front of him into the canyon beyond. Everything was perfect.

Roar!

Calin watched in horror as two of his deputies were suddenly picked up by the massive jaws of two predators that he had hoped to not see again. The sounds of running feet stopped as the pack looked in horror at the fate of their two comrades. As if to punctuate their situation, Dein and Terri threw the crushed fastbiters in front of the pack.

Thud

Calin looked back at his packmates. Maybe if they had enough time they could find another path out. That would not fit into Red Claw's plans but at least they could survive for another day. Perhaps...

"Attack!"

Screams rose from the back of the pack as Calin could see spears fall from the sky. No casualties could be seen from his vantage point, but the sounds of gurgling and pained screeches hinted at what was occurring. This was punctuated as a massive tail came into view and the bodies of several of his comrades were hurled into the air. They had been caught in a pincer attack. The pack was prepared for an attack by smaller forces, but not from Red Claw's own kind. Nonetheless, racing the sharpteeth out of the valley seemed as good of an option as any.

Or else there would not be a pack left to lead.

"To the Hidden Canyon! It is our only chance!"

......

The pack cheered as their spears tore into their enemies. Thus far they had no casualties while the enemy had lost at five of their number. Between the combined rage of Littlefoot's father and grandmother and the ingenuity of his pack, Calin had been met with unexpected force. Before they could complete the massacre, however, Calin's fastbiters began to run headlong into the Hidden Canyon. Between the valley and Chomper's parents it seemed that they had chosen the two two-footers.

Littlefoot considered his forces. Bron and grandma looked exhausted from their run but were in good shape, whereas the hidden runners were just now catching up with the other dinosaurs. His grandfather on the other hand...

Littlefoot frowned. He had joined Grandma from where he had been resting by the rock wall. The fact that he couldn't join in the chase of the fastbiters poke volumes. His grandfather was hurt very badly. But yet he knew that Grandpa would fight beside Grandma now no matter what. He would not be separated from her no matter what it would cost himself.

Littlefoot closed his eyes. Ruby would do no less for me... I will fight beside you Grandpa. The valley stands with you.

Littlefoot opened his eyes to see Ruby staring within their watery depths. Her look spoke volumes. I am with you in this. Let's finish the job. He did not hesitate to do what the situation required.

"Press the attack! Follow them into the canyon!"

With no delay, the combined force of leaf-eater and sharptooth emerged through the entrance in order to chase the traumatized survivors of Dein and Terri's rampage. As he emerged from the rocky entryway, he had to fight in order to regain his balance on the slick ground. The blood of the fallen had painted the entryway red. He could even hear the stumbling footsteps of the rest of his pack as they swerved to avoid the carcasses that littered the ground. It was a morbid sight that both horrified and excited him.

Entering the Hidden Canyon, Littlefoot could see the narrow chasm in front of him. The stream was small, yet overflowing with the plentiful snowmelt as the vegetation in the canyon still offered some hope of security for those wishing to hide.

Littlefoot smiled as the pack quickly began to gain on the fastbiters. Several of them had moved to the sides of the canyon in a feeble attempt to hide from their forces. This would prove futile however with their trusted hidden runners available to keep watch in the hidden crevices of the Hidden Canyon. Any attempt to outflank them would come to naught.

That was when the realization came to him. A realization that stopped him dead.

Most of the hidden runners must have helped them retake the valley. They could not expect much reinforcement in the canyon.

"Crap! Everyone retreat! It's a trap!"

The pack stopped as the longnecks and hidden runners followed suit. However, much to Littlefoot's dismay, the rest of the leaf-eaters continued to keep chase. They were blinded by rage for the defilers of the valley. Ruby was the next to sound the alarm.

"No! Stop! We have to..."

Her voice was soon interrupted by the sounds of thundering feet coming from in front of the pack. The thundering feet soon became a crescendo as the trees in front of the advancing swimmers were trampled to the ground. It was only then that the pack realized the depths of their misfortune.

Standing in front of them was Red Claw and two other two footers.

"Retreat!" Came the refrain of one of the swimmers as they struggled to get away from the surprise threat. This was echoed by the others as they turned to retreat back into the valley.

Only to see the majority of Calin's pack blocking the entrance in front of Chomper's parents. Worse yet was the sight that greeted them at the front of the pack.

Three adults fastbiters with a familiar fastbiter leading the group.

"As you can see, Seeker. I have a surprise of my own."

Littlefoot looked at each of his pack in turn as the scale of their miscalculation came into focus. They were now caught in the very trap that they had attempted to catch Calin's pack within. They were stuck in the Hidden Canyon and surrounded on all sides. They all knew what this would mean for them.

Even if they won the battle, life would not go on for all of them. The battle for the valley was about to exact its toll.

......

"You fiend! I will die before I let you hurt my son!"

Petrie came to gradually as the pain of his terrible crash began to register in his mind. That was not as bad as the pain from the orange death, however, which reached his mind a split second later.

"Urgh..."

"Petrie! Are you alright? Ahh!!!"

The sound of scuffling could be heard as Petrie struggled to regain consciousness. What had happened? Momma here... me crash? But where here? Why everything hurt? Why she scream? That was when the images of the moments before greeted his mind. Rinkus. Sierra. With dawning horror Petrie finally pieced together what had happened. He had attacked Sierra with the orange death and had crashed in the process. Which meant that his mother was being attacked by...

"Momma!"

Petrie fought through the pain as he struggled to his feet. It was only then that he opened his eyes and could see the horrific scene before him.

His mother stood with both wings raised in a protective posture around her son. But she was not like he remembered her. Her wings were covered in streaks of blood from numerous large gashes that scoured her figure. Her worst injury that was immediately visible was a cut on her neck that appeared to be hemorrhaging blood at an alarming rate.

Petrie turned his gaze to the flyer she was confronting and shivered with rage.

Sierra stood with his eyes fixed upon his mother. He had a terrible gash on his head and numerous minor wounds, but that was not what caught Petrie's attention.

His right wing was completely shredded. Sierra would never fly again. That was a death sentence for a flyer.

Growl...

"Ahhh!!!"

Petrie watched in horror as Sierra charged with feral intensity and ripped into his mother's right wing. With a sudden surge of energy that could only come from rage, he lifted the flyer with his shredded wing and propelled her into the rock wall. Petrie was helpless to watch as Volant hit the wall with a sickening thud and then fall unconscious to the ground. His mother was still.

Petrie could only stare at his mother's still body with horror. No words were necessary, nor would they do any good. For all Petrie knew his mother could never wake up. He had already lost a sister today and now his mother had fallen as well. Petrie shook in unrestrained rage. If it meant the end of Sierra then he would gladly be the third of his family to fall.

"Hurgh..." Sierra grunted in a mixture of pain and rage. "You have killed me, flyer! Even if I live through this then my own will put me down!" Sierra looked upon Petrie with a crazed expression. "At least I gave you what you deserved you, weakling! Did you enjoy watching your mother die? I think it is time that you joined her."

Petrie continued to look at his mother for a moment. All was still. But then, just out of the corner of his eye, he could see it. Movement. His mother was simply incapacitated for the moment. The family would not die tonight. At least his mother would survive. It was then that Petrie's shaking stopped.

Because he had made a decision.

If it meant protecting his mother, then he was prepared to die.

"Your friend not stay with you? Me guess he have no need of flyer who can't fly."

As expected this cause Sierra to advance on Petrie. In light of his own betrayal of Sierra it was liberating to let the pale flyer know that Rinkus had betrayed him. In the end the loyalty of the sharptooth flyers was just as transient as the shifting winds. It gave Petrie a moment of joy to see pain reflected on Sierra's face. In light of what he and his ilk had done to his family it was the least that he deserved. With a deep sigh he looked down.

Petrie looked down at his small talons. They were still covered in the terrible orange substance. He had not had a chance to strike Sierra directly during his initial attack, but that was something that he was prepared to remedy now.

Even if that meant his end.

"Come at me, Sierra. We end this now."

As Petrie watched Sierra's ragged form rush at him in a mindless charge, Petrie smiled.

"This for Valaria!"

Petrie screeched in pain as Sierra slammed into his head during his headlong charge. As waves of terrible pain rolled over the young flyer's body, he dug his sharp talons into Sierra's soft abdomen. The effects were nearly instant as Sierra's body began to shake violently. Screams of pain emanated from the flyer as the orange death entered his blood. Within mere moments the beast was helpless and left flopping as his seizure turned into back-breaking convulsions. Gasps of pain and shock erupted from the flyer as his life slowly fled from his body. In the end he couldn't even scream as his own body rebelled against him.

Petrie slid to the ground with little ceremony. He could not see his injuries but the pressure in his head indicated to the flyer that they must have been severe. The pain in his body seemed to be lifting as his consciousness was beginning to fade. Me feel sleepy... Petrie thought to himself. If he were to fall asleep here then he was unsure if he would ever wake up. Maybe me see Valaria...

"Petrie... Petrie!"

He could see the face of his mother over him suddenly. He found that he could not speak, but he could give her a small smile.

"Petrie, stay awake! Please stay awake!"

Despite his mother's orders, however, everything seemed to be getting too heavy. He knew that he would lose consciousness soon and that there wasn't anything that he could do. In the end the darkness came for us all. At least he would not face it alone. His gaze became fixed on the sky as his body lay prone on the ground. He reflected that it was fitting that he would spend his last moments looking at the sky. To a flyer the sky represented life and the promise of life.

"Petrie!"

Don't cry, mommy. Me keep Valaria company. The sky appeared so blue. So clean. It was as if the battle that was going on around him was far away. There was nothing to be seen except blue sky and white clouds. But that was when something entered the periphery of his vision. There was a flyer high in the sky and he was not alone.

Uncle... You make it... You bring flyers...

Me got Sierra for you...

You get Rinkus...

Don't be sad...

Then everything went black.


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