Chapter 5: The Loner
Chapter 5: The Loner
"Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better." - Henry Rollins
Three weeks later:
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Specter eyed his spear for a few seconds with a grim expression before he continued his carving.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Once again, he raised the weapon into the moonlight to examine it with deadly precision. A smile started forming on his face.
"Aight! This will do nicely." He stated, still scanning his crafted weapon from top to bottom and back again while spinning it around a few times in his claws. He admired his craftsmanship. After all, he had just created a weapon that was completely novel. It was still a spear, but he had improved it by a lot. And for good reason.
The spears his pack were accustomed to were too small for him to use effectively, he always noticed. Sure, they were easy to carry and easy to wield but at the same time his aim and throwing power suffered immensely from the short length and low weight of these sticks. They were good enough for basic hunting, as he had already found out on his very first hunt, but Specter just never felt comfortable using them. To him, it felt like as if he was throwing toothpicks at his prey.
However, what he was holding in his claws now was more than fitting for a sharptooth like him, he deduced. He had spent at least an hour, just searching for the right kind of wood to craft his spear from and, after he was finished with that, he had still spent another two hours of carving it to perfection. The result was a deadly weapon, unlike any other in this time. Even though a professional carver would have probably broke out into laughter at how the spear looked, no dinosaur struck by it ever would, he figured.
Most easily noticeable was the enormous size for this kind of weapon, but that was of course not all. Specter had carved a rifling into most of the stick's body and added small barbs at its sharp tip, along with tiny little scratches in the middle part that would ensure a firm grip. This would not only make it easier for him to handle and throw the weapon, but also would make it way more deadly. The rifling would add some spin to the spear in its flight and when it hit its target, it would dig deep into its flesh. The barbs would make sure that trying to remove the spear would cause his target even more pain and suffering.
In any other context Specter would have turned on his own words, not showing his pack too much about what he knew, with that brutal weapon.
But he did not intend on showing them. This was his personal weapon for his personal path. They would have nothing to do with it and he was happy about that. They would not suspect a thing for now.
He had already told everyone about his desire to do something before going to sleep. A little ritual that would help him clear his mind in preparation for a peaceful slumber. As a human, this had always been his last or sometimes only cigarette of the day, ironically the very reason why he even came to this place. Without that ritual, he probably wouldn't have even seen the blue glowing Stone coming down from the sky. Of course, the pack had never really understood what 'smoking' is, why someone would burn a dried plant and inhale the fumes, but what they had understood was the basic concept of this little ritual. So they quickly got accustomed to Specter staying away from them for a few hours before going to sleep himself.
They all trusted him with their lives by now, he felt, and he did, too. In the last three weeks he had spent as much time as possible with each and every single one of them. He had always listened with great excitement and care to their stories and songs, trying to grasp as many details as possible from them. It had been such an amazing experience hearing about their past lives, their lives under different names in this 'Great Valley', how those ordinary children became the stuff of legends, and how he was actually a lot like them, despite the difference in time. Specter, just like the legendary Seven Hunters, had his life twisted around and basically destroyed. The major difference between them was that the Seven's sacrifice had at least led to a good ending. A reasonable ending. The death of a disgusting tyrant called Red Claw and his even more disgusting underling called Calin. The Seven Hunters were heroes, legends, saviors.
But his own ending would not turn out to be that, he could already expect that by now. He was nothing but a harbinger of apocalypse.
Still, it was in those last weeks that he truly felt excitement and joy, each day learning something new. All this while practicing his leaf-eater every single day for multiple hours. He even started thinking in this 'language' from time to time. After one particular hunt even, he had followed the survivors back to their herd, just so he could listen to their talking and maybe learn some new words.
It still felt like a dream to him. Those were dinosaurs he had befriended, after all, and they had established a society, rules and regulations. Of course, those were a lot blunter and less refined than what he was used to, but that didn't change the fact that they had them.
The pack was obviously very happy about his open, friendly and caring character, but they never fully saw the big picture. The true reason why Specter was so eager on hearing all of their stories and learning the leaf-eater language.
I guess they will understand soon enough... He thought to himself, letting out a sad sigh, still twisting and spinning the spear in his claws.
He has always been a loner. Never did that change with his transformation into a raptor, even though he technically now was dependent on his pack. He had to do things together with them. Nature demanded it. And he had to admit, he actually liked being around them very much. This has always been sort of a dream for him. Him and his friends, fighting against the hardships of nature and earning their presence on this planet. Only that those raptors were not his original friends. And he was no human anymore.
Despite all this, however, he needed his solitude. Sometimes he just needed to be alone, to clear his mind and to contemplate.
Ruby was the closest he could compare himself to. She, too, sometimes sought solitude in her Thinking Place, she, too, needed that to think and contemplate. But even Ruby was entirely different from him.
This made Specter remember the events over the last three weeks. With a heavy heart, he remembered one particular conversation with Littlefoot.
Five days earlier:
It had been another successful hunt for the predators.
The young longneck had wandered away from her herd against the bidding of her parents to explore the environment. Her final mistake, as it would later come apparent to her.
She had walked right into the pack's trap and Breeze and Leap injured her severely. Chomper had been on a hunt of his own, so the pack asked Specter if he could take over his part. The part of killing the prey.
He accepted, of course. He had struck the injured longneck down with ease. She had been begging for her life to the massive black sharptooth, not knowing if he could understand her words. Littlefoot, however, knew that he did to the most extent, and feared that it would cause Specter to eventually give in and spare her life, at least for another moment.
But he hadn't. After listening patiently for her to finish, Specter had replied to her pleadings with a firm "No." in leaf-eater, right before he slashed her throat with two accurate strikes of his sickle claws. She was dead in a matter of seconds.
Littlefoot was pleased to see him like this. It seemed like Specter had truly accepted his way by now. Still, he wanted to have a serious talk with him. There were still a lot of things he would have liked to know, especially about Specter's former family, so in the midst of the pack's feast he took him aside and prepared himself mentally for a talk from father to father.
"You know, I have never asked you about your age. How old were you before your change? I mean, the stone has made all of us a bit older, but we were still very young."
Littlefoot wanted to do this the careful way. Specter always acted very mature and calculating, but that could have been a side effect of his change. For all he knew, Specter could have still been a youngling in his former life.
"Well, I don't think it made me older. I was 21 years... cold times... whatever... old as a human. You are considered a grown-up when you turn 18 years old in most parts of the place where I'm from, so I definitely was an adult before as well."
"Interesting. So your parents must have been still young as well. What about your brothers and sisters?"
Specter looked at Littlefoot in surprise at first but soon realized that everything related to family went way different in this time.
"My parents were actually kinda old. My mother was 30 years old and my father 50 years old when I was born. And... I never had any brothers or sisters."
"Oh... I'm sorry to hear that. If you allow the question... Was it an accident or did someone kill them?"
Specter had to laugh at this which made Littlefoot look somewhat uncomfortable in return.
"No, they didn't die. I was born alone."
"Your mother laid only one single egg? I find that highly..."
Now Specter truly had an outburst of laughter, as he imagined the sight of a human emerging from an egg. He had to calm down first before he could speak any further.
"Seeker, humans don't hatch out of eggs. They are... coming out of their mothers... alive... in a way."
Littlefoot's face took on a disgusted look.
"Didn't I tell you? Oh, doesn't matter. You see, humans are what you call 'mammals'. Just like ground fuzzies for example. Their children are born alive of their mothers. I know, I find it a bit disgusting as well." Specter replied with a smile on his face. He took joy in Littlefoot's feelings, so he decided to go a bit further even. "However, I was different. See, humans grow inside their mothers' bellies until they are born. But there are some, and that includes myself, that grow pretty big and can't be born normally. There was a time in our history when that meant the mother's death, together with her child sometimes, but we found a way to prevent that. So basically, the 'healers' had to cut my mother open, got me out of her belly, and then closed the cut. That's how I was born."
Littlefoot looked at him with wide eyes. He needed a bit of time to recompose himself, as he found the detail in that practice beyond disgusting. That soon turned into concern, however.
"And what about your children? I mean, you are pretty big so... did they have to cut your mate open so she could give birth to them as well?"
Now it was Specter's turn to look at Littlefoot in surprise, although he was quick to elaborate.
"I never had children. Or a mate."
"You didn't? But you said you were older than any of us is right now. Did something happen to you during your Time of Mating?"
Specter had to laugh once again. It was almost surreal how different things like finding a mate were between two species.
"That's not how it works, Seeker. There is no 'Time of Mating' with humans. And you normally don't have children when you're only 21 years old. That's something you might start thinking about when you're around 30 years old. Or sometimes not at all."
"Gee, that sounds difficult. But didn't your instincts tell you that it's time to find a mate at some point?"
A coy smile appeared on Specter's face.
"Well... kinda... but most humans do... you know, the 'stuff that makes babies'... for fun. And some of them leave their 'mate' after that. There are... uhm... ways to prevent females from having children for that time." He quickly noticed Littlefoot's ever so surprised expression before extending his sentence. "Now, don't you make any plans on what to do with Ponder tonight. That stuff only, and I mean only, works for humans. I'll tell you a few more details about it another time, if you're so interested."
Specter's now beaming smile was retorted by Littlefoot's embarrassed look and two shakes of his head.
"Good. I'm sure you're already having your hands full with Biter and Swipe. Speaking of which... I would like to get back now before they eat the rest of my share as well, if you don't mind."
Specter had to sigh heavily at these memories. He had always disliked children as a human, to the point where he swore to never have any of his own. To him, children were loud, annoying and stupid. And he would have to bear all this for numerous years. However, the pack had become his new family now. His new life. And being around the children here made him feel completely different about that topic. They had all been so curious about his past and he had spent what seemed to be days just telling them about what his past life had been like. He had come to the point where he actually wished he had one or two of these little fuzzballs to look after, himself.
However, he was quick to dismiss these thoughts and memories. He had already made his decision, too. There was no going back now.
He would travel to the Great Valley, find those rainbowfaces and ask them how to get back to his time. And if that wouldn't be possible, he would either kill himself or wander as far away as possible before starting a new life in solitude. He owed the pack too much already, and he was already coming to a point where leaving them felt like his heart was breaking apart. But he could not give in now. He would not place his feelings over the fate of mankind. Seven billion humans were supposed to live in his time. He would not take their existence away by teaching the dinosaurs how to survive the extinction event.
And even if he wouldn't teach them anything, there was the chaos theory. The so called 'butterfly effect'. 60 million years were such a gigantic time span that every single one of Specter's breaths could have killed another species in the future. And it worked the other way around, too, which was why he was so heavily against showing them what he knew, or at least heard of.
That made him remember the dream he had almost three weeks ago. In his mind, he could see himself again, the massive black raptor with his own parents' blood on his claws. The sky on fire, their ash blowing away in the wind... It was only now that he fully understood these implications as he pushed aside memories of the female voice in his dream. His presence meant the extinction of mankind. His dream had been a testament to that, he now thought to himself.
But surely, there was still something he could do to prevent all this. He had to simply choose the harder right over the easier wrong, he decided.
No! I will not let that happen! I will not sacrifice seven billion humans for a few million dinosaurs! I'm sorry Seeker... Ponder... Haven... Taunt... Stern Claw... and all you others. But I can't place your kind above my own. Not above seven billion lives!
Hesitantly, he stood up and grabbed one of the vines he had already prepared. He quickly wrapped the green plant tightly around his body and placed his spear into its hold. He was all set now. This was it. His time to leave the pack that took him in and cared for him. He noticed he was on the verge of tears.
I... should at least let them somehow know. I can't let them think I've abandoned them for no reason!
He thought about his time with the pack again before marking the area around him with his urine. After he was finished, he analyzed his own markings. He could smell his own sadness and desperation. But there was no fear in that scent.
It was a message. A message, saying that he just had to make this decision.
Ok... I guess... that should do. Goodbye everyone. Thank you for everything. There is no way I could ever repay you all... But I have to do this. It's my destiny.
With that, he sprinted off towards his first destination. There, he would ask a certain fastrunner family for guidance to find the Great Valley.
Hanging Rock. Detras... Pearl... Arial... Orchid... I'm coming for you. I hope you're prepared for this...
Several hours later:
Specter had been moving nonstop for almost the whole trip, only resting for a few minutes whenever he felt thirsty. He wanted to reach Hanging Rock by sunrise.
He had calculated it all through. The pack would probably sleep in, which would give him some more time. Eventually, however, at some point in the next morning, they would find out that he was missing and go look for him. It would then probably take them another hour or so to find his markings. He already expected Ruby or Littlefoot to make their conclusions in a very short amount of time. After that, they would send Petrie to find him. And since a flyer can cover a lot of area in a very short amount of time, and since Specter's destination should have been clear to the pack by then, Petrie would probably find him around noon. And Specter knew what that meant. Trouble. And he didn't like trouble, especially not in this case.
And there was another problem. Although he had listened to their stories with utmost care, he naturally had never asked them for the way to Hanging Rock or the Great Valley. So he didn't actually know the exact paths to both places. He only relied on his sharp thinking and awareness of landmarks such as Saurus Rock, wherever they were.
He slowed down his pace. It was still nighttime and he stood before a fork. Two ways were going in different directions.
Shit! This is exactly why they need maps in this time! He sarcastically thought to himself.
Looking at the sky, he decided he would have enough time to rest a bit and wait for the sun to rise. He would most certainly find the correct path with some light, he deduced.
So he walked to a tall rock formation and curled himself up beneath it. Only now he started to feel the signs of exhaustion. His legs were burning like fire. Every single muscle in his body seemed to ache.
Hmm... Maybe I really should sleep a bit? I think I've covered enough ground already...
He closed his eyes as he let his body recover from the exertions.
"Ahh! These cursed ankle-biters! I hope your bodies will all rot away you pieces of spiketail dung!"
The giant brown two-footer was frantic. He took a short look at the massive gash on his flank before continuing his rage filled monologue.
"You seriously thought you could betray me, isn't that right Stalker?"
He spat on the ground upon mentioning this name.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but you don't just betray me! May the carrion flyers feast on your dirty flesh and that of your pack you rotten pile of scum! Nobody messes with Thrasher!"
Thrasher was limping slightly, but he figured his life wouldn't be in immediate danger anymore.
"Pah! It never was! You thought you could kill me?! You thought you could betray me like this?! Wrong!"
He was just about to continue his speech when he suddenly picked up a scent.
"What? Another fastbiter? Here? And he is alone?" He started laughing slightly. "Well, it looks like I have found myself another food-chaser. He better be not as stupid as you were, Stalker, or you will meet him in the Great Beyond! Then you can both watch me as I piss on your corpses!"
Specter had problems finding sleep. He had his eyes firmly shut but the thoughts inside his head just would not stop racing. He had already decided not to sleep after all, but rather to just relax his muscles a bit and then move on.
That was when he picked up a scent.
Hm? What is...? Shit! A Tyrannosaurus?! Oh this keeps getting better and better!
He didn't have any time to think about what to do now as he could hear the thunderous crashing of footsteps. And they were quickly getting louder.
He jumped up and grabbed onto his spear.
Guess I will see soon enough if this will penetrate the scales of these things...
After another few moments, the huge form of the two-footer was in visual range and he soon stood right before Specter.
Both sharpteeth eyed each other with utmost precision. Specter had learned a lot from Chomper about how two-footers viewed fastbiters, so he had already decided to do this the smart way.
"Fastbiter! You're in luck. I have decided for you to be my new ally. Either join me or die! And don't get any stupid ideas! That puny stick won't help against me!" The two-footer spoke up with a dominant tone in his voice.
Specter smiled. He would have another chance to try out his special 'trick' on another sharptooth. And this time it could save his life.
No emotions last time. But this should be interesting. Let's see if I can make it sound a little bit more 'believable'...
"I am honored to meet you." He started while bowing his head deeply. "They call me Specter. May I ask for your name?"
"I am Thrasher, fastbiter, and I don't care about your name! I just want to know one thing. Will you join me? Or will you die by my teeth?"
Specter still smiled. This was getting more interesting by the minute.
"I'm deeply sorry, sir! Of course I will join you! You know, I am indeed lucky. I just killed Seeker and several of his pack and now I'm looking for a strong ally. I take it that you have heard of them?"
"You killed Seeker? The fastbiter who defeated Red Claw?" Thrasher sputtered at Specter's words.
"The one and only. You know, he's not even that scary. Took me two attacks to rip his puny heart out. A shame that his children didn't seem to enjoy that display. What a pity. They would have made excellent subordinates... Well, they had to join their father at some point anyway."
"Don't you dare lying to me, fastbiter! How big of a fool do you think I am? Nobody can kill the legendary Seeker like that!"
"A two-footer defending an ankle-biter? I thought you were the mighty Thrasher? Don't tell me I have to look for another ally..."
Thrasher let out an angry growl. But he didn't want to take any unnecessary risks with this fastbiter. Specter's size didn't elude him, of course. And if it was actually true what he was saying, he would be extremely dangerous.
He started checking his scents and his eyes went wide immediately.
"So it's true! But I want to know... how and why did you kill him?"
Specter laughed viciously.
"Why? Because he is a fake! All this talk about him being invincible. Spiketail shit! He is flesh and blood just like any other sharptooth. But I have to admit, it took me quite some time. You know, I had to act like a fake myself. The fool let me into his pack and told me all his secrets. Nothing! No 'Stone of Cold Fire' or nonsense like that! Just another fastbiter upstart thinking that he can be a mighty sharptooth! So I said I didn't know how to hunt and he arranged one for me. Can you believe that? Me, not knowing how to hunt!"
Both sharpteeth now laughed viciously at this. But Specter wanted to go even further.
"And he only brought his mate with him. He didn't even ask how I managed to rip apart that threehorn. That fool! Then I just killed them both when they had their backs turned towards me and I threw their hearts at the ground in front of their children and pack. But they didn't want to join me so I had to kill another few. Sadly, the rest managed to escape. Disgusting excuses of fastbiters they are, if you ask me."
Thrasher was impressed. This fastbiter would be an excellent ally.
"Hah! I like you, fastbiter. You understand that only the strong can survive in this world."
"Indeed they do." Specter quite enjoyed making a fool out of this two-footer. But that was not the true reason he did so, as he continued his sentence. "And to prove my good mood, I know exactly where I could find you a nice, tasty meal!"
Now Thrasher was all ears. He had not eaten in almost two days, after his old food-chasers had supposedly betrayed him.
"Oh yeah? Well out with it! I could use a meal and you look like you could use a bit of blood."
"I like the way you think, Thrasher. Great minds think alike, you know? Well, do you know where Hanging Rock is?"
"Of course I do! But how do you know there will be food? Last time I checked it was abandoned."
Specter was jumping for joy inside. He didn't even consider Ruby's parents not to be there. She had told him often enough how good fastrunners were at hiding and running.
"That's because a whole fastrunner family lives there. You know how hard these are to catch. However, I know their daughter. They were my food-chasers once until I moved on. And I even let them live, so they will trust me easily."
Thrasher had to laugh again. An honest, cold laugh which made Specter shiver inside. But he couldn't allow his masquerade to fall. That would mean his certain death.
"Good, good. Let us head out then. We should be there before sunrise!" The two-footer finally concluded.
This guy is a monster! I have to get rid of him as soon as we arrive at Hanging Rock. I don't want to end like his last 'allies'!
Specter was fighting his own emotions. He could not let his fear or anger show, or Thrasher would kill him the moment he smelled it. After all he had told him about how he almost starved his pack to death, only to kill them when they wanted to leave, Specter's hate towards the two-footer was growing with every second. What disgusted him even more was the fact that Thrasher was so casual, so straightforward, about all that.
You think you're invincible yourself, huh? I will actually enjoy ripping your throat out!
He moved the spear he was carrying a bit closer to his forelimbs. Thrasher had not even asked him about his weapon once.
Shows how much of an idiot you are...
It was just before sunrise when they finally arrived at the massive rock formation known as Hanging Rock. Specter had told Thrasher that he would be luring the fastrunners out so they could be killed with ease. However, he would be in for quite the surprise now, Specter thought to himself.
"Alright fastbiter, we are here. Now, get me these fastrunners out so I can finally have my meal. If you're fast, I might even let you have one for yourself."
Another vicious laugh emerged his maw. But Specter didn't laugh with him anymore. His face took on a dark expression.
"I have bad news for you, 'two-footer'. I lied. I still am a member of Seeker's pack and the stories are true. But because I didn't lie about my good mood, I'll give you one chance. Leave, and never return. So? What do you say?"
Thrasher's laugh immediately died as he turned around to face Specter the moment he had started his sentence. The two-footer began to shake.
"You... YOU! How DARE you?! I should have known to expect nothing more from a fastbiter piece of excrement! You shall DIE for this! Nobody defies me!"
After his shattering roar of raw anger, Thrasher started his charge in an instant. Specter had just enough time to give one last retort.
He swiftly dodged Thrasher's attack and sprinted away to gain some distance. He raised his spear.
"I will END you!" Thrasher screamed as he began another charge.
Specter smiled. He leaned back.
He let his thoughts fly along with the deadly weapon. The two-footer was dead.
Or so he thought.
Only now it would come apparent to Specter that he could not replace years-long experience with intelligence. He had forgotten about one simple little detail before engaging the two-footer.
And as Thrasher lowered his head and easily deflected the spear with it, it was clear to Specter what that little detail was.
The top part of a Tyrannosaurus' head is heavily armored... A wooden spear would never penetrate his skull... Fuck!
He dodged Thrasher's attack once again, but this time he wasn't smiling anymore. He had just signed his own death sentence. It was easy enough for him to dodge the huge two-footer's mindless attacks, but he knew he would run out of stamina eventually. And Thrasher only needed to hit Specter once to break his hollow bones. The situation started to look grimmer with every second. Specter's mind was on overdrive, thinking about a solution. But there was none. He was doomed.
But he would at least give him a fight. He would not die in this place without at least ruining Thrasher's day.
He quickly sprinted towards his spear and picked it up while running. He started running circles around the two-footer as he was searching for any possible weak spot.
That was when he noticed the huge gash on Thrasher's flank. He had found his target. It was his turn now to command the pace of the engagement.
Not wasting any more time, Specter sprinted towards the two-footer. Thrasher was surprised to see the fastbiter suddenly charging at him. He prepared himself for a frontal crash. But Specter had other ideas.
He went right, then, just as he was about to make contact, left again. This caused Thrasher to miscalculate his counterattack, which enabled Specter to jump at his open side and to rip open the barely healed wound again. Thrasher screamed in pain but he wasn't finished just yet. He leaned his body over to Specter's side, seemingly falling right onto him. This made Specter jump back in surprise but also opened him up for an attack. The smack from Thrasher's massive tail almost knocked him out in one blow.
Specter was lying on the ground in pain, unable to move, still clinging the spear in his claws. He quickly swept his thorax with his free hand. No ribs were broken, it seemed. He was lucky, but still, he was done for. The two-footer would have no problems finishing him off now. Thrasher started laughing again, even though rivers of blood were emerging from his wound.
Specter looked up at the sky.
So this is how it ends... I'm pathetic. Why couldn't I keep my damn mouth shut for once?!
He could've sworn seeing a shadow appear on the huge cliff behind Thrasher's massive body.
"Heh... I told you... Nobody defies me! But you gave me a good fight, fastbiter. So, any last words before I kill you?"
Specter smiled widely.
Thrasher hesitated for a moment. He had never actually planned on granting the fastbiter his last wish.
A rock, about half the size of his own head, had hit Thrasher right on top of it.
That was the opening Specter had waited for. He jumped up to his feet, leaned back as far as he could and let the spear fly once more. He didn't make a mistake this time.
The spear penetrated Thrasher's delicate throat with ease.
The gurgling sounds emerging from his maw sounded like music to Specter. He just sat back down and let the two-footer suffer a slow and painful death. After two minutes, even the twitching of his body stopped and everything was silent. Thrasher had been defeated. The two-footer was dead.
He needed a few more moments to regain his composure. After that, he stood up again and took a good look at the top of the cliff. The shadow had colors.
It was a purple Oviraptor. Both raptors eyed each other for a bit before Specter yelled up at his savior.
"Why did you help me?"
The answer came immediately.
"Because I only know one pack of fastbiters that use pointed sticks."
So this must be her brother... Specter quickly noted.
"It's good to see you too, Orchid."
Although he couldn't see the fastrunner's expression from his position, Specter knew he had surprised him with that.
"Who... are you?" Orchid asked with some unsureness in his voice.
"I am Specter. We need to talk."
"You did us quite a favor, Specter. Thrasher was almost as annoying as Red Claw in his time. I'm glad you killed him." Orchid spoke to Specter, who was walking by his side now.
"I gave him a chance to leave, but he chose to attack me." Specter stated plainly.
"Why were you with that monster in the first place? I thought you were just another food-chaser. If I had not seen your pointed stick, I would have never helped you."
"You're truly a good Samaritan, Orchid." Specter replied sarcastically.
"I am a what?" Orchid didn't know the word but the tone in Specter's voice made the insult quite obvious.
"Nothing. Thank you Orchid, I really mean it."
"I hope so. You can also be glad that it was me on guard duty tonight. My father is too old to be pushing rocks around. So, why are you here? And why are you alone?"
Specter didn't respond outright.
"I... would like to discuss that with your whole family."
Orchid eyed him for a few seconds.
"And how do I know I can trust you?"
"You can't. But I can tell you some good news about your big sister. If you're interested, that is."
The fastrunner nodded in joy.
"Sure! Still, my father will want to have a word with you once we get home. Just let me do the talking."
Specter sighed loudly. He could already anticipate how Ruby's father would react to him.
"Of course he will..."
Both raptors quickly arrived at the top of the rock formation that was Hanging Rock. Three pairs of eyes were sternly looking at Orchid. It was his father who spoke up, although he did it in leaf-eater so that Specter wouldn't be able to understand it.
"Orchid! Are you out of your mind?! Why did you bring a sharptooth to our home? You know how vile fastbiters are."
Orchid wanted to give his calm response but Specter took it on himself to speak to the elder fastrunner. Also, it would finally enable him to speak proper leaf-eater again and maybe learn a few new words.
"Vile? Ruby won't be pleased if I tell her that her father speaks like this of her kind."
The assembled fastrunners' mouths fell agape. Even Orchid was overwhelmed by that.
"You... can speak leaf-eater?!" The elder fastrunner couldn't believe it. It was only now that he noticed the blood-stained spear Specter was carrying in the vines which were wrapped around his body.
"Well obviously. I belonged to Seeker's, or Littlefoot's, pack. Whatever you want to call him."
"Why have we never heard of you then? What is your name?" It was the elder female who asked that question.
"You could say I'm quite new around here. The name's Specter. Pleased to meet you all." Specter said and bowed his head respectfully.
"Wait. You said you 'belonged'..." The female elder started again, but Specter cut her off.
"Yes, I... left them. I didn't want them to have anything to do with this. There is too much at stake for me... Please... just give me a chance to explain all this to you."
The fastrunner family looked at each other for a few moments, before the elder male spoke up again.
"If you are friends with Ruby and her pack, then of course you are welcome here. Come inside, I fear this will take a while."
This took a load off Specter's mind. As the fastrunners all went inside, he looked at the rather small crevice that marked the entrance to their home and shifted uneasily. In the end, he managed to squeeze his body through the rocks, however. Now that he was inside, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the actual cave was way bigger than its entrance. He understood now how Hanging Rock could have been a safe haven for the fastrunners for such a long time. No two-footer would ever fit inside and even fastbiters would have great trouble finding their way around in the several small caverns and tunnels, which were leading in all kinds of different directions.
The five raptors sat down and Specter began retelling them a bit about his past and his journey to their home.
"Really? You just killed that disgusting sharptooth? We cannot thank you enough for this! Thrasher has been a thorn in our sides for quite a while now." Detras spoke in sharptooth again. They had all agreed on speaking in Specter's native language as this would make it easier for him to find the right words.
"It was mostly Orchid actually who helped me in taking him down. Without him, I would have been dead by now." He replied humbly.
Detras eyed his son for a few seconds before switching his attention back to Specter.
"Is that so? Well, I suppose his disobedience had a good cause for once." He looked at Specter's pointed stick for a few seconds before continuing. "Would you let me take a look at that?"
Specter handed him his massive weapon without hesitation.
"Sure, if it helps you in understanding where I come from..."
Detras took great care in inspecting the deadly stick. He was not surprised to see it, but this certainly was not the work of the casual sharptooth. Not even for the standards of Littlefoot and his pack.
"Interesting..." Detras responded after a while again. "You are also among the very few fastbiters I have seen having feathers. However, I still have one problem with your story..."
"What would that be?" Specter asked in surprise.
"It's simple, actually. You see, when we talked to the rainbowfaces during our time in the Great Valley, they made it very clear to me that the Stone of Cold Fire which changed our daughter and her friends, would be the last of its kind."
"Well... I guess they have been wrong then."
Detras thought about this for a moment, but the evidence was quite clear. The rainbowfaces really must have been wrong for once.
"I see... So this is why you left your pack? To travel to the Great Valley and talk to them?"
Specter laughed slightly.
"I can see now where Ruby got her sharp thinking from."
Upon mentioning Ruby, Arial and Orchid couldn't hold back any longer. They finally wanted to hear some news about their big sister.
"So, how is Ruby?" Orchid exclaimed.
"Yeah! She is doing alright, isn't she?" Arial added to her brother's question.
Specter smiled at the two siblings.
"She's doing fine. She's grown up into a fine fastbiter but she has never lost her heart or mind. She is one of the most intelligent and caring sharpteeth I will probably ever meet. But you knew that already, didn't you? Well, apart from that, she really helped me when I needed it most. I owe her a lot already."
The two siblings were jumping in joy after hearing that. They had not heard anything from Ruby for quite some time and even though their sister was a sharptooth now, they never stopped loving her for what she really was at heart. The adult fastrunners as well seemed very pleased to hear about Ruby's wellbeing.
Pearl then decided to get to the point.
"But you didn't just come here to tell us about Ruby, did you? You want us to tell you the way to the valley."
Specter nodded while giving his response.
"Yes. Talking to those rainbowfaces is the only way I can ever find peace. I will not mention coming here, should something go wrong... You don't deserve to have your names..."
"We have no reason to distrust you, Specter." Pearl interrupted him. "Although I don't really understand your behavior... You seem to have good intentions if you're willing to subdue yourself to a horrible sharptooth like Thrasher just to find out where we live. I don't know why, but you even gave him a chance to get away. I see that Ruby still has a habit of making great friends."
Specter was deeply moved by her words. But being who he was, he wanted to object. He didn't deserve this praise.
"I... Thanks, but I don't deserve your kind words. I betrayed my pack... I abandoned them for my selfish reasons... And after leaving the valley, I will never return to them. I am anything but a great friend..."
The fastrunners were all taken aback by this, but Pearl quickly regained her composure.
"Does that reason include the lives of others? Would staying with your pack have threatened these lives?"
"Yes... An uncountable amount of lives."
"Then you chose the harder right over the easier wrong. Nobody can blame you for that."
Specter looked at the ground, but still gave a firm nod as his response.
Detras then decided that it would be time to finally offer Specter the help he had come for.
"So, about how to get you to the valley..."
Some time later, in the pack's territory:
"Has he wandered off again?"
Ruby turned around to the annoyed voice of Cera, who was taken slightly aback by Ruby's look of concern and fear.
"The others are already looking for him but... I have a bad feeling about this. He has not talked much over the last few days, which means that there is a lot on his mind!"
"Oh please! I'm sure he just had another stupid sleep story and then ran off." Cera started, but she too had to admit that she was concerned. A lot, actually. "Maybe he went to that one place where he always goes? Come on Ponder, I'm sure we will find him around there somewhere."
Ruby nodded at this and both fastbiters sprinted off towards the place where Cera suspected Specter to be. But Ruby could not push aside her deep concerns.
Please don't do anything stupid, Specter...