(Act II) Chapter 9: Innocence
Act II: Light & Darkness
Chapter 9: Innocence
"This is Novigrad. Only the innocent burn here." - Joachim von Gratz, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
The pack's territory:
Ah, it's been quite some time. I hope they're still happy to see me.
As the fastbiter was cautiously making his way through the thick underbrush, these very thoughts have accompanied him for quite some time. Right now, he was just hoping that the pack would be doing as fine as ever. What else could have possibly happened?
"We will be there soon. Looking forward to this, aren't you?"
He didn't turn around to the female behind him while giving his response.
"Of course! I'm sure they will be delighted to hear the news!"
He was very much looking forward to finally seeing some friendly faces again. Seeker's pack. The pack that has changed his life for the better. Never would he forget the kindness and understanding these new fastbiters have brought into a harsh world, where killing was just daily business for the casual sharptooth. Had fate not decided for him to be bound to them, he figured that he would have died long ago already.
He stopped for a moment to sniff the air and began to smile at his discovery.
Hehe... Let's see if you've learned something, Taunt.
Like shadows, the two predators were moving through the bushes, eluding the few rays of light. The Bright Circle was beginning to set, providing the perfect shading to shroud their bodies. When they finally had a visual on the orange fastbiter, they started sneaking and lowered their heads in the usual predatory custom. The fastbiter in their sights had his back turned towards them, which would make this way too easy. Their target would not know what hit him.
He raised his forelimb and, using his three clawed fingers, began the countdown.
3... 2... 1...
"Ow! Hey! What...?!"
The sudden outburst of pain, caused by a nip on his tail, made Taunt seemingly fly forwards and spin around in the same jump. His eyes went wide when he saw who the two perpetrators were.
Two adult fastbiters. The male colored in green. The female in a light blue, and she was carrying multiple little fastbiter younglings on her back.
Taunt tried to show the happiness of seeing his extended family again on his face, but something prevented him from doing that.
"You let your guard down, son. Again, like always. Have you not learned anything from me?" Thud explained himself in a flamboyantly insulted fashion. He tried his best, but he just couldn't hide the jest in his tone. Knowing whom he was dealing with here, he was expecting his son to retort something in his usual manner.
However, Taunt's response would be a lot different. He completely ignored the banter and spoke up with a tone in his voice that was, to say the very least, highly unusual for him.
"It's nice to see you both. What brings you here?"
Thud was shocked by that shaky, almost emotionless, response. Was this really his son Taunt, who had this name for a reason after all, standing there?
"What? Am I not allowed to visit my favorite pack of ankle-biters?" He started, still quite a bit of joy in his voice. However, he decided to adjust his tone the moment he continued. "But first... Taunt? Did something happen I should know about?"
Taunt didn't respond outright. He rather looked into the distance for a while. The news were still fresh. None of the packmembers had digested all this just yet, those heartbreaking words coming from Petrie earlier. They had certainly ruined his day. And right now, all the things which usually defined his personality to the very core were forgotten.
"Our pack counts one fastbiter less as of yesterday..."
Thud was seriously taken aback by this. In the world of sharpteeth, death was something that would accompany especially fastbiters every single day, either the death of their victims or sometimes even their own, but he would never have expected someone of Seeker's pack to die all this sudden.
"Who...?" Thud started to carefully inquire, but he was cut off by his son.
"You don't know him. He came to us not even a cycle of the Night Circle ago and Seeker took him in." He couldn't help but letting out a sad laugh at this point. "He was utterly hopeless. Full-grown fastbiter, way bigger than any of us, and he didn't know how to hunt or fight... Can you believe that? Turned out he was changed, too. You know... different... from you and me. Feathers and all, like Seeker or Stern Claw have, but there was so much more to it he never talked an awful lot about. He was very reclusive in his last days here, talked even less than before. Said he didn't belong here, said he had to travel to the Great Valley and speak to the rainbowfaces to find peace... We thought he was making a fuss about nothing special, so we just tried to give him some time but... a few days ago he went off by himself... and then died when a flying rock crashed into the Smoking Mountain next to the valley. Apparently 'gave his life to save the valley'... Or at least so the rainbowfaces claim, according to Spotter. I think for once, even they don't know for certain." He sighed loudly before finishing his speech. "I guess none of us really got to know him at all. It's just a shame... that he's gone now..."
At this point, both Thud and Swift were just staring at Taunt in disbelief and horror. Thud could obviously already guess in what state the pack must have been in, he had lost a fair share of his own friends and loved ones after all, but what he planned on eventually telling them would only add insult to an already nasty emotional injury. And while he now knew that the fastbiter in question had been anything but a long-time friend to the pack, he also knew that a sudden loss like that would still leave its scars. Thinking about this topic, he remembered how shattered Littlefoot had been when he heard about Skytail's death.
Taunt used the time of his father's pondering to recompose himself.
"By the way, dad... Why are you and Swift alone with the children? What about Ripper and Torn, and their mates? They stuck with hatching eggs?"
Thud smiled sadly at Taunt's pathetic attempt to be funny in a situation such as this. With a heavy heart, he decided to get this over with.
"You could say it that way. Son? I need to talk to Seeker, immediately."
The Great Valley:
"Dear? We should really head back home, soon. Axiom and Datum are probably already sleeping."
Not even Chronos' calm voice could stop Logos from staring at the long since inactive Stone of Cold Fire. The Stone of Destiny. Fastbiter Rock. Silently, it stood there amidst the water-filled crater. Constantly reminding everyone that somewhere out in the Mysterious Beyond, there were seven sharpteeth on the prowl. Seven fastbiters. Seven hunters. Seven heroes. Seven friends. The very friends that used to belong to the valley, until they unwillingly sacrificed their past lives for a greater good. The defeat of Red Claw and thus the Great Valley's salvation.
But as of today, it had an additional meaning. Yet another sharptooth had cast his shadow upon the valley. However, this sharptooth, this fastbiter, had shielded the unaware inhabitants from sure death, a burning sky of fire and ashes, for reasons and means unknown. To some, a select few, he would be known as the eighth hunter, in spite of his hunt already being over.
"Do you really think it's over?" She responded after a while.
"I'm sure of it. And once again, it was you who prevented another disaster."
"No, this time it was neither me nor you... but that's not what I meant. I meant over for him."
Chronos looked at her in surprise at first but soon resumed to wear a serious face, as he went over the last night in his mind again.
"I don't see how he could have survived that. The communicator had just too much energy left... You should let it go, dear. It's best this way." He finally responded.
Logos looked at the ground for a few seconds before she turned around to her mate.
"Three weeks ago... You had the same dream, didn't you?" She asked.
Chronos just gasped and stared at her, so Logos quickly continued.
"So you did. The burning sky, the ashes in the wind... and a fastbiter with black feathers, with the shadow of... something else. Just... what have we done?"
There he was yet again. The darkness that has accompanied him, surrounded him, mocked him, haunted him, tortured him, for all the time in his new life. After every single one of his kills, he could feel his heart darken just a little bit more. His whole viewpoint on life, on justice, on love, on happiness, had been turned on its head. Gone was the calm, gentle and empathic human that quite literally couldn't hurt a fly. Gone was the life in safety, warmth and comfort. Gone was his past.
But what was in that place now? He knew exactly what. A killer. A murderer. Cold, calculating and brutal. Always lusting and longing for fresh blood, to gorge himself on the life essence of others. Showing mercy only on a select few for his own selfish reasons. Not only tearing apart flesh to survive, but whole families. Sometimes killing for sport, betting on and toying with the lives of others, enjoying himself even. And the worst part? He didn't care a single bit about that. Why even bother?
He was dead, after all.
"I am, am I not?"
All of this felt like an unending nightmare, albeit that he was a spectator now. An incorporeal being, hovering inside this pitch black realm with no way of escaping. He would be forced to listen into this darkness to whatever would come, unable of defending himself. This time, he truly didn't have a choice anymore.
"That depends. Do you actually want to be dead?"
This voice. He knew it. It had appeared in all of his dreams so far, guiding him on his miserable course on which he had achieved nothing but his own demise. However, something about it was different now. It still definitely belonged to a female and it still carried kindness and understanding, and yet it somehow didn't. It sounded metallic, almost artificial, as if this voice was somehow 'produced'. It certainly didn't calm his nerves anymore. He had no way of explaining this, not even to himself.
"Where are you?! I've had enough of your sick games! Show yourself already!" He yelled, or rather thought, into the distance.
"Oh, this is anything but a game, Specter." Came the response, each word seemingly circling around him. This being, responding to him, seemed to be bodiless as well. There was no light as it spoke. Unlike the previous encounters, there was only darkness.
"Don't call me that! That's not my name!"
"Oh? What is your name then?"
That was the question, wasn't it? What was his true name? It had been long since lost on him. A name was something extremely personal, something that would be deeply imprinted in one's mind. An unbreakable bond to life, from birth to death. And yet, he didn't know it. Not anymore. This made him realize something. The moment Littlefoot had asked him for his name, and he didn't know the answer, he had been born and died his first death at the same time. It was his old self that died right there already.
"You took it away from me! All was fine until you sent me that damn Stone!"
"An unfortunate side effect of your transformation, I agree, but for the better. I am sorry it had to be this way."
"Oh really? You're sorry?" He retorted with an over-the-top sarcastic tone.
"Correcting mistakes of the past is always hard, and you experienced it first-hand. Especially when that mistake involves yourself."
Despite his anger, he was curious now. He tried to calm down as best as he could, so as to not upset this intruder inside his mind too much, longing for answers about his very existence.
"What do you mean? What mistakes did I make? What did I do to deserve losing everything I ever knew?"
"You misunderstand. I am not talking about your mistakes. You did nothing wrong, yet you atoned for our mistake and I am truly sorry for that. We all are."
"Explain yourself already! I've had enough of this riddle-speak shit!"
"Which is why I am here. We agreed to communicate with you, made an exception for once, to give you the answers you deserve. This will be the first time, and it will be the last. You will be on yourself after that."
"Good gracious! How incredibly nice of you!" This mix of sarcasm and raw anger was something he wouldn't have given his worst enemies. However, he considered the mysterious being talking to him even beyond an enemy. "Now then... Just what are you?"
"Something higher, long since vanished from the discernible realm of the universe. We were the first, guiding all those that would follow. We observe, suggest and calculate, yet we never intervene. We provide light on the path of uncertainty. Those who seek guidance will always look for our long since abandoned stars."
He was dumbstruck by this. His mouth would have fallen wide agape, were he not bodiless.
"What?! You mean...? But... how does that work?"
"By giving those who deserve to prosper an option to evolve. To change their destiny. To become what they want to be. A new beginning."
He remembered the first dream he had after arriving in this place. Those were more or less the exact same words. Still, he was almost certain that he was being fooled by this voice. Despite nothing more than a ghost himself here, he could feel his heart telling him that.
"So these blasted Stones are your creation! But why? Why me? Why change me into a carnivore and force me to kill? Why not into a peaceful herbivore, or at least an omnivore? I would've liked being an Oviraptor, Troodon or Gallimimus... Why give me no choice but to live off meat? And why not someone from this time?!"
"Because you experienced our very mistake. You have spent more than 20 years living it, amongst many other factors. Your heart is pure, and so is your judgement and your interesting way of irrational thinking. You were the best suited. And so is your new body. It had to be this way. Anything else would not have sufficed. Or would you rather have been the prey, instead of the predator? Would you rather haven been the hunted, instead of the hunter? Besides, is this not what you always wanted? Did you not always want to fight for your presence and hunt your own nourishment?"
"How could I have known it would be this hard?! How could I have known that their screams would haunt me in my sleep?! And what 'mistake'?! You're talking about it as if it was your first and only!"
"Oh, Specter. You don't even know what you want. So innocent, so naive... so typical for your former species. Indeed, it was our first and only mistake. They who arose from the ashes of a cataclysm, only to cause innumerable more. They who obstructed their own future and that of everyone else with it. They who so self-righteously called themselves 'humans' to distinguish themselves from the animals they were."
Under normal circumstances, he would have attacked who or whatever had been speaking those words without hesitation, regardless of its appearance. This was just too much of an insult. Right now, however, his mind couldn't even process all this information. Only time could, he figured. So he settled with asking questions. He would have enough time for cursing in the afterlife, if there even was something like that. Who even knew? Maybe he already was in that place.
"You disgusting piece of shit! What gives you the right to play God with seven billion lives?!"
"God? There is no such being, you know that. And I believe you also know why we had to do it. Seven billion are but a dust particle in our universe. We have studied you, observed you, for millennia. War defined your whole history, nothing but mindless bloodshed over imaginary entities for centuries. Two world wars over petty grievances with the third only being a matter of time from where you came. Endless lives lost every day. Conflicts, dictators, refugees, hunger, hate, murder, racism. All of this out of fear and greed. Your kind would have destroyed a planet that has lasted for billions of years in less than only a million. This could not go on. We had to act. We had to intervene. Just this once. But we could not. We were not allowed to. However, you could. And you did."
"You're telling me that... you used me?! That you killed my kind and ruined my life for a higher cause?!"
"We did, yes, and at the same time we did not. There was no 'higher cause' in this, as you would call it. Only two decisions, both equally wrong in their own ways. We do not ask you to understand or accept this concept. We do not ask for your approval. We had to do it. We had to choose the harder wrong over another easier mistake, thus leaving the future open again."
He hesitated to answer this time. All of this went against his better judgement and knowledge. It felt like he was talking to some deluded psychopath who desperately tried to justify his actions and murders by listing his few good deeds and intentions. Maybe he was talking to himself even? By now, he had killed enough living beings to fall under that classification.
"Why am I even speaking to you? You're obviously just my guilt-ridden conscience. This is just happening inside my head. No! You're not real! You're not! This is impossible!"
"Just because this is happening inside your head, why does that mean it is not real? You think it is impossible because your logic is bound by the very laws your kind established. Those do not apply to us, however."
"So it's supposed to be perfectly logical to change species and travel through time, is that it? Ridiculous! You can't change the past! Besides... Chronos and Logos already prevented the extinction event, long before you decided to 'intervene'. So what does all of this have to do with me? How did I even exist before?"
"Ah, your 'rainbowface' friends. Yes, they have indeed followed the path we laid out for them. They only saw what we made them see. They only heard what we made them hear. They only did what we planned for them to do. Or do you believe it was mere coincidence that yet another 'rock from space' threatened their home? Do you believe it was coincidence that the only possible way to stop it was by destroying the last link to their past lives? Do you believe it was coincidence that this mysterious black marble, full of immense destructive power, was created with a microscopical defect, a crack the size of merely a few atoms, which would ensure your survival? Your wish was the penultimate piece in this puzzle, and your presence here finally completed it. To explain further, know that time is but a boundary for those afraid to act. A boundary we were not afraid to transgress. It will be up to you now what you make of this. Maybe they will rise again, reborn, cleansed. Not anytime soon, however. Unfortunately, this is all I can tell you. You will find that there is much more danger, many more things to learn and even more hardships in this world than you allow yourself to admit."
For some reason, he felt oddly exhausted by now. This conversation was far beyond anything a normal mind could have handled. He just wanted to finally have his rest, to let go of all this. To be finally free.
But after hearing all this, something clicked. He just couldn't hold back his sheer anger anymore. For all his life he had sworn to be a strong personality, never to serve anyone but himself. Never to be a pawn. And he succeeded. He had become a king in this evolutionary game of chess, played by beings whose power he couldn't even remotely comprehend. And yet, even a king was nothing but a pawn for the players of this game, albeit not an expendable one. They had their methods for that little problem, however. They had locked him in a long castling, checkmated him right at the start of this game with his own morals and his empathy. He had never been given even a chance to make his own move.
"Why can't you just let me die?! Have I not suffered enough?! I never wanted this!"
"Had you truly not wanted this, you would not be in this place. Had you truly wanted to die, we would not be speaking right now. When you touched our Stone, you made a wish. You wished to change the world to a better place. And thus, you wished for a new beginning, for your old species. You wished for them to be free of war, free of hardships and death. And you wished, in all your self-righteousness, for your very own legacy. We have granted your wishes. Now they are gone, now they are free. Now you are the first, and you are the last. You are the link between two worlds. Your own fate and that of many others lies in your hands now. From this point on, you decide. This is your legacy."
As the voice's echo proceeded to vanish into the distance, he desperately wanted to ask one final question. All these things he had just been told were perfectly logical in some pervertedly twisted way, but there was one thing he just could not explain.
"Wait! They... will 'rise again'? What does that mean? And you said this was the first time we would be talking... But what about before? I know your voice from somewhere!"
His question was only retorted with a calm, soothing laughter. Several moments passed before he was able to make out that mysterious being speaking up one last time from seemingly far, far away, almost like a whisper.
"Fare thee well, Specter. You served us well. Be free now. Your journey has only begun."
And then there was silence.
The pack's territory:
"Thud! Swift! It's nice to see you again! How are you doing?" Littlefoot exclaimed as soon as he laid eyes onto the visitors.
The pack and their children all gathered up behind him. Taunt as well was quick to break away from his father and join them in that show of respect for Littlefoot's leadership. The leader would always have the first word with any potential newcomers or visitors, everyone was instinctually aware of this, even the children. However, Littlefoot was just as quick to gesture for his pack to loosen up. He really wasn't in the mood for any of this today.
Thud stepped forward and bowed his head respectfully before speaking up.
"It's nice to see you, too. You must apologize that we didn't bring a peace offering."
Littlefoot mustered Thud and Swift for a while. He was searching for any possible hint that could have given away the reason for their sudden arrival, but their scents seemed rather normal, although he did notice slight notes of concern in them.
He just wanted to speak up himself when Thud took the word again.
"Seeker... I must have a word with you. In private."
The tone in Thud's voice, and the simple fact that two-thirds of his pack were missing, only implied one thing for now. A serious amount of trouble. But why wouldn't Thud want to speak about it openly, Littlefoot asked himself. Thinking about this only gave himself even more concerns, so he offered Thud a firm nod and followed him away from the rest.
When the two of them reached a safe distance to the others, Thud stopped his movement and turned around to Littlefoot. It was the brown fastbiter who took the initiative this time.
"Alright, now can you tell me what's going on? Where are the others?"
Thud took a deep breath.
"My son told me what happened. So, about that fastbiter that belonged to your pack..."
"He's dead, Thud." Littlefoot cut him off, looking at the ground in front of his feet. "I failed him... I still don't understand how this could've possibly happened, but it did. This is my fault."
Thud was still searching for the right words. Despite his longstanding experience, situations like these had been extremely rare in his life. Comforting others was not exactly his best trait, and the news he had about that lost fastbiter of Littlefoot's pack were anything but comforting.
"It's much worse than that." He said, and Littlefoot instantly looked back up at him in massive shock. Thud himself couldn't even comprehend all this just yet. The moment he had heard from Taunt about the fastbiter in question, everything he thought to know about the situation was twisted around. He had to make sure now. "Could you... describe him? What did he look like?"
"Uhm... I don't exactly see why that would matter now but... alright. Well, he looked a lot like me, only that he was quite a bit bigger and his feathers were mostly black." He had to chuckle slightly, thinking about Specter's appearance. "To be honest, he must have looked pretty scary to anyone who didn't get to know him."
"And how well did you get to know him?" Thud questioned, by now with an angry undertone in his voice.
This question, in combination with that quite easily discernible hint of anger, made Littlefoot's stomach turn. Something was seriously wrong here.
"Well enough to have trusted him with my life. Could you get to the point, please? You're starting to creep me out."
Thud let out a loud sigh before telling the tale from its beginning.
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry. So... Ripper, Torn and their mates are having their clutch of eggs to care for right now, and I think you know what that means. In the meantime, Swift and I just wanted to pay you a friendly visit. Our little ones are learning their first words and we thought it would be nice for them to play with some other children."
"Why, that's fantastic! You're always welcome here, you know that! But... there is something on your mind, isn't there?"
"Thank you, it really means a lot to me." Thud started while bowing his head again.
Following that, he looked at all the other sharpteeth in the distance and just had to smile, seeing how his own little fastbiter children were curiously sniffing and growling at the other, noticeably bigger, fuzzballs of the pack. It seemed like even though they were developing extremely fast in intelligence, they couldn't comprehend yet why the pack's children all had feathers and they did not, he noted to himself. It was such a peaceful and happy sight that he wished it would always be this way, but he just as well knew this would never be the case.
He switched his attention back to Littlefoot and continued.
"I fear there is. I'm not sure if it's just coincidence or if your lost 'friend'..." He cut himself off shortly, letting out a contemplative sigh. "Look, songs and stories travel quickly and far. As of the day before yesterday, a new song is being sung by a small, young pack of fastbiters from the Far Lands, one that I have heard for the first time. A horrible one in terms of content. They sang about a sharptooth, but not just any sharptooth. It's supposed to be a sharptooth that's half fastbiter, half two-footer... and covered with 'dark fuzz'... A fake-face like none other. And he kills not always for food. Sometimes, he kills even other sharpteeth without reason, without mercy, without a moment's hesitation. Just for the fun of it."
At this point, Littlefoot was staring at Thud with wide eyes as he tried to connect what he had just heard with what happened over the past weeks. All of this sounded a lot like a description of Specter. If that horrible song really was about him, then a lot of things made somewhat sense now. The way he had been so reclusive towards his last days, so determined and relentless. The way he had been so incredibly quick to learn new things, being able to effectively use his sense of smell and grasp the basics of a whole new language in a matter of hours. It always felt like he was holding back, waiting for the moment where he would be forced to show his vast abilities.
But if that really would have been the case, if Specter really was the sharptooth from this song, how could he have known all those other things? His past kind was supposed to be so unlike any dinosaur that it just couldn't have been a lie. Not even the biggest maniac on this earth would have been able to just 'imagine' that. Even with that special 'trick' of his, there was just no way he could have been that much of a fake-face.
Thud immediately noticed the mental struggle Littlefoot was having in that instance, and thus decided to drop this topic.
"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have brought it up. I'm sure it's just an exaggerated story made to scare little ankle-biters in their home lands. You don't need to hear that on a day such as this... and neither would I want to spit on your friend's memory. Let's go back to the others, shall we?"
Littlefoot only answered with a hesitant nod and took point again. He decided to keep this conversation a secret for now, as he really needed some more time to think all this through. If there was only the slightest of chances that Specter was still alive, he was obviously happy but expected to hear something more specific. A vague song was just not enough evidence for him, but the overlaps were indeed remarkable. Still, it would be just too absurd. And besides, although it pained him to think about it this way, it didn't even really matter anymore.
Dead or alive, the black fastbiter was far away now.
"Ugh... Where am I?"
Cold, silent darkness all around him. Didn't he just wake up? Or was this how hell felt like? Lifeless and empty.
He could hear his own heartbeat, which simply implied that it must have been the first option. He blinked a few times, letting his eyes slowly adapt to the darkness, in his search for some light. It didn't take him long to find it.
Almost imperceptible, a few thin rays of red sunlight penetrated the ceiling of his grave.
Sunset? What...? How long was I out cold?!
He didn't remember all too much of his last actions just yet. There were really only two particular images he could recall in his mind. A blinding flash of light, followed by the sound of a deafening explosion. And then a massive landslide. How he got here, he had no memory of. He knew one thing for certain, however.
He was alive.
It was beyond a miracle that his shelter of rocks had shielded him from any possible harm that could have potentially descended upon him. Still, after a few deep breaths, he noticed that the air was starting to get thin.
About time I got out of here... Let's see...
He slowly stood up and...
"Ow! Fuck's sake!"
...promptly hit his head on the rocks above him. It seemed like this shelter was a little bit smaller than he had expected it to be. A lot more careful now, and almost crouching, he swept the walls to his sides for any possible exit.
That was when he touched a rock to his right, which instantly fell out of the wall.
Hmm... This must be where the exit is. Ok, let's try this.
He made up his mind. He took one last deep breath and leaned over to his left side to gain the required momentum.
The sunset light that so warmly greeted him almost blinded him just as equally. His widely dilated pupils needed some time to contract again. Normally, he would have been in utmost joy that he was slowly regaining his precious eyesight. He was so much looking forward to seeing a nice, peaceful environment again. However, his mouth fell wide agape when he saw what was in front of him. He was standing at the foot of the massive volcano, but still had complete overview of the scenery.
Because there was none left. Everything around was covered in a thick fog of dust, but he could still make out his closer surroundings. Every single form of life, whether it had been plant or dinosaur, had been either scorched to a pile of ash or was now lying beneath a thick layer of said substance. The evidence that a select few had been granted a quick, mostly painless death were their bare skeletons. These poor souls had not even known what hit them. In the whole vicinity, the bony remains of spiketails, longnecks and threehorns paved the ground. Some of them big, some others quite small. It seemed like some herds had been about to pass through this area, and the way their bones were distributed only suggested that they had one particular destination in mind. The Great Valley. But those of which nothing but their bones were left, were the lucky minority. Many others in the distance had either slowly suffocated or were burned to a crisp while still alive.
I... Did I... do this...? No... What have I done?!
He grasped onto his muzzle with both of his hands, shaking his head in disbelief. It was only now that he fully understood what sort of havoc the communicator's 'battery' had wreaked. Maybe he had saved the Great Valley with his actions, but the price was definitely too high. He did not know exactly how many dinosaurs lived in the valley, but he could guess just by looking at the aftermath that at least twice as many must have died out here because of the pyroclastic flow he had unleashed. He had yet to discover that this sight of death and destruction was the least of his problems.
Because now the scents reached his nose. Hundreds of different scents of burnt flesh. Thousands of scents of death. Like concentrated acid, those scents corroded through his mucosae and seemed to melt his brain. His head suddenly felt like it was going to explode any second. His body did not know how to handle such an onslaught, so it reacted in the only way it felt would be best to react.
It forced him to bend down his head and disgorge the little sustenance he had left in his stomach.
When he finally started to regain control over his body again, everything that could have served as the tiniest bit of nutrition for the next few hours lay in front of his feet. A stinking pulp of mucus, bones and half-digested fish. It was not even a metaphor when he thought to himself that he truly felt empty now.
And on top of all the physical pain he had to endure, there was another thing on his mind by now. How would he return to his pack? His self-imposed mission was over. It had been a complete failure from the start. His good intentions in combination with his fateful wish had seen to that. Mankind was dead, would probably never exist. And if it still eventually would, then even his thousandth generation of children would never live to see it. What else was left for him now than to live a normal life, the life of a sharptooth?
This question would have to wait, however, as his primal instincts kicked in. In full force, this time. Hunger! Hunt! Kill! Eat!
Not even thinking about how to proceed now, he started sniffing the air profoundly. Within mere seconds, his olfactory center filtered the uncountable amount of disgusting smells for any useful scents. And then it finally found one. In an instant, everything inside his head went silent. His eyes widened.
No! No, I won't do this! Anything but that! There must be some usable carrion or at least a few berries around here! He screamed internally at his instincts.
But they were not about to let him win. Not again. No! Meat! Fresh meat! Young flesh! Stegosaurus. Not far away. Easy prey! Hunt! Kill! Now!
He tried to fight against this primal voice, tried to push it aside like he had always done before. It was no use. His hunger was just too big. For the first time, he had lost a fight against himself. He would be about to snuff out the life of another living being, one that he had sworn since day one never to lay a claw on. His transformation into a full-fledged predator would soon be complete. Only this one little step he would have to take. It was by far the hardest to him, because it was no less than the last bit of innocence he still had. But he was given no choice.
His heartbeat accelerated. He could feel the arteries pulsating beneath the skin on his powerful legs. His pupils changed sizes several times, almost filling out his whole irises in the end, as the pure adrenaline mixed with his blood and rushed to his head.
He swung his head around and locked on to his target in the distance. He could not see it, but he didn't have to. He could smell it, and that was more than enough.
Not wasting any more time, he exploded into a sprint, bursting with all his power into the distance, almost cracking the dry, ashen ground below his feet open with his sheer force.
Little did he know he had been observed from a safe distance by five watchful eyes.
"Well, well. Looks like he's found himself some food."
"Huh? How do you know? I don't smell anything in this stench!"
"Still questioning the nose of a two-footer? A shame you don't take after your sister. Now get going, both of you. Whatever he is, he might prove to be an invaluable asset out here. You know what to do."
The fastbiter duo gave their leader a nod and sprinted after the mysterious black sharptooth. Only now, the two-footer rose to his full height from behind a pile of rocks and stared into the distance, his still functioning left eye following the fastbiters until they disappeared in the fog.