Chapter 4: Fear
Chapter 4: Fear
"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure." - Paulo Coelho
He couldn't believe it, but the evidence was overwhelming. He was back home, inside his house, lying in his soft, warm bed. He felt strangely sad and surprised about all this though. The last dreams he had were years back in his childhood days. And even then he only very rarely actually dreamed. But he liked it this way. He remembered the two nightmares he had in that time for all his life that would follow, and he rather didn't dream at all than having nightmares once in a while. It was the lesser of the two evils to him.
He couldn't quite remember the dream he had just awoken of. Something about him being in a strange place, being a strange, primitive creature himself. But he was indifferent about it. To him, dreams were wishful thinking, and he didn't want that. He was a realist. But even in his wide awake state, something seemed very odd. Something unnerved him to the very core.
"Why am I feeling not sleepy at all? The sun isn't even up yet. And why...? Ugh... Doesn't matter... What time is it?"
It was very dark inside his room, although the shutters were open a little bit. It was enough to make out the various objects inside though. He looked around. Everything was there. The small nightstand with his cellphone, tablet, and the big white sphere lamp on it. His leather chair in front of his black flatscreen TV. His gaming console behind that. His two big wardrobes. His two black guitars. His two little shelves, with the few books inside he had read in his life, and the many objects resting on top of them. His various posters on the walls. And lastly, the simple clock hanging on the wall above where the two shelves were situated.
He tried turning the sphere lamp on. Nothing happened. He then tried switching his tablet and cellphone on. Nothing as well.
"What... the fuck... is going on here?"
He jumped out of his bed. He was surprised to see that he was completely naked. But he didn't mind that too much, as his eyes were now slowly adapting to the darkness. He could now see most objects in his room clearly, despite not wearing his glasses. This realization, however, never reached his mind, as his face fell into an expression of utter horror.
All the posters on the walls were empty. Nothing was on them but blackness. He blinked another few times, but they stayed the same. Finally, he switched his eyes over to the analog clock on the wall. Its hands were missing.
His heart was beating violently. He was starting to panic.
Not wasting any more of the time that didn't seem to exist anymore for some reason, he opened the door to his room and ran. He noticed that the doors to both of his parents' rooms were already open, so he deduced that they must have been awake as well. Within moments he stood in front of the large wardrobes, which were covered in mirrors, in the lobby. He saw himself. His short blond hair and beard. His tall, lean body. And his green eyes.
He looked over at the entrance door to his home. The two windows embedded in it were made out of milk glass, so he couldn't see through them. But there was definitely light outside. Deep red light.
"It's sunrise already? How?"
Still ignoring the fact he was naked, he went to the door, opened it, and ran outside onto the porch.
He wished that he hadn't.
The sky was burning. It literally was on fire, illuminating the world below. It looked like the world was going to end, consumed by the very sun that had spent warmth and granted life for the past billions of years. But despite all this, there was complete silence. The only sign of life still existing seemed to be him right now. He looked at the ground in front of his feet. His eyes went wide.
"No... no... how...?"
Two humans. Male and female. His parents. They were lying in a pool of blood and their bodies were horribly disfigured. They were both dead.
His ear-piercing scream cut through the silence.
He broke down on his knees, trying to embrace the two corpses. But before he could even touch any of them, the bodies started to dissolve. Their dust was carried away with the wind before he had even realized what happened.
He just kneeled on the ground, staring in shock at the place where the corpses of his parents had just been. That was when he noticed a large shadow originating from behind him. He slowly got up and turned around.
His green eyes met the yellow eyes of a massive Utahraptor. Its black feathers and golden crest slightly swaying back and forth in the light breeze. Its razor-sharp claws were still slightly dripping with blood. The blood of his parents.
But the raptor didn't attack him. It just stood there in silence, eyeing the human.
He was petrified. Before him stood a raptor, around three or maybe even four heads taller than him, and it was just looking at him. A voice inside his head told him that he wasn't in danger. And the raptor somehow looked familiar to him, albeit not from his point of view. But fear and horror had taken over his mind. He slowly raised one of his feet and took a cautious step backwards.
Only for the raptor to take one step forwards. Both creatures were standing still once again. None of them moved a muscle.
The feelings of fear and horror were slowly fading from his mind. Something else was forming in their place. He shook his head left and right.
Only for the raptor to mirror each of his moves. It turned its massive head right, then left.
Slowly, he started tilting his head forwards to take a look at the ground again. He couldn't see the raptor doing the same anymore, as his eyes were now firmly planted on the ground. Something seemed odd with his shadow. Then it hit him like a rock. The shadow he thought would be originating from the raptor came from himself, too.
His shadow and the raptor's were one.
As if the world had waited for him to realize exactly that, everything around him went black within one blink of his eyes. He was alone again, the darkness his only companion.
By now he just wished that all of this would stop already. However, the situation he was in right now seemed awfully familiar. And the memories of his past days slowly started returning to him. With unsure voice, he yelled into the darkness.
"Why are you doing this to me?!"
No response came. Just as he was about to give up all hope, a light could be seen in the distance. His mind would not let the past memory in, but he just knew that he had been here before. After a few more moments, a female voice finally responded.
"I am not doing anything to you, young one. You are doing all this to yourself."
"Then how do I make it stop?!"
"By accepting your fate. What were your words again? I believe your viewpoint on things you can't change is 'It is how it is', isn't it?"
"How do you know that?"
"Because I have been watching over you. Ever since you arrived."
"Then what is my purpose? I can only bring death and destruction through my presence."
The voice laughed lightly. It was the same motherly voice he had already heard once before. But where? And on what occasion?
"What does fire mean to you?"
"Pain... destruction... and death..."
"You are lying..."
"You are lying to yourself because you are scared, and you refuse to see the obvious things. Everything has a bad side. But is that really all there is to it? I know you like the darkness. You feel safe in it, so why do you also feel scared in its embrace? Now I ask you again, what does fire mean to you?"
It took him some time to finally give his honest opinion.
"Light... hope... warmth... and life."
"Then I believe you do know your purpose in this world, after all. Now wake up, Specter."
The light seemed to grow brighter and larger all of a sudden. And soon, everything was embraced by it.
Specter's eyes sprang open again.
He was still breathing heavily and his heart was pumping like crazy. His new body wouldn't allow him to sweat, but he figured that if he still was a human, he would've been drenched in it. He closed his eyes again, trying to control his breathing rhythm.
It was only a dream. It was only a dream. He thought to himself over and over again.
After a few minutes, his breathing and heartbeat normalized, so he slowly stood up and took a good look around. It was early in the day and the sun was not up yet. He could see the whole pack still sleeping peacefully.
Good. At least I didn't scream or anything...
Since he was fully awake now, he decided it would be a good idea to take a walk and contemplate about the things on his mind. It would also give him the chance to explore this new world. The last day had been very hectic, and he didn't have any time to look around, not even just for a bit. From early in the morning to the following night he had been occupied with learning the basics of survival from Littlefoot, going on his first hunt, and trying to not get killed by a threehorn.
He looked at all the fastbiter families in their sleep. Littlefoot and Ruby, Cera and Taunt, Spike and Breeze, and Ducky and Leap. And each one of their children cuddling their respective parents' feathered bodies for warmth and comfort. At least the ones that had been gifted with feathers, namely the former gang of seven, minus Chomper. Regardless of that though, all of the little fastbiters were covered in soft fuzz, meaning that they would eventually grow those primitive feathers as well.
Specter himself could only smile at that sight.
Hmm... So the adults with feathers must be all those that touched a Stone like I did... To think that this might be the reason why there's so little evidence about feathered raptors...
He couldn't see Petrie, Soar and their children, but he figured they must be doing just as fine in their nest somewhere nearby.
Not wanting to wake any of them, Specter slowly snuck away from the rest until he would reach a safe distance that would allow him to walk or sprint again. He was surprised how, despite his massive body, he was still able to move around in almost complete silence.
Huh! Hollow bones lead to high agility and low weight... at least they have a few advantages. He thought to himself. It was a bit ridiculous that the moderately extensive knowledge he actually had about dinosaurs would come in handy only at the point at which he had become one himself, but he figured it was probably somehow meant to be this way.
He was finally out of the pack's hearing range and started walking normally again. He just had to admire the beauty of this place. It was completely different from his time, but it was somehow still all the same nonetheless. The plants and trees were much taller and denser, and there were plants he didn't even know had ever existed. But not only the flora was different. The dominant chirping of birds was replaced by the distant screeches of some flyers, and the several insects flying around also seemed much bigger and mostly alien to him. In the end, however, nature was still nature. And that would never change.
Just where in the world am I? This isn't Europe anymore, that's for sure. Well... I'm a Utahraptor so... this must be America then. But where in America? He let out a sad sigh before he finished his thoughts. As if it would matter now... I just need to stay alive long enough to meet up with those rainbowfaces...
Following that, he assumed a determined posture again and resumed his exploration trip.
He spent at least an hour just walking around in this place he now called home. On his way, he even found several markings with the scents of Littlefoot, Taunt and Cera.
Urine markings... Only a few days old. Guess this is where the territory ends. I should probably head back now. Maybe they're already up?
He turned straight around and was just about to start sprinting back when his mouth fell agape.
In the distance, he could see a huge rock formation with a visible vantage point sticking out from it.
Hmm... I wonder...
Not thinking any further, he sprinted off towards it.
It took him some time to reach the overlook, which was situated high above the ground. From up here, he could oversee almost the whole territory of his pack. He could see the gigantic landscape, which was densely covered in trees and tall grass. He could see the huge mountains in the distance. He could even see the distant forms of his pack.
He sat down on his haunches and observed the predators.
Looks like they are all awake now. I should get back soon. Don't want them to worry about me for no reason.
The massive purple form of Chomper was easily discernible as well. He was minding his own business right now, it seemed. Specter then noticed that a few fastbiters were not with the pack anymore.
Guess they're already...
"There you are! We were worried sick about you! We have been looking for you for quite some time now. For quite some time now we have been looking for you!"
Ruby's sudden appearance behind him made Specter almost jump. He flexed his neck around to look at her.
"Ponder! I... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset any of you." He looked apologetic at Ruby. "I woke up early today. You were all still sleeping so I figured it might be a good time for me to take a look around. After all, this seems to be my new home now."
Ruby had a stern expression on her face but she also looked concerned. It took her a while to respond.
"That is not why we were worried. We noticed your scents around the place where you have been sleeping... We smelled anger, despair... and fear."
An embarrassed look started to appear on Specter's face.
Did I... wet myself during that stupid dream?!
He didn't want to find out, so he just tried to steer the conversation into another direction.
"I had a pretty bad 'sleep story'... But how did you find me here so soon?"
Ruby's stern look softened up a lot and soon turned into surprise, curiosity and compassion.
"You're sitting in my Thinking Place."
How she spoke the name 'Thinking Place' alone was implying that it was something sacred to Ruby, so Specter quickly tried to apologize for his intrusion.
"Oh! I'm sorry Ponder, I didn't know this was it. I saw this overlook from the distance and thought I might find some peace up here. I should be leaving..."
He tried to stand up but felt some pressure on his back. Ruby gently pushed him back down a little bit.
"It's ok. Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. If you did, I would not have come here to look after you."
She sat down by his side, and both fastbiters gazed into the distance for a little while before Ruby took the word again.
"Do you want to tell me about that sleep story?"
Specter didn't respond immediately. This was one of the few dreams he remembered as if he had just awoken from it. Obviously he just had this morning, but still. It all felt so real, and yet so strange in this dream. He remembered that dream, every single detail of it, and he had to hold back his bitter sobs as he finally gave his answer.
"I... was back home... in my place. A human again. But everything seemed different... You wouldn't understand... even if I explained it to you for two days straight. It was very dark, but then I suddenly saw light. I saw my reflection. It was me, as if nothing ever happened. I went outside. The sky... it was burning. There was fire everywhere. Then I saw my parents..." At this point, he really had to hold back the tears that were forming in his eyes. "...they were both dead."
It pained Ruby to ask this question, but she just had to know.
"Did... you... kill them?"
She expected Specter to have an outburst by now, but he kept his composure for the better part.
"I... No... No, of course not! They were just lying there... in their own blood. Something had torn them apart... I tried to embrace... what was left but... their bodies turned to ash before I could even touch them."
She was slightly relieved to hear that he didn't actually kill his own parents in his sleep story. Still, a sleep story like that was disgusting, even for sharptooth standards. She, too, had to hold back her forming tears now. She didn't even want to imagine what that must have been like for him, seeing his own parents like that and then trying to embrace them one last time, only for them to turn into ash and disappear.
"Then I noticed this shadow... I turned around and saw this... black 'fastbiter' standing behind me. It was me... What I am right now. The blood of my own parents on his... my... claws..."
At his point, Specter could not hold back any longer. Tears started running down his face.
And neither could Ruby. She just stared at him in shock as she started remembering the sleep story she had, the night she turned into a fastbiter. His sleep story seemed familiar, but her parents never appeared in her own. But seeing the massive predator next to her weep like this pressed her to act.
She stood up and embraced him. She hesitated a bit before speaking again.
"I... I can't imagine..."
But Specter wasn't finished yet.
"Everything went black after that. Then I heard this voice talking to me. She... talked about my purpose in this world. About accepting my fate. About my fear. I don't even know who it was..."
Silence fell over the two weeping fastbiters.
Ruby could not comprehend how all of this could have happened. But she knew it was true. Littlefoot himself had told her a few times about his mother's guidance in his sleep stories, even though she was long since gone from this earth. So maybe Specter had encountered the same phenomenon?
But for now, both of them just stayed how they were for a few minutes. After that, Specter finally stood up and detached himself from Ruby's embrace. He took a few deep breaths before turning to face her. He bowed his head down and nuzzled her dearly.
"Thank you... for being here. I guess... I really needed that."
She happily accepted the gesture, but couldn't bring out a single word.
"Let's go back now. The others have worried enough about me. And... I hope you don't mind if I would prefer to keep this between us?" Specter finally said.
Ruby, too, had to take a deep breath until she could finally give him a slight smile.
"Of course not. Let's go. Give me just a moment."
He looked at her curiously as she walked towards the edge of the overhang and stopped right in front of it.
Roar! Screech! Roar!
Several moments of silence went by, until an answer came from the distant fastbiters of the pack.
Ruby turned around and saw the surprise in Specter's eyes.
"I've told them that I have found you, so they know that you have been found."
"Just when I thought nothing could surprise me anymore." Specter retorted sarcastically.
She didn't need to force a smile onto her face this time.
With that, the two predators started their walk back to their pack.
But Ruby still had something on her mind that has bothered her for quite some time now, and it would take them a while to get back where the rest of the pack would be. She already prepared herself mentally for another confrontation.
You better not be one of them, Specter... No! After all you did for us... It must be true what you said. Why would you want to harm us? But I have to make sure!
She and Specter had been on their way for quite some time now, so Ruby figured now would be the best time to just ask what was on her mind. But she wanted to do this very carefully. She knew he trusted her now, or at least she hoped so, but she didn't want to lose that trust because of her false accusations. She went over everything in her mind a few more times before finally speaking up.
"Specter, you... were not telling the whole story yesterday, were you?"
He looked at her with a surprised expression on his face.
"What do you mean? I've told you guys everything I can afford to tell. Maybe I even crossed the line I've set myself a bit."
He used his claws to scratch three imaginary circles into the air, to which Ruby could only sigh.
"What do you know about fake-faces?"
"Fake... faces...? Hmm... As much as you do, I guess. Someone who talks good, but means bad. Someone who deceives others with nice talk, only to do bad things to them later on. That someone would be a 'fake-face'."
"Exactly. But do you also know how sharpteeth can see through them?"
"Uhm... examining their scents, I guess."
"Yes, only that you can't smell if it's the truth or a lie when they are talking."
Specter frowned heavily after hearing this.
"I see that Seeker has told you about the little 'thing' I tried on him, didn't he?"
Ruby looked at the ground for a second. This conversation was going exactly in the direction where she never wanted it to go. But now it was too late to just quit.
"He did, but only very briefly when you were occupied with Path at your introduction. That is part of the reason why I didn't want you to be here with us at first. And also why I decided to attend your hunt. I wanted to see if you can be trusted. And I could not have seen it if I would not have been there."
"And...? Can I be trusted?"
"I don't know that for myself yet."
Specter was holding back an angry outburst. He had risked his own life for Littlefoot and Ruby. He even told the whole pack a lot about his past. Things he had never planned on actually telling or showing. What more could Ruby be expecting from him? He noticed that it was way harder for him now to retain his calm demeanor. The side of his mind that belonged to the predator he now was, suggested him to go as far and kill Ruby for that statement. It told him that this would be necessary. If Ruby decided to leave him behind in a fight because she refused to trust him, he would be as good as dead.
He was disgusted with himself that he had actually considered that option for only a split second.
No, Ruby had comforted him in a time where he needed it most. She had been there for him. She had no obligation to do so, but she still did. There must have been something else on her mind. He checked her scents.
Hmm... It's not like she doesn't trust me. It's more like she's unsure about my convictions. But... why? Maybe I missed something...? Wait... Of course! The part with the 'fake-faces'. It was extremely subtle, but she... Huh... She really did well, but not quite well enough. Still... She really is something else... Maybe I'll teach her one day.
"I see you're trying to use my own trick against me, Ponder. Impressive."
Ruby's eyes widened. She had not expected him to see through her that fast. Specter immediately noticed her surprise, of course.
"What? Did you already forget what I've told you and everyone else just yesterday? Humans are the smartest creatures ever, and the most dangerous ones. And technically, I'm still a human inside my head. So out with the truth already. What are you getting at?"
Both of them stopped their movement at once.
She hesitated for a few moments. She had already lost his trust with those accusations, she thought to herself, so she could do this the straightforward way now.
"When you told everyone about your past, about 'humans', I noticed it. Your 'trick'. You did not manage to keep it up the whole time, only in some parts. I just wanted to know why. Why did you lie about your past? About your own kind? I have hated fake-faces for my whole life! My father nearly got killed by one! And you were acting exactly like one yourself! I had to make sure..."
Specter's face took on a more neutral expression. What was he so afraid of? His secrets would be in good hands with the pack. But the reality was harsh. Way too harsh to tell it in front of multiple happy fastbiter families. It was only now that he truly acknowledged Ruby's impressive way of thinking. Her dry logic. He would make an exception for her.
"You will understand why, I promise. But first, know that I at no point lied to any of you. I was adjusting the truth. Just as you did with your statement about fake-faces. You did quite well, but I noticed what you did there. You didn't believe in what you said."
Ruby gave him an admitting nod, and Specter continued.
"And you're sure you want to hear the truth? No matter how harsh it is? Because I can tell you, it is."
She was quick to respond.
"Yes, I want to hear all of it. How can I truly know something, if I don't know the truth about that something?"
"Fine. But this will be painful. In every way imaginable. And you must promise me to keep this to yourself. That is, if you don't want to hurt someone else with your words. I doubt that your children would take it well. Or most of the adults, actually. What I'm going to tell you would make even Haven cry for days."
Ruby gulped, but gave him a nod.
He sat down and gestured for her to do the same. When both of them were sitting, facing one another, Specter raised his voice again.
"Where do I even start? See, I've told you already that I do not belong in this place, but this is only half of the truth. I'm also pretty sure that I do not belong in this time. By an enormous margin."
"How 'enormous'?" Ruby asked soon after.
"About 65 million years."
Ruby did not know what these numbers meant, and neither could she understand that this could be possible, but she already guessed that they must have been really, really, really big.
"Now, Ponder, have you ever wondered why humans look so different? From you and what I am now? From 'longnecks' and 'threehorns'? From 'swimmers' and 'flyers'? I described my old self to all of you as best as I could. So how do you think that's possible? Why do humans look so different from 'sharpteeth', 'flatteeth' or 'half-teeth'?"
This was the first time Ruby had really thought about it. Yes, why exactly were humans supposed to look so different from her? She couldn't find an answer, so Specter went a bit further.
"What do you know about evolution?"
"Well... My parents told me a lot about how everything in our world is constantly changing, back when I was still a fastrunner. So I think 'evolution' is the reason why we eventually had feathers and looked like we did."
"Yes, you could say it that way. It is a lot more complex but... yeah, you understand the basic concept. I mean... It's interesting that the Stone gave only the changed fastbiters feathers while nature took over again when your children were hatched... Uhm... Never mind that. So, how can a creature like a human that has no tail or feathers, not your sense of smell, not your sharp teeth, not your dangerous claws, evolve from a creature that has all these traits? Or from any of the other creatures that live here?"
"I... don't know."
Specter let out a very heavy sigh. This was it. The moment of truth.
"Because we are all going to die one day."
He was surprised to hear himself say 'we'. Although his body was that of a raptor now, he still considered himself a human. As with many things in his life, he just tried to make the best out of it.
Ruby, however, seemed not surprised at all. She seemed ready to laugh out loud.
"That was the secret? Specter, I already know that one day I will..."
"No! That is not how I meant it!" He quickly interrupted her.
She was stunned into silence by his stern voice, and Specter should soon elaborate. He had to concentrate to the maximum, as he still needed to get used to this time's vocabulary, but in the end, he finished formulating what he wanted to say and continued without a pause.
"I don't know when it will happen, maybe it will be thousands of years, seasons, whatever, from now, maybe it will be tomorrow, but it will happen. On this one day, there will be flying rocks falling from the sky. And with them will be one flying rock, so big that it will make the whole sky seemingly disappear. It will be many times the size of this territory, and it will hit this earth with a speed that would be unthinkable of even for a fastrunner. And almost everyone on this earth will die when that happens, you understand? The sky will go dark for multiple seasons, and whoever actually survived the flying rock itself will starve or die because there will be no more light from the Bright Circle and no more food. The leaf-eaters will die because the plants won't have enough light, and the sharpteeth will die because the leaf-eaters will die. It's a chain reaction that will not stop until even the last one is dead. There will be no more summer or spring. There will be only one single cold time in darkness. Only some small flyers, bellydraggers, and other minor creatures like these ground fuzzies will survive. So, mostly the small, feathered or fuzzy creatures that can live off the little food available then. They will live on to where I came from. These little creatures that will roam the sky in my time are the last of our kind. We call them 'birds'. They are, if you want to call them that, the last dinosaurs. Or at least what's left of them. This is what your future, our future, will look like. And before you even ask. No, I don't know how to stop it. It can't be stopped. It will just happen one day."
Specter had spoken all these words without looking at Ruby. He had his eyes closed. He didn't want to see her cry anymore, and telling her all of this pained him as well. But she had demanded to know, and this was the unaltered truth. He wouldn't blame himself for her feelings. He had warned her often enough that the truth would hurt.
Only now he opened his eyes again. His and Ruby's glances met. To his big astonishment, she was looking straight into his eyes. She had not shed any more tears. He couldn't read that expression of hers, but that did not surprise him at all. She must have been in the process of digesting all of this, he noted to himself.
The moments went by, and none of them moved a muscle. Specter was starting to worry about her mental state so he finally stood up, lowered his body in front of her and placed both of his clawed forelimbs on her shoulders.
"The truth hurts, Ponder. You must've known that before, but it's even more horrible when you know that you can't change it, isn't it?" He said, and forced a slight smile onto his face.
Ruby only nodded at him. She was still deeply caught in her thoughts. After a few more seconds, however, she finally began to talk.
Specter resisted the urge to laugh.
"For not trusting you."
"It's ok. Trust is not something that should be given to you easily. You have to fight for it and earn it. Sometimes in blood... some other times by telling the truth."
He rose to his full height again and turned towards the direction they had been traveling in until recently.
"Come on now. I've had my fair share of the truth for today, I think. For some reason I can't wait for Taunt to destroy some of my gray matter with his talk."
Now she truly had to laugh again. She didn't understand what this 'gray matter' was supposed to be, but Specter had insulted Taunt and that was good enough for her. She stood up as well and both fastbiters soon were on their way again.
"I see our newest friend was even so scared that..."
"Ow! What was that for?!"
Cera straightened out her tail again and gave her mate an indifferent gaze.
"Oh I just noticed I had not slapped you yet on this beautiful day. I guess we had to start earlier than usual." Came her blunt justification.
"I'm gonna get you for this you..." Taunt already started to protest.
And while the couple continued their usual banter, Littlefoot sprinted towards the two homecomers. He wanted to know what's going on.
"Did something happen to you, Specter? We all have noticed your scents and..."
"I'm fine, Seeker. I had a pretty bad sleep story, that's all. I woke up early so I wanted to take a look around. And as luck would have it, Ponder stumbled across me in her Thinking Place. Sorry if I had you all worried."
Littlefoot took a short look at Ruby, who just gave him a happy nod.
"I have already interrogated poor Specter enough. He won't do it again. Isn't that right?"
She took Cera as an example and used her tail to smack him in his flank. To him, however, it felt more like a light nudge.
"Hm? Oh! Yeah, right. I'll let you know the next time I wander around a bit."
To say he was nervous would have been a massive understatement. He had to admit, he had gotten quite intimate with Ruby during the last hour. Sure, the situations were harsh for both of them and in his mind, he had never crossed 'the line' of course. He had kept his distance to her for the most part. But he was not the one who got to draw that line. That was something Littlefoot would do. And Specter didn't intend to find out what happened to those who crossed such lines in this time. Especially not when it involved a pack leader's mate.
"Well, I'm glad that's sorted out then." Littlefoot finally responded. "You will need to be in your best shape for today, Specter. Your body and mind."
"Have you planned another hunt for me?" Specter asked in surprise. He thought his first hunt had shown that he was more than capable of staying alive. At least when he was forced to, it seemed like. "And what would I need my mind for? Besides the obvious things, of course."
"Well, you did quite the outstanding job sneaking away this morning without alerting any of us. Given your size... I'm impressed."
"Oh, that... Well, thanks I guess. But why do I need another test then?"
Littlefoot had to laugh.
"It's not a test. I have a little bet running with Taunt. He claims you're too fat to silently sneak up on a swimmer and kill it. But I say otherwise. The winner gets your kill. What will be left of it after you're done, of course."
Specter glared at Taunt for a few seconds before switching his attention back to Littlefoot.
"Is that so? Well, I guess Mr. Stripe-Ass will have to find his own meal today then."
Taunt's loud "Hey!" was easily drowned out by the pack's massive laughter.
"Glad to hear that. And about your mind. I have planned for your first lessons in leaf-eater to be today, as well. You feel up to it?"
Finally! Specter thought to himself. He would soon be prepared a little bit better.
"Of course!" He happily exclaimed. "But I have to ask. Why now? I could've waited a bit longer if..." He cut himself off at that point. He just wanted to hear the obvious answer. To him of course, this was truly relieving. He didn't actually want to wait any longer before learning what he assumed to be the only other language in this time.
"Isn't it obvious? It will help you massively on your hunts! Knowing what your targets are saying to each other and everything. Knowledge means power."
And your downfall... Specter finished in his mind. But he didn't want to stain the good mood with his overly negative thoughts so he just played along.
"Makes sense. Although I have to admit, when I first asked you if you could teach me the language I had another thing in mind."
"Oh? What is it?" Littlefoot feared that Specter would start talking about his desire to talk to the rainbowfaces again. To him, this was pretty much out of the question. He really would have liked to help him but it was just too much to ask for.
Specter's actual response should be a lot different though.
"I want to hear the last words of my targets before I kill them."
The pack was taken aback by this. Especially for Ducky and Ruby, this came as quite a shock. They already knew about Specter's brutal honesty, but this was another topic. For most of the time, he had been acting gentle and empathetic. That statement had been anything but.
Knowing that he had their unshared attention now, Specter quickly elaborated.
"Not what you're thinking of course! I certainly take no joy in hearing my prey's pleadings. But I used to know three different languages as a human. Humans speak so many languages, they often can't understand one another, which means that there are many misunderstandings between them. This has always pained me. I know I'm a killer now, but if I take some poor children's mother from them, I want them at least to know why I killed her. Humans are not used to regularly killing other creatures that can speak, you know? Well, unless the humans start killing each other but that is something different. They don't eat each other at least."
"Did somebody ever tell you that you're one scary weirdo?" Came Taunt's snarky remark.
"Did somebody ever tell you that you're one massive asshole?" Came Specter's prompt response.
Taunt, however, decided to not give Specter an opening.
"Why yes, just ask Stern Claw."
But Specter had waited for exactly that.
"Then we do have something in common, after all."
The two of them could only smirk at each other, while the rest of the assembled fastbiters rolled their eyes. The last thing they needed was another Taunt. But even though Specter certainly shared some of Taunt's antics, he was far more dry and subtle with his remarks.
He spoke directly to Littlefoot again.
"I still feel bad about the longneck and threehorn I killed. If only I could've understood what they were saying, maybe there would've been another way..."
Littlefoot seriously doubted that, though.
"You did what you had to do, Specter. I don't think talking to them would have helped in that situation."
He had these conversations far too often to feel sympathetic for the victims in them. The threehorn had made his death wish the moment he attacked. And he wanted to press another point.
"Also, feeling bad for killing your food will only prevent you from being the sharptooth you are now."
Specter on the other hand was still trying to find the right words.
"I know. And I don't feel bad for any of them, nor do I have any regrets about it. I can't really explain it. It's just that... killing is something very... personal to me. Even when I'm supposed to be doing it for food. It just feels wrong to me, not caring about your victims."
Upon hearing this, Littlefoot felt relieved.
"You could have just said that! We're all thinking about it the same way, more or less."
"Good. I guess all this is still just a bit too new for me. But I'm ready for today, trust me on this!" Specter concluded happily with a smile on his face.
Several hours later, just before sunset:
Specter let out a loud sigh of exhaustion.
"Really, Seeker? This is the language you and your friends have been speaking for so long? And survived using it for so long?"
"And killed several sharpteeth because they didn't know how to speak it. Now stop complaining and speak after me." Littlefoot then switched over to leaf-eater. "Speaking the language of the leaf-eaters will greatly help me in my hunts."
"Talking... voice of leaf... big in my hunt... help me will be."
Although Specter's sentence sounded terrible to anyone who truly understood the leaf-eater language, Littlefoot was very pleased with him.
"I'm impressed. You're making amazing progress! It took all of us whole seasons to fully speak that language again."
"Oh don't give that to me! That was shit and you know it..." Specter said with lot of annoyance in his voice.
Littlefoot was surprised by his harsh self-criticism.
"Did you expect to understand an entire language in one single day? Gee, Specter, I've already told you that you're making incredible progress."
Specter sighed again, although this time out of self-composure.
"No, of course not. It's just that... leaf-eater sounds like it was made for complete, utterly retarded idiots."
Littlefoot wanted to object, but he knew that Specter was right. Compared to the sharptooth language, leaf-eater really sounded like only idiots would ever speak it. It was only fitting that almost all sharpteeth considered leaf-eaters outright stupid.
"You would not believe how much trouble Taunt had with it. It took him longer than any of us to speak it." He then retorted.
Specter had to laugh loudly at this.
"Oh, I think I would."
Littlefoot joined him with a laugh of his own. After both of them had calmed down again, Specter took a contemplative look at the darkening, cloudy sky.
"I guess it's almost time..."
"It is indeed. We will just have to wait for Spotter to return. He should be here any... Ah! There he his."
Both fastbiters jumped up as the flyer landed before them.
"So, how's the situation?" Specter asked.
Petrie's happy response came immediately. He was looking forward to this as well.
"Everything set for you! Whole bunch of swimmers nearby. Me see at least thirty of them, adults and younglings. But not everyone together. Plenty to choose from, Specter!"
Littlefoot had to smile at this. Although he sometimes felt bad about it, considering he had been friends with Ducky for almost his whole life, he could not deny the fact that swimmers were just the perfect source of food. Their meat tasted good and they were easy to kill. Even better, one swimmer family consisted of at least five or more children, which meant an endless supply of food, basically.
And Specter knew about the behavior of what he knew as Hadrosaurs as well.
"Guess I'm doing the population control for tonight, huh?" He thought aloud, and after noticing the asking looks of Littlefoot and Petrie, he extended his sentence. "That... means I'm going to 'reduce' their numbers a little bit."
The other two nodded at this.
"To help me win the bet you only need to kill one. But please, be my guest in supplying food for the next days as well if you want to!"
"Pfft! You wish! Besides, I'm only doing this to teach Taunt a lesson."
Littlefoot's smile widened as he thought about Specter's words.
Seems like his pride grew along with his body.
"I'm sure you are. Alright, we should head out now. I'll tell the others to watch the show." He then concluded.
The whole pack was assembled behind the many bushes that covered the area. Only Chomper had to stay behind. He knew himself that he would alert the swimmers of the pack's presence before they could even see them. All eyes were watching the black fastbiter as he silently closed the distance between him and his prey.
"He will never make it. He may be silent when he sneaks, but he will have to sprint up to them. They will notice him before he reaches them. You know the bet, Seeker. I will eat well tonight!"
"His target is not allowed to notice him. He has to kill the swimmer before she sees him coming. Yes, Taunt, I know our bet. But I'm sure Specter will come up with something."
Taunt just snorted.
"We will see..."
Specter could not hear their conversation anymore, but he knew the difficulty of this task. It sounded simple enough, but one false move could ruin it all. And when that happened, he would not only have to chase after his meal but also share it with Taunt and admit to him that he was 'too fat'. No, this was not an option to him. He would show what he was made of.
He moved behind the last possible bush to grant him enough cover to hide his massive body, and started observing the swimmer family. He checked their scents first.
Alright, what do we have here? Six swimmers. Parasaurolophs. The big one is the only adult, but... these are not her children. Hmm... Let's see if I can make use of this 'language'...
He leaned a bit forward and started listening in on the swimmers. His very basic understanding of leaf-eater would be enough, he deduced.
"Not ... far go, children! Mother your ... me look after ... good. And ... not make mistake. All know ... what happen ... children mine. Not ... happen ... you!"
So she has lost her own children to other predators... That means she will jump at the slightest noise. That doesn't make it easier... But that's also her weakness. Must be...
He looked up again. The hot climate gave him an idea.
Hmm... Yes, that could work! Maybe if I wait a bit more... Let's hope they will think themselves safe for a while longer.
The little swimmers were still having fun in the strip of water ahead, with their guardian closely nearby. Although she had her back turned to him, he knew he would have to wait this out. He went over his plan a few times in his head.
Alright, but I'll have to time this perfectly. Otherwise these little shits will alert her the second they spot me.
"Daddy, what is he waiting for? Why doesn't he just go in and kill her?"
"Patience, Swipe. The swimmer must not notice him. He has to kill her in complete silence."
Swipe took a good look at the huge form of Specter again.
"But... that's impossible!"
Littlefoot could only smile at his daughter. He was sure about Specter's abilities, he especially wanted to see how much he has changed from last day, but this really was too much to ask for. It seemed like he was forced to find his own meal tonight.
Come on you stupid sky! Don't let me down here!
Specter was growing increasingly more impatient. Every single second now, the adult swimmer could decide to head back to the others.
As if the sky had waited for his command, a flash of light illuminated everything on the ground for a split second, right before a massive bang emerged from above.
Hah! I knew it!
A predatory smile formed on his face. It would not be long now. He listened in on the swimmers again.
"Aunt Wary! What that?"
"It ok, children ... Sky Boom ... bit. We ... home ... soon."
He made up his mind. It was a matter of seconds now. He quickly grabbed a rather large stone with his right forelimb and prepared himself. Once more, a flash of light came from the sky.
Ok... this will do perfectly. Three... two... one... Now!
He leaned back and threw the stone in the direction of the swimmer children. A loud splash and several shocked gasps followed. The children had all turned to the source of the splash. They would not see him coming now.
Specter instinctively raised his two sickle claws in preparation of the upcoming dash, jumped out of the bush and began his 'sprint'. It was way faster than any speed he could've ran in his past life, but more like lumbering in his new life. Still, that didn't really matter at this point, because at the same time the booming thunder echoed with all its might from the sky. He was only meters away from the adult swimmer now.
He prepared his jump.
One of the children had turned around again. As another flash of light appeared, he had only just enough time to widen his eyes at the sight of the huge sharptooth leaping at his aunt. He couldn't even scream.
The swimmer did not know what hit her.
She matched Specter in size, so he had decided to do this the brutal way, pretty much the only way he knew so far.
He didn't jump onto her back, but rather slightly to her left flank. The horrible sound of ripping flesh followed. He had exploited his momentum to tear through her whole side, using the razor-sharp claws on his right forelimb.
Chomp! Crunch! Crack!
But the sudden outburst of pain never reached her brain as he finished his attack with a fierce bite into her neck, ripping her windpipe, crushing the bones and destroying the nerve cords inside. Although his bite was nowhere near as powerful as that of a Tyrannosaurus, it was more than enough in this situation, he found. The swimmer was dead in an instant.
Only now, all of the little swimmers turned around to the sight of the blood-smeared fastbiter and their dead aunt in front of it.
He had chosen to attack her left side, which she was now lying on, not without reason. He wanted to spare the children the ghastly sight of their aunt's innards and ripped flesh. He eyed the little swimmers for a few seconds. Their combined scents of fear and horror almost made his head ache, but also hungry at the same time. However, they were not his targets. He would never kill a child, unless he would be absolutely forced to do so.
The little swimmers were petrified. They had never seen a sharptooth like this before. It was a fastbiter, but not one like any they had ever seen or heard of. It had killed their aunt in a matter of seconds, so they never even mounted an attempt to run away. They already knew they were dead.
No, I won't sink this low. Maybe it's time to use leaf-eater for another reason now. Specter thought to himself.
He stepped over the corpse of the adult swimmer and closed the distance between him and the children until he stood almost right in front of them. They were shaking with fear and were embracing one another, but none of them attempted to leave his or her siblings behind.
He bowed his head down and spoke with a calm voice, although he had to concentrate to the maximum to find the correct words.
"I will... not kill you. Go... to your parents. Your... aunt... protected you. Tell your mother... I'm sorry."
The children all looked at the black fastbiter in even more shock. Did he just speak in leaf-eater? And how did he know this was their aunt? They had all understood his words perfectly, although he sounded like he had just 'learned' their language, but still none of them moved a muscle.
Specter sighed slightly. He bowed his head down once more and let out a terrifying screech right in front of their faces. That made the little swimmers jump, and moments later they all ran away as quickly as their small feet could carry them. He could still hear their mournful cries for another minute. After that, there was silence again.
"I guess someone has to find his own meal tonight after all, eh?"
Specter had to hold back a wide smile when he noticed Taunt's face.
"You were lucky, that's all! No way you could have done that without the Sky Boom and Fire!"
"Sure, keep telling yourself that. And who knows? If you behave for tonight and take back what you said, then maybe, just maybe, I'll let you have a few bites."
"Why you rotten...!" Taunt slapped himself across the face. His mouth was already watering at the smell of the swimmer's flesh. He pulled himself together for once before speaking again. "Ok! Ok! You're not fat and way better at hunting than me. It was just a joke! There! Are you satisfied now?"
Specter was beaming at this point.
"The first part would've been enough for me... but if you insist..."
Taunt's grumbling was interrupted by Littlefoot.
"Come over here already! There is enough for everyone. Unless you want Path to have your share? He might be here any moment."
He didn't need to say that twice. Taunt quickly joined the others around the swimmer's corpse.
Specter finished his meal before anyone else did. He wanted the children to have a bit of his part as well. Besides, he wasn't even so hungry anymore. His hunger had been pushed aside by the thoughts about his future. He knew how to speak basic leaf-eater now. It would probably only take him a few weeks or so to speak the language fluently, he deduced.
He would make his decision soon.