Chapter 10: The Forgotten
Chapter 10: The Forgotten
"Only the forgotten are truly dead." - Tess Gerritsen
The wind howling past his ears. The ash below his clawed feet violently spreading into all directions. His lungs burning like fire. His heart beating like a drum, a fast but also horrifyingly calm rhythm that sent out chilly vibes throughout his whole body.
As he was steadily closing in on his prey, these perceptions only added to his ecstasy. The pure ecstasy of a hunt. Primitive, wild, violent and unforgiving, such as nature demanded. He wouldn't need any cunning thoughts. He wouldn't need any real intelligence. For this particular hunt, he would only need to listen to his instincts. It was his first solo hunt, but it also wasn't even a true hunt. It was more of an execution. And just like an executioner, he would only need to be one thing. Merciless.
It might have seemed easy enough to be exactly that. From the outside, this was certainly what he must have looked like. How else would a Utahraptor of his size, almost reaching three meters height, survive in this world? But what about his inside? As with most critical decisions in life, they only seem easy when thought about in theory. When faced in reality, however, only then would one feel the true magnitude of the consequences. He has seen both sides. He has lived the predator's life, and he had sort of lived the prey's life for two days.
And it wasn't like he had not been given a chance. Thing was, he had already squandered it days ago. It had been his decision to only eat fish before and while staying in the Great Valley. It had been his decision to not hunt for bigger prey just outside of that safe haven. If only he had hunted himself a tasty longneck and eaten his fill a day ago, then maybe, just maybe, he might have still had some food in his stomach at this point, he deduced. Then again, the valley residents would have either killed him or never let him back in again. So what would have been better in the end? What would have been the right choice? Some food to go by, or knowledge?
Knowledge meant one's downfall. Those were his own words, or thoughts. However, not meeting Chronos and Logos would have indirectly meant that he would never have 'died' and thus he would never have acquired the precious knowledge he could call his now. The asteroid would have hit the volcano and it would have scorched the rainbowfaces together with the whole valley, and his mission would never have ended. He would have lived a life in uncertainty, only guessing what his true purpose was. At least now he knew that his old life was definitely over and he could safely start a new life.
A new life as Specter, the fastbiter.
But this was something that would lie in the future, something that did not concern him just yet. For now, he had to act without thinking too much. For once, he had to purely care about himself. He had to face the consequences of his decision.
Not much further now. Maybe another 500 meters.
Although he was fully in control of his mind again, his thoughts were as calm as the environment. The thick cloak of fog all around had yet to settle, even almost a whole day after the volcano's eruption, and it made Specter's surroundings seem like one giant ghost world. No signs of life could be seen. And even if there were any, he would have probably dismissed them.
To him, there was only the one single scent he was following. There was only his hunger and the spiketail. He slowly started coming to peace with his instinctual drives.
With every second passed, he was rapidly getting closer. He just wanted to get this over with. There was no point in feeling bad. Even for an irrational thinker like him, it would have been outright stupid to let such an opportunity pass. Especially when his own life was at stake. Not only was he alone again, but it was also highly likely that there wasn't much more food in this barren wasteland. Even to delay the inevitable would have been the wrong decision.
Funnily enough to him, even at a time like this, he was very happy to have lived a human life before and sincerely missed it in some way, but at the same time he was not sad that it was over. Not at all. To be able to use precise measurements, understand the stars above and the earth below him, grasp the concepts of distance and time, create images, listen to the sound of music or even make his own. Such had been, still were to the most extent, the beautiful aspects of his past life.
And yet, the voice from his dream was right, he knew that. It had indeed been his wish for mankind to go back to simpler terms, though he would have probably thought of a different wording if he had known that the Stone would interpret it like it had. He asked himself if that would have been even possible, given that his 'heart' had supposedly uttered that wish. In any event, the way he saw it, humans had not been ready for their highly advanced lives. Humans, like every living being, needed fear. It was necessary. It made them aware that there had been far bigger foes to fight than different opinions or who the better imaginary sky-patriarch was. All the books, games and movies about monsters, ironically those being dinosaurs very often, and aliens Specter had seen, played or read in his past life were a testament to that. Without any natural enemies in the world, the only thing they had been able to do was to fear and hate each other. And what this had meant for them, well, one would only have to look at the 100 years prior to the time where Specter had come from to understand that.
It was at this point where he promptly decided that he would maybe like this new life more than his old life, regardless of the hardships and severity of decisions it had brought with it. Because in some way, it was a simple life. A life in which he could allow himself to not care about his looks anymore, where he could afford to live like nature had planned for him to do. A life in which a species was completely equal amongst their own kind. Fastbiters were fastbiters, two-footers were two-footers, longnecks were longnecks, and so on. The diversity of a human's appearance was gone, his light complexion, tattoos, simple hairstyle and lean body shape along with it. For a creature of this primitive time, only skills and knowledge determined its success. The individualism of each creature was determined by nature, and only by nature. But he was fine with that. Because it was a life in which all the things he learned were actually applicable on a daily basis and where he could be happy about even the smallest things, like waking up on each morning in the sun's warm embrace.
And if there was even a tiny part of a human inside of him still alive by now, then this would not come as too much of a surprise. Because if humans had anything to go for them, it was their immense adaptability. Their will to survive at any cost. Whatever catastrophe descended upon them, they just would not lie down and die. They just would not give up. Never.
Neither would he.
However, the philosophical cogitations abruptly came to a stop, along with himself. He sniffed the air to narrow down the source of the scent even further.
50 meters. Straight ahead.
He resumed his movement, this time in a slow trot. Checking his surroundings again, he noticed that there were only three corpses visible right in front of him and the fog was less dense in this area. It seemed like this area was close to the last line, the border to which the cataclysm had reached out. Something about those dead bodies felt strange though.
Three Stegos. Skin all cracked up... Likely died of heat... The two bigger ones must've been the parents, the slightly smaller one must've been their child. Hmm... I wonder if...? No, can't eat their meat. Way too risky. But they... formed some sort of barrier... which means...
And then a sound filled his sensitive ears. Muffled whimpering. His nose and instincts had given him the right lead. Obstructed by the big spiketail bodies was another member of that family.
He lowered his head and circled around the dead leaf-eaters. Like the Grim Reaper himself, calculating, silent and deadly. He would be the one who made sure that the family's efforts in saving their last offspring would be in vain. As soon as he arrived on the backside, he fixated his eyes on something.
There it was. His target. A young spiketail, maybe just in its teen years by the standards of this time, not even half of Specter's size, its head buried in one of the charred adults' bodies and still emitting heartbreaking sounds of mourning. The spiketail had already developed a portion of the distinctive plates along its back and the dangerous spikes at its tail, but it was still nowhere near capable of dealing any fatal damage with those sparse weapons.
Specter felt sick at what he planned to do.
To kill a child. To kill a being that had no real way of defending itself. To be the ultimate bully, taking away the life of someone way younger, weaker and smaller, just for his own life to continue a little further. And then it would happen all over again. Although he might have a choice next time, which was a prospect that could not comfort him at all right now.
Still, he was determined to do that. He was determined to kill that orphan. Other sharpteeth had no problems with killing younglings, so why should he? Why should he always keep on living at such a serious disadvantage?
He moved in on his prey again, almost intuitively reaching for his trusty spear at his flank. But of course, it wasn't there anymore. It frightened him how much he'd gotten used to that deadly tool, and how little problems he had killing stuff with it. For this kill, however, he would have to rely on his own claws again. Maybe it was for the better, he thought to himself. He knew that the bigger the distance between the killer and his victim was, the smaller the obstacle for him to overcome and make the kill would be. Ranged weapons made killing easy, which he absolutely didn't want.
So instead, he readied his two sickle claws for a swift and deadly piercing or slashing strike. He would make this death at least a very quick one.
It was only now that the teen spiketail realized what had snuck up on him. The soft thuds of fastbiter footsteps were something very distinctive and foreboding, his parents had told him that often enough. To always be vigilant whenever he had seen or heard one. But to get the full, horrifying confirmation, he needed to turn around, which he now slowly did. His heart sank even deeper when he saw what stood in front of him. A sharptooth that looked an awful lot like a fastbiter, only that it was way too big for its kind, almost like a mix out of a fastbiter and a two-footer, and some strange black fuzz covered its entire body, emitting noticeable amounts of deep sorrow through its piercing yellow eyes. This was such an unusual sight that he could not mount an instinctual reaction. He tried to run away, tried to scream for help, but his body would not obey him. He was completely petrified, shaking with fear and horror. And even if he had managed to run, the bodies of his very parents and sister would have blocked his only path of escape. Even if he had managed to scream, nobody would have come to his aid. It was indeed the mocking irony of fate.
"I'm so sorry, little one... Please don't hate me for this..."
The spiketail had just enough time to widen its eyes even further at Specter speaking leaf-eater all of a sudden. Little else conversation should follow, however, as he pounced on his prey, balanced on his left foot and kicked at its throat with his right. The sound of piercing flesh only confirmed the deadly connection of his killing claw. Following that, he simply shifted his whole weight to his front and sliced his target's neck wide open. This attack lasted exactly three seconds, but to Specter it felt like a whole year had passed. With every single drop of blood emerging from his victim, he wished that it would finally be over. He didn't even dare to look down until he would be completely sure. But there was nothing to wait for. He could only hear one heartbeat. His own.
Only now, he took a deep breath and eyed the corpse in front of his blood-smeared feet.
He wanted to feel shocked at how graciously a primitive, vastly oversized, one and a half-ton land-bird like him could kill his victims in the blink of an eye, but he felt oddly satisfied and happy instead. In the past weeks, he had either killed in a rather clumsy but nonetheless brutal fashion, or merely dealt the finishing blows. His pack was big enough, so he had never been forced to take lives on a daily basis and thus never really thought too much about refining his technique, after all. But this right here was something different. To him, this kill required the precision of a surgeon to be as quick and painless for the spiketail as possible, which it then apparently was in the end. Also, and finally after such a long time, he was allowed to feast on some real meat again. Part of him was very much looking forward to tasting the flesh of a spiketail for the first time, too.
He wasted no time digging into his kill and ripping big chucks out of the body, swallowing them whole. It was a bittersweet taste that greeted his senses, but nevertheless so incredibly delicious at the same time, even though spiketail meat was widely known to taste underwhelming at best. At least that was what Littlefoot and the others had told him. He could understand now why most predators preferred to hunt for young prey, apart of course from the simple fact that it was way easier to kill for most of the time, yet he immediately swore to himself to never do it again unless he would be absolutely forced to, like he had been today. Then again, how long would that oath last? Had he not already sworn to himself never to kill a child, only weeks ago? Was his stance not that he would always keep his promises?
But for now, and piece by piece, he ripped the spiketail apart, growling softly in utmost satisfaction.
After a few more minutes of constant eating, he finally had at least his partial fill for the moment, raised his head again and looked around. A strange feeling came over him. He had seldom felt so good and yet so lost and depressed concurrently. The 'hunt' was over, his hunger allayed, so how would he proceed now? How would he return to his pack? Now was the time to consider where to go from this point onwards.
Little could he have anticipated that this would not be his decision.
"Did he just... speak to his food?"
A slight chuckle left the male fastbiter's mouth before he answered to the female's oblivious question.
"Please, sis. Do you honestly believe sap-suckers could talk? You know how stupid they are... He's probably somehow intimidated the spiketail so it wouldn't run away. Impressive move. Come on, now's our chance."
"Are you sure we should just go in like that? We don't even know what he is. Look at him! He might be one of them!"
"I don't know exactly what this guy is either, but we have to at least try. Our orders are clear. Let me do the talking. You just make sure to stay behind me."
Hmm... Getting too dark... Can't even clearly see the sun around here... Argh! It's no use! I have to find a safe place to sleep for now. Maybe tomorrow I can...
Specter's thoughts got abruptly interrupted, as his ears picked up the sound of soft footsteps behind him. Only now, the two scents which belonged to them reached his nose.
Pair of raptors... Terrific. I should really check my surroundings more often. I was standing upwind from them until now... Wonder for how long they've watched me...
He immediately raised his claws and tail again, and slowly turned around. He laid eyes on a male, dark blue fastbiter, barely an adult maybe, with almost imperceptible black stripes across his back, who presented quite a self-confident stance. That was not what Specter was interested in, however. This fastbiter had almost his entire left forelimb missing, and some nasty scars across his face.
He just wanted to ask for his companion when the other fastbiter moved into his vision from behind the blue one.
A female, her skin completely white, the irises of her eyes colored in a very bright blue with red pupils and bloodshot sclerae. She seemed to be younger than the male, but that was something Specter had no time to realize as he instantly moved a few steps back, his stance becoming even more aggressive at her sight.
It was the instinctual voice from deep inside that had told him to do so.
Why am I...? Wait... She's an albino, that's why... Ah, goddamn instincts!
The female immediately noticed his behavior, flinched shortly and pulled back behind the male again. Specter felt disgusted with himself that he acted like this just because of her unusual appearance, but an apology was out of the question right now.
"What do you want?" He finally asked the male.
This question inadvertently came out with quite an aggressive tone, but the blue fastbiter didn't let that intimidate him.
"Oh, forgive me! Where are my manners?" He started, bowing his head shortly and letting out a series of friendly growls before continuing. "My name is Shade, and this..." He gestured at the female behind him. "...is my sister Alba."
"Specter." Specter introduced himself plainly, and instead of the customary fastbiter greeting he only offered Shade a short nod. "You didn't answer my question. What do you want?"
He noticed Shade's growing nervousness in his eyes, scents and heartbeat. The blue fastbiter's confidence seemed to crumble at the presence of a much bigger predator, of which he had yet to discover that it was one of his own kind. It was almost like these two fastbiters were afraid of him, Specter thought to himself.
"Well... We couldn't help but feel curious. We have never seen a sharptooth like you."
"I'm a raptor, too, if that's what you mean." The asking looks of Shade and Alba forced him, like so often before in his conversations in this time, to simplify his sentence. "A fastbiter..."
The other two emitted audible signs of relief, although they kept at a safe distance and remained close to each other.
"Why, splendid!" Shade exclaimed. "So... since you seem to be alone out here, we would like to offer you to join our pack."
Specter tilted his head slightly after hearing this. For some reason, he already had a hunch that Shade wasn't telling the whole story. In any event, he and his sister were anything but a normal, functioning pack, even in Specter's inexperienced eyes. There just had to be more of them to ensure their daily survival. An albino and an invalid? Not exactly the definition of a strong pack. Maybe it was just his slight paranoia, but he still wanted to be extremely careful with them.
"Not interested. I already belong to a pack."
Shade's eyes widened for just a moment as he and Alba gave each other a series of worried looks. When he turned his attention back to Specter, nothing of that could be seen anymore.
"I understand... Well, let us at least help you out for now then. You're obviously new around here, and..."
"And I don't plan to stay here, thank you very much." Specter interrupted him. He was getting quite annoyed with this blue fastbiter, who seemed to obtrude himself upon him for unknown reasons.
In the meantime, Shade was still searching for the right method to persuade the black fastbiter. Specter's marginally scratchy voice gave him an idea.
"Well, I shan't force you. However, we know these lands inside out. Every cave, every ground fuzzy nest, every flattooth nesting site, every watering hole..." He noticed the slightest bit of movement on Specter's stern face, so he knew now that he had found his 'method'. He turned his head slightly away from the black fastbiter to underline his statement even further. "But if you're not interested..."
Specter frowned at that. If he hated one thing even more than being made a fool of, it was being forced to do something. Just when he thought he was done playing the puppet for some elusive aliens, this fastbiter showed up. And what Shade was doing right now was using a very nasty form of extortion. Specter had to admit though, he was in serious need of some fresh water. Especially after his latest sprint through this horrible dust all around. And also, he needed help. Him playing the solitary hunter would only result in his death.
So with great trepidation, he made up his mind and decided to show these two the sleeping alpha raptor inside him. In a world where the size of one's body and claws was everything, why not use that for his own good? He didn't exactly plan to tell them that he had yet to fight another sharptooth claw-to-claw, and that they could probably easily kill him if they were only halfway capable. As long as they didn't know that and thought of him as a giant killer, however, he would be pretty much invulnerable. So for once, he was looking forward to being an asshole. If it would keep him alive, he would gladly be one any day, he thought to himself.
"Fine... I'll join you. But if you shit me, I'll rip your throats out and stuff 'em with your guts." He finally concluded in a cold voice.
The smaller fastbiters only responded with nervous gulps and firm nods.
Whatever Chaser has planned for him, I damn hope it's worth this trouble! Shade thought to himself, as he gestured for his sister and Specter to follow him.
The three fastbiters had traveled for almost an hour in a speedy fashion until they finally got out of the wasteland. Nobody had spoken a single word on this trip, even though Specter's mood was slowly lifting at the sight of plants and wildlife around him again. It certainly looked like he had vastly underestimated the power of that volcano. The area of effect must have extended more than 30 kilometers southeastwards.
It didn't take them much longer to reach the promised watering hole, and he wasted no time submerging his head into the cool liquid, drinking his fill and washing off the dried blood that had tainted a few of his feathers.
When he had attended to all of his needs, he gave Shade and Alba a friendly nod and raised his now much clearer voice again.
"Thanks. I appreciate it. So, what now?"
Shade took a quick look at the rising Night Circle and exchanged a few words with his sister before responding.
"Our leader would like to meet you. But first... I think it's time for you to prove your worth."
Specter let out sigh at that. He had been able to dodge that burden with Littlefoot's pack, but these fastbiters here owed him nothing. Matter of fact, he owed them. It looked like it was finally time for his first challenge, to prove that he would be a worthy addition to their pack and to repay a debt. He could already guess what would be coming.
"Alright, what do you want killed? A longneck? A threehorn? Just show me where..."
"That won't be necessary." Shade interrupted him. "We already have... other plans for our dinner, thanks to Chaser. No, what he wants you to do is steal some eggs from a nearby nesting site."
Specter's eyes widened for just a moment. This task was certainly easier for his personality to handle than killing living children, but it was also in some way even worse than that. Now he was supposed to help in killing unborn children, stealing a poor family's beloved eggs. Then again, eggs didn't exactly feel pain or anything, so he was at least partially fine with it. Still, it was at the very least a highly unusual challenge. Normally, those were supposed to show a sharptooth's bravery and strength. But not this one, it seemed. And besides, if they already had 'other plans' to get a meal, why would they want him to steal eggs now?
Shade noticed his surprise, so he elaborated.
"You see, we call ourselves 'The Forgotten', and that for a reason. Our pack consists of only three sharpteeth, and fate has bound us together many cold times ago. We all are not supposed to be still alive anymore, but we are. What I'm trying to say is... You need to be clever to survive. I don't know what you're used to from your homelands, but raw strength means nothing out here. You will see why, soon enough."
Specter was intrigued now, and actually very happy to hear that. This strange pack was slowly growing on him. Doing things the clever way was in his element by past and present nature, after all.
"I understand. Ok, so where is the nest you want eggs from?"
Shade smirked at him.
"That's up to you to find out. Good luck!"
Specter didn't get a response anymore, as the two fastbiters turned away from him and sprinted off into the distance, each of them in a different direction, leaving him standing there with a dumbstruck face.
Ugh... Just great! What now? Hmm... Alright, let's see... Nesting sites are almost always in the vicinity of food and water. Maybe inside that forest back there? Shouldn't be more than two kilometers away. If I close the distance a little, maybe I can smell them out.
With that, he sprinted towards his point of interest. He used the available time to ponder a little on what would happen next.
He was about to steal some eggs. And then what? Shade had not even told him where to meet up after that. Also, he had mentioned someone called 'Chaser', who Specter could only conclude was the pack leader. So, where was he? Shouldn't the leader have the first word with potential newcomers, at least take a look at them before sending them out on a challenge?
That was when a rather uneasy thought crossed his mind.
What if he has already observed me? Or... still is? Can't be coincidence that these two found me just like that, and then just offered me to join them like it would be the most casual thing in the world. Something's not right. And if they're as 'special' as I think they are... I need to be careful!
A shudder went through his body, even though this was barely noticeable at his current speed. But he shook those feelings off. The day had basically just started for him, and here he was stealing eggs and risking his feathered skin again. This new life required a cool head at all times, he knew that very well by now, so he tried to adapt.
When he reached the midpoint, he stopped shortly and sniffed the air.
Hmm... Yes, I smell something. Two of them... and eggs! But... those are new scents. Don't belong to anything I've seen so far. I wonder...
He quickly resumed his movement and only stopped again when he stood right in front of the massive trees. The scents were much stronger now, but the question remained the same. Just to what kind of dinosaurs did they belong to?
I guess I will see soon enough...
With that, he disappeared into the underbrush.
"Alright, fuzzball's in. What now?" Shade inquired.
"Meet up with Alba again. I will handle this myself. You're just backup this time. Both of you will wait on the other side and catch yourselves the runaway, should it come to that."
"Aha! I see you've finally changed your mind! Well, fine by me... Told you we oughta kill him sooner rather than later. Just make sure our 'friend' doesn't give you another parting gift. You're ugly enough as it is."
"Funny... coming from someone whose mug looks like a spiketail's ass after mating season."
Shade only responded to his leader's grave insult with a snarky smile before he went off, leaving the two-footer to himself and staring into the distance.
Oh, I'm going to enjoy this. You will finally pay for what you did. Time to die, you feathered bastard!
Scents are getting stronger... must be close now.
Specter was moving towards the heart of this forest and still had no visual on his targets. He became a little uneasy at his situation. It was not like he was afraid, but rather deeply concerned. What if the two fastbiters had betrayed him and lured him into a trap? But why would they do that? How would they capitalize on his death? What would they gain from it?
Maybe they think of me as a rival? Nah, can't be. If their pack really consists of only three raptors, they need every additional claw... given that at least one of them is missing three already.
He chuckled slightly at that dirty joke at Shade's expense. However, he immediately went silent as he could make out some noise in the distance. He moved closer, and after approximately 50 more meters, he saw it.
What... the bloody hell... is that?!
A massive leaf-eater, more than twice Specter's height, making it around six meters tall and probably five tons in weight. It looked like a longneck/two-footer/fastbiter hybrid, sporting a colorful blue, yellow, green and grey feathering, a long neck with a small head on top, a sturdy body and two powerful legs. The feathers on its rather short tail were so dense that it looked like an enlarged, fuzzy part of its rump. This dinosaur would have looked beyond funny, were it not for its menacing three claws on each forelimb. They were around one meter long each, and even from the distance already looked like razor-sharp tools of pain and sorrow.
A Therizinosaurus?! Oh you've got to be fucking kidding me! That guy will chop my head off!
Specter gritted his teeth and tried to analyze the situation as rationally as possible. He perfectly understood now what Shade had meant when he said that raw strength meant nothing out here. This leaf-eater right there could easily injure even the biggest of predators severely with those claws.
I wonder what they call these here. Longclaws, maybe?
The 'longclaw', indeed a strange name to give to a leaf-eater, looked peaceful enough at least right now, nonchalantly munching on some leaves. The nest with four big eggs in it was located just next to its guardian, so Specter decided to wait for an opportunity.
Only about a minute later, that opportunity would present itself. Another longclaw moved into his vision, a way smaller one. The scents gave away that this was the adult's son. Specter's leaf-eater was good enough by now, so he was able to effortlessly listen in on their conversation.
"Dad, I'm thirsty. Mind if I head over to the watering hole?"
The big herbivore stopped his feast and looked down at his son.
"If it's really necessary... But take care of yourself! I don't need to remind you what happened to your mother, do I?"
The smaller longclaw looked at the ground and shook his head.
"No... Can we please move, soon? I don't like it here."
"Don't worry, we will. Soon as the younglings hatch, we will be on our way."
His son gave him a nod and went off, leaving the father alone again. He took a sorrowful look at the clutch of eggs before holding a monologue.
"I'm so sorry, my dear. I know it was your only wish to see this day once more... But it won't be much longer, maybe another few days... I promise they will hear your story. You will never be forgotten!"
Were Specter not on the other side of the food chain, that heart-touching speech would have probably moved him to tears. Even more so his own plans for the clutch of eggs. But he noticed that those feelings didn't even come up this time. Some part of his conscience still made him aware that he would be doing something wrong, but he refused to let that stop him from acting anymore.
Part of adapting was accepting the bad things in a new environment, things he couldn't fight or suppress for the rest of his life. Hunting, killing and stealing eggs were merely tiny parts of that. And since those were just parts of his new life, wouldn't that make them good things? All those things that defined who and what he was to the core? Wouldn't being a fearsome killer make him a good raptor, a good sharptooth, a 'good guy'? Wouldn't that make all the 'evil' sharpteeth from the pack's songs, especially the despised but luckily long since dead Red Claw, good guys, too? Absolutely not, Specter decided in his mind. Those kinds of monsters enjoyed killing. They twisted the concepts of nature to justify murders. They didn't do it to survive, they didn't do it to satisfy their hunger. They did it for the thrill of it, for power and for mindless revenge.
Specter had to admit, however, he enjoyed hunting. He enjoyed his own thrill of lurking in the shadows and planning his deadly approach. He enjoyed the rush of adrenaline through his body with every chase. He enjoyed being strong, fast and agile. He enjoyed having sharp senses with which he was able to perceive his environment like he had never done before. He enjoyed being respected. He enjoyed being feared by any potential enemies or just his adversaries.
He enjoyed being a fastbiter.
And he knew he was a good guy. Because even though he had realized by now that he just wasn't able to make any pacifistic promises when it came to his new life, at the very least he would always be able to respect the lives of others. Yes, he was forced to constantly kill other dinosaurs, but he would also always be able to think of leaf-eaters as potential friends, peaceful creatures with a mind and soul, sources of most interesting conversations and wisdom.
As long as he would carry the light of empathy and understanding inside him, the darkness of the real world would never consume him, he deduced. As long as he had that, he would be fine.
He noticed with utmost annoyance that he had fallen into his philosophical thoughts again, but that was something he was quick to push aside, as a cunning thought crossed his mind. A dirty ruse, yet indeed well worth a try.
My resonating chamber... Yes... this might actually work. Let's get this show on the road!
As silently as possible, he moved a few meters towards the direction where the young longclaw had gone to. When he found a good position, he turned away from the adult and took a deep breath.
"Oh please no! Hold on, son! I'm coming!"
The adult instantly dropped the leaves in his muzzle after screaming this and lumbered off as fast as he could.
Specter had to hold back his filthily amused laughter, as the longclaw followed his son's trail away from the nest. His predatory shriek, followed by an imitation of the young one's voice in leaf-eater came out near perfect and the adult took the bait without even thinking about any other possibility.
Sorry, dude. It's nothing personal... Just business...
He jumped out of his cover and slowly moved towards the nest, only stopping when he was standing right in front of it. There they were. Four beautiful, big eggs. Four potential longclaw younglings. Four potential lives.
Soon to be no more.
He hesitated for just a moment. Was he really doing this? Was this really necessary? Was this really what he wanted? Was this really who he was?
Yes, it was indeed, he deduced. For him to survive in these strange lands, he needed help. The help of Chaser's pack. There was no other way. He couldn't just wait this out and hope for the best. He had to grasp this opportunity. So he used his big hands to grab all four eggs, already preparing himself to sprint off.
And that was when his cunning, seemingly foolproof plan went horribly wrong.
"Drop those eggs or I will let your ugly head roll."
Specter froze in place at this voice from almost right behind him all of a sudden. Once more, he had gotten distracted by his overly reluctant nature and let his guard down. He had never noticed the rather loud footsteps while dwelling in his thoughts.
The voice and footsteps belonged to the adult longclaw. And the words had been uttered in sharptooth. Not knowing what to do now, Specter slowly turned around. He looked the leaf-eater directly in the eyes, exchanged his own horrified with the leaf-eater's ice cold gaze.
"I see that ridiculous idiot has found himself another lackey. Were the cripple and the hideous bitch not good enough anymore? Pathetic sharpteeth! You seriously think that retarded trick works on me twice?!"
Having said that, the massive herbivore charged right at Specter, his six brutal claws extended for a deadly slashing strike.
He had just enough time to evade the attack by taking a big leap to the side, and he quickly extended the distance to his attacker. A few pieces of his golden crest feathers circled in the air, underlining how close he had gotten to being beheaded. The small tree which he was standing right next to only seconds ago had been sliced in half, and the severed trunk slammed onto the ground. He was still holding all four eggs in his hands, refusing to just drop them. A serious tactical error, as this restricted his movement speed immensely and occupied both of his clawed hands. The longclaw was terribly slow, even for a dinosaur of his size, but he was still agile enough to reach out with his long arms and slice anything closer than four meters of him to pieces. Specter was standing around 20 meters away from the longclaw now, still unable to come up with a useful tactic on how to kill or avoid him.
And then the leaf-eater started another charge.
"I will kill you, fastbiter scum!"
Crash! Crash! Crash!
Once again he froze in his tracks, preparing himself for another dodge. It would only be seconds.
Crash! Crash! Crash!
The footsteps of his doom came closer and grew louder. How long would he be able to keep this up? He needed to counterattack somehow, but how would he attack such a heavily armed creature all by himself and without using his own dangerous forelimbs?
Crash! Crash! Crash!
And then, in the blink of an eye, he realized something. If not for his highly sensitive ears, he would never have noticed it. A marginal irregularity in those steps. The sounds were not only coming from in front of him.
He and the longclaw were not alone in this forest.
Specter instantly snapped out of his horror and did as the new voice from behind him commanded. He lunged to his side and landed roughly on his back, holding the eggs close to his chest so as not to break them.
Chomp! Snap! Crack! Thud.
The longclaw's surprised and shocked words echoed through the forest. Nothing else from him should follow.
Specter had his eyes closed, only able hear his own and another, much deeper in tone, heavy panting.
"Heh... Nice work, fuzzball." Came the booming voice from not too far away. "Idiotic, clumsy, overzealous and reckless... but nice work nonetheless."
Specter groggily rose back on his feet and swung his head around. He laid eyes on a male Tyrannosaurus, quite a bit bigger and obviously much bulkier than him, with a dark green coloring and an uncountable amount of scars across his whole body. His right eye was bloodshot and had no visible pupil, so Specter could only conclude that he had lost it at some point in a past fight against a dirty opponent. In front of his feet lay the longclaw in a pool of its own blood, its head ripped clean off. The ruthlessness with which the sharptooth had simply overpowered the lethal leaf-eater was remarkable and horrifying at the same time.
And for some reason, this two-footer looked oddly familiar to Specter. He had no idea from where or why, but he was certain he knew him from somewhere, at least seen him before. He wanted to inquire, but the two-footer took the word first.
"Ah! And I see you got all four of them, too. Well done! Welcome to The Outlands! I'm Chaser."
His mouth fell wide agape. This was Chaser, the pack leader? He took another look at the longclaw corpse before finally speaking up.
"Specter. And uhm... Thanks. But what about his...?"
That question got cut short, however, as the remaining packmembers joined the scene. Both of them covered in blood, which made especially Alba, having her white skin heavily tainted in that crimson essence, look like a deranged monster. Her introverted and silent nature only added to that ghastly overall image.
"...son." Specter finished inaudibly to himself. The two fastbiters had just confirmed his suspicions. The young longclaw was no more, too.
"So much for the big, scary fastbiter, 'I will rip your throats out' act. Well... I'm certainly glad that's out of the way." Shade thought aloud with a wide smirk on his face while strutting around on the headless longclaw body, wiping his bloody claws on the leaf-eater's feathers.
"Could somebody please tell me what's going on here?!" Specter suddenly exclaimed. He was still dumbstruck by the whole situation, could nowhere near comprehend all this.
"You passed my challenge. And also, you assisted me in taking care of unfinished business..." Chaser responded drily, taking a disgusted look at his kill again. "The eggs are yours. Consider them my personal gift for your help. I shall explain the rest later, when the time is right."
Specter glanced at the four eggs in his claws. Just by applying simple logic, he knew exactly what Chaser had meant with his statement about generously 'gifting' them to him. He was the pack's newcomer, so he was at the bottom of the pecking order. Chaser would have the adult longclaw for dinner, the entree, while Shade and Alba would eat his son, leaving Specter with only four measly eggs or maybe the leftovers. Then again, considering he already had a few pounds of spiketail meat in his stomach, this would probably only be fair.
Anyhow, he decided to keep his mouth shut, gave Chaser a firm, respectful nod and laid down on his haunches. These sharpteeth certainly knew what they were doing, it seemed. He would be safe with them for as long as he planned to stay, although this was a topic he tried to not think about yet. For now, he was just curious why this longclaw had been able to speak sharptooth and already knew of his dirty trick, and especially why Chaser called killing the leaf-eater 'unfinished business'.
He was actually able to answer, at least partially, the third question for himself. Chaser had some fresh scars on his flank, perfectly fitting to a longclaw's massive weapons. There must've been more to it than simple revenge for an injury, but the other two-footers he had met by now, namely Chomper and Thrasher, gave him reason enough to believe that their hot temper would justify such an action. Even though Chomper was a friendly guy who has taught him a great number of important things, Specter knew he should never ever get on his bad side. And Thrasher, well, Specter was actually glad to have gotten on his bad side. One monster less in the world, after all. No tears had he shed when he pierced that idiot's throat with his spear.
And for the first question, Specter's moderate knowledge about dinosaurs and evolution helped him in finding an answer.
Didn't Therizinosaurs have carnivorous ancestors? That would explain the bilingualism. Interesting... To think that they've kept this up for millions of years, even though they're full-fledged herbivores now. I guess it's about the same with Oviraptors, although they're at least omnivores. Hmm... Should've asked Ponder or her family about it. I'm sure Detras would know... Ah, too late now... Perhaps one day, if I survive all this shit, I will...
He interrupted his thought process, as he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Chaser was already ripping apart his kill and Shade had left the clearing for his dinner, but that was not what got his attention. Alba was still standing there, and she was pretty much staring at him. Her look was a combination of what he could only interpret as amusement, surprise and curiosity. Specter wondered why she would eye him like that, until he noticed that he was still holding the four longclaw eggs close to his chest, like he was protecting them with his life. Like they were his very own. Aware of that now, he quickly laid them out in front of him and acted like he had never noticed her. She could only shake her head at his reaction and went off as well.
When he was sure that he had nobody's attention anymore, he picked one of the eggs up again and raised it into the air. The sun would have done much a better job but the moonlight was good enough, as Specter could quite easily make out the egg's insides. No veins were visible, only one big shadow. The younglings would indeed soon hatch, which sadly only left him with one thing to do now.
He would have to crack the eggs open and devour their contents.
The logic in that was extremely wry, but this was by far the most ethical decision. If he would just leave the eggs to hatch, the younglings would either get killed by other predators or slowly and painfully die of hunger. Without their parents, nobody would care for them. Nobody would take them in. Specter certainly wouldn't, that was as certain as the rising sun on each morning to him. Rejecting Chaser's gift and giving the eggs to Shade or Alba was out of the question as well. It would've been most likely a grave insult towards a leader such as him, and Specter wanted to avoid anything like that under all circumstances. Besides, the others would probably not want to eat them, too, after having their latest meal.
Thinking about this, he noticed that the experience he has gathered in past weeks has changed his viewpoint on killing completely. It has been a constant and subtle change that had yet to finish, but the effects of it were easily discernible on the black fastbiter. At least if one could've read his thoughts.
I'm such a pathetic fucking hypocrite... Eggs, children, teens, adults, elders? Where's the damn difference? A kill is a kill, no matter if old or young. And I'm a killer... I will be for the rest of my life. Killing adults is ok for me, but killing children is not. Yeah, right... What a noble fucking saint I am! As if that would make me better than anyone else... As if anyone would care... Ughh... Let's just get this over with.
His face took on an emotionless look. A neutral look of resolve, but even more so of acceptance and understanding. He had yet to find his own place in this world, had yet to fully explore and draw experience from it. And he was certain that he would find that place one day. The place where an oddity, a loner and an outsider like him belonged.
But for now, he wanted to go with the flow.
So he put the egg down on the ground again, held it in place with his left hand and placed the three claws of his right on its top. The lack of a thumb didn't even bother him anymore. Then, like a can opener, he pierced the egg with his right-hand claws and spun it around. The result was a clean cut on top of the egg, the insides of it now exposed. However, this was something Specter didn't dare to see. He just raised the egg again and poured its content into his jaws. He could already taste the yolk and other slimy liquids.
And then he bit down. His face contorted at the crunching sound that followed, but again, he didn't let that stop him. Lastly, he swallowed the little 'snack'.
He precisely repeated this process with the remaining three eggs, each time his bite followed by cracking of tiny little bones. When he was finally done with the eggs, everything inside and around him seemed silent. Chaser tearing through the adult longclaw's flesh was the only other source of noise he could pick up.
Maybe he had expected to suddenly choke and die, but none of that happened. Everything felt normal. The slight red and yellow stains around his muzzle and the decent taste on his tongue was all that remained of the unborn children. He found that it wasn't so bad, after all. Actually, it was a lot like eating a chicken eggs. Only that those were not fertilized of course.
Being honest himself, he didn't even know what to think anymore.
The minutes went by and after Chaser finally had his fill, the fastbiters, too, joined the scene.
"Enjoyed your meal?"
"I've eaten better..." Specter responded in a sad monotone to Shade's snarky question.
"Speaks volumes, I guess. Can't be too bad though. Wait until you try clubtail eggs... Taste like ass." The blue fastbiter said and let out an amused laugh.
Specter didn't want to force a laugh of his own, he absolutely wasn't in the mood for that anymore, so he only responded with a slight smile.
"Let's head back to our territory now. Don't want to stay here any longer than necessary." Chaser's deep voice made Shade and Alba stand at attention and they quickly joined him in formation.
So did Specter. He jumped up and situated himself behind all three of them. His new, free life would start with this pack under Chaser's reign. Quite ironic, he found, but probably not without reason.
The trip back to the borders of their actual territory lasted less than 15 minutes and no conversations whatsoever had arisen. The reason for that became obvious when the pack finally reached their home, which was situated in the heart of another big forest.
"Alright, we're there. Shade, Alba? Leave us alone for now. This doesn't concern you."
"Understood." Shade responded to the leader's order while Alba only nodded, and both of them sprinted off.
Only after he had lost sight of them, Chaser turned his full attention to Specter.
"Sit down. We have a lot to discuss."
"I'd rather stand... You know, keeps me awake. Been a long day for me." Specter responded carefully. Although the two-footer had saved his life, he didn't exactly consider him a friend. And also, he didn't really want to sit down in front of another big predator, thus minimizing his chances to run.
Chaser seemed to shrug with his tiny arms, let out a sigh and laid down on his haunches.
"Suit yourself. Now, let's start with some rules. There are only two, so listen closely. Number one. Never lie to me. Number two. You do as I say. Understood?"
Specter flinched shortly after hearing Chaser's cold, stern voice, quickly responded with two firm nods and finally sat down himself. It looked like the two-footer had observed him for far longer than he had expected and was quite cautious himself. The fact that his healthy left eye seemed to stare directly into Specter's soul didn't really help him relax.
Only now, Chaser continued.
"Good. So, I think you owe me a few answers. Let's start with the most interesting one. What is someone of Seeker's pack doing in these lands?"
"How do you know that?!" Specter immediately sputtered.
"A fastbiter who speaks sharptooth and leaf-eater. A strange sight, wouldn't you agree? And the songs only tell about one pack with those new, 'feathered' fastbiters such as yourself. Seeker's pack. The pack that finally managed to defeat... Red Claw."
Would Specter still have had eyebrows, he would have raised at least one of them after hearing this. For someone with knowledge about all this, it was a little bit unusual to almost forget the name of the most evil sharptooth ever. At least that was what it had seemed like when Chaser cut himself off right before finally giving the monster its proper name.
But he still gave him an honest answer.
"Yes, I... belong to them. And... I kinda woke up here after the... Smoking Mountain erupted."
"Ah, so I was right, after all. Well, where are they? I'm sure they wouldn't just leave you here, would they? And what did you want on that dumb rock?"
Specter looked at the ground for a second. It was exactly what they had done, but it was his own fault of course. After all, he had cunningly decided to do everything by himself. Now they were probably assuming he was dead and would quickly forget him again. They probably wouldn't even mourn his loss. Why would they? They barely got to know him.
"I went to the Great Valley... on my own. I had some... personal things to take care of there. I can't remember why I was on the Mountain though, I'm sorry."
"They're willingly letting sharpteeth into their valley?!" Chaser asked in massive surprise.
"They made an exception for me. Had offer them my life, only eat fish and help out with various... things... to be allowed to stay. Only wanted to talk to some of them."
"Talk to them? Good one!" Chaser let out a slight chuckle. When he continued, his voice dropped most of the joy it had carried for a few seconds. "Tzz... Typical of those sap-suckers. Afraid of their own shadow. I'd love to hunt around there once more, give those flatheads and horn-faces a good scare... but those times are long over..."
Specter felt the urge to let his jaw drop. Just who in the world was this two-footer? If he had hunted around the Great Valley at some point in his life, then that was not exactly a good sign. Although he immediately asked himself the counterquestion. Why? Why would it be a bad sign that Chaser had hunted there?
He decided to simply ignore Chaser's latest sentence for now.
"Yeah... right. So... how did you know I can speak leaf-eater?"
"Because unlike most other sharpteeth, I listen. And also, the trick you pulled on the longclaw. It's not the first time I've seen it. I don't want to praise myself too much but it's quite a brilliant trick, I have to say."
"Wait... So it was you who used it on him before!" Specter exclaimed. He would've rather felt excited about finally getting the language of this time right, but now he was simply furious.
"He mentioned it before he tried to slice you apart? Lovely fella, hm? Yes, on his mate, though I must admit that it was Shade's idea. Came out rough but she still fell for it so easily. Sap-suckers are stupid, I say it time and time again."
Specter wanted to object, but exercised restraint on the whole leaf-eater topic. However, he could not restrain his anger about the challenge.
"But he didn't fall for it, did he?! That's why you wanted me to steal his eggs! You wanted revenge for those little scratches!"
Chaser let out a throaty laugh.
"Well, if you want to put it that way. I have a habit of making others pay for my injuries. Eye for an eye. And that bastard didn't deserve anything less... Shame I didn't let him live long enough to make him see you eat his eggs, anymore..."
Specter's stomach turned after hearing this. He suddenly felt like he was going to vomit again. Never had he experienced such a disgusting lust for revenge from someone. He had been used by Chaser as a simple decoy to distract the longclaw and to make the poor leaf-eater suffer even more. And this sharptooth was his new leader now. He would have to trust him with his life. He would have to obey his orders. Even worse, he would most likely have to spend quite a few weeks with him.
Chaser, however, as unfazed as he was, was not yet finished.
"And concerning your challenge... I wanted to squash two buzzers with one stomp. Worked out, didn't it? You got some food, we got some food. Everyone's happy. Now... since you're from Seeker's pack... Say, how much do you know about Red Claw?"
"Red Claw? Uhm... I mean... I know he's dead and everything, but... that was... before my time here. What does he have to do with this, anyway?"
Chaser looked at Specter in surprise.
"What? Don't tell me you weren't there! I was hoping you could tell me a few details about that. It's been eight cold times now, I believe, and I have yet to meet someone who saw him die. And with you, I thought that someone would finally be here. You must know something! After all, your pack killed him. You killed my father."
As if on cue, the gigantic dam of memories breached inside Specter's mind. Alien memories and images flooded his brain, a tsunami of emotions overwhelming his senses. He knew now who this two-footer was, what his real name was, what his history was. But that memory didn't come from his own point of view and neither did it come from a green or yellow fastbiter's story, or of that of a brown flyer.
It was a brown fastbiter's mournful, solitary song from the point of view of his past life as a little longneck, his mother just having been killed, chased together with his friends by a horrible monster through barren lands. Unrelenting, unforgiving, unstoppable. A massive, dark green two-footer. The meanest, cruelest, most brutal sharptooth of them all. Chaser. Although back then, he had been known under a different name.
A much simpler name.
"Sharptooth! You?! How...?! No. No! You're supposed to be dead! You drowned in that watering hole! You're dead!" Specter screamed in horror and shock. He had never before even seen this two-footer, and yet he could feel the fear, despair and horror of being chased by a predator. Littlefoot's song was just too brutal and detailed to think anything else. Now he knew what it must feel like. And even more so, had that Tyrannosaurus succeeded back then, had he killed the one that had taken Specter in just weeks ago, Specter himself would've probably not been alive right now. He could feel the hate towards this sharptooth building up inside him.
He instantly jumped up, took a few steps back and presented the usual fastbiter fighting stance, although he looked utterly helpless compared to the two-footer.
Chaser on the other hand kept calm as the breeze. He was slightly amused, enjoyed this moment even.
"Ah, so you do know me! I see my old name still carries a meaning somewhere. Long ago since I've last heard someone call me by it..."
Specter was at a complete loss for reasonable words. This just couldn't be possible. Even worse for him was that he couldn't decide if he wanted to be immensely scared or extremely angry about this revelation. For all he knew, Chaser, or rather Sharptooth, was just like Red Claw. At the very least, he indirectly was the reason why Red Claw had decided to have revenge on the Great Valley. Apparently, after he had found out about his son's death, he completely snapped and really became the cruelest being to ever haunt the lands around the valley.
Chaser used Specter's silence to continue.
"Well? Did you think two-footers couldn't swim? Did you actually see my corpse?"
"I know your kind can swim! I... I didn't see it for myself but... it doesn't matter! Someone must have found it! Everyone knows you're dead for years now!"
"As you can clearly see, I'm not."
"That doesn't make any sense! The water must've bloated and disfigured your body after only a few days! No way anyone would mistake..."
"Who said it was my body?" Chaser interrupted Specter harshly. He let out a deep sigh before continuing. "Why are you so jumpy all of a sudden? If you belong to those that had the power to defeat my father... then I'm asking for your help."
"What?!" Specter exclaimed in his anger. "My help?! After you tried to kill those five children?!"
For once, Chaser was seriously taken aback at Specter suddenly bringing some random children into this conversation.
"What do you mean? What do little sap-suckers have to do with it now?"
"A lot! Only weaklings kill children..." Came Specter's growled response. However, he had forgotten about one little detail in his rage.
"Oh, is that so? I suppose the spiketail back then wasn't a child? And those eggs? They would've hatched in the next one or two days, you know that, right?"
Specter's eyes widened after that. Chaser had a point there, but he was determined to find something else to make him look like the monster he wanted him to be. Why he did that, he had no clue just yet.
"That... That was something different! I was hungry and there was nothing else there! But you! You killed an adult longneck back then! Back when you should have died! And you still went after two little children! The longneck and the threehorn!"
"How do you...?! Hmm... I guess you will explain this soon enough, anyway. Yeah, I did. So what? The adult died... after she pushed me down a damn cliff! Not my fault those children were the only edible thing far and wide. What was I supposed to do? Lie down and die? Besides, like I would care. Food is food. But this little longneck shit... He made it personal. Oh, if I would ever get the chance see him again I would take both of his eyes!"
"You won't do such a thing." Specter replied plainly. His voice had become a lot calmer now, after hearing what Chaser had to say about his past. His actions made perfect sense for a hungry sharptooth, and Specter found himself thinking that he would have probably done the same in that situation. Probably.
There still were a lot of open questions we would've liked to ask, but he figured that it was enough to assess the two-footer. He had experienced by now that once a sharptooth's instincts took over, there was no stopping it. A hungry sharptooth would kill anything to survive, and he would instinctively enjoy it.
"And why would I not?!" Chaser snarled deeply.
"Because he would kill you a second time." Specter responded, already wearing a slight smile on his face by now.
"What?! That bastard is actually still alive?!" Chaser roared in anger and annoyance, rising to his full height himself now.
"Indeed he is. You could say he's changed a lot, too. Tell me, Chaser, do you believe in fate?"
Specter should not get an answer, as Shade and Alba burst into the meeting, both of them panting heavily. It seemed like they've heard the two big sharpteeth's argument from kilometers away.
"Everything alright? We've heard roars and screeches and..."
"I thought I ordered you to leave us alone?!" Chaser interrupted Shade in his anger, but then calmed his voice as much as he could, too. "It's all fine. We just had a little... disagreement. Show him to the sleeping spots. And you, Specter... We'll talk tomorrow. If you're willing to help, you're most welcome here. If not, you will have to leave. Think about it."
The last bit didn't come as too much of a surprise to Specter, and he agreed to this compromise with an affirmative grunt. He was just glad that Chaser was not his immediate enemy. The two-footer's dark history still made something cringe inside him and he had yet to reveal what sort of help we was expecting from him, but Specter decided to play his cards safe for now. As far as he had been able to rationally analyze their conversation, Chaser was a hot-headed and cruel guy but had at least his principles. He was the kind of guy Specter would have normally despised in his past life. However, out here such a guy could often improve his followers' chances of survival by a lot, if he knew what he was doing. And it certainly looked like he did, Specter confirmed to himself once more. And who could blame Chaser for his anger? Specter was one of the select few to know about the definite fate of the most fearsome sharptooth of all. Or maybe he even was the only one besides Chaser himself?
He rather not thought too much about it.
"Will do. Follow us." Shade concluded.
Specter joined the two other fastbiter's formation and together, they sprinted off again.
It only took the trio a few minutes until they arrived at their sleeping area. It was located at the northern border of the forest and on top of a ridge with a small overhang, estimated by Specter to be around ten meters above the ground. A big rock formation, just like a miniature version of Hanging Rock, provided shelter from wind and weather for the fastbiters. He found it to be a beautiful and cozy little place, especially since he had a clear view at the starlit sky from the overhang. Maybe the other fastbiters didn't really care about that but to him, this was the perfect place to sleep.
"Well, here we are. Home, sweet home. You like it?"
"Thanks, Shade. It really is nice here." Specter responded, still in awe at everything around him.
"Glad to hear. So, I'm gonna have a few more important things to discuss with Chaser. Could take a while. You just make yourself at home, ok?
"With pleasure! See you next morning, I guess."
Shade gave him a friendly nod and disappeared in the underbrush again, leaving Specter alone with Alba, who had already curled herself up in her personal spot. But Specter was nowhere near capable of going to sleep now. There was just too much on his mind.
So he went over to the overhang and sat down at the edge, looking profoundly at the distant stars. He found that the hardships in this world made the times of peacefulness all the more sweet and relaxing. He could've spent days gazing at the beautiful night sky but it would probably get dull and the beauty of it would disappear, were there not the fights for survival and the constant presence of death on the daytime, he figured. All of this seemed so surreal and wrong, still, but at the same time so soothing and right.
He spent quite some time just sitting there and never noticed a pair of bright blue eyes watching him.
"Do you mind?"
Had nature not gifted him with an incredible sense of smell and a pair of extremely sensitive ears, he would've probably jerked back at this new voice from right beside him. As it was, however, he had already smelled and heard her minutes before she decided to speak up. It was still nice to hear her voice for the first time, he thought to himself.
"Not at all."
Alba sat down beside him, and a few more moments of silence went by until Specter finally spoke up.
"Hey listen... About earlier... I just wanted to say... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have acted like that."
Alba looked at him in surprise. She intuitively checked his scents for the truth of that statement, and found it immediately. What really surprised her, however, was that she also noticed deep regret and sorrow in them. She had no clue why, so she decided not to comment on that for now.
"It's ok. I'm used to it." She took a contemplative pause there, trying to make out what the black fastbiter was so interested in. "Do you see something?"
"The Night Circle." Specter responded plainly.
Alba switched her attention to the brightly illuminated circle in the sky.
"What about it? It looks just like always."
Specter let out a slight laugh.
"Yes, but that's not what I meant. You see, the Night Circle does not shine by itself. It is rather the Bright Circle on the other side of this earth that illuminates it and makes it look like it does now. And yet, we can always see only one side of it and the full Night Circle always looks the same. There was a time in my life where I wondered what the other side of it would look like. I was curious, eager to discover a new world and maybe find something different from the same old view. I desperately wished to see the other side, I wanted to see something new that I would maybe like better. I wanted to create something on this new side, something that no one else before me had ever seen. And when I finally saw what that new side looked like, I was shocked. It was ugly, strange and hostile. It wasn't what I was used to. It wasn't what I wanted to see. It wasn't what I had expected. Even worse, I will never see the old side again. The Night Circle will always look like this for the rest of my life... And yet, I still somehow got used to that new side and now I'm starting to like it. I even find joy in looking at it now, and I'm forgetting what the old side looked like. No, I want to forget what the old side looked like, because it was even uglier than the new side now that I know both. Do you think that's wrong?"
Alba only responded with a few moments of silence at first. For the life of her, she could not understand what he had tried to say with that. But she still wanted to give him an answer.
"Well... If you started to like the 'new side', why would it be wrong? Maybe you will never see the 'old side' again, but you could start over. That doesn't mean that you have to forget what you're used to. Maybe you could remember all the good things from the old side while you're looking at the new side."
"Hm. Logos said exactly the same thing..." Specter muttered to himself.
"Nothing. Thanks, Alba. You really helped me out."
He couldn't see her smile, but he was quite certain she shared his own emotion. Both raptors kept looking up at the night sky in silence after that.