Chapter 72 Aftermath
“But the world moves on, even when you don't want it to, even when change feels like the end of everything. It never stops.”
― Ann Aguirre
He woke up gasping.
Cough after cough arose from the dinosaur's lungs as he found great difficulty in catching his breath. It was only after the eighth or ninth hacking cough that he was finally able to fill his lungs with air. In that moment he felt as though he had been liberated from a prison. The prison of suffocation. The mysterious dust which had choked him was now outside of his body where it belonged. It was only when his immediate need for air was resolved that his mind began to register the overwhelming pain.
Soreness racked every part of the threehorn's body. It was as if had butted heads with a far more powerful threehorn and didn't quit until he had finally lost consciousness. But he had not done that since he had trained with his father so many years ago. This filled with great dinosaur with pause. If he had not been in a fight with another threehorn then why did he feel like he had barged into a rock wall?
A pained groan emanated from the threehorn as he struggled to rise to his feet... only to crash back into the ground when he collided with something above him.
That was when the massive beast finally opened his eyes.
What lay in front of his eyes was utterly incomprehensible to the disoriented dinosaur. Rocks littered the ground in an inexplicable manifestation of chaos. The rocks ranged in size from small boulders to what appeared like entire chunks of mountains. There was no rhyme or reason to placement of the massive stones. It was as if the entire rock wall had collapsed into the canyon. As if that wasn't enough to overwhelm his senses, the land was also covered with a thick layer of brown dust, which gave the entire scene an otherworldly appearance. It was then that the memory of what had transpired came back to him.
The battle... fastbiters... rockslide... He thought to himself in silence. It was now obvious what had led to the destruction of the canyon and his struggle to breathe. He was lucky to be alive... which made him recoil in horror at a sudden thought.
What about the others?
Turning his head around, he looked over towards his back and gasped at what he saw.
The substantial form of the brown threehorn lay upon his back, his body partially covered with numerous rocks. Rocks which were similar to the ones which partially covered his own body. Finally seeing the obstruction which held him in place, he lifted his body with all of his might against the massive stones.
The rocks did not give even though he had hit it with enough force to cause severe back pain. Not being deterred, the threehorn tried again with even more determination.
With a sudden lurch the rocks fell away to either side of his body. He was finally free from his rocky prison! Wasting no time, the threehorn stumbled over the boulders in this apocalyptic hellscape and called to the leader of the threehorns.
"Whitehorn! Can you hear me?"
There was no movement from the threehorn. His body gave no indication that he was alive. In horror, he nudged the threehorn with his horned face.
"Sir, get up! We have to find the..."
The threehorn stopped suddenly as Whitehorn's face came into full view after his prodding. It was now obvious why his comrade would not respond to him. A large indentation resided where his robust face should have been. His eyes stared back at the threehorn with an unchanging stare. The ever so slight amount of bleeding from the threehorns nostrils and mouth confirmed the horrible truth to the threehorn.
Whitehorn was dead. The rockslide had killed him instantly.
The threehorn barely held back a scream as the magnitude of the loss hit him full force. The future of the herd, their most competent of the new generation, had been killed by the cataclysm. The enemy was nowhere to be seen, but what good was that if he were all that remained? None of the remainder of the herd could be seen. It was only rocks and dust.
Now panicking, the threehorn looked all around the horrific scene for any sign of life. That was when he began his desperate call.
"Can anyone hear me!? Is anyone else alive?!"
"Son, can you hear me?!"
Bron desperately yelled as he pushed another boulder with his strong feet. He was getting desperate now. They had been searching for several moments and there was no sign of any survivors. No yells... no coughs... no bodies... The only thing that greeted their eyes was a barren collection of rocks and dust. Even the grass and trees were nowhere to be found.
The longneck turned his head and could see the valley's unlikely allies assisting in the search. Both of Chomper's parents were using their massive bodies to help push stones out of the way, while they roared into the desolate ravine. Undoubtedly, they were trying to get any response from their son's friends. Even though he had been safe at the entrance, his comrades had not.
"Guys, can you hear my voice?!"
Bron frowned as the purple sharptooth called out to his friends with obvious grief. He had been fighting beside his comrades and was willing to lay down his life rather than to let them down. Now, however, Chomper found himself searching for them as an outsider. Part of Bron's mind registered that he was probably feeling exactly what Bron had felt when he had feared that his son had died with his mother. The guilt of the survivor...
As Bron pushed another boulder and coughed at the plume of dust that rocketed into the air, the growls of Spike and Leap could be heard from behind him. They were undoubtedly calling to their friends in the sharptooth language, whose meaning was lost on the longneck. The odd language... the sharptooth culture... the sense of smell... there was so much about his son's sharptooth life that he never really understood and now he feared that he never would. As he pushed another boulder with his feet, the massive longneck began to sob. Was his son truly gone?
Wait! The longneck's neck bolted upright. That's it!
Bron looked over to the purple sharptooth with a nearly crazed look.
The purple sharptooth did not answer, but looked up at the longneck with an uncertain expression. He was obviously lost in his own grief just as Bron had been a few moments prior.
"Chomper, can you smell them?"
Chomper shook his head sadly. "There is too much here! Blood, dust, and lots of bodies... I would have to get real close to smell them."
Bron nodded at this. He didn't have much of a plan, but it was all that they had got. As Bron lowered his head to Chomper's level, the sharptooth looked at him with surprise and confusion. The longneck's next words only heightened his uncertainty.
"Chomper, get on my neck and have your parents clear a path... I have a plan."
The fastbiter rose from the ground with his face troubled with a noticeably pained expression. His tan hide appeared an odd mix of crimson and black due to the congealed blood and the caked-on dust. The only thing that stood out in his expression was his yellow eyes. Despite the lingering dust in the air they seemed to glisten with an amber glow. That was when the dust caught up to him.
Coughs emanated from the fastbiter as his chest heaved with every shuddering breath. The violent emission of black soot from his mouth hinted at the cause of his distress. It was only after a few moments of struggle that he finally felt well enough to see what had befallen him.
Rocks covered the entire scene as a thick haze of dust remained in the air. It couldn't have been too long of a span of time since he had seen the rocks come down...
That's when it hit him. The rockslide. Had Seeker been responsible for this?
He looked from side to side at his immediate surroundings. The feet and heads of several of his packmates could be seen between heavy boulders. Their bodies crushed... their heads smashed... the smell of blood and brain matter hung in the air. Those visceral smells had replaced the smell of fear as the most potent stench in the air. That and the ever-present smell of dust. Everything was dust now. Dust and rocks. Only the large mushroom colored rock that lay beside him gave the scenery any hint of diversity.
It was when the rock groaned that he realized that it wasn't a rock after all.
"Fastbiters retreat..." Red Claw's eyes sprung open. It was only now that he could see what had transpired and what remained of his once proud pack. Corpses and the grievously injured... except for one who had been protected by Red Claw's body.
Calin stared at his benefactor. The battle is over... is he going to finish me now? He pondered to himself. He had failed in his mission and Red Claw's hopes lay in ruins before the fallen rocks. As the survivors limped away they would tell this tale to the entire Mysterious Beyond. No one would dare risk joining in Red Claw's crusade now. Surely the massive sharptooth realized this.
"Calin..." Red Claw growled in anger. His voice sounded muffled, but the rage was still present. It was obvious that the sharptooth was going to have his revenge. "You have failed me for the last time..."
Calin proceeded to back away slowly. His head darted to and fro searching for the quickest path up the boulders and to safety. But he knew that if Red Claw went to chase him down then there was nothing that he could do. Red Claw would stop at nothing to crush the peon who had ruined his dream. No one would sing Red Claw's praises now. The song of the seven terrible hunters would take his place. A warning to tyrants through the ages.
That was when Calin realized something. He wasn't dead yet. What was taking Red Claw so long?
"My feet... my back..." Red Claw sputtered in impotent rage. "Why won't they move?!"
Calin turned slowly and saw the lunging jaws of the massive predator miss him by mere feet, but the tyrant could not move closer. For it wasn't a stone that held him in place, nor a broken bone...
"Your back is broken..." Calin muttered in awe. His expression soon turned to one of malice. "How delightful!"
"You corrupt bastard! I will crush you! I will do what I should have done in the first place!" Red Claw raged. He was now thrashing his head aimlessly trying to escape from his prison. But he could not escape from his own body.
"You used me..." Calin intoned. "You needed me to help you take the valley, but you didn't need me to live..."
Red Claw roared and struggled to bite the fastbiter despite his paralyzed body. However, his body would not cooperate with his head's wishes. He was as helpless as the enumerable weaklings that he had condemned to death. Worse yet, he was doomed to spend his moments of helplessness with the horrible fiend that he had helped to create. Calin was, in many ways, a reflection on Red Claw's true nature. As he could see Calin pick up a pointed stick from one of the numerous dead hidden runners, he knew what was coming.
"Now you will never avenge your son... never have your song sung to the Night Circle... never be remembered except as one of the greatest prizes of Seeker's pack..." Calin nearly spit at mentioning Littlefoot's sharptooth name. The fact that he used to be a leaf-eater didn't matter at all to Calin. All that mattered to him was that he had been beaten utterly. Calin's dreams of power and success were no more and that bastard of a fastbiter would be praised for ages... but at least he could have some pleasure in dealing with his unscrupulous benefactor.
Red Claw roared in rage. "Do you think that you will be any better, you worthless slab of excrement!? Your end will come soon enough!"
Calin smiled. "Not as soon as yours... Let's see what this crap does to a two-footer, shall we? I wonder if you can still feel pain."
As the tan fastbiter stabbed the tyrannosaurs in the back with the tainted stick, Red Claw continued to attempt to orient his head towards his foe, but his body simply wouldn't budge. He gave no hint that he could feel anything in his paralyzed back for several moments as he continued to hurl insults and taunts.
But then the situation changed.
Red Claw's roaring suddenly stopped as his eye began to twitch uncontrollably. Then his nostrils began to flare in a spastic manner as he proceeded to suck down air in sporadic gulps. The orange death was upon him. Knowing that his end had come without any legacy to be left to the ages, he roared in pain and rage. The deafening display of despair and contempt filled Calin with immense pleasure as the beast's head flailed in utter helplessness. He could watch this for ages. Accordingly, he was disappointed when the beast went silent after a sudden gasp and spasm. Then all was still.
Red Claw was dead. His terror would haunt the world no more.
Calin looked at the rocks around him. Had he been a being capable of empathy then the heaps of crushed bodies might have filled him with remorse, but he felt nothing. However, when he heard coughing and hisses for help under some of the rocks, he was filled with concern. My 'comrades' will have even less use for me than Red Claw... Time to get the hell out of here!
With a final insulting gesture towards Red Claw, he threw dust into the dead beast's face with his hind legs. Then, with as much energy as he could muster, he propelled himself onto a nearby rock and proceeded to climb towards safety away from the devastated canyon. He may have lost, but he resolved to live another day.
He had no idea that the hisses for help had not come from one of his packmates, but rather from another dinosaur entirely.
"Somebody help! Can anyone hear me?!"
Ducky yelled in desperation. She woke up in complete darkness and found that she could barely move. This was enough to make her begin to panic. The smell of dust, death, and blood did not do anything to calm her nerves. Despite the fact that the echo of her voice hurt her ears in this enclosed place, she did not relent. She had to call for help... any help... in order to help herself and her friends.
Little did she know they were very close by.
"Yes, we can hear you, Haven!" Came a hissed reply. "Try to stay calm. We are trying to get to you."
Ducky sucked in a relieved breath. It was Cera's voice.
"Stern Claw? Are you alright?"
Another voice reached her ears at that point.
"We are... okay." Came the weary voice of Littlefoot. He sounded anything but fine. "Stern Claw, Ponder, and Breeze are with me..." A deep sigh was heard, which sounded muffled due to whatever debris was blocking Ducky's vision. "Haven... have you seen Taunt?"
Ducky shook her head despite the fact no one could see her. "No, no, no! I cannot see anything!" That was when she had a sudden thought. But maybe I can smell him! Slapping herself for ignoring the obvious solution to the problem, she took a deep breath and tried to ignore the lingering smell of death and blood. Underneath the stale smell of dust came another strong scent. A scent that was familiar.
The smell of Taunt.
She tried to edge her body between her unseen restraints as she tried to follow the scent. As she did this Ruby's voice called in the distance.
"We were able to escape from the rocks, but the rocks seem to be blocking your escape!" Ducky had to avoid berating Ruby for stating the obvious, but that was when a realization reached Ducky's mind.
We were together so if the rocks separated us then... The horrific conclusion then dawned on her. Oh, no, no, no! The hurried underneath the rocks which were almost certainly blocking her path and lurched towards Taunt scent. She soon found what she was looking for.
"I have found him. I have, I have!"
An audible sob escaped from behind Ducky's rocky prison. "Thank goodness!" It did not take much imagination for Ducky to visualize the others comforting Cera in her time of need. As this was happening, however, Ducky began probing her friend's body with her clawed hands. Why wasn't he moving? She began to panic at this point until she finally felt some movement. The rising of a chest.
Taunt is still alive...
As she continued to feel with her hands, however, she discovered something unsettling. They were situated between two rocks. One which was smooth and disturbingly warm and another which was cold and rough. That cold rock seemed to continue for some distance away, causing her crawlspace to become too narrow to transverse any further. Not only did this trap her and Taunt, but it also blocker her from touching his left leg... In fact when she felt in that area she could only feel something wet.
Blood. Taunt was wounded.
As Ducky processed this, she could feel Taunt's chest suddenly seize in a violent expulsion as her friend began to groan. In that instant Taunt suddenly emerged into consciousness.
Tria ran with all of her might through the Hidden Canyon. She was followed in turn by the remainder of the defensive line for the main entrance. Recent events echoed through her mind as she continued her headlong sprint.
"Maybe they will attack here next. Maybe this is a diversion..."
Tria groaned at the ponderings of the younger female. Despite being more easygoing than her mate, she had no patience for naysayers in the heat of battle. They had their orders and diversion or not they were the ones who were left to guard the entrance while most of the others reinforced the besieged entrance into the Hidden Canyon. She was about to give the other female a stern rebuke when the world suddenly turned upside down.
A sudden blast of bright, white light streamed from the other side of the valley, an ominous sight on any occasion but especially so on this day. Because Tria knew exactly what that meant.
"The rainbowfaces must have..."
Before she had a chance to finish as the ground began to shake violently in the fiercest earthshake the valley had ever seen. Many of the threehorns were knocked to their sides in the sudden seizing by the earth itself. As the shakes continued a noticeable black plume began to rise into the sky. Then, as suddenly as it started, the shaking subsided.
Everything was still for several seconds as each threehorn struggled to come to terms with what had just occurred. The rainbowfaces had obviously caused the rockslide that they had told the leadership about the day prior, but if they had set it off in the Hidden Canyon then that meant...
Tria looked on in horror as the ramifications of the rockslide now went into clear focus. Danger or no danger, the rainbowfaces would only set off the rockslide if the enemy was in range. Despite their orders, Tria knew that she had to act.
"Everyone, to the Hidden Canyon!"
Everything after that had been a blur. The remaining threehorns, which represented the weaker members of the herd, had left the main entrance in a cascade of stampeding bodies, fearing what they may find when they reached their destination. Many of them were females who had watched their mates set off for the Hidden Canyon mere moments before. Each one hoped beyond hope that their mates had been too slow to get there in time to be caught in the rockslide, but each feared the worst. As Tria rounded the bend on the approach to the Hidden Canyon she had no idea what to expect. With thundering feet and a thundering heart, she circled the turn in the ravine...
And stared in shock.
It was gone. Everything was gone. The trees... the plants... the life... it was all covered in rocks and dust. The stream, rerouted by the numerous rocks, was the only sign of movement in the desolate scene. Its reddish-brown hue only highlighted the bleak reality.
Shrieks and screams emanated from behind Tria as the others came into view of what she had seen. Each of them were struck with the same fears... the same despair... it was only now that Tria felt her emotions overwhelm her. The reality was too horrible to ignore.
Tria looked towards the ground in her despair. Deep sobs emanated from her as the full magnitude of her loss hit her full force. Her wonderful mate was more than likely dead or severely injured in this tangled mess of fallen rocks. She once again would be left a widow and Tricia would be left without a father, just as Cera had been deprived of her mother. Or had she lost Cera as well? That terrible thought filled her with even more agony. For the rainbowfaces to use the stone with allies present indicated desperation. If things had gotten that bad then more than likely Seeker's pack had fallen as well. She and Tricia may very well be all that was left.
Tria looked out at the scene one last time. Damn it, Topsy! Why did you have to leave me all alone!? Why did... Why... That was when she saw it. It wasn't very noticeable in the apocalyptic scene, but it was clear enough.
A patch of gray in the brown expanse. A small view of a threehorn's crest.
She did not waste any time as she sprinted up the boulders in the frantic mania that can only come with grief. She ignored the calls of the others as they questioned her sudden movement, but their footsteps soon joined her chorus as others saw the same sign that she had noticed. The air soon rang with the sounds of stomping feet, rolling boulders, and heavy breathing. In their wake, a trail of black dust rose into the air from their movements, rising like an ominous fog. But Tria paid none of that any heed. Her focus was exclusively on the mysterious gray crest. With dawning horror she could see only two others beside her sought-after companion. As she approached the threehorns seemed to not notice the approaching stampede, but continued to stare off into space.
Her voice echoed across the barren landscape as she stopped in place. This allowed the kicked-up dust to overtake her and cover her and her followers in a thick haze which made them all gag in disgust. Despite this, however, they remained in view.
The gray threehorn turned as if he were in a trance. His expression was one of horror and uncertainty. The very gaze of someone who had seen far too much in his life and had just been forced to see even more. She could not see his face through the thick haze, but his voice was all of the confirmation that she needed.
She ran forward and struggled across the boulders as she cleared the distance between him and her in mere moments. She barely noticed his rigid demeanor as she nuzzled him in relief.
"Topsy, I was so worried... Thank the Bright Circle that you are okay!" She said between sobs, as she could feel her mate begin to breathe heavy with emotion. However, his body had all of the tension of a dinosaur who was holding back. It was only when one of the other females spoke that she realized that fact.
"Where is my mate? Where is the herd?"
It was only now that she looked up and took a good look at her mate's face. His eyes were distant as if he were looking at something miles away and still being horrified at what he saw. He mouth opened, but nothing came out. It was only after several moments that the elder threehorn spoke in the most haunted tone that Tria had ever heard.
"This is the herd..." Tria looked around. What could her mate possibly mean? They were only about half of the threehorns in the valley. No less than two thirds of the males had gone with Whitehorn to help the defenders. It was only with his next words that the horrific reality sunk in on the devastated dinosaurs.
"I'm sorry... None of the others..." He sucked in a deep breath as he looked at the others. "We are all that remains."
The mournful wails of the threehorns could be heard across the canyon.
Pained wails echoed across the canyon adding misery to the already desolate scene. It was only at this point that the other residents had any idea that any of the threehorns were still alive in the valley.
"Swimmers!" Bron spoke authoritatively to the trailing dinosaurs. "Find the threehorns and see if they need any help!" With mutterings of concern, the surviving swimmers began to advance towards the stream in order to follow it to the other side of the canyon. He had never formally been named the leader of the defensive line, but no one had questioned him on that point. Everyone dutifully obeyed.
"I can't smell anything over here!" Chomper lamented from a nearby boulder. "They aren't underneath this."
Bron nodded as he lowered his neck to the boulder and let Chomper climb back on. "Alright I can put you on those boulders a bit further upstream perhaps..." He turned towards the fastbiters who were to his left. "Anything?"
A hoarse cry came from one of the fastbiters, who Bron immediately identified as Spike. Thud moved in to support the ailing fastbiter as Swift hissed something unintelligible. It was only several moments later that Spike finally spoke with pain evident in his voice.
"Nothing... There is no sign of them!"
Bron frowned. The two injured fastbiters were obviously injuring themselves further by climbing on the unstable rocks. He knew that his son would never forgive him if anything happened to his packmates. With that in mind, Bron tried to talk some reason to Spike and Leap.
"Maybe you should go back..."
An angry growl was the only thing that came out of Spike's mouth as his eyes seemed to take on an ominous tone of red. As long as his sister and friends were out there then he would go nowhere else. Bron quickly dropped the subject. After all he had his own son to search for in this terrible landscape. He began to walk towards the stream as he advanced into the canyon.
Bron stopped as he focused on the scream that seemed to come from close by. In an instant Thud advanced over the boulders and began to sprint towards an unseen destination. It was only when Chomper spoke that Bron realized what had happened.
"That's Taunt and he is in pain!"
"Try not to move, Taunt. Oh, no, no, no!"
Taunt seized as waves of hot pain coursed through his body. A searing visceral pain tormented his leg, while a dull ache permeated his hip and knee. He had never experienced such pain in his life and the sensation was overwhelming. He could only answer the teal fastbiter in a high-pitched hiss.
"It hurts! It hurts so much..."
He sucked in gasping breaths as he tried to regain some composure, but the pain made any thinking too difficult. It was only when his dear friend spoke to him from the other side of the rock that he began to focus on the world around him.
"Taunt... I know it hurts, but try to stay calm... okay?" Cera asked with a tenderness that was virtually unknown for her. "If you move then you will hurt your leg even more."
Taunt cried out in pain. "Like it matters... A busted leg means the end..." Taunt closed his eyes in anguish. It was unheard of for a fastbiter to survive with a complete fracture of the leg. Even if he did survive then he would be a permanent burden on the pack, unable to hunt or fend for himself... and he would not permit it to come to that. His dear friend had other ideas, however.
"Don't you give up on me now, you bastard!" Some part of his pain-dulled mind found some humor that the old Cera was back. "We will get you out of here... somehow..."
A she felt Ducky begin to cradle his head in an attempt to calm him down from his agony, he momentarily lost focus on what was going on around him. There were voices and screams and a variety of other things... but only the pain was constant. It wasn't until Ducky physically slapped him that he regained full awareness.
"Roll when I say so!"
Taunt looked at his friend with bemusement. How could he move when there was a rock imprisoning his shattered leg? That was when he felt the searing pain suddenly intensify in his leg... and light... Somehow they were moving the stone! Despite his pain, he allowed Ducky to roll him away from the wedged rock. As he continued to convulse in pain, he could see blinding light was everywhere. He was free now... but like it would do him any good.
"Holy crap!" Came a distant voice that almost sounded like Chomper's. He didn't regain focus until after two fastbiters suddenly fell upon him and proceeded to hold him in place. This cause another scream of anguish.
"It's alright, son... we will get you through this somehow..."
"Taunt... you stay with me... you hear me?!"
Taunt took on a sad smile. Cera and his father were doing their best to reassure and comfort him, but he knew that this was for naught. Once a leg was ruined there was nothing more to do. It would be time for the crippled dinosaur to wander off to let nature take its course or for one of his loved ones to aid him in that final journey. Considering the amount of pain that he was in, he did not mind that assistance coming sooner rather than later.
"Leg crushed, dad... You know what has to be done..."
Through his tear-filled eyes he could see his father's face began to contort in pain as he embraced his son in a firm embrace. He could hear his father's shaking breaths as Cera began crying in the background. Cera may not understand what now had to be done, but he knew that his father would do what was necessary. At least he would have a chance to speak to his beloved parent one last time.
Taunt looked over in confusion as the face of Littlefoot came into view. Surely, he would understand why this had to be done...
"No. It isn't over yet, Taunt. Let's see if the rainbowfaces have some way of saving you."
Cera pushed her leader out of the way as she stared in Taunt's face. "That's right! Now suck it up and prepare to be lifted!"
Taunt looked confused. What did she mean by that? It was only when a swimmer's body came into view that he realized what was coming.
"Be careful, mommy! He is hurt bad. He is, he is!"
Littlefoot watched as Taunt was picked up gingerly by Ura and another swimmer. Thud and Cera understandably ran close behind following him on what they both knew could very well be his final journey. Fastbiters who had broken legs were generally doomed to death. When one considered that he had an open wound that made the situation all the more grave.
Littlefoot shuddered at the sudden removal of his responsibility to Taunt. Now that he was on the way to seek assistance his mind could finally begin to dwell on what had happened... on what he had lost. With trembling hands he grabbed the boulder closest to himself and turned in the direction of the rock slide.
It did not take him long to find what he was looking for.
Immediately beside the massive rock that they had moved aside lay a form that had haunted him since he had escaped from his rocky prison. The smooth rock that Ducky had felt underneath the rubble was not a rock at all, but rather something that had once been very much alive. Seemingly against his will, Littlefoot raised his trembling hand and placed it on the still-warm body of the elder longneck. It was only when he felt the flesh of his deceased grandfather that he fell to his knees and broke down.
Wave after wave of muffled sobs escaped from the fastbiter's mouth as he collapsed against his elder's body. Lost in his grief he barely registered the embrace of Ruby and nuzzling from his father. He also did not immediately recognize the scents of the remaining packmates in his presence. Everyone waited beside Littlefoot in a silent vigil for their stricken leader. It was only an indeterminate amount of time later that Littlefoot dared look up at the bodies of his beloved parental figures. Those two giants who had cared for him when no one else was available. For years their gentle words had supported and guided him. Their necks had been symbols of stability and certainty. But now the mighty necks had fallen and their words were silent.
Because they had placed themselves between the pack and the rocks. It was their final gift to their beloved grandson.
They're gone... they're really gone. Littlefoot lamented.
"They... look so peaceful, don't they?"
Littlefoot looked at Ruby with a curious expression, before again focusing on his grandparents. They indeed had serene expressions on their faces. His grandfather had a small smile, while Grandma's neck curled around that of her mate's. They looked like they were at rest. Their struggles were over.
Littlefoot sucked in a deep breath. "They knew that the valley was safe and that we were all cared for... that was enough for them." A tear fell from the sharptooth's eye. "They were so... so..."
Bron finished for his son. "Selfless. They were the most selfless dinosaurs that I have ever known. They remind me of another member of the family." He then looked down at his son. "We need to find the other survivors, Littlefoot." Bron said this while looking at Chomper's parents and his hidden runner translator. "You should take care of your pack... and your wound." It was only upon his mentioning of it that Littlefoot took note of the gash in his chest. "I think me and Chomper's folks can take it from here."
Littlefoot nuzzled his father's leg. "Father... I..."
Bron smiled sadly. "I know, son. I miss them too." He sucked down a deep breath. "They will always be with you if you remember them... the... the important thing now is that we stand to our duties."
Littlefoot sighed. "Right..." He looked back towards his grandparents with a gentle expression. He tried to shake the horrific memories of his mother's death from many years ago, but they still lingered nonetheless. He could only take solace that his grandparents remained together even in death. At least they would be there to keep mother company. "I will be back, Grandma and Grandpa. I will give you the farewell that you deserve."
With no further words, Littlefoot slowly departed the Hidden Canyon with Ruby and Chomper at his sides and the others close at hand. All of them were more than ready to leave this canyon which had been filled with so much death. Little did they know that the valley itself would also be filled with the casualties of war.
Ruby looked on in horror at the sights around her. The constant movement of the injured and their loved ones made for a confusing and dangerous situation. The massive leaf-eaters were too preoccupied in their grief to look below for any allied fastbiters. As a result, the sharpteeth were left looking from the outside at the throngs of injured as they searched for their loved ones. They had no idea where Taunt was being treated, nor where Cera and Ducky were currently situated. But they could only assume that they would be in the same place.
However, before they could find their loved ones, a familiar voice was heard over the chaos.
"Hold him down, Chronos! The last thing that I need is to be slapped by an angry hidden runner!"
Chomper, Littlefoot, Ruby, Spike, Swift, and Leap all began to approach upon hearing those welcome voices. As a result, they were quickly able to see and hear what was about to happen.
"What do you mean?" Viscond protested, but his tone soon changed as the healing leaves were placed on his raw back. "Ahhh!!!"
Both fast runners struggled to contain him as the pain coursed through his system. However, as his pain dissipated, he finally began to calm down. It was obvious to all how much pain he was currently under. Even if there were any uncertainty on that point, the endless cascade of obscenities was more than enough to end all doubt.
"Damn you all to hell!"
Logos gave him a cheeky response. "You're welcome!"
And with that the two rainbowfaces rushed off to treat the others. There was no shortage of injured, but disturbingly it appeared like most of the treatable injured were of the smaller dinosaurs. There were many hidden runners in varying stages of treatment and just as many who were obviously on their way to the Land of the Parted. But besides a few swimmers and domeheads, there were no adult leaf-eaters to be seen being treated.
That was when Ruby caught sight of her mother.
Why does mommy look so sad?
Not wasting any time Ruby sprinted passed the enumerable injured. Littlefoot matched her speed with some difficulty as the others struggled to catch up. With their tremendous speed it was no time before they reached her mother. That was when she caught sight of something that she hoped to never see. Her siblings were crying as well.
"Mommy..." Ruby spoke softly, fearing what she would hear. "Mommy, what is wrong..."
Pearl looked up with trembling hands. Both of her siblings were now crying as were the other children. They all had lost a beloved caregiver, but she had lost far more. She had lost a mate and Ruby had lost her beloved father. With deep emotion she was only able to speak after Littlefoot had begun to nuzzle Ruby in concern.
"Ruby... Littlefoot... Your father... Shorty... they never came back."
Cera cradled Taunt's head in her arms as the rainbowfaces finally returned to their side. They obviously had to help stabilize those who were the most gravely injured before dealing with other injures, but she did not care about any of that right now. As far as she was concerned Taunt did have a grave injury. An injury that usually meant death. How could they simply give him some healing leaves and then leave him to his own devices. It was almost like they had written him off as a lost cause.
No... No! Cera shivered as she considered that possibility. The rainbowfaces were obviously budgeting their limited time and it made little sense to spend a lot of time on a dinosaur who were already as good as dead. Maybe that was why they had waited until the end of the day to inspect the fallen fastbiter. Maybe that was...
"Please move, Cera. We need to get a good look at Taunt if we are going to help."
Cera nuzzled Taunt one last time before retreating back from her beloved friend. Had Logos said anything else then she might have reacted less that civilly, but Logos had chosen her words carefully. It was almost as if she had done this before.
She watched helplessly as the two mysterious dinosaurs poked and prodded Taunt's leg which caused several hisses of pain. As the two began to speak in the jargon-laden language that only they understood, Cera's eyes met Thud's for the first time since they began waiting for Taunt's treatment. They shared a small understanding nod as both then proceeded to return their gaze to Taunt's stricken form as he nodded at the rainbowface's questions. It was only now that she could truly comprehend the pain that she had seen in his father's eyes. It was the pain of a father who had already lost too much and feared that he would lose what little he had left. For Thud only knew mercy killing as the treatment for such an injury. It was either a lingering, painful death or a quick one in his mind. If there was any other option then he would take it. The rainbowfaces were their only hope.
Chronos straightened his back as he let out a deep sigh. He then gave an ominous order that neither of the fastbiters wanted to hear.
"Cera, give me a pointed stick."
At this pronouncement Cera collapsed in anguish. So it was true, Taunt was as good as dead. Even the rainbowfaces agreed that a mercy killing was the only hope at this point. These would be her final moments with her beloved friend... Her final time to tell him her feelings before he departed from her forever... Why did it have to end like this?
She jerked her head towards the rainbowfaces as Logos lightly. but noisily, slapped her mate on the beak.
"You fool! They don't know that you want to help him; they think that you want to euthanize him!"
Cera rose with hopeful eyes. Did this mean?
As Chronos rubbed his beak, he answered a bit more carefully. "Fetch us a stick and some vines please. We need to hurry if we are going to fix your friend's leg properly."
The sounds of sobs and crying was almost deafening as the threehorn stood in front of the assembled dinosaurs. Despite the fact that his mate and Bron stood beside him, he had never before felt so alone. No doubt most of the valley had heard about the toll, but they could not possibly imagine the true magnitude. It was his sad duty to break the news.
"Residents of the valley... We have won the battle, but we have paid a terrible price."
The sounds of sobs echoed to his right. It was at this time that he realized that Bron had lost his composure. This was not something that he could blame the longneck for. At least Topps had not lost a child on this day.
"Among the honored dead are the best and brightest spirits that the valley has ever known. They sacrificed themselves for something that was better than themselves... and we must struggle to be worthy of their sacrifice."
There was not a dry eye in the assembly now. Everyone had lost a friend or loved on.
"Mr. Thicknose was a teacher to many of our little ones and a keeper of the valley's knowledge. It was he who took down the rock wall and in doing so, secured the security of the valley..."
There would be no crying widows for Mr. Thicknose, nor mourning sons or daughters, but he would be remembered by those he lectured to over the years. His legacy would not be one of progeny; rather, it would be one of story and song. No doubt tales of Mr. Thicknose's deeds would live on for far longer than any dinosaur that was alive to hear Topps's speech.
What Topps could not see at that sad moment was the two blood-covered rainbowfaces in the crowd. Both had bowed their heads in silent reflection on the friend who had sacrificed everything in order to bring their plan to fruition. For all that the valley knew, Mr. Thicknose had used their knowledge in order to ram the cave at the right point. They would know nothing of the Repressor or their mission to their planet. Yet, somehow, they preferred it that way. He was truly the hero here, whereas they were just the facilitators.
As they pondered, unobserved by the others, Topps continued.
"Countless hidden runners fell to defend our home... among them their leader..." He looked towards the assembled pack with an appreciative expression, as Ignis bowed respectfully despite her incalculable grief. "We owe much to you. You are free to recover here until you are well enough to return to your home."
It was against every instinct in his body to make such an offer to another kind, but his sense of honor overrode any xenophobia that he may have held on to. He had a huge debt to pay.
"Grandma and Grandpa Longneck also fell in battle." A few gasps echoed from the group as the rumors were confirmed for all to hear. The wisest of them had indeed died defending the land that they loved. His voice cracked as Tria rushed in to support him. "They were my friends... We will just have to carry on even though they will no longer be here to guide us."
His voice cracked again as he struggled to compose himself.
"I will take care of this, threehorn."
It took a few moments before he could speak again, but he was pleased to hear that Bron had taken the opportunity to speak in his place. He could articulate his grief for the others, but not with the losses of his own kind. Even though he had not been the leader in the charge into the canyon, he still felt the burden of responsibility.
"The threehorns and flyers have suffered more than any other herd. Many have been lost, including Whitehorn himself."
Loud cries emanated from the assembled threehorns as they began to stomp the ground in their grief. Most of the families had lost a father and more than a few children had been left as orphans. For them, their escape from the hiding place gave them only misery. Tria had taken the lead in adopting one of the poor things into her family. Upon seeing the actions of the defacto leader's mate, many other female threehorns followed suit until all were accounted for. Topps had not spoken on the matter one way or the other. He simply led by accepting silence. His accepting smile of the infant male spoke volumes to all who had been present.
"And as for the children..." Bron's voice broke as he confirmed the news to the assembly. "Shorty... my son is no more... and Detras has joined him in death... I can only hope that when I die it can be with half as much bravery as my sons..." He nuzzled Littlefoot as he lost the ability to speak. Bron's remaining son was equally at a loss for words.
Topps rose again to finish this sad duty. The dead could not be helped, but the living was another story.
"Our thoughts are now with the injured... Taunt..." The absence of his daughter was understandable on account of his injury. She refused to leave his side. "Petrie..." The flyer's mother and siblings were undoubtedly huddled by their sharptooth brother. They had not only lost a sister on this horrible day, but they may yet lose a brother. "And countless others... our hopes are with you all. The valley has paid for its life in blood. We can only hope that no more blood is demanded of us."
With that the assembled dinosaurs departed without ceremony. They had far too much on their minds to deal with formalities. They had survivors to comfort, injured to heal, and martyrs to mourn. Despite the pain of the present, each would have to do their best to survive and thrive so that their loved one's sacrifice would not be in vain.
Taunt woke up with a start.
"Easy, Taunt. Don't move the leg."
Taunt calmed significantly at Spike's calm voice. However, he was still confused about where he was. Why was he laying on his side? Why did his leg have a stick tied to it with vines? Why was he in pain?
Oh... shit... the rockslide.
With his recovering memory, he looked over at the assembled dinosaurs. Spike and Leap both had numerous healing plants on their numerous cuts and abrasions, but their wounds were nowhere near as severe as his. Nonetheless, it was imperative for them to rest and recover. He had no doubt that Littlefoot would threaten them with unnamed torments unless they agreed to assist in their recovery. Well... he would if he were not in mourning.
He shifted his gaze towards the massive longneck in the distance. Curled up next to him was the noticeable form of Littlefoot, obvious even under the cover of night. Bron had lost a son and Littlefoot had lost the two caregivers who had supported him throughout his childhood. At least Thud had been spared that torment. He could clearly see Ruby and her family curled up next to the burdened leader as well. Both families had lost so much in the horrible battle and as such it was only logical for them to find solace in each other's company.
Stern Claw's distant form could be seen in the distance beside her father. Neither of them had yet entered into slumber and Taunt could only imagine that both of them were trying to resolve the horrific events of the battle. She had stayed by his side until after he had finally fallen asleep, but now obviously needed time with her father.
Taunt looked down in shame. Nearly half of her herd was killed today. Her extended family and acquaintances from not so long ago had met their ends under the heavy stones of the Hidden Canyon. Suffocation... blunt trauma... bleeding out... the dying moments of the threehorns must have been awful beyond all imagining. Had Taunt not been injured she undoubtedly would have long since sought solace in her family.
Taunt sighed. Despite having what would usually be considered a mortal injury, he had come out of the cataclysm quite lucky. At least he was still alive. Many of the other injured may not be able to claim that for much longer. With that in mind he gazed over at the assembled flyers who were talking to the rainbowfaces.
Petrie was laid in a prone position on the ground as Pterano assisted Logos in allowing water to drain into the flyer's beak from a tree star. He had still not regained consciousness and everyone feared that might be the permanent situation. Ducky, Volant, and all of Petrie's surviving siblings were congregated around the stricken flyer as they offered each other what little comfort that they could. That was when an odd sight caught his attention. The shadow of a flyer which was illuminated by the moonlight.
"They call that one Guido, apparently."
Taunt looked in surprise at his father. How long had he been awake? Had he been watching over him the entire time?
"Petrie was his best friend when he was a leaf-eater and he seems to have taken it on himself to do whatever he can to help. Even if that is getting healing plants under the light of the Night Circle."
Taunt nodded. "Sometimes that is all that we can do to not feel helpless."
Thud moved over to his son as he enveloped him in a loving embrace.
Taunt was more correct than he could have known.
Guido grabbed another healing leaf as he struggled to fight his growing exhaustion. The absolute last thing that he wanted to do was to be forced to reflect upon the horrors of the day. One of Petrie's siblings was dead and Petrie himself might be lost in the days ahead. It was enough to make Guido remember back when he had originally believed Petrie to be dead after the brown flyer had turned into a sharptooth flyer. Those horrible emotions... the hopelessness... the despair...
Guido clinched his eyes shut for a moment as he willed himself to remain focused. He would be of no help to anyone if he broke down in despair. Petrie had given the valley his all, the least that he could do was to return the favor. He could cry when it was all finally over. When Petrie's fate was finally known.
Guido quickly took off into the air and landed on a nearby tree. What is that?!
Another splash echoed into the night as Guido stared into the dark stream. He was in the Mysterious Beyond so he couldn't discount the possibility that sharpteeth could be responsible for the sudden commotion... and when Guido reflected that Chomper's folks were staying at the other end of the Hidden Canyon...
Damn sharpteeth! Haven't we suffered enough?! Guido was about to fly off and count his blessings when the mysterious dinosaur suddenly came into view.
"Damn you are heavy! And to think that I thought giving Tricia rides was painful..."
The other dinosaur appeared to try to rise from the water where Shorty's tumbled had caused him to land. Guido couldn't see much detail on the taller dinosaur, but he certainly had a distinct voice.
"Well if you hadn't decided to swim down the Underground Rapids then my leg would still be fine! I was floating quite nicely until your green ass decided to make an appearance."
The silhouette of the longneck turned towards the stranger and talked back in a cheeky tone.
"Well Mr. Feather Ass, I didn't have much of a choice..."
Both dinosaurs stared at one another for a moment before erupting into fits of laughter. It was a curious sound. The kind of sound that could only come from persons who were simply happy to be alive, never mind anything else. But that was not what disturbed Guido. The voice of the longneck... he recognized that voice...
The longneck's dark silhouette turned towards the teal flyer. "Guido?"
As Guido moved closer, the seaweed covered bodies of a fast runner and a green longneck friend came into clear view. They both looked like that they had cleaned the bottom of a lake with their bodies. Despite their disheveled appearance, however, both of them seemed relatively uninjured except for Detras leaning against Shorty for support. Upon seeing this sight Guido felt something warm begin to build in his chest. It was when Shorty's cheeky smile suddenly appeared and his humorously understated voice broke through the night that Guido knew that at least some joy had come on this night of despair.
"So... uh... how was your day?"