The Seven Hunters

By Rhombus

Adventure / Horror

Chapter 8 Despair of the Fallen

“It’s difficult to ever go back to the same places or people. You turn away, even for a moment, and when you turn back around, everything’s changed.” ― Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere

The seven sharpteeth were huddled in a semicircle within the Secret Caverns. Each one had haggard looks as if their worries and confusion were crushing them under their combined weight. The situation was so impossible, so absurd, that none of the members of the gang even knew where to begin. The silence that had started moments before threatened to drag on.

Chomper took the moment and looked at his friends. He had been surprised to awake earlier that night to Ruby's startled cries...

......

Chomper had just been having a rather odd, yet pleasant dream. He was hunting with his father and all of this friends were there as sharpteeth! That would have solved so many of my problems, he thought upon awaking. He always knew in his mind that he would have to eventually leave the valley and trade in his fun-filled childhood for the harsh existence of his kind. He did not revel in that eventuality, but he knew that it was preferable to harming his friends. It would be far better for him to leave them behind to live their lives and to simply accept what fate had decided for him. He couldn't help but reflect on the fact that if he were a leaf-eater or his friends were sharpteeth then he would not have to leave his companions behind and his future path would not be so lonely...

Chomper blinked and he shook his head, sleep having left him as quickly as it had found him, No reason to think about the impossible, he reflected sadly, It was a nice thought, though.

His eyes then began to focus in the darkness of the cave. His attention shifted to the cave opening in the distance.

It is still dark outside! Chomper observed, Why did I wake up this early?

He then arose from his prone position and that is when he heard it.

Crying?!

Chomper immediately sprung from his position and looked about the cave. He could not see Ruby anywhere. He could simply hear the muffled cries from an adjacent chamber in the back of the cave. That disturbed him but not as much as the smells that he could then recognize.

Fastbiter! Chomper could smell the intermingled scent of Ruby and an unknown fastbiter. How could a fastbiter get in here without me knowing? Chomper thought in a panic. Maybe Ruby is hurt?

Chomper then ran into the adjacent chamber, ignoring the possibility of danger, and called out for his caretaker and friend.

"Ruby! Ruby!" he shouted with all of his might, "Are you okay? Talk to me!"

As his echoes permeated in the cave, he could hear the shuffling of feet and the mournful cries turning into fearful ones. He could definitely tell that the cries were coming from Ruby now. It made something in the small sharptooth break when he heard those sounds come from Ruby. She was one of the friendliest, most good-natured dinosaurs that he had ever known. To hear her cry like this...

"I am coming for you Ruby! Don't worry!" Chomper called out. He increased his pace to an outright sprint.

He ran through the opening into the next chamber and gawked at what he saw. A rose-colored fastbiter lay in the corner of the chamber. Her violet crest and forelimb feathers obstructed her face. The smell of fast runner and the fearful cries were coming from this strange carnivore, but not from Ruby. Where is Ruby? Chomper thought, Unless... No.

"Where is my friend, sharptooth?!" Chomper roared in an imperious fashion. The thought that his friend could possibly have met her doom at the claws of this fastbiter made something give in the sharptooth's mind. If he had enough time to reflect upon the matter Chomper would admit that he could kill at this point. All thoughts about promises to the valley were absent from his mind.

The fastbiter stood up, obviously afraid. Her mouth hung ajar, and no vocalization left her mouth.

Chomper advanced in a stalking motion. The nictitating membranes of his eyes glowed red in the darkness of the cave. His teeth were bared, and his forelimbs were primed to strike. Nothing remained in the demeanor of the purple sharptooth to indicate his normal friendliness; all that his outward expression showed was a hunter about to make a kill. It would have been a frightening sight to any dinosaur, but it was especially unnerving for the fastbiter.

"Ch... Chomper? It is me. It's Ruby," The fastbiter muttered in fear.

Chomper stopped in his tracks and hesitated for a moment, obvious confusion on his face. She almost sounds like Ruby, he observed. But then he scoffed and went back to his harsh demeanor from before.

"Ruby is not a fastbiter," Chomper said matter-of-factly, "And if you don't tell me where she is then I will make sure that you pay the price." He stared at her with a murderous glare.

Ruby was panicked at this point and began to retreat until she made contact with the wall behind her.

"There is no escape," Chomper said tonelessly. He then roared without warning.

"WHERE IS RUBY?!"

Ruby was petrified. She was seeing a side of Chomper that no one, Chomper included, had ever seen before. Part of her mind reflected that she should be honored that he cared enough about her to elicit this reaction, but since she was about to be Chomper's first victim in the valley this thought did not carry very far. She had to confirm her identity now.

"I am Ruby and I can prove it. Prove it, I can!" Ruby stated.

Chomper paused. The speech pattern was certainly a perfect replica of Ruby's, but fast runners simply did not turn into fastbiters. That was impossible. Nonetheless, perplexed by the fastbiters reaction, he decided to give it one last chance.

"Then prove it," Chomper said tonelessly, not changing his position or demeanor.

Ruby gulped. She then began her story by reflecting on what she and Chomper had gone through together.

"Remember when you were lost on the island and you couldn't find your parents?" Ruby began. "You had gotten lost trying to chase me, not realizing that I was too big of a catch! If you had realized I was too big then you would not have gotten lost."

Chomper's stomach seized up. How could she know about that?

Ruby continued with some humor, "You began mumbling to yourself about how you wish you could speak to leaf-eaters so that you wouldn't be so lonely; not so lonely you would be!"

Chomper's demeanor began to change as he stopped baring his teeth and began to look at her with a stunned expression.

"I spoke to you in leaf-eater, which surprised you," Ruby reflected, "And I helped you get back to your parents. My daddy did not figure out about our meetings until I had already taught you how to speak! He was not happy with me. My family went back to Hanging Rock after the cold time was finished there."

Chomper sat down on the rock floor, stunned at Ruby's confirmation.

"He was not happy when you and your parents decided to visit Hanging Rock," she added with an amused expression on her face.

"Eventually your mommy and daddy decided that you would be less of a target with me and the valley than with them," she continued, "My daddy thought that if the valley could unite with the Mysterious Beyond then perhaps we could defeat Red Claw and his allies. That is why he agreed to let me take you in."

Chomper finally replied, "Ruby... How?"

Ruby smiled sadly, tears resuming their path across her face. "I do not know, Chomper. If I knew then I would tell you."

The two then embraced as each tried to comprehend what had transpired.

......

Chomper shook his head to dissipate the memory from earlier that night. They had to consider what lay in front of them and put aside what had already occurred. Looking at his six companions, he noticed the same haunted look that he had seen on Ruby's face, the same look of confusion and mental anguish. No one wanted to be the one to break the silence.

Chomper decided to take the initiative and begin the necessary conversation.

"The stone did all this?" the little sharptooth asked, "This wasn't what we wished for!" Chomper looked from member to member as he still couldn't wrap his head around what had befallen his friends.

Littlefoot sighed and looked at Chomper with tired eyes. I think Chomper spoke for all of us.

Cera was the next to speak, "We should have just left that stupid rock alone!" she critiqued, "It granted the wrong wish!"

"We all wish-ed to get rid of Red Claw, didn't we?" Ducky questioned.

"Yeah! You didn't wish to have more sharpteeth friends, did you?" Cera questioned Chomper.

"I would never do that!" Chomper protested.

Ruby made the next statement, "Cera, you know he wouldn't force us to become like him."

Cera then did something that was out of character for her. Maybe it was the fact that she had gone through so much on this night, or possibly she simply didn't want to make anyone else more miserable. But perhaps it was that she could smell the lingering sadness and fear in both Chomper's and Ruby's odor. Whatever it was, her next statement ended the dispute.

"Yeah, you wouldn't do that to us. I'm sorry." The others looked at Cera with somewhat surprised expressions. "I just can't believe this is happening." She then looked down with a sad expression on her face.

"None of us can, Cera. None of us can," Littlefoot replied to Cera, giving her a slight nuzzle.

The others fell silent for a moment.

Cera licked her lips before speaking. "It is just so horrifying!" she admitted, to which Ducky and Littlefoot nodded, "I can't even walk right anymore. I always feel like I am going to fall over." She then shook her head. "This body wants to go fast all of the time."

"The smells are too strong," Littlefoot stated to the others, "I don't know what I smell most of the time, but it is just too much." He looked at Chomper. "I was knocked out when I first smelled them.

Chomper looked surprised at Littlefoot's revelation, I knew that my sniffer was better than theirs, but I did not know it was that much better! he reflected.

"I guess that you will get used to it," Chomper replied in an unsure manner, "I was hatched with my sniffer, so it never felt too strong to me."

"The smells give me odd feelings. They do! They do!" Ducky said, "When I smelled my brothers and sisters they smelled different and..." Upon realizing what she was about to say, she did not want to finish her sentence. "They smelled good, but not in a good way."

Several of the others did not quite understand what she was getting at, but Ruby and Chomper did. They both looked at one another with concerned and knowing expressions. It seemed that Ducky was the first one to come to a horrifying realization about her new body.

"Well..." Chomper began in a cautious manner, "Sharpteeth don't eat green food, so... I guess your sniffer is telling you that." He gave Ducky a sympathetic look.

The others looked horrified at that revelation. Had they changed that much? How could they view their relatives as food? It was too awful to contemplate.

The gang quickly began to talk to one another in hushed tones.

"Me don't like this at all. Me can't hurt other flyers!" Petrie protested.

"What would my dad think? Or my mother? What would she have said?" Littlefoot reflected sadly.

A chorus of other voices spoke up as the entire gang attempted to vocalize the fears, concerns, and despair that they had kept inside until now. The purpose of their meeting was forgotten for a time.

Spike was annoyed by this whole situation. In the span of a few short hours he had found out that he had become one of his own worst nightmares, he had to learn to walk again with Ducky's aid, he had barely escaped detection from Mr. Thicknose, and now he had to hear the others bicker over what could not be changed. Their reactions were understandable, but would solve nothing.

Spike looked down and scraped his hind leg on the cave floor in his annoyance. It was a shame that he couldn't speak, because he knew exactly what he would have told the rest of the gang at the moment.

"We can't change any of that. We need to figure out what to do now."

All of the voices suddenly fell silent.

Good, it sounds like that they are done bickering, Spike thought. He then looked up at the gang to see stunned expressions on their faces. Every single one of them was staring at him. What? Spike thought in his confusion. Ruby and Chomper both had agape mouths and surprised expressions, whereas Cera had an unsure expression on her face, as if she could not believe what had just happened. Littlefoot looked at him wide-eyed, whereas the expression of his sister was unforgettable.

"Spike? You... talked!" the former swimmer stated in an amazed voice, her forelimbs covering her mouth in shock.

Wait. I spoke? I spoke aloud? But I cannot speak! The confused thoughts went over and over within the green fastbiter's mind.

"I did?" Spike questioned.

He had heard his own voice that time. As the reality of the situation began to set in, he spoke again.

"I did." he spoke with a disbelieving but affirming voice.

"My bother can talk now! Yep, yep, yep!" Ducky exclaimed, while enveloping him in a tight embrace.

The others were still too shocked to speak. Had that just happened?

Finally Ruby spoke to no one in particular, "Well, at least something good has come from this."

Chomper nodded, still in shock at everything that had happened that night. "Yeah..."

The others then began to congratulate Spike on his accomplishment. Spike had always been a full member of the gang despite his disability, but nonetheless this was a great change for everyone involved. They now had a seventh member who could speak and share in the group consensus. Each of them had a childhood full of one-way conversations that Spike had been unable to reciprocate, but now that situation had changed overnight.

It was nice, Cera reflected, that one true "gift" had come from this night of "curses".

As their congratulations died down, Chomper decided to ask a question that had been on his mind that night.

"It is nice to hear that all of you can speak sharptooth now," Chomper noted, which elicited confused looks from the rest of the gang, "But can you speak leaf-eater, Spike?"

Spike looked terribly confused at Chomper's statement.

Littlefoot shared in the former spiketail's confusion and asked the obvious question to the little biter, "What do you mean, Chomper? We are all speaking leaf-eater right now. None of us besides Ruby and you know sharptooth."

Ruby echoed this sentiment. "Yes, Chomper. I am speaking leaf-eater right now, am I not?"

Chomper looked at Ruby with a sad expression and shook his head.

He then rolled his head back and emitted a confusing series of grunts and bellows.

The others looked confused at this display. Cera looked at Chomper as if he had suddenly gone mad, whereas Littlefoot actually looked at him with a concerned expression.

"What was that?" Littlefoot inquired.

Chomper looked at him sadly and replied, "I asked 'Can you understand this?' in leaf-eater. All of you have been speaking sharptooth since you have arrived at the cave. You have been growling at me!"

The others looked stunned at this revelation.

"But... What I am speaking now sounds like leaf-eater to me," Ruby replied.

"Then try to think about speaking sharptooth." Chomper responded. "Perhaps the stone switched things?"

Ruby reflected for several moments upon how to speak sharptooth before groaning in desperation.

"Oh no!" Ruby cried, "I can't speak it anymore!"

Chomper looked at his friends sadly. It seemed that the stone had made them all speak sharptooth now, and only sharpteeth. Just like how a born and raised sharptooth would...

Littlefoot, meanwhile, was trying to grasp the full implications of this. Not only was he a sharptooth now, but he also couldn't speak to his grandparents. He had literally no way to communicate with those who he loved or to confirm his identity. What was he supposed to do now?

Chomper noted Littlefoot's expression in particular and decided to help boost the gang's spirits.

"Don't worry guys!" Chomper spoke, "I can translate for you when you want to explain this to your folks."

Littlefoot looked at Chomper sadly. "That won't work, Chomper."

Chomper looked confused. "Why not?" he asked sadly.

Littlefoot sighed. "The adults will have no reason to believe you, Chomper," he began, "They will just think that you let sharpteeth into the valley." His voice began to break as he continued. "They will probably think that we are dead regardless of what you tell them." With tears in his eyes he looked at Chomper directly. "We have to either reverse this... or leave the valley."

The others began to look upon Littlefoot sadly. Ducky was beginning to tear up again, whereas Ruby had a sad smile on her face. She was about to interject when Cera responded.

"Littlefoot..." Cera began, but Littlefoot continued before she could offer reassurances.

"Perhaps it is better that way," he said mournfully, "Perhaps it is better that they think we are dead, rather than know we have become sharpteeth. That would crush my grandparents." Littlefoot finally broke down as he could no longer hold back the deluge of emotions that he had contained until that moment. He had always tried to be strong in front of the gang in order to keep them going, but he had never encountered a situation such as this. He had finally met his match not in the teeth of a sharptooth, nor in the barren wastelands outside of the valley, but rather within himself. His leaf-eater self was gone, and in its place stood an uncertain fastbiter.

Cera and Ruby both went to assist Littlefoot at his moment of weakness, neither of them bothering to restrain their own tears. The others soon joined in to help their leader. The emotional floodgates, so long closed, were now opened.

After several moments of collective sobbing, the gang began to calm down again. It seemed that there was something inside of them that would no longer permit them to mourn. They had a situation to rectify, and they could only rely upon themselves to do it.

"We need to go back to the stone and see if we can reverse this," Cera spoke, "Then we can decide what to do if that doesn't work."

"Yeah... That is what we need to do," Littlefoot agreed after some time.

The gang then left the Secret Caverns with restrained hope in their hearts. Perhaps the stone would be merciful to them and retract the wish? It was their only hope at this point.

......

"What happened?!"

Chomper's question echoed across the desolate expanse that was the stone's crash site. The other members of the gang shared Chomper's confusion and uncertainty.

The stone was cold and lifeless. The bright azure light that had emanated from it during the previous day had given way to a black void that seemed to mock the gang. None of the energy or color that the stone had exhibited earlier remained. It was now simply another stone.

It had also decreased in size. Whereas on the day before the stone was the size of a small tree, it now was only the size of a small boulder. It was a jarring and disheartening change.

The hopes of the gang began to diminish. Nonetheless, they trekked on in their last-ditch attempt to undo the wish.

"Okay, guys. Put your hands on the stone," Littlefoot ordered.

Each member of the gang then placed their forelimbs on the stone. Whereas on the previous day a multitude of dinosaur species had joined around the stone, now only fastbiters, a flyer, and a young tyrannosaurus congregated around its black form.

Littlefoot gulped. It was now or never. He cleared his throat and began his incantation.

"Oh great Stone of Cold Fire, it is the seven," he looked at the stone with sad eyes and continued, "Oh great stone, we ask you to return us to our original kinds!"

The others repeated the wish in their own thoughts.

Several moments went by...

...And nothing happened.

Littlefoot continued with desperation in his voice. "Please! Please change us back!" His voice cracked, "We haven't done anything to deserve this. Please have mercy on us!" he pleaded.

Still nothing happened.

"You can't do this to us! We have fought against sharpteeth all of our lives, how can you turn us in to them?!" he nearly screamed at the stone. He clawed at its surface in agitation. He then spoke in a soft, sad voice, "At least show some mercy to our parents. This will hurt them badly... They don't deserve this."

There was no sound or light emanating from the stone. It was just as lifeless as when Littlefoot had begun his attempt.

"Littlefoot..." Chomper began.

"We have to get it to listen, Chomper!" Littlefoot replied, "We have to stop this."

"Littlefoot," Cera then attempted to reach him, her voice showing obvious emotion.

"Come on guys! Put your paws back on the stone! We have to keep trying," Littlefoot responded in desperation.

Ruby then walked directly in between him and the stone.

"Littlefoot..." she spoke in a soft, caring voice, "Littlefoot, it's over."

Littlefoot looked at her uncomprehending for a moment. His intellect had already accepted this possibility hours ago, but his emotions were still not ready to accept the horrible reality.

"Littlefoot," Ruby then spoke in a sad voice, "This... This is us now."

"We have to go now," Ducky said mournfully, "We have to leave the valley!" The former swimmer began to cry softly.

Littlefoot looked down at the ground below. He showed no emotion on his face, but the twitches coming from his eyes indicated the mental anguish that was going on in the head of the former longneck.

Littlefoot had always been the hopeful one of the gang. He was the dinosaur who always argued for a possible solution. The dinosaur who always kept his bearings and who was able to lead the others even through hopeless circumstances. But now he had finally met his unwinnable scenario, an abyss from which there was no escape. He had not felt so helpless since his mother had died protecting him so long ago. He knew that he would have to motivate the others to carry on, but first he had to work up the motivation himself.

At least we are still all here, he told himself. At least we can go into the unknown together...

Finally catching his bearings again, Littlefoot shook his head and began to speak.

"Yeah..." Littlefoot began, "We have to go." He looked up at the others with a resigned expression. "The only ones who could help us deal with the stone are those two rainbowfaces we met when Pterano was around, and who knows where they are? What will we do now?"

Ruby thought a moment before responding.

"My parents might know something about the Stone of Cold Fire. They are fast runners, and we fast runners have to know many things." She only observed afterwards that the "we" was no longer valid. She quickly continued, "If there is any news from the Mysterious Beyond then they should hear it."

"Yeah," Chomper exclaimed, "They may also know where my parents were recently. If we cannot find a way to change back, then we will need to meet up with them." He paused before hesitantly adding, "...And you all would need to be trained."

The last statement fell upon the gang like a pile of boulders. If they could not change back...

The gang now knew that they would have to leave the valley. Either they would find out more about the stone and how to change their wish, or else they would be stuck like this forever.

The same unspoken question echoed within each of their minds. Would they ever see the Great Valley again?


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