As Topps and Ura appeared over the horizon, all conversation stopped between the packmates. The reality of what was about to transpire had finally hit them full force.
These would be their last moments in the valley. They more than likely would never see their parents face-to-face again.
Littlefoot sucked in a deep breath as the threehorn and hadrosaur approached slowly. Both of them wore faces that were holding back their deep emotion. The truth of their feelings was not lost on Littlefoot. It wasn't everyday that you said goodbye to your own flesh and blood. They may all be aware that their children would be in good shape with their allies and hard-fought experience, but that did not change the enormity of what they were about to lose.
With barely concealed emotion, Littlefoot looked up at his father. The brown sauropod wore an equally controlled expression, but his eyes gave away his feelings. The brown fastbiter did not need to smell the scents emanating from his father to tell that he was overflowing with a curious mixture of sadness, sympathy, and pride. Littlefoot simply looked in his direction as he did not trust himself to speak at this point. Bron mercifully spoke without further prompting upon seeing that he had his son's attention.
"Everyone else is already assembled."
Littlefoot was confused by this. "Everyone else?"
The answer to Littlefoot's question did not come from Bron, however, but rather from the gruff threehorn which had just entered into hearing range.
"Yes, everyone else. You didn't think that the valley would let you leave without recognition, did you?"
Littlefoot remained silent. Actually, that was exactly what he had expected.
"The others are very grateful." Ura was the next one to speak. "We would not all be here if it wasn't for all of you."
Littlefoot looked down. "Some of us aren't here anymore." The images of his beloved grandparents entered into his mind as he contemplated what they had lost in the great battle. Any elation at the loss of Red Claw and his minions was dwarfed by the loss of the valley's greatest residents. He didn't have the opportunity to dwell too long, however, before a pink arm shook him out of his reawakened melancholy.
"But many of us are here." Ruby spoke softly. "...and if your grandparents were here then they would want you to be happy... and you can't be happy if you are sad."
Littlefoot looked up at his dear friend with a bittersweet smile. Even though Ruby had the claws and teeth of a fastbiter, the contemplative nature and empathy from her fast runner days were still present in her eyes. Somehow she always knew what to say even in the darkest moments. Despite his sadness over what was coming, he couldn't help but feel better from hearing her voice alone.
"I guess that you are right, Ponder." He nodded slowly. "But are you ready for this? We... we will probably never see them again."
Ruby hugged Littlefoot tightly. "I know... but as long as I know that they are okay... then I will be okay."
Cera looked upon the touching scene with trembling feet. It was a good thing that they had already lowered the makeshift carrier for Petrie and Taunt to the ground, otherwise she suspect that she would have dropped it.
"We will miss you, Ruby!"
Cera barely held back tears as the rose-colored fastbiter was enveloped by the loving embrace of her parents. Even her two siblings managed to attach themselves to their sister's foot.
"Dad..." Cera looked up at her friend, as Littlefoot began to address his father. "I guess this is goodbye then..."
The massive neck of the sauropod reached down and lightly met the head of his son. A final show of affection between the last vestiges of Littlefoot's family.
"It will never be goodbye, Littlefoot. We will still be able to talk... even if it is through Pterano." Bron broke away in order to look at Littlefoot face to face. "The Mysterious Beyond will be a better place just to have you in it." Bron shook his head. "You have helped so many..." He looked towards the other residents that were now situated near the exit, some distance away. "...those who are here..." A look towards the pregnant form of Logos then followed. "...those who are coming..." Then he looked back at his son, tears gleaming in his eyes. "...and those who have come and gone... at least what they stood for still remains. Just promise me that you won't forget about any of this, Littlefoot. Never mind what you have to do out there in order to survive... never mind what days may come... know that you are loved."
Littlefoot finally broke down into tears at his father's words. As Shorty embraced his brother with his neck and Bron again nuzzled his son, Littlefoot's response could barely be heard.
"I will, dad. I will."
Cera took a deep breath as her two friends said their goodbyes to their families, for she knew what was coming.
Despite her surprise at her sister's sudden appearance, Cera resisted the urge to react defensively as her sister charged straight into her side. The fact that her father increased his pace in response to Tricia's sprint showed he was concerned at this turn of events. But Cera had long ago adjusted to her new instincts in order to protect those whom she loved.
Which was exactly why they had to leave now.
"Tricia, you rascal!" Cera teased. "You know that you shouldn't charge sharpteeth until you're older!"
Tricia let out a childish laugh at Cera's soft admonishment, which made the sharptooth put on an amused smirk. Sharp teeth or no teeth, I guess Tricia just sees her sister.
The soft voice of her stepmother made the yellow fastbiter look up in apprehension. Much as she had wanted to avoid the parting, she knew that it had finally arrived. She steeled herself to be strong despite her emotions, but the gleaming in her eyes already foreshadowed her failure.
"Tria... Daddy..." Cera slowly moved forward, as Tricia stepped aside in confusion. With trembling arms she closed the distance between her and her father. Within moments, the sensation of being nuzzled by the threehorns reached her consciousness.
"I'm going to miss you all so much..." Cera choked out as she laid bare all of the emotions that she had been restraining. As a familiar crest rammed her in the side before nuzzling, she quickly amended her statement. "...you too, Tricia."
"Just remember what we said, dear. Take care of yourself out there." Tria cautioned.
This earned a prideful response from Topps. "She has survived Red Claw and fastbiters, I am sure that she can handle whatever the Mysterious Beyond throws at her. After all, she is a threehorn and threehorns..." He quickly realized that his compliment no longer held true as far as his daughter was concerned. "...um.... well she used to be a threehorn and threehorns can handle anything!"
Cera chuckled at her father's correction. "Did I finally get you to say something nice about sharpteeth, daddy?"
Topps sighed as he knew that he had bested himself this time. "Hmph! Don't worry, it won't happen again."
Despite the magnitude of their parting, the entire family broke out in laughter at Topps's antics. Though they would probably never see each other again, each of them knew that they would remain in one another's hearts. It was finally Topps that broke the touching moment as he had to do something before his beloved daughter left.
"Alright, where is that 'boy' of yours, Cera?"
Cera gave her father a knowing look as her sensitive hearing picked up an annoyed sigh from the fastbiter in question.
"Going to threaten him one more time, daddy?"
Topps raised his head in a prideful gesture. "Would I be doing my fatherly duties if I didn't? Plus I have it on good authority that Taunt will be unable to run away this time." The final sentence ended with a smirk from the threehorn.
Cera smiled as she gestured towards her companion. "Right this way, daddy!" Another groan emanated from Taunt as he was obviously not looking forward to being lectured at by a threehorn. This caused Cera to laugh at Taunt's plight as she mocked him one last time. "I am sure that he is looking forward to talking to you again!"
Thud looked at the scene below with a profound sense of melancholy. Too many memories and emotions were being dredged up in the sharptooth's mind. Memories of a mate saying her final goodbyes... memories of a son being chased away by his own father... memories of his own redemption many years later...
"Should we protect your son, sir?"
Thud looked at Leap with a bemused expression. "What?"
Swift answered his question as she advanced forward towards the others. "The threehorn is coming close and he doesn't look too happy..."
Thud looked at them expressionless for a moment, before erupting into a fit of laughter. This confused his packmates to no end until he finally explained his reasoning.
"Neither of you have had children... so let me put it to you this way: sometimes even if the waters are clean, you still have to test them." Their confused expressions remained, so he tried to explain again in a less dignified manner. "He wants to make sure that my son will take care of his daughter. He is doing that the only way that he knows how."
It was at that point that Swift stopped her forward motion. "Oh..."
Thud smiled. "My son should be okay, provided that he keeps his mouth shut."
Leap responded with a snicker. "So he is doomed then?"
Thud joined Leap in his amusement. "I am sure that my son will be fine. If he has survived dealing with Stern Claw for all of these months then he should be able to handle her father."
As the laughter died down, however, the sounds of the tearful goodbyes continued to reach the elder's ears.
"Remember, you two... make sure that you bathe everyday and that you always have two escape routes planned. I don't care if you two are sharpteeth, you still need to be prepared if something bigger comes along..."
Ah, Haven's mom... Ura, wasn't it? Thud thought to himself. He couldn't understand the words, but the context was obvious for anyone to see, leaf-eater or not. The overprotective mother... that brings back memories...
"Now Taunt... What did I tell you about running near the cliffs?"
"Taunt... Make sure that you eat the entire swimmer leg... you want to grow strong, don't you?"
"Now, son, don't struggle... the splinter has to come out..."
"Taunt! Don't nip at your father's tail! I know your joking, but your teeth still hurt!"
Thud smiled a sad smile. He supposed that the language of motherhood was universal.
"Make sure that you tell Pterano if you need any help, he is a flyer and he can search places... and make sure that you eat well."
The hadrosaur suddenly took on a surprised expression as she realized the full implications of what she had just said. This was not lost on her two sharptooth children as they looked at one another and gave a chuckle.
"Don't worry, mom! We will!"
The two fastbiters embraced their mother's leg as they were nuzzled by the emotional hadrosaur. Ducky and Spike's siblings soon joined in the mass of hugging bodies as Thud looked on in silence. It seemed that all of the families had finally said their goodbyes to their departing children. Knowing that nothing would be served by delaying his own pack's arrival, he cleared his throat to gain his pack's attention. It was with great reluctance that he finally spoke to his packmates.
"Alright... Let's go down there... the time has come."
In a procession that appeared as surreal as it was heartbreaking, the fastbiters walked two abreast between the columns of valley residents. Only Petrie and Taunt did not walk in the procession as they rested on their carrier of sticks and vines. At the sides of the departing procession stood the adults of the valley. Despite the fact that they stood in silence, their mere presence in sending them off communicated the respect that the pack had earned. Sharpteeth usually left the valley in a blind panic... or as corpses. Instead the valley was giving the same send off that residents received during their final moments...
During the walkabout.
When a leaf-eater was more of a hindrance to the herd than a benefit, then they would often wander off in order to meet their end in the Mysterious Beyond rather than die slowly of sickness. Such a parting would obviously be the last one that a dinosaur would receive from the valley and as such it had all of the formality of a funeral.
Because that was exactly what it was. They would probably never see the pack again.
As the scene played out before his eyes, Logos wrapped him into a loving embrace. They had an excuse to not join in the procession as everyone knew that Logos was very close to laying her clutch of eggs. However, both of them had already exchanged their goodbyes with the children days before. One conversation in particular replayed itself in Chronos's mind.
"You know, Littlefoot... we talked to Mr. Thicknose right before he died."
As soon as Littlefoot's face fell, Chronos wished that he would have phrased himself a bit more carefully. It was obvious that the fastbiter still blamed himself over many of the deaths in the battle. After all, it had been his plan to use the Repressor to cause a rock slide. Had Littlefoot not have formulated the plan, then many of the fallen in the canyon would have lived... or so Littlefoot thought.
"What... did he say?" Littlefoot questioned softly.
Logos placed a comforting hand on Littlefoot's shoulder as she answered.
"He told us to tell you to not blame yourself. You did what you had to do."
The fastbiter was silent for several moments as his body heaved up and down with emotion. Yet, no tears flowed from his face. It was as if he had already shed too many for those who would never rise again.
Littlefoot shook his head sadly. "He knew that I would blame myself. So he spent his last moments just to make sure that I would understand that he didn't blame me for what happened?" He took on a disbelieving look. "I guess that he knew me better than I realized. As a longneck I just thought... that he enjoyed hearing himself talk."
Chronos and Logos both looked at one another and laughed at Littlefoot's admission. They could relate to his mindset.
"Sometimes a teacher's best lessons are not in his words, Littlefoot." Chronos cautioned. "Rather, the best teachers understand their students and lead them to where they need to go. He loved you children more than you can ever know."
Littlefoot nodded at this. He had prided himself on understanding his packmates as part of his leadership qualities, but Mr. Thicknose had eluded him. He knew that Mr. Thicknose cared, but he had no idea that he would have been willing to sacrifice himself. Who else could he have misjudged over the years?
"Don't be hard on yourself, Littlefoot." Chronos spoke into the fastbiter's eyes. "We all had to make sacrifices in the battle. But because of those who were willing to risk everything, those of us who are still alive get to make a new start." Chronos gestured towards his mate, as Littlefoot's eyes focused on her bulging abdomen, a sign of life yet to come. "For that I will forever be grateful."
Logos smiled as the fastbiter finally seemed to be taking on a less depressed expression. The rainbowfaces may not have sacrificed their lives in the battle, but they could still contribute to help those who remained. They had already treated many of the physical injuries from the battle, but the mental ones yet remained. The least that they could do was to put the leader of the pack at peace with his actions.
"I just wish that there was some way for us to honor them besides stories and songs." Littlefoot lamented. "The Lone Dinosaur has Saurus Rock, but my grandparents... Whitehorn... Valaria... they all have nothing."
Chronos pondered this for a moment. Maybe the valley would be better off with a little bit of 'cultural contamination'... With a contemplative expression he planted the seeds of things to come in the dinosaur's mind.
"Well... maybe the valley could make them their own Saurus Rock..."
As the pack departed past the threshold of the valley, the adults began to separate one-by-one in order to continue their day. Even though they had all lived through the most extraordinary days of the valley's existence, live still had to go on. There were children to feed, games to play, mates to love, and lives to live. The pack had helped to ensure that.
Chronos sighed. As he and his mate began to walk back towards their cave in silence, he spared the empty entrance one final look.
"Thank you, children. You gave us all a second chance. We will not squander it."
The Mysterious Beyond:
Several hours had passed since the pack had departed from the valley. In that time the Bright Circle had finally capitulated to the Night Circle in its celestial realm. As the welcoming blanket of darkness descended upon the Mysterious Beyond, the sharpteeth had finally stopped their ceaseless walking and began to prepare for sleep. Their journey to Hanging Rock would continue first thing the next morning.
As Petrie and Taunt were carefully assisted to their sleeping areas, Chomper took the opportunity to look back in the direction of the valley. His preoccupation did not go unnoticed by a certain brown fastbiter.
"You miss it too, huh?"
Chomper jumped slightly at having his thoughts suddenly interrupted. However, upon hearing his friend's voice, he calmly looked in Littlefoot's direction. He found that his friend's expression closely resembled his own.
"In a way I am sad to see it go... but in another way I am glad to be away..." Littlefoot shook his head. "I don't know if that makes any sense to you, but..."
Chomper nodded as he interrupted his friend. "You're sad to leave your family, but glad that you can't hurt them now?"
As Littlefoot's face took on a sad expression, Chomper was afraid that he had hurt his friend's feelings. However, a curt nod and a sincere expression soon told him that he had answered correctly.
"Yeah..." Littlefoot admitted. "As much as I want to see Shorty and Bron again, I know that there would always be the chance that we might run out of food and then..." He shook his head. "...it is better this way. It really is."
Chomper smiled at his friend. It seemed that whatever had to be said between his packmates and their families had been said. He, along with everyone else, was prepared to be what they had to be once more. Fate had led them to reconcile with their past lives, but it still forced them to live their current lives.
"It's a beautiful sight, isn't it?"
Cera's voice greeted their ears as she and other walked over to where the duo was sitting. Upon hearing her words, Chomper couldn't help but think that the sight of the Night Circle on this night was oddly comforting. A promise that even in the darkest of nights, hope could still shine through. Just a week prior, Red Claw had stood at this very area and called out his threats to the valley... but now he was no more and the valley remained.
"Yeah..." Chomper admitted. "I wonder if my mommy and daddy are looking at it right now."
A slight smile appeared on Ducky's face as she responded to her friend.
"We will see them in a few days. You can ask them then. You can, you can."
Ruby nodded. "Our moms and dads may be far away, but we are all under the same sky."
Littlefoot responded without looking away from the sky. "Except for those of us who are in the sky..." Chomper looked down as he realized that Littlefoot was referring to his fallen family members. "But at least we are all here... in our own way."
An odd silence fell over the group as if an unspoken question had been uttered. Within moments, everyone seemed to have the same idea.
"We sign song now?" Petrie muttered from his perch on the carrier.
"We can sing a song for our aunt!" Spike offered to which Ducky offered a good-natured grunt in agreement.
"For Whitehorn." Cera added.
"For the hidden runners..." Ruby offered into Littlefoot's ear.
"For our fallen brother." Leap added. "...and for those who wanted to leave Red Claw's horde but could not."
Breeze's voice joined the chorus as Spike nuzzled her. "For Skytail, Skyflank, and Vigilant."
"For my sister." Petrie recommended.
"For Mr. Thicknose." Littlefoot added. "And for Grandma and Grandpa..." Now that the packs were in agreement that it was time to commemorate their dead and add to the pack's song, the only question was: who would start the chorus? Considering who was the most skilled signer in the packs, this was a no-brainer.
"Taunt?" Littlefoot asked softly to the injured fastbiter. "Would you do the honors?"
Taunt seemed preoccupied by something, however, as he did not answer his leader. Instead, he simply sniffed the air with a confused expression on his face. It was almost as if he had found something of interest...
"Taunt?" Chomper offered. "We already ate today; if it is food that you smell then we can chase it tomorrow."
Taunt did not shift his gaze as he spoke. "I think that we can honor the dead much better if we punish their killers."
This caught everyone by surprise. What was Taunt talking about? Nearly all of the enemy sharpteeth had been killed in the rockslide, chief among them was Red Claw. Their killers were already punished...
"Taunt..." Cera began. "Are you sure that you are okay? We killed them, remember?"
Taunt only now looked in their direction as he stared into Cera's eyes. "Then tell me while I smell his scent."
Chomper grew tired of the cryptic answers that Taunt was giving and began to walk in his direction. "Whose scent, Taunt? If it is any... whoa!"
Chomper stopped. That scent. That horrible scent. The scent of a fastbiter that was devoid of any compassion or fear. The scent that was simultaneously familiar and alien. Oh yes... he knew this scent.
"Guys..." Chomper began. "That is Calin's scent."
Gasps arose from the assembled packs as Cera, Littlefoot, and Thud all ran by Taunt's location in order to smell where the scent trail had remained. Within moments their suspicions were confirmed.
"We hunt tonight! He must die!" Care demanded.
"Agreed!" Littlefoot roared. "Let's chase him down and..."
"That scent marking is at least three days old, Seeker." Thud cautioned. "He could be nearly anywhere now... and what about our injured? Do you want to leave my son and Spotter all alone?"
Littlefoot looked unsure for a moment before answering forcefully. "You, Leap, and Swift can watch our injured... we are going to finish this now once and for all!"
Roars of protest arose from Leap and Swift as they too wanted retribution for the loss of their brother. Conversely, the roars of bloodlust from the other pack members made any conversation hard to follow as anger-driven instincts were beginning to take over their reason. It was at this moment that the calm voice of Chomper restored some sanity to his friends.
"We could have none of us go after him and yet still avenge our loved ones."
Everyone looked back at the purple sharptooth as if he had lost his mind.
"All due respects, Path..." Cera answered gruffly. "But what in the hell are you talking about?!"
Despite Cera's skepticism, he put on a slight smirk.
"Seeker, did my daddy ever tell you about the right of calling?"
Spike sighed. "Path, that is nice and all, but now is not the time to..."
"Wait!" Thud interrupted the green fastbiter. "Let's listen to what he has to say."
Littlefoot paused. "Alright, Path. What is your idea and what is this right of calling?"
Path answered his question with a question that was even more cryptic. "We are the scariest sharpteeth out here, right?"
Cera nodded. "Since the survivors think that we can survive rock slides, pointed sticks, and claws... yeah, we are quite scary."
Path continued. "What do the surviving members of Calin's pack think of us right now?"
Taunt interrupted. "Who cares what those monsters..."
"They are petrified." Leap answered over Taunt's objections. "They probably think that they have lost one tyrant for another... um..." He looked awkwardly in Littlefoot's direction. "...you, sir."
Path nodded. "Yes... and they will want any protection they can get... especially if it means protection from us." He grinned. "Especially if that means protection given by us..."
Littlefoot looked sternly at Chomper, but his interest in Chomper's plan was apparent. "What is your idea, Path?"
Chomper's smile was now a beaming one. "Calin's packmates probably hate him as much as we do... how about we offer them peace... but for a price..." Chomper walked over to the others as he gestured towards the stars. "Besides... A single chase is a bit too good for Calin, isn't it?"
Littlefoot smiled as the other packmates began to murmur in support of Chomper's idea.
Calin was about to have a taste of his own savagery from those whom he had savaged the most.
Two weeks later:
"Listen fellow sharpteeth!" The flyer's voice echoed across the ravine. "Seeker promise no peace until Calin's tail is brought to him at Hanging Rock! The killer of Calin get two fresh kills in thanks, but for Calin only death awaits!"
Petrie looked out at the surprised sharptooth pack as they took in the news. With his pack's reputation and the knowledge of Red Claw's fall filtering throughout the Mysterious Beyond, it would take no time for every sharptooth to be scouring the land for Calin's condemned head. Despite the reputation that they had to maintain, only Calin would be the subject of their wrath. Just one final kill to be made in order to ensure that a great evil was purged from the world.
"Does your mother know that you are already flying around?"
Petrie looked back and saw the form of Nunti staring at him.
"You no tell her! Otherwise she have Spotter's head!"
Nunti laughed at the sharptooth's protest as he raised a wing in a placative gesture.
"It's alright, your secret is safe with me... your uncle should be here in a few moments."
Petrie opened his beak in surprise. "He here!?"
Nunti laughed. "He is. You don't think the valley would abandon all of you, did you? How did your mother put it... we will be together even if we have to stay apart." He then looked down at the panicked sharpteeth that seemed to be running away from the flyers as fast as they could run. "What is going on here?"
Petrie smiled. "Seeker making a point and me help him make it." He then gestured towards Hanging Rock. "You talk to others now. We want to talk to our mommas and our mommas want to talk to us, but we talk through you."
Nunti stared at the flyer for a moment. "Your mother will be glad to know that you are safe..."
Petrie nodded. "Me glad that she safe. We work to keep her safe."
♪ My body lies bleeding, but we are succeeding
In our quest to have evil restrained
Friends at my side, I will not submit
My sister's death will not be in vain ♪
♪ The stars shine on bright
Through the ethereal night
Though I know not where I go
I know that I will go there with you
My journey goes on ♪
♪ Now we are nine strong, we carry on
Through uncertain days
But we do not fear, we are together
Come what may ♪
♪ The stars shine on bright
Through the ethereal night
Though I know not where I go
I know that I will go there with you
My journey goes on ♪
Nunti looked perplexed as the roared sounds reached his ears. The meaning of the sharptooth words were lost on him.
"What is that noise?"
Petrie smiled. "That be our song! It use to be Skytail's... now it also ours! We not lose people if we remember them."
Nunti looked intrigued. "Is that like a story?"
Petrie nodded. "Yes! Like song-story!" Petrie grew silent for a moment. "They just tell me and my sister's part."
Nunti looked surprised. "You include leaf-eaters in your song?"
Petrie smiled. "Of course! They family too... even if we apart." He then gestured again with his wing. "Come! We teach you our song and you can teach song to valley! Then we can all sing under big sky!"
As the flyers continued their descent towards the pack of sharpteeth, the pack's joyful song could be heard echoing across the ravines and bluffs. Despite their losses and the now permanent separation between many of them and their families, they remained attached to them as closely to them as ever. As long as they had the memories, support, and love of their families then they had everything they needed to face the days ahead without regret or fear. Their song would grow as their deeds became more numerous, but none of them would ever forget from where they had come.
They were one pack and nothing would ever separate them.
Damn it! They found me!
Calin ran through the underbrush in a wild panic. He had planned on simply fleeing from anywhere where Seeker's pack could tread, but he could never have expected his own packmates coming out from the wilds in order to seek his blood. For the last five days he had been tracked like a wounded animal, but had been succeeded in avoiding his pursuers.
The sounds of roars could be heard getting louder and louder as his former comrades approached. The sounds of impending doom were only equaled by the sounds of his breath which was coming forth in shuddering gasps. For five days he had not eaten, nor had he had more than a few hours of sleep. The toll on his body was making itself felt with a vengeance.
Just a little bit further and I can get to the stream... If they lose my scent that I can get away from these bastards! I should have killed them when I had the chance!
His legs burned with exertion as he pushed his body to its limits. Despite the rising pain and the feeling of numbness emanating from his damaged tail, he persevered on towards the smell of fresh water. It would only be a few moments and he would be able to seek sanctuary in its depths. To hide his scent and possibly live another day...
With a high-pitched scream, Calin fell to his knees in pain. His right ankle erupted with agony as something wet began to run down his feet. As he clutched the source of his torment, his hands became drenched in the source of the wetness.
His own blood... his ankle had been run through by a spear.
Through his pain-addled mind the ramifications of his situation became apparent to him. No... the only dinosaurs that use pointed sticks are... that would mean...
"Why hello, Calin! Enjoying the exercise?"
Calin looked up at the mocking figure as his eyes struggled to focus despite the pain. The smiling form of an adult hidden runner came into view. One that he had never seen or smelled before. An enraged roar was his only response.
"Oh... That won't do!" The hidden runner cooed in a mocking tone. "I am sure that Seeker would be devastated to hear that you didn't enjoy all of this... after all he worked so hard to set this up for you..."
Calin growled in anger. Seeker?! That bastard is behind this?!
"Yes, your old friend." The stranger answered the unspoken question. "It is amazing how much loyalty you can gain when you simply promise peace at the cost of one life... especially when many would like to extinguish the life in question in the first place."
"Just shut up and finish me, you bastard!" Calin raged. He struggled to get up in order to strike out at the hidden runner, but another strike to the ankle made him fall to the ground in anguish. The hidden runner continued without missing a beat.
"Oh, I wouldn't want to do that... it seems that your friends want to play." The sounds of running feet edged closer as Calin began to whimper and roar in incoherent rage. He would do anything to avoid that threat. He knew full well that his packmates would show him no mercy.
The hidden runner removed the spear again as Calin's roars quieted into mere whimpering. There was no sign of aggression or violence now. He was simply left helpless as he lay bleeding on the ground. His ankles had been ruined. The question was not now whether he would die, but rather how he was going to die?
"Ignis wanted to be here to wish you well." The stranger intoned. "But as she has a pack to lead, I am sure that you will understand her absence."
"Tell her that her father was a worthless..."
"Ahhh!!!" Calin screamed in anguish as the spear now made contact with his right shoulder. Once again he had been given a non-lethal injury. In his pain any taunts faded from his consciousness.
"As I were saying before I was rudely interrupted..." The hidden runner did not sound particularly displeased at being forced to strike the predator again. "Since you have killed her father... one of the most honorable runners that I ever knew... she has been forced to take his place." His face took on a malicious tint as any pretense of affability was lost. "As her mate-to-be I think that it is only fitting that I give my love a proper gift..." A malicious smile erupted on his face. ...as Seeker only needs to smell your tail to know that you are no more, I guess that means everything else is fare game... I suppose that your head should suffice."
Calin thrashed on the ground as he had nowhere that he could go. He could not force the stranger to put him out of his misery and his pursuers were closing fast. He had no options left in his final moments. In the end he was just as helpless as all those he had tormented in his short life.
The stranger looked into the carnivore's eyes with contempt. "So much pain... so much violence... so many good people cut down... and all from a worthless coward like you..." The hidden runner paced as Calin closed his eyes and awaited the end. "My brother deserved more! My nephew deserved more! They were loved, which is more that you can say you worthless piece of filth!" He quivered in anger as he rose the spear threateningly. "It saddens me that I will not be the one to finish you... but I made a deal with your former 'friends' and a deal is a deal... at least my brother will be avenged."
"Please... just end it..." Calin croaked. Gone were his pride and his hopes for power. Gone was his mask of substance. The only thing that remained was the shallow, pathetic shell that had been Calin all along. A being that had only cared for himself and understood little else. But Calin had gone far beyond being worthy of pity and this was reflected in the hidden runner's answer.
"Believe it or not, Calin. I would put you out of your misery as I wouldn't want to sink to your level." He then shrugged. "But I would hate to be on the bad side of your companions... speaking of which..."
The hidden runner waved with his arms as a roar greeted Calin's ears. A horrific sound that signaled his impending doom.
"As promised, here he is! Remember our part of the deal?"
"Of course, you get the head... does it have to be intact?"
"Not really. My leader will be able to smell the fiend's scent and know it is his."
Calin writhed in anguish as he crawled towards the abandoned spear. His hope for a quick death at his own hands was soon dashed however when the hidden runner picked up the spear and placed it over his shoulder.
"Farewell, Calin. Know that everything you are about to experience is your own fault. Whatever your followers do to you, I am sure that you have done far worse to others..." The hidden runner sighed. "...but I will not sink to your level... your own deeds are about to judge you. But know that I am Viscond, and on this day I have avenged my fallen comrades."
Calin's clinched his eyes shut as he awaited the end. In the distance, the departing footsteps of the hidden runner could be heard as he undoubtedly waited for the bloody deed to be done. After a few moments of silence, which was only punctuated by his pained whimpers, the weight of several bodies finally descended upon him. He struggled to no avail as his feet and arms were restrained with ease. Before his world erupted into pain, a voice whispered into his ear.
"Well, Calin... Have anything to say?"
The fastbiter clinched his eyes shut at the other sharptooth's taunt. The voice sounded so familiar... It sounds just like one of his packmates that he had taken care of many weeks prior... back when he was paranoid about his position... back when the hidden runners had alluded his forces... back when...
"Leap and Swift weren't the only ones to join the pack in stages in order to avoid your 'recruitment'. My brother Kerwat had the same idea..." His voice radiated with rage even as his words remained disturbingly even. "Please allow myself and my sister to return a favor that we have owed you for quite some time..."
Calin paled. Oh no...
"Alright, then... Let's start with your left eye."
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