The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 73 A parting of the ways

“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

― Khalil Gibran

Three days later:

The fastbiter wore a serene expression as he stroked the rock with his clawed hand.

"I hope that you two enjoy the view. It is beautiful."

It was customary to simply let bodies decompose as it was part of the circle of life, but this was far different. So many had died and the valley's victory was so miraculous that it was decided to build a monument to the fallen. A reminder, like Saurus Rock, to distant generations of what happened on that day. The valley, having been devastated by grief, was only too willing to perform one final feat for those who had sacrificed so much. Just as they had lived through their own efforts and not simply through the mercy of nature, they would create the landmark that nature would not.

The stone which he was touching was only a small part of the large mound that had been created by the efforts of the valley. Large stones had been dragged by the surviving threehorns, which created the base of the structure. They had found a natural base at the bodies of the fallen longnecks, which themselves had been mostly covered by massive stones. From there a huge mound of mud and rock had been placed higher and higher, with dinosaurs climbing on their construction in order to raise it further. The massive mound of rock and mud rose to the height of a longneck and was nearly six times as long in diameter. It was amazing that such a structure could have been built, with the rockslide's help or not. But very nearly the entire uninjured population of the valley had worked at it as an outlet for their grief and despair. It was something to do when nothing else could be done for the injured and fallen. It had only been the previous night when Bron finally ordered everyone to stop. He didn't want them to work themselves to the point of injury, no matter their intentions. They had lost far too many as it was.

"I guess we kind of got carried away... but you all deserve this... Whitehorn... Harthron... Grandma... Grandpa..." The fastbiter bowed his head. "I just hope that Petrie doesn't join you... his pack still needs him... and so does his family." He sighed deeply. "I just hope that you are happy, wherever you are now... I am sure that mother is proud of you."

The fastbiter stood in silent vigil at the base of the mound for several moments. Besides blocking entrances the valley had never really made anything like a construction before. Perhaps it was inspiration from the pack's use of vines and spears... or perhaps it was contagion from the weird ideas of the rainbowfaces... but whatever it was, the valley had decided to deviate from the natural order to honor those who had defended the natural order.

"I figured that I would find you here."

Littlefoot did not turn around. He had heard the small longneck approach for several minutes and had smelled him for minutes before that. Nonetheless he was not displeased to have his company.

After all, he had feared that his brother was one of the fallen until quite recently.

"It is beautiful, isn't it?" Littlefoot asked softly.

Shorty quickly sat down beside his brother and looked up at the massive mound. He was silent for several moments, but then he shook his head in a disbelieving way.

"I can't believe that they are gone." Shorty admitted sadly. "The day before..." He couldn't make himself reference the battle. "...they were so happy. Pestering you and Ruby over your thing..." Shorty smiled in remembrance. "...and now they are not here anymore."

The longneck turned towards his brother. "How are you holding up?"

Littlefoot sighed. "As well as can be expected, I guess. At least they... they died knowing that the valley was going to be okay. At least they had that mercy."

Shorty leaned against his brother as Littlefoot reciprocated the kind gesture. At least the two brothers still had one another and their father. Their family, like many, had experienced the bitter taste of loss, but they would still continued on. That was something that some of the threehorn and flyer families could not attest to.

Some of them had been completely annihilated.

"What..." Shorty asked hesitantly. "...what about Petrie? Has there been any word?"

Littlefoot simply shook his head, which made Shorty lean a bit more forcefully. It was increasingly looking like the pack might lose one of their own. The longer that the flyer did not awaken, the weaker that his body would become. At some point it would be time to say goodbye to their beloved flyer. The fastbiter was already preparing himself for that possibility.

"The rainbowfaces say that we should know in a couple of days." Littlefoot finally offered. "If he doesn't wake up in the next few days then it will be too late." Littlefoot was summarizing, of course, Logos had explained the effects of Petrie not eating and something about 'energy' that was beyond his understanding, but the meaning had been clear. This had done nothing to improve the pack leader's state of mind.

"Well..." Shorty finally offered. "Detras wanted me to tell you something."

Littlefoot blinked. "Oh?"

Shorty nodded. "Yeah... He says that Chomper's folks will be going to Hanging Rock today. They will wait for you there."

Littlefoot was perplexed by this. "Why would they... oh." He finally got the point of the message. "Um... right..."

Chomper's parents, like the rest of the pack, had been able to feed upon some of the corpses from the battle's aftermath. However, the fallen rocks had covered up much of the usable meat and none of the valley residents would want them to eat those residents who had lost their lives in the valley. In fact, the dinners in the canyon were only acceptable because the act could not be seen... It was obvious that Dein and Terri would feel the need to leave before the rest of the pack, but even they would have to leave soon.

The only question was: would Petrie join them?

Littlefoot sighed. "Alright. Let's go talk to Chomper's folks. We will also need to... erm... make sure that the residents don't head in that direction any time soon."

Shorty paled at the mentioning of possible predation on the valley residents, but he said nothing. Littlefoot was correct, of course.

Littlefoot looked up at the mound one last time as he rose to the stalking position of his species.

"Goodbye, Grandma and Grandpa...” His soft smile was overflowing with emotion. “Take care of mother for me."

As the two brothers departed from the canyon, the Bright Circle's radiant form finally peaked over the massive mound, filling the canyon with its white light. A hopeful sign in the desolate wastes.

......

"I am so glad to have you back, daddy!"

Detras smiled as his daughter hugged him tightly. In any other circumstance having a fastbiter hug a fast runner would be an odd occurrence, but it had turned into a regular ritual since he had returned with Shorty.

"I know, dear. It is good to be back." He smiled. "I already sent word to Littlefoot for him to meet up with us."

Ruby looked surprised by this. "Oh... Are Dein and Terri?"

Detras nodded. "Yeah, they have decided to make the trip today. I am sure that the valley will be somewhat relieved by that."

Ruby took on a slightly annoyed expression. "Now dad, you know that they wouldn't eat a valley resident! They gave the valley their vow... they fought beside them."

Pearl walked into the conversation just in time to intervene. "That is true, dear. But old habits die hard." Her smile seemed to brighten up the cave. "The residents are somewhat used to all of you, but not Chomper's folks."

Ruby reluctantly nodded at this. Her mother had a point there.

Pearl's smile remained undiminished. "Now let's go get your brother and sister. I expected to get them earlier, but somebody decided to sleep in..." She chided with mock disapproval.

Ruby yawned. "Well I wouldn't have slept in if I wasn't so tired. If I were less tired then maybe I would not have slept in."

Detras smiled. "Well, you do need the rest in order to heal." He inspected some of her gashes with concern. "Despite the vines you took quite a few good scratches."

Ruby nodded sadly. "Not as bad as some of the others."

The three dinosaurs became silent at Ruby's words. Their family had come through the cataclysm comparably well off, but many of the others had not. Dozens of the valley's residents were dead and many would carry the scars of the conflict for the rest of their lives.

"Well..." Pearl spoke softly. "Let's go get your brother and sister. From there we can go check on Petrie..." She looked up at Ruby with sad eyes. "Ura told me that she had to pry the kids away from Petrie last night... none of them wanted to leave him behind."

Detras frowned at this. "Is that why you decided to let them spend the night at the swimmer's nest?"

Pearl nodded. "Arial and Orchid have become quite close to the swimmers... I figure that would cheer them up. Not to mention that Ducky more than likely has already led them to Petrie this morning."

Ruby looked towards the stream that led to where the swimmers resided. "She goes there every morning and doesn't leave until the Night Circle rises. I feel sorry for her. Petrie is her best friend."

Pearl hugged her daughter. "Shh... dear... we will visit both of them in a few moments. Let's just get your brother and sister, okay?"

Ruby reluctantly nodded as all three of them proceeded to walk down the stream towards the interconnected water holes that made up the nesting site of the swimmers. What was normally an area bustling with activity and joy was eerily silent and calm at this early hour. The lack of voices was a reminder of those who had been silenced forever.

A splash caused her to quickly recover from her melancholy.

"Ah, Ponder! There you are!"

Ruby turned towards the familiar voice and smiled. Despite the turmoil of the last few days, the sound of her companion's voice immediately lifted her spirits. As long as he remained then she knew that things would be okay.

"Seeker!" She ran up to the advancing dinosaur as both of her parents looked on with amusement. "You brought Shorty with you?" She asked with curiosity.

Littlefoot looked surprised for a moment, before looking behind him. In the distance, and advancing rapidly, was the exhausted form of a green longneck. It didn't take long for his mocking voice to greet his brother's ears.

"Damn! You fastbiters are fast!" He tried to catch his breath for a moment. "Are you two in that much of a hurry to make babies or something?!" He asked in a cheeky manner.

Both Littlefoot and Ruby looked mortified at Shorty's accusation, as Ruby's parents tried to hold back laughter.

"Ahem..." Littlefoot cleared his voice in an awkward manner as he adjusted to speak in leaf-eater. "You do realize that you are taunting two sharpteeth, right?"

Shorty did not fall for Littlefoot's mock threat. "Heh... you wouldn't eat your own brother... besides, after what I just had to run there isn't much meat left on me anyway."

Both Littlefoot and Ruby chuckled at this. Shorty's humor was a welcome respite from the surreal situation they found themselves in.

"There is something seriously wrong with you, Shorty." Littlefoot mocked. "Joking about being a meal..."

Shorty shrugged. "I always said that you were a bad influence."

The five dinosaurs laughed lightly as the banter of the small dinosaur as they continued their journey towards Ducky's family and from there, to Petrie's comatose body. They had no idea that four familiar dinosaurs were already quite close by.

......

"Alright, son. Now lean against Stern Claw and walk towards me."

With pained grunts emanating from the fastbiter's mouth, he struggled to hobble on one leg as Cera allowed herself to be used as a support. In the slowest of movements Taunt slowly trekked across the distance between them. It was only when he collapsed into his father's supporting arms that he allowed himself to speak.

"Damn it! Everything hurts!"

Thud sighed as he assisted his son in sitting himself on the ground, being careful not to let him put any weight on the broken leg.

"I know, son... but at least your other leg seems to be fine."

Taunt sputtered. "Fine? Fine?! I walked slower than legless swimmer!"

Cera stroked his head as she tried to calm him. "Remember what the rainbowface said, Taunt? Your knee just needs time to heal, but we have to work the leg so it doesn't get too weak." She smiled at him. "Then when your other leg is better we can do the same thing until it is strong as well."

Taunt growled. "Oh gee, I can't wait..."

"Is he alright?"

Cera looked up. With her fixation of Taunt's therapy, she had nearly forgotten that her father was close by. As she was about to speak, however, Taunt decided to try his hand at speaking leaf-eater again.

"Well I have a broken leg, a sore leg, and a sadist for a father. Yeah, I'm just fine."

Everything seemed to stop at that instant as Cera translated Taunt’s leaf-eater for Thud’s benefit. Cera had taken to translating for her friend, which had probably saved him from being stomped on twice over back when he had first been introduced to her father. However, he now had sufficient control over the leaf-eater language to speak intelligibly. Cera was concerned that Taunt's cheeky demeanor would lead to trouble. However, her father's reaction surprised her.

He laughed.

"Your father is torturing you? Has my daughter not been doing her job?"

Cera had to chuckle at this. With all of the emotion and turmoil over the last few days, it felt good just to hear her father in good spirits, even if only for a brief moment. She was curious as to what her father wanted, however.

"Cera, can I speak to you a moment?"

The yellow fastbiter looked at Taunt and Thud for a moment as if to ask for their permission.

Thud laughed. "Well, since I am a 'sadist' I think it would be appropriate for me to lead the next walking session." He gave a predatory smile at his son, who emitted a groan in response. Thud then looked up at Cera. "I am sure that he will appreciate you 'saving' him later."

Taunt whined. "You are all sadists! Sadists, I tell you!"

Cera smiled. "Don't worry, Taunt. I will be back... then it will be my turn to help you walk."

She ignored the obscene gesture that Taunt gave her in response as she raised her head in a prideful strut and then turned towards her father. He had a somewhat grave look on his face. As she approached, he began to walk some distance away towards the watering hole. It was only when he finally stopped and looked into its depths that Cera finally asked the obvious question.

"What do you need, daddy?"

......

Topps sighed at the question from his daughter. Where could he even begin?

"What do you think of Goro, Cera?"

His daughter seemed to be taken aback by the mention of Tria's adopted son. His adoption had been the one act that motivated many of the other mothers to take in the orphans of the battle. Two entire litters had been left orphaned, but between the remainder of threehorns there had been enough to take them in.

Cera's face took on an odd expression. "He seems like a good kid. Tricia seems to like him..."

As she said those words, she looked across the lake towards where Tricia and Goro seemed to be playing a game of some kind. Topps followed her expression and smiled at the scene. Tricia seemed to be showing the reluctant young child how to swim, while Tria looked on in amusement. This was something that Tricia wouldn't have learned without Ducky's training so long ago and now it seemed that Tricia wanted to share her knowledge to her adopted brother. It was a cute scene and one that Topps felt bittersweet to see. After all, it should have been this child's mother and father who were witnessing this and not him.

He only hoped that Whitehorn would be pleased to have Topps adopt his son.

"It went against my instincts to accept another's child as my own. But now I almost feel like he was always my son... you know?" He looked towards the water for a moment. "Tria was surprised when I made the suggestion."

Cera was taken aback. "This was your idea? I thought that Tria..."

Topps nodded. "Do not misunderstand, Cera. Tria accepted Goro just as readily as she accepted you, but I felt that I had to do this..." His face contorted oddly as he shifted from a frown to a contemplative expression. "Whitehorn risked everything in the battle. I could see the pain in his eyes. He felt anguish with every loss... but he didn't let any of that show." He blinked as he remembered the brown threehorn. "He was a natural leader in the making and the damned battle took him!"

Silence permeated the scene as Cera dared not interrupt her father. The emotions in the air were palpable.

"He was the sort of threehorn that I would have been honored to have as a son... I will consider it an honor to raise his son as my own." He smiled sadly. "It is not the way of our kind... but being around you Cera has taught me something important."

Cera blinked away the tears that she had no idea that she was shedding. "What's that, daddy?"

Topps nodded. "Sometimes you have to look passed the old ways... in order to do what is right." He nuzzled his daughter as he laughed at himself. "If Mr. and Mrs. Longneck were here then they would say I was getting soft."

Cera laughed as well. A very soft sound that came out like a light growl. "Well, Bron could call you soft if that would make you feel any better."

Topps rose to his full height and resumed the cocky demeanor that was customary of his species. "Bron, ha! Not even he is stupid enough to call me that!"

Cera chuckled at her father's antics. She was obviously pleased that he was beginning to act like his old self. He noted this and decided to move on to the purpose of this meeting.

"But that is not why I called you out here... I think that there is something else that I need to do... something that the longnecks would have done if they were here..."

The yellow fastbiter looked up at this. This was an unexpected development.

Topps cleared his voice. "Cera, what do you think about..."

......

"You leaving already, mommy?"

Terri looked at her son with a smile. Despite having been in battle, her son could still act as innocent as a child. Because he is still a child. She cautioned herself. A child who has seen and done too much.

"Yes, Path... the food is not as plentiful."

Dein took the opportunity to clarify his mate's statement.

"Ha! The food is plentiful enough, but the leaf-eaters would object!"

Terri looked at her mate with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. "What do you expect, dear? For one of them to sacrifice themselves as a token of goodwill?"

Dein shrugged. "That would be nice. Or they could just let us eat some of those nice domeheads that got ripped up in the valley."

Terri rolled her eyes. "Somehow I think that they would object to seeing us eat their brothers and sisters, dear."

Dein laughed, a horrific growling sound. "They're already dead! I can understand them being unconvinced if we killed them first, but they have already been ripped up like a flyer in a hailstorm! If they don't want to watch then they can look away while we eat!"

Her mate was about to make another cheeky reply when another voice caught her attention.

"Dein. Terri." It was Littlefoot. "Sorry for the delay... I was um... reflecting."

Terri frowned inwardly. Littlefoot had lost his grandparents in the attack and though her mate might not have been capable of seeing the situation in the way she did, even he could understand the significance of losing one's caregivers to an enemy. At least those two earned their vengeance. She affirmed to herself. Though she knew that the pain of loss would still haunt the brown fastbiter for some time.

"It is alright, Seeker." She affirmed. "Giving respect for our ancestors requires no apologies." She noted that the fastbiter bowed his head at the mentioning of 'ancestors'. Now his grandparents were in that same realm as his mother, Skytail, and all of those others who had passed on in ages long gone by. It would certainly take a while to accept that as reality.

Chomper took the lull in the conversation to finally speak again. "Stay safe out there!"

Dein laughed. "Red Claw is dead and most of his allies have been crushed. We will do just fine." He then looked down as several others, whom he recognized as Spike, Breeze, Leap, and Swift, began to congregate at the scene. "You all just come to Hanging Rock when the Spotter situation is over."

Littlefoot and Chomper both looked down at this. There were only two possible ways for Petrie's 'situation' to be resolved and one of those ways became less and less likely each day. The emotional burden on the gathered dinosaurs was obvious.

"Is it too late for the valley to send it regards?"

Terri looked up. The massive grey threehorn that she recognized as Cera's father slowly came on the scene, with Cera following close behind. Further behind him, lumbered a large brown longneck and a green juvenile. It looked like the valley was about to give them a proper send off before they left.

"I have no idea what the grey horn-face said, but if it doesn't involve him offering himself up as food, then I don't care."

Terri rolled her eyes at her mate's sarcastic expression and turned her gaze towards her son.

"Path, would you mind translating for us? And... give your father a generous interpretation. I would prefer not to be chased out."

As her mate continued to make wisecrack remarks, Chomper nodded his head in agreement with his mother's proposal. It was here under the main entrance of the valley that it gave a fond farewell to the first and only adult two-footers that they had accepted into its boundaries. All of the leaf-eaters present knew that if they had the misfortune to met again in the Mysterious Beyond then it would be a battle to the death, but at least for this one shining moment in the valley's history both sides had been joined for one noble purpose.

It was something that no one who was present would ever forget.

......

"It looks like Chomper's folks are leaving."

Volant could only nod mutely at Guido's report. All of her attention at the moment was focused on the same prone form that she had been fixated on for the last three days. Periodically Ducky or one of her children would offer her some food, but she ate very little. She had already lost one daughter and the thought that she may lose Petrie was too much for her to bear.

"You should try to eat something, sister. I can keep watch for a while."

Volant shook her head. "Petrie didn't take a break and neither will I."

The elder flyer heard an exhausted sigh from her long-exiled brother. He had been permitted to stay until Petrie's fate was known, but he knew that his place in the valley was a precarious one. But nothing was as precarious as Petrie's situation was now. Volant's heart ached with every rise of her son's chest. She feared that each one might be his last.

She could feel her brother's approaching feet as he moved closer to Petrie's side. He simply stayed there for several moments as Ducky and Guido approached on the other side. The silence stretched from one moment to another as they maintained their vigil. It was finally Ducky which broke the silence.

"Wake up, Petrie... All of your brothers and sisters are waiting for you. They are, they are."

Volant sighed as she closed her eyes. Petrie remained asleep despite their best care and the help of the rainbowfaces. She couldn't help but wonder what sleep stories came to Petrie in the seemingly endless sleep.

......

Petrie shifted to his right as the other flyer barreled passed where he had been previously.

"You have to do better to catch Petrie!" He mocked as he turned in the opposite direction and proceeded to pick up speed. If the other flyer thought that he was going to catch him, then he had another thing coming. With him gaining speed at an alarming rate in this endless sky, he was quite surprised to see another flyer flying right next to him.

"You would have a better lead if you hadn't mocked him."

"Ahhh!!!" Petrie panicked as he went into a barrel roll and went into a vertical dive. The sky in this mysterious place appeared to be endless, so why not dive as fast as he can? He soon realized that all of this was for naught, however, when the mysterious flyer again appeared at his side.

"Good strategy, but he will eventually catch up. He always catches his prey."

Petrie looked towards the flyer as he continued to dive. The flyer was a male Pteranodon which had a remarkably similar appearance to Pterano, but he appeared to be a bit older. Despite having never met this flyer in his life, he looked familiar for some reason.

"If he always catch prey, then why you here?" Petrie squawked as he could hear the black flyer approach closer to the duo. The stranger appeared to be quite correct.

The flyer laughed. "He caught me long ago. He only catches his prey once." The eyes of the flyer then met Petrie's. "But I think that he won't mind catching you much later... you provided him with more than enough prey in recent days."

Petrie could hear the black flyer approach even closer. A horrifying screeching sound seemed to be emanating from the fiend's body as he came closer and closer. It was enough to drive the sharptooth flyer into a panic.

"He isn't too bad... he is just doing his job..."

Petrie sputtered at this. "Me no care! Me no want him do his job on me!"

The elder flyer laughed a jovial laugh, which greatly confused Petrie. How could he be so calm at a time like this? What did he mean that he had already been caught? What did any of this mean? As the black flyer came closer and closer, Petrie suspected that he would never learn the answer.

"You know, Petrie... Spotter... Sandstorm... whatever you like to be called. I am glad to have met you, even though you never met me."

Petrie was silent. This flyer was making no sense. No sense at all. But yet he couldn't turn away as he stared into his eyes. It was as if he were staring directly into his soul. As the screeching of the black flyer came closer, the elder flyer smiled a loving smile and leaned in towards Petrie's ear. As he whispered into Petrie's ear, he could see the mysterious world fall away like a phantom in the rising of the Bright Circle.

"Wake up, son."

......

The first thing that caught Petrie's eyes was light. Blinding light.

"Urgh..."

The small flyer sucked down a breath... and then another... and then another. For some reason the mere sensation of breathing felt liberating. It was as if it were the first conscious action that he had done in days. As pleasant as the return awareness was, the next sensation was not welcoming at all.

Pain. Terrible, terrible pain.

In a sudden rush all of the memories from the battle came back. The attack on the valley, the killing of Valaria, his quest for revenge, the battle in the ravine, his crash into the rocks... The reason for his lingering pain was now obvious to him. He felt like that he had crashed into the mountain, because he had. He had finally awakened from his slumber, but his enemies would not.

Despite the pain, Petrie could soon see that the light was dimming as his eyes adjusted to the scene around him. There were four forms immediately to his front, which seemed to be emitting a growling sound that was oddly alien, yet calming. It was almost as if the four dark features were...

Asleep. Petrie's mind registered. Is Petrie by sleeping spot?

As his vision continued to clear, he could see the specters begin to come into clear focus. Two large brown flyers were leaning against one another making an odd screeching sound, while the green, featured form of a fastbiter was curled up into a ball by his feet. It only took him a few seconds to recognize them.

Momma... Uncle Pterano... Ducky... Guido...

Petrie smiled as he again sucked down a breath. Was the sleep story real? Was it fake? Had he really met his biological father? In the end he realized that it didn't really matter. What mattered was that for now he was in the world of the living and he could still be with those whom he loved. He wasted no time in seizing his second chance at life.

"Why you sleep? Bright Circle still up."

Petrie was treated to the surprised expressions of the four as they suddenly awakened from their slumber. In an instant, Petrie was enveloped in the loving embrace of his loved ones. As the joyful squawks and cheers echoed across the valley, everyone knew of his fate. Petrie may meet his end in battle one day, but it would not be today.

The last of the seven hunters had survived the battle

......

The next day:

"Goodness, Petrie! You're eating fish about as fast as we can catch them!"

Petrie stopped eating for a moment in order to catch his breath. Though the sight of gore and the smell of disemboweled fish caused the leaf-eaters distress, none of Petrie's siblings departed the scene. They were just happy to have him back. In a moment, Petrie was ready to respond to Taunt's commentary.

"Well, Taunt. You not catching them. Others catch them."

Taunt rolled his eyes at Petrie's words. He had set himself up for that one.

"Just my luck! On the one day Spotter can't fly away after his taunts, I have a bum leg."

Petrie may a shrugging motion with his wings. "Me probably can fly. Me can try..."

"I don't think so." Came Volant's stern reply. "Remember what the rainbowfaces said?"

Another voice from behind Petrie alerted him to the continued presence of the two mysterious dinosaurs.

"You had a very bad head injury, Petrie. You should stay put for a couple of days at least."

Another voice, the masculine voice of Chronos, came shortly thereafter. "Yes. As it is you need a lot of food to make up for your lost body weight. You are almost eating as much as Logos..."

A pained groan was suddenly heard as Petrie shook his head. Logos had obviously let her mate know what she thought about that comment.

"Ahem..." Logos's voice resumed. "Yes, you are eating a lot... and unlike certain other people you are not in the process of making eggs." An apologetic cough emanated from the male, as she continued. "Are you feeling alright, Petrie. Any mood swings?"

A muffled laugh came from Taunt as he desperately tried to hide his amusement. He didn't want to be the next in line for Logo's pregnancy-induced wrath. Thankfully, Petrie's answer saved him.

"No. Me not moody." Petrie replied. "Me just hungry and tired."

Logos then came into view of the flyer as she nodded. "That is to be expected. You had a pretty bad concussion, but I don't think that you have permanent damage."

Petrie ignored the odd word 'concussion' as he assumed it was just one of those weird, star people words. Instead, he took the opportunity to talk to Taunt.

"You hear that, Taunt. Me have hurt head. Me almost as stupid as you are now."

An annoyed growl emanated from where Petrie couldn't see, as Cera's voice called out in rebuke.

"Stop trying to move, Taunt!"

"He called me stupid!" Came his annoyed reply.

"I know you are, dear, and I love you anyway."

Petrie laughed mentally as he could hear Taunt growl in a mixture of defeat and affection. No matter what insults Petrie could unleash, he knew that they paled in comparison to Cera's usual banter with her friend. Petrie was just glad to see that everyone was recovering, himself included.

"Here you go, Spotter!"

Petrie turned his head slowly as he could see the other members of the pack appear. Thud, Leap, Swift, Spike, Breeze, Ducky... They were all present and each carried a large fish in their mouths. As if on cue, they dropped the slippery morsels into a large pile on the ground. Petrie's hunger returned in force.

"Yuck! How can you eat that stuff?!"

Petrie smiled at Flap's exclamation. His brothers and sisters had initially greeted him with uncontrolled jubilation before they all shared in the mourning over Valaria. But now the usual banter was returning. A hint of what had come before these days of tragedy and despair. In reaction to his brother's question, Petrie responded in jest.

"It good, brother. You should try some."

As the chorus of disgusting exclamations emanated from the flyer family, Volant decided to intervene.

"Okay, children. How about we get some berries to eat, while Petrie eats... his meal?" At the chorus of agreeing chirps, Volant laughed and directed her attention to her injured son. "Petrie, will you be alright?"

Petrie smiled. "Me be okay, momma. Pack is watching me and so is rainbowfaces."

Petrie returned his focus to the tasty fish that had been laid in front of him. As he began to eat and Volant prepared to leave, Petrie heard the sound of two pairs of flapping wings. This was followed by his mom's sudden inquiry to the new flyers.

"Pterano... Nunti... What's wrong?"

Petrie turned just in time to see Pterano land, with Nunti close behind. Pterano had a grave look on his face.

"I have just been informed that Topps wants to talk to me. It doesn't take a genius to know what he will say."

Volant bowed her head slightly, as the two siblings embraced. She whispered something into his ear for several moments, which Petrie could not hear. Then she took off into the air. Petrie did not wait for his uncle to speak before he broke the silence.

"Uncle, you have to leave?"

Pterano looked in his nephew's direction with apologetic eyes. "It appears so, Petrie. I know of no other reason why the threehorn would want to talk to me. His opinion of me is well known and you have awakened so..." He gave a soft smile. "There is no reason to keep me around."

Petrie could not see the knowing look that Cera gave Taunt in the background. At this moment all that was on Petrie's mind was his uncle's situation.

"Well, you have Nunti so you both be safer in the Mysterious Beyond." Petrie noted. "We kill most bad flyers in battle. So it be safer."

Nunti laughed in the background. "I am sure that since we allied with the 'baddest' of the bad flyers, that that will help us as well."

Petrie had to laugh at that as well. He had indeed built up a reputation for himself and he had no doubt that the survivors of the battle would carry the pack's deeds by word-of-mouth across the land. In sharptooth society a fearsome reputation could sometimes be enough to dissuade an upstart from fighting in the first place. Petrie had no doubt that this protection would extend to those that had allied with his pack as well.

Pterano nodded. "Yes, indeed. I have no doubt that we will do just fine." His eyes took on a far-way look for a few moments as he seemed to be considering something. "I am just glad that you are back, Petrie... Had anything happened to you..."

Petrie eyes watered as he joined his uncle in a hug. "Don't cry, uncle. Me okay now."

Looking upon the touching scene, Littlefoot looked over at his comrades and gave a knowing head gesture. As if on cue, the pack dispersed and allowed the trio of flyers some privacy. Even Taunt, who was bound to his resting spot, had enough foresight to keep his mouth shut.

Little did Pterano know that his fate had already been sealed.

......

"Ignis?"

The hidden runner looked up reluctantly from the watering hole. The familiar face of Viscond greeted her vision.

"The remaining elect are ready to move on... they are just waiting on your word."

Ignis blinked. "My word?"

Viscond hesitated. "Yes... you are still one of them. Your father saw to that."

Ignis looked down in remembrance. Her father had indeed restored her family birthright when he had joined in the valley's defense, but she still felt like one of Viscond's followers. It was odd how the few weeks of freedom had made such an impact on her.

"Tell them that I will be ready in a moment."

Viscond nodded and gave her a slight reassuring grip on her shoulder.

"He would be proud of you, you know?"

Ignis frowned as she continued to look downcast. "We lost so many... too many." She shook her head. "What will happen to us now? We lost the very best of us..." She stopped for a moment as she choked up. "Now it is up to us who remain to pick up the pieces."

Silence reigned for several moments as Viscond sat down beside the stricken female. Eventually, however, he broke the silence.

"It reminds me of something I once told Westron."

Ignis turned in surprise. Viscond had refused to talk about Westron's passage since the terrible battle. The grief was simply too great... but now he appeared to be ready to open up.

Ignis responded cautiously. "What is that?"

The male hidden runner smiled slightly as his eyes went out of focus. It was as if he were looking at something far away. In a dreamy voice, he then began to recall a distant memory.

"You want me to be your deputy? I'm honored, sir... but..."

Viscond had just offered his second-in-command position to his dear friend, but he seemed hesitant at the offer. Viscond had expected this humility, so he responded to Westron's hesitation with ease.

"Trust me, Westron. You are the best hidden runner for the job."

Westron continued to hesitate, but eventually spoke in a soft voice. "What do you think the job entails, sir?"

Viscond looked at Westron with surprise. Did he honestly think that he was not sure of what he was offering?

"I mean no disrespect... but... it is more than just relaying orders and doing delegated work. I will have to be the figure that they look up to. I will have to be the leader-in-waiting. I will have to live up to the standard that you have established... are you sure that I am the right person for the job?"

Viscond smiled. That was the kind of analysis that he expected from his friend. He responded in a kind voice.

"Westron, if I didn't think that you were the one for the job, then I would not have offered it to you. Closeness implies support. The pack already knows you are my chosen even though you don't have the title yet."

Westron was taken aback by this. "They do?"

Viscond nodded. "Indeed, they do." He then placed both hands on Westron's shoulders. "The only question is will you allow me to make it official."

Despite his misgivings, Westron gave him the most confident smile that he could muster.

"I accept."

"Closeness implies support, Ignis. Your father was doing more than right a wrong when he took you back into the fold."

Ignis was taken aback by this. "Are... are you sure, Viscond? I am sure that my father would have told me if he wanted to promote me in rank. I am still just a daughter and one of the elect... no more than that.”

Viscond gave her a disbelieving look. "Oh really? Then why were you giving orders after your father died? More importantly, why did the others obey them without question?"

Ignis looked away. She had no answer for him.

"When I was in that cave... fighting the fastbiters..." Viscond paused as he tried to forget the images of his friend being killed. "I had no idea the carnage that was happening in the canyon, but the others eventually told me."

Ignis continued to stare at her reflection in the water. She looked nothing like her father, except for her piercing eyes. Some part of her almost recognized her father's eyes staring back at her through the reflection.

"Do you know what they said, Ignis?" Upon receiving no answer, he continued. "They said that they were fortunate that Harthron's deputy took over after he fell. They said that Ignis fought with the fury of a bellydragger."

Ignis spun around. "They said what?!" She shook her head. "I am not a deputy..."

Viscond smiled. "Closeness implies support, Ignis. Your father's support and your own actions have promoted you, whether you like it or not. It is a foregone conclusion who the remaining elect will select as the new leader." His face was resolute despite Ignis’s expression of disbelief. “Some people are born into leadership and others earn it. You have done both.”

Ignis was dumbfounded. In the distance the sounds of footsteps could be heard as Seeker's pack and the valley prepared to give the hidden runners a kind send off, but she paid that no heed. Was she ready to be a leader? To do so would require her to take a mate... or several... and to perform the other duties associated with that high title. Could she really live up to the standards that her father had established? Closeness implies support. She thought to herself. I hope that I will make you proud, daddy.

"Alright... tell the others that we will leave momentarily... Deputy."

Viscond was surprised by this. Sure, as temporary leader she could make such a promotion... but still...

"Closeness implies support." She whispered into his ear. "Besides, someone has to try to teach me how to be diplomatic."

Despite the improperness of doing so in this situation, Viscond couldn't help but joke about the issue. "Diplomacy isn't not exactly your strong point?"

Ignis retorted quickly. "About as much as tact is yours." As the two shared a laugh at one another's expense, she decided to press the issue. It was amazing how quickly she was growing to the idea. It was like she was born to do this.

Just like her father.

Ignis took in a deep breath. "So... do you accept?"

Viscond smiled at the proud female. Despite her youth and inexperience, it seemed that the pack had chosen well. She was just what the pack needed to recover from the shock of their tremendous losses. A new breath of air in a pack that had become stagnant and content with its past successes. His response was simple and to the point.

"Yes, sir."

......

Pterano shifted uncomfortably as he waited for the threehorn to finish sending the hidden runners on their way. He knew what the elder dinosaur’s decision was going to be and part of him wished that he would simply get it over with.

I have lived apart from the valley for several Cold Times. I can survive a few more.

“Fly... flyer sad?”

Pterano looked down with surprise at the sudden exclamation. A small pink threehorn greeted his vision, with her eyes inspecting him with concern. The child thinks that I am sad... how sweet. Pterano noted.

“No, this flyer is just waiting for...” He resisted the urge to call him and unkind name. “Mr. Threehorn.”

The pink threehorn suddenly perked up at this. “Ha ha! Flyer want to see daddy!” Then, with a sudden shrug of her head, she gestured for another infant threehorn to follow her lead.

“Come come, Goro! Tell flyer bye!”

Pterano simply gave a respectful nod as the shy brown threehorn gave him a slight nod. Then, with some struggle, he attempted to catch up with the pink female. The child seemed to have an air of sadness around him, but the other threehorn seemed to be helping.

Thundering footsteps made Pterano forget his absentminded ponderings as the tell-tale form of Topps came into view. He simply had resigned himself to being sent away from the valley, so he resolved to make this as painless as possible. His nephew was alive... the valley was safe... and his duties were done. As far as he was concerned, if this was the last time that he saw the valley then at least he could leave on a good note for once. With Pterano expecting the worst, this made the threehorn’s words all the more incomprehensible to him.

“They are precious aren’t they?”

Pterano had expected many things, but he had not expected that as a greeting. “Yes... yes children certainly are.”

The threehorn approached as if Pterano had not spoken at all. “The pink one is Tricia, my daughter. The brown one is Goro... my adopted son.”

Suddenly pieces began to fit together in the flyer’s head. “He lost his father in the battle...”

Topps nodded sadly. An emotion that Pterano had never seen in the dinosaur. “Whitehorn. That was his father’s name. He was the one who led the defense of the main entrance.”

Pterano spoke softly. “Then we owe him much.”

Topps growled in annoyance. “If the others hadn’t have overreacted then he would still be alive. In fact, most everyone would still be alive...” His face turned into an angry expression. “But some of the others became enraged and charged ahead... that allowed the fastbiters to enter our valley.” The threehorn looked down in sadness. “If it wasn’t for Cera and her friends... then all would have been lost.” After a pause he admitted something that Pterano never expected to hear. “The same praise could be given to you.”

Pterano sputtered. “What?”

The threehorn took a deep shuddering breath. “Had the sharptooth flyers been allowed to keep control of the skies then Littlefoot’s plan would not have worked. The flyers couldn’t have told the rainbowfaces where to go... Even if the valley would have survived, the cost would have been even higher.”

At those words, Pterano looked around at the valley. Its confines still rang with the voices of dinosaurs and the occasional laughter of children, but it was far reduced from what it once was. Especially in the territory of the threehorn herd.

“The price...” Pterano agreed. “...was already too high.”

Topps simply nodded as he turned to look towards his mate, his daughter, and his adopted son. All three of them were playing on the other side of the watering hole. Soon another brown threehorn joined in the festivities of the two younglings. Another son of Whitehorn’s. Even though the children had been split up into multiple families, they still retained the bond of brotherhood. Both flyer and threehorn smiled at this. As long as that drive was retained then the valley’s best days were still ahead of it.

“I have heard that Petrie is doing better.”

Pterano sighed. Here it comes...

“Yes. My nephew is awake again. I am so glad that he is alright...” Pterano’s voice broke. “...I almost thought that I was too late.”

Topps responded softly. “Well... thankfully Petrie’s life wasn’t part of the valley’s price.”

Pterano looked down bitterly. “The valley has suffered enough because of my blunders...” The images of those that he let down in the initial journey to the valley flooded his mind. “I am glad that my nephew wasn’t another.”

Topps’s response surprised the flyer. “You did what you could. If it wasn’t for your flyers then many more would have died.”

Pterano’s voice called out in a deep rage. “I should have done more! I should have been quicker! Too many have been lost... too many!”

Topps stood impassively as he glanced down at the flyer. Despite the rage-filled words, all of his anger was directed at himself. The flyer had taken the blame for the dead, but this was not something that the threehorn would accept. Not anymore.

“There isn’t a dinosaur in this valley that couldn’t say the same thing.” Topps cautioned. “If we threehorns had kept the line then the invasion would not have happened... if the flyers had known about the fake attack then they could have been more defensive... if Littlefoot had known about Red Claw’s plans then he could have stopped before he entered the canyon.” He sucked down a deep breath as he stared at the flyer. “But you know what, Pterano? In the end all that matters is that too many are dead and we unworthy fools are all that is left. So we have to suck it up and deal with it.”

Pterano was stunned into silence at the threehorn’s rebuke. It was obvious that he was not the only one who was carrying guilt about the past. Topps was not done, however.

“When you are a leader you make hard choices. Many times those choices do not work out the way that you planned.” A confusing cascade of emotions passed across the threehorn’s face. “Your botched plan to find the valley caused all of your followers, including some of my own packmates, to die.” Pterano’s head fell in shame. “...and before we found the valley my botched defense of the pack caused my mate and three of my beautiful daughters to die...”

The threehorn looked away suddenly, as Pterano reacted to this information in shock. Back before his reformation, he would have possibly exploited this information, but now he was simply felt with pity for the threehorn. Pterano knew all about the bitterness of guilt and the pain of loss. He would not wish that on his worst enemy.

And Topps certainly was not that anymore.

“I’m sorry, sir.” Pterano spoke softly. “I will leave as soon as I bid my nephew farewell.”

Topps was surprised. “What?”

Pterano frowned. “It was kind of you to let me stay to see Petrie, but I still have a sentence to serve. Mr. Longneck gave me that sentence and it is only right that I complete it.”

Topps stared at the flyer with disbelieving eyes. “I was... going to lift it.”

Pterano chuckled softly. A sad laugh. “You certainly have changed, Threehorn.”

Topps shook his head. “As have you, Pterano.”

Pterano looked up as a shadow passed overhead. The tell-tale form of Nunti was circling and obviously waiting for a resolution to this matter. Pterano still felt penitent for his past crimes and did not want to go against the judgment of Littlefoot’s grandfather, who had sacrificed his life and that of his mate’s for the benefit of the valley. But yet... could he deny Nunti the safety that the valley could offer? He had no doubt that Nunti would continue to follow him regardless of the risks.

“Hmmm...”

Pterano turned towards the threehorn’s contemplative hum.

“Worried about your friend, eh?”

Pterano nodded. Was he that transparent?

The threehorn smiled. “Well, the valley will need a messenger to talk to our children. After all... they can’t be here anymore.” His face turned somewhat downcast. “They have to live their new lives now.”

Pterano nodded. “Sir, are you asking...”

Topps nodded. “The Hidden Canyon is not technically part of the valley, is it?”

Pterano shook his head. “Well... no...”

Topps smiled. “Excellent. I expect Nunti to follow you along and to let us know how the kids are doing every half Night Circle.”

Pterano sputtered. “I... I don’t know what to say.”

Topps deadpanned. “Unless you want to be stomped then you will say yes.”

“You drive a hard bargain.” Pterano offered. “I accept.”

......

It took mere moments for Pterano to secure the agreement of Nunti and to inform the other flyers of Topps’s arrangement. Although such a reprieve might have seemed reasonable to most herds on account of Pterano’s heroic actions, for a threehorn to renege on his punishment was an extreme measure. Even though Pterano was still technically exiled due to the fool’s sense of honor, he would be far safer with shelter in the Hidden Canyon.

The threehorn sighed. I am getting soft in my old age.

As the Bright Circle began to set, Topps looked into the red hues of the sky. Somewhere out there in the canopy of yet unseen stars was undoubtedly the one for the longneck, who had been simultaneously his greatest foil and friend. Regardless of where he was, however, he hoped that he could still hear him.

“Well, Longneck... against my better judgment I did what you would have done. I certainly hope that you are happy.”

Despite the fact that only silence greeted his ears, in his mind he could swear that he heard a longneck laughing.

He smiled. For once he didn’t mind letting the longneck have the last laugh.

......

Two days later:

“Momma?”

Ura stared into the water with a downcast expression that was most unlike the cheerful hadrosaur. Had she had expressed such emotional turmoil when her children were awake then she surely would have been mobbed by her concerned children. However, at this early hour with the Bright Circle just peaking over the horizon, only two of her children made their presence known.

The predators. Her beloved Ducky and Spike.

She remained silent for several moments as she could begin to hear her daughter and adopted son enter the water. The splashing became louder as the two carnivores approached, which finally motivated her to speak.

“This was your aunt’s favorite swimming place... Even when she sleep swam, she would end up over here...” She sighed deeply. “It is hard to believe that she is really gone.”

The splashing stopped as her two children froze in place. They now understood their mother’s melancholy.

“How...” Ducky hesitated, unsure about how to proceed. “...how did aunt Tranquil die?” Coming from any other dinosaur the question would have been tactless, but coming from Ducky it had a different meaning. She was simply trying to find meaning to the loss of one of her family members as any other loved one would do. Finding out what happened was not the last step in finding closure, it was the first step.

Ura took in a shuddering breath as she looked in her daughter’s direction. Despite her undying love for her children, some part of her could only see a predator when she looked at Spike and Ducky. They were of the same kind that had killed so many... the same kind of those who helped the murderer of her beloved sister... and worse yet she knew that these two children of hers had certainly killed leaf-eaters in the past. Such a reality was easy to ignore when one is safe in the Great Valley, but after her recent loss and the resulting terror it became impossible to ignore.

My children are killers... merciful killers... honorable ones... but they are sharpteeth all the same. She looked at them sadly. Littlefoot is right about them having to leave... I just wish that it didn’t have to be this way.

“She was killed by Red Claw when she tried to escape.” Ura answered plainly. “I wish that I could forget it... but it haunts me still.”

Ducky looked down sadly as Spike nuzzled her. It was he who spoke next.

“She didn’t deserve that.”

Ura’s voice was more biting than she intended. “No dinosaur does.”

Both siblings looked down at their mother’s condemnation. Any naivety, willful or not, about their children’s lifestyle had evaporated since the traumatic battle. Their mother’s love was still there but a boundary now existed; the same one that had already existed between all of the other children and their parents. Because of her nature, it haunted Ura especially.

“We have no choice, momma.” Ducky offered sadly. “We have to do it or we starve... but we are not like Red Claw. Oh, no, no, no.”

Ura nodded her head sadly. “I know, dear. But this is the first time that I have thought about it... really thought about it.” Here eyes returned to the water. “I guess that it is...” Her voice broke. “...better that you leave as the valley’s friends than as its enemies. You can’t help what you are and we can’t help what we are.” She looked at her daughter sadly as she lowered her head in her direction. “I am a leaf-eater and you are a meat-eater. Just... when you are out there... try to remember us. Don’t become what we have just defeated.”

Ducky nuzzled her mother as Spike did the same. “We will never forget you momma! Nope, nope, nope!”

Spike also grunted an affirmation as he nuzzled his mother’s nose, obvious tears flowing down his eyes. The finality of what was about to happen overwhelmed him.

The three remained together in peaceful silence for several moments until the sounds of the other swimmers awakening and entering the water could be heard. It was then that Spike asked one final question.

“Mother, do you think that Aunt Tranquil is in a better place?”

Ura smiled, a sad but compassionate expression.

“I am sure that she is. I am also sure that she is proud of you, wherever she might be.” She then nuzzled the two one more time. “And so am I.”

As the rest of the family joined the three contemplative dinosaurs, the valley began to erupt in activity. The swimmers were not the only dinosaurs coming to terms with what was about to happen.

......

The green longneck watched the two fast runners play a game of Hide and Seek with one another. As he did so, he wore a sad smile on his face.

So carefree... sometimes I envy them.

With a heavy sigh, he allowed himself to look away from the two dinosaurs that he was currently responsible for. Ruby’s parents wanted to talk to Littlefoot and Ruby alone for an extended period of time and it didn’t take a genius to find out what they would be discussing. His brother and Ruby would soon be leaving the Great Valley for the last time and Ruby’s parents wanted to make sure that nothing was left unsaid before the inevitable parting. It reminded Shorty of the conversation that he, Littlefoot, and Bron had just a few nights prior.

The elder longneck sighed as he nuzzled his son.

“So... now that Petrie is awake I suppose that the time has come.”

Shorty struggled to say anything to convince his brother that this was not necessary... that they could stay in or around the valley for their own safety... but he knew the truth. The truth was that they simple had to leave. Accordingly, despite his inner turmoil, the green longneck remained silent. He could not fight against nature.

Littlefoot nodded. He soon responded in a hoarse voice that clearly communicated his exhaustion.

“Yeah... the time has come for us to leave.” He looked up at Shorty and then at his father. “I... had become used to living with my pack, but now that I visited here again... and fought with all of you... it is like I never left.” He shook his head. “This is like a second goodbye. I don’t know if I can take it.”

Bron nodded sadly. “And this one will be the last.”

Littlefoot smiled sadly. “Yeah...”

Shorty looked up at Bron and then back towards Littlefoot. “Why? Couldn’t you visit with some of the residents guarding you? Why does this have to be the end?”

Littlefoot gave his brother a look that Shorty could not decipher for several moments. Then, with a heavy sigh, he explained the situation to his adopted brother.

“Letting us in would let us see the new defenses... it would allow the valley to see those who are their enemies in the Mysterious Beyond... residents would see the same dinosaurs who killed their loved ones and friends on the outside...” Littlefoot shook his head. “It is better this way. We could still talk to the valley through Pterano, but we must remain apart. For the good of us all.”

Shorty nodded. He understood the premise behind what Littlefoot and the others were planning, but not why it had to be so complete and final. Littlefoot seemed to understand Shorty’s confusion and answered his unspoken question.

“Can you imagine what it would be like to kill and eat others even though you can understand them? Every scream... every beg... every regret that they spit out in their dying breaths? If we continue to visit then that will continue to be haunted by what we must be... and so would the valley.”

Littlefoot gestured towards the rock walls in an expansive gesture with his claws. “The valley has lost too much to Red Claw’s attack and even though we helped all of you fight, do you doubt that when most of them take a look at me that they don’t see a dangerous killer?” Shorty looked down at Littlefoot’s obviously correct words. As Littlefoot placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, he finished what he wanted to say. “I am a killer, Shorty. But I am also your brother...” He looked up at Bron. “...and your son. I am doing what is the best for all of us. This is the only way that I can fulfill my duties to my pack and ensure that I do not betray the valley.” Littlefoot stared into his brother’s eyes. “You understand, don’t you, Shorty?”

Shorty looked up into the yellow eyes of his brothers. Though his eyes had the predatory tint of a carnivore, they still retained the love and compassion that only his brother could express. It was an odd contradiction and like most contradictions this one required a difficult solution. Despite his raging emotions at the injustice of it all, Shorty responded with a soft voice.

“Yes, Littlefoot. Just promise me that you will stay safe out there.”

Littlefoot nuzzled him affectionately as he whispered his answer to his brother.

“I promise.”

Shorty sighed. It had only been two days, but it felt like the conversation had only been from a few moments ago. Now the big day was here. He would have to say goodbye to his brother for the last time. Sure, they would be able to ‘talk’ through Pterano, but it wouldn’t be the same as actually having Littlefoot be nearby. Worse yet, the knowledge that if they met again in the Mysterious Beyond that it could be as adversaries filled him with dread. He had no doubt that Littlefoot would make every effort to safeguard his family and friends, but if his pack were starving or if he didn’t recognize Shorty in his adult years...

Shorty nodded sadly. Littlefoot had indeed made the right decision, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept. He would have to remain vigilant against the threats of the world and he would have to include his brother on that list of threats.

Unfortunately for Shorty, he did not hear the threat that was sneaking up on him until it was too late.

“Ahhh!!!”

“Ha ha! We have climbed the boulder!”

Shorty sucked down a deep breath as he refrained from yelling at the two fast runners. His inattention had indeed set himself up for an ambush by the mischievous siblings. That did not mean that he had to appreciate their prank, however.

“What have I told you two? I am not a boulder! I am a longneck!”

The two fast runners jumped off of him and ran around him in a pestering manner.

“Boulder! Boulder! Boulder!”

Shorty sighed at their antics as a smile appeared on his face seemingly against his will. Something about the children’s antics simply made him smile. They were so carefree and despite the struggles that they had faced, they were resilient enough to still be the same children that they had been when they entered the valley. It was inspiring in a way. In the wake of some much death and despair, the new generation showed the way to a promising future.

“Alright, you feather brains!” Shorty mocked in jest. “Let’s go find my brother and your parents. I am sure that they should be done by now.”

Arial perked up at this. “Can we ambush our sister? Please...”

Shorty smiled as Arial put on her best begging expression. She didn’t really have to beg for her to get her way this time.

In fact, he looked forward to the coming entertainment.

“Oh...” Shorty replied with a smirk. “...be my guest.”

......

“So you will be staying in the valley?”

Pearl smiled at Littlefoot’s question. She was quite surprised by this turn of events as well.

“Yes, Littlefoot. But only until the egg-laying season... they obviously want us to leave when that time comes.”

Ruby jumped up in excitement. “That is great, mommy! There is plenty of food in the valley.”

Detras then took the opportunity to join in. “Yes, and the sharpteeth will be most desperate during the Cold Time. The spring should be much safer...” He then smiled at her daughter. “Of course, all of you killing a lot of them should help make things safer as well.”

Pearl stepped forward as Ruby took on a look of embarrassment. “Both of you had some pretty bad gashes... make sure that you keep on using healing leaves.”

Ruby and Littlefoot’s response was nearly simultaneous.

“Yes, mom...”

“Yes, Pearl...”

All four dinosaurs went silent for a moment at the instantaneous reply. Then, almost as suddenly, all four began to laugh at the situation. Ruby’s mother was simply being motherly and Ruby was simply being an annoyed daughter. Littlefoot’s reaction was much the same as his friend’s, which was yet another sign of how close that they had become. Littlefoot was practically a member of the family now.

“Ruby! Ruby!”

Ruby’s face took on a joyous expression as the two siblings came sprinting in her direction. Before she knew it, she had Arial and Orchid literally climbing up her legs.

Ruby laughed at the antics of her brother and sister. “A fastbiter being attacked by fast runners. You two seem more mixed up than me!”

Another voice called out from the distance. “I think that I may have been a bad influence on them.”

It was Littlefoot’s chance to smile. “Shorty! I see that you got stuck with babysitting again!”

“Heh... babysitting... hanging out with you... same difference.” This caused Littlefoot to stick out his tongue in response. “I guess that Bron thought that I had enough practice at it.”

The thundering of footsteps made everyone look up at the next approaching dinosaur. A longneck that Littlefoot knew quite well.

“Actually, I figured that it takes a child to relate to them.”

Littlefoot smiled. “Dad!”

Bron chuckled. “You didn’t think that I would miss your farewell, did you?”

Littlefoot cleared the distance in no time as he nuzzled his father’s massive foot. Both of them knew that these next few moments could very well be the last time that they saw one another face to face. With the lives that the children would now have to lead, none of them wanted to be faced with the possibility of being hungry within walking distance of the valley. Nature dictated their lot in life, but they could choose where they exacted their bloody wrath.

And none of them wanted to contemplate doing it where their loved ones were near.

“You are not as fast as me, Finder. Nope, nope, nope!”

In a flurry of activity, Ducky crashed side-first into Shorty as Spike collided into her just a moment thereafter. It was enough to stun Bron and Ruby’s parents, but Littlefoot was unfazed.

“Congratulations, Haven. You have caught my brother. But you may have some problems if you try to eat him.”

Shorty was less than impressed. “Urgh... You two are using me as a target again?!”

Ducky looked embarrassed as Littlefoot tilted his head in a inquiring manner. “Um... We only did it a few times.”

Spike corrected his sister as he dusted himself off. “Maybe four or five...”

Littlefoot smiled as he looked up at his father. “It seems that they are trying to get me kicked out before we are able to walk out, dad.”

Bron shrugged in mock ambivalence. “They are your packmates, Littlefoot. Are they always like this?”

Cera’s voice deadpanned from behind the longneck. “You have no idea.”

As the assembled dinosaurs looked in her direction, the oddest sight greeted them. Cera, Thud, Leap, and Swift all were walking with deliberated slowness as they carried what appeared to be interlocking sticks on their backs. The oddest thing about this contraption, however, was what lay upon it.

“Hey, Stern Claw... does this mean that you can’t get me off of your back, now?”

Cera growled. “Taunt, I swear if you don’t shut up then I will drop you on the ground and you can crawl to Hanging Rock.”

A flyer’s voice called from the makeshift carrier. “Don’t drop Spotter! Me not annoying as Taunt!”

“Thanks for the support, Spotter.” Taunt mocked.

Petrie gave a cheeky smile through his beak. If the flyer’s banter was back then that was a good sign.

Suddenly, however, the weight on the apparatus increased quite noticeably.

“Well, nephew this certainly seems like a nice perch. Perhaps Nunti, Guido, and I could join in this journey...”

Another voice called from the sky as a shadow passed overhead. “Unless you all want to be eaten that may not be a good idea, brother.”

Pterano gave a smile with his beak as he turned towards the nearest carrier, Cera. “Now... would you do such a thing?”

Cera’s only response was a toothy smile as she grunted with exertion.

Pterano looked at Nunti with some amusement. “Oh well, Nunti. It looks like it is back to flying for us.” With no further commentary they took off into the sky and followed the path of the sharpteeth.

“I see that the rainbowfaces have worked wonders again.” Littlefoot said approvingly of the contraption. “But do they expect you four to carry them all of the way to Hanging Rock with that thing?”

It was now Thud’s turn to speak. “No, of course not. I think that our glorious leader and the two chasers over there can take over sooner or later.”

Littlefoot suppressed a groan, as Ducky and Spike both sighed at the journey ahead of them. Carrying the two injured dinosaurs to their temporary shelter for the Cold Time would certainly take more than the customary one day journey on the short path. A two or three day journey was more likely. It was a good thing that they had been able to eat some of the last remaining carrion in the Hidden Canyon.

It was then that the sounds of running swimmers could be heard. It seemed that Spike and Ducky’s sudden sprint had left their family in the dust. Now they had finally caught up.

“Spike! Ducky!”

The chorus of playful voices reached a crescendo as they proceeded to mob their carnivorous siblings. In the process a rather unexpected companion joined in the mobbing.

“Wow! I didn’t know swimmers could ambush!” Chomper announced with some amusement.

Ruby shook her head in amusement at Chomper’s antics. For a sharptooth that had seen so much, he still had an inherent innocence that radiated from him. In fact, she supposed, they all did.

However, as Topps and Ura appeared over the horizon, each knew that their brief reunion with their families would soon come to an abrupt end. This was it. They would need to depart and keep their distance for the good of both them and their beloved valley. Better to remain families and friends from a distance than to watch it collapse before your eyes.

The parting of the ways had finally come.


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