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Mender's Tale; An in-between-quel of my other stories
Topic Started: May 25 2016, 08:26 PM (1,730 Views)
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/1/Mender-s-Tale


Several years before the events of Songs of the Hunters:

“Taunt, will you put that thing away and get to sleep?”

The orange fastbiter glanced at his companion with an amused expression. In response to her question he merely lifted the swimmer’s severed head and tilted his own. “What, dear? Are you jealous of last night’s dinner?”

The yellow fastbiter groaned in response and struggled to keep her voice level so as not to wake the others.

“I don’t see what all of you boys see in that silly game…” She then turned and covered her head with her claws as if to shut out the rest of the world. “Besides, you all know that I will win the game tomorrow.”

Taunt laughed as he tossed the swimmer’s head aside. “We will see about that, dear. Your unbeaten streak at ‘Capture the Head’ will have to end sooner or later!”

As the male fastbiter dodged a playful nip from his mate, he carefully lay down beside her. It was just another peaceful night for the pack.


Violet bit back a cry of pain and frustration when she tripped for the third time that night. Ow. Not again. She didn’t dare look around for sympathy, though. If her pack leader even noticed she would be very surprised.

“You okay?” Tracker, a somewhat smaller and younger packmate of Violet’s, quietly asked her friend.

“I’m fine,” Violet whispered back, trying not to be heard.

Much to the girls’ relief their pack leader had them stop. “We’ll wait here until Dodger gets back,” he said. The girls only nodded in response.

“He’ll be back soon,” Tracker assured her friend.

“I know,” Violet said. She shifted uneasily as she nervously scanned her pack leader. Prowler isn’t going to be happy if he takes too long.

Violet couldn’t help but flinch when Prowler glanced her way. It was no secret that he didn’t like her, and the feeling was mutual. Come on, Dodger. Hurry up and get back.


Petrie yawned deeply.

“Nothing out here tonight… not that me would see anything anyway.”

The boundaries of the pack’s territory seemed intact as the scent markings had been replaced mere hours before. Likewise, each pack member was sleeping in their sleeping spots and had pointed sticks at their disposal in the event of an alert. It was ironic in many ways that the pack’s unending paranoia actually let them to sleep easier at night than most packs.

“Anything out there, Spotter?”

Petrie looked down at the mention of his sharptooth name. A green fastbiter with a teal crest greeted him down below. That right, Petrie remembered, It be Finder’s turn to be on night watch.

“Nothing, Finder. Happy watching!”

Spike rolled his eyes at this. Being on watch duty was not an exciting job at all.

“Thanks, Spotter, though I think I will be bored out of my mind.”

Petrie merely chuckled and gave a nod in sympathy. He did not envy Spike staying up all night on a perfect evening like they had today.

Groaning once more for good measure, Spike called upon the other watcher to take her position.

“Ponder, you ready?”

The rose-colored fastbiter arose from the shadows with two spears in her hand. Carefully, she handed one to Spike and then pointed her own spear towards the ground.

“I am as ready as I will ever be. So let’s hurry up and get ready!”


It didn’t take long for Dodger to get back. “I found a spot we can rest for the night,” he announced.

Prowler just nodded in acknowledgement and gestured for Dodger to lead the way.

Violet was almost shocked at how short the walk was. What took him so long? , she wondered. The short walk didn’t stop her from complaining when they stopped, though. “Why didn’t we stop earlier when there were better spots?”

“What was that?” Prowler snapped.

“Nothing,” Violet replied, carefully backing away. I’m dead.

Dodger deliberately stepped between his sister and Prowler, pointedly facing his pack leader.

Prowler looked like he was about to say something but thought better of it. “Get some rest,” he commanded instead before lying down to do just that.

Violet had no problem following that order. She was asleep almost before she was on the ground.

Dodger laid down next to her but didn’t try to sleep. Someone has to keep watch.

“Room for one more?” Tracker asked. Dodger gestured to the spot next to him.

Tracker happily accepted the invitation. She was tired, but chances to talk to her friend when he wasn’t acting as pack deputy were rare. She could sleep later.


Ruby slowly strolled beside the stream. After several months in this new place their pattern had become a routine. One watcher would watch the open fields for any sign of disturbances, whereas the other would walk in front of the stream. It was a simple pattern which led to efficiency.

However it also led to boredom.

“I wish that I had something to do besides this thing that I am doing!” Ruby hissed in annoyance as she kicked a stick into the stream. She would rather be doing anything else right now. Sleeping beside Littlefoot… playing Capture the Head… hunting something…

But someone has to keep watch, she admitted to herself, I just wish it was someone else tonight.

Ruby shook her head. Complaining wouldn’t change anything so she resumed her steady trek across the woods. The stream was the only sound as its gentle waters flowed over rock and sticks. The only scent that could be smelled was the subtle smell of fastbiters.

That is exactly what I should smell from our markings, Ruby observed, we have to tell the others to stay away somehow, and…

Ruby stopped as her heart began to quicken. The pack never left scent markings by the stream as they did not want to contaminate the water. So the fact that fastbiters could be smelled here…

She ran to the stream edge and quickly tried to examine the source of the scent. That was when she saw them.

Footprints. The pack was not alone.

Alright, it took a while, but now it is time to begin Mender's Tale! :) This story is directly derived from a roleplay created by Historian1912 and myself, and though the pacing and subject-matter is based more on interpersonal interactions than my previous stories, I think it is certainly a worthy addition to the series that adds a lot to the backstories of our beloved characters. The internal story can be considered an in-between-quel, taking place between the Seven Hunters and Songs of the Hunters. My current plan is to have weekly installments from this point forward.

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/2/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 1: An awkward introduction

Hanging Rock, after the events of Songs of the Hunters:

"What happened?!"

Mender squirmed under the fastrunner's concerned expression. The fact that she was a fearsome predator and that Pearl was an omnivore made little difference to her.

"Um... That was kind of our fault."

Mender was spared the glares as her pack leader stepped forward with an apologetic bow. She had the lighter tones to her feathers that was common of females of her species, but had a posture that conveyed dominance. Cynnil soft-spoken words soon followed her placative gesture, "While I was explaining the situation to both of you, I sent the others to explain things to Arial."

The male fastrunner shook his head before sending his head into his hands in exasperation.

"Well, look at the bright side, ma'am. This is only the first misunderstanding this season," Buse, a light green member of Mender's odd pack noted. He had the dark green coloration typical of males, but had a noticeable kink in his tail.

"The season has only begun," Mender retorted with some regret. We really should have learned to leave the pleasantries to Cynnil. She did not allow her self-doubts to override her emotions, however, as she continued to examine Arial's eyes.

"Your eye holes aren't big, so that's a good sign," she noted absentmindedly, "Okay, try to follow my finger with your eyes."

As she moved her finger, Arial followed her finger by moving her head, which earned a shake of Arial's head, "Without moving your head."

Arial growled in annoyance but did as the fastbiter instructed.

"What are you doing?"

Mender did not turn to look at the male fastrunner as Orchid's curious voice called out, "I am testing her head. If her eye holes are normal, and her eyes are good at following, then that is a good sign."

"A good sign?" Orchid spoke impatiently as his scent reeked of so much concern and annoyance that even Mender could smell it, "So does that mean she is okay or not?"

Mender shrugged, "I still need to test her coordination." she then pointed at a feather on Orchid's back, "Okay, Arial, try to bite that feather."

Orchid tilted his head, "Wha..."


"Ow! That was not my feather!"

Arial smiled, "No, but she did bite what she was aiming for," the siblings glared at one another for a moment as Orchid rubbed his back. It was only after suppressing a snort at seeing that display that Mender finally turned towards the parents with a relieved expression, "Pearl? Detras? She should be okay. She doesn't have the head sickness."

"Oh thank goodness!" Pearl erupted as she embraced her daughter in a hug, which earned an embarrassed squirm and an audible protest from Arial. Detras's relieved sigh could be heard by everyone in the cave.

"Well, um... our apologies for the unfortunate introduction. I wish I could say that things usually go smoothly when we make a nest call, but..."

Detras waved his hand to cut Cynnil's speech, "I can imagine. You are a pack of hidden runners and a fastbiter. I don't imagine most strangers sit around and wait for your explanations," Cynnil's expression was confirmation enough for Detras that he was right, "My question is: why did Petrie not tell us ahead of time? We haven't seen him in weeks."

"That would be because he is helping Path find some tail," Buse offered helpfully.

"Oh for the love of..." Mender exclaimed as she looked at Cynnil apologetically at her helper's blunt assessment. Cynnil, for her part, merely rolled her eyes.

"As our packmate so bluntly put it... yes, Spotter is leading Path to where some potential mates might be available. He felt the call shortly after the battle apparently."

Detras deadpanned, "So he figured that he would start a new battle after barely surviving the last one?"

Now it was Buse's turn to tilt his head in confusion. His question was answered by Pearl, however.

"Two footers need to have a territory before courting, but it usually is not the males who need the territory... the males need to try to get invited into... um..."

"And sometimes the females try to make sure the males are worthy by challenging them," Detras finished.

Buse looked horrified, which made Cynnil smile with amusement, "And you thought our kind's way was difficult, huh?"

Perhaps out of embarrassment or nervousness, Buse began to prepare some no-infection sap by crushing two of the bulbs they had gathered for that purpose. For the first time in several moments Buse appeared to be at a loss for words.

Conversations about mating always made Mender feel uncomfortable. Nonetheless her concern for Chomper was obvious, "I hope that he is alright."

It was only then that Orchid seemed to soften his agitated facade, "Chomper is strong and smart. I am sure that he will find himself a nice mate that likes him."

"...or at least have enough sense to run off," Arial added.

Mender smiled, "I haven't heard him called Chomper in a long time..." she then carefully took the sap and began to cover Arial's cuts with the substance, "Not since I was a member of Seeker's pack."

This earned stunned expressions from all of the fastrunners. When they had a moment to process her words, however, they spoke nearly simultaneously.

"You were..."

"...my sister's packmate?

Mender was surprised by the reaction, but then promptly realized that she shouldn't have been. Idiot. This is Ponder's family. Of course they would find this to be important.

"It is a long story," Mender paused as she finished up work on Arial's leg, "It was before I was really an adult, or called Mender."

Detras's beak clicked in surprise, "You met them as a child?"

Mender laughed, "I guess you could say that. I had not had my first hunt yet."

Silence fell on the fastrunners for several moments as Mender finished her work on Arial's leg. That was when she realized that her current audience did not consist of predators like her. Me and my big mouth...

"But you had your first hunt with them. I remember the song."

Thanks, Buse. Even in my most awkward moments you make me appear reasonable.

"Perhaps we could hear the song too?"

Mender stared at Arial. Much to her surprise the fastrunner's face communicated no trepidation at the mention of predation. Her brother's reaction was even more unexpected.

"If the song involves sis's antics then it must be good! Just don't repeat the verses like she does... Ow! Mom!"

Mender could only look on in a mixture of bewilderment and amusement as the fastrunners laughed at the antics of the siblings, though this did not reduce her embarrassment at being asked to sing about that particular part of her life. Looking towards her pack leader, however, provided Mender with no reprieve.

"Yes, a song would be a nice way to introduce ourselves, don't you think?"

Crap. I wonder if this is what a trapped ground fuzzy feels like... "If... all of you are sure..."

"Yeah!" came Orchid's response as he carefully moved his tail out of reach of his mother and sister. The welcoming faces of the relieved mother and Mender's current patient confirmed that Orchid's assessment was shared by all.

"And we can share some of our tales as well. Though I imagine Ruby has told you many of them."

Mender tilted her head, "She mentioned some of them in her pack's song."

"It took me awhile to memorize that," Arial noted with pride.

"Well I would hope so! It nearly took a day to sing the damn thing!" Orchid was prepared this time, and leapt out of the way of his sister's bite.

"My song is not quite that long," Mender laughed. Their antics reminded her of a pack that she had met several years prior, "But I hope that you all find it worth remembering."

Detras and Pearl gestured for their guests to have a seat near the opening of the cave. Keeping in mind the fastrunner tradition, Pearl spoke next.

"Our apologies for not offering you food... we obviously did not know you were coming."

Mender blinked in confusion, Why would they be expected to provide us with food?

"Um... it is our custom to provide the meal," Cynnil offered as Buse suddenly left the cave to grab the few fish that the pack had gathered a few hours prior during their preparations to meet the fastrunners.

Well those preparations were kind of pointless, Mender noted, as she awkwardly spoke up, "Buse is getting some fish. We... um caught them a while ago."

"Sigh... so you spent time gathering fish, and you sent hidden runners to explain things to all of us, but yet it still ended up with my sister tumbling down a ledge?" Orchid questioned with amusement in his voice.

Mender looked down, This happens every time.

"Don't be sad, Mender. This just means that you have the same luck as my sister's pack," Arial offered while glaring at her brother, "They went out to touch a rock and ended up as sharpteeth. Nothing ever turns out normal for them, but they are still here."

Cynnil smiled, "From what Mender sung to us it seems that they were like that even as leaf-eaters."

"They were," Detras affirmed as he finally sat down, "And her siblings aren't any better..."


Mender blinked at the reaction of the siblings as Buse carefully dumped his handful of fish in front of the group. Cynnil's reaction was equally uncertain.

"And neither are her parents, as recent events have proved," Pearl added with a knowing smile as she handed a fish to her mate, "But enough about our mistakes... perhaps you could tell us how you met our daughter?"

Mender took a deep breath as she tried to process the sudden change in mood, Ponder's family is as confusing as Seeker's pack. "Well my brother and friend are in the song before I make an appearance. It all started with a misunderstanding."

"Of course it did... uph!" Buse was suddenly silenced by Cynnil stuffing a fish in his face.

Well I should probably begin before my helper decides to 'help' again.

Mender briefly turned her attention outside of the cave and focused on the bright Night Circle and the numerous stars surrounding it. Well, ancestors, let's see if I can carry a tune this time. And Taunt's ancestors? No laughing up there!

She turned back towards her audience and hesitantly cleared her voice, Come on, Mender, you can do this!

"Well, I won't keep you all waiting. I will now sing you the song of how I met Seeker's pack."

♪♪ It all began when the shelter we took
Was on the wrong side of the stream ♪♪

♪♪ Our pack of four was about to face
A threat from the night serene... ♪♪


Several years prior - moments after the events of the prologue:

Dodger had come close to dozing off when a scent passed across his nose. Fastbiter. Outsider.

Both Dodger and Tracker were instantly on their feet. Tracker, living up to her name, locked onto the scent first and started pursuing it. Dodger hurriedly woke Prowler and Violet.

“We’re not alone. Stay down,” the deputy said to the two former sleepers before darting after his friend.

Dodger soon caught up with Tracker. The green fastbiter gave the signal for ‘I see one’. Dodger nodded.

Tracker gestured towards the fastbiter, wanting to get closer. Dodger pointed to Tracker then himself, making it clear to Tracker she wasn’t going alone.

The duo split up, Dodger moving hard to the left while Tracker stayed directly behind their target.

Tracker kept closer, closer than Dodger would consider safe. One mistaken step told her why.


Spike swerved around in alarm at the sudden sound. In an instant he saw what had made the commotion.

A green fastbiter stared back at him. His reaction was nearly instinctual.

“Who are you, and why are you here?!”

Tracker stammered. She’d been caught and was far too close to make a run for it.

“Um...I..uh.” Tracker really didn’t know what to say. She started to back away slowly.

Dodger, fortunately, had been watching Tracker and quietly moved closer, coming in behind the larger fastbiter.

Spike was entirely focused on the female fastbiter. Her fear motivated him to press the issue.

“This is the land of Seeker and his pack!” He bared his teeth at the newcomer. “Unless you come bringing a peace offering then you are not welcome here!”

The fastbiter continued to back away, but then he noticed something. She seemed to be staring at something behind him.

Shit! Ambush!

He barely had time to turn around before the other fastbiter was upon him.


This is going to hurt, Dodger thought as he leapt at his opponent. He was surprised to encounter more stick than fastbiter, though.

Wanting to help, Tracker made her own leap while the large fastbiter was distracted.


Spike screamed out of surprise as Tracker slammed against his back and slashed against his flesh. Out of instinct more than anything else, he swerved to the left and collapsed to the ground. In a swift motion he again rose from the ground and aimed his spear at the female.

“Yield or die!”


Ruby was nearly out of breath as she sprinted towards the sleeping areas. She did not want to call out an alert and lose the element of surprise, but she had to alert the pack immediately nonetheless. If she couldn’t do that with her voice then she would have to do that with her feet.

She nearly collapsed in front of Littlefoot, which caused him to jump up in surprise. In an instant everyone was awake.

“Ponder, what is it?!”

Ruby took a gasping breath. “Fastbiters! Fastbiters have invaded our territory!”


The rest of the pack stared in the direction of Spike’s booming voice. It seemed that the battle had already begun. Not wasting any time, Littlefoot gave the alert call to Chomper for a fastbiter invasion then, with a booming voice, addressed the rest of his pack.

“Grab your pointed sticks! We have to save Finder!”


Dodger was not a dinosaur prone to losing sense when angered. Threatening Tracker, however, was one of two things that made him go from fighting mad to murderous. The other was threatening Violet, which wasn’t a safe option even when Dodger wasn’t around.

His vision turned red, Dodger leaped at Spike, intent on tearing the larger fastbiter’s throat out. All he succeeded in doing was unbalancing Spike enough that he had to retreat a couple fastbiter lengths to avoid creating a fatal opening.

Tracker scrambled to her feet and all but hid behind Dodger. She was nearly scared out of her mind.

Spike weaved to his left as the rampaging fastbiter again tried to lunge at his throat.

All I need is a clear shot…

He stayed back, however, and avoided making a bold move. He knew that his spear was the great equalizer in this battle. If he were to overextend himself then he might lose his spear, and then his life would follow.

Come on, you idiot! Come a bit closer…

Spike raised his spear a bit higher as if he were trying to impale something just above Dodger’s head. Then, with deliberate slowness, he edged backwards as if he were about to flee.

Let’s see if you take the bait…

Dodger wasn’t quite sure what to make of the stick, but he had cooled off enough to see that he was being baited. He intentionally started backing up a few steps.

One. Two. Three.

“Tracker, run!” Dodger shouted as he turned to do the same. He practically pushed Tracker into running at an angle to her original direction, almost directly towards the stream. They couldn’t risk leading this guy back to the others. Hopefully they could outrun him or at least make him lose interest. Or better yet get out of this territory.


Littlefoot panted with exertion as he and the others sprinted towards Spike’s scream.

Hold on, Finder! We are coming!

His legs burned with energy as he hands shook with anticipation. Ruby’s alert about foreign fastbiters had stunned him, but Spike’s scream had made his surprise turn to red-hot rage.

Now he wanted blood.


Breeze’s call broke Littlefoot out of his daze as she hissed in the direction of the intruders.

Littlefoot focused his eyes on the scene ahead of him. It appeared that Breeze had made the observation before he could even process it. The green body of Spike could be seen running through the distant grass, while the shaking grass ahead of him indicated the source of his determined sprint. Spike had the intruders on the run.

“Chase and kill!” Littlefoot barked out with unusual vitriol, “No one attacks our home! No one!”

The aggressive shouts of the others echoed his sentiments as the pack spread out into a line with their spears aimed ahead of them.

The other pack may have started the fight, but they were determined to end it. Like the roar before the arrival of a storm their shrieks of rage could be heard into the night.

The chase was on.


Violet could hear numerous shrieks in the distance. Her heart sank. It sounded like a whole pack of fastbiters had found her brother and her friend.

“We’ve got to help them!” Violet nearly shrieked at Prowler, who had yet to move since hearing the enemy fastbiters.

“How?” Prowler demanded, “Did you not hear all that? There’s got to be at least twice our number even if Dodger and Tracker were here.”

“So you’re just going to leave them?!”

“If it saves the rest of the pack, then yes.”

“There won’t be much of a pack without them!” Violet could barely stop herself from attacking Prowler. You... you coward.

The pack leader turned away. “He’d come after you!” Violet shouted. She was beyond angry now. My brother is a better leader than you could ever be.

“We are leaving,” Prowler hissed dangerously.

“Make me,” Violet hissed back, putting every ounce of contempt she had into the juvenile phrase. I’m not leaving my brother, you pile of spiketail dung.

Why you little… Prowler lunged at Violet, slashing her across the nose.

Violet jerked back with a shriek of pain.

Rather than take advantage of Violet’s distraction, Prowler froze. His eyes communicated rage but also something else, something Violet couldn’t identify. In a moment that seemed to drag on for an eternity, Prowler turned and sprinted away, leaving a very confused and injured fastbiter in his wake.

Violet watched him go, still surprised there hadn’t been another attack.

Hearing further shrieks, Violet turned towards the sound and ran to help what was left of her family and her pack.


Ducky growled in frustration at the two fastbiters in front of them. First they had invaded their home, and now they had attacked her brother. This unprovoked assault unleashed something primal in the green fastbiter. Something unexpected.

Her eyes narrowed at the retreating forms in front of her. One was pulling away from the rest of the pack despite their best run, whereas the other was still in their sights.

You will not get away from us! We will catch you, we will! We will!

What happened next came to Ducky in a blur. It happened so fast that she was unaware if it came from instinct or her vindictive thoughts. All that she knew was that within a split second her spear had sailed from her hand and lifted off into the night sky. She only consciously registered her target when the spear was well on its way.

Let’s see if you can dodge this!


Tracker kept her focus on Dodger’s tail. She did her best to keep up, but Dodger was unintentionally putting some distance between himself and her. She didn’t dare look back.

All of a sudden she felt a slight sting and jerked away. Unfortunately for Tracker she overbalanced and sent her world spinning. She yelped in panic. Shaking herself off Tracker tried to start running again. She made it maybe three steps before going down once more.

Dodger was practically at Tracker’s side the instant she hit the ground. “You okay?!” he asked worriedly.

“My leg’s not working!” Tracker shrieked, her voice now conveying extreme pain as well as panic.

Dodger stared at the oncoming fastbiters. It nearly got him killed; a sharpened stick came less than a claw’s length from impaling him in the throat.

Despite the chaos Dodger was completely calm. He accepted that he was probably going to die, but, if there was a chance of saving Tracker’s life he was going to take it. She was his responsibility, and he really liked her. Oh, who was he kidding? If they both got out of this alive he was going to tell Tracker he loved her.

Tracker clutched her ankle mournfully as the sensation of feeling evaporated from it like ground sparkles on a warm day. Within the span of a few moments she had gone from being in peak physical condition to being an invalid who could not even rise from her prone position. She now realized that it was in this position that she would soon die.

A choked sob left her throat as she could hear the mindless horde approach her. She could only imagine what sort of end would await her at their hands. However, it was the falling of a single spear that broke her morose thoughts.

The spear had embedded itself mere inches away from her friend’s throat. Yet, Dodger remained where he was, like a silent sentinel. Every expression and mannerism from him communicated his acceptance of his fate.

She frowned. He may accept that fate for himself, but she would be damned if she would be accepting of it.

“Run, Dodger! Save yourself!”

Her friend looked taken aback by her words, as if their implications were something that he refused to accept. His response came in a choked, barely understandable jumble of words.

“No, Tracker! I won’t leave you here… you…”

Tracker growled as she closed her eyes in an effort to drown out the rising pain and fear. If she could not save herself then she could at least save him. For she knew exactly what he was trying to convey in this last few tense moments. They were feelings that she felt herself.

With a herculean effort she raised her hand and touched her friend’s face. With a soft, firm voice that came from acceptance she spoke into his eyes.

“I love you too, Dodger, but you can’t save me. Save yourself and live a good life. That is all that you can do for me now.”

A good life? Without you I don’t have a life worth living, Dodger thought before tearing his gaze from Tracker. He didn’t respond verbally, but his actions made his intention clear. Planting himself between Tracker and the oncoming pack, Dodger got ready for what would was probably going to be the last fight of his life.

Littlefoot’s roar echoed into the night. Within an instant all of the others had assumed an envelopment strategy and kept a wide berth around the stricken fastbiter and her defender. It was a maneuver that they had practiced many times before.

Ruby’s face was grim as she raised her spear at the small male. The smell of desperation, anger, and fear emanated from him like smoke from a roaring fire. He obviously knew that this was his final battle.

Beware those who have nothing to lose, her thoughts cautioned.

She remained silent as Ducky took a position at Ruby’s side. Despite no longer having her spear she could still provide backup.

“Was it worth it?”

Ruby turned in shock at Ducky’s sudden question. It was an unspoken command that they should remain silent and let the pack leader do the talking, but it seemed that Ducky’s rage had demands of its own.

“Was your worthless life worth attacking my brother, you fiends?!”

Dodger kept silent. There was nothing he could say that would be appropriate. He was pretty sure that “Your brother threatened my friend when she was cowering.” would not go over well.

“Or my mate, you bastard!” Breeze’s enraged form suddenly appeared, her spear pointed directly at Dodger. She seemed to stop right where Ducky had terminated her advance, as if an invisible line existed there that only they could see.

Expecting an attack, especially from either of the fastbiters that spoke, Dodger crouched into a ready position.

Littlefoot took a deep breath in order to calm his already frayed nerves. He could not fault Ducky for her outburst, nor Spike’s protective mate, but now was not the time. With a single raised hand he commanded silence.

“You are in our territory. We do not take kindly to that, intruder.”

He circled to his left, as he gestured with his tail to the others. Two flicks to the left and one to the right. The meaning was clear in the pack’s code. Within moments two of their number circled outward in case any other members of their pack attacked, and one quietly maneuvered to sneak behind Dodger.

But first he wanted answers.

“Who sent you? Or did you honestly think that you could challenge the pack that bested Redclaw? The pack that was ordained by the stone. The pack of Seeker.”

He narrowed his eyes at the fastbiter as his friend began to howl in pain. He would get right down to business.

“Who are you, and why the fuck are you here?!”

Dodger knew who this pack was. He’d heard of them before. Trying to figure out a good way to respond to Seeker, or at least he assumed that was who was speaking, was a bit of a challenge. The brown fastbiter definitely seemed to be the one in charge. This was probably going to end badly if the fastbiters that disappeared and were probably coming around behind him were any indication, so being entirely polite would be a waste of effort.

“Is this how you treat wanderers? We’ve encountered no markers indicating the territory was claimed, and you attacked my friend when she wasn’t even thinking of being a threat. You say you beat Redclaw. Congratulations on becoming his replacement,” Dodger growled.

Congratulations on getting yourself killed, Dodger. Almost paradoxically Dodger moved to one side of Tracker rather than remain in front of her so he could get a glimpse of what was definitely behind him.

He did his best to ignore Tracker’s crying. There was nothing he could do for her. They would probably be going to the Great Beyond together in a moment.

Spike gripped his spear in a mixture of anger and agitation. His first instinct was to put a permanent end to the mouthy fastbiter, but his words had a greater impact than his features conveyed.

We didn’t mark our territory by the stream…

The look in the injured fastbiter’s face was heartbreaking, but not as heartbreaking as the look in Dodger’s eyes. He obviously knew that he was doomed.

Are we becoming the next Redclaw?

That taunt had stung the hardest. In the past year they had undertaken some rather unsavory actions, from chasing away other packs to terrorizing herds. All of this was done into making a fearsome reputation and securing their territory from any challengers. But had they in the process lost sight of the bigger picture?

It was in that moment that he saw Littlefoot’s gaze fall upon him. Of course, it was partially his choice. Spike had been the one who had been directly attacked, and thus it was his choice whether vengeance was still demanded. Despite his anger and the instinctual desire to shed the blood of his attackers, he knew what the right choice actually was.

“Let him talk,” Spike uttered in leaf-eater, “No one has died yet today.”

Littlefoot nodded at Spike’s words as the implications were clear. They would give the fastbiter a chance. Despite an angry growl from Breeze, she and Ducky remained silent as the tradition demanded. It had been Spike’s choice.

With noticeable exhausted, Littlefoot spoke again in a disbelieving voice.

“You seriously had no idea where our territory was?”

“Had we known, we would have either tried to go around or turned back entirely. We haven’t survived as long as we have by looking for trouble,” Dodger answered. He was more than a bit surprised to still be alive but was already trying to figure out a way to survive this mess. He’d already decided it best to be as polite as possible from this point on lest he provoke an attack.

Littlefoot’s spear shook slightly at the other fastbiter’s words. The stench of fear was ever-present, but he could detect no subterfuge. However if that was true then that could only confirm one possibility.

“Who are you exactly?” Littlefoot attempted to shift the conversation in order to garner more information, “Who is your pack leader, and why is he not telling us all of this?”

“My name is Dodger, deputy to Prowler. The last time I saw him was back where we were sleeping. We smelled one of your guys and decided to investigate to get a better idea of our situation.” Dodger managed to calm himself, mostly. He was afraid, but now he also had reason for hope. “It's something we do all the time, usually without anyone knowing we were there. Had Tracker here not stepped on a stick we would have withdrawn at least to the other side of the stream and gotten as far away as we could in the morning.” Dodger wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to mention what the other half of his pack was probably doing at the moment, especially since he wasn’t entirely sure himself.

“Spread out and stand watch!”

Littlefoot’s barked order echoed into the night as Dodger looked at him in confusion. The leaf-eater words sounded like bellows and screeches to the defeated fastbiter. Within moments only Ruby, Littlefoot, and Taunt were in front of the two fastbiters as the others took positions around the group.

“You will forgive us for not assuming that your friends have our best intentions at heart?” Taunt’s words were obviously dripping with sarcasm, but they conveyed no obvious malice.

Ruby nodded though her attention was focused on something else entirely, “I think that will need to be treated. Otherwise we will not be able to treat it when we need to.”

Littlefoot paused at the words of his companion. The pain from the silent fastbiter was obvious through her clenched jaw and tense claws. It was as if she were fighting a battle that she could not see.

“Where do you feel the pain? We need to know how far it has spread,” Littlefoot asked softly.

“M-my leg,” Tracker replied almost without thinking. She did her best to gesture to the area above her injury. The painful part encompassed most of her leg.

Dodger looked down quickly but didn’t actually get closer to Tracker. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the other pack; literally risking his neck wasn’t an option right now.

“Then we don’t have much time,” Littlefoot’s voice broke through Dodger’s contemplation, “When the Orange Death reaches the chest then it is over.”

Dodger just stared at the pack leader, at a loss for words. Tracker apparently wasn’t.

“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” Tracker asked sullenly. She had no idea how a poison could be stopped. She just tried to avoid them.

Littlefoot’s face took on a determined expression that was equal parts reassuring and frightening, “Not if we can help it… Dodger, we will watch Tracker while you get the plants. You have asked us to believe a lot from you… now we ask the same of you.”

Dodger looked at Tracker to give himself a moment to get himself under control. He didn’t mind helping. He was more concerned about leaving Tracker alone.

“I’ll need someone to help me find what is needed. The only plant I know of is the Night Flower, and Tracker taught me that,” Dodger said, “I also have one condition. The one that threw the stick stays away from Tracker.”

Silence reigned for several moments as the tension hung over the dinosaurs like a thick fog. The eyes of the pack leader stared deeply into the eyes of Dodger as neither blinked or averted their gaze. Littlefoot didn’t change his expression as he spoke into the night.

“Taunt, accompany him. Haven… stay where you are.”

Dodger had just gotten his conditions, but the pack had also gotten theirs. Alone with the pack, Tracker was entirely at their mercy if Dodger tried anything funny. A hostage in all but name.

Tracker bit back her objection at being left. Dodger definitely didn’t look like he wanted to leave, and she didn’t want to make him feel even worse.

Once Dodger was out of sight Tracker tried to get a good look around while not being too obvious about it. She trusted Dodger to do everything he could for her, but she did not trust the fastbiters currently with her. They scared her, the leader especially. She’d overheard a few stories about Redclaw over the years, despite Dodger and Prowler’s efforts to not scare her and Violet more than necessary. If these fastbiters were to be believed, they had killed that monster. Why they hadn’t just killed her already she’d never know. Didn’t you have to be as ruthless as Redclaw to defeat Redclaw? The two fastbiters standing over her certainly looked the part.

“You should put some pressure on that to relieve the pain. The pain can be relieved by some pressure.”

“What?” Tracker asked. She was surprised anyone was even talking to her. The repeat was just confusing.

“The pain can be relieved a little by pressure,” Littlefoot confirmed, “I found that out when I had a little accident with the stuff…”

His voice was interrupted by a nervous chuckle. “I would not recommend practicing fighting with that stuff. It doesn’t end well.”

Tracker stared at the fastbiter. She wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not. Just having a conversation was surreal enough. Who knew her first conversation with a fastbiter not in her group would be one that was trying to kill her just a little while ago?

Littlefoot leaned down and looked at the fallen fastbiter. “Believe it or not I do not enjoy killing, outsider. I hunt to eat; I kill to defend; but I do not kill for pleasure. If you honestly came across our territory by accident then the last thing that I want to see is for you take your final breath.” Littlefoot paused for a moment as if he were thinking about something. “Speaking of which, I know that it is hard, but try to take small breaths. The poison travels faster as you breathe faster.”

Tracker practically stopped breathing for a moment. If they were trying to kill her, they were putting way too much effort into it. Getting control of her breathing she pretended she was on a hunt. Don’t breath loud. Stay calm.

“Stop where you are!”

Littlefoot turned at the sudden exclamation from Cera. It seemed that their momentary respite had come to an end.

“Ponder, guard Tracker!”

Then, as suddenly as he had spoke, Littlefoot disappeared into the darkness.

Tracker wasn’t sure if the guard order was to watch or protect her. Maybe it was both? Unable to do anything else, she continued to focus on her breathing and waited for Dodger to return.
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The Lone Dragon
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Release The Dragon!
Nice intro and starting chapter mate :yes

I wondered how it would be structured, similarly to TSoTH, with songs. I very interesting prologue you can really feel the tension between Prowler and his pack but Violet especially. I wonder if he will have a large role in this story. The fist chapter was really good just as good as your previous works. The night time ambush scene was very interesting and I was surprised by Ducky' sudden anger but you explained that well. I'm also glad that the pack did not kill Tracker and Dodger, they still are good Sharpteeth here.

Though I do wonder what will happen with Violet and how they will help Tracker, the little romance between her and Dodger was also very nice, also it was nice to see you start at Hanging rock with the Fast Runners. I also really enjoyed the banter between the Fast Runners and Cera and Taunt (Typical). Very good start and also Hidden Runners and a fast biter, I wonder how that pack formed.

I look forward to seeing the next chapters.
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Thanks for the review, Lone Dragon. :) Sorry, I must have missed your review until now. As for structuring, that is a good question as this story is a modified roleplay with Historian1912 that has been written over many months. My current plan is to alternate between the 'present' with the fastrunners and then to tell songs (or have Mender remember things) that shows the story itself. Though, as I found out with Songs of the Hunters, sometimes those 'extras' outside of the story can lead to a story in itself. :p So I guess we will have to wait and see what develops. :yes
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/3/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 2: Mender's Entrance

An unexpected introduction. That must be Mender making her entrance.

Orchid considered the violet fastbiter for several moments as she finished the chorus of her first song. The singing of stories was not unknown to him, considering that it was how Petrie often communicated the adventures of his pack when he visited the fastrunner family, but it was not a common way for fastrunners to convey ideas.

"Is that the entire story?"

Orchid's beak clinched slightly as his sister whispered into his ear, the tiniest hint of a smile forming on his face.

"I think that is just the beginning... It's the... um..." Orchid struggled to think of the word.

"Introduction song," a third voice suddenly whispered.

Orchid turned his head slightly only to see Cynnil's eyes smirking at him with amusement. Despite the obvious lack of malice, there was something predatory about the kind troodon's expression that made Orchid shiver.

Good job, Orchid. You have been caught in the act by Mender's pack leader. I am sure that a pack of hidden runners and fastbiters are exactly the sort of people you should disrespect by whispering over someone's song.

Despite his self-criticism, however, Orchid did not leave his train of thought. There was something odd about the fastbiters wavering chorus. Something that he couldn't quite place.

She's nervous.

His eyes went wide at that realization. He couldn't quite understand where that thought had come from, but as soon as he took a deep breath he realized what had given him the idea. The scent of nervousness and uncertainty. Gone was the cold efficiency of the dutiful healer and in its place was a scent that seemed to belong to someone else. It was then that he caught sight of Cynnil's expression once more. The look that she gave communicated volumes.

Now you know. Don't make her feel worse.

The song finally came to an end as Mender's voice came to a slow hum. He had little experience in gauging the quality of fastbiter songs as Petrie was where he had heard most of them. Though Petrie's speech impediment was almost non-existent when he sang, there was something enticing about hearing a song from the voice of a new singer. He was going to show respect to Mender for the song even before his recent revelation, but Mender's nervousness only confirmed his course of action.

He began stomping his foot in applause.


Mender finished the last tones of her introduction with a mixture of uncertainty and inadequacy. Singing was never her strength, and though she knew that her pack would not belabor her acoustic failings, she had her doubts about singing to a crowd of strangers. Worse yet was the blatant desire of the fastrunners to end the song...

Is that the entire story?

The words of Arial dwelled in her mind. It had been made in a whisper, but to her ears it might as well have been said aloud. It was obvious to Mender that her patient was too polite to critique her singing, but obviously wanted it to end. With that in mind she brought her song to its conclusion and prepared to make an excuse on the fastrunner's behalf. I could say that I am losing my voice, that would be believable, wouldn't it? But that was when she heard it.


Mender blinked at the reactions of the two young fastrunners, but her eyes were not deceiving her. The two were stomping their feet in the polite applause that was common for their kind. Well, stomping her foot in Arial's case. Mender smiled slightly at that. For once she was not distressed about completely misreading the situation.

"You are correct, by the way, Orchid," Mender offered which cased the male fastrunner to stop applauding and to take on a mortified expression that made Detras and Pearl laugh openly, "That was the introduction. The full song is much, much longer."

Orchid was frozen in silence, but his sister was not at a loss for words, "You heard us?"

Mender chuckled lightly as she pointed at her ears, "I have very good hearing. That is one thing that I have going for me anyway."

"You have many strengths, Mender, don't count yourself short," Cynnil chided gently.

"Yeah!" Buse affirmed, "No reason to be nervous, you sang gre--- hey!"

Cynnil looked at Pearl with a amusement as the fastrunner quickly put on an innocent expression. Buse, for his part, continued to look at the others in confusion. Not quite sure where the offending rock had come from.

Perhaps wishing to spare his mate any suspicion for the act of stopping Buse's overactive mouth, or perhaps simply wishing to change the subject from something that would embarrass their guest, Detras interrupted the others.

"So you used to be called Violet? Interesting... And your brother is named Dodger?"

It was times like this that Violet hated not being able to read others well. Are you trying to distract Buse from suspecting your mate? My pack leader approves of her aim so that shouldn't be an issue... or are you actually curious? Promptly realizing that she was daydreaming, she quickly answered his question.

"My youngling name was Violet," she affirmed with a nod of the head, "And Verant used to be called Dodger. Tracker is now called Staza."

"Why do you sharpteeth change your names anyway? Violet sounds like a perfectly fine name, since you are, well, violet." As if to punctuate her point Arial pointed at her brother's violet feathers, "And Ruby's name was fine too. I would have to ponder why she was named Ponder... ow!"

Orchid quickly dodged Arial's bite of reprisal as he looked at her cheekily, "You know what mom says about talking double!"

"Oh, so you do that too?" Violet asked as if the playful spat between the siblings had not happened. I guess it would make sense that Ponders's way of talking runs in the family.

Arial looked embarrassed, "Not all the time..."

"Talking double does kind of run in the family," Pearl spared her daughter the task of making the explanation, "Though Ruby did it a lot. I think she got worse from teaching Chomper the leaf-eater language."

Violet tilted her head at this, Teaching Path? I must have missed that song!

"He already knew how to speak some, but our daughter decided to teach him the rest," Detras rolled his eyes at the memory, "Which she did without telling us... but sorry, Mender, I think that we talked over your answer."

Violet was confused for a moment before remembering what had been asked a few seconds prior, "You will have to tell me that story at some point, but as for the youngling name..." she began to gesture with her hands, "The youngling name is like a guess of who you will be, but the pack name describes who you are."

"So since you mend people, you are called Mender?" Orchid asked.

Violet nodded, "Exactly."

"And one of Haven's and Leap's children is named Dodger, was she named after your brother?" Detras asked curiously.

The look of absolute shock on Violet's face was apparent to everyone present, They... they named one of their kids Dodger? The flyers left out that piece of information.

"They... they did?" Violet sputtered, "I... well, I assume that Verant knows..."

She took a deep, calming breath, "That is a gesture that would have seemed impossible back then."

Detras nodded as the violet fastrunner tilted his head, "I would imagine so considering what Ducky nearly did to your packmate."

Violet sighed, "Not just that... not just that..." That is a part of the song that I will spare them the details.

Detras misread Mender's intentions as he noticed Violet's obvious emotional struggle, "Well it is getting later, perhaps you would like to continue the story tomorrow..."

"No." Mender's voice rang out with surprising firmness, "I will sing you all of the song which we usually sing to the night. Nothing less... and nothing more."

As if sensing the awkward impasse in the conversation, Cynnil stepped forward and tilted her head at Violet, "The next part of the song requires a second singer, right?"

Violet smiled slightly, "Right. Alright... let's continue the song." Alright, Mender. They liked your introduction so the next part should not be too bad. Well, besides the embarrassing details... She shook her head, Enough thinking, let's get this started again.

♪♪ In rage and fear I disobeyed
Seeking my friends whom had stayed ♪♪

♪♪ But as my body sprinted into the night
Seeker's pack was ready to fight... ♪♪


After the events of chapter 1:

Violet was trying very hard not to leap at the fastbiter confronting her. I can’t believe I got caught! Wait, that’s wrong. Not being caught would mean the other pack is blind, deaf, and snifferless.

Cera stared down the violet-colored fastbiter with an icy glare. She had no idea what was going on in the enemy fastbiter's mind, but the deeply contemplative look made her fearful of a trick. Little did she know that Violet's thoughts were more introspective than strategic.

Okay... what would Dodger do? Stupid question! Dodger wouldn’t have gotten caught! Violet was self-admittedly the worst of her pack at hiding and any part of hunting that involved sneaking. Her only real gift was her speed. She could outrun anyone, despite being both the smallest and the last in her nest to hatch. That might come in handy right about now…

Cera clenched her hands firmly against the spear. It seems that our kindness is about to bite us in the ass! Don’t try me, scale-ass!

As Cera squared off with the small fastbiter she could see a familiar shadow out of the corner of her eye as Ducky's discrete form shifted behind her in preparation for a possible reprisal attack. Cera smiled, and Purple over here thinks we are alone...

Violet kept her focus on the fastbiter in front of her, having not noticed anyone else. The other fastbiter was bigger than her, probably bigger than Dodger... some part of her mind added. Only her fear for her brother, and a lack of common sense, kept her from backing up a step.

“Where’s my brother!” she demanded.

She did not see the fasbiter emerge from the bushes until his spear was already at the ready.

“Trying to find a plant that will save your friend.”

Violet stared at the new brown fastbiter with a mixture of surprise and rage. How did he appear out of nowhere? His reference to saving her friend only barely registered in her mind before Littlefoot spoke again.

“I would advise against charging forward unless you want him to try to save you as well.” The arrogance in Littlefoot's voice was offset by obvious concern. “I think that your friend would like to see you now… but only if you keep your claws to yourself, outsider.”

Violet gritted her teeth in frustration but backed down. She’d already caused her brother enough trouble by disobeying a direct order from her own leader. She was pretty sure she wasn’t going to escape a lecture as it was. No sense making it worse.

Cera edged closer to a nearby bush and aimed her spear firmly in Violet’s position. This was followed by the fastbiter emitting a series of unintelligible screeches and hisses. Upon hearing a hiss back from somewhere behind her, the fastbiter then nodded and gestured towards the bush.

I was surrounded?!

As if to answer her unspoken question, Cera spoke, “She is in that direction. Don’t do anything stupid. We will be watching.”

Then, without taking her eyes off of Violet, she edged behind the bush. Only Cera’s eyes continued to shine through the pitch black night... the only sign that she kept watch over the fastbiter.

Violet was getting more worried the longer it took to reach her friend. Her imagination was starting to get the better of her. The warnings she kept getting weren’t exactly improving her mood either. Trying to not cause any more trouble, she kept her opinions to herself, though that didn’t stop her from glaring at Cera’s last known position.

Cera eyed the fastbiter with a stern expression. She could smell the stench of anger and agitation, but at the moment she couldn’t bring herself to care. Seeker is being more generous than I would be! Cera protested internally, What in the name of sanity is wrong with this one? Does she not know how to follow fucking directions? As if to mock her unstated question, Violet began to slowly advance through the dark.

When Violet actually got in sight of Tracker, she nearly got dizzy from her almost contradictory reactions. She was worried, and more than a bit horrified, at the sight of Tracker’s injury. She was also angry, angry at whoever had dared hurt her friend. Tracker was the nicest dinosaur she knew, including the siblings she hadn’t seen in what felt like a lifetime. Tracker even forgave her for initially being downright nasty towards her when they met. Whoever did this was going to pay.

“Tracker, are you alright?” Violet asked with barely concealed fear as she ran up to her friend. It was a stupid question to ask, but she couldn’t think of something better.

“My leg hurts,” Tracker practically whispered. That was enough of an understatement to be considered a lie. She’d chew off the leg if it would make the pain stop.

“What can I do?”

“Put pressure on my leg where my hand is.”

“Okay.” Violet proceeded to do just that.

While putting pressure on the leg, Violet took a moment to study the injury. It looked even worse up close. Violet did her best not to react, to keep herself under control, but she was starting to lose it. She hated being helpless.

Tracker didn’t like the signals she was getting from Violet. If her now heavy breathing wasn’t a dead giveaway by itself, the air was thick with the smell of anxiety, along with quite a bit of anger.

“Violet, look at me,” Violet didn’t respond.

“Violet, eyes on me,” Tracker said a bit more authoritatively, the way she heard Dodger say it. It was a tactic Dodger used on Violet during a major injury, argument, or other tense situation to keep her focused on only what he wanted her to focus on, not what was currently worrying her.

Slightly shocked to hear that phrase from Tracker, Violet looked over to her friend.

“Violet, I’m alright. Everything’s going to be fine,” Tracker told her best friend. Like a few other things tonight, she forgot one critical detail. It was a very bad idea to lie to Violet, no matter how unpleasant the truth was.

“Y-you’re lying,” Violet snapped. She nearly started sobbing, assuming the worst.

Looking away from her friend, Violet saw a green fastbiter a length’s away that didn’t have a stick. All of the other fastbiters here had sticks, unless…

“YOU!” Violet screamed. Her vision blurred red as she charged the other fastbiter.

Ducky scampered back at the sudden onslaught from the emotional fastbiter. Like a thunderstorm on a sunny day the threat came upon her with little warning. Fortunately for Ducky, however, the pack had prepared for this possibility.

Violet did not see Spike preparing to launch his spear in defense of his sister…

“Violet, STOP!”

Time seemed to freeze in an instant upon Dodger’s panicked yell. Violet reluctantly stopped in front of her target, with her body shaking in barely contained anger. She saw red. In that moment all that she could hear was her thundering heartbeat and the distant words of her brother. With a shuddering breath she clinched her hands and continued to stare at the green fastbiter, not wishing to let her escape.

“We got the healing plants! Now please get away from her!”

Violet continued to stare at Ducky, but took quite a few steps back. Had she been even a bit calmer, she would have dashed all the way back to Tracker’s side and started apologizing. She knew she was huge trouble, probably with everyone at this point, but she was so angry she couldn’t make herself care.


Violet took a deep breath, but did not take her eyes off of Ducky. The green fastbiter now almost seemed calm, which angered Violet immensely. However, she responded to her packmate with the calmest voice that she could manage.


Tracker sighed heavily as Dodger silently advanced towards her after a nod from Taunt. None of the pack realized that this was in order to get the two packmates into the same place, not necessarily to help Tracker. If they couldn’t stop Violet one way then they would have leverage to try another…

“What are you doing, Violet?”

Violet growled, “I am about to rip out this sap-sucker’s throat!”

Tracker tried to keep her voice calm, “And what would that accomplish? Will it undo my wound?”

“This pile of spiketail dung tried to kill you and still might. Why should she get to live if you don’t?” Violet was getting angrier by the second. “I can’t let this go unanswered!” She turned back towards Ducky. If looks could kill then Ducky was in for a long agonizing death.

Ducky had the sense to keep her mouth shut during this exchange. However, seeing that a battle seemed to be in the near-future, she gently rubbed the red bulb in her claws that she had laid at her side during her watch duty. She was prepared to meet violence with violence on this day.

“Stop, Haven. Let’s see if they can work this out first.”

Ducky clinched her hands at Littlefoot’s words. To the ears of the other pack those words sounded like gibberish, but to Ducky they were a direct order. Don’t attack unless attacked.

Meanwhile, Tracker cleared her dry throat and tried again.

“I am not dead yet, but if you do this then I will be. We all will be.”

Violet seemed to freeze solid for a moment as Tracker’s words started to sink in. What am I doing? Why do I keep messing everything up? She looked over at Dodger, who only gave her a hard stare. She’d only gotten that look once after attacking Tracker while suffering from hunger madness. If she couldn’t control herself her brother would do it for her.

Reluctantly Violet withdrew back towards her packmates, a look of utter defeat plastered on her face. Even if Dodger knew what to say to his sister in that moment, he doubted that he could bring himself to say it. The near-death experience he was currently in wasn’t helping matters.

Ducky took this opportunity to edge back towards Spike’s position. It was only now that he appeared, with his spear firmly at his side. A reminder to Ducky, and an indication to Violet, of the fate that she nearly made for herself.

“Guys, I think we need to start now.”

The heads of the fastbiters turned towards Taunt’s inquisitive form. He was staring at Tracker’s legs and was lightly picking up one of her feet and dropping them as if they were no longer under her control.

“The Orange Death is beginning to work up her legs.”


“All we can do now is wait. If she gets feeling in her legs then that is a good sign.”

Dodger suppressed an impatient growl at the pink fastbiter in front of him. Berating the healer would do Tracker no favors.

“How long do you think that will take?” Dodger asked being careful to keep the annoyance out of his voice. Though he didn’t look it, he was almost at his wit’s end. Between Tracker fighting a battle he could no longer help her in and Violet trying to start one he almost wished he were in an argument with Prowler, which was not unlike arguing with a two-footer. A dangerous challenge you were unlikely to win.

Ruby sat down as she looked into Littlefoot’s eyes. It was as if they were having a nonverbal conversation.

“We should know before the end of the night... Before the end of the night we should know how it ends.”

Silence fell upon the dinosaurs as Ruby’s ominous words echoed in their minds. It was possible to survive the Orange Death even without treatment, but very unlikely. Calin was the only opponent of theirs who had survived such an injury. The fact that Tracker was already having trouble feeling her legs was a sign that her time was numbered without treatment.

But that wouldn’t stop Tracker from trying to find levity in the situation.

“Well at least I will see how this story ends tonight. I always hated cliffhangers.”

Violet couldn’t help but smile. “Does that have anything to do with our first hunt together?” She’d accidently knocked Tracker off a ledge and had to pull her back up.

“Hey, that was your fault,” Tracker replied, laughing as she did so.

Littlefoot watched the interactions of the three fastbiters with some interest. Despite one being deathly ill in a makeshift nest of leaves, and the others sitting uncomfortably next to their attackers, their mannerisms were just like those of his own pack in many ways. The same camaraderie… the same compassion… the same humor...

Littlefoot sighed. This other pack had nearly met their end due to a misunderstanding. Would his own pack meet such an end one day? They had faced death many times before, but the events of this day brought those memories back into the foreground. It reminded him of something that Detras had told him after the Battle for the Valley.

Live for each day… because one day will be your last.

Ruby interrupted Littlefoot’s contemplative thoughts.

“Remember to breath slow, if you breathe slowly then the healing plants work better.”

Tracker did as she was told. Instead of thinking about hunting she thought back on some of her previous near-death experiences. For her this was ironically calming. Since she had survived so much, she felt better about her chances now. Most of the time when things got bad either Dodger or Prowler would quickly find a way out. Lately though, really since before last Cold Time, Prowler had been panicking more quickly and losing control of the situation. The one time she asked about it she almost literally got her head bit off.

Maybe it is best that he isn't here now... but if Prowler isn’t here, then where is he? Tracker wondered.

“Violet?” Tracker asked.

“Yes?” Violet replied hesitantly. She didn’t like Tracker’s contemplative look.

“You were with Prowler last,” Tracker whispered, “Do you know where he is?”

Cera shifted her gaze towards the injured fastbiter. She knew what that tone of voice meant, even if she had no idea what the exact context was.

“N-no,” Violet stammered, forgetting to keep her voice down. She really didn’t want to embarrass herself even further in front of the other pack.

Unfortunately for Violet, she’d gotten Dodger’s attention. He gestured away from the group with his head. Violet reluctantly followed when he got up.

This doesn’t look good, Littlefoot thought to himself. Upon seeing Taunt and Spike give him an inquisitive look, Littlefoot shook his head. Overt spying would not be done here. As it was, Littlefoot suspected it would not be necessary...

Dodger led Violet a little ways away where they were still quite visible but a bit less likely to be overheard.

“What happened?” Dodger asked without preamble. He wasn’t entirely sure what Tracker had said, but he’d been wondering where Prowler was for a while now and finally had the excuse to ask.

Violet stayed silent for a moment, feigning ignorance.

“What happened after Tracker and I left?” Dodger clarified, taking away Violet’s excuse to not answer.

“He left,” Violet replied.

“What did you do?” Dodger asked, practically sighing as he did so.

“What makes you think I did anything?”

“You always do something, even unintentionally.” Especially unintentionally.

“He tried to make me leave you guys behind. I refused. He attacked me,” Violet explained, gesturing towards the injury on her snout.

“So you disobeyed a direct order from the pack leader, fought with said leader, and charged headlong into danger with no support. Did I leave anything out?”

Dodger was furious. He was angry at Prowler for abandoning the rest of the pack and for hurting his sister, but Prowler wasn’t here. Violet was. Violet was also his responsibility.

“Would you rather I left you to die?!” Violet demanded. She was practically shouting now.

“Did you even have a plan?” Dodger asked, ignoring Violet’s question. There really wasn’t a good answer to it.

Violet looked down. “No, I didn’t think. I just reacted.”

“That’s what nearly got you killed tonight. You didn’t think. You didn’t think about the consequences of your actions. What if Tracker and I died? What would you have done then?”

“I’m sorry.” Violet was fighting back the urge to cry and failing. How could I have been so stupid?

Dodger took a calming breath and looked back at Tracker. She was glaring at him, giving him the warning she always gave when his worry got the better of him.

“Violet,” Dodger said slowly, “I’m glad you’re here. Really, I am. I just want to keep you safe.”

“I know,” Violet said. She kept her head low, not feeling quite brave enough to look up.

“Violet, eyes on me.” Violet reluctantly looked up, “One day I might not be around anymore. That day nearly was today. You’re going to need to learn how to work with fastbiters that aren’t me, even if you don’t like them.” And there isn’t much about Prowler to like, Dodger thought.

Violet wanted to deny it, but she couldn’t. With extreme reluctance she nodded.

“Let’s get back to Tracker before she talks them into sending out a search party,” Dodger suggested. Violet smiled at that. She could actually see Tracker doing that just to get them to stop arguing. The siblings silently returned to the group.

“Can you feel your feet, Tracker?”

The two siblings had their thoughts interrupted by Taunt’s voice. He was leaning near their prone friend as she cradled her right foot with a grimace of pain plastered on her face.

“Yes!” she spat out in a pained hiss, though there was no anger in her voice, “Though at the moment I wish that I couldn’t!”

“That… that is a good sign, actually…”

Tracker’s face looked over at the green fastbiter in the distance. She said nothing, but the look on her face indicated that the last person that she wanted to talk to was the fastbiter who nearly killed her. Nonetheless Ducky continued.

“It means that the Orange Death is losing the battle.”

Violet barely heard what Ducky said. She was too busy trying to kill her with a glare. Dodger smiled in spite of himself. Despite the messenger, the news was good. We might get out of this alright after all.

Tracker sucked in a deep breath at the other fastbiter’s words. Though that did not ease her pain, it did calm her nerves. Despite trying to put on a brave face the prospect of death had terrified her. Now that the dark possibility was again in the background she allowed herself to relax. A moistness was felt in her eyes that she had been suppressing until then.

“Thank you…” she choked out. The other pack could have finished her off and killed her friends, but they had chosen a more generous route. Though Violet did not realize it at that moment, Tracker was especially cognizant of what that meant. Both for her pack and the pack that surrounded them.

“What do you plan to do with us?”

The two siblings looked at Tracker as if she had grown a second head, but Littlefoot seemed to be ready for this question. He paused for a moment as he shifted his balance from one foot to the other. Then, with a ponderous expression, he looked towards his packmates.

“I think… that is something that my pack will decide tomorrow,” she could smell the agreement from the others, “In the meantime, you may rest here… under our strict supervision…”

Trying not to look like he had lost control of his pack, Dodger spoke for the group, “Can’t argue with that. Ironically this is probably the safest we’ve been in…” he looked at Violet questioningly, “five Cold Times.”

The stunned look on Littlefoot’s face would have made his packmates laugh under any other circumstance, “...then you have not known much peace in your lives?” It was a rhetorical question that demanded answers.

Violet gave Littlefoot a look that screamed 'You did not just ask that', matching her own thoughts exactly.

“We’ve been on our own for a long time,” Dodger said, giving the most basic explanation he could. He wanted to check with Tracker and Violet over how much he should tell if allowed discretion.

Littlefoot nodded slowly. Orphans… These are not the first of these that we have seen in the Mysterious Beyond. He did not finish the thought that it sometimes seemed that having one’s parents survive to see their children leave the nest was the exception and not the rule. However he resisted sharing this depressing observation and instead offered a kind smile.

“Well… your fortunes have not betrayed you on this day. Your pack yet lives.”

Dodger just nodded his agreement, not sure what to say. He’d come so close to death so many times he no longer feared it. He’d been terrified tonight, though, having nearly lost the two most important dinosaurs in his life.

As her companion tried to awkwardly transition the conversation away from the other pack’s unspoken tragedies, Ruby looked over towards the horizon. The Bright Circle was beginning to peak over the distant hills, which heralded the coming of the morning. She was not the only one to notice this as a certain purple sharptooth grunted in frustration in the distance.

“Urgh… it looks like we aren’t getting any more sleep tonight.”

Ruby looked over at Chomper and tilted her head. “I thought that you were watching for others?”

Chomper merely shrugged at this, which was a comical expression considering the diminutive size of his arms to the rest of his body. “Spotter took over. He says that there is enough light for him to watch the fields… It is a Full Night Circle tonight.” He then thought better of what he just said. “...well… was a Full Night Circle.”

Dodger was stunned to see a two-footer talking with one of Littlefoot’s pack members but relaxed when he saw and smelled that most of the present fastbiters were quite calm. The only exceptions were Tracker and… “Violet!” Dodger shouted, turning around to see her disappear into the trees.

“Who’s fastest?” Dodger asked Littlefoot. One of the few things Violet bested him in was speed.

Littlefoot did not waste any time. “Haven! Stern Claw!”

In an instant the two fastbiters disappeared in the direction that Violet had run. Leaving a visibly fatigued Littlefoot and an utterly confused Chomper.

“Was it something that I said?”
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I'm aiming to be a white whistle too, you know?

Review of Prologue:

Well, looks like our Seven Hunters have got used to their new home and developed a strategy to keep it protected (no matter how boring it could be). Wonder who these intruders might be... though I could swear these are the previous owners of their land... something rings when I hear their names ;)

Well, no sign of this "Mender" guy yet but I'm gonna assume we'll meet him soon enough :exactly

Promising start anyway :)

Review of Chapter 1:

Ahh there we go. Mender (a female :o) and her pack seem to be a bit odd indeed. Gee I wonder what happened a few years ago :p

What do you know? An ambush of sorts :p This was a really good scene. Wonder how it ends for the intruders and what role Mender has in this (though I kinda have a suspicion :))
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Thanks for the review, Ducky! :) Yeah, the beginning leaves the pack as a kind of mystery, but we will soon see what has made the pack come to be. :yes The next chapter should be up within the hour.
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/4/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 3: Songs within songs

Cera pumped her legs with great exertion as Violet again disappeared from sight. She and Ducky had been chasing the obviously frightened fastbiter for the better part of a minute, and this was the second time that her view had been obstructed.

And quite frankly she was getting sick of Violet’s antics.

What in the name of sanity does Seeker wants us to do when we catch her? He didn’t directly say that I couldn’t strangle her!

Despite her enraged thoughts she knew that she would not take it that far. The other pack had showed themselves to be capable of seeing reason…

“Stop, Violet! Path won’t hurt you! Nope, nope, nope!”

Cera didn’t spare a glance at Ducky as she had to maneuver around the oncoming terrain. Her friend obviously didn’t understand the irony of having the same dinosaur that nearly killed Violet’s friend talk about how another dinosaur was safe. It would have been like Calin giving another dinosaur a good reference to Littlefoot. Littlefoot wouldn’t have given his words much heed…

Fortunately for the rapidly tiring fastbiters the terrain finally put an end to Violet’s flight.

Cera stopped suddenly and raised her hand. “There, in those trees!”

Ducky looked up at the grove of trees that lay in front of them. Violet’s smell radiated from the foliage as the leaves began swaying with the violence of a storm. It seemed that the fastbiter had gotten into a position that she had to retreat from.

“Violet, listen to us…” Ducky spoke as softly as possible through her gasping breaths, “I know that you are scared right now, but you don’t have to be.”

The thrashing of the branches continued as the slightest flash of a tail could be seen through the shaking branches. There was no indication that her statement had been heard.

“Listen, Violet, just stop!” Cera spoke far less diplomatically, “Let us help you out of there before you hurt yourself!”

Violet froze, bringing the shaking to a stop. She’d actually been listening ever since Ducky started talking. However, she really didn’t want to go back. Getting stuck had forced her to think. Unfortunately, what had come to mind was every mistake she’d made, usually accompanied by Prowler’s unwelcome commentary on what she did wrong. It was no wonder that he didn’t want to even try to go after Dodger and Tracker. In his opinion she was unreliable at best. And apparently he was right. She’d taken off and left the rest of her pack to fend for themselves. Sometimes she wondered if Dodger only put up with her because they were siblings.

She choked back a sob. She wasn’t going to look weak in front of these two. She’d never live it down.

Unfortunately for Violet’s pride, her scent gave away what sight could not.

“It is alright, Violet. You were scared, and we sometimes run when we see something that scares us.” The voice of the green fastbiter paused for several moments. “Did Path’s kind hurt you in some way?”

“If by hurt you mean slaughtered half my pack and nearly sent me and Dodger to our deaths in a river, then yes they hurt me.” Violet’s voice carried every last bit of bitterness and anger she had held onto since that horrific day. She started struggling even harder to get free.

Ducky shared a look with Cera, which earned her a slight nod. Cera then began to approach the trapped fastbiter with deliberate slowness.

“We can help you get free. There is no need to hurt yourself.” She could see her tail flop around like an enraged snake. “It looks like you are stuck pretty good.”

Ducky nodded from close behind, “But we do not want you to hurt us either. So if we help you we want you to promise to calm down.”

Violet stopped struggling, closed her eyes, and silently counted to ten, then twenty. “I promise,” she said as calmly as she could. She hated not being able to do this herself, but she knew both Dodger and Tracker would be giving her similar instructions if they were the ones helping her. That actually would have been more embarrassing.

Cera and Ducky now crept closer to the trapped fastbiter and could finally see her predicament. Her neck and head were twisted around one branch, whereas each leg seemed to be trapped by vines. In her headlong rush to escape she must have actually run into the vines and tangled trees at full speed. It was a wonder that she hadn’t knocked herself unconscious or worse.

Cera gave Ducky a wide eyed look that communicated to her that this was quite a mess, to which Ducky could only nod. However, the beginning of the solution was an obvious one. The vines had to be cut.

Ducky sniffed the air one more time and noted the continued scent of fear, interspersed with embarrassment. She knew that the fastbiter was only displaying an outward appearance of calm; she was still an emotional wreck on the inside. With that in mind Ducky gave Cera a gesture that communicated ‘let me handle this’.

“This will take a while, Violet. We have to cut some of these vines around your legs. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about yourself while we handle this?” Ducky then looked in Cera’s direction, “I guess that we could have Stern Claw tell the pack that you are okay. Unless you want some of them to help you out instead?”

“No!” Violet almost shouted. She didn’t want Dodger to see just how badly she messed up and really didn’t want Tracker to be left undefended. I probably should have thought of that before I ran off like a coward! “Just get me out of here,” she said more calmly.

Ducky gave Cera a knowing look as the yellowish fastbiter restrained herself from laughing at Violet’s answer. Within moments it was just Ducky and Violet in the grove. It was only then that Ducky realized the eeriness of the situation. She had nearly killed Violet’s packmate, but yet here she was alone with the helpless fastbiter. It was only when Ducky began to gnaw at a vine that was around her tail that she finally spoke.

“So… um… How did all of you start off as a pack? You all seem about as young as us.”

Violet was silent for a moment. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to say anything; she did want others to know her pack’s story. She just wasn’t sure where to start, especially since the beginning was so emotionally painful for her.


Back to the present:

Pearl listened to the song with interest as she watched the mannerisms of the two singers. Mender's obvious nervousness was now somewhat subdued, although she suspected that the embarrassment remained from her reaction years ago. Cynnil, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying engaging in the song.

She must not sing all that often. Of course, considering what they are, they probably do not get too many audiences.

She frowned slightly. Never mind their good deeds, most leaf-eaters would be quick to send potential predators away from their young as soon as the help was given. And many sharpteeth would not want to show too much hospitality, lest they give away too much of their defensive secrets.

Fastrunners must be right in the middle. Sharptooth enough to understand, and leaf-eater enough not to hide too much. Her thoughts were, however, interrupted by her mate's slight touch on her shoulder.

With deliberate subtlety, she turned towards her mate. Looking into his eyes, she immediately smiled at his expression. His eyes asked the obvious question 'what are you thinking?'

Coyly, she simply gave the slightest of smiles as she nodded in the direction of the song and turned back to the singing fastbiters.

We will talk about it later, dear... I think there is a bit more to our guests than what meets the eye...


Several moments later in the song:

Several moments later a very subdued Violet sat with the rest of her packmates. She wore noticeable scratches on her legs from where she fought with the vines and branches, but otherwise she was in good shape. Likewise, Tracker now seemed to be doing better as well. A slight lack of mobility to her tail and obvious fatigue in her eyes were the only signs of her recent brush with death.

“We were with our families over by a river,” Violet started without preamble, “There used to be more of us. At the time there had been as many adults as there are dinosaurs here.” She gestured to both her pack and Seeker’s. “A pack of two-footers, younger ones, attacked us, wanting our territory.” Violet paused, gathering up her courage.

“I don’t know what happened to my mother, but Dodger got me and our other siblings away. We ran across a log, following some of the other kids. Prowler tripped and fell in the river. I made it across, but Dodger slipped keeping another of our siblings from falling. I ran back out to help. A two-footer tried to cross the log and broke it, sending us all into the water. I nearly drowned.”

Violet stopped, unsure whether to continue the story. She’d already mentioned her unpleasant experience and really didn’t want to continue. The next part was, for her, arguably even more embarrassing than her recent actions. Maybe I can get Dodger or Tracker to tell the rest, Violet thought, They’re much better at this than I am.

Littlefoot listened to Violet’s words with a mixture of sympathy and understanding. Losing family members to two-footers… no wonder why she ran when Path showed himself. The large purple form of the sharptooth was still visible in the background, but he had increased his distance out of respect to the other pack’s fear. Littlefoot knew that he would have to talk to his friend later in the day.

Ducky, meanwhile, gave Violet a slight nod of encouragement. “It is okay if you do not want to finish the story. We all have suffered from sharpteeth… well… before we became sharpteeth,” she stopped awkwardly at the acknowledgement of her past, “Seeker lost his mother from one of Path’s kind.”

Violet gave Ducky an odd look, mixing her confusion at the green fastbiter’s first statement, and a bit of understanding at the rest of what she said.

“It might be better if Dodger took over. He knows more about what happened next. I was kinda out of it for awhile,” Violet said. She hadn’t forgotten what Ducky did, but if Tracker wasn’t going to make too much of a fuss about it, then she wasn’t going to, either. She owed her friend that much.

Violet looked over at Dodger imploringly. “Okay, okay. I’ll do it,” Dodger said, standing up. Violet went and sat back down next to Tracker, taking Dodger’s spot.

“That’s it for why Violet does not like being surprised by two-footers, but do you guys want to hear the rest of our story?” Dodger asked.

Littlefoot took the initiative on behalf of the pack, and spoke with an odd tone that combined compassion and great formality. “If it doesn’t trouble you too much then we would like to hear your story. Our lost loved ones are not truly lost if they remain in story and song.”

Dodger nodded, taking that as an indication to continue. “Well, we ended up floating down the river for awhile. We eventually made it to shore.” He paused for a moment, thinking on how to continue; their first days on their own hadn’t gone well at all.

“We tried to move away from there, hoping to find the others. Violet got sick. Really sick. So we stopped and started hunting, trying to get her strength back up. That’s when I literally ran into Tracker.” He looked back at Tracker, silently asking for permission to tell her story. She nodded. “Tracker’s pack had been attacked several days earlier. Another fastbiter pack had challenged hers for the territory, and her pack lost. The adults died fighting; the kids got hunted down, Tracker excepted. She could barely walk straight when we met. I helped her catch something and brought her back with me. Prowler wasn’t happy.” That was an understatement. That one act of compassion had nearly started a fight for leadership.

“When was Prowler ever happy?” Violet asked, laughing as she did so.

“Good point,” Dodger muttered.

“Prowler gave Tracker a challenge to prove she wasn’t going to be more of a hindrance than a help. My father never taught me what standard procedure is for joining packs, but I’m pretty sure a demand to save a pack member’s life isn’t it,” Dodger continued, “Fortunately Tracker knew about a plant called the Night Flower. Unfortunately the only place she knew where to find it might as well have brought the sky puffies down to the ground it was so hard to see. It also had more bellydraggers than I ever want to see again.”

“You guys went to the Land of Mists?” Cera’s eyes were wide at that realization, “Well I am glad that we didn’t meet all of you on that trip!”

Petrie nodded. “That not be good. We only leaf-eaters then.”

Littlefoot pondered this. Grandpa barely made it as it was...

Violet and Tracker gave the other pack disbelieving looks. Dodger just shook his head at them, indicating that they not ask further. He’d ask Littlefoot to explain later.

Dodger paused, pondering whether or not he wanted Violet to hear the next bit. He decided it was now or never. “It was also the place where I killed another fastbiter for the first time.”

Violet’s head jerked towards Dodger. She was stunned. She hadn’t thought the pack had had to kill anyone that soon, though Dodger had still been the first to do so even then.

“After that Violet got well again. Unfortunately she started picking on Tracker,” Dodger said, ignoring Violet’s reaction, “After awhile, the two eventually became friends.” Dodger deliberately left out the insecurities that led to Violet’s behavior. That wasn’t for him to tell.

“A few Cold Times later, and we’re standing here,” he finished, “We had plenty of adventures, but I don’t think any of you want to sit here all day for those.”

“Why do you guys keep saying you were once food?” Violet asked, having been waiting for Dodger to finish. Dodger flinched at how blunt Violet was, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to change that about her.

Littlefoot gave the rest of the pack a knowing look, which caused them to settle down to an even greater degree than before. It was obvious that they were preparing for a long tale. It was then that Littlefoot finally shifted his gaze back to Violet.

“I hope that you don’t mind Path joining us… as he is part of the tale.”

Violet shifted uneasily but nodded.

Littlefoot gave a small gesture towards the sharptooth, which led to the sound of his thunderous footsteps echoing across the forest. Within moments the entire pack was assembled before Dodger and his packmates. It was only then that Littlefoot rubbed his hands together.

“Our song is a very long one… one that would take a day to complete. But we can tell you our story in the way that my grandfather would tell me stories as a child… unless you would prefer to hear the song?”

“Song, please,” Tracker said, forgetting to wait for Dodger to ask for what both she and Violet wanted. Violet just rolled her eyes when Dodger looked at her for her opinion.

“We’d like to hear the song in its entirety,” Dodger said, “I’d have told you ours as a song, but we haven’t quite gotten done with it. Summarizing five Cold Times is hard.”

Littlefoot nodded and gave Chomper a slight nod. “You may want to drag what is left of the swimmer, Path. I am sure that we will be quite famished when we are done.” A yawn then escaped his mouth, “...and exhausted.”

It was then that the five original friends joined shoulder to shoulder before the assembled pack, with the others waiting behind for their time to join the group. It was an odd sight for the other sharpteeth to see. However, before any of them could inquire about these antics, Littlefoot’s words announced the beginning of the song that none of them would ever forget.

“We will now sing you the Song of the Seven Hunters.”


♪ And as the howls of our parents rose in the night,
We knew that our happiness would never again take light ♪

♪ For as the valley's vista were left to our rear,
All that stood in front of us was uncertainty and fear ♪

Littlefoot and the others held the last note for several moments before dead silence descended upon the scene. It was now that the pack paused for the first time since the song had begun. One act in the epic had stalled before the next tale could begin. The tale of their new lives as sharpteeth.

Violet opened her mouth to say the tale was impossible, but both Dodger and Tracker were looking at her warningly. Tracker herself found the story hard to believe, but she wasn’t about to be impolite and say so. The other pack certainly didn’t smell like they were lying. Doubting the story didn’t stop her from doing her best to memorize every word of it. She was almost certain she’d never get to hear the tale told like this again.

“I didn’t believe the stories the first time, either,” Dodger whispered to Violet, “but please try to be polite.” Violet kept her thoughts to herself.

The rest of the pack remained silent, as Taunt and Ruby drank from the stream nearby. However Ducky gave the obviously distressed fastbiter a kindly look. She knew full well how difficult such a tale was to believe. Sometimes she was still amazed that their parents eventually accepted the story.

However, after a few moments all of the pack members had wetted their parched throats and were ready to resume the song. A melody that would lead to the pack’s first blood.


♪ With a sickening thud claws landed on his back-
Blood... Viscera... Gore... ♪

♪ Soon the gasping corpse of the longneck lay-
Where my friend was moments before ♪

♪ How... how could I have done this?-
My mind in its blood craze did cry ♪

♪ But I knew the truth as Ali's scream echoed in the night-
My blood soaked claws did not lie ♪

Littlefoot stopped at the end of his solo, as he forced the signs of anguish from appearing on his face. However, his scents gave away the truth of that night. Never mind the justifications and the reasons some part of him still blamed himself for what happened.

It was Ruby who broke the silence. “Perhaps we should take a break now, so that we don’t have to take a break until later?” No one disagreed with her suggestion.

Dodger and Violet stood up to stretch their legs. Dodger was amazed Violet had managed to sit still for so long.

“You think he’s alright?” Violet asked. Her doubts about the story had died by this point. That last bit was the very definition of an unwinnable situation. Someone was going to die; all that mattered was to decide ‘who’. Violet couldn’t make that decision herself. Ever.

Dodger was a bit uncertain on how to proceed. He had been offered the accommodations of a guest in hearing the song of the pack, but at the same time he was a prisoner in a way. Tracker was still injured, and it was this same pack that had committed the deed.

He took a deep breath. They have saved Tracker’s life and allowed us to live. They would not do that if they didn’t want us present.

“I’ll talk to him,” Dodger said, walking over to Littlefoot. Violet remained behind to keep Tracker company, in part because Tracker was looking rather distraught.

“Was that the first time you killed another dinosaur?” Dodger asked when he reached the stream. His answer to being unsure where to begin was to be direct, sometimes problematically so.

The brown fastbiter’s head rose from the stream. From his vantage point Dodger could not see Littlefoot’s expression.

“No. No it was not.”

“When was the first, if I may ask?” Dodger was rather curious, despite his understanding that some things should be kept private.

Littlefoot rose to his full height before turning towards the other fastbiter. Dodger could see the intense expression on Littlefoot’s face, as he eyes shined with a distinct coldness.

“You know why Redclaw hated the valley, right?”

“Some leaf-eaters killed his son, Wrath,” Dodger answered. A moment later, he put the pieces together. “That was you guys?” Dodger shook his head.

“He killed my mother, and would have killed us if we hadn’t done anything. We used Haven as bait, and then we dropped a boulder on his head.” Littlefoot shook his head, “Drowning… a horrible death… I wonder if the Stone of Cold Fire was trying to tell us something.”

Littlefoot then fell silent. He did not elaborate further on his thoughts.

“What do you think it was telling you?” Dodger asked. If rebuffed, he wouldn’t press further.

Littlefoot paused for a moment, his head facing away from his questioner. “Pearl was the first to mention it… Ponder’s mother… she wondered if we five had killed so many sharpteeth that the Stone thought that was where we belonged.”

“Well, she might be right. Either that or I’m pretty messed up for a fastbiter,” Dodger replied. I’ve killed far too many fastbiters in my lifetime.

Littlefoot looked at Dodger oddly. The unspoken question was obvious.

“I’ve killed other fastbiters, all of them larger and older than me. My first hunt, if you can call it that, of another dinosaur happened in what you call the Land of Mists. That fastbiter I killed was the first dinosaur I ever killed.” A part of me died there as well. Dodger didn’t know why he was saying so much; he’d never talked about this with anyone before.

If Littlefoot had any opinion of Dodger’s story he did not say it openly. “I was barely five years old when my friends and I killed Wrath. I didn’t even pass my Big Longneck Test until five years later.” A snort left the brown fasbiter. “I killed before I was even considered a ‘big kid’.”

Dodger couldn’t stop himself from staring at Littlefoot. At that age he’d not been allowed more than a couple adult lengths away from the nest without an adult. He’d have been worse than helpless without his parents. How did Seeker and his friends survive? Never mind that, what were they doing away from their families?

“I know you lost your mother, but why weren’t you with the rest of your herd?” Dodger asked, careful to use the correct group word.

“The Great Earthshake separated me from my grandparents. They and my mother were all that was left of the herd by then… When I finally made it back to the valley they were the ones who raised me.” Littlefoot sighed heavily as he recounted those days. “Stern Claw lost her mother and sisters… and Finder never knew his real parents… but everyone had someone to care for them in the valley.”

“I take it Stern Claw’s father didn’t take this whole Stone of Cold Fire business well? From the song, it seems like he took what he thought was her death really hard.”

Littlefoot nodded. “He had Tria and his new daughter, but he took Stern Claw’s ‘loss’ very hard. When she finally came back, and he found out what happened…” Littlefoot then looked at Dodger coyly once he realized what he was doing. “Well, I would hate to give anything away before its time. I imagine the others are ready to resume the song.”

“Violet and Tracker definitely want to hear what’s next. Is it alright if Tracker tries to memorize all this? She likes to do that. It's actually what saved her pack’s songs from being forgotten.”

Littlefoot smiled. “Of course! I would not presume to command the minds of others. Besides, I would like very much for the song of my pack to echo in the skies for generations to come. These songs are all that remain of many of our friends…” Littlefoot fell silent then. Aware that he was beginning to enter into melancholy territory.

“Come along! It is time for you to hear about Ponder’s folks, and how we entered the Lowlands.”

“Right behind you.”


♪ I watched as Ali walked away, her head held up high,
Her flank stood out like the Night Circle in the azure sky ♪

♪ Enemies no longer, disdain replaced with peace,
We both knew that from then until forever, our meetings would have to cease ♪

Littlefoot and Ruby finished their duet as the other packmates looked on. It was oddly appropriate that Ruby would take Ali’s place in the song, as in many ways Ruby had taken Ali’s place in Littlefoot’s life. She knew full well that had her mate had remained a longneck then Ali would be the mother of his children, and not her.

Violet couldn’t keep herself from flinching a bit. She’d listened to Ali’s parts quite intensely once the longneck had started acting on her anger much like she herself had. She hoped she hadn’t made too bad an impression on the other pack.

Tracker had been quite intrigued by Ali since she first appeared in the story. She’d lost her friends, her herd, and apparently, her friends again. Ali must have felt like the world was intent on beating her down. Having lost her entire original pack, Tracker could sympathize.

“I know you said you haven’t seen her since, but do you know if Ali is alright?” Tracker asked hesitantly.

Littlefoot nodded after a pause. “The last that I heard she had relocated in the valley… her mother mated with my father a few seasons ago.”

Violet gripped her head. The constant break in logic that was having a parent and child being two different kinds was giving her a headache. Dodger did his best not to react, because the situation was too bizarre not to laugh at if he did let himself react. Tracker just smiled.

“I’m glad she’s okay. I hope she’s made some friends. Starting over isn’t easy,” Tracker said, glancing at her two packmates as she did so. “I think Ali handled it better than I would’ve, all things considered.” That caused Dodger to stare at her with a surprised expression. What? You think I could handle losing you guys as well? Tracker thought, Not likely.

Cera smiled, though she gave her leader a bit of a playful expression. “Though considering what Ali’s mom thought of you, Seeker, it was funny seeing you hear the news.”

Littlefoot stammered, “You were as freaked out as any of us were!”

Taunt laughed. “Ha! See, Seeker isn’t invincible after all… Ow!”

Cera licked her lips innocently as Taunt caressed his injured tail. “Neither are certain fastbiters named Taunt…”

Violet laughed before she could stop herself. Dodger and Tracker practically fell over themselves trying to quiet her, though in Tracker’s case she had a good excuse for falling on her face.

“I really thought I’d taught you better,” Dodger muttered once Violet had gotten ahold of herself.

Ruby rolled her eyes. “It is alright; the pack loves to annoy Seeker about that. Just like how they annoy me about my speech. About my speech they annoy me.”

Taunt muttered as he caressed his tail. “It is all fun and games until someone gets hurt…”

To this Cera replied with a predatory smile, “...then it is hilarious!”

“Taunt wouldn’t have lasted one day with Prowler,” Violet whispered to Dodger. Dodger nodded. Prowler took almost everything as a personal insult, including mistakes.

Ducky stepped forward with an odd expression on her face. “Perhaps you should tell us a bit more about Prowler while we wait for Spotter to return for the final part.” She knew that Petrie had not found any sign of the other fastbiter, Prowler, but she knew how the pack would respond if he were found. And if he were a threat then the rest of his pack would never even have to know that they disposed of him. Spotter can do quite a lot with a little Orange Death. Yep, yep, yep.

“If you find him, I want to be the first to know,” Violet said. There was quite a bit of venom behind her words.

“Violet!” Dodger reprimanded. Violet looked contrite.

“Prowler was from the same pack as Violet and myself,” Dodger explained, “He and I were both the first and largest to hatch in our nests and thus leaders of our nest-siblings by default. Our pack was quite large, too large for any of us to stay close as adults, so our families pushed us hard to learn what we needed to survive. My father never let me use the words ‘I give up’ or ‘it’s not my fault’. I was in charge of my siblings, so it was always my fault. Prowler never quite understood that. He never believed anything was his fault. We were rivals then and sorta friends. During our time as a pack we clashed more and more frequently as time went on, but we used to get along.”

“Prowler was always worried about challenges since he wasn’t exactly well-liked. He started out just being very self centered. It got worse from there. For some reason he just really didn’t like my sister.”

“Stupid, clumsy, incompetent, useless, worthless…” Violet quietly listed some of things Prowler had called her over the years.

“Honestly, the only thing that held us together this long was habit and a severe lack of packs willing to take any of us on. You guys are actually the first pack we’ve run into that is about our age,” Dodger said, “Prowler and I nearly killed each other last Cold Time.”

Violet looked surprised, having never actually seen or even heard about such a fight; Tracker just looked down. She’d been the cause of that fight. One minor mistake had nearly destroyed the pack.

Littlefoot was silent as the others talked of their former leader. His eyes were sympathetic, but his mouth was stern. Finally, however, he broke his silence.

“Did any of you attempt to leave? To form your own pack?”

“No, and that was my fault,” Dodger said, “I did my best to manage the situation, but I thought any attempt to leave would be too dangerous. We nearly died many times as a group of four. As a group of three I thought things would only get worse. Also, I was more than a bit worried Prowler would pursue us if we left. The only way to stop that would be to kill him, and I was too weak to do that. And, well, he was my friend, once. Violet wouldn’t leave without me, and Tracker, well…”

“I’m not very good at standing up for myself,” Tracker said, saving Dodger the trouble of coming up with a nicer way to say it.

Ducky forced herself to remain silent as a slight growl left her throat. Breeze was not so sedate, however.

“What a worthless piece of spiketail dung! Skytail would have eaten a bastard like that alive!”

Spike could only nod in agreement at his mate’s words. The opposing pack had already heard of Skytail in the song and would no doubt understand the significance of her words.

Dodger only nodded. A warning glance to Violet kept her from concurring too enthusiastically.

“I would’ve liked to have met Skytail,” Tracker said. It was nice to think that Dodger wasn’t a complete aberration where pack leaders were concerned.

Taunt smiled from his place beside Cera. “He was a great leader. He sacrificed everything so that Breeze and I could live.”

Littlefoot nodded. “It is true that sometimes pack members have to sacrifice for the pack, but that is true of pack leaders as well. I must never forget that the pack will one day have to go on without me.”

Ruby nuzzled him and whispered, “Don’t say that, dear!” Littlefoot merely remained silent as Ruby unconsciously nuzzled the scar from his own brush with death. A constant reminder of the burden of leadership.

“I know you understand that, Dodger, but try to remember not to get yourself killed. Some of us want you around,” Tracker said before unconsciously leaning into Dodger.

“Is there something you two want to tell me?” Violet asked, having noticed Tracker’s behavior. Her packmates just looked at her, a bit embarrassed.

“I’ll tell you after the song,” Tracker promised.


♪ Deceit and lies flew from my beak,
Me had to show that Petrie not weak ♪

♪ Eventually me convince them of my foul intent,
But me have no idea what that lie had meant ♪

♪ In near future there would be many hidden runner dead,
The burden of their murders would be on my head ♪

Petrie finished his last verse with a bow that hid the expression on his face. He then lifted into the air and landed on the nearby tree without staying for any questions. It was an odd reaction that confused several in the other pack.

“I wish he’d offered more of an explanation,” Violet whispered to Tracker, who nodded in agreement. Dodger, who’d heard of the hidden runner massacre, quickly explained what happened. Both of the girls looked visibly ill when he finished.

Maybe I should have been a bit less descriptive, Dodger thought, Maybe I should also stop eavesdropping on gossiping packs.

“That be mostly right,” the flyer in the tree above them spoke, which caused Violet to jump in surprise, “Pack get to that later. Me never sing that part.”

“I got disturbed just hearing about it,” Dodger said.

“Sounds like something out of my bad sleep stories,” Tracker said.

“You’re still getting those?” Violet asked, alarmed. Many of Tracker’s less than pleasant sleep stories involved the day her pack died. The actual event wasn’t any more pleasant.

“Yeah,” Tracker sighed.

Littlefoot took this as a good time to resume the song, and he gestured for Cera and Chomper to begin the next chorus. However, that was when Petrie again spoke.

“Sleep stories can be bad, but that is not baddest thing. Baddest thing is letting yourself become the bad sleep story. Me don’t regret decision, so me can live with self. More saved in long run than killed… but it took me long time to realize that.” There was then a pause as Littlefoot and the others shifted uncomfortably. Petrie always became self-conscious during this part of the story, and rightfully so.

However, his next words surprised them.

“Seeker, me think me sing along with next part.”

Chomper looked at the flyer with surprise. His massive body making his head level with Petrie’s current perch. “Are you sure, Spotter?” Littlefoot’s cautious nod showed that he shared Chomper’s skepticism.

“Me sure,” Petrie nodded, “Me owe it to those who die because of me. They deserve song too.”

Tracker looked like she was about to say something, then stopped. It wasn’t her place to question the flyer’s decision. While she agreed with what he said, she knew that looking back on the past wasn’t always pleasant. The past day, or was it days, gave her own easy example. If she hadn’t cowered immediately upon being questioned, Dodger wouldn’t have had to move in to protect her so quickly, and the situation wouldn’t have gotten out of control. She didn’t dare say any of that out loud, though. The last thing she needed was for someone to agree with her on that.

Littlefoot, being unaware of Tracker’s inner struggle, simply nodded at the flyer. “Very well, Spotter, you can join Stern Claw as she sings the harmony.” He then turned towards the other pack. “You will now hear of the massacre of the Hidden Runners, and the alliance against Redclaw. A victory for which many fell and never rose again.”

Silence fell over the assembled dinosaurs as Littlefoot turned towards his friends. Then, with a sudden movement of his arm, the song began once more.

♪ A dark night fell upon the land,
with dark deeds soon to come from Calin’s band ♪

♪ There were no flyers to warn the hidden runners of what was to come,
though they had rested their heads under the Night Circle,
for them the day would never come ♪


♪ The longnecks bellowed, and the fastrunners ran,
as Seeker and I fled across the land ♪

♪ If we did not arrive before our parents there stood,
then approve of our pairing they never would ♪

Yikes! Tracker thought. That did not sound good to her at all. Hm. I wonder what my parents would have thought of Dodger…

Violet, meanwhile, fought the urge to laugh, both at the idea of leaf-eaters telling fastbiters what to do and the simple absurdity of the situation. Years of being stuck around the completely humorless Prowler, however, gave her the control not to show more than a slight twitch.

Dodger just shook his head at the situation. Obviously, the situation had turned out alright, judging by how the featured pair behaved. He wasn’t about to laugh, though. That wouldn’t be polite, especially since Violet would see that as an excuse to stop keeping herself under control. I may be a bit too controlling, but I’d rather have that problem that let Violet not control herself.

♪ Into the trees, into the bushes, into the grass we flew,
All of the leaf-eaters stared at us oddly,
while our desperation only grew ♪

♪ Finally at our destination,
hidden runners, sharpteeth, and others stood,
while we let out triumphant roars ♪

♪ Then we heard the sound of laughter,
and were surprised by the source ♪

♪ For a test it had been not, except in jest,
our parents would not have been so unkind ♪

♪ The actual approval, in the fastrunner way,
was to trick the pair who love did bind ♪

Violet finally couldn’t help herself and burst out laughing. Dodger didn’t bother telling her to stop. It wouldn’t do any good even if he wanted her to. He looked over at Tracker, who was much more sedate. She was just smiling, happy that everything turned out well.

The song died down after those verses, as Littlefoot smiled at the laughter from Violet. “My grandparents were like that in many ways. They were very old, but young at heart. I suppose that I knew, even then, that those would be among the last days that I would see them.”

“What were they like?” Tracker asked. She winced internally. I wish I’d phrased that better. Violet looked at Littlefoot expectantly, wanting more information as well.

“Well, they were huge,” Littlefoot offered sardonically, which elicited a few laughs from the others, “They were the closest thing to parents that I had since my mother died. They never seemed to be able to keep me from getting into trouble on my adventures, but they cared for me deeply.”

He then tilted his head a bit as he considered what information would be most surprising to the assembled fastbiters.

“My grandfather was a Story Speaker when he was a younger. A teller of tales to leaf-eaters.”

Tracker, ever a lover of stories, was fascinated. She considered asking to hear some of them, but decided that that would be too demanding. She felt she was already imposing on them with her injury as it was and so kept quiet.

“Your grandpa got into a lot of arguments with my dad,” Cera offered.

Littlefoot chuckled. “That is true, Stern Claw, but your dad gets into arguments with lots of people.”

Taunt interrupted before Cera could retort, “Which explains where Stern Claw got that from…”

The resulting slap of Cera’s tail on her mate’s face was a foregone conclusion.

“I take it none of those arguments ever got deadly,” Dodger stated more than asked. He was wondering how different kinds of leaf-eaters managed to coordinate amongst themselves. His little group had been quite dysfunctional with four individuals. Had they been of different kinds, even if they were all sharpteeth, they’d never have survived as long as they had, at least not together.

Littlefoot sighed. “Deadly, no. But having the valley agree on anything was like trying to lead a herd of yellowbellies. An impossible thing that only made you feel stupid for trying.”

Violet spoke without thinking, “That’s oddly specific.” Oops. “I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

Littlefoot closed his eyes. “That is something that we don’t even talk about amongst ourselves…”

“But if you want to hear that tale, Stern Claw did tell me once…” Taunt teased before dodging a bite from a noticeably irate Cera.

“I had no idea those sweet bubbles were overripe, and you agreed not to mention that again!”

Taunt shrugged. “I promised never to mention it to you again.”

As the pair circled one another in a mixture of playfulness and anger, Littlefoot merely shrugged. “Getting this pack to agree on anything can be quite a chore as well.”

“Hopefully, it's also a bit less dangerous for you than me,” Dodger muttered, not really intending for anyone to hear him.

Littlefoot looked at Dodger with sudden sympathy. “Not all pack leaders lead by tooth and claw. A violent pack leader often meets a violent end.”

“It's funny, really. Prowler’s dad was quite admirable, as were many of his ancestors,” Dodger said. He’d heard many stories of Prowler’s ancestors as stories meant for teaching how to lead well. “Sometimes I wonder if he would have done better if he’d not been under such desperate circumstances.”

Littlefoot frowned. “Sometimes we define our destiny, and sometimes our destinies define us…” He finally shook his head as he gestured at the others. “Stern Claw, if you could hold off on killing tail-chaser over there I would appreciate it. We have a song to finish, remember?”

Cera gave a mock charge at Taunt before strutting back triumphantly. Within moments the pack was assembled again.

“And now the conclusion of our song…”


♪ As we stood in the ravine bare,
the sound of flyers rang in the air,
a sound of life in a lifeless land,
where blood still soaked the burning sand ♪

♪ A reminder of why my grandparents died,
why Thicknose sacrificed, why children cried,
losses given freely so that others might live,
selfless heroism from those who were willing to give ♪

♪ So as we prepared to travel on,
to finally reside in the Mysterious Beyond,
we looked one last time at our former land,
and bowed our heads without further command ♪

♪ To the valley we could no longer return,
but in our minds its memories would still burn,
we would never forget the past that came before,
and our song would be heard forever more ♪

As the assembled pack repeated the last verse’s refrain, they worked themselves up into a crescendo. Their voices joining as one in a show of pack solidarity. The booming vocals continued to echo across the territory even as the song came to an end. The silence that followed it was deafening.

Dodger, Violet, and Tracker exchanged looks, not entirely sure how to react. They all agreed that it was a grand tale and superbly sung. Tracker was actually nervous she would not be able to do it justice in a retelling. However, they’d been so used to keeping their opinions to themselves, or at least to not state them loudly, over the years that they really weren’t sure what reaction was appropriate. Even Violet kept herself from cheering, as badly as she wanted to.

Tracker finally came up with at least an appropriate question. “Is Calin still alive?” she asked. The answer to that question greatly concerned her.

Littlefoot smiled slightly, while his eyes suddenly turned malicious. “Calin died in a fitting manner. Until nature finally reclaimed it, I kept his tail as a reminder of how close we all came to destruction. It is amazing what people can do when you let them know that you are calling in a favor… though I think the ones who got Calin didn’t even care about the award, to be honest…”

He trailed off but did not elaborate further. His change in demeanor clearly indicated a ruthlessness that the song had only hinted at. This was the first time that they had seen it firsthand since the terror of their initial capture.

“Well, that’s one less thing to worry about,” Violet said. Just going by what she heard in the song, she’d decided that her former leader wasn’t the absolutely worst fastbiter to ever live, not that was saying a lot. She still couldn’t even think his name without getting angry.

Cera nodded. “For every jerk we have to kill or chase off another one seems to appear… but we have yet to see one as vile as Calin.”

Ruby agreed with her friend’s assessment. “He was the worst of fake-faces. I don’t think that there was any part of him that was real.”

“I don’t ever want to meet one,” Tracker said. Again. Once was one time too many. If they had said Calin were still alive, she knew she’d be having nightmares until the next Cold Time.

Chomper broke the overall mood of the conversation by yawning. The sharp intake of air from the sharptooth resulted in the assembled packs looking at him with bemusement. This resulted in the sharptooth shrugging with his stubby arms.

“What? I’ve only eaten a small meal today, and not eating makes me tired.”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes. “...and pissy.”

Chomper made a mock bite at his leader as Littlefoot easily bounded away. The laughter that followed from Ruby and the others clearly indicated the good nature of the ‘attack’.

“So… should we get some dinner then?” Spike offered, never being hesitant to recommend eating, “The swimmers should still be by the stream.”

Ducky nodded. “Yep, yep, yep. It is their Time of Mating… so they should be distracted.”

“Want some help?” Dodger asked. He wasn’t about to assume they’d want his pack around, but he didn’t want to generate any ill will via inaction or unintentional slight. He also wasn’t sure what exactly was expected of him right now. Every other pack that had any interest in him had only sought his death so his social skill were a bit lacking.

Littlefoot turned from Ducky upon hearing Dodger’s offer. His mind reeled with the awkwardness of the entire situation. Here was a pack that they had been moments away from utterly destroying, and yet now they were offering to assist them in a hunt within their own territory. He had opened up the doors of friendship by telling them their story, and now it seemed that the stories of the two packs would overlap. Within moments he reached a decision.

“We would appreciate that.” His voice was firm but friendly. “Though we will need to talk strategy… and I would imagine that you would prefer to watch from afar, Tracker?”

“Assuming I can even get there,” Tracker replied, with an uncharacteristic amount of annoyance. She wasn’t entirely sure if she could even walk on her own yet and really didn’t want to fall on her face in front of everyone. When moved from her original fallen position her packmates had practically carried her the whole way.

Littlefoot frowned at her words, but did not disagree. “Alright, Haven and Stern Claw? Would you mind helping her to Lookout Hill? She could still participate in the hunt by relaying our signals.”

Ducky looked surprised. “That’s a good idea, Seeker! I did not think of that. She could give signals without the swimmers knowing that we are near.”

Cera smiled. “They would just think that it was a fastbiter singing a ‘horrible sharptooth song’ in the distance… they would never suspect that she is giving us valuable information.”

“I’ll do my best,” Tracker said, sounding nervous. Prowler hadn’t allowed her to participate in any hunt she wasn’t absolutely needed in due to her not being a very fast runner, a not entirely inaccurate accusation on his part.

Littlefoot smiled, a plan quickly forming in his mind. “Alright, everyone, I think that it is time for us to do the old ‘charge and deflect’ maneuver… Haven, tell Tracker how this works… Dodger and Violet? You are with me. We have some scouting to do.”

“You’ll do fine, Tracker,” Dodger said before turning to follow Littlefoot.

“She’ll be safe there, right?” Violet asked Ducky. She still didn’t entirely like the green fastbiter, but she seemed less likely to rebuff her question than the former threehorn.

Ducky nodded. “She will be far away from the action… but I guess that we could give her extra protection just to make sure.” She looked up at Petrie. “Get some Orange Death, Spotter. That way if any leaf-eater charges the hill…”

She did not need to finish. “Spotter understand! If leaf-eater comes up hill then leaf-eater dead…” He turned towards Violet. “That work for you?”

“Perfect,” Violet said. Tracker gave an involuntary shudder at the mention of ‘Orange Death’ but otherwise said nothing.

“See you soon,” Violet yelled as she hurried to catch up with her brother.

Tracker nodded as the two fastbiters leaned against her on either side, helping to keep her upright. It was only then that she realized that the same dinosaur who had nearly killed her was now helping her get in position to help kill another dinosaur.

Well… this is awkward.
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/5/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 4: A Violet Blooms

As soon as the song turned to the subject of hunting Orchid could feel his pulse quicken. There were far too many memories from his own indentured servitude to Chomper's parents. Too many memories of death screams...

"We could stop for the night if you all wish. I am sure that all of you would like to sleep at some point."

Orchid blinked at the sudden voice. He had not expected Cynnil to address them directly.

"I..." Orchid hesitated. The hidden runners and Mender were offering them a way to stop the song for the night, but as he struggled to remember what he knew about etiquette in such matters something else came to mind.

They know what happened to us... and they're offering us a chance to avoid hearing the hunting song.

Orchid clinched his beak as he considered their options. It was a nice gesture on their part, but the idea did not sit well with him. It contradicted something that his mother had told him long ago with pack songs.

Never let a song go unfinished.

"Perhaps after you finish the chorus of the next song?" his father's words intoned diplomatically, "We would hate to deprive the ancestors of a finished story."

Orchid nodded with a knowing smile. So many rules... how do the fastbiters keep track of it all?

"And then maybe we could finish the rest tomorrow?" Orchid added for good measure to make sure that the guests did not take offense.

"Yeah!" his sister added enthusiastically, "It isn't like I'm going anywhere."

Orchid couldn't help but roll his eyes. You could have omitted that last part, sis!

"That sounds good," Cynnil replied with a smile as she gestured towards her predatory packmate, "I do believe this song is all yours, Mender."

Orchid again turned his expression to the violet fastbiter as she bowed slightly towards her pack leader. It was a very noticeable sign of caution in her movements that was an utter contrast to the good-natured pack leader before her.

"Looks like old habits die hard."

Orchid nodded slightly. Looks like it, sis.

The moment did not last long, however, before Mender stood in front of the others and gestured in an exaggerated manner.

♪ As the swimmers swam and splashed,
In the water's blue depths ♪

♪ Many potential lovers gathered by,
to find the ones who would build their nests ♪

♪ It was here, listening in,
where Seeker and my brother sat in wait ♪

♪ Knowing that in the moments to come,
one of the swimmers would meet its fate ♪


“Are you coming my way?”

The swimmer shuddered at the male’s words. This was the latest potential suitor on this unending day. Fighting the urge to roll her eyes she gave him the same answer that she had given the last eight males.

"That depends… how fast can you swim? Are you as slow as the other males?”

The male swimmer took this as an opportunity to make another pass at her.

“Well, sweetie, if you choose me then I will go as slow as you want…”

“What are they saying?”

Littlefoot resisted the urge to groan at Dodger’s question. It wasn’t his fault that swimmers acted like sex-crazed fiends during their Time of Mating. And it wasn’t his fault that they had to listen to the results.

“You honestly don’t want to know. Trust me.”

“I guess knowing leaf-eater is both a blessing and a curse, then,” Dodger said more to himself than to Littlefoot. “Any obvious targets?” he then asked as he looked the brown fastbiter in the eyes.

Littlefoot considered Dodger's words carefully. You can see the targets as well as I. Hmmm... I wonder if you are asking out of deference to me or inexperience at picking targets.

Littlefoot did not say his inner thoughts, but instead nodded at Dodger's question. “You see the male over there? He is quite fixated on mating with any female that passes him by… and he does not seem to be interested in proving his capacity to swim fast…what would you gather from that information, Dodger?” He kept his expression neutral as to neither express condensation or arrogance.

“He’s not as fast as the other males, so he’ll be easier to catch.” Dodger was still curious as to how the hunt would actually work. Four fastbiters was the most he had ever worked alongside, and he’d only been on real hunts with three companions. This could get out of control real fast.

Littlefoot noted the response with a slight smile. “Very good. The first step in planning a hunt like this is to get all of the information that you can. We don’t always have a chance to get this close to the prey, but whenever we can we take the opportunity.”

As he said this Littlefoot gestured towards the bushes that covered their bodies. They were within a longneck length of the watering hole, and a longneck length further from that stood the love-struck swimmers. Truth be told they wouldn’t even have to hide in order to avoid an attack, but they wanted the swimmers to act normally. That way they could get the best information…

Littlefoot looked intently at Dodger. Now while we are here... let's find out a bit more about your pack...

“I am sure that you are well skilled in hunting. How involved were you with the planning before your pack’s hunts?" Littlefoot asked casually, "How did Prowler handle such things?”

“Depends on how soon before the hunt you’re talking about. After Tracker gave her report, Prowler would come up with a basic plan that was either chasing the target into an ambush or simply trying to run it down. After that I did damage control and stationed myself at the weakest point in the plan without telling Prowler about it. It would sound too much like criticism.” Dodger said the last sentence with more than a hint of bitterness.

“To try to make the plan actually fit the situation I’d give more detailed instructions to Violet and sometimes Tracker. Simply put, there rarely was a real plan. I usually had to make one walking Violet to her starting position. There used to be rather good plans, but that was long ago when Prowler and I got along.”

Littlefoot frowned as he examined the male make another attempt at a female. I am addressing a pack leader who apparently doesn't know that he was a pack leader... he will need to start thinking like one.

“It sounds like you were being more of a leader than the leader… have you given thought as to whom you would want as your second? In my pack we switch around whom is the second depending on the prey and who is in the hunting party… but most packs only have one second.”

“I’m honestly not sure. Violet doesn’t think things all the way through, as you’ve seen, and Tracker can still tell you exactly how many hunts she’s been on. I don’t think Prowler ever forgave her for completing his challenge.”

Littlefoot nodded. “We have worked with a few other packs back during the last Cold Time… it was one of those ‘you allow us to cross your territory, and we will help you bring down prey’ things… not to mention they wanted to be on our good side… but anyway, we got to learn about how other packs handled things. You would be amazed how many packs have a leader, a left flanker, a right flanker, and a chaser. The tracker is usually done by one of the others as an extra duty. As you can imagine, that arrangement would not work in my pack. Too many hunters.”

“I’ve got too few. Until Tracker’s fully on her feet I’m down to two, myself included.” Dodger thought for moment. “For comparison’s sake, how would your pack go after an adult threehorn without those sticks?” I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t something that makes pestering a two-footer look safe.

Dodger did not notice the momentary flicker in Littlefoot's eyes. “First, you find a person’s ruin, their weakness, then you exploit it. For an adult threehorn that would be their children.” Despite Littlefoot’s dispassionate explanation his eyes conveyed more than a little disgust at the idea. “If you can get one of their children and hurt them then the parent will come running. If you know the path of least resistance to the child, then you can have you packmates line the route and wait… all you need is one good strike to one of the hind legs… then you have all of the time in the world to find attacks of opportunity.”

“No wonder that hunt went so badly,” Dodger muttered. That disaster nearly killed us all.

Littlefoot kept his eyes on the swimmer, but gestured with his hand for Dodger to feel free to elaborate. He did not realize that Dodger took it as an order more so than a request.

“Last Cold Time Prowler got it into his head to go after the leader of a threehorn herd. That was stupid from the start. We tried an ambush in a ravine... Tracker got hit hard. Prowler was thrown and landed wrong. His tail still doesn’t work quite right. Violet led the threehorn on a chase. The rest of the herd followed her if they did anything at all. I wasn’t paying much attention at that point.

“Tracker couldn’t even stand up. Prowler was yelling at her. Then he kicked her. I saw red and attacked. We nearly killed each other…” Dodger gestured to some scars along his side and one across his chest. “We tried to act like nothing happened, but I didn’t think we’d make it to next Cold Time. I guess I was right.”

Littlefoot growled slightly at Dodger’s story. Prowler sounded like a toxic leader in many ways, though not overtly malicious.

“Well… I guess I will show you how we handle things in this pack so that you can get some other ideas. It is never a bad idea to learn new things.” He gestured towards the area where the swimmers were. “From Lookout Hill to the stream what did you notice? Did you notice anything about the terrain?”

Dodger did his best to quickly follow the terrain with his eyes. Despite the casualness of the question some unconscious part of his mind took Littlefoot's question as a test of his abilities.

“It's somewhat open, though there’s quite a bit of grass. No sudden movements and we might be able to sneak closer.” Dodger was doing his best not to think of the situation from the prey’s perspective. He’d been in too many ambushes, though honestly one was too many, involving grass for him not to be wary of it.

As if he were reading Dodger’s mind, Littlefoot asked another question, “How do you think the swimmers feel about their location? If a threat were to appear where do you think they would go?”

“Most likely the stream. That’s where they’re most comfortable. If they decide to leave the area entirely they could probably outswim us,” Dodger responded, “Just don’t ask Violet to jump in. She hates water she can’t stand in.” Nearly drowning will do that to you.

Littlefoot nodded. “Exactly. They will head up the stream. It is for that reason that we will need to get between our target and the stream. In order to do that we will have to have a two-way ambush. Based upon the terrain here, which two areas do you think we should use?”

“The plants by the water would make a good hiding spot…” Dodger muttered, trying to think it through. He was used to thinking fast, but there were more components here than he was used to. “I’m not entirely sure if an attack from our current direction if we get close counts as an ambush, but…” And I thought it would be easier with more fastbiters.

“Yes, you are on the right track. We will need to have the fastest of us waiting here and over there and then we will need to charge on either side of the target in order to block his access to the stream…” Littlefoot gestured towards the body of water, which was now abuzz with activity, “...then the chasers can follow him when he runs away from the stream. But tell me Dodger, what part of the hunt am I leaving out?”

“We need a distraction or some other trick,” Dodger said.

Littlefoot nodded with a smile. “Exactly! We need something that will make the prey look in the opposite direction of us… something in that general direction.” He gestured towards Lookout Hill. “I trust that Tracker is up to the task, but there is a reason that I have sent Violet to be in the chasing group, and not in the ambush group. I trust that you understand.” Littlefoot looked somewhat apologetic as he said this.

Dodger couldn’t keep himself from scowling. Prowler had often said something similar though far more coarsely. “Understood, sir.” There was slight bit of challenge in his eyes.

Littlefoot noted the change and kept his demeanor carefully neutral. Though he did not want to antagonize the other fastbiter, he also did not want to show weakness. “Sometimes it is better to build up confidence before bigger duties are given. This is how Dein taught all of us back when we first changed. She is very fast, but the last day has not exactly been kind to her self-esteem has it? How would she react if she feels that she needs to prove herself?”

Dodger understood what Littlefoot was saying. He’d had similar thoughts in previous hunts. “My apologies, sir.” Dodger ducked his head down like his father had taught him to do before the leader. Littlefoot was in control of the situation. Despite being a pack leader now, Dodger knew he was not on equal footing with the other fastbiter.

Littlefoot made a placative gesture with his hand. “No need for an apology, Dodger. It is only natural to be protective of those that we care for.” He then smiled at the other fastbiter. “But I think that we have made pretty good progress with our scouting. We now have a strategy… we know the terrain… we know the target… and we know which teams that we are going to use. Do you have any questions?”

“No, sir.”

Littlefoot frowned slightly at the formality and made a mental note to see if the behavior continued once the hunt was over. He took great pains to get to know every fastbiter under his command, but he felt like he was missing a piece of the puzzle here. Nonetheless, he decided that could wait for later. They had a hunt to start.

“Alright, Dodger, tell the others what I have decided, tell Petrie to tell Tracker to give the signal when everyone is in position, and tell Ponder to select the two ambush teams. Then rejoin me. The hunt will soon be on!”

“Right away, sir,” Dodger said, smiling. He almost forgot the ‘sir’ at the end, thrilled to be part of something that probably wasn’t going to get him killed, but he’d had the concept of respect towards those senior in rank to him pounded into his head for so long it was part of his nature now, especially when acting under orders.

Littlefoot watched as the fastbiter bounded away with enthusiasm. It was then that Littlefoot realized that Dodger’s formality was born of respect as opposed to coldness. It was an odd reaction that reminded him vaguely of how threehorns behaved.

Come back soon, Dodger, and you will see firsthand how hunts happen in a big pack!

He then turned back towards the not-so-distant swimmer who was still making his rounds.

“We only live once, darling, why don’t you live your life with me?”

“Drop dead, creep!”

Littlefoot smiled and suppressed a chuckle. You took the words right out of my mouth, swimmer!


“Alright, everyone! You heard Dodger’s report. If you are not in Ponder’s or Stern Claw’s groups then you are with me!”

Violet reluctantly stayed with Spike’s group. I’ve never worked with this many before. Previously she’d only worked with Dodger or Tracker when being a distraction, never both at the same time. That was when she noticed Dodger giving a curt nod to the fastbiter that she quickly identified as Ruby.

“Alright! Dodger, Seeker, and Taunt will be with me! Let’s go!”

Violet’s mouth opened with agitation before she quickly closed it. It seemed that Dodger was going back to the other pack leader without even talking with her. I’ve never worked with strangers before…

Suddenly there was a light hiss, and Cera’ group swiftly and quietly departed into the forest. With her went Breeze, a small group but large enough to cause panic where panic was desired. That left Ducky, Spike, Chomper, and her in the chaser group. With the addition of Chomper they would be quite conspicuous, but then again their job wasn’t to sneak… it was to finish the job.

A job that I will have to do with… them…

Focus! I can’t afford to mess this up. A rather worrying thought struck her. I hope Dodger’s not mad at me. Or worse trying to distance himself when I mess up… She shook her head to clear it, but it didn't do anything to calm her worries.

“Alright, everyone. We will need to get near the forest’s edge, but not alert the swimmers… |On second thought you might want to be a bit further away, Path…”

The giant sharptooth smiled at Spike’s words. “Are you saying that I am hard to hide, Finder?”

“My brother is saying that you can’t hide. Nope, nope, nope!”

Sneaking? I’m doomed. “Maybe I should sit this one out,” Violet muttered to herself.

She didn’t realize that everyone was now looking at her with great concern. None more so than a certain green fastbiter. With a quick glance she nonverbally told her brother to let her handle this. Violet’s first hint that she had spoken aloud was when Ducky was a mere head’s-length from her face.

“Look at me, Violet.”

Violet did as instructed, her mind currently too occupied with panic at letting everyone else know what she was thinking to come up with any other response. Dodger’s going to kill me.

Ducky looked upon the fastbiter with more than a small amount of pity. True her interactions with the fastbiter had been little more than annoyance over the last day, between trying to free her from trees after running from Chomper… to avoiding being killed by an angry fastbiter… but she could smell the desperation on her. The desperation to prove herself. The desperation to be useful. The desperation to be loved. She clinched her claws out of anger for Prowler. The imprint of his mental torments were visible for all to see.

“You can do this. If we didn’t think that you could do this then we wouldn’t ask you.”

“You guys saw me coming before I even knew I was close to you. How is this any different?” If she were thinking logically, Violet could have answered that for herself. She wished Tracker were with her or here instead of her. She made sneaking look so easy.

“The difference, silly, is that we are fastbiters, and you were going upwind from us… not to mention we had some help in the sky… I don’t think the swimmers will have that, do you?” Ducky replied with good humor, “Besides we don’t have to sneak… they won’t think anything of a few fastbiters a great distance away…”

“Okay. I’ll give it a try. I don’t think my brother would be too happy if I told him I gave up,” Violet said with more confidence than she felt. She wasn’t certain, but she was pretty sure failure would be a better result than no attempt at all. One resulted in correction, the other in a lecture that wouldn’t end until the Night Circle rose again. Which of those is more embarrassing in front of strangers?

Ducky examined the other fastbiter’s face closely, but reluctantly gave her an encouraging nod. The moment was quickly interrupted however by a noise from the sky.


Spike looked up towards the hill where Tracker resided. “Alright, everyone, it is time. We need to get in our positions!”

The hunt was about to begin.


Petrie soared over the swimmers like a leaf floating in the air. His eyes scoured the potential victims with clinical efficiency, as he knew that any signals from him would not alert the swimmers to the danger. They would merely see it as the random territorial calls of a flyer.

The love-struck ass still be distracted… Petrie considered that Taunt would have finished his thought with “still be distracted by tail” but Petrie ignored the unwanted commentary; he had a job to do. He seem a bit slow… right foot not good… It was only from the air that one could see his spine arch awkwardly. He was putting more weight on one side.

Petrie nodded in satisfaction. This was the right target. Now he had to examine possible threats.

Three swimmers to right… four to left… rest in water… pack need to get in between him and others… distraction should do that.

Petrie smiled. Now it was up to Tracker.



Tracker couldn’t help but look to the skies at hearing Petrie’s call. Redirecting her gaze out to the herd she could see the groups starting to get into position. She found Dodger exactly where he was supposed to be. No surprise there. That group’s ready.

Looking further out Tracker found Violet and the rest of Spike’s group. Violet was looking more than a bit nervous, which meant that she was barely hanging in there… Don’t worry, Violet. We’ve been through far worse than this. She sighed. I’m gonna have to talk with her. She shouldn’t be this worried. It’s not like we’re going after a threehorn. Something’s bothering her. Tracker would have outright refused to participate had their target been a threehorn. She’d nearly died from them once; she had no intention of being anywhere near one while helpless.

Just then there was a sudden movement in the group of swimmers. Tracker could see two of the females react with agitation at something unseen.

What was that? Tracker searched for anything that might be agitating the swimmers. What am I not seeing? Please don’t panic. Please don’t panic...


Without warning the two females dived into the water. It seemed that they had enough of the male’s advances.

I might have missed the obvious, Tracker thought to herself with a small laugh.

Within moments the herd of swimmers appeared to calm down, with the male looking more than a bit dejected. Despite all of his attempts he had not found success on this day. And the pack was about to make sure that he never did.

Now with the females cleared away from the male, the ambush teams had a clear shot.

Okay. Now’s a good a time as any. Tracker roared as loudly as she could, hoping to draw as much attention to herself as possible. And here we go…


“Be careful, children! Don’t stray too far from the water!”

Gali watched her children with amusement. They were now one year old and just old enough to play without constant supervision.

With the way the herd has been reacting I am sure there will be more children around soon enough.

She tried to ignore the overtures that she could hear from the desperate male. They were not made to her, of course, but the entire herd could hear his pathetic lines to the other females of his age.

Oh, Nadru, you were always not the swiftest current in the stream, but surely you know that they are not interested! Sighing, she proceeded to go back to the edge of the water while keeping her children in sight. That was when her world erupted into chaos.



“Everyone, to the water!”

Gali looked up in horror at the sight of fastbiters emerging from the forest like locusts in a swarm. They were heading right towards her children.

“Children, run!”


This is going better than expected, Dodger thought to himself, No one’s dead yet. So far he hadn’t seen anyone in any real danger, their target excepted, of course. “Stupid question, but now what?” he yelled to no one in particular as the swimmer herd erupted into chaos. Fortunately for them, their target had practically run right into his group.

“Hey, swimmer! How do you like our pickup line!” Littlefoot mocked in sharptooth, knowing that the swimmer would only hear growls and roars. Making him panic was exactly what they wanted at this point. “Slash at his back if he presents an opening. For now just keep him from the water!”

“No problem.” Where’s everyone else? I hate not knowing what’s going on. Dodger was not fond of not knowing certain things, like how quickly his fellow fastbiters could move. Got a bit too used to working with my group doing the exact same thing every time. Got to work on that.

As if on cue, Cera’s team arrived.

“Hey, look at me! I’m a sharptooth! Grrr….”

Dodger tried to hold his laugh at Cera’s words as the male swimmer promptly broke into a run. All thoughts of going into the water being overridden by his instincts. It would soon be up to the chaser team to bring the swimmer down.

“Shit! Look out, Dodger!”

Dodger looked behind him to see a very angry swimmer bearing down on him. This just isn’t my day. Dodger scrambled to get out of the way, eventually resorting to jumping at the last moment to increase his distance.

“Momma! Help!”

Oh, come on! What is this, pick-on-Dodger day? Dodger deliberately put as much distance between himself and anything or anyone that might get him trampled without caring how silly he might look. Running from a baby swimmer did nothing for his dignity.

“We are not after your children, swimmer. We are after him!” Taunt shouted in broken leaf-eater, as Dodger looked on in confusion. Dodger’s momentary lapse however was soon interrupted by a hand on his shoulder.

“Let’s get going before momma over here gets any ideas!” Cera practically yelled in his face, “Besides who wants the chasers to have all of the fun?”

Dodger didn’t bother to reply. He just took off after the fleeing swimmer. Today can’t possibly get any worse…

He didn’t notice a very confused looking swimmer cradling her five children. It was only now dawning on her who these fastbiters must have been. For years to come her small family would tell about how they were spared by the Seven.

Though not everyone in the herd would be so lucky...


Violet kept pace with the swimmer in front of her. Her legs were burning. She wouldn’t have it any other way. This was what she was good at. The other fastbiters in the chaser group were still with her, unsurprisingly. I wonder if I can get Haven to race me when we’re both rested? What am I thinking? FOCUS! She put on a burst of speed to try to close the gap.

The swimmer’s pace began to slow as he struggled outside of his element. He was a swimmer, not a fast runner, and he could feel his legs begin to give out. The excited roars and yelps behind him were like an omen of impending doom. There were no other swimmers here with him.

He was completely alone.

Almost there, almost there… Violet was close to her target. She saw him stumble slightly. That was all the opening she needed. She leapt, claws sinking into the swimmer’s side. Yes! She roared in triumph.


The swimmer shuddered violently as the fastbiter hung on to its shredded hide. His thoughts turned feral as the sensation of his life blood gushing from his body reached his perception. He began to run even faster as if a hidden reserve of energy arose within him. It was the second wind that came before death. The flame that came before the burn out.

Violet did her best to stay on and not fall off. It wasn’t working. Every attempt to dig in deeper just destroyed what hold she had, and she was rapidly running out of undamaged hide. Reluctantly she jumped off and managed to land in a controlled tumble she’d seen Dodger do once, but never had the chance to practice herself.

Okay, nothing’s broken, Violet thought to herself as she got back up, now feeling somewhat sore. Not a good landing, though. Ouch. She hurried to catch up with the mortally wounded swimmer.

Suddenly a bark arose from behind Violet as the sound of running feet and a rush of air erupted over her body. That was when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Are you alright?” Cera asked with an exhausted voice.

“I’ve been through worse,” Violet said. Much worse. “Dodger didn’t see that, did he?”

Cera nodded quickly as she looked ahead and gave an ‘all clear’ gesture. “He saw enough to be concerned. You handled that well, though.” She kept her focus on the chase in front of her. “...and here comes the finish…”

Violet couldn’t help but sigh as she saw the rest of the pack rush in for the kill. I’m never going to make a kill, am I? Too slow. Too clumsy. And I probably scared Dodger to death for nothing. Again.

Well ahead of the two fastbiters, the rest of the pack had caught up to the stricken prey. With a fury that seemed to come from nowhere Taunt leapt upon the swimmer’s back and dug into the helpless herbivore’s throat causing a torrent of blood to erupt on his face and body. This was the only signal that the others needed as they also leapt upon the swimmer’s back and began to tear into the delicate flesh like maggots on carrion. Within mere moments a roar emanated from Littlefoot and the others detached themselves from the now stationary and wavering swimmer. When he did finally fall he never rose again.

The hunt was over.

“Congratulations on the kill, Violet!” Cera patted the other fastbiter on the back, which caused a yelp of surprise to erupt from her. “We could have let him bleed out, but then he could have died somewhere difficult to get to. That is why we usually ‘help’ the prey along.”

“Wait, what?” Violet asked, extremely confused. This didn’t make any sense. She’d been nowhere near the prey when it died. “I didn’t do anything except almost break my neck.”

Cera looked over the fastbiter as roars of victory emanated from the pack. “Even if we had done nothing, Violet, the swimmer was dead. He couldn’t have survived a blow like that. This is your kill.” It was then that a passing thought came to Cera, “What does this bring your kill count to? I bet in a small pack like yours that you have had your fair share.”

Violet looked extremely embarrassed and glanced away. “Including this one? Um... one,” she practically whispered.

Cera froze and blinked. “Really?” She tried not to make her voice sound too reproachful, but her surprise was evident to Violet. “I mean… this is really your first kill?”

“I know I’m clumsy. You don’t have to rub it in,” Violet grumbled. Her embarrassment was rapidly turning to anger, but giving in to that anger wouldn’t do her any good.

Cera didn’t say a word as she looked towards the celebrating pack. Dodger was roaring happily with the others and was unaware of the situation with his packmate. The spontaneity of his reaction, as if it was his first time celebrating so freely, caught her by surprise. This made something click inside Cera’s mind.

“Perhaps this is the first time anyone has actually given you a chance to succeed?”

Seeing slights where there were none, Violet put in an unnecessary defense of her brother. “Dodger gave me plenty of chances. We actually lost some prey because he let me try. Eventually I got tired of making his life harder because he said he messed up when Prowler demanded to know what happened.” She didn’t mention that there weren’t that many chances in the first place because Prowler usually got the kill himself. If Dodger were in a position to try, then that meant Prowler missed and was already mad.

“Then tell me, Violet, why is Dodger celebrating like a youngling who caught his first ground fuzzy?” Cera inquired.

“Because my sister did something amazing,” Dodger said, having walked up without the other two noticing. He noticed Violet’s confused look. “What, you didn’t know?” I’m the worst brother, ever.

Violet just shook her head. She didn’t trust herself to speak.

“That kill is yours, Violet. Even if Seeker specifically said it didn’t count, you landed the critical hit. I’m your pack leader…” and your brother “...and I say you get credit for it. Just don’t scare me like that again.”

“I…” It finally dawned on Violet just exactly what she had done. According to her pack’s traditions, she was still considered a child, and thus unassignable for any major responsibilities, until she made her first kill. Most made their first kill well before they became part of their own pack. She’d never gotten the chance to try before being separated from most of her family. If Dodger says I got the kill, then that means… “I did it. I really did it.” Forgetting where she was for the moment, she practically crashed into her brother, embracing him.

“I always knew you could do it,” Dodger whispered, returning the embrace.

“Wait ‘till I tell Tracker,” Violet said excitedly, “Wait, Tracker…”

“I’ll get her,” Dodger said, putting himself between Violet and Tracker’s location, “You earned this. Might as well enjoy it.” With that, he turned and ran towards his friend’s position. You’ve more than earned this, little sister.

Cera smiled as the fastbiter seemed to grow in maturity before her eyes. It was amazing what knowing your own worth could do to a person.

“Come along, Violet, the rest of the pack will want to congratulate you as well.” Cera smiled as she saw that the other fastbiter was hesitating. “Don’t worry! You can wait to have the first bite until Tracker gets here.”


Ducky looked upon the scene in the distance with a contemplative expression. She would have been utterly unaware of the significance of recent events, just seeing it as Violet regaining her confidence, were it not for something that Dodger whispered to Littlefoot moments before.

“I’m so proud of her! This is her first kill!”

“Wait! Her what?”

“Her first kill! She never had the chance before.”

The celebration of the rest of the pack continued behind her, but she was left transfixed watching the two embracing fastbiters in front of her. She was only now considered an adult. Like them, after their transformation to sharpteeth, her graduation to adulthood was one long delayed. No wonder why she was so unsure of herself. No wonder why she gravitated from taking great risks to retreating into herself. It all made sense.

I will have to talk to her about being a full pack member. She probably knows what that means, but it is another to finally be one. It is, it is!

As Cera and Violet began to walk towards the rest of the pack Ducky gave Littlefoot a knowing look.

“I will talk to her later. Seeker, you focus on Dodger.”

Littlefoot looked a bit surprised but did not argue. “You plan on giving her the talk?”

Ducky snorted. “Someone has to do it, and there are certain things that her a male would probably leave out.”

Littlefoot smiled sardonically. “There are some things that you have to hear from a stern voice.”

Ducky looked over at the fastbiter. “Are you teasing me, Seeker?”

Littlefoot deadpanned, “Nope, nope, nope!”

As the pack leader leapt to avoid Ducky’s playful swipe, she returned to her previous vigil over the advancing fastbiters, but she held her tongue. The talk could wait for later. Right now they had a feast to attend to.

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/6/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 5: Conversations

Urgh… rocks don’t make the best sleeping spot.

Mender slowly rose from her makeshift sleeping area as the snores of the rest of her pack reached her ears. They made a soft echo against the rocks that only her ears could have captured against the background noise. Hidden runners were not known to be loud sleepers.

She stretched, being careful not to awaken Buse, as she glanced in the direction where Arial lay.

I need to check on her injury, but it can wait for the fastrunners to wake up. She snorted softly. After our 'entrance' I don't want to upset them any more than we already have!

Her mind made up, she gave one final look towards Cynnil to confirm that she was still slumbering. Seeing that to be the case, and that no one remained awake to give her contrary orders, she decided to attend to nature's call.

Hmmm… I wonder if they have a relieving spot.

She didn't notice Pearl opening her eyes and following her with her gaze.


Mender sighed heavily as she walked away from the relieving spot she had made the previous night. Being too embarrassed to come back and ask and too dutiful to risk exposing her patient to any danger, she had trekked nearly two miles to go back from where her pack had came.

"I will need to ask about that today… that is a long walk," I shouldn't have drunk from the stream before sleep. This happens every time. Though marking territory usually isn't a bad thing.

"The relieving spot is in the rocks, by the way."

Mender froze as the voice echoed across the ravine. Looking around frantically she could not see the source of the voice, but she could recognize it.

"Pearl?" Mender hesitated a moment with an embarrassed expression, "Um… sorry about waking you up…"

The laughter reached her ears before the tell-tale pale pink of the fastrunner came into view. After a few jumps from rock to rock she descended from the middle of the rock wall to its base. It was as if she knew every crevice of the rocks like the feathers on her back.

"No worries, Mender. I was already awake. I actually wanted to talk with you a moment."

Mender subconsciously began to twitch her tail out of nervousness.

"If that is alright, of course."

Get a hold of yourself, Mender! "Of course! Sorry, I just didn't realize that I had been followed."

Pearl laughed again. A slow, joyful laugh that sounded as if it had ripened with age. "I am not surprised. Our kind lives by being silent and fast… though if you had gone in the direction of the wind then I am sure you would have smelled me long ago."

Mender smiled meekly, "Surely…"

The pair seemed to pause for a moment as Pearl careful went to the relieving spot and gave it a cursory sniff. Then, using her hind feet, she began to quickly brush her body in the vicinity of the scent marking before carving a depression in the ground. It was only then that Mender dared to ask the obvious question.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but what…"

"Rub some of your scent right here," Pearl interrupted while not taking her eyes off of the little scrape she had made.

Mender tilted her head, What do you have in mind, Pearl? But she complied all the same. Within mere moments the scrape had a much stronger scent of fastbiter over that of the fastrunner. It was only then that she looked up.

To see that Pearl was no longer there.

"Few sharpteeth think to look up in the rocks," her voice echoed from the rock wall, her pink head peeking over a crevice of some kind, "Now if any come by they will think that the fastrunner who hunts out here has already been eaten."

Mender blinked as she contemplated the fastrunner's strategy, "Does your family have enemies?" If we had known that then we might have called in a few favors of our own!

Pearl's laugh greeted her again, "None in particular, but for a fastrunner any extra trickery is an advantage. A fastrunner who doesn't have speed or brains is…"

"Dinner." Mender finished Pearl's thought before realizing what she had just done, I need to keep my mouth shut! "Um... I mean."

"No, you are quite right. I have no doubt that if you needed food in the Mysterious Beyond then a stupid or slow fastrunner would be a good meal for you. Had it not been for Seeker's good words for you, and your formidable reputation, then we would have made sure that you would have never been invited into our family's hiding spot." Pearl's voice no longer had laughter in it, but rather an odd kind of reserved wisdom, "But that is not why I followed you this morning."

Mender remained silent for several moments until she was sure that Pearl was waiting for her to speak, "Then may I ask what brought you out here, ma'am?"

There was a brief pause until the pink fastrunner finally jumped onto a rock within Mender's field of vision, "I figured that we could talk for a bit as we head back to Hanging Rock… without the others hearing."

Great… what have I done now?

Then it happened again. The joyful laughter.

"I am not angry with you, Mender. I just have some questions. It isn't every day that Mender the Healer comes to your home, and it isn't every day that I can have a conversation with a fastbiter."

Mender rather self-consciously rose from her apologetic posture and tried to match the fastrunner's pace as she continued forward on the rocks above her, "I just help people…" she tried to temper the praise that the fastrunner had given her.

"A willingness to help people is a most rare trait in the Mysterious Beyond, Mender. Surely you know that?"

Mender looked down at those words. She had no rebuttal, "Buse and Cynnil are quite the healers as well. Cynnil has led me across the Mysterious Beyond for five seasons, and Buse has been with us for a season."

Pearl hopped to another rock with a soft thump, "I hope he has learned more about healing that tactfulness."

Mender laughed, "I am a healer, not a miracle worker."

Pearl echoed Mender's laughter, "It reminds me of the reports Spotter gives us from our daughter. Inevitably they will always include a few of Taunt's greatest incidents. Well, that is until the kids came along. Now it seems that he has his claws full."

Mender grew silent for several moments as she contemplated those words, "I have no doubt that Taunt's children would be like their father… I… um…"

Pearl stopped to look down at the fastbiter, "Go ahead, Mender."

"I have been traveling for many seasons, but I have not visited the pack since they had their kids. I… never had the chance." The slight quiver in her voice was not lost on Pearl.

Now it was Pearl's chance to be silent for a moment. When she again spoke, her voice came from behind Mender. She had covered enough ground that her scent was far enough away from the site of her faked 'death' to not alert any sharpteeth to the ruse.

"Now that reminds me of when we sent Ruby into the valley. We never knew if we were going to see her again, and the only notice we had of her whereabouts came from the mutterings of far-walkers leaving the valley," she sighed as she thought about those days, "Every time a complaining spiketail mentioned 'the damn egg-stealer' in the valley or the 'purple sharptooth' then we knew our baby was safe."

Mender frowned, "How often was that?"

Pearl smiled, "Not often. The leaf-eaters wouldn't directly talk to us, you see. But it is useful for a fastrunner to listen from afar. She has been an adult now for many seasons, and has been through several lifetimes of hardship. It is nice to know that she and our grandchildren are safe and sound."

Mender nodded, "Their song was hard to believe… and that is before I left. I can't imagine what they have been through since then."

Pearl blinked, "You don't know?"

Mender shrugged, "Well I was told by a flyer that the pack had had children… that Leap and Haven got together… and a several days ago a flyer told me that Seeker needed his favor repaid," she snorted, "…as if I only owe him one favor…"

"He didn't tell you what happened?" Pearl was disbelieving now.

"Um…" Mender hesitated, "The flyer told our pack about Ponder's sister needing some help… and that it involved a misunderstanding between the valley and some sharpteeth."

Pearl merely shook her head as a annoyed grunt left her mouth, "I will need to send a flyer out to inform my daughter's mate of the importance of giving the full story! Let's just say that the 'misunderstanding' involved Path, his parents, us, and the valley," she sighed, "It was enough to make us consider abandoning this place."

Mender frowned. My family never had the chance to flee… consider yourselves lucky. "I'm sorry, ma'am."

"Pearl, please." The fastrunner quickly corrected, "I am not a pack leader, Mender. You can address me as you would a friend. Anyone who is willing to help my daughters is a friend to me."

Mender nodded respectfully, "Sorry, Pearl."

"But we can't change the past… and things turned out well in the end. Which brings me back to the subject of yourself. We haven't heard the end of your song yet… but I am curious. What convinced the hidden runners to ally with you? They are loyal, but they also have their own agendas… what do they seek to gain?"

Mender smiled inwardly at the fastrunner's question. Now here is the Pearl that Ponder told me about long ago. The mother who would know her secrets even before she said them.

"I… that is something that will be explained in the song," Mender answered carefully, "As for how much I can explain that is something that I will have to ask my leader."

Pearl's only response to Mender was to stare at her a moment. It wasn't a glare, nor did it have a hint of reproach. It was the same expression one may give to a rock they were examining, or a scent.

Well… this is awkward.

"So the rumors about the Triple Alliance are true?"

Mender gasped, "What?! How do you know?"

Pearl smiled, "I hear all of the rumors, remember? And what I don't hear, my mate hears. Also, I approve wholeheartedly of the idea… though I understand it is not something that you would not want to announce openly. I'm sure the rank and file of the valley would not be thrilled to know the valley's role in this special arrangement."

Mender's mind spun. This is supposed to be secret! Cynnil is going to be livid! Taking a deep breath her mind shifted entirely to her duties.

"Who told you?" This is too important for us to mess it up!

Pearl's smile faded and was replaced with an understanding nod, "A herd of domeheads were talking near the stream when we first overheard the rumors," she gestured towards the stream ahead of them, "The rest of them appeared to not take it seriously. But I talked to Volant the next time she visited for the usual exchange of news…"

Oh no… It is all over. If far-walkers are talking and Volant knows that someone is talking…

"It turns out that was one with a reputation for telling tall-tales so the elders of the valley decided that the best way to prevent rumors from spreading was to ensure that it was seen as the ramblings of a liar."

Mender blinked, Are you trying to kill me, Pearl? I thought all was lost! "Isn't that risky? I mean, what if people start believing him?"

"Secrets are seldom held for long, Mender. The valley just wants to make sure that their part in the alliance can run its course," Pearl gestured towards the fastbiter, "Making any rumors seem absurd helps to ensure this."

I wonder how many people underestimate you, Pearl. You had us already figured out before we even arrived.

Mender shook her head, "Don't take this the wrong way, ma'am… er… Pearl. But you make 'the talk' that Haven gave me seem normal in comparison."

Pearl laughed, "No worries, Mender. I just thought that you should know where we stand. You have graciously told us part of your story, it is only right that you should know that we know another part."

"Do Arial and Orchid know?" Mender asked.

Pearl shook her head, "I figured that you might tell them in time."

Mender paused as she considered the situation, "I will need to talk to Cynnil… but if she has no objections then we can tell that part of the story as well. You… you do understand how important this is?"

Pearl nodded, "Absolutely. Trust me, when one has lived in the Mysterious Beyond for so long one understands the value of a helpful hand," she went silent for as she could see the purple form of her son appear in the distance, "Looks like the others are awake. Anything else you would like to talk about outside of listening ears?"

Mender snorted, "The tale about 'the talk' can be left out in front of the kids I think."

Pearl smiled.

Mender blinked. "…you're serious?"

"Well gathering the fish in silence would be boring wouldn't it?" Pearl added with a smile, "And not to mention I am curious how Haven gave you the talk. It was awkward when I had to give Ruby the talk. But I had to in case she found someone around the valley."

A laugh echoed in her ears, "Well, she kind of did, didn't she?"

Pearl shook her head as she laughed as well, "Indeed! Littlefoot was not who we had in mind for her, but fate proved to find a way. But… I do believe someone is delaying."

Mender rolled her eyes, Now I see how you get all of the gossip. "Alright, there actually isn't a song for this, but it is kind of a funny tale. After the meal Haven had a few words with me… but little did I know at the time that Seeker was planning on a meeting with my brother the next morning."


Nighttime, after the events of the previous chapter's song:

I like this feeling, Violet thought to herself as she helped Tracker back to the nest, leaving Dodger free to act if anything unexpected happened. Two days without eating or sleeping isn’t fun, but happens far too often. Better not get used to feeling full. Complacency is dangerous.

She suppressed a laugh, Great, now I sound like my brother.

“So what was it that you were going to tell me? Violet asked Tracker, trying to mentally change topics. The whispered reply nearly made her drop her friend.

“You two did what?” She looked from her best friend to her brother and back as she processed the reality of the situation. It's about time. My brother’s not afraid of a rampaging pack but is terrified of asking Tracker what she thinks of him.

“Congratulations,” Violet offered with sincerity.

“Thanks,” Tracker replied happily. She looked over to see Violet stifling a yawn. “Tired?”

“A little bit,” she admitted. But I don't need sleep as much as you... you need to rest for the sake of your leg.

Arriving at the makeshift nest, Violet let Tracker down, careful not to jostle her injury. Dodger took up a position a short distance away but with a good view of the surrounding area. Even in presumed safety, caution was always justified. Violet then looked around for a spot for herself.

She did not notice her brother focus his gaze on a new arrival.

“Evening, Violet,” Ducky greeted with more than a little nervousness and uncertainty, “Is everything going well?”

Violet barely hid her surprise as she took in a breath. This may have been the same dinosaur that had injured her packmate, but she knew that Ducky meant no further harm. Her kind actions since then had confirmed that.

“Everything’s great, Tracker’s leg aside,” Violet said. For once she could actually say that and mean it.

Ducky smiled. “That is good, it is, it is!” She looked behind Violet for a moment and noted that everyone else had settled for sleep, with only Dodger's gaze tracker movements. Only then did she decide to continue, “Um… I know it is late, but can I talk to you for a moment… in private.”

Unsure, Violet out of habit looked to Dodger for help. After a pause, Dodger gave a slight nod, granting permission if she felt she needed it.

“Sure,” Violet replied, sounding very unsure of her answer. She didn’t think this was a trap, at least not a lethal kind, but it still seemed odd to her. What does she want?

Ducky nodded at her answer and hunkered down in a somewhat submissive gesture to indicate the lack of any threat. Then, with a slight gesture of her hand, she guided her towards the stream. The smell of Ducky’s nervousness and embarrassment following behind her.

Something’s up; she sounded nervous. What would she have to be nervous about? This is her territory. Violet was starting to think she’d never understand the green fastbiter she was following.

Violet's uncomprehending gaze was noticed by her companion.

I will need to get to the point… Ducky noted to herself as the forest began to clear as the stream came into focus in front of her, I can tell that she is getting uneasy.

With another slight gesture she pointed at a small clearing in front of some fragrant bushes. She didn’t wait for a response before she sat down.

“I… am sure that you are wondering why I took you out here…”

“Yeah. I’m a bit confused,” Violet admitted, sitting down next to Ducky.

Ducky hesitated as she forced herself to make eye contact with Violet. “Um... forgive me… this is the first time that I have had this talk with someone. It is not easy for me, nope, nope, nope. It is something that a mommy usually gives, but um...”

“My mom, for all I know, is dead,” Violet bluntly finished for her.

“Yeah…” Ducky confirmed awkwardly, “My Mommy couldn’t have this conversation with me either, because she well... was a swimmer… so I had to learn it from Path’s Daddy and Taunt’s Daddy. I will tell you what they told me, as you are an adult in the eyes of the pack now.”

Violet stayed silent but looked a bit embarrassed at the reminder that she was still technically a child until earlier that day.

“I don’t mean to be rude, Violet, but… did your Mommy and Daddy have time to tell you about… um... adult things?” Ducky looked almost helpless as she gestured towards the stream. “Like how eggs happen? Things like that?”

“A little bit, and I can’t remember much of what they did say. I wasn’t paying too much attention.” Violet was more embarrassed by her prior lack of attention than anything Ducky had said.

Ducky’s expression paled. “Um… okay… let me put it this way… how much do you know about the flyers and the buzzers?”

Violet actually looked alarmed at that. Dodger, who had actually listened to their parents, had explained a few things that she had asked about when they were trying to find a target during the threehorns’ mating time. That was a day best forgotten, especially the near-death experience when some of the males had spotted and attempted to kill them. “A bit too much for not being of age,” Violet said.

Ducky took a deep breath. “Alright… at least you don’t need to learn about that…” She twisted her hands in an attempt to control her nerves. In the end she simply blurted out her next question bluntly, “Do you know how our kind picks mates?”

“Not really. I asked Dodger when we were watching a threehorn herd, and we were spotted before he could answer. I forgot to ask again. Things got really bad for a while...” Well, worse than usual , she silently corrected herself.

Ducky nodded. “Well let’s start there so that you don’t accidentally accept a courtship you don’t want. That would not be good, no, no, no!” She resumed after a pause, “If you already have a male that you like, and that it is obvious you will bond with, then no ritual needs to be done. Taunt has a rather Taunt-like name for that.”

“I’m not sure I want to know,” Violet said, laughing a bit more than she meant to due to how awkward she had been feeling.

A mounting in wait, Ducky’s mind responded, but Ducky kept that to herself. “But anyway… you don’t exactly have a male that strikes your fancy right now, do you?”

Violet looked at Ducky like she’d grown a second head. Duh. The only male fastbiter that I know at all and don’t want to kill is my brother. “Um, no.”

Ducky nodded. “Then when you find a male that you want in that way, or when a male decides he wants you in that way, then a courtship offering will be given.”

“How does that work?” And how does finding a male that wants to even be my friend, nevermind my mate, work?

“You will be given a sweet bubble or, if that is not available, the head of some prey. Then the male, or you, will mark the other’s sleeping area.”

“Okay…” This is a bit complicated. I hope I remember all this.

“If you accept the offering then that means that you accept his advances. If you chase him off then that is a ‘no’,” Ducky added unnecessarily, “Unless things go very bad then that is the only courtship that you would have to worry about.”

“Very bad?” Violet could guess what she meant, but was still trying to process everything.

Ducky’s expression turned so cold that it frightened Violet at some level. “It.. was something that Thud warned us about… and something that some of the survivors that brought us Calin’s tail told us about… if a pack is destroyed and there are survivors, then the winning pack might give the survivors a horrible choice.” Ducky looked away, not wanting to think about the stories that she had heard from Calin’s pack. Calin valued power and domination over all else. The effects of that were horrifying. “If that ever happens and only you and Tracker are left then that would be a choice for you to make. I would choose death.”

“Oh.” Violet really couldn’t think of anything else to say. She shook herself, feeling quite chilled suddenly.

Ducky paused for several moments, allowing her emotions to recede. “Not all packs are honorable, or even agree on what is honorable. A pack which takes new members by force is a pack to avoid. Some of those poor females didn’t even know which male was the father… many of the males cried remembering what they had to do to prove how ‘strong’ they were… we had to kill fastbiters who were even greater victims than we were…” Her anger erupted finally. “One death was too good for Calin!”

As Ducky clawed at the poor bush in front of her Violet could only look on. To see Ducky react with such hatred was horrifying on so many levels.

“Haven,” Violet said softly, not sure what to say, “Haven, he’s dead. He can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

Ducky tried to suck in a deep breath as tears emerged from her eyes. She tried to focus on the happier memories from when they met that pack. The male and the female who reaffirmed their mating under better circumstances… the male who agreed to care for children who were not his own, albeit from a safe distance… the two females who paired together to care for their respective unwanted families who soon turned into an unexpected blessing… life had found a way to reassert itself after the abomination that was Calin. That was a point that she had to focus on.

“I know, Violet… It is just so hard to unhear such things... “ She sighed as she tried to wipe her tears. “Alright, lesson number two about being an adult. Adults can still cry even though one should try to be strong except in private.” She could almost hear Terri’s refrain in her mind as she repeated her words.

“Glad to know that’s not entirely off-limits,” Violet said, happy to be away from the previous topic. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dodger cry. I wonder what he does when I can’t see him.

Ducky quickly brought her discussion of mating to a close to move on to other things. “Thud told me that there was more to the whole mating thing, but that he would tell us when we were old enough to actually make eggs…” Ducky noted, “So… um… I guess that is all that I can tell you about mating.”

Violet opened her mouth to ask a question, but quickly shut it, realizing that Ducky wouldn’t know the answer. I’ve got to stop letting my mouth get ahead of my head.

Ducky noted the lack of response and inquired, “Do you have any questions about what I just told you?”

“Just a couple things I don’t think you’d want to answer,” Violet said, feeling embarrassed.

Ducky braced herself, but wanted to make sure that Violet had as many of her questions answered as possible. Mating and courtship was a matter too important to leave to trial and error. “Go ahead.”

“Well, one thing I did remember was that my mom was especially protective of us when we were little. Are Tracker and I not going to be friends anymore once she’s a mom?”

Ducky thought about this for a moment. “I know that Momma would be protective of new eggs whenever they were laid… I think it is a common thing. I should probably talk to Thud about that sometime, I should, I should.” She gave an apologetic nod to Violet. “But I think you and Tracker can stay friends, but maybe you would have to be careful around her nest…”

“Okay.” Violet breathed a sigh of relief. “She’s the only friend I’ve got and…well, I don’t want to lose that friendship.” She took a moment to compose herself. “So what’s the next thing?”

Ducky sighed internally, being glad that particular part of her conversation was over. This is a pack of orphans… I wonder how much of our kind's signals they know.

“The next thing I need to talk to you about is a bit more complicated… how much do you know about um… pack dominance?” Ducky asked softly.

“You mean, like how leadership works?” Violet asked.

Not much then. Ducky shook her head. “That is part of it… I also mean about… well… how everyone in the pack is ranked. How much do you know about all of that?”

“I know I used to get pushed around quite a bit at home before Dodger started pushing back for me. I know Tracker got pushed around in her old pack. I used to push her around before we became friends.”

Ducky looked a bit disappointed by her answer. “So if Dodger could not give orders for some reason, who would order whom?”

“Before yesterday, it was always went Prowler, Dodger, then Dodger’s escape plan. I always wondered why each hunting strategy had an escape plan. Tracker and I never had a situation where we’d be in charge of anything.” Violet felt increasingly embarrassed as she kept talking. She knew that this didn’t reflect well on her.

“I see. Seeker will probably have to have a word with Dodger as well. An escape plan is good, but a pack needs to have a clear line of rank. If the worst happens then you don’t want those that remain to fight…” Ducky noted, “In our pack we did not come to tooth and claw to decide who was leader, but we did have a few... um… play fights to decide on where some of us were.”

“May I ask what your order is?”

Ducky looked completely surprised. “You couldn’t tell?”

“Not really. I figured out Seeker is the leader, but that’s obvious.”

Ducky looked towards Violet with more than a little pity. “You all are in the same place that my friends were before Thud and Dein told us how things worked. We will definitely have to talk to both of your friends about this as well. These details are not often said, but need to be noticed unless you want to risk problems when meeting other packs.” Ducky sighed. “...and trust me, you really want to avoid problems when meeting new people. You do, you do.”

Ducky collected her thoughts for a moment. “What does this gesture tell you?” She barely adjusted the gaze of her eyes to a place just below Violet’s nose.

Violet wracked her brain for the answer but came up short. Most of her pack’s gestures were somewhat large and very, very obvious in what they meant. “I’m not sure. Oh, Dodger’s gonna kill me for this.”

Ducky nodded as she slightly lowered her tail and tilted her head downward slightly, “...and this?

“I think that might be yielding, but Prowler would have considered that borderline defiance.” Violet somewhat copied Ducky but moved her head much lower. “This would be acceptable.”

Ducky’s face darkened at the mention of Prowler, but she quickly returned to her contemplative expression. “The first gesture was how one would acknowledge that the other person is of higher rank than them, but that they may challenge them in the future, but not today.” Violet did not hide her astonishment, being surprised by the amount of information that one gesture communicated. “The second was how one would acknowledge a person of at least two ranks higher than them, and your gesture was how one would acknowledge that they were the lowest of the pack. Only this would be lower.”

Ducky lowered herself to the ground with her tail extended backwards and her snout and entire body touching the ground. “This means surrender. It tells the opposing pack that they may do with you however they wish.”

“Oh,” Violet said, “I saw Tracker making that surrender gesture once. I can’t remember when, but I do remember Dodger getting between her and Prowler so fast he knocked me over in the process. I think it was during a time of hunger madness.” Which means it was probably during a Cold Time.

“Did they fight after that?” Ducky asked without emotion.

“No, but it got really close.”

Ducky nodded. “Considering Dodger has decided that Tracker is the one, and that gesture means complete submission, I am not surprised. Prowler might have taken it as an invitation had he been older.” Ducky darkened. “Based upon what you all have said, he seemed like the sort who would have done that.”

Violet didn’t comment. She just looked at the ground, ashamed at how damaged her pack was. She was also bothered by how many times she’d stood back and let Dodger get into the middle of everything without backing him up.

“It isn’t your fault, Violet. Your pack didn’t know better, even if your instincts did. I bet Dodger only knew the surrender gesture because it is something that is natural to us.” She made a comforting grunt in her direction. “Would you like to know the other gestures?”

“Yes, please,” Violet said.
Ducky raised her head and focused directly into Violet’s eyes. “This is a threat.”

“I’ve noticed,” Violet said, having seen that glare far too many times.

Ducky averted her eyes. “This is a threat declined. A way of showing submission.”

She then stared back into Violet’s eyes and exposed the edges of her mouth. “Threat escalated.” This was followed by exposing all of the teeth. “Threat escalated further… and then growls, roars, and charges would be further escalations. But you probably already know all that?”

“I couldn’t have described it like that, but I’ve definitely seen and done those. That’s how I got these.” Violet gestured to some scars on her side. “Prowler and I got into a verbal fight, and it, um, escalated. Dodger talked to Prowler and told me it would never happen again from Prowler’s end, and I’d better not start anything either. That kept me from getting hurt a few times, but I still ended up with a few more scars.”

Violet gestured to the much fresher wounds on her snout. “These were from right before I ran into Stern Claw and you.” Violet didn’t know that that “talk” was Dodger warning Prowler that any physical attack on Violet or Tracker would be treated as an attack against himself. Had she known, she might have bothered to tell her brother the attacks hadn’t entirely stopped after that.

Ducky nodded sadly and quickly switched her position. She raised her gaze to just above eye level. “This is how one acknowledges that they are of higher rank than another. We usually only do this before a hunt or when one of us needs to pull rank. Otherwise we are pretty easy-going. You might have seen this little gesture right before the hunt.”

“I saw Finder doing that. I was wondering what that meant.”

Ducky smiled. “It can really get odd when Seeker assigns some of us to be group leaders. It makes sense as strength is only one part of leadership, but it can make things confusing. Seeker was technically part of Ponder’s group even though he gave her control over that group, which means that he was taking orders from her until he said otherwise,” she laughed, “It allows all of us to get experience and to do the jobs that suit us best, but it can get confusing. It does, it does.”

“I’ll say,” Violet said. She hesitated for a moment. “Haven, I haven’t made Dodger look too bad, have I? He wasn’t the pack leader until today, and still wouldn’t be if I hadn’t acted like the child I was.”

Ducky placed a hand on her shoulder. “No one can blame you, Violet. Until today you were a pack of children, who didn’t know any better. You had to teach yourselves how to survive, and you did a fine job of that. Now just let us help you learn the rest.” She smiled for a moment as if she were recalling something, “Seeker, Stern Claw, Ponder, Taunt, Finder, Path, Breeze, and then me. Spotter is a special case, and Thud’s pack is a special case when they are with us.”

Violet looked at Ducky skeptically, finding it very hard to believe that Ducky could possibly be at the bottom of the hierarchy.

“Okay, I’m confused. Why is every single pair split up? And how is the giant mouth with the giant teeth nearly at the bottom?” And why are you at the bottom? You’re much nicer than Stern Claw when you don’t want to kill someone.

Ducky smiled at the innocence of her question. “As I said, there is more to rank than strength, at least in our pack. Our ranks are based upon how ready we are to be leaders. Stern Claw served us well as leader when Seeker was injured by Calin, Ponder often takes over as Seeker’s delegate when he has to deal with something else, and Taunt is surprisingly capable despite him being Taunt. As for Path he is still growing up and learning.”

Ducky paused for a moment. “The first three ranks are agreed upon by us all, as is Path’s rank, but the others are decided by strength in our play fights. That is not my strength.”

“Oh. Ours were in part decided by our hatching order and partially by who our parents are. Prowler’s father was our pack leader. My father is, was, the pack deputy. Dodger was hatched before I was and was trained to lead whether he wanted to or not. It’s all he knows. I wasn’t trained so intensively. Tracker is younger than I, but Dodger supports her just as much as he does me, so Tracker and I never tried to figure out where we stood after my really stupid attempt to ‘put her in her place’. Dodger had to intervene there.” And by intervene I mean ‘pin me to the ground’. To be fair, he did warn me...

Ducky looked at her sympathetically. “Respect is more important than rank. Sometimes the sharptooth that keeps the pack together can be amongst the lowest of the low. A healer may not win many fights, but they can allow you to live to fight another one. A prankster might not be a leader, but they can make the leader see their errors. You must never forget that.” She then looked at Violet’s scars. “You will need to sort out your rank, however, unless you want things to remain uneasy between you two. It is just the way our kind is that we are happier when we know where we stand. We can show you two a way to settle that without as much risk of hurting one another badly.”

“Is there a way just to tell Tracker she outranks me?” Violet asked as Ducky looked at her with surprise, “I know my strengths, and thinking ahead isn’t one of them. With only three of us, we might find ourselves as you said dealing with who is supposed to be in charge. I know she’s smarter than me. I can’t even stay calm enough long enough not to get my best friend and my brother killed. You saw that. I’d probably have died before I even hurt you, but you could see that I would’ve tried. I nearly wrecked everything because I couldn’t keep my head.”

Ducky looked into Violet’s eyes. “Violet, the fact that you just told me that shows that you are smarter than you give yourself credit for. You are willing to put your pack ahead of your own glory. That shows that however unsuitable you may be for leader, you are infinitely better than Prowler. So from one pack bottom to another, trust me on this: you are valued and important.” She smiled as she saw the emotion in Violet’s eyes. “Now this is how you concede rank…”


Back to the present:

“Wow, so many gestures!” Arial muttered, “I’m glad that all we need to know when we see a sharptooth is to run.”

"And all I have to do to get a mate is to find a willing female and chase her down. None of this find a sweet bubble stuff and then… Ow!"

"Thank you, Dad!" Arial replied with a shake of the head as Orchid rubbed where one of his feathers had been pulled on by the elder fastrunner.

Mender, meanwhile, was sighed in a mixture of embarrassment and uncertainty. So much for keeping this part of my story from the others. At least Buse isn't here right now.

"So… how did the conversation with Dodger go?" Buse's voice called out from close behind.

Mender sighed as she glared at Pearl as the fastrunner gave her an apologetic smile. Cynnil then did her best to direct Buse back towards the stream to gather fish, though it was obvious that he was still listening in. Well, at least the most embarrassing part is over with.

"It makes sense that there would be a focus on the details of pack life. For a sharptooth that can mean the difference between success and an early death," Detras affirmed as his son still gave him a playful glare, "Though despite my son's words he has had a few lessons on how to read the signals of other kinds.

"Yeah…" Orchid admitted reluctantly, "But the fact that you had to learn these meant that these aren't instinct, right?"

Mender nodded, "Right. The surrender gesture I guess we all kind of knew in some way… and I guess the mating ritual would have come around um… when it's that time… but not most of the others."

This made Orchid curious, "Daddy, does that mean that fastbiters elsewhere would have different signals?"

Detras shrugged, "Probably… though I haven't gone far enough in the Mysterious Beyond to figure out, son." The elder fastbiter then smiled, "Maybe that can be your next adventure? You could go far beyond Seeker's territory and…"

"Dad!" Orchid protested, as Detras dodged his son's playful nip. This was enough to make the others laugh. It wasn't until several moments later that the two males realized that Mender had taken to examining Arial's injury again.

Arial sighed, "It's fine, Mender…"

Mender lightly tapped a part of Arial's foot, making her grunt in pain, "That is a bit worse than last night. Have you been putting much weight on that foot?"

"I told you that you shouldn't have walked to the relieving spot by yourself!"

"Shush, brother!"

Mender gave Arial a stern look, "Allow someone to help you next time, Arial. The swelling won't go down until you give it time to heal."

Arial sighed as she looked at the offending foot, "Sorry… it just gets so annoying sometimes."

"I have certainly heard that before," Buse blurted, "Remember when you helped that threehorn, Mender?"

Only the slightest hint of a growl left Mender's throat. Buse, you know what I think about threehorns…

Thankfully for her Detras was there to the rescue, "Before we get to what I assume is a most interesting story there… I am curious; how did Seeker's conversation go?"

Mender barely hid her relief as she tried to think back, "Well… I wasn't there so I can only tell you what my brother told me seasons later. But as he told me then, it was a conversation that stuck with him."


Back to the past, the next morning:

Littlefoot watched as the dark blue fastbiter gleefully dug into the remains of the already disemboweled swimmer. He had expected the scrappy sharptooth to be swift in obtaining an easy breakfast.

“When one is raised in hunger they seldom turn down a good meal… or wait for others.”

Littlefoot frowned as he recalled Dein’s words from seasons ago. Dein had been speaking of his own family, but he very easily could have been speaking of the gang themselves. It took many seasons in the valley before their habit of rushing to food before everyone else had dissipated.

This was different, however. The looks that Dodger was giving to his sides was indicative of being afraid of being attacked. It was the sort of actions that one would expect of the runt of an unruly clutch.

Or of a poorly-led pack, Littlefoot noted, a pack where even the second-in-command had to fear the pack leader.

Frowning, Littlefoot stepped out of the bushes and resisted the urge to flinch upon seeing Dodger’s momentarily panicked expression. The fastbiter quickly recovered, but failed to hide his reaction from Littlefoot. Dodger would not have to worry about such underhanded tactics here.

But that didn't mean Dodger was aware of that fact.

Dodger deliberately stepped back from the swimmer corpse and kept his head down. Should I apologize? Or stay quiet? He decided on the latter, waiting for Littlefoot to speak first.

Instead Littlefoot merely tilted his head to an extremely slight degree before raising it again and tilting it up in a quick fashion, as if he were doing some kind of odd reverse nod. He held his gaze towards Dodger for a few seconds, as if he were waiting for some kind of response, before looking away in a somewhat disappointed fashion. Then Littlefoot, like Dodger had been, proceeded to tear into the swimmer’s already exposed viscera.

I’m missing something, Dodger thought, Better not say anything and look even more foolish than I already do. Maybe I should just leave… He started backing up a few steps, intending to leave unnoticed.

“It is odd to concede rank when another acknowledges that you are equal to them,” the voice of Littlefoot nonchalantly muttered, “Why do you retreat?”

Dodger froze at almost the same time his brain did. Say what? Besides not recognizing the gesture Dodger was almost as shocked by the reference to being equals. Last he checked he’d had to surrender to Littlefoot. That definitely didn’t suggest that the two were equals. Dodger tried to respond but he couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Would bashing my head into a tree be too embarrassing? I’m such an idiot.

Littlefoot looked at the backside of the seemingly frozen fastbiter. I think that I have confused him enough.

“There is no harm in admitting what you do not know, Dodger. Did you not understand my gesture? Or did I confuse you in some way?”

“I didn’t recognize the gesture, sir,” Dodger replied, trying to rebalance himself, “I also wasn’t aware of my standing.”

Littlefoot’s expression turned expressionless for a moment before he nodded and extended his arm towards the kill. “What do you think this gesture means?”

“An invitation,” Dodger replied. He’d actually seen that before.

Littlefoot nodded. “Correct. If you don’t mind then perhaps we can talk while we eat.”

Dodger nodded his agreement.

Littlefoot watched as the fastbiter cautiously walked back to his position and picked at the swimmer’s abdomen. Littlefoot likewise took a few bites from the prey’s chest cavity as he waited for the awkwardness of the previous moments to dissipate. Then he spoke with a curious tone.

“When someone has little food they get in the habit of not taking any for granted. Were you like this when you were with your parents, or was it your time alone that made you this way?”

“Mostly my time with my pack. Food isn’t exactly something we get that much of,” Dodger said before muttering, “except maybe for Prowler.” Had he been caught by his former leader, his options were to either withdraw or risk rapid escalation. The pronounced size difference between the two in last year or so made the latter option very dangerous.

Littlefoot nodded. “My friends learned to eat whenever food was around when we searched for the Great Valley. Starvation is often an effective teacher.” He nearly spat out the word ‘teacher’ as he recalled those barren days. Even after everything that he had been through those earliest of days still left a mark. “But you looked somewhat panicked when you saw that I was approaching. You don’t have to fear me, Dodger, I am not Prowler.”

“If you were I’d already be dead.”

Littlefoot frowned at this and took another bite of the swimmer. Well this conversation is quickly turning darker than I had hoped, he thought mockingly to himself, I hope that Ducky’s conversation with Violet went better than this! Finally, however, he decided to start again.

“When I was a longneck I grew up without a herd. Only my mother and grandparents were with me. So there was much about herd life that I never learned.” He frowned at the fact that he obviously would never learn it now. Except for those bits that he learned from occasionally hunting his former kind. “Would it be fair to say that there is much about pack life that you never learned?”

“My father tried to teach me as much as I could handle for my age, especially since I was supposed to teach my siblings if anything happened to him, but it's been so long… and my education ended when I was nine, so I know there’s quite a bit I don’t know.” And there’s even less I can teach, Dodger mentally added.

Littlefoot nodded. “What my pack learned all came from Path’s parents and from Thud, Taunt’s father. There is so much that a fastbiter has to know in order to survive, but even more he has to know in order to understand the rest of his kind. Instincts only tell us so much...” He looked at Dodger with a sympathetic expression. “If you had made that retreat to another fasbiter, then he could have interpreted that as an invitation to take control of your pack. Some of these things are very important.”

“Yeah,” Dodger sighed, grimacing. He was barely into his second day as a pack leader, and he was already making major mistakes. Maybe surrendering command to someone more competent would actually be a good thing…, but I’m never saying that out loud.

Littlefoot frowned slightly at the one-word response, but continued on, “Would you like to be taught some of these things that you may have missed?”

“Yes, sir,” Dodger replied as calmly as he could, trying not to sound too eager or worse desperate.

Littlefoot smiled slightly at Dodger’s tone. Despite the overly formal tone the hint of friendly eagerness was clearly present. “Good. First we need to see what gestures that you know. Which greetings do you know?”

“Admittedly, just this.” Dodger nodded his head in demonstration. “Most of what I know involves acknowledging relative ranks. Concession, for some reason, was something I was never taught.”

Littlefoot blinked. “They never taught you how to concede rank? I mean… I don’t actually know when a fastbiter would be taught that… but it can mean the difference between life and death.” He shook his head. “Well… let’s start with greetings. This is how you greet a non-relative of higher rank.”

He bowed his head a bit lower than a nod. His eyes did not focus on Dodger during the process.

“This is how you greet a non-relative outside, or no particular rank.” He repeated the gesture but kept his eyes focused on Dodger warily. “And this is how you greet someone of lower rank.”

He nodded his head ever so slightly but he kept his eyes focused on Dodger. It was as if his gesture was simultaneously open, yet self-assured. “The gesture for a friendly non-relative of equal rank you have already seen.”

“I sorta recognized those,” Dodger said, “I was in the middle of learning gestures when, well, you know what happened.” That last bit was added by a need to explain himself and somewhat defend the pack he was hatched in.

Littlefoot bowed his head in a show of respect. “I understand that they didn’t have time to teach you all of these things. Please don’t think that I am insulting their memory. I only hope that I can help finish what they started.”

“I wish I hadn’t forgotten so much. So, what’s next?” Dodger was eager to change the subject, being unsure how to reply to what Littlefoot had said.

Littlefoot quickly continued, “This is how you concede rank… but first…”

Littlefoot gave a bow, tilting his body forward and raising his tail into the air.

“I want to do that to make sure that anyone seeing this knows that this is for play, and that I am not conceding to you.”

He then averted his eyes towards the ground and opened his arms to his sides. He then turned his back to Dodger and continued to keep his head bowed.

“You can also offer your neck to the person you are conceding to. But turning your back and offering no resistance also gets the message across. It shows that you offer no resistance or thoughts of defending yourself.”

“At least that one’s obvious once seen,” Dodger said, glad that there was at least one gesture that couldn’t be mistaken for another, “Some of these are too similar for my liking.”

Littlefoot nodded. “That is true. It is just like the sharptooth language, full of variation and meaning. That is very different from the leaf-eater language. But when one has claws misunderstandings are best to avoid.”

“I’ve run into a few packs that were very clear in their intent without bothering with language. They skipped straight to the claws. I still don’t understand why we were a target. We were never anywhere near a claimed territory, as far as I know, in all but one instance when we got ambushed.” Dodger shivered a little bit. “I hate tall grass.”

Littlefoot growled to himself. “Orphans attacking orphans. Unfortunately we have had some experiences like that. Fastbiters who never learned the basics and who only knew how to survive through tooth and claw. I guess if we had never found Dein and Terri then we could have become like that.”

“I’m actually not certain Tracker or even Violet would stick with me if they knew just how little I actually know,” Dodger said half to himself, half to Littlefoot, “If they knew how much I had to figure out through trial and error you’d probably have two new fastbiters asking to join your pack.”

Littlefoot’s expression turned grim. “I highly doubt that, Dodger, I have seen the way they look at you. They respect you. They would only join another pack if you decided to do so. Besides, it is the ability to learn and understand your own failings that makes a good leader, not the knowledge that a leader knows.”

“I hope you’re right. Are there any other gestures I should know? If something happens to me I want them to be able to integrate into another pack without a lot of difficulty.”

Littlefoot blinked. “There are many gestures, and every pack makes their own for hunting and talking amongst themselves, but the gestures for concessions and greetings are important. But also… um…” he sunk into a hushed tone, “...you know about peace offerings and pack challenges don’t you?”

“Somewhat, but can we go over them a bit? I’ve never done either personally.”

Littlefoot closed his eyes but forced down his exasperation. The failure to offer a peace offering when entering another pack’s territory would invite an attack… hence leading to the pack challenge. But Dodger obviously needed to learn more of the basics. Littlefoot had not expected Dodger to not know some of these.

“The gestures for partings can be the same as the greetings, but with a friendly grunt and a step back. Or, of course, you could just wish the person well and walk away… the gestures for courtship are interesting. Leaving a sweet bubble or small prey in another’s sleeping area is how one invites such things… which can lead to misunderstandings as we found out…”

Dodger blinked. “Oh?”

Littlefoot sighed with amusement. “Well… Dein and Terri did not know about fastbiter mating rituals because… well… I am sure that they did not care to learn… so when Taunt got sick one day Finder and I decided to drop off some sweet bubbles by his sleeping area. Needless to say he was very confused.”

“Taunt’s the one you sent me with when finding the healing plants, right?”

Littlefoot nodded. “Yeah… Let’s just say that he earned his pack name, but even he was silenced by our little gesture.” Littlefoot then squirmed in embarrassment. “He had to explain to us what giving food without bowing first meant.”

“There was a time when he was quiet? When we were looking for the plants, his idea of breaking the awkward silence was to rant about some ‘capture the head’ game. Apparently the girls are on a winning streak, and it bothers him. I thought he’d never shut up.” Now if I can just get someone to explain this game to me…

Littlefoot sighed. “That is Taunt. He is a loyal and trusted friend, but he would never let a crisis keep him from telling a joke or ranting. He once told me that the reason fate hasn’t killed him is because it doesn’t want to hear him talk for all eternity. I am tempted to believe him.”

“Is it okay if I run some of this over to Tracker? It's a bit far for her with her leg injured.” Dodger didn't want to cut the conversation short, but he was starting to feel guilty eating while his two packmates were still asleep.

Littlefoot smiled coyly at him. “Going to try to make it official, huh?”

Dodger tripped a bit after he processed what Littlefoot had said. There is not a good way to answer that, especially when the answer is ‘yes’. “Um…”

Littlefoot laughed. “It’s alright! I am just happy for you is all! Though we will need to make sure that you know all that you need to know when you all are well enough to leave.”

Dodger nodded, noting that Littlefoot had said the critical word ‘leave’. The other pack seemed willing to make sure they would be much better prepared for what lay ahead of them. Maybe things will turn out alright after all. “I hope I remember more in the future,” Dodger said.

Littlefoot smiled. “Practice makes perfect. We could have all of you practice some of these. Besides, we have to teach you how to play Capture the Head. Perhaps with you on our team we can finally beat the females’ winning streak!”

“Sounds like fun.” Violet and competition...someone’s going to have explain to her that nearly getting herself killed to win a game is not an option. He sighed. How do you teach caution to your sister when she doesn’t know the meaning of the word?

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/7/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 6: A Friendly Game

“Urgh… how is this supposed to help again?”

Mender watched Arial’s progress with a keen eye. While sitting on one of the flat rocks found in abundance in Hanging Rock she slowly brought her ankle and foot as far up as she could manage before bringing them down again. It was obvious that the exercise was having the desired effect.

“Your bone-vines are tight,” Mender said, pointing at the location where Arial’s sprained ligament was located, “Your wincing was a sign of that. So now we are pulling them to loosen them.”

Arial grunted as she glared at the fastbiter. What would have been an amazing sight if the fastbiter in question were a hostile one and not her healer. “You mean I am pulling them. So let me get this straight: I am causing myself pain to stop me from having pain?”

Mender blinked, Well she is not in a good mood. At least this is better than when we tried this on Buse. “It is meant to stop your bone-vines from getting hurt worse. It may not make much sense, but it works.” Mender thought for a moment before gesturing in the rough direction of the valley, “When Buse had a sprain I sent a flyer to ask the rainbowfaces about it. They recommended it.”

Arial grunted again as some obscenities that Mender didn’t quite understand were muttered under Arial’s breath. Within a few moments, however, she stopped the exercise, breathing heavily.

“That’s good, Arial. You were able to do twenty, so that is a good sign.”

Arial leaned her head back as she rubbed the offending leg, “How am I ever going to get better at this rate?”

“How is my little girl?”

Mender rose in order to greet Detras’s gaze. He stood upon another flattened rock on the rockface of the ravine, with an inquisitive look on his face. All of his attention was on his daughter, however. It was not lost on Mender that this was a question meant for two people.

“She is getting better. We were working on loosening her bone-vines.”

Arial groaned, “If this is what you call working then I wonder what you call torture.”

Mender gritted her teeth with concern, Please don’t be mad, Detras… I am doing this to help your daughter.

“I am sure it is for the best, Arial. How much can you stretch your foot now?” Detras asked while giving Mender a respectful nod. If he had noticed how much this relieved Mender, he did not give outward notice.

“Urgh… all the way,” Arial answered as she brought her foot and ankle up all of the way and then promptly brought it down again. The grimace on her face still indicated the pain that was present from the movement.

“That is better than before. And the pain should get better the more you do it,” Mender affirmed, “We will have you back running around and playing games in no time.”

Arial smiled briefly, but couldn’t help but to retort, “I am an adult. Adults don’t play games.”

Detras smiled as he put his hands on his hips, “Oh, is that so? I guess we will just have to not play Find The Fish when you get better then… after all, as you are an adult…”

“Dad!” Arial protested in annoyance.

“Don’t listen to her, Dad!” Orchid’s voice added, “She is just mad because she knows she can’t beat me!”

Detras laughed, “Not too old for that game, huh?”

“You boys are going down next time!” Arial boasted, “Isn’t that right, Mom?”

“Right, dear!” Pearl’s voice echoed from nearby as the sound of her footsteps and the rest of Mender’s pack could be heard. It seemed that her and Arial’s physical therapy session was coming to an end for today.

Mender smiled inwardly, Being this crazy about a game. Now this brings back memories…

♪ As I walked after my sleep,
To drink from the stream so deep ♪

♪ A familiar voice made itself known,
No one could miss Taunt’s mocking tone ♪

She didn’t realize that she was singing until the first few verses had already left her mouth. When the realization hit her, however, she froze in embarrassment.

“Um… sorry.” Mender muttered awkwardly as she nervously flicked her tail behind her, “It’s just your talk about the game…”

“Well don’t tell us, silly! Finish the song!” came Orchid’s playful voice.

“It isn’t like I’m going anywhere.” Arial affirmed, though her good natured shined through her annoyed words.

As Mender looked at the others, they too nodded for her to continue. Well, I guess that answers the question of what to do after Arial’s treatment. Now where was I…

She resumed her song as if she had not missed a word.


The past:

“Not likely, Scales-For-Brains! Just face it: we girls rule, and you boys drool!”

The orange fastbiter looked at his mate with a mischievous tint to his eyes. “So says that girl who is drooling in anticipation.”

This caused Cera to touch her mouth with her clawed hand. “Urgh… You know what I meant, you insufferable…”

“Hey, is the head ready yet?”

The argumentative pair turned at the booming voice behind them. They were then face to face with the large purple sharptooth.

“Why? You aren’t playing, are you?” Cera offered defensively.

Chomper laughed. “No, as I would win, obviously. But I am eager to see all of you make idiots of yourselves. Me and Spotter have bet some fish on this little game.”

Taunt snorted. “So… we are just entertainment for you guys, huh?”

“It about time they get that!” Petrie’s voice bellowed from a nearby tree, “You better win this time, Taunt. Me no want to catch fish all day for Path!”

Cera chuckled. “Oh yeah? Then you should have bet on the winning side, Beak-face!”

The four friends traded banter for several moments as Taunt rested his crimson-stained side against the now severed head of the swimmer. For any leaf-eater it would have been a scene from their darkest nightmares, but for the sharpteeth it was a prelude for one of their favorite games. It was in this atmosphere that Violet came onto the scene.

She took a step back, obscuring herself behind a tree before she ended up in the open. I hope a fight’s not about to start. Violet shifted her balance slightly, preparing to run in case things got ugly. No sense getting drawn into something not involving her pack.

“With Dodger on boy’s side, you girls don’t stand chance!” came the words of the flyer, “Me not lose fish this time!”

“Ha! With Violet on our team you will have to pay up again, Spotter!”

Okay, now it involves me. Not sure what’s going on, but since no one’s dead yet it might be safe just to ask. Violet slowly stepped out into the open, her posture oddly submissive. She really didn’t want everyone turning on her if her guess was wrong. Should I say something or just wait to be noticed? Maybe I should have thought this through more…

“Ah, there she is! Are you ready for Capture the Head, Violet? I imagine this game would be great for you!” Cera spoke quickly, “I was just telling my idiot mate about how he doesn’t stand a chance.”

Taunt snorted. “Well, feathers-for-brains, it might help if you tell her what the actual game is… considering we kind of helped create it, remember?”

“Yes… you helped create it by stealing the head of my catch… Yes I certainly remember…” she sent a horrific glare Taunt’s way, which only seemed to make him smile even wider.

“Oh, the game hasn’t started already, has it?” Breeze suddenly appeared from the bushes. “Or is this the usual romantic chat between you two?”

“Could someone please explain to me what’s going on?” Violet asked, deliberately trying to keep her voice level. Despite now being pretty sure nothing deadly was going to happen, she was getting increasingly nervous. She was confused as to what the situation actually was and worse didn’t have either Dodger or Tracker to help her gauge how she should behave. Now is a really bad time for me to realize just how much I rely on my packmates, Violet thought, I’m never going to learn anything before it becomes a problem, am I?

Thankfully it was Chomper who first noticed the confusing series of scents radiating from Violet. Remembering how their first little encounter went, he spoke carefully, “It is alright, Violet. We are just playing around before the game… Stern Claw? Maybe you should explain things to her?”

This is normal for you guys? You must be really good friends, then. Violet knew from experience that an insult could be taken the wrong way and cause serious trouble; once an errant word on her part nearly started a fight.

Cera noted the tone from Chomper and took a closer look at Violet. The signs of near-panic were on her. Did she think we were actually fighting? Suppressing a sigh, she gently explained the situation.

“Capture the Head is a little game that my mate created when he stole the head from one of my kills. When I nearly caught him, he tossed the head to Seeker, and then they made a game of it.” She then gestured to the head. “We had to resize the head for this game…”

“Which means that Path took a bite out of it,” Breeze offered.

“Yes…” Cera confirmed, “and the goal is going to be for each team to try to place the head in their goal. The first one to three goals wins. If someone manages to bite you or tackle you then you must drop the head. If you fail to do so then Path will give the other team the head close to our goal.”

“We call that being hard-assed,” Taunt offered, “because if you can handle a bite on the ass…”

“We get it, Taunt!” both Cera and Violet offered simultaneously. Quickly regaining her composure, and not catching Violet’s scramble to apologize for her outburst, Cera spoke again, “See, she’s learning! She already knows how to deal with Taunt!”

Taunt simply rolled his eyes at the girls, though he did catch the glint of apology from Violet’s eyes. I will have to be careful with her… she is still learning how to have a sense of humor. What kind of horrible packlife has she had?

Not catching any of this sub-text, Cera continued, “So… any questions, Violet?”

“Um, no, but have any of you seen Dodger? He wasn’t there when I woke up.” Violet left out that her first reaction at her brother not being in her line of sight was to panic until she remembered where she was.

“No worries; he was with me!”

Violet turned to see the advancing form of Seeker appear from the stream. His red crest feathers gave him a horrific glint, which was not matched by his friendly tone.

“I do believe that he is going to give Tracker some fish… to make things official.”

Taunt did his best impression of a flyer’s mating call, which made everyone present either roll their eyes or sigh in exasperation. “Oh…. should we expect eggs soon?”

Cera growled, “If you keep on asking questions like that then I will render you incapable of making eggs…”

Taunt smiled. “But that is your job… I am only the one who will make you make the eggs…”

“Shut up, Taunt!” nearly everyone yelled at once. This only made Taunt smile even wider.

Made everyone tell me to shut up… mission accomplished.

Taunt always did have different goals from everyone else.

Is he always like this? Even I am not that bad. “Maybe I should go find them,” Violet suggested, wanting to put some distance between herself and Taunt before she let her annoyance get her into trouble.

“Um…” Taunt began before seeing the glares fall upon him again, “in all seriousness… perhaps you should wait… in case they are occupied.”

Littlefoot shook his head in amusement. “Taunt is right… for once,” he added under his breath, “Perhaps we should wait until they get over here on their own. I just… um… explained what that ritual means and um… yeah… perhaps we should wait.”

“You think they would want privacy? We were there when you and Ponder were united,” Ducky noted as she walked onto the scene. Spike followed closely behind her. “Where is she anyway?”

“Trying to avoid Taunt’s… um.. taunts,” Ruby answered from behind the fastbiter in question, “and also eating some of his fish that he left unprotected.”

“My fish?!” Taunt spoke in surprise.

Ruby shrugged. “You never finished them, so finder’s keepers. I found it so I kept it!”

“Oh, there they are now,” Violet said, hurrying off to help Tracker. Switching places with her brother let her get away from whatever Taunt might say next. Taunt does not know when to quit.

“You think that we should find Tracker a good spot to watch the game?” Ducky questioned, “It is about as fun to watch as to play… or so Spotter says.”

“And me right!” Petrie offered.

Cera nodded. “The same hill as last time?”

Littlefoot nodded. “I don’t see why not. That would give her a good view.”

“Sounds good to me,” Tracker said.

“Could someone explain the rules to me?” Dodger asked, “I’m not entirely certain Violet won’t leave anything out.” Violet just rolled her eyes.

“Here is a head.” Taunt then pointed at the head as if he were explaining things to a child. “You try to put this head in the girl’s goal, and stop them from putting it in our goal. If you bite or tackle someone then they have to drop the head. If you don’t drop the head then Path eats you.”

“Not really!” Chomper clarified as Violet glared at Taunt angrily, “You just get a penalty if that happens… one that doesn’t involve me eating you.”

“Thanks for the clarification, Path… and yes, besides the Path eating you part…” Littlefoot shook his head at the smiling fastbiter. “...Taunt did get the rules right. Any questions, guys?”

“Nope, I’m good,” Dodger replied.

“I’m ready,” Violet added.

Littlefoot smiled. “Then let us begin! Ponder, Violet? Get Tracker to the hill so that she has a good view. Then we will do a practice run before the actual game begins.”


Well, I’m back up here again, Tracker thought to herself. She looked around her. I’m literally in the exact same spot! Well, it is comfortable, so who cares?

“Um, Tracker?” Violet asked, sounding rather nervous. It's now or never.

“Yes, Violet?” Tracker responded, puzzled.

“Haven and I were talking last night, and she said it would be best if we figured out our ranks respective to each other.” Violet looked away, a bit embarrassed.

Ruby’s grip on Tracker’s shoulder suddenly increased. She was uneasy about how this situation might develop.

“Ok…” Tracker braced herself. If Violet wanted to settle this by fighting, Tracker knew she’d lose even if healthy. Any other contest not involving hiding would probably be unwinnable as well. Maybe I should just concede and be done with it.

“Um, I agreed with her, and, well…”

What Violet did next shocked Tracker and even surprised Ponder. Violet averted her eyes downward, bowed her head, and held her arms open to her sides. Tracker didn’t quite recognize the gesture, but, given the context, she could make a very good guess.

Ponder’s expression softened. Oh...

“You’re conceding?” Tracker asked, surprise evident in her voice. Violet took that as an acknowledgment and sat down in front of Tracker, not wanting to stand up right after making such a gesture when Tracker couldn’t do so.

“What can I say? You’d make a better leader than I ever will.”

Tracker didn’t know what to say. She fiercely wanted to deny the statement, but it would be impolite to do so. “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence.” Tracker glanced at Ponder. “You should probably get back down there before someone sends a search party.”

Violet couldn’t help but smile at that. “Let's see if Dodger and I can remember what playing is.” Her tone was joking, but her words were serious. Never having a secure territory, her pack hadn’t played a single physical game that wasn’t a minor skill test, such as rock hopping, since it came into existence. Thought games, however, were something they could and did play regularly. “See you later.”

“Good luck!” Tracker called after her friend.

Ponder walked away in silence after the display that she had just seen. She had nodded respectfully, but she was at a loss for words. She had no idea that the pack had never learned such basic gestures, or for that matter, settled their ranks.

“It is… much easier when everyone knows where they stand,” Ruby finally spoke as the pack came into sight, “So, um… you never got that settled before?”

“Not really. You could say my getting my first kill sorta unsettled it. Tracker got her first kill when she was… well younger than me. It's actually a pretty funny story in hindsight, if you want to hear it. I wish I could have seen it.” Violet said, sounding a bit wistful, “Dodger, well, he had to talk to her about a few things afterwards…” Violet was fighting the urge to laugh at what she remembered Tracker telling her.

“Oh?” Ruby inquired. She was still more than a little unsettled by what she had just seen. She had no idea that the pack was so underdeveloped. It was as if they had meet a pack of children who didn’t know the basics of life. Much like them not so long ago…

“Well, before all that happened, we got attacked by another pack that apparently decided we were better food than neighbors. Tracker got cut off from us and fell in the river trying to escape. Dodger jumped in after her.” At this Violet rolled her eyes. Her brother’s sense of self-preservation was almost nonexistent. “Prowler, despite everything, was Dodger’s friend; at least he was at the time. We followed the river, but the current outpaced us. They eventually got out at some point and decided to follow the river themselves to the Big Water. Well, during that time Dodger decided to really teach Tracker how to hunt because her hunting skills were, well, worse than mine currently are.”

Ruby shivered at Violet’s words. The pack had its own share of dinosaurs being washed down streams. Breeze and Taunt had survived such a journey, while the rest of their pack did not. It seemed that Dodger and Tracker were luckier than the allies that they had lost.

“Eventually they found signs of a swimmer herd and tracked it down. It took a whole day to do that. The next day they attacked. The swimmer almost got away, but Tracker got a lucky strike in. Unfortunately, a two-footer was in the area just watching all this and chased them both off before they got more than a bite out of it. We all found each other at the Big Water a couple days later,” Violet finished.

Ruby was silent for several moments as she tried to collect her thoughts. Finally, however, she simply decided to speak her mind. “I’m so sorry… if that is a funny story then your stories must be very sad. We lost allies… One of Taunt’s packmates died after washing down a river. Only Taunt and Breeze survived, as you may remember from the song.” She shook her head. “I know that Taunt may seem insufferable sometimes, but that is how he deals with what life has given him. We wouldn’t have him any other way.”

“There’s a reason I’m afraid of deep water,” Violet replied, “I’m sorry Taunt lost his friends. I was actually screaming at Dodger not to go when he went after Tracker. That was selfish of me. He’s saved me from my own mistakes so many times that I…” She couldn’t find words to continue, so she just shook her head. “Sorry.”

Ruby placed a hand on her shoulder. “We all have to make hard choices when times get tough. When times get tough then we have to make hard choices. I remember when we thought Haven was trapped in the water, but Seeker ordered us to flee… we had no idea that it was a trick to get Thud and Screech away from us. For all Seeker knew he had doomed Haven to death.” She looked down. “Then there were other times when we risked everything for one packmate. I don’t know what were the right choices, or even if there were right choices, I only hope that we make right choices in the future. I didn’t know until I was a fastbiter how hard it could be to know exactly what those were.”

“We can only hope,” Violet replied. She shook herself, trying to rid herself of unwanted emotions. “Let’s get down there before we depress ourselves too much.” I’m a bit too good at doing that by myself, thank you.

As the duo walked down the hill they prepared themselves mentally for the battle that lay ahead. A battle in the metaphorical way, of course. A game was a battle of wits, and not a battle for blood. But would everyone be mindful of that difference?


Damn it! They are on my tail!

Taunt shifted to his right in order to dodge Ducky’s latest strike. Despite his arrogant responses, he actually was growing concerned about the victory streak of the females. It made him worry that perhaps he was no longer performing up to his old standards, which itself brought back memories from his childhood as a sickly youth. He resolved to himself that he would no longer be that helpless again, and that drove him on in this game.

“You can’t run for long, Stripe-Ass!”

Taunt gritted his teeth at Cera’s taunt. “Watch me, dear!”

Knowing that they expected him to slow down as he went down the slope to the goal, he decided to surprise their expectations. He hunkered his legs down and rolled on his side. He planned on sliding down the hill.


Taunt smiled as he heard the females nearly lose their footing. Gotcha! However, he knew that this only bought him some time, which was why he did what he did next.

“Catch, Dodger!”


Why me? Dodger wondered as he caught the head and took off running. Not that comfortable with carrying the head and still trying to get used to the game he scanned the area for someone to pass the head to. Guys, I need help! And where’s Violet? Violet was fast, which meant she could appear with very little warning.

“Over here, Dodger! Goal open!”

In response to Petrie’s words Dodger readjusted his course and headed towards the goal.

Not that far away Violet heard the same words and decided to prove Petrie wrong. She sprinted towards the undefended goal.

“Quick, Dodger!” A male voice suddenly appeared in the distance, “Over here! She is almost on you!”

Spotting Finder, Dodger lobbed the head as best he could in the other fastbiter’s direction. While not very graceful it got the head where he wanted it to go.

Seeing the flying head Violet readjusted to head directly to Finder, skirting very close to a tall bush.


Dodger didn’t know what happened. One moment he was running the next he’d been stopped cold. Dizzy, he hurried to his feet, automatically looking for threats. Spotting Violet within reach, he helped her to her feet.

Ow! What hit me? Violet wondered. Seeing Dodger, she got her answer. Oh, right.

“Steady?” Dodger asked. He quickly looked her over for injuries.

“Steady,” Violet confirmed. She copied her brother’s injury search.

“Ready?” Violet just nodded.

“Goal!” Petrie shouted with excitement as Spike let out a victorious roar. The males had scored the first goal of the game. However, this moment of triumph was not echoed in Taunt’s reaction.

“Are you two alright?!”

Ducky echoed Taunt’s sentiments, “That was a bad hit!”

“Should we get out the healing plants?” Cera mouthed to Taunt, barely audible.

Dodger and Violet circled each other, checking to see if there was something they missed.

“Dodger, I’m fine. There weren’t even claws involved,” Violet protested.

“I know it wasn’t a really bad hit, Violet, but everyone else is worried,” Dodger replied, “You’re sure you’re okay?”

“I’m not even dizzy anymore,” Violet said, sounding exasperated.

“Okay,” Dodger said. He turned towards the others. “We’re alright,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear.

Cera and Taunt shared a glance as the others arrived at the goal. The expressions from the others communicated that they were equally concerned about the hit. They could put on vine armor to shield against claws and teeth, but collisions were another matter. Finally, however, Littlefoot merely shook his head in exasperation and kicked the head towards Violet.

“Alright, Violet, it is the girls’ head. You get until ‘five ground fuzzies’ until us guys come after you.” He then looked at his fellow males. “Everyone, get to your sides. The girls are going to start their assault soon!”

Once again, the game was on. Before the guys left, however, Violet could have sworn that she heard Taunt say,

“Watch out for the violet one, she is crazy! No offense, Dodger…”


“Okay, girls, what is the plan?”

Cera promptly went into leader mode, as she was the top-ranked member on the team. As she was the next in command, Ruby spoke next.

“A diversion? Maybe two of us could go one way, while the head goes another?”

Breeze nodded. “What if we did that, but one of us actually hid the head? And then backtracked… They would never suspect that.”

Ducky shrugged. “My brother’s sniffer would make that hard. That plan wouldn’t work for long.”

Cera growled in exasperation. They were fast running out of time before Chomper would begin his countdown. “Any ideas, Violet?”

“How far to the sides can we go?”

Cera pointed some distance away. “We can’t cross the bushes on that side… or the scent markings on that side. Or as my mate so elegantly puts it, we have to stay between the sweet bubbles and the shit, or we will be in deeper shit.”

Violet rolled her eyes at Taunt’s idea of an explanation. “What would happen if a team crossed the boundary?

“Then the other team would get the head closer to the goal… why do you ask?”

“If we have whoever is carrying the head run along the boundary, a quick dodge should force anyone trying to stop us to cross the boundary, letting us get closer without risking losing the head.”

Ruby pondered this for a moment. “That would be dirty, but a dirty win is still a win!”

Cera grinned. “Alright… this is what I think we should do…”


Spike shook with nervous anticipation as the first of the female’s appeared through the bushes. It was during this game and hunts that the ‘new’ Spike was most on display as opposed to the ‘old’ Spike. Gone was the calm, nonchalant dinosaur and in its place was an excited bundle of feathers and muscle.

There’s Haven… he immediately considered the possibility that they had sent out the dinosaur who would have known him the best… well… besides his own mate. That was when his mind realized something else: Ducky did not have the head.


Spike did not look at Taunt as his voice echoed from his side. He merely nodded his head.

“Alright! Finder and Taunt, use the threehorn strategy! Let’s show these girls what we are made of!”

Spike smiled. This is going to be so much fun…


Well… here goes nothing.

With a slight nod of her head, Violet indicated her readiness. Now it was time to see if this crazy strategy of theirs would work or not. If they succeeded then they could get an easy goal… but if they miscalculated then they would give the males possession of the head very early in the second round. It was truly a gamble.

She didn’t have long to consider that, however, as Cera let out a mighty roar and ran towards the other side of the clearing with a large tough-sweet in her mouth. The nearly inedible fruits which conveniently looked very much like a round head when seen from a distance. As soon as she went out of sight, Violet knew that it would be her turn to charge into the males’ territory.

I guess it’s my turn. Violet initially moved slowly, trying to check for surprises while she still had some cover. A quick glance told her that no one was looking in her direction. Time to go.

Violet took off, staying as close to the scent boundary as she dared. It wasn’t too long before she was beyond what she could say was clear of surprises, but there really wasn’t anything she could do about it except keep going.

“Ha! Got ya!”

Violet glanced back to see Cera get tackled. Oh, so that’s how you do it.


Dodger, having rushed up to support Taunt, grimaced. No wonder they thought my collision was rough. It had hurt quite a bit more than he would admit, but he was used to pain.

Cera reacted to Taunt’s slow recovery back to his feet with a subdued smile. The longer the delay, the more time that Violet had to get near the goal. With that in mind she decided to do something that was more reminiscent of Taunt than her.

“Hmmm… I thought that we agreed not to do that where others could see, dear.”

Dodger nearly let go of Taunt as he tried and failed to control his laughter.

Taunt rose to his feet and shook his head with amusement. “I pounced on you for the head, dear… though it is good to know that you are in the mood…”

“Oh for the love of sanity! Just grab the head so we can beat the girls!” Spike’s voice echoed from a distance, “She only stays down until Path gives the signal!”

Taunt nodded at Spike’s reminder and turned to his mate. “Well, we can talk about that later.. right now we… what the…”

That was when he saw the tough-sweet. Cera’s laughter only confirmed what had happened.

“Diversion!” Taunt roared into the sky, “Seeker, they are heading for the goal!”


Well, it was nice while it lasted, Violet thought. She pushed herself to her limit, hoping to outrun any oncoming pursuers.

“There she is!”

Must go faster. Must go faster. It’s not much further. Violet didn’t dare look behind her.

The sound of trampling footsteps arose in the distance. It was only then that she noticed the large form of Path some distance to her side. She didn’t bother to fixate on that, however, as the form of Seeker began to approach her from the front. He was preparing for one last defense of the goal.

She did not notice Path’s fixation on the boundary.

Violet shifted to the side, moving towards the boundary. She barely stayed within the playing area. Hope this works…

The brown fastbiter copied her movement as he appeared to fixate on the head in her mouth. He was matching her step for step. It was obvious that he was appearing to pounce.

Violet decided to try something involving a bit more precision. This is either my best idea or the worst. The moment Littlefoot leapt Violet let herself collapse, going from upright to sprawled almost instantly.

Ow. Ow, ow, ow. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Everything hurts. Assuming she lived through it Violet swore she’d never try that again. She was afraid to move lest she make something hurt worse, like the headache she could feel coming on; her head had hit the ground pretty hard.

Crash! “Shit!”

“Seeker! Are you alright!?”

Taunt suddenly appeared on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere. Within moments he was leaning over his leader with a concerned expression. Making an up and down gesture with his arms, he indicated to the others that there was an injury.

Violet got up slowly, almost every part of her body protesting. I’m dead. I’m dead. What was I thinking? She had no clue what Taunt’s gesture meant, but she had a pretty good idea of what causing an injury to a pack leader meant.

“Injury! Get Ponder!” Cera’s voice called from a distance.

“Coming!” Ruby’s reply came a second later, “Oh, Seeker!” Came her response moments later when she saw Seeker’s prone form. Now there were several footsteps heading in their direction.

“Urgh.. I’m alright, just a bloodied snout…” came Seeker’s groggy reply, “She tricked me quite well…”

Violet just stared, her mind panicked. She subconsciously moved into the lowest pack-member posture. Her eyes conveyed something that was less ‘I’m sorry’ and more ‘please don’t kill me’. Dodger, help!

As if in slow motion, Taunt advanced towards her as Ponder took his place at Seeker’s side. His face conveyed an odd emotion that Violet’s panic-stricken form could not decipher at that moment. She merely shook nervously while the male sniffed her slowly.

“...And are you alright, Violet?”

Violet didn’t quite comprehend what she heard. Still panicked, she took a step back. What do I do? Her shaking got worse.


Violet turned to look behind her. Seeing her brother, she felt slightly better, but was still quite fearful. “Help,” Violet pleaded softly.

Seeing Littlefoot beyond Violet Dodger put together a rough picture of what happened. Oh. Oh, not good. “Violet, eyes on me.” He needed her focused on him, not what was scaring her. “It was an accident. Everything’s going to be alright.” To reassure her Dodger deliberately put himself between Violet and Littlefoot.

“I’m fine, dear… I’m fine… It is just a bloody snout,” Littlefoot’s voice spoke from behind Dodger, “I think you should check up on Violet, though. How is she holding up?”

It took Dodger a moment to figure out that he was being addressed.

“Sir?” Dodger asked. He wasn’t quite sure what Littlefoot had said.

“How is she doing? She had a pretty hard knock as well.”

Dodger cringed. How exactly do I explain that she is currently fearing for her life and that I have no way of convincing her not to without your help?

“I think she is afraid, Seeker.”

Littlefoot turned towards Taunt with a curious expression. Gone was the usual jocular tone from the orange fastbiter. Now he sounded outright concerned.

“Afraid? Of what?”

Taunt took a breath and whispered in his direction in a rather angry tone, “I think that Prowler was a bigger ass than we realized.”

This finally gave Littlefoot pause as he placed another healing leaf in his remaining nostril. Taunt could be many things: insensitive, infuriating, and astonishingly humorous. However, the same empathy that allowed him to successfully annoy just about anyone also allowed him to see what others often overlooked. Now was one of those times.

Littlefoot gave a sad smile. “Arise, Violet. I am not mad at you.”

Violet really couldn’t think of anything to say. That was the last thing she was expecting to hear.

“Can I examine her?” Ponder asked Dodger, having realized what he was doing, “I am the pack healer most of the time.”

Dodger turned back towards Violet. He wasn’t letting anyone near Violet if she didn’t want it.

Violet nodded towards her brother, who stepped back to give Ruby passage.

“It looks like you hit the ground hard… did Seeker tackle you?”

“No,” Violet answered softly, “I fell on my own.”

Ruby nodded at this. “You certainly play hard. But you did succeed in making Seeker go out of bounds…” She seemed to hum to herself. “You look okay. Do you feel alright?”

“Well, nothing’s broken, so I guess I’m alright.”

Ruby rolled her eyes at that response. A broken bone would have been a death sentence until they learned how to treat them from the rainbowfaces. Violet had shifted from being petrified to faking bravado. Much like a certain mate of hers…

“I went out of bounds?”

Ruby smiled as she turned towards Littlefoot’s confused face. “You can talk to Path if you are not sure. But you went out of bounds because Violet forced you out.”

Cera finally made her voice heard, “Now we get the head from here! Good luck, boys!”

“Really clever, Violet,” Dodger told his sister, “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine,” Violet said while trying to hide her wincing. That really hurt.

Path finally advanced on the scene, with his thunderous footsteps foretelling of his arrival. “Seeker and Violet are out for the round to recover. Everyone else, get back to your places. A penalty round is about to start.” He then looked towards the males. “Who do you claim as your defender?”

Taunt sighed. “Me. I am the fastest of those that remain. Finder couldn’t catch his own tail.”

“Ass!” Spike shouted, but declined to disagree with Taunt’s assessment.

“Slow ass!” Taunt shouted back, which made Path roll his eyes.

“And the girls?” Path inquired, “Who will be your head-holder?”

“Haven,” Cera spoke without hesitation, “She will even the score.”

“We will see about that!” Spike boasted.

“Indeed we will! Yep, yep, yep!”

“Alright, enough! You tail-chasers can resolve this during the penalty round. Get in your positions!” Path roared. He didn’t have to speak twice. Everyone else began to move into position as Seeker and Violet proceeded to step out of the area of play. But not before Violet asked one final question of Dodger.

“Am I in trouble?”

“No, you are not,” Seeker’s voice came from nearby, “Though if we don’t get out of the way before Path is ready then we might be. It is a rule during the game that he is the game leader and score keeper. And he takes that job very seriously.”

Violet just nodded and headed for the boundary. I’ve caused enough chaos for one day.

Dodger looked back as he headed back to his team. Please be okay. He hated seeing her that scared. It was almost never that easy to get her back to normal. I don’t need you hiding anything.


“Alright, everyone get set… begin!”

Okay, so it’s Taunt versus Haven. Good luck, Taunt. You’re going to need it.

“So this was your plan the entire time… I am just glad that I didn’t land in the crap. That would have added insult to injury,” Littlefoot muttered absentmindedly.

Violet looked in Littlefoot’s direction, her face registering alarm. I probably shouldn’t mention that this was originally my idea. Violet would be lying if she said she wasn’t more than a little afraid of the pack leader.

“Because based upon your reaction I can tell it was your idea… it was certainly a good one.”

“Sorry,” Violet replied.

Littlefoot laughed, which caught the other fastbiter by surprise. “Don’t be sorry. It was a good plan. It certainly has evened the odds… whoa!”

In front of the two fastbiters a roar erupted from the others as Taunt deflected a head toss from Ducky. Now the head was in play for everyone. The area of play instantly descended into chaos as every fastbiter entered into the field of play. Every fast biter besides Seeker and Violet, that is.

Well, that was all for nothing. I thought for sure we could score after all that. “I thought we had it,” Violet muttered, “Come on. We need to score.”

Seeker leaned on his front claws, “Come on, guys… we need to win this time! It has been so long…”

A roar then erupted from the playing field as Spike and Ducky collided. The head then rolled in front of Ruby. Her hesitation in grabbing the head was obvious.

“Come on, dear, you can do it…”

“I thought you were on the other team,” Violet commented, trying not to sound too nervous. Her headache was making it difficult for her to think through what she should say.

“She is… but she has struggled the last few games. I just… well… would like her to get her confidence back.” Littlefoot hesitated for several moments as Ruby barely dodged a tackle from Spike, “When you get a mate then you will understand."

“Yeah, I’m usually the one that needs help,” Violet said, “Dodger usually doesn’t make mistakes.”

Littlefoot snorted. “We all make mistakes. What is important is how we learn from them… Nice one, Ponder!”

Ruby dodged another attempted tackle from Taunt as she veered towards the goal. Now only Dodger was in her way.

Violet grinned when her brother succeeded in tackling Ruby and grinned a bit wider when Ducky got to the head before Dodger did. It only took a moment for Ducky to hurl the head into the hole.

Littlefoot smiled slightly despite the loss for his team. “Well… that should make Ponder feel better anyway… she got an assist. Haven couldn’t have made the goal without her attempt.”

Dodger shook his head at the result, smiling bemusedly; he’d have expected a similar move from Violet. Maybe that’s why the two are starting to get along…

Littlefoot sighed. “Well.. it looks like our break is over so…”

“Oh no you don’t!”

Littlefoot closed his eyes as Ruby appeared seemingly out of nowhere and glared at her mate. She was in full-on healer mode. “You two need to sit out for another round. You have only now stopped bleeding. You were still bleeding until now.”

Littlefoot opened his mouth before thinking better of it. He knew when he was in a battle that he couldn’t win. When he did speak it was to say something else entirely.

“That was nicely done, dear. Haven couldn’t have made that goal without your attempt.”

Ruby allowed herself a slight puffing out of the chest. “Thanks, dear. Now you sit back and enjoy the view as we girls win again!”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes as his mate ran back into the playing field. It was then that Violet finally spoke with some amusement.

“Sometimes you just can’t win, huh?” Reminds me of Dodger and Tracker when one of us gets hurt or I do something stupid. Tracker gets very good at copying Dodger when someone is injured, especially me.

“There are some things that trump rank… not that Path wouldn’t have forced the matter anyway…” Littlefoot went back to his resting position. “He knows that he will be giving the orders one day…”

“I’d leave before then.” Violet clamped her hands over her mouth. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Littlefoot laughed. “I am sure that things won’t be too bad. Though I am not looking forward to being one of Path’s lackeys. I guess we would be known as Path’s food chasers then.” He shook his head as another laugh left his mouth. “I suppose that is better than going hungry.”

“Yeah, it probably is,” Violet replied, suddenly sounding distant.

Littlefoot looked at Violet with his amusement quickly evaporating, “I am sorry. It is...” He sighed. “I lost my mother to his kind too.”

“It’s not that. I guess I’ve just gotten a bit too used to starving.” It’s unlikely he’s had that problem very often. “I’ve never really thought of what I’d be willing to do to avoid it.”

Littlefoot nodded. ‘The hunger madness is a horrible thing… a horrible thing…” he trailed off with his tone conveying a reaction to a distant memory.

“I think my pack’s gotten a bit too used to it,” Violet said, “We’ve had to deal with it far too regularly. I remember one Cold Time that was honestly so bad I thought dying would have been better.” Why did I say that out loud? “Please don’t tell Dodger I said that; he worries about me too much as it is.”

Littlefoot gave her a sympathetic smile. “Wanting to kill others… or to be killed… that comes with the hunger madness. At least you never had to kill one of your friends…” He then averted his eyes and sighed. “But you already heard that story.”

“Have you ever had to deal with getting in trouble regularly?” Violet asked hesitantly. She’d been trying to find a way to apologize to her brother for not listening to him before she learned things the hard way for a while now.

The sound of roars emanated from the game, but Littlefoot’s focus was now firmly on the conversation. He had no idea how to reply to that except by being truthful. “Well… when me and my friends were leaf-eaters we got into trouble all of the time. It is a wonder we never got eaten.”

“How could you...you went outside the valley, didn’t you?” I’d never be let out of my parents’ sight if I’d left the nest and nearly got eaten. Which is why it only happened once.

“Several times…” Littlefoot confirmed, “We left to unblock the river… I left to find healing plants for my Grandfather… we left the herds in order to prevent them from breaking up… I left to pluck a tooth from a sharptooth’s mouth in order to end the valley’s bad luck…”

“You did what?” That’s crazy even for me, Violet thought.

“It… was not my best moment,” Littlefoot confirmed, “The valley had a lot of bad luck and… it’s a long story. When I was a longneck I looked up to Doc, who I thought was the Lone Dinosaur.” He saw the lack of comprehension on her face. “Nevermind. I was just being a stupid kid. But even after I survived that… somehow… that didn’t stop us. We left several more times.”

“Dodger’s been watching me in some way my whole life. I snuck out of the nest once, and he went after me. I got confined to the nest unless Dodger was with me. I guess that was his punishment for trying to get me on his own. I don’t think Dad intended for Dodger to replace him, though.” Violet tried not to laugh, but the absurdity that made up much of her pack’s humor made it hard not to. If they couldn’t really do anything about a bad situation they might as well laugh at it. “If he’s survived me I don’t think my brother is going to have any trouble as a parent.”

Littlefoot gave a light chuckle. “I tremble for when Ponder and I have children… we both fear that fate will pay us back for how often we challenged it. Though with teeth and claws hopefully they wouldn’t be as helpless as we were as leaf-eaters… well and half-teeth in the case of Ponder,” his smile turned into a slight frown, “If only my mother could see that… or my grandparents…”

“I miss Mom and my siblings,” Violet said, “I’ve never quite felt like I lost my dad, though. If you’ve met Dodger you’ve met my dad. Just double his age, maybe a bit more, and you’d have him. My mom, though, was a bit like me, just not the same color.”

Littlefoot nodded. “I had my grandparents so I still felt like there was a bit of my mother that remained, but still… I often talked to her, you know? Talked to the night sky which is where our ancestors watch us.”

Another roar erupted from the game where Taunt had made a successful goal. However both fastbiters were so lost in their conversation that they didn’t notice that development.

“I’ve heard Dodger talking to Dad more than once, usually right after I’d done something very ill-advised. He actually helped Tracker say goodbye to her old pack when she first joined. I didn’t know about that for a very long time.” Even when he barely knew her Dodger was a better friend than I was. Why didn’t I ever listen until things got really bad? Violet wondered.

“Have you tried talking to your parents?” Littlefoot inquired.

“Once. I told Ponder Dodger and Tracker’s half of the story. She didn’t find it funny for some reason. Long story short Prowler and I got separated from them, and I didn’t take it well. I ended up asking for help, or at least trying to. It ended up being a very long apology for how I’d behaved before then. That was the last time I completely ignored something Dodger told me to do until, what was it, yesterday?” Why didn’t I listen to his advice as carefully?

Littlefoot nodded. “Well… if you are ever confused then I would recommend talking to those who have parted. Even if you are like Stern Claw and think you are just talking to yourself, sometimes yourself has some things to say that you need to hear.” He began to preen his feathers. “I believe that my mom and grandparents are still there though.”

“I’m just afraid mine are ashamed of me,” Violet said before she could stop herself. “If we hadn’t run into you guys I’d probably still be a child when I’m old enough to start a family.”

“Prowler never really gave you a chance, Violet. Part of becoming an adult is learning how to try and try again even after repeated failure. I mean… we all could tell you some stories from when Path’s parents were training us…”

“If that’s true for everyone, how do you and Dodger manage to lead, if you don’t mind my asking? Dodger got me out of a few really bad situations without even seeming like he was afraid. This might sound stupid, but sometimes I forget there are situations he might not be able to get me out of.”

Another chorus of shouts and roars came from the playing field, but neither of them gave it any heed.

“It is amazing how much we don’t notice the fear of those who protect us. I used to think of my grandparents as invincible, but that was only because they often hid their fears from me. It took me a long time to realize that they were not perfect protectors, but rather were just like me.” Littlefoot's face took on an odd expression. “That realization was both liberating and horrifying.”

“Perfect or not, I still don’t get how Dodger does it. You know that trick I pulled? I got that idea from what I did shortly after Tracker and I became friends. I intentionally used my status as a child and Dodger’s role as guardian to try and verbally attack Prowler without being attacked back. It didn’t work so well.”

Violet gestured to a small bite mark on her neck. “Dodger kept it from being worse. I feel horrible about how I acted, but I guess it never occurred to me that my brother has a limit. You guys nearly made me learn his limit in the hardest way possible.” That was the closest Violet was ever going to get at as far as accusations or other ill-will was concerned. She’d said it; there was nothing more for her to do with it, especially since she was starting to consider Ducky her friend.

“Life is a harsh teacher. The important thing is that we learn from it before we become victims of its lessons.” Littlefoot carefully gestured as if he were going to place a hand on her shoulder before thinking better of it. “You are still learning, but don’t be too fearful of the lessons to come. You have a trusted pack at your side and ancestors to watch over you, so you have more than many have in this world.”

“Hey, guys? You feeling better?”

Littlefoot turned towards Cera’s yellowish form. He had almost forgotten about the game.

“I have been feeling better for a while,” Littlefoot confirmed.

“Sorry,” Violet apologized for a second time. She really didn’t want Littlefoot mad at her and wasn’t entirely sure she was in the clear. It paid to be careful.

Littlefoot finally got over his reluctance to touch her shoulder. “It’s not a problem! Accidents happen.”

Cera coughed awkwardly. “Well… we are tied at two points each.”

Littlefoot considered Cera’s words with some trepidation. Tied with the game on the line… things could get messy here. He knew very well how competitive Cera and Taunt both were, but the addition of the newcomers into the mix further intensified the situation. How would they react under such expectations?

Tied? Oh, no. Violet normally would be glad to have something she could win, but she was worried about what would happen if she messed up. She remembered quite well that Cera was at best less than impressed with her kill count. Violet really didn’t want to hear what she would say if she cost her team the game.

“Well…” Littlefoot forced a smile on his face. “It looks like it comes down to this… good luck, girls, you will all need it!”

Cera grunted. “We shall see, Seeker. But I think that you will be humbled yet again… face it, girls rule and males drool!”

Taunt finally made his presence known. “So says the girl who just splattered the pack leader with her own saliva!”

Littlefoot snorted as he lightly rubbed Cera’s saliva off of his snout. She had no idea that she was salivating at the thought of winning until Taunt alerted her to her faux pas.

Did I hit my head harder than I thought or something? Is there anything that can get these guys mad at each other? Violet cringed at that last thought. Best I not find out. Right now weird is good.

“I… um…” Cera stammered, suddenly unsure of herself.

Littlefoot took this opportunity to further fluster the former threehorn. Now it is time for Taunt to work his magic…

“Oh, Taunt? Care to avenge your leader?”

“This is not going to end well,” Dodger whispered to his sister, having just arrived at the sidelines. Violet looked at him in alarm. “Not that kind of bad,” he hastily amended.

As if on cue Taunt ran up to his mate and viscously licked her face, utterly covering her in thick saliva. Then, with what good sense he contained, he fled from the scene to the supposed safety of his team’s side of the field.

“You… despicable… piece… of…”

Littlefoot did not let Cera finish as he gave Violet a cheeky smile. “Well that is our cue to leave. Good luck, ladies!” He took off sprinting and the rest of the males followed suit. Within moments only the hysterical laughter of Chomper and Petrie could be heard. Both of them being safe from Cera’s wrath.

“So, I guess you want us to kick their tails, then?” Violet asked, hesitating a bit. Please don’t lash out at me. Probably shouldn’t have said anything… Maybe Tracker has the right idea about not speaking too often.

“You’re damn right!” Cera huffed, “Let’s show them feathered-assed scum-suckers what we girls are made of!”

If I screw up, I’m running and hiding behind Dodger. I don’t care who laughs at me as long as I don’t add to my scar collection, Violet thought before she followed Cera to the rest of their team.

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The Friendly Parallelogram

It has been awhile since I exceeded the per-post character limit. :lol: Here is the next part of the chapter...

“Well, we got her flustered so that means she will be rash this time… you know how she is when she is mad,” Littlefoot noted to the others.

Taunt snorted. “You should try sharing a nest with her… you know, guys, could I like… use one of your sleeping spots tonight? I…”

Spike rolled his eyes and did not take the bait. “You knew what you were getting into when you mated with her, Taunt. Besides, I thought you always said that you preferred when she was angry… something about her being more loving when she was hateful…”

Littlefoot suppressed a groan though he couldn’t stop a smile from appearing on his face. “All due respects, Taunt, I do not need to know about you and Stern Claw’s love life… and… yes… you are on your own with this.”

In contrast to everyone else Dodger was looking more than a bit worried. If something happens to Violet… He tried not to seem like he lacked confidence in her, but Dodger always planned for the worst result. Good results didn’t usually require contingencies. She’s been stuck around enough people with short tempers.

“We need to formulate a plan now though. Stern Claw will not be waiting for a well thought-out plan at this point. She simply wants to win and rub it in all of our faces.” He paused for a moment to glance at Dodger. “Is everything alright, Dodger?”

Dodger did his best to seem impassive. He really didn’t want to admit he was preparing for how to handle a Prowler-like incident in front of the instigator’s mate and pack leader. “Everything’s fine,” he said as neutrally as possible. If they don’t see through this I’m actually going to be worried about them. Even Violet could tell I’m lying.

Littlefoot smiled a bit wider. “Don’t worry, Dodger. This is a regular thing between her and Taunt… I think it is how they say they love one another.” He then paused for a moment. “...that being said Stern Claw will be going all out this time, and we need to be prepared.”

“The old bait and ambush?” Taunt offered without commenting on Littlefoot’s allusion to his and Cera’s little romantic games, “She wants to kick both of our asses, so Dodger and Finder could go after the head while she is distracted.”

Spike rolled his eyes but said nothing. He gave a nod indicating his silent acceptance of Taunt’s proposal.

Littlefoot nodded. “Sounds good to me. You ready to guard the mid-field, Dodger?”

“Yes, sir,” Dodger replied, “Um, how exactly would Stern Claw react to losing?” Translation: how quickly do I have to move to protect my sister?

Littlefoot misinterpreted his question as a joke. “She hasn’t lost in so long I think I have forgotten. I suppose we'll find out if we are successful.” He then ran off to his place without a word, leaving Dodger to his own thoughts.

Okay, so what are you going to do if I have to kill her? No one was touching his sister again. No one.


Okay, so what happened to the plan? Violet thought, I’ve been in longer planning sessions with Prowler. Okay, so I didn’t actually contribute, or listen, to them, but they were sometimes longer.

Breeze looked alongside Violet as they both ran to what they assumed their positions were, “Do you have any idea what in the name of sanity we are doing?”

“I was hoping you knew,” Violet answered unassuredly. This is my first game of Capture the Head after all.

Breeze laughed as she picked up speed. “Well, I don’t really know, but here are some words of advice. When Stern Claw gets into this mood she usually uses the ‘attack on all fronts’ strategy.” She shrugged as she continued to be vigilant for males. “We all are running to the goal as a group with no defenders. We will either win or lose here.”

I’m not liking the sound of this. Violet wondered if it was too late to leave the game and hide somewhere.

“There she is! Hey, Stern Claw, did you come back for more?!”

Okay, Taunt is officially insane, Violet thought, Oh, there’s Dodger. Violet noted his location in case things got dangerous but otherwise didn’t consider it in relation to the game.

It was then that a loud roar could be heard. It was Cera.

“You’re about to get all you can handle, boys!” Cera yelled with great ferocity as she ran at full sprint down the field. It was only now that Violet could see Ducky at the other edge. It was indeed an all-in attack. They would either make a goal here or leave themselves open for the males to make a goal. There was no margin for error.


Littlefoot held his posture as he counted down the time until Cera arrived.

Ten… nine… eight… seven...

Her eyes were like fire as she ran full speed down the grass-covered field. The heaving of her chest was unmistakable as dirt leapt behind her in her mad dash. Her entire focus was on the goal. Just what he wanted.

six… five… four…

He crouched down as he prepared for what was about to come. He had to time this correctly or else risk injury to them both.


He leaned back on his back legs.


He held his breath as his muscles burned with anticipation.


He leapt.


Breeze held her breath as Littlefoot suddenly appeared like an apparition from the tree itself. Within an instant both he and Cera were tumbling end over end as the head flew from Cera’s mouth. It was only in a somewhat dazed state that she realized it was heading straight for her mouth. She grabbed it in the air without a thought.

Oh crap!

Terror struck her as both Dodger and Taunt appeared from the front. How was she supposed to get away from this gauntlet?

“Over here, Breeze!”

She looked to her side as Ruby waved her hands with excitement. However, she could see Spike stalking in the distance. Any pass to Ruby would be intercepted. That was when she saw a flash of orange.


He was now rapidly gaining on her as Dodger kept his position close by. She was fast running out of options. Except one.

As Taunt’s body rose into the air she hurled the head towards the only open fastbiter.


It had to be me, didn’t it? Violet thought as she ran as fast as she could towards the goal, the head secure in her mouth, Blegh… this does not taste good.

She looked to her left and right but saw no one. Maybe she’d get through. If it seems too good to be true it probably is, Dodger’s voice echoed in her head in warning.

Violet made the mistake of actually stopping to get her bearings. Maybe I wasn’t as okay as I thought… Whipping her head from left to right and back had left her quite dizzy.

Dodger almost wanted to apologize when he caught up with her.

Violet felt a nip on her tail and dropped the head in surprise.

“Sorry,” Dodger whispered before picking up the head and running in the opposite direction.


“Oh no! We have to protect the goal! We do, we do!”

Ducky wasted no time in moving to a full-blown sprint towards her team’s goal. Cera’s plan had failed and they were now open to attack, but she had the ‘advantage’ of being slower than the others, which meant that she was a bit closer to her goal than Dodger was.

The race was on.


Well, this is one way to become a target, Dodger thought, I’m going to have to find some way to make it up to Violet after this. A quick glance behind him revealed that Ducky was gaining on him. Here goes nothing.


Ducky continued to gain on Dodger, much to her surprise. She was beginning to gain confidence despite the terrible situation that had befallen her team.

We might win yet! Yep, yep, yep!

She didn’t dare look behind her, lest she lose her momentum, but she could deduce that Ruby was behind her. This would allow them to take the head even if the tackle incapacitated her. Now it was just up to her to make her move.

Pack leader or not… Haven is coming for you!

She quickened her pace as she advanced on his tail. It would only be a few more moments and…


In an instant the fastbiter appeared to change course utterly. Now in the resulting struggle to correct her direction she rolled onto her side. All of her forward momentum was gone!

What… what just happened?


When she finally felt like she’d gotten over her dizzy spell, Violet started to wonder if that was actually a good thing. Other team scored; we lost. I’m dead. She started glancing around nervously, afraid Cera would appear at any moment.

“Damn it… I guess you boys finally pulled your tails out of your mouths and won a game.”

Taunt gave a cheeky smile as he helped Littlefoot off of the ground. For his part, Littlefoot smiled though he still groaned from his impact.

“Is that your way of congratulating us, Stern Claw?” Spike quickly offered before Taunt could speak, though the two exchanged a victorious nudge of the sides, “How are you two holding up? That was a big impact!”

Littlefoot shrugged. “I’m fine. Just a bit shook up. Stern Claw?”

Cera snorted. “I am perfectly fine! We will get even next time, boys! You just got lucky this time!” Then, with her tail arched up in an arrogant strut, she walked back towards the girls’ side of the field, her face turned away from the boys’ celebration.

“And how are you, Violet?”

“I’m okay,” she said despite still feeling a bit off when she walked. There’s no way I can run like this, Violet thought, her mind started to once again drift towards panic.

She then saw a flash of orange and brown as Taunt, Littlefoot, and Cera both arrived on the scene. Thoughts of the victory suddenly put on hold.

“I think you need to lie down, Violet,” Cera offered bluntly, “We should go get Ponder.” Without another word she began to gesture at the pink fastbiter in the distance.

Violet didn’t need to be told twice. If Cera were paying attention she’d have noticed that Violet had started shaking a bit. I’m almost as helpless as Tracker right now. If she blames me… Violet was sure she’d be getting a painful reminder that incompetence was not tolerated.

It did not take long for Ruby to appear on the scene. She immediately leaned down and looked into Violet’s eyes.

“Okay, Violet. I want you to turn towards the Bright Circle for me…” Ruby commanded in a soft voice, with more than a little concern showing through, “...but keep your eyes open so that I can see them.”

Violet did as she was told despite not understanding why she was being asked to do it. If she did as she was told maybe she wouldn’t end up hurt.

“Hmmm....” Ruby hummed with concern, “Now close your eyes for me and don’t open them until I say.”

Violet hesitated a bit before closing them. “Okay,” she said, her voice sounding shaky.

The pause lasted for several seconds as some murmuring could be heard in the background. Even the thundering footsteps of Chomper could be heard getting closer as everyone seemed to be converging upon the scene, but yet Ruby did not give the order to open her eyes.

When Dodger finally got to the group he nearly lost his mind for a moment. Violet! For once he was thankful to have had Prowler as a pack leader. He got himself back under control almost as quickly as he panicked. “What happened?” Dodger asked Littlefoot, unable to keep the edge out of his voice.

“Head injury,” Ruby answered without looking away, “We are seeing how bad right now… Violet can you open your eyes for me?”

Head injury? Oh, crap. Violet opened her eyes as instructed. She couldn’t see anyone other than Ruby, who was taking up most of her field of view.

Ruby sighed as she saw the pupils remain dilated for several more seconds than was normal. It was one of the signs that the rainbowfaces had told her to look for in the valley. It seemed that the last tackle had made Violet’s head injury worse.

“How is it, Ponder?” Littlefoot asked in a stern, concerned voice. As he did this all of the other fastbiters in the pack got down on one knee in a watchful posture that Dodger had never seen before. Even Chomper imitated the gesture in the best way that his body would allow.

Dodger was a bit confused as to what the other pack was doing, but as far as he could tell there wasn’t any threat that he could deal with. He forced himself to relax and sit down. He briefly considered imitating the other pack, but the tactical part of his mind rebelled at the thought of doing anything that was even slightly awkward, and thus potentially limiting to his ability to respond, while his sister was helpless. I hate injuries. I can’t do anything about them.

“I forgot what the rainbowfaces called it… but she has the shaken head sickness. I don’t know how bad yet. Is Haven here?”

She didn’t have to ask twice. “I’m here, Ponder! What do you need?”

Ruby examined the eyes for a few more seconds as she considered the situation. Ducky had obtained some training as well when they were all caring for Taunt’s broken leg after the battle. As a result, she had no doubt in her friend’s abilities.

“She will need some pain-away plants, but not the bitter ones… remember the rainbowfaces said that can make it worse.”

Ducky nodded. “I remember. Anything else?”

Ruby shook her head, as her friend sprinted in the direction of the forest. Within moments Spike and Taunt followed as well. The urgency did nothing to improve Dodger’s concerns.

“Okay, Violet. I know that this is going to sound odd… but can you sing a song for me?”

“What?” Violet asked.

Ruby nodded as if she had expected that response. “A song. Something with a lot of pitch changes and words. I have to see how well you can do those things.”

“Does it matter that I’m a terrible singer?”

“You’re not a bad singer, Violet. Stop comparing yourself to Tracker,” Dodger immediately corrected his sister. Violet was actually a good singer. Unfortunately, her point of comparison was Tracker, who had a natural gift for singing. Dodger then whispered a suggestion for a song.

“You sure?” Violet asked. Dodger just nodded. Violet prepared herself for a moment then started to sing.

Ruby tried to push aside her feelings about the song as Violet began to sing. She remembered what the rainbowfaces had told her to be on the lookout for. Slurring and confusion were the signs of a bad head-shake, and possibly one that would be fatal. With that mindset she forced all attention on what she could hear. She could not afford to let Violet down.

The others, however, paid attention to Violet’s words. The song was sung with such emotion as to force everyone into silence. It was a song that communicated loss at the same time that it showed the continuation of what had once been. It reminded them of some of their older songs in a way. A reminder of the parents that many of them had lost. And those which they could not see again in person, despite being very much alive.

Littlefoot bowed his head. I hope that we don’t have to sing this song about her soon. It was my hit that caused the injury in the first place… I should have been more careful… I should have watched where she was going…

“That was very good, Violet. I think your shaken-head sickness is not very bad. It is only bad.” Ruby stated but then tried to correct herself, “I mean… it will get better soon.”

Violet stared at Ruby, having caught what was originally said. She knew very little of head injuries, other than that she’d had a few. There were a few days that for the life of her she couldn’t remember. Maybe this time I’ll forget everything. Hm, that actually wouldn’t be such a bad thing… “If you say so,” Violet muttered in reply.

“She’ll be okay?” Dodger asked Ruby. He caught Violet’s disbelieving tone, but chose to ignore it. For now. Should I tell them she’s hit her head a few times before now and once couldn’t remember several days?

“I think so…” Ruby answered hesitantly, “...but this is odd.”

Cera finally spoke up again with a hoarse voice, “Weird? In what way?”

Ruby sighed. “A little bump shouldn’t be enough to cause this. Was her first hit today that bad? Did we make a mistake in letting her play again?”

“She’s hit her head before,” Dodger said reluctantly. He then looked over at his sister apologetically. Sorry, but they need to know. “A few times actually. One time…” Dodger cringed at the memory. “I was surprised she was still breathing, never mind that her skull wasn’t shattered.”

Ruby’s face darkened as Cera gasped, “What happened?”

“A really bad day. Long story short, she was running along the cliffside, slipped at the turn, and fell. I didn’t see anything else until I got to her. Her head hit a rock hard enough to crack it.”

Ruby felt something tug at her stomach. She suddenly felt ill. “Violet… you need to stay awake, okay?”

Yep, I’m going to die, Violet thought. “That’s what Dodger said last time.” I didn’t listen. I could have sworn the Night Circle was only half full when I got that headache. Why was it full the next day?

It was at that point that the sound of flapping wings could be heard.

“Tracker is impatient for news…” Petrie stated bluntly in an understatement for the ages, “What should me tell her?”

Ruby’s mouth quivered for a moment. “She injured her head… but she is awake. We are treating her now.”

Littlefoot added, “Tell her that she is in good hands.”

A flutter of wings could be heard once more, then he was gone. Now all any of them could do was wait.

“How do threehorns keep ramming their heads together?” Violet complained, “This hurts.”

Cera, despite herself, snorted. “I’m afraid my skull isn’t what it once was. Threehorns are built for ramming. It is what we do… did.” She sighed. “Though the crashing-head sickness could happen to us too.”

Dodger idly wondered whether this would be a good time to admit, just from what he heard from the story, that he both deeply admired and was outright terrified by Cera’s father. The word ‘indestructable’ came to mind.

Breeze spoke under her breath, “Where are those healing plants?”

“I see them!” Littlefoot announced, “They are rushing out of the forest now.”

Please don’t let this be like last time! Dodger thought. The day of Violet’s last head injury had been the worst of his life. The aftermath wasn’t much better. He wasn’t sure if he could handle going through it again.

The trio of Taunt, Ducky, and Spike arrived with great haste as their healing leaves fell near Violet like a waterfall of green. Ruby quickly grabbed two of them and rubbed them in her hands.

“Okay, Violet, you need to eat some of this sap.”

“This’ll help?” Violet asked, not entirely convinced this would help at all.

Ruby nodded as Littlefoot and the other males began rubbing together the other leaves. “It should help the pain a little, but it will still hurt, a little.” She then placed the sap in front of Violet’s mouth and waited for her to accept the unappetizing mush.

Violet very reluctantly complied. Yuck. This is disgusting.

As Violet reluctantly consumed the foul-tasting sap Littlefoot looked straight into Dodger’s eyes. “I think that we should get Tracker. A pack defends its vulnerable.” His unspoken words came through loud and clear. We may not be able to defend them if they are split up.

“Violet, I’ll be right back,” Dodger said, turning to his sister.

“No getting hurt,” Violet replied, trying to make a joke. Trying being the operative word.

“Ok.” I will NOT say ‘What could possibly happen?’ I want to come back in one piece. He turned to leave.

“I’m coming with you!” Ducky stated as she got up to join the two males. Without further word the trio sprinted off towards the hill where Tracker lay. Soon the two packmates would be together.

Leaving Dodger as the last healthy member of his pack.
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/8/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 7: Revelations

Several hours later:

Why did it have to happen to Violet? Tracker wondered. She was glad to hear that Violet had shown none of the problems Dodger had mentioned the last time Violet had a head injury. I had my own ordeal to go through. At least Violet can’t remember anything between her injury and the start of the next Night Circle Cycle. I’d have welcomed having that problem at the time.

Seeing Dodger in the distance, trying almost in vain to keep his two packmates in view, Tracker wished she could go over and talk to him. He’s blaming himself again. He always does that when something goes wrong. She shook her head. There was nothing she could do about it, as much as she wished to, except maybe get someone to talk some sense into him. How do I do that without making a scene? I can’t even stand up properly on my own.

“How is the feeling in your legs?” Ducky’s voice suddenly asked some distance away.

“Fine as long I don’t try to stand. Weight hurts.” Why is Haven talking to me? Ducky wasn’t quite the last person Tracker had expected to speak to her since she’d seen her talking to Violet more than once, but it was still strange.

The green fastbiter sighed as she sat down some distance from Tracker. It was immediately noticeable to Tracker that it was just far enough not to be imposing, but close enough to invite conversation. The smell which radiated off of Ducky communicated a mix of regret and concern.

“The pain is actually good. It was like that when Seeker had his training accident. First it lacked feeling, then it hurt, then it hurt a lot, then it got better.” She frowned. “We talked to the rainbowfaces about it and they said something about the ‘nerves’ still being alive, whatever that means…”

“Good to know. I can finally give Dodger some good news.” Tracker glanced towards Dodger, checking to make sure he was still there. “Maybe someone should talk to him…” He’s not handling this well.

Ducky was silent for several moments, and Tracker thought that perhaps she had been ignored. But then Ducky spoke with a far-away tone, “I am sure Seeker will talk to him again… there are certain things that only a leader would know.” She paused for a moment before looking at Tracker with an odd expression. “...just like there are certain things that only a packmate would know. What exactly happened to Violet before?”

“I thought Dodger told you what happened. I wasn’t there to actually see what happened. I was otherwise occupied,” Tracker said evasively. The conversation was starting to drift into an area she very much wanted to avoid.

Ducky was silent for several moments as more than a hint of irritation radiated from the fastbiter. It was a scent that Tracker had not smelled on Ducky before. Well… at least since the time that she had been injured by her.

“There are stories that are hard to tell, and things that are hard to do. One of the hardest is to lose a packmate. The less we know about what happened to her the greater the chance that she will be lost.” Tracker thought she could hear Ducky grit her teeth. “Believe it or not, Tracker, I do not care to lose any more people in my life.”

“There’s honestly not much I can tell you about Violet’s accident. I saw her the morning before the attack started and didn’t see her again until maybe eight or nine days later.” Tracker was actually starting to get a bit angry. I do not want to talk about this. I didn’t even tell Violet exactly what happened. Made for some awkward conversations when I woke up screaming in the middle of the night.

“You smell afraid,” Ducky stated flatly.

“Just drop it, Haven. This is personal,” Tracker growled. Back off!

Ducky turned to face Tracker at that moment with an unreadable expression on her face. Tracker’s expression held firm under her gaze, which made something click in Ducky’s mind.

“Just promise me two things, Tracker. Whatever it is that you are not telling me… promise me that it is not something that threatens my pack or your packmates.” she took a deep breath before taking on a more gentle expression, “...and talk to someone, anyone, about it. You are acting like Leap and his sister acted when they told us about Calin’s pack. You are, you are.”

“Wha… how’d you know?” Tracker hissed. Am I that obvious? Dodger kept telling me to talk about it, even to Violet if I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to scare her; she was just a kid. Still is, mostly. Never mind that Violet was technically older, Tracker had taken almost an older sister role with her and tried to help Dodger look after her.

Ducky closed her eyes at Tracker’s admission as she bowed her head slightly. “So it was Calin… I am so sorry.” She then slowly walked beside Tracker and sat down a bit closer. Her scent now conveyed sadness and pity, a smell that Tracker despised.

“Violet and I talked a bit about… him…” she nearly spat, “I was telling her about how fastbiters talk without words, and he came up. Our pack has come across far too many of the survivors of his pack. Their stories were so terrible…”

“I’m still not sure what I should’ve done,” Tracker said regretfully, “We were too spread out… Violet was actually the first to run into trouble. Ugh, someone should’ve been with her.” Oops. Please don’t read too much into that.

“She… she never mentioned anything about that…” Ducky spoke with great concern as she rose before sitting again, as if confused about what to do, “She did not smell like she was hiding anything… maybe she did not remember? Maybe she tried to forget about it?”

Ducky was working herself into a frenzy. “Oh no... I told her about those horrible stories… what if she begins to remember all of that…”

“Haven!” Tracker snapped, hoping to get the other fastbiter back under control. I’m really sticking my neck out here. “Violet got out alright. Dodger made it to her in time, and made some of them pay for it.” Tracker tried but failed to avoid sounding proud of her pack leader; this wasn’t exactly the time for it.

Ducky finally sat down again as she tried to catch her breath. She had grown quite protective of Violet since Dodger’s pack had collided with her pack. The thought of her having to be traumatized in Calin’s pack upset her greatly.

“So all of you were able to escape.”

Tracker shook her head sadly. “He was with me when it started. We split up when we heard Violet scream. As you probably noticed I’m not very fast. I thought I was good enough at hiding to get away so I told Dodger to go after her when he hesitated, like he wasn’t sure what to do. I think he knew what would probably happen better than I did; it’s part of why we try not to ever be alone.” Tracker looked directly at Ducky. “Had I known what was to come I wouldn’t have changed my decision, though I would’ve warned Dodger not to blame himself. I made the decision that time.”

Ducky swallowed, and merely allowed her tail to touch Tracker’s for support. Perhaps it was something about Ducky personally that made Tracker open up, or perhaps it was simply her desire to let the truth be known. But, for whatever reason, Tracker continued.

“I got cut off and, fool that I was, surrendered,” Tracker replied, sounding ashamed as Ducky looked on in horror, “After that…” She shuddered and stopped speaking for a moment. She decided to deliberately skip over most of it. It was too unpleasant.

“Several days later I tried to escape. I’m certain the only reason it worked was because I tried something that should’ve killed me. Jumped off a cliff, slid, messed up my arm, and then got hopelessly lost. I got hungry, tired, sick. Dodger found me eventually.”

“It isn’t your fault,” Ducky spoke with a small voice as Tracker began to ramble, “Whatever you had to do in that horrible pack… do not blame yourself.”

Ducky placed a hand on Tracker’s shoulder, ignoring an initial flinch. “You cannot let those feelings stay inside of you. You need to talk to someone, Dodger, Violet, me, anyone. If you let them stay in you then they will eat you alive.” She bowed her head and closed her eyes. “It never fails… It hurts to think that we had to kill many of his packmates… most of them were just trying to stay alive.”

“This probably sounds heartless, but I’m actually glad that Violet got hurt the way she did, well, at least since she got better. She doesn’t remember what happened. She doesn’t remember how bad off I was. She….she didn’t have to deal with seeing her brother look so… lost. Violet’s everything to Dodger.” That last statement didn’t bother Tracker in the least. If questioned she’d admit that she felt just as if not more lost after losing her whole pack.

Ducky frowned. “I wish Leap and Swift were here… they were some of Calin’s victims as well. Perhaps… perhaps you would be more comfortable talking to someone who went through what you went through.”

“Trust me, we didn’t go through the same thing. I was nothing but a plaything for that pack!” Tracker spat bitterly. I should’ve known I was in trouble right from the start.

Ducky jerked as soon as she heard Tracker’s words. Calin, that fucking bastard! Instantly she knew what Tracker had experienced. The experiences of many of the other survivors that they had met and spared in the years since the battle had confirmed the outright brutality of the pack. Ducky immediately embraced Tracker and lay her head upon her shoulder as a mother would do to an upset child.

“It is not your fault, Tracker. None of it. You understand me?”

“I know. Thanks for not mocking me.” You fought; I just gave up.

Ducky sputtered, “Wh.. what?! I would never do that! You are not something to be mocked. You are a person, Tracker. A beautiful, caring person. Regardless of whatever Calin and his dung-eating ringleaders may have said.”

Tracker stared at Ducky for a moment, trying to get herself back under control. I’m not going to cry, not where everyone can see me. “Violet’s still choosing her friends well, I see.” Violet’s far too easy to deceive and far too trusting for me not to worry about her.

Ducky smiled slightly. “She is a good fastbiter, too. It’s just that she needed to be taught how to be an effective one.” Ducky thought for a moment. “I guess that the rest of you will have to be taught that too… but that is not what we are talking about right now.”

Ducky sighed.

“Can you walk if I help hold you?”

“If it's not too much trouble for you... , Where do you want to go?“

Ducky looked at her with an intense expression. One that almost seemed to stare through her. “You do not want to cry in front of Dodger because it would make him feel worse, and you do not want to cry in front of Violet because it will scare her…. Cry with me then.”

Tracker didn’t say anything; she couldn’t risk losing control. She just offered Ducky her hand. Words meant quite a bit to her; actions meant more.


Where are they going? Violet wondered as she watched Ducky and Tracker leave her field of vision. She didn’t know what they’d said, but whatever they’d been talking about had run through quite a few emotions. Tracker’s usually not that openly emotional, at least not when I’m not the only one around.

It was at this point that Breeze came walking towards Violet’s resting area. Though Violet was still finding it difficult to focus on anything in too much detail, she did notice that Breeze had a series of things impaled on a stick.

“How are you feeling, Violet?” Breeze began, “Have you noticed any changes to your vision or smell?”

Smell? Oh crap! “Um… n-no,” Violet stammered. I can’t fake this. They’re going to find out…

Breeze frowned at her response. “Violet, while Ponder is helping Seeker scout the territory I am the healer assigned to you. I have had all of the training that she had from the rainbowfaces. So you can be honest with me, okay? If anything has changed then we need to know about it so that we can fix it.” Her voices hinted that she was uncertain about the fixing part. “If there is something new then we need to know as soon as possible.”

“Nothing’s changed,” Violet said more calmly. I can’t lose what I don’t have.

Breeze seemed to accept this answer as she sat in front of her face. “How many claws do I have up?”

“Two,” Violet replied. It's not like I was staring at the Bright Circle. “I can see just fine.”

“And now?” She then held up one claw.

“One.” Violet couldn’t keep the frustration out of her voice. Why would I lie when I told you I was fine?

“I know that this may seem stupid, Violet, but sometimes if you have a head injury.. or have eaten bad sweet bubbles… you don’t know that you are impaired.” Breeze smiled at the scent of frustration, which was actually a bit of a good sign. “Are you ready for a few more stupid questions?”

“As long as they’re not coming from Taunt.” Maybe that’s not the best thing to say… “Um, I mean…”

“Ha! She can’t be too messed up! She remembers me!” a familiar voice called from the nearby nest.

“If hitting your head could make people forget you, Taunt, then people would be bashing their heads against rocks all day!” Cera retorted.

“Ha! Can’t get rid of me that easy!”

Breeze rolled her eyes at the antics of her friends. “Alright, well, you know who the pack members are so I can skip that question… What is the earliest memory that you remember?”

“In my whole life?” Violet asked, confused. How could that help?

“Yep, I asked Dodger about the stuff that you remember… I have to test your memory. Head injuries can make you forget things.”

“I’ve noticed,” Violet growled, a bit angry. The last time I hit my head, according to Dodger, I forgot what my parents looked like, among other things. Thanks to Dodger’s descriptions she had an idea of what they looked like, but that would be like describing Dodger as blue. Quite a few details were gone, never to be regained.

Breeze noted the anger, but did not relent. “I’m sorry, Violet. But can you please try to remember? Dodger said that you forgot a lot the last time… but you did remember um… a few things.” She stopped herself before she gave away details of Violet’s memories. “Can you tell me what those were?”

“Well, I remember when I was really little I heard stories about the Grand Valley and how it had so many leaf-eaters. I wanted to see it for myself so when I was a bit older I tried to sneak away from my nest and into the valley. It didn’t work. Dodger caught me and brought me back.”

Breeze nodded. “He mentioned that would be one of the earliest clear memories. The earlier ones are fuzzy then?”

“Yeah. I remember bits, like a joke, a prank, or a fight, but nothing solid. I do remember feeling safe, though, much safer than I have in, well, I can’t remember when.” Violet couldn’t help but laugh at her own poor word usage.

“Oh no, she is going into Ponder speak…”


“Shut up, Taunt!”

Breeze rolled her eyes. “You did well, Violet. I only have one more round of tests before you can get your new healing plants.” She then carefully walked behind Violet and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Keep your head facing forward, Violet, I am going to test your ability to smell things from a distance.”

Dodger, having only been paying a slight bit of attention to Violet’s tests until now, was on full alert. Subtlety he shifted himself so that he was completely ready to charge. Target: Taunt. One word and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

Violet couldn’t hide her own panic. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead.

Breeze was concentrating on getting her objects ready and missed the signs of panic from Violet. When she finally spoke she was several fastbiter lengths away from her and all of her other objects were put away. This would be a direct smell test at first. Simply trying to identify one object by smell alone.

“Okay, Violet, I am five lengths behind you. The wind is blowing towards you. Can you smell what I have in my possession?”

Should I guess? No, that’d just make look like an idiot. Reluctantly Violet just remained silent and shook her head. Not being an outcast was nice while it lasted.

An audible gasp came from Cera as Taunt took on a sad expression. His bowed head indicated his regret for his previous teasing. His thoughts now being obvious. She has lost her sense of smell… that poor thing.

Breeze spoke after a pause, shock in her voice, “...okay… I will move closer. Speak when you can smell it.”

“Don’t bother,” Violet said, “I can already tell you I can’t make out anything past two lengths.” Her voice carried as much despair as anger. “There’s nothing new that’s wrong.”

Violet couldn’t keep her voice from breaking. “I hatched like that.”

Silence reigned for several moments as Breeze walked back to her original position beside Violet. Both Cera and Taunt spoke in hushed tones to one another as they contemplated Violet’s condition. It was not a totally unheard of condition, but it was a significant one. A blinded sharptooth was a doomed one, but a smell-blind one was often seen as a liability by a pack.

“So you can smell me from here…” Breeze asked softly from very nearby.

“Kind of, but I have absolutely no clue what you’re feeling. My sniffer could be touching you and I still wouldn’t.” I wouldn’t have any clue what I was smelling meant. Violet kept her voice a bit more level. She felt a bit better when she saw her brother approaching. Between him and Tracker she had a pretty good set of cues to follow. Mostly she just listened to what was said and how it was said; she also watched how someone moved. Having only a few fastbiters to work with, she wasn’t entirely sure how useful any of that was with fastbiters in general.

Breeze sighed and put her objects away. It was obvious that nothing more could be done here.

“But you can smell things that are close to you…” Taunt spoke suddenly, not being aware of Dodger’s harsh glare, “You mentioned that you can’t smell emotions… but does a person’s scent ever smell a little bit different to you?”

Cera nodded. “Taunt has a point… if different fastbiters are near you do they smell different to you?”

“If I concentrate, yes. Otherwise it's like trying to figure out who is talking when everyone is shouting at once; it gets confusing pretty fast.”
Taunt jumped up excitedly. “There’s hope then!”

Cera smiled. “If a bunch of leaf-eaters could learn how to handle our sniffers then we can help you learn as well!”

“What do you think, Violet?” Dodger really didn’t want to push his sister into trying Taunt and Cera’s idea no matter how much he liked it. If he knew Violet she was still trying to get past the idea that no one had told her to get lost.

Violet stared at Cera and Taunt, dumbfounded. Yep, still in shock, Dodger thought. “Violet,” he prompted his sister again.

“W-what?” Violet asked, her question not really directly aimed at anyone in particular. She was surprised that no one had laughed at her. When one of the kids from her home pack had found out about her smell-blindness she’d been teased by him and his siblings mercilessly until her own siblings had had enough and beat her tormentors bloody. No one, not even Prowler on his worst day, bothered her about her smell-blindness after that.

“We can help you learn to identify those smells that you smell,” Breeze offered, “You wouldn’t be able to smell from a distance, but you could learn to experience what we do when we smell someone we care for.”

Cera stepped forward. “It won’t be easy… it wasn’t for us… but it gets easier with practice.”

Taunt smiled. “Are you willing to give it a chance?”

“Well, if I can finally figure out when you’re joking and when you’re insulting me I’ll try anything,” Violet said, almost reflexively trying to get a jab in at Taunt.

Remembering his teasing before he realized her disability, Taunt bowed his head in an apologetic gesture that Violent recognized from her and Ducky’s discussion.

“Hey, I’ve heard worse,” Violet said, trying to indicate there were no hard feelings.

Only now Taunt raised his head back to its usual confident level. He didn’t mind pranking people to the point of rage, but harming those who were suffering was something that he would never knowingly do. He had far too many memories from when he was a weak child in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Cera smiled at the reactions from both dinosaurs. “Well then… perhaps we can start with Taunt?”

Taunt blinked. “What?”

Cera smiled. “Let’s sit on either side of her and have her try to separate our two scents. Then we can show her how your scent changes when your mood changes.”

Breeze snickered. “What if that doesn’t change?”

Cera rolled her eyes. “Oh, trust me… I can change his mood. He can feel fear if I am in the proper mood for it.”

“No one’s going to get hurt, right?” Violet asked hesitantly, not out of fear of pain but just being unsure of where the conversation was headed.

Breeze chuckled lightly. “No one is going to get hurt, Violet. Stern Claw often sounds much more menacing than she actually is… that is something that you will learn when you are trained in how to identify emotions…”

As if on cue, Taunt and Cera stood in front of Violet. “Ready, Violet? I promise that I won’t kill my mate. After all, I haven’t killed him yet,” Cera offered with a smile as Taunt rolled his eyes in response.

”Ready,” Violet responded. As ready as I’ll ever be.


Never mind how many times Ducky comforted a victim of Calin’s cruel legacy, she could never get rid of the bitter taste of bile in her throat. She was a kind soul, Taunt had even called her the nicest fastbiter he had known, but even she could not choke back the hatred for Calin whenever she was confronted with his damage. In her arms right now was a sobbing mess that had once been a young female such as herself. But now that her emotional mask had fallen the true depths of her anguish could not be hidden. Calin’s pack had harmed her in ways that no child deserved. She only hoped that by sharing her experience that she could gain some semblance of closure.

The monster was dead, but his monstrous acts remained.

Tracker tried in vain to get herself at least slightly under control. “S-sorry I’m such a mess, Haven.” Tracker said. I wish we could’ve met sooner. Violet would’ve been in a panic if I broke down in front of her.

Ducky sighed, ignoring her own burning tears. Despite thankfully having never experienced the horrors that Tracker had, she couldn’t help but feel her pain and humiliation. Cera had once told her that that was her greatest strength… and her greatest weakness. She could not ignore the suffering in front of her.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Tracker. Just remember that Calin and his pack are gone now. He cannot harm you anymore. We saw to that.”

“But they didn’t have a damn choice!” Ducky froze at the agitated response from the stricken fastbiter. Up until now she had not heard a single curse from the other pack. It just highlighted her extremely agitated state. “If they didn’t do that… then he… he…”

Ducky closed her eyes and sighed sadly. “...then he would kill the ‘weaklings’…”

Tracker nodded as she continued to sob, “The bastard laughed while they used me. He wanted his pack to be merciless…” she shivered, “...he told me that I would either live with them on top of me, or die with the ground on top of me… the weak had no place among the fighters.”

Ducky remained silent as she continued to hug Tracker tightly. She knew that she had to get all of this out.

“Only Leap had any compassion… he… he apologized…” she sucked in a breath as Ducky shivered at the mention of Leap’s name, “he whispered after he got done… it was the only mercy I received...”

Ducky swallowed despite her throat was dry, “Leap and his sister told us that they had to do terrible things in Calin’s pack… he never said what those things were. I don’t think he wanted to remember…”

Tracker shivered and remained silent for several moments. It was as if she were struggling to comprehend the turmoil in her own mind.

“Haven, I know it's a lot to ask, but, next time you see him… could you tell Leap I forgive him?” Tracker asked, unsure whether she had a right to request such a thing.

Ducky nodded slowly. “I am sure that he will be relieved, Tracker. Even though he did not have a choice, it is very forgiving of you. I… do not know if I could forgive if…”

“It’s not easy, but I don’t want to hold on to this for the rest of my life,” Tracker said. It took me a long time just to forgive myself for making a few costly mistakes. Staying angry hurts no one but myself.

Ducky took in a deep breath as she finally pulled away from Tracker. The sobbing had come to an end, though the emotions still remained.

“That is the spirit, Tracker. Just know that you are not alone. You have Dodger and you have us.” She looked into her eyes. “Regardless of where you may go, you are not alone. Calin cannot defeat you if you refuse to let him.”

“Does everyone have to know?” Tracker asked. This could be really embarrassing… Violet would find out for sure.

“I will not tell another soul, Tracker,” Ducky affirmed, “None of this will harm the pack… this is your tale to tell, Tracker, no one else's.” She sighed. “I will only talk to Leap as you requested.”

“Thanks.” Tracker breathed a sigh of relief.

Ducky finally wiped her eyes. “Well… do you feel better? We can go back to the others before they go looking for us.”

“I’m okay,” Tracker replied. Not great, but I’m okay. “I should be fine by the time we get back.” No sense letting Violet see how upset I was.

Ducky patted her counterpart on the back as they began to take the long walk back to the pack’s meeting place. It was only when they had gotten closer to the forest’s clearing that she noticed the silent sentinel that stood in the large tree in front of them. Ducky said nothing, but merely nodded at the form that she knew was Petrie’s. It was the unspoken vow of the flyer that, though he may see more than anyone, he would take some secrets to the grave. Such was the silent vow of a flyer.

However, upon entering the clearing, they immediately noticed an odd sight.

That’s actually not the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, Tracker thought, Well, if Dodger hasn’t killed anyone I guess everything is okay. Could someone please explain this before Violet notices Haven and starts worrying about her reaction? Tracker had found out about Violet’s smell-blindness in an extremely unpleasant manner. She really didn't want to see it repeated with Ducky.

“Hey, girls…” Breeze’s voice suddenly whispered towards them, “We are trying to train Violet to use her sniffer.”

Ducky looked perplexed. “She is almost as old as we are… how can she not have learned how to use her sniffer?”

“Haven, Violet is, well…” Tracker sighed. I might as well just say it. “Violet’s smell-blind.” Way to sound like you’re embarrassed to be her friend, Tracker, she chided herself.

Much to Tracker’s surprise Ducky remained silent for several moments. “That… that actually explains a lot,” she offered finally, “She missed things that others would not have missed.”

Unsure of where Ducky was going with this, Tracker started to tense up as if preparing for a fight. It was a useless gesture, but Tracker was extremely protective of Violet. If you’ve got nothing good to say, Haven, please keep it to yourself.

Ducky noticed a sudden ‘stiffness’ in Tracker’s smell. “Is she alright, Breeze?” Ducky offered cautiously as she gave Breeze a ‘watch what you say’ look, “If they are training her then that means she is not completely smell-blind.”

Breeze paused at Ducky’s expression and opened her mouth before quickly closing it. Hmmm… need to be careful here… “She can smell a little… right now we have taught her how to tell Taunt and Stern Claw apart.”

That was fast, Tracker thought, I wonder if she can recognize my scent. I never asked if she could.

Meanwhile, the smell training was continuing in the clearing.

“Okay, Violet,” Cera spoke from several meters behind Violet, “Now we are going to test your ability to smell fear…” she then quickly placed a claw against Taunt’s neck causing an immediate, if temporary, reaction of fear from the orange fastbiter.

Violet noticed a slight change in Taunt’s scent. “His scent changed for a moment.” Almost missed it.

“Knew you could do it, Violet,” Dodger told his sister. He kept his reaction down to just a smile despite feeling elated enough to embarrass himself enough that Littlefoot’s pack would have to immortalize it in song. That’s what Taunt is for. Violet would also never let me live it down.

Ducky took the opportunity to walk closer to Violet, but was careful to stay far enough away as to not interfere with the test. “Good job, Violet! What have you been taught to smell so far?”

“Just Taunt and Stern Claw,” Violet answered, sounding a bit nervous. I hope she’s not just being polite. A glance at Tracker, somewhat further away, revealed no answers.

Ducky smiled. “Well, that is a good start. Smelling emotions is the hardest part.”

“It’s not easy,” Violet replied. Dang it. I still don’t know what she’s thinking. Come on, Tracker, give me a hint. Not being to actually tell whether Ducky still wanted to be her friend or was just being polite was making her nervous.

“You smell nervous,” Ducky offered honestly, “Would you like me to get into your smell-range, Violet?”

“I’d still need someone to tell me what I’m smelling. Unless you’re afraid of something everything’s just a big jumble of smells,” Violet replied. She hung her head dejectedly. I’ve still got a long way to go.

Looking towards Dodger, as if asking for permission, Ducky moved closer to Violet and gestured for Tracker to join her.

Dodger moved to help Tracker, though she had them move too quickly for his help to actually make the trip less painful. Okay, rushing was a bad idea, Tracker thought, wincing.

Ducky froze and looked at the scene with horror. “Oh, I am sorry, Tracker! I am, I am!”

Violet noticed the Ducky’s change in scent. Oh, so that’s what that smells like. I hope Tracker’s okay.

“No worries,” Tracker told Ducky with a grimace, “It’s about time I tried that on my own, anyway.”

Ducky then sat down as Dodger brought Tracker to a place just beside the green fastbiter. It was then that she noticed that Violet seemed to be less nervous than before.

“What changed, Violet?” Taunt offered before Ducky could speak, “Did you smell something?”

“Haven’s scent really changed for a few moments,” Violet replied, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Cera smiled. “That’s great, Violet! You are learning fast!”

Ducky nodded. “Maybe you can teach your friends about those gestures I told you about, while they help you learn how to use your sniffer? That way you are all ready for life out there.”

Violet smiled a bit. That’s something I know I can do. “I can do that.”

“Thanks a lot, Haven,” Dodger muttered under his breath. Is there anyone that didn’t hear that?

Cera stared at Dodger for a moment as she debated saying something to the effect of ‘even the best of us don’t know everything’, but quickly thought better of it. Fortunately for the awkwardness of the moment, but unfortunately for her sanity, Taunt chose that moment to speak.

“Maybe I can teach them to have a sense of humor next.”

Cera groaned. “Like you have been trying to do for the last several years with the pack? Maybe it is not us that needs a lesson, perhaps it is your humor that needs work.”

Taunt smiled coyly. “Ha! See, you are capable of humor after all!”

Somewhat overwhelmed by the changes in scent, Violet covered her nose in an attempt to block it all out. She couldn’t decipher all that at once. Whoah! How do you guys not go crazy with all these smells? I can barely keep track of them.

Breeze seemed to notice Violet’s distress. “It is hard to keep track of them all, isn’t it? That is something that takes a while to learn, but if you have been ignoring it all this time…”

Ducky nodded. “Reminds me about how hard it was for us to learn how to smell… there were so many of them… and many were so similar…”

“I couldn’t tell who was who for a moment,” Violet admitted, somewhat embarrassed, “I’m never going to get this right.”

Taunt frowned for a moment, realizing that his little joke had disheartened her. “Sure you will! Trying to tell smells in a crowd is the hardest thing to do. You have to learn to use your sniffer just like how you learned to run. One step at a time.”

Cera nodded. “For once Stripe-Ass is correct. It will just take time.”

“So, Violet… what was it you wanted to show us?” Tracker asked her friend in an attempt to steer the conversation back to something that Violet had more confidence in.

“Well, apparently we’ve been doing some of our gestures wrong,” Violet replied, now feeling much more confident, “Haven showed me how to do them right. Here’s one I think you might recognize…”


Littlefoot grunted as he helped drag the longneck corpse towards the meeting place. Even with Spike and Chomper’s help it was still quite a challenge. Finally, however, they decided that it was close enough to the clearing to be within comfortable range of Tracker and Violet’s abilities.

“Whew! That was worse than the hunt itself!”

Chomper snorted at Littlefoot’s exclamation. “At least the hunt was fun!”

Spike merely sighed as he again dug into the beast’s neck. The trio had already consumed the first bites as was their right. There was plenty for the others.

“Well… I am sure that they won’t be happy with us doing the hunt ourselves…” The others had been waiting for them to give the word that a suitable prey was found. Instead, Littlefoot had given the order to strike while the longneck was in a vulnerable position. “Ponder is going to be pissed…”

Spike sighed… Breeze would undoubtedly chew him out as well.

“Hey… what are they doing?”

Littlefoot looked curiously at Chomper’s question. Whatever he was seeing was out of Littlefoot’s visual range as Chomper stood higher than them. However, after a moment’s sprint, both he and Spike could see a most interesting scene in the clearing.

“No, Tracker, a little higher.” Violet tried to get her friend to correctly do a rank acknowledgement. Who decided that having the difference between one rank below and two being nearly impossible to recognize was a good idea? “There, you got it.”

“I’m suddenly glad we’re not a large pack,” Tracker said, “My neck hurts.”

Ducky laughed. “That is why our pack usually just uses the simpler ‘one up’ or ‘one down’ gestures. As it is Finder and Taunt’s rank shifts constantly. So much so I forget who outranks who.”

Taunt snorted. “If he would just quit trying to challenge me then it wouldn’t be so complicated.”

“If you would just submit to my mate already then this wouldn’t be so complicated,” Breeze retorted with an amused smirk as Cera rolled her eyes.

“I’m never going to understand these people,” Tracker whispered to Dodger. How do they manage to openly talk about rank changes like it is nothing important? Every time Prowler and Dodger nearly decided to rearrange how we operated it seemed like they were intent on killing each other. Their last fight nearly did kill them.

Seeing the scene play out in front of them, Littlefoot could only look at Spike with some amusement. “It seems like things are going well if Violet can give the others lessons!”

Spike nodded. “Tracker seems to be moving around as well.”

“Ah, there you three are. You three are right there.”

Littlefoot turned suddenly as Ruby’s form appeared from the bushes. He had forgotten that she was the one on guard duty.

“How are…” That was when she saw it. In a moment that seemed to last for ages for Littlefoot his mate’s expression went from pleasantly surprised to unconcealed anger, “You three hunted without anyone else?!”

Littlefoot smiled apologetically. “Now, dear…”

Ruby raised a finger as the thoughts about rank continued to echo in her head. “Maybe I should show the newcomers an important thing about rank. An angry Ponder outranks everyone!”

As Littlefoot retreated in the distance while Ruby, and then Breeze, raised hell at their respective mates, the remaining dinosaurs watched the scene with some bemusement.

“I’m not the only one seeing this, am I?” Violet asked. It was one thing to know that a pack leader could be questioned; it was quite another to see one being yelled at.

“Yep, I’m never going to understand this pack,” Tracker said.

Ducky smiled as she offered her hand to help Tracker up, “That is one of the great things about being mated to a pack leader, Tracker, you can set them straight if they mess up…” Dodger noticeably stiffened, “Let’s go get the food before Path eats it all!” she finally offered humorously.

Haven has something against me, doesn’t she? Dodger thought as he followed everyone else, No wonder Violet likes her.


Hanging Rock in the ‘present’:

Hmmmm..... count on a hidden runner to make a hunt interesting.

Her prey stood in front of her as if to challenge her resolve. The rest of its herd had remained back in a defensive line, whereas this adventurous fool and sprung forward to challenge her pack. It would have been so easy to envelop the prey... but she knew her competitor. This had to be a trick somehow.

"Wow, Mender, you're looking at that rock like you want to rip it apart!"

Mender looked up from the smooth stones residing in makeshift holes in the ground and fixed her gaze on her opponent.

"A hunt is a hunt. Even if it is just stones and bones."

And then she looked down again at the field of play. Suppressing a groan she carefully examined her opponent's recent moves. She has a strategy of some kind. The question is: what is it?

'Ambush and Retreat' was one of the numerous ideas that had come from the rainbowfaces over the intervening years, though unlike a healing remedy or other 'inadvertent cultural interferences' from Chronos this game had found wide acceptance among hidden runners and fastbiters alike. It was a simple game at its core, with 8 rows of 8 holes and 16 stones or bone pieces per player. What made it unique, however, is what it allowed its players to do.

To practice strategy without actually staging a hunt.

After a few more moments of contemplation, Mender took one of her bone pieces and moved it towards Cynnil's line. She then leaned back with a satisfied grin.

"Trying to make me overreact again, huh?"

Cynnil nodded as she moved the endangered stone to safety, "Correct. Had you tried to surround my stone then I would have taken your bone."

Mender quickly moved one of her bone shards, surrounding Cynnil's stone on two sides in the process, "Left one of the younglings vulnerable though." She then took the stone and placed it aside.

Cynnil countered by moving one of her stones at the front of the line, now trapping Mender's piece in her corner of the grid, "You know what happens when you take a youngling... the adults get mad."

Mender smiled evilly, Exactly! Seeing her opening, she then moved her bone shard in front of the stone that had just been moved, and then picked it up. Cynnil had missed the fact that she had made herself vulnerable.

“You are getting much better at hiding your intentions. I did not see that coming.” Cynnil bowed her head slightly as she gestured at the game. She knew that the game had been lost.

Mender nodded slightly out of respect, “I was thinking about what Spotter told me the last time me and him played. Make your opponent overconfident and then go for the kill.”

Cynnil smiled, “That flyer scares me sometimes.”

“That’s because he’s scary!” Mender affirmed with a laugh, “No wonder why my brother still doesn’t quite like him. I wonder if I will get to sing that part of the story before we have to leave the fastrunners.”

The hidden runner rubbed her chin as she considered those words, “Speaking of songs I noticed that you left out a few verses earlier.”

Mender twitched her tail nervously, “Cynnil, you know that…”

“I am not criticizing. That part of the song is not for the ears of outsiders.” The hidden runner waved her hand dismissively, “I was just surprised that you were able to switch up the song on the spot. It isn’t like we sing them to outsiders that often.”

“I sing them to myself sometimes…” …and leave out the depressing parts. Mender sighed as she looked towards the fastrunners in the distance who were now bathing in the water of the stream, “I am just not sure where we go from here.”

“We are no longer talking about the songs, are we?” Cynnil’s gaze followed Mender’s as the pieces began to connect in her mind, “I am sure Arial will be fine. She only needs a bit more time and she will be good as new. Probably no more than eight more nights.”

“Ten nights. She is hiding some of her discomfort from us because she doesn’t want to look weak,” Mender reported without much thought. You can’t hide it from me, Arial. I was the master of hiding wounds.

Cynnil looked at Mender in surprise as if she had missed the detail entirely, but did not contradict her friend’s assessment. However, it was the look of turmoil in Mender’s eyes that told her what was coming next. Bad news.

“It is what Pearl told me that has me concerned.”

Cynnil looked uneasy at her comrade’s tone, “Oh?”

Mender looked at her leader directly. No reason to sneak around the bush. “The Mysterious Beyond knows about the arrangement.”


Arial watched the three dinosaurs pace in the distance. It had only been moments ago that they had been playing their odd little game, but now it appeared that some serious discussion was taking place. Even Buse looks upset. What happened?

“I see that Mender has told Cynnil.”

Arial shook the water out of her feathers as she looked back at her father. His attention was focused on the fastbiters as well, but he did not appear to be confused about the situation at all.


“Well it couldn’t have stayed secret forever. With this many dinosaurs involved it was bound to be noticed sooner or later.”

Arial quickly shifted to the new speaker. Her mother did not sound confused either.


“I just wonder what they will decide, you know that the valley doesn’t…”

“Can somebody tell us what is going on?!”

It was only when Orchid spoke up that both parents finally stopped speaking and looked at their children. In their freshly dried state, with feathers puffing every which way, they almost looked like the young children that they used to be. However, the seriousness in their children’s eyes and the maturity of their bodies broke any illusion of those childhood days. They both knew that they had some explaining to do.


The Great Valley:

Communicator active…

Kind greetings:

Attached you will find the report that you requested, Malarek. We are still indebted to you for your gift of the Archiver Stones. Words cannot describe how ecstatic we were when we saw that the ‘flying sky stones’ (as the locals call them) that had recently landed near our home would provide us with enough storage for us and our progeny to record our research for centuries to come. Your warnings about avoiding cultural contamination are well understood by us, and will certainly continue to be honored.

Please be advised, however, that due to the level 3 quarantine around this planet that our narrow-beams transmissions will only allow for our reports to be sent in segments at a time. As you indicated an interest in the social situation amongst this planet’s inhabitants, we will send you this information first.

Commander Logos

Report follows…

Social development amongst the terrestrial megafauna on Creastor 420c: addendum 34

Officer Chronos

The arrangement of Brekan's Gulch (the alliance)

No discussion of the social groups on this planet can commence without mentioning the alliance between the hidden runners of the Northern Lands, the allies of Seeker, and the Great Valley. Originally established as an agreement to exchange medicinal plants between the three powers, and a general agreement to not be hostile to the territorial claims of the others, it quickly expanded to include many other stipulations. All parties get medicinal supplies, the hidden runners of the Northern Lands get protection from allied carnivores, the allies of Seeker get the mutual respect of their respective territorial grounds, all parties get the assistance of hidden runner reports, and each is protected in the event of another tyrant. On its surface then it may seem like a typical alliance combined with a trade agreement. However few treaties, even amongst the space-faring races, would include one of the unspoken provisions of this agreement: that its existence remain a secret to most of the residents of the valley.

Now on its surface this would seem to place the Great Valley at a disadvantage, but its leaders felt that the general antipathy between carnivorous and herbivorous species would demand that formal cooperation remain confidential. Ad hoc arrangements to obtain help from carnivorous beings have been successful in the past (see prior report on the Battle of the Valley), but the constant influx of new residents and the continued pressures of predation make general knowledge of any permanent arrangement unacceptable to the non-flight capable population.

The role of the flight-capable species in the alliance

Due to their relative safety from land-based predation and their ability to transverse large distances in a relatively short amount of time, flight-capable species are understandably an important component of the alliance. When considering this, however, one must…

Communicator interrupted…

“Ah, damn it!”

“Language dear! The children are present.”

Chronos groaned as he tried to aim the rock towards the estimated location of the communications satellite. “I am sure it is language they have heard before. They attended the last valley meeting.”

Logos rolled her eyes as she continued to calibrate the Archiver Stone to her species by rolling it in her hands, “Well I hope we can do better than a valley meeting, dear.”

“You talk funny in the talk-back, Dad.” Datum noted with amusement, intentionally using the language he had told him not to use in his reports to the Consortium.


Logos snorted, “Now how would you say that so that it translates properly, dear?”

“You verbally communicate in an irregular manner in the recording, Father.” Axiom intoned as she stuck out her tongue at her brother.

“Your attempt to correct my misuse of language only indicates to any rational observer that you missed the underlying point of my joke.” Datum crossed his arms as he leaned back in amused satisfaction. He may be expected to talk ‘properly’ in his reports to a world he never visited, but he intended to mock that kind of talk it in his world.

This earned a hearty laugh from everyone involved as the two children continued to examine their special stones. That was when Axiom turned a bit more serious.

“What do you think will happen if the rest find out about the agreement?”

Chronos and Logos shared a look for a moment before sighing.

“Now that, Axiom…” Logos began, “that is a good question.”

Communication reestablished… Seeking node…

Chronos smiled, “Well hopefully we can send this report before that happens, or the Bright Circle burns out, or the heat death of the universe…”

“Dear!” Logos gave her mate a playful slap as he held on to the nearly indestructible stone.

“Hey!” Chronos laughed as he waited for the playback to begin again, “But in all seriousness, Axiom, I think it will be fine. All of us have been through worse.”

Datum nodded his head as if to convince himself, I hope you’re right, Dad. We might be in a valley, but some of my friends are still out there… I wonder what Biter is up to now?

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/9/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 8: Guests

"Fastrunners, as they are called by the local residents, occupy a most odd place in the developing proto-society of the region. As relatively small organisms they are easy targets of the larger or faster carnivores in the event that their speed and cunning fails them, whereas their status as omnivores make their presence suspect to the herbivores. As a result they are tolerated in some places but welcome in none."

"Though, one might suppose, this lack of knowing if one will be welcomed or reproached is not limited to this one species. Indeed territorial concerns often leads to many organisms not knowing their status until it is brought to their attention in a most direct fashion..."

Officer Chronos,
An introductory report on 'fastrunner' traditions

Just outside of Hanging Rock:

The male fastrunner carefully peeked his head above the rocks. Though the fastrunner family had done nothing more than chase him away, he preferred to avoid that occurring again.

Well, I wouldn’t mind if she chases me.

His thoughts turned to the pink form in the distance. The one he jokingly thought of as his ‘pink nemesis’. As much as he would deny it, he actually found it amusing when she took the initiative to chase him out of their territory. It was almost like she was a welcome neighbor and not a potential threat.

She had not chased him in the last three incursions, however. It had been the elder male who chased him off in his latest attempt to snag fish from their stream. He frowned at that realization, only peripherally aware that he was beginning to take a liking to his usual adversary..

I hope that she is alright.

Though perhaps his thoughts should have been focused on his own safety...


A pair of yellow eyes gleamed as they inspected the gorge in front of Hanging Rock. Within a few moments two additional pairs of eyes appeared in the rocks above her, their owners being careful to blend into the stones as if they were part of the ground itself. A trait that only a hidden runner could pull off.

And a purple fastrunner could not.

I think we have an intruder, Mender thought to herself. She glanced back towards Hanging Rock. Spotting Detras and having just seen Orchid on her way out here, she moved forward confidently, sure that her target wasn’t a friend. Definitely an intruder. Time to get rid of him... permanently.

The fastrunner seemed to think the coast was clear as he moved forward with an aura of caution. His destination was obviously the stream as he made a beeline towards the edge of the gorge, rapidly advancing towards the water. He had no idea that he was now being watched.

For their part, Buse and Cynnil moved down the rocks with their eyes firmly fixed on the unfortunate fastrunner. He would be past them in mere moments, but this did not concern Mender. She knew that they were not there to ambush him on his way in… they were there to trap him once she chased him out.

No way out of the gorge except up… and my friends have that covered. Once he gets out of the gorge, however...

Her eyes again examined Hanging Rock itself. The small stream stood in front of it like a small oasis in a sea of dust. Both a welcome relief and the perfect bait. If he wanted to go to the left or right then she could chase him down as fastrunners were fast but lacked stamina. If this fastrunner was bright then there was only one path he could choose.

The same path he had originally taken.

The fastrunner seemed to stare for several moments at Hanging Rock as the the agitated voice of Arial bickered at her brother over some undoubtedly trivial matter. The laugh from Orchid all but confirmed it was nothing important. The male smiled slightly once he heard Arial laugh before continuing his advance.

Okay, here we go... Mender thought to herself as she slowly followed her target. No cover after this rock. She peeked around it. He’s still oblivious. Now’s my chance. Mender carefully moved out from behind the rock she had hidden behind and silently began her charge.

The fastrunner continued his move, quickly speeding up as he approached the stream. He knew full well that he would have to get his fish quickly before the family chased him once more. Once he finally reached his destination he did his customary check to make sure he wasn’t being noticed.

That’s when he locked eyes with something that most certainly was not another fastrunner.

So much for easy, Mender thought frustratedly as she quickened her pace, following the fastrunner along the bank of the stream. She started to gain on her prey.

The fastrunner weaved to the left and right in an attempt to gain distance on his foe, but a quick shift to the left confirmed what he was about to do.

Oh, no you don’t. Anticipating the fastrunner’s move, Mender turned towards the gorge at the same time he did, barely losing any ground as she did so.


Shit! Shit! Shit! Where the fuck did that come from!?

Nahoda could feel the ache within his legs as he attempted to outrun the fastbiter on his tail. He had somewhat expected to be chased from the territory but not from someone who planned on eating him. Were he not running for his life he might have found that thought humorous.

Okay, a little more and then I can go up the rocks… the bitch won’t follow me up there… just a bit more…


The male struggled to change his direction as hidden runners emerged from the rocks like water running down the gorge. Their threatening clicks confirming that his only avenue for escape had been sealed away. In his desperation all rational thought ended, and he turned to pure instinct. Perhaps he gravitated towards what his subconscious thought was safety? Perhaps he wanted his final chase to end where most of them had begun? Or perhaps he simply wanted to die in the presence of others of his own kind? But for whatever reason his legs led him in a most unusual direction.

Straight towards Hanging Rock.


Arial heard the scream before she saw the sudden flash of purple.

Nahoda? Intruding again… What are you…

Then she saw it. The fastbiter in the distance.

She sprinted away before anyone could stop her.


Just a bit closer... just a bit closer... Mender kept repeating to herself as she kept pace with the fastrunner in front of her. She was almost close enough to take the leap that would end the chase along with the fastrunner’s life.

He continued forward as if he were prepared to climb up Hanging Rock itself. The scent of desperation and terror now strong enough for even Mender’s sniffer to detect.

Mender finally got close enough to make her leap. Just a couple more steps...

Suddenly the fastrunner disappeared in a flash of pink.

Thrown off-balance by her target no longer being in front of her, Mender tried to slow to a stop and turn towards the groaning sound she could now hear, but her own momentum sent her tumbling. I thought I was past this, Mender groaned to herself as she carefully picked herself up, This fastrunner better not have gotten away...

“He’s harmless! You don’t have to kill him!”

Mender stopped and stared at Arial, confused by what she was hearing. Harmless, sure. He’s supposed to be food. He’ll definitely be harmless then.

Orchid ran up to his sister and quickly put a hand on her shoulder. “Sis, I don’t think they… I think he’s dinner…” As quickly as possible he tried to pull her back, as Detras arrived on the scene and did the same, grabbing her other arm. This only resulted in Arial scrambling away and latching herself onto Nahoda’s terrified form.


Mender looked from Detras to Arial and back, her expression increasingly bewildered. She was certain she or her packmates could kill their prey before Arial realized what happened, but whether they should do that was another question entirely. “Arial, did you just run all the way here from Hanging Rock?” Mender finally asked, grasping onto the only thing that made sense to her right then, “Are you trying to mess your leg up again?” If she fell getting down here...

It was only then that the male began to come back to his senses. “Arial? What… she’s here!” He struggled to rise to his feet. “Run! Save your…”

“She’s my healer,” Arial said simply as she positioned herself between Nahoda and the hidden runners, totally unaware of her father very carefully positioning himself beside Arial and gesturing for the rest of the family to do the same. His face was a picture of contradictions, a mixture of anger, bemusement, and pride as he stared at his daughter.

“You… know her?”

Arial violently nudged the male. “Shut up, Nahoda, I am trying to save your life,” she took a deep breath, appearing unsure of what to say. The scent of determination quickly dissipating and being replaced with confusion and fear.

“Arial, look at me.”

The fastrunner looked up, her eyes still glassy with uncertainty. It was obvious that she only then realized what she had done and how much she had risked.

“If he means that much to you then I won’t eat him,” Mender said before giving Arial a questioning look, “Are you courting him?”

The look that Arial gave Mender was one of utter incomprehension. It was as if Mender had rendered the fastrunner incapable of thought.

That was when Detras moved in front of his daughter.


The male continued to look dumbstruck.


The male finally registered the voice. “S-sir?”

The elder male gave his mate a look as she placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. It was only then that he addressed the intruder.

“Well… we can’t let our guests go hungry, now, can we?” Mender could not see the look that Detras was giving the male, but the horrified face of Nahoda gave her a hint. “So how about you and I help get some scaly swimmers for them… and have a little chat.”

Detras and a still disturbed Nahoda were soon walking away, headed towards the stream in silence. Mender watched, slightly confused, as Pearl led Arial back towards Hanging Rock. Mirroring Mender’s confusion was Orchid. Remaining behind with Mender, he seemed to understand the situation well enough to find it funny.

“I’m never going to get to eat a fastrunner, am I?” Mender wondered aloud, half hoping it might startle Orchid out of his amusement. No laughing at your sister, Orchid.

“We have been chasing him away for many Night Circles…. It’s odd.” He shook his head, obviously not registering Mender’s creepy joke. “He was a nuisance, always eating our fish, but at some point… it’s kind of welcoming you know? Someone who is always there…”

“Well, I was here today, and he didn’t see me coming. I didn’t see Arial coming either...” Mender trailed off, trying to puzzle everything out.

“She didn’t see her coming, either,” Orchid muttered, “She just acted…”

He shook his head and gave an exasperated laugh. “Heck of a way to impress a mate, sis.”

“Wait, did she just...?” Mender sputtered, looking at Orchid in shock. Is that how you propose?

Orchid snorted, “No, but if you were him would you even bother looking for another female? She just saved him from a fucking fastbiter…” he looked up, “Um… no offense.”

“Well, at least someone thinks I’m scary,” Mender said, ignoring Orchid’s unintentional jab, “If I ran into another fastbiter I’d probably be running for my life. Surprise meetings tend to go very badly.”

“Don’t put yourself short, Mender. We would be running with you!” Buse’s voice called out, alerting Mender to the fact that the rest of her pack had now laid down in a mixture of exhaustion and uncertainty.

Orchid shook his head in disbelief. “I’m sure they couldn’t have gone worse than this.”

“Orchid, you have no idea just how wrong things can go,” Mender said with a laugh, “Staza and I managed to find ourselves in quite a mess not long after first meeting Seeker and his pack...”


The past, six days after the events of chapter 7:

Violet walked through the brush with deliberate cautiousness. Today was the first day that Tracker was permitted to join her on scouting duty, which was in itself a huge show of confidence by the pack. Despite her lingering thoughts that she was unworthy of such trust, this mission filled her with hope.

“How are your legs feeling?” she finally spoke to her friend.

“Great. I hated not being able to walk,” Tracker replied.

Violet absentmindedly took a glance at Tracker’s now smaller leg musculature. Her days of being immobile had taken their toll, but the best way to combat this was to move around.

“I am glad to hear that,” Violet replied softly. She doubted that she could have kept her wits about her like Tracker had in her situation. She is so much stronger than me…

The two fastbiters carefully peeked through some bushes as they examined another clearing in the deep forest. They were on the lookout for anything unusual. The pack did not need to hunt until tomorrow, but even finding a potential herd of prey would be useful. That was to say nothing about the potential of finding a threat.

“I don’t see anything,” Violet spoke in a whisper, “Do you smell anything?”

“I’ve got nothing,” Tracker said, a bit annoyed, “Maybe we should find a hill.” I don’t like ‘nothing’.‘Nothing’ has a tendency to turn into a very bad ‘something’.

“You smell…” Violet hesitated. She was still unsure about her ability to determine smells. “Are you nervous, Tracker?” she asked softly. If she’s scared then I’m scared…[/COLOR]

“It’s nothing, Violet,” Tracker said, trying to sooth Violet’s fears, “Just a bad memory.”

Violet looked at her with some concern. There was no deceit in her words, nor in her smell. It had taken her a long time for Taunt to teach her how to tell when he was joking or serious, but she was now confident about her ability to determine that at least. Tracker was truly talking about something unpleasant in her past.

“You’re talking about that time I don’t remember, right?”

Tracker froze. Here come the questions. Again. “Yes, and I don’t want to talk about it.” Not that that ever dissuaded you before.

The cascade of smells that Violet then received threatened to overwhelm her. A mixture of anger, but lighter… frustration? A sadness that lingered… A terror that was distant… a horrifying mix that hinted at distant pain. A pain that wasn’t there until she mentioned it.

“I’m.. I’m sorry!” Violet choked out as she quickly walked forward and acted like she was sniffing the ground. All that she knew was that she had caused her friend pain in some way, and she wanted to avoid making it worse.

“Violet, it's okay. It's okay. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.” Tracker sighed. I should have told you about this a long time ago. Now’s not the time, though.

“But… I upset you… did I do that to you every time I asked about that?” she questioned with concern and more than a little guilt.

“Somewhat,” Tracker reluctantly admitted. There’s got to be a way to distract… I got it! “You didn’t know. Do you remember those times I would wake up screaming in the middle of the night?”

Violet nodded. She remembered those incidents quite well.

“Well, one time Dodger was on watch and went to check on me. I wasn’t thinking clearly, so I attacked him.” Tracker couldn’t keep herself from laughing. “He was more irritated with how poor my attack was than the attack itself. A hatchling could have done better.”

Violet snickered at that. “That sounds like Dodger.” She now gave up any pretense of sniffing the terrain as she looked around again, back in scouting mode. “I’ve noticed that you haven’t done any of that since you have been here.”

“It feels safer here.” And knowing that Calin is dead helps more than I’m willing to admit.

Violet nodded at that. “This pack knows what they are doing… it is a shame that we need to go soon…” Her eyes bulged as she realized what she had implied. “...I mean… I didn’t mean that Dodger…”

“Violet, if you want to stay, all you have to do is ask. Dodger just wants you safe, and there’s no place safer than here,” Tracker said.

Violet bowed her head, suddenly ashamed by her words despite Tracker’s understanding. “But you are family. My family,” she reiterated as she looked at Tracker sadly, “Family sticks together, right?”

“Right.” Tracker wasn’t going to argue the point with her friend; her heart wasn’t in it. I need to talk to Dodger about this.

Violet nodded. “I just hope… we can find a place close by,” she smiled slightly, “We have never had allies before… or friends.”

“Then what am I, food?” Tracker asked jokingly.

Violet rolled her eyes. “I said we, you dolt!” but her eyes immediately bulged when she realized what she had said to her now, admittedly, higher-ranked counterpart. She gave an apologetic bow in the manner she had taught several days ago.

“Violet…” Tracker sighed. “If no one has torn Taunt to shreds, I’m pretty sure you can insult me. Just don’t do it in front of another pack.”

Violet nodded in understanding at Tracker’s words as she again looked into the clearing. “Have you smelled the… stuff… that we were looking for?” She was hesitant to say its name. Despite their host pack’s obvious unwillingness to give away all of their secrets Dodger had tasked them with finding and identifying the plant that had been used against Tracker. It, and the antidote, would prove valuable once they were on their own again.

“No, wait… I think I got something. Follow me.” Tracker surged ahead, intent on following the smell to the source.

Violet followed dutifully, if a bit reluctantly. Even though it was not forbidden by their hosts to look for other things during their mission, she still felt it was a bit underhanded. She had to remind herself that this was for her pack, and it would not harm her hosts in any way. For the next few moments she followed Tracker at a speedy trot. A feat that would have been impressive for Tracker mere days before.

Tracker stopped in front of an unassuming plant. “That’s the anti-death, or whatever you call it,” Tracker said, “I’d know that smell anywhere.”
Violet covered her nose after she gave it a strong sniff. Even though she had had smell lessons for the last week she doubted that she could make out any smells for the next few moments due to the stench permeating through her sniffer. “This stuff smells awful!”

“The stuff that kills you is worse,” Tracker replied.

Violet grabbed one of the plants. “Well, awful as it is… I guess it is better than dying.” She then looked at Tracker. “Do you smell the bad stuff anywhere?”

“Yeah. It’s a bit further. I can’t believe it's so far out. If there was a surprise attack they’d never get to it in time.” I really want to know how they got it and tore a hole in my leg, Tracker thought irritatedly, Apparently I have the worst luck of any fastbiter ever hatched.

“Um…” Violet hesitated for a moment as she debated if she should mention what she was thinking. “I… have noticed Haven looking after a hole by her sleeping place. It… well, I saw her put something in it one day and put a rock over the hole when she thought I wasn’t looking… Do you think they keep some of them in there?”

“Maybe, but it wouldn’t last long. No Bright Circle, no tree, no bush, no Orange Death.” Thank you boring lessons on leaf-eater food. Tracker could never understand why her parents had thought it important to know where leaf-eaters’ food could be found, though she suspected it had something to do with finding leaf-eaters. The lessons were painfully boring, though, which was ironically why she remembered them so well.


“You got the offering ready, Leap?”

Leap groaned as Thud playfully mocked him. Thud knew full well that a juvenile swimmer was too large for him to carry alone.

“All due respects, sir, but you are an ass!”

His leader’s boisterous laughter echoed across the forest as Swift soon joined in the symphony of amusement. A mere year ago he would have feared to speak so freely to Thud, but ever since the great battle they had grown as a pack. He simply considered Thud part of his family now, albeit one that gave the orders.

“Where do you think that my son gets it from, Leap?” A chuckle left his mouth. “But you are right, your sister and I will drag this a little ways. How about you go to the edge of our friends’ territory and give the customary signal? Let’s see if their scouting abilities have improved any.”

Leap smiled coyly. “You want us to catch your son daydreaming again.”

Thud shrugged. “I didn’t say anything like that…. but yes.” He smirked. “Happy hunting, Leap!”

Leap grinned as he bounded off deeper into the forest. The other pack wouldn’t know what hit them.


“Over here!” Tracker called to Violet. She took a few cautious steps away from the Orange Death she just found. “Don’t touch it.”

Violet crouched down to where Tracker was gesturing. “This is it? This is the Orange Death? It doesn’t look like much…”

Tracker just glared. Do I need to remind you…

Violet quickly realized how callous her statement sounded. Me and my big mouth! “Sorry, Tracker…” She bowed apologetically. “I just meant that if I had seen this without knowing about it then I would think it was just another plant.”

“You’re right; it's easy to overlook. Now let’s get out of here before there’s an accident.” Or we get caught, Tracker silently added.


“This is it? This is the Orange Death? It doesn’t look like much…”

Leap nearly slammed himself to the ground as he heard the words from the unseen fastbiter.

Intruders! And they know about the Orange Death!

Leap struggled to keep his breath slow and controlled. He could not discount the possibility that they could be new members of the pack… but that would not explain their surprise at seeing the Orange Death. Something here did not add up.

“You’re right; it's easy to overlook. Now let’s get out of here before there’s an accident.”

Leap sucked in a breath. He had to let his packmates know about this immediately. Without waiting to catch his bearings he stepped backwards to exit his hiding spot.

...And promptly stepped on a twig.



Yikes! Tracker thought. Her head jerked towards the sound, but she couldn’t see anything yet. “Violet, I think it's time to go…”

Violet struggled to her feet as she stared at the bushes where the sound had emerged. For several moments she could not see anything, but then suddenly the large shadow of a fastbiter appeared over the bushes. It was a figure that she had never seen before.

Tracker, however, recognized him instantly. However, past experience and what her mind associated him with did not allow her to remain calm. “Violet, run!” Tracker turned and followed her own advice, after practical shoving Violet away from the other fastbiter..

None of them noticed the fastbiter continue to stare at the spot where Tracker once stood. For several moments he merely stood there, unable to move or speak. It was only once the realization of what he had witnessed came to him that he finally collapsed to the ground and wept.


It was several moments later that his packmates found him.

“Leap! What happened?!”

Thud rushed through the underbrush with a speed that almost seemed unnatural. In a swift movement he quickly examined his packmate and assessed him for injuries. It was the lack of injuries that concerned him the most. What in the heck had happened here?

“It… it was her…”

Swift ran up and down the line of bushes staring at the trees around them with murderous intent. “Who, Leap? Who hurt you?”

Leap shook his head as he choked back a sob. “I… I hurt her… she was the one… the…”

Thud shook Leap. “Spit it out, Leap!” Despite not wanting to harm his friend he had to know what had transpired here.

“She’s the one that made us decide to leave! To get away from Calin and his evil bastards!” he wailed, “She’s the one that we thought died…”

Swift froze. “The one who… the cliff…”

Leap stared at his sister with an utterly defeated expression. “She’s alive, sis.”

Thud looked at the two siblings with exasperation as they both looked like they had experienced a death in the family. He had no idea what was going on and was quickly tiring of the situation.

“Can someone tell me what is going on?!”

Leap merely looked down as the scent of unrestrained remorse radiated from him. Finally it was his sister that addressed her leader with a shaky voice.

“It happened when we were in Calin’s pack…”


Must go faster! Must go faster! Tracker thought repeatedly. She hadn’t been this scared in a very long time. Quite by accident she was making Violet’s mental situation even worse than her own.

Damn it! We have to warn the others! Violet thought in a panic. She had no idea what the significance was of who Tracker noticed, but she realized based upon her reaction that it must have been very bad news. At their current rate of speed it did not take them long to attract the appearance of Petrie.

“What wrong!? Should me give alert!?” he squawked overhead.

“Yes!” Tracker shouted without thinking things all the way through. If she had she might have made the connection between ‘Leap’ and ‘ally of Seeker’.

Instantly Petrie raised his beak and soared into the air. It did not take long for his tell-tale alert to echo across the land. Based upon Tracker’s reaction he did not hesitate to give his alert a treatment that everyone would understand.


Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!

Taunt dropped his ground fuzzy as Petrie’s alert echoed in his ears. “A four call alert! Shit!”

In an instant he was sprinting headlong towards Ducky’s sleeping area. Going directly at the threat was not an option now. A four call alert meant that a packmate was down or…

“We must be under attack!” Littlefoot screamed as he reached into the pit and literally threw a bulb of Orange Death towards Taunt. His spear was tossed at him by Ruby a split second later.

Taunt quickly poisoned his spear without speaking a word. The time for talking was over. Now was the time for action.

“What now?” Spike asked in the distance as he too grabbed his spear.

“What on earth is going on?” Dodger practically demanded. Where are Violet and Tracker?

Littlefoot did not waste time to look up as he passed the final spear to Ducky. “Spotter gave an alert. We are under attack! You stay here and guard Violet and Tracker if they get back.”

“WHAT!” Dodger demanded. You want me to do WHAT while my packmates are in danger?!

Littlefoot glanced in his direction for a moment, as if he were weighing something in his mind.

“Follow then… if you see them, then guard them.” his words were cold due to the magnitude of the situation. “Otherwise, help us avenge them.”

“Yes, sir,” Dodger replied just as coldly.

Without any further words being exchanged the fastbiters sprinted into the distance. The distant footsteps of Chomper becoming louder as they approached from his now aborted scouting mission... Soon the battle would be joined.


Thud’s blood went cold as he listened to Swift’s words. He had never heard the tale of what made her and her brother risk all to escape from Calin’s pack, but now he realized why they had never told him. It was worse than he could ever have imagined.

“He made you… that… that irredeemable bastard!”

Leap sucked in a sob. “We had to leave… What if my sister were next? What if it were me? Calin didn’t care who he hurt… who he killed… in those last days he didn’t seem to care. He just wanted to see everyone bleed.”

Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!

Thud looked up at where the alert came. “What?!”

Swift froze in horror. “Oh no… They must have found the intruders…”

Leap screamed, “She lived through Calin, we can’t let her die now! She deserves better than that!”

Thud sucked in a deep breath. “Then let’s warn the pack before they make a terrible mistake.”

Without another word they ran into the coming chaos. Giving warning calls as they proceeded.


Littlefoot ran forward with great agitation as he held his spear close to his shoulder. They had no idea what awaited them in the brush, whether their guests were alive or dead; all that they knew was that the pack was under threat.

“Wing formation!” Littlefoot barked, “Spread out and get ready!”

“Wing formation?” Dodger asked. Understandably the pack hadn’t exactly explained every strategy of theirs to him. Those strategies also didn’t take him into consideration.

Taunt carefully clicked with his mouth. “Fall back to where I am!” Without looking to see if Dodger understood, Taunt then slowed until he was near the back of the pack. With only Dodger being out of place in the V-shaped formation.

Dodger slowed to a stop, letting everyone else run past his position before hurrying to catch back up with Taunt. Is there a reason someone couldn’t have mentioned this before we got out here?

Just then Ducky let out a high-pitched hiss, which was soon followed by a click from Cera. At this point Littlefoot raised a hand for the others to stop. The pack had obviously found something.

Ducky then raised two claws and scraped the ground. Littlefoot nodded his head as if he understood her signal completely. He then made an odd gesture with his arm and clicked four times. As if on cue, Cera, Ducky, and Taunt advanced with their spears raised.

Dodger moved forward slightly to take Taunt’s former position but did not go any further. Maybe I should have stayed behind… He was used to giving and receiving clear orders, not trying to puzzle some out that he didn’t understand. Bad leader or not, at least I could understand Prowler’s orders.

“They found something…” Spike’s voice whispered in Dodger’s ear, “Back us up.” Without further explanation he too edge behind his three friends, spear raised.

Dodger followed close behind, hoping he was doing the right thing. Needing some room to rush an opponent, he shifted himself so that he would be on the flank though still behind the line. No sense trying to cut through his allies and make a mess.

Suddenly the bushes exploded as three fastbiters tore through the vegetation in a headlong sprint. It was only a swift reaction from Littlefoot that prevented a slaughter.


Dodger moved forward the moment the three fastbiters came into view but stopped level with the pack’s line at Littlefoot’s order. Okay, sir. So what’s the plan? Just tell me what to do.

“Thud?” Littlefoot spoke with obvious surprise and more than a little relief, “Did you surprise our scouting party?”

Thud breathed hoarsely; it was obvious that he had been sprinting for some time. “We didn’t see any of you in a scouting party. We did see someone that Leap and Swift knew in Calin’s pack, however…”

At that Dodger went from calm to silent but controlled rage. Some days ago Tracker had pulled him aside, or rather had him help her somewhere more private, and told him quite a few of the details she’d left out during the time-that-is-not-to-be-spoken-of. Calin was one of those details.

Ducky tightened the grip on her spear as Littlefoot held his breath. So the alert wasn’t a mistake…

“But don’t hurt her!” Leap suddenly interrupted as he stepped forward, “I’m… sure that she means no harm. She is one of the few who escaped before we tried.”

Littlefoot spoke in a cold monotone as he processed Leap’s words. He knew full well that they might not have much of a choice. “We will spare her if possible… did you see only one?”

Leap shook his head. “No… there was another.”

Ruby gritted her teeth. “Crap! A scouting party?”

Littlefoot nodded. “Let’s show them that this land is occupied… Thud, take your people to the west side, everyone else head east.”

“And what of Path?!” Petrie’s voice echoed from above, “Me see no intruders yet!”

Littlefoot sighed. “Have him scout the sleeping areas. If they are here then they will be found! Move out!”

“Sir, requesting permission to split off from the group. I’d like to find Violet and Tracker before something happens to them,” Dodger requested.

“Spotter, where were they heading?” Littlefoot shouted in mid-sprint.

“East!” came the rapid response.

Littlefoot nodded as the others followed closely behind. “Looks like we are going the right direction! Just follow and hopefully we will find them!”

Dodger nodded in acquiescence but was still a bit bothered. Partially because they didn’t want to be hopelessly spread out the pack wasn’t moving as quickly as he knew he could on his own. Please be alright, you two.


“Who was that, Tracker?!” Violet finally asked as her friend collapsed beside Ducky’s sleeping areas. It was then that she realized just how agitated her friend was. “Are you alright?”

“No, I’m not alright,” Tracker admitted. By the time she slowed down enough to think she’d realized she’d made a huge error sounding the alert. At this point it almost seemed better just to keep running than admit that she apparently wasn’t entirely right in the head.

Violet looked around her rapidly in fear that the intruder might still be in pursuit. “But who was that, Tracker? It… it was almost like you knew him.”

“I did,” Tracker muttered before walking away from her friend. Why didn’t I just tell her all this once I was sure her head wasn’t messed up the first time? She’s really not going to react well if I tell her now.

Violet moved closer to her friend, as if in a protective gesture. “Do you think he will go after us?” the fear was obvious in her voice and her scent. “Where… where are the others?”

“The pack’s either looking for us or for him. Possibly both. You’re going to be fine, Violet.” And I’m going to be asked to leave and never come back.

“How can you be sure?” Violet inquired, her fear deepening, “You said that you knew him and then ran… he must be dangerous. What if he hurts our friends? Or Dodger?” Her body began to shake at that thought.

“Violet, I overreacted. He’s not nearly as dangerous as I made you think he is. Unlike you I’m pretty much scared of everything. Dodger will be fine. He’s got plenty of friends with him.”

Violet froze for a moment as she digested her words. “Who was he? Is he from… the times I don’t remember?”

“Yes, and it’s probably best if you don’t remember it for now. I’ll explain everything once this is taken care of if you don’t want to just ask Haven first. She got me talking about it even when I was trying not to,” Tracker said, “Actually, it might be better if you just talked to her.” She’ll keep you from losing your head in front of everyone.

Violet felt a lump in her throat as her fear and uncertainty remained despite Tracker’s words. Before she could speak, however, a familiar sound echoed in her ears.

“There they are!”

Honestly, I’d feel better seeing Leap right now, Tracker thought worriedly as the pack approached, They’re not going to be happy once everything is sorted out.

“You two alright?” Dodger asked when he reached his packmates. His question was directed at both of them, but his eyes were directed at Tracker. She seemed far too nervous for seeing friendlies.

“We’re not hurt,” Tracker answered, causing Dodger to frown. She wasn’t lying, but it was obvious she wasn’t telling him everything.

“Thank, goodness!” Littlefoot exclaimed as he skidded to where the two fastbiters rested. Instantly the others gathered around the two guests with their spears raised in a protective formation around them. It was only then that Littlefoot addressed them directly, “Girls, I need you to tell me what you saw, okay? We need to know what we are up against. Spotter hasn’t found anything yet.”

“It was an overreaction,” Tracker said, sounding ashamed, “I saw someone and panicked.” Please don’t make me explain everything. Please.

Littlefoot frowned at her response, and hesitated for a moment. “Well, if it was another fasbiter then that is something worth alerting us about. This is our territory.” He sighed. “Can you tell me who they were… or describe what they look like?”

Tracker snuck a glance over at Ducky. Help!

Ducky moved forward as Littlefoot was about to speak. “Let me handle this, please.” The tone was not lost on Littlefoot as he edged away slightly but remained in ear-range. “We have to know what we are up against, Tracker, we do, we do…”

“It was a mistaken attack. It was someone both you and I know.” I hope she gets the hint.

Ducky took in a breath as the implications of Tracker’s words registered in her mind. She needed confirmation, however, and mouthed out the word ‘Leap?’

Tracker nodded in confirmation. Would telling everyone everything keep me alive?

Ducky grimaced and briefly considered the repercussions on everyone from this mistake. It was obvious why Tracker would react that way upon encountering someone from that dark portion of her life, but it was also obvious what such an admission of error would mean for Tracker. She had to find some way to mitigate the damage.

“Call off the alert, Seeker,” she finally spoke as Tracker looked away in shame, “It is a false alert.”

Littlefoot looked surprised. “Are you sure?”

Ducky nodded. “You know, we never told them what Thud’s pack looked like, and we never told them about our new guests.”

Ducky was uncertain about Littlefoot’s reaction but was relieved a moment later when he gave the necessary call to give the all clear. It was only then that he spoke.

“It seems that Violet and Tracker did a better job at scouting than we did at explaining,” he spoke with an apologetic tone, “Tracker, the fastbiters that you saw are our allies, Thud, Swift, and Leap. You have nothing to fear from them.”

The others breathed sighs of relief as well as they dropped their spears to their sides. The only thing that mattered to them at the moment was that the ‘threat’ was over. An inconvenience was far better than an actual threat to life and limb.

“Well, I guess we had better show our new friends our old allies,” Cera offered sarcastically, “Considering how poor we are at explaining things, perhaps we should just show them.”

Taunt finally laughed, his relief evident. “Heck of a training session!”

Ruby rolled her eyes. “Well, let’s give the girls a chance to catch their breath... and us as well. It will be nice to talk to our friends again.” As if on cue she sucked in a deep breath. “I am sure that you two will actually like them. They are among the nicest fastbiters you will ever meet.”

Okay, this could actually end up worse than I imagined, Tracker thought, Why does every time I try not to tell everyone about something, ‘everyone’ just gets bigger? I should’ve just kept running. Not sure what to do, she kept her thoughts to herself. She wasn’t looking forward to inevitably humiliating both herself and Leap.

Ducky hesitated before pulling away. She had been told about Tracker’s past in Calin’s pack, and could only assume what Leap was forced to do, but she had no confirmation. She also didn’t want to out Tracker’s darkest secrets in front of the others. Unsure of what to do, she mutely looked into Tracker’s eyes. The unspoken words being obvious, ‘Are you ready for this?’

‘No, but what choice do I have?’ was the unspoken reply.

Ducky looked down, but reluctantly pulled away. She did not envy her friend, but all she could do was to help her in the aftermath. For better or worse, a difficult reunion was about to take place.


Leap had never been as deeply relieved as he was in his walk towards the center of the pack territory. Littlefoot’s call had meant that the crisis had been resolved without bloodshed, the best possible resolution. This meant that Tracker was still alive.

If anyone deserves to survive it is her.

“You alright, brother?”

Leap sucked in a breath. He understood the context of his sister’s question.

“Yeah… I am just glad that she is alright. We took so much from her…”

“Calin took it from her, not you two,” Thud’s voice spoke resolutely, “You had no choice.”

“There is always a choice…” Leap tried to protest.

“Without being murdered?” Thud glared at Leap.

Leap bowed his head. “No…”

“Then you had no choice,” Thud replied sadly, “You two were victims as well. The important thing is that you two are alive to tell the tale, and so apparently is she. The best thing that we can do right now is help our allies, and explain to them the situation. We cannot change the past.”

Leap reluctantly nodded at his pack leader’s proclamation. He was right, of course.

“There they are!”

Leap looked up at Seeker’s voice, making a smile of sorts with his tail. It was so good to see his friends after so long… but that was when he saw who else was waiting for him.

Oh shit.

He tried to suppress the rising taste of adrenaline in his throat as the other members of Littlefoot’s pack moved into an open circle formation and bowed their heads in greeting. It was only out of instinct that he replied in kind. His mind was in a daze.

“It is nice to have all of you again!” Littlefoot greeted warmly, as it was custom for the leader to take care of the initial formalities, “What brings you back to our territory?”

Thud smiled with his tail. “The pleasure is all mine, Seeker. We have come to follow the herds, but if it does not offend you, may we stay for a time? We offer our services as a peace offering.”

Littlefoot smiled with a bit of mischief in his eyes. “Couldn’t find prey, eh?”

Thud rolled his eyes. “We have, but we have left it unattended due to… uh… the incident.”

Leap gulped and didn’t hear much of the banter for the next several moments. It was only when the formalities were over that his brain seemed to register his surroundings again.

“We would be glad to help you drag the offering, and we welcome your company.” Littlefoot stomped his foot, which communicated that the formalities were over. Instantly the other members of his pack relaxed their postures from polite formality to friendly informality. “Speaking of company, I think that it is time that you meet three of our guests.”

Thud snorted. “I think Leap has already met them.”

Cera laughed. “Yeah, but now that they know Leap isn’t some kind of monster, I think they will be more welcoming this time. We forgot to tell them what all of you look like.”

Leap felt like something inside of him died. Cera’s words cut deeper than she knew.

“Leap, Swift, and Thud, I would like you to meet Tracker, Violet, and their leader, Dodger. Dodger, Violet, and Tracker, here are our allies, Thud, Swift, and Leap.”

Leap sucked in a breath as he bowed respectfully along with the rest of the pack. Tracker had already indicated what she thought of him. She ran. Ran in a blind panic. Despite his admiration of her survivor's spirit, he knew that she would never forgive him. Which was just as well; he would never forgive himself.

“I am pleased to meet your acquaintance and hope that civility can remain between us,” Thud greeted Dodger, as the two exchanged respectful sniffs. Then Thud moved onto Violet as Swift greeted the pack leader; Leap knew it would be his turn soon. He could not be inhospitable here.

“Greetings, Leap,” Dodger greeted plainly. His scent communicated neutrality.

Leap swallowed. “Greetings, sir.” He bowed a bit more deeply than required. “I hope that we can be friends.”

Appearing satisfied by his answer, but having a bit of curiosity in his eyes, Dodger moved aside so that the next pack member could greet him. He could only assume that his frightened and anguished scent was obvious to everyone.

“Hi,” Violet said in as friendly as manner as she could, approaching Leap, “Did you get lost chasing us? We didn’t make any big turns.”

Leap momentarily froze at Violet’s words, being unsure about how to respond to that. Was it a thinly-veiled insult or an attempt at humor? In any case his jumbled mind had difficulty processing anything besides the difficult greeting that awaited him next.

“A pleasure to meet you,” he answered simply. He did not notice Dodger quickly ushering Violet away. All of his focus was on the green fastbiter that was slowly shuffling towards him. It was a face that he had never expected to see again before their improbable meeting earlier that day. His heart raced and he stopped breathing as he awaited her words. The words that he was sure would cut him in two.

“I’m glad the false alert didn’t get you hurt,” Tracker said after a long pause. There were plenty of things she wanted to say, very few of which wouldn’t draw curious ears and probing questions.

Leap closed his eyes and bowed his head at her greeting. Despite her intentions he interpreted it as a lukewarm greeting. An indication of her deep contempt. Her agitated scent only confirmed his perspective in his mind. Despite his initial intentions, he felt the despair in his chest grow. He had helped to hurt a beautiful child along with his other packmates. As a consequence he let his rational mind let go and let his instincts take over.

With a swift movement he kneeled so low that his face touched the ground in front of her sickle claws. In a gesture that communicated outright submission, he answered her greeting.

“I don’t deserve any kindness from you, but I hope one day you can forgive me.”

Dodger stared, more than a bit disturbed. Violet was just confused. She resolved she was going to corner Ducky until she got all of her answers since cornering Tracker would not be taken well on several levels, pack rankings especially.

Tracker did her best to haul Leap upright, a bit embarrassed. Oh. How badly has he been beating himself up over this? “I already have,” she whispered in Leap’s ear before pulling back well out of touching distance before anyone else started staring.

Littlefoot stared at the display that he had just seen with extreme concern. Never before had he seen one of his allies react in such a way. He knew in that moment that there was some piece of the puzzle that he was missing, and he resolved to eventually find out what that was. But for now he had to maintain decorum and spare his guests any further discomfort.

“Well, it is an honor to have all of you meet one another,” He could tell that none of his packmates were listening at the moment after the display they had just seen, but he continued nonetheless, “My pack will assist in moving the peace offering…”

A thought just hit him at that moment. Tracker knew the person that she saw, and Leap apologized using the most extreme gesture possible. But since when did Leap ever hurt anyone… oh… oh…

Littlefoot blinked. He knew that he had to prevent a bloodbath.

“...on second thought, Dodger? Could you help us as well… and Haven…”

Ducky looked up in surprise.

“...perhaps you can stay here with me. We need to discuss some things with our allies.”

Dodger glanced at Tracker, who jerked her head away from the pack, indicating he should go. “Yes, sir,” Dodger finally replied and followed most of Littlefoot’s pack away.


Littlefoot sighed as the rest of the pack left. It was only in the absence of Chomper and the others that the facade began to break down and Tracker allowed herself to be supported by Ducky. Meanwhile, Leap finally allowed himself to collapse in shame. His sister tried to comfort him as Thud stood in front of him, as if to offer him some privacy.

Violet, afraid she might say something to upset Tracker further, stood to one side completely unsure what to do with herself.

“Alright. I can only assume what is going on,” Littlefoot spoke with an exhausted voice, “...and I know that we all have experienced hard times in the past, but as leader of my pack I need to know things that threaten its stability.”

He looked up at Ducky, who had a resigned look upon her face. “Now someone tell me what in the name of sanity is going on.”

Though not exactly directed at her, Violet cringed at both the words and Littlefoot’s tone. She was starting to wish she’d followed Dodger.

“I’m not sure where to begin,” Tracker said, now embarrassed to the point that having this conversation with Leap alone would have been easier.

“I hurt her…” Leap spoke in something halfway between a whisper and a moan, “...when I was in Calin’s pack I was forced to hurt her to show that I wasn’t weak.” He bowed his head in shame, being unable to go on.

Violet stood still, confused and angry. She didn’t know what to do.

Ducky whispered softly in her friend’s ear, “Do you want me to speak, Tracker?”

“It might be best,” Tracker whispered back, “Can you try to protect Leap a bit? He feels bad enough as it is.”

Ducky nodded sadly as she gestured for Swift and Thud to take Leap some distance away. She only began to speak once they had brought some distance between themselves and Tracker.

“Tracker already told me this in confidence, but she was captured by Calin’s pack at the same time Leap and Swift were in it. At that time Redclaw did not want their numbers to be lowered by in-fighting, so he wanted his packmates to be made hard through being harsh with one another.” Ducky swallowed; she was speaking much faster than she usually did. The story was just too horrible for her to dwell on it. “Tracker was young back then and by far the weakest so Calin…”

“Enough.” Ducky nearly jumped at Littlefoot’s words. “I don’t need to be told what exactly happened. I have heard enough.”

He bowed his head as he approached Tracker. “My friends have lost so much from that damn fiend… Thud lost a brother… Taunt and Breeze lost their pack… I lost my grandparents… Spotter lost a sister… and we all lost our innocence.” He carefully placed a claw on her shoulder. “Is there anything I can do to help, Tracker? I am sorry that this had to be aired so publicly.”

“Could you talk to Leap?” Tracker asked. There really wasn’t anything that could be done for her that hadn’t already been done, but maybe there was a way to help Leap. She hated causing someone else pain, even indirectly. “It seems that he can’t understand that I don’t hate him. I forgave him.”

Littlefoot nodded. “I think he needs time, but I will talk to him.” However, it was then that Violet’s angry scent reached his snout. “But I think that you might need to talk to someone as well.”

“Haven, get ready to tackle Violet, just in case,” Tracker whispered, having caught the same scent as Littlefoot.


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The Friendly Parallelogram

Reached the character limit; here is the remainder of chapter 8:

“Damn, this thing is heavy!” Chomper roared with some exertion, “Why didn’t Seeker have Thud and his pack haul this monster!”

Taunt smiled jocularly. “Maybe he thought that Mr. Purple Ass needed some exercise!”

Chomper growled. “Perhaps I should go on a diet and only eat annoying fastbiters!”

Cera laughed at her mate’s antics as she helped push the massive swimmer. She then spoke in a hushed tone so that Dodger wouldn’t hear, “All joking aside, what is going on between Tracker and Leap?”

Breeze shrugged before whispering back, “I know, it is odd, isn’t it? I have never seen someone actually use that gesture. He was acting almost like a scorned lover.”

“You do realize I can hear you, right?” Dodger asked from the other side of the swimmer.

Taunt looked at his mate with an amused expression, as both Cera and Breeze squirmed in embarrassment. It was Ruby who finally spoke, however.

“Dodger, do you have any idea what that was about?” She moved over to the side of the swimmer where Dodger was as the others shifted within hearing range as well. “I am concerned about the both of them. I have never seen Leap act that way.”

“I’m not really sure,” Dodger replied, “If I’m putting everything together correctly I think they may have met before.” I’ll let you guys put the rest of what I was thinking together. What do you guys know about Leap that I might not?

“It is very odd,” Taunt acknowledged, suddenly being devoid of all humor, “It was like he was apologizing for hurting her or something.”

“Yeah,” Spike offered, “But I haven’t seen Leap hurt anything but prey. He is about as gentle as Path was when he was a much smaller purple ass.”

“Hey!” Chomper growled before muttering something about ‘insolent ankle biters’. This did not stop him from offering his thoughts, however.

“Well… he and Swift were part of Calin’s pack long ago...”

Dodger closed his eyes and started counting. He’s an ally of Seeker’s so I can’t kill him. Can’t forget that, he thought after reaching twenty. If he’d followed his first inclination he’d have left the others behind and torn Leap into pieces so mutilated that no one would recognize the pieces as a fastbiter, never mind Leap.

Ruby blinked. “Say, Dodger, didn’t you mention having encountered Calin’s pack once? Did you see Leap and Swift then?”

“No. If I saw them they wouldn’t be here now,” Dodger replied rather coldly. If I saw them then that would mean they were dangerously close to or attacking Violet. Two of their former packmates died for that.

Cera spoke, not seeing Dodger’s demeanor, “Yeah, we didn’t react very kindly to them at first, but they lost so much in trying to find us.”

Taunt nodded. “Yeah, if they hadn’t told us about Redclaw’s plans then he would still be ruling the Mysterious Beyond right now. Their brother paid the price for their escape.”

“How long ago was that?” Dodger asked, trying to figure something out.

“It was Cold Time before Battle for Valley!” Petrie affirmed, “Me remember that time. Horrible time.”

“It wasn’t too much before that my pack got attacked... “ Dodger said, thinking, “Tracker was missing for several days.”

Chomper stopped, as everyone else stopped what they were doing. Finally Ruby spoke, “Are you saying that she… was captured by Calin’s pack?”

Dodger kept his mouth shut, refusing to confirm Ruby’s suspicion. He’d already said too much of a story that wasn’t entirely his to tell. While ashamed for his own failures Dodger didn’t want to embarrass Tracker.

At that exchange, the rest of the packmates walked around the swimmer and exchanged sympathetic expressions with Dodger. They knew full well from Leap and Swift’s stories, and the implied things that weren’t spoken, what being captured by his pack entailed.

Petrie didn’t say a word as he came to a conclusion of his own. Me see why Seeker send us away. Dodger hearing whatever Leap do would not be good for Leap!

But unknown to him, Violet’s reaction wouldn’t be much better.


It took Violet a bit to fully grasp what happened to Tracker. When she finally put it together she proved that she and her brother were most definitely siblings. You’re not sorry enough, Leap. I’ll fix that! With that she let out as shriek and rushed the larger fastbiter.

In an instant Thud lurched in front of the targetted fastbiter. He did not have to defend his comrade, however, as Littlefoot and Ducky both landed on Violet’s back, with Littlefoot placing a claw against her throat.

“Don’t make a murderer out of me, Violet,” Littlefoot spoke in a frightening monotone, “Tracker doesn’t want this.”

“Stop, Violet!” Ducky screeched as Tracker echoed her sentiments.

“That’s an order,” Tracker added, intentionally pulling rank on her friend for the first time. Violet reluctantly stopped moving entirely.

Is there anything I can’t screw up? Violet wondered, ashamed of herself.

Littlefoot maintained his position on top of the smaller fastbiter. “If I let you go, will you go to Tracker and leave Leap alone?”

Violet nodded as much as she dared with the claw at her throat, now extremely frightened.

Seemingly satisfied, Littlefoot allowed himself to rise to his feet again. He did not look back at Violet as he walked towards Leap. He had a conversation to make.

“Leap… I think we should have a talk.”


How can Tracker be so calm? I am furious! How can they do that to my friend?! A thousand deaths is too good for those bastards!

Violet continued to fume as she looked away from Tracker’s concerned form. She couldn’t bear to look at her and think of what horrors she had experienced.

“Violet,” Tracker said. No response. “Violet, look at me.”

With great reluctance Violet finally moved her eyes onto Tracker’s face. The lingering rage and agitation was obvious on all of her features.

Realizing the tone that she’d have to take, Tracker reluctantly hardened her own features and prepared for what probably wouldn’t be a very civil conversation. I’m starting to feel like a parent. Maybe I should talk to Thud about what that’s like.

“What were you thinking?” Tracker demanded, shifting so that it would be easy to stand up.

Violet sucked in a breath. “I wasn’t,” she finally admitted.

“So you decided to reject my decision on how to handle things and take matters into your own hands on a whim? You think you can ignore my lead when Dodger’s not around to see?” Tracker didn’t want to belabor the point too much, but Violet’s literally blindly rushing into things when angered was extremely dangerous for both herself and the pack as a whole. This had to end now.

“I…” Violet began, “I never knew that this happened to you. How am I supposed to act? How am I supposed to act when I hear that my best friend was hurt by a monster?” Her rage had been dissipated somewhat, but a coldness remained in her voice. She had never felt so enraged in her life.

“That monster is dead, Violet. Calin is dead. Leap didn’t do anything to hurt me of his own volition. One thing he did do was keep his mouth shut when I tried to escape. He probably thought that was a suicide at the time, but he didn’t sound the alert that night like he was supposed to.” Tracker stood up, too agitated to remain sitting. “There were those far worse than Leap that liked hurting me because it was fun! If we see them I’ll gladly help you tear their throats out. Leap’s been through enough and has apparently tortured himself enough. He doesn’t need your help.

“As for how you are supposed to react, do what you’ve been doing your whole life. Watch Dodger. Watch me. If you really want to stay here, watch Haven. Do you want Prowler to have the last laugh? Do you want to act like him? Striking out at everything that angers you without caring who you hurt in the process? Fine, then. Go ahead. Just don’t expect me to stand there and watch.” Tracker finally stopped, still shaking in agitation.

Violet had never heard such a torrent of anger from Tracker before, and that was enough to horrify her. In the back of her mind she realized that her reaction was more than mere anger as Violet’s response, but was an echo of the rage that she felt on those who tormented her seasons ago. Worse yet, the one person who had done all in his power to allow her to escape had been attacked by her. She had screwed up in a way that she had never screwed up before.

She bowed her head and lowered herself apologetically. She had no idea what she could say to spare Tracker any more pain. As a result she let her gesture speak for her.

“Violet, little sister,” Tracker said, referencing the two’s adoptive relationship verbally for the first time as she eased Violet’s head back level to her own, “You’ve trusted me for many seasons to keep you from making social mistakes. Trust me now. I’m trying to keep you safe; Dodger’s not the only one looking out for you. Let me handle this.”

Violet nodded mutely at her friend’s words. She had never outright said their relationship until now, but she didn’t disagree. The maturity of Tracker was firmly on display here.

“I… forgot about all of this. About this horrible time in your life. What kind of horrible friend am I to forget that?” Violet replied sadly as she shook her head, “Why didn’t you tell me? I… I don’t know what I could have done, but I could have listened. Why did you suffer alone?”

“You hit your head on a rock hard enough to break the rock. I’m not quite sure what that says about the solidness of your skull,” Tracker said in an attempt to lighten the conversation a bit, “but you had a headache after that that you still weren’t over when Dodger found me. I’m surprised you remembered anything at all.” Tracker took a steadying breath. “I didn’t tell Dodger much because I was embarrassed. I didn’t tell you anything because I didn’t want you to suffer at all. Life was scary enough for you as it was. Would you have ever been able to go to sleep again knowing there is actually something that hurt me bad enough that within only a few days I was willing to risk dying to escape? As far as I knew you couldn’t smell at all. How would you feel knowing that there might be something hunting you? I didn’t want you living with that.”

Violet continued to look down for a moment before opening her mouth to speak. However, despite having so much to say, she couldn’t form the words. In the end she simply communicated her thoughts in the only way she could.

With obvious wetness in her eyes, she gave Tracker a nuzzle. Some messages could not be communicated in mere words.

She has a lot of trust in me to tell Violet to listen to me if she decides to stay, Ducky thought to herself contemplatively as the two females continued to share a moment, but would she be happy staying without her friends?

Ducky sighed. She realized that one way or another that things with Violet might begin to get a bit more complicated. But at the moment there were more pressing matters.

“Leap?” Ducky whispered as she gestured towards the nearby bushes. He quickly nodded as it was obvious that his chance to get into a safer position had presented itself. Within moments he was outside of earshot of the conversation, leaving Littlefoot, Ducky, Violet, and Tracker to continue uninterrupted.

Littlefoot merely preened his feathers nervously, as he was suddenly left without any idea how to proceed. The only thing that he could gather was that he should remain silent until the moment between the girls was over.

Now that things had finally calmed down Tracker realized, to her horror, that she and Violet had spoken extremely freely to each other in front of a group of other fastbiters, only one of whom she really trusted. Okay, so how do I get out of this? I should’ve dragged Violet somewhere more private. She gave her unintentional audience an apologetic look.

Ducky noted the look and gave Littlefoot a knowing expression. Upon seeing that he was doing his best to avoid adding to anyone’s embarrassment, she decided to speak.

“So um…” Now it was her turn to shift uncomfortably. “...would you two like some time alone? Because if you do then we could leave, yep, yep, yep.”

It’s a bit late for that, Haven, Tracker thought. She looked around, noticing that Thud and Swift were still in the area, but there was no sign of Leap. “Where’d Leap go?”

Littlefoot looked in the direction where Leap had been directed earlier. “I think that he wanted to give you two some privacy.”

“More like not wanting to give me a second chance,” Violet muttered. Tracker shot her a disapproving look but said nothing.

Ducky shrugged. “We can bring him back if you want to talk to him… but um…” she struggled to find a civil way to tell them that further attacks on Leap would be frowned upon.

“Perhaps, Violet, you could sit over here…” Littlefoot gestured to a place beside Ducky and him.

“Okay,” Violet said nervously before moving to where Littlefoot indicated. She made a point to sit so that Ducky was between herself and him, though. Littlefoot may have inadvertently cured her fear of two-footers by giving her something, or rather someone, else to be afraid of.

Thud sighed deeply as he gave Swift a look. She took the hint and asked the relevant question.

“Would you like me to bring my brother back?”

“Yes,” Tracker said, keeping her voice steady. She was still a bit nervous at the idea of talking to him again. What if I say something that hurts him more?

Swift silently walked behind the bushes to where Leap had journeyed. Leaving the assembled dinosaurs in awkward silence for several moments.

Well, this is awkward, Tracker thought. She noticed Violet was trying to inconspicuously study Thud, ‘trying’ being the operative word. She absentmindedly remembered that Violet’s father had not exactly been young when she hatched.

Littlefoot coughed awkwardly as he resisted the urge to preen his feathers again. This is certainly not something Dein taught me back when I was being trained. He then suppressed a cringe as he considered how Dein would handle such a situation. On second thought, that is probably a good thing.

Before he could explore such thoughts any longer, the tell-tale sound of footsteps could be heard. Within moments Swift and Leap’s distinct forms appeared from behind the foliage. Leap remained silent, however, obviously waiting to be addressed. He did not move more than five footsteps beyond the bushes; his hesitancy was obvious.

Tracker tried to think of something encouraging to say, but her mind wasn’t working. This was a bad idea, but it’s too late to back out now.

Leap looked down awkwardly, being too uncomfortable to look at her directly.

“You… inspired the rest of my family to leave the pack, you know…” he began awkwardly, being aware that she was not aware at the time she was in the pack that Swift and he were siblings, “You showed that escape was possible. And we… we didn’t want to do what we were made to do anymore…”

“So you didn’t think it was a suicide?” Tracker asked carefully. She’d been under the impression that Calin and his pack had thought her dead. It was hard for her to imagine that she would not have been hunted down and killed, if she were lucky, had anyone thought otherwise.

Leap took in a deep breath. “My brother… who is not here anymore… he was one of those who were sent to look for you. Calin… offered whoever found you the honor of disposing of you however they saw fit. He saw where you had jumped from the cliff and saw where you had dragged yourself away. But he didn’t want to add to your suffering,” he hesitated before continuing, “He covered up the footprints you made in the sand and claimed that something must have dragged your body away… there were bellydraggers in the area. We were in a hurry to get to where the Hidden Runners were so Calin took his word for it.”

“I wouldn’t have gotten far,” Tracker said, remembering the ordeal, “I messed my arm up really badly. Dodger helped fix it. That hurt.” I’m lucky I didn’t meet any bellydraggers. By the time Dodger found me I could barely walk.

Leap grew silent for several moments before speaking, “The pack… did not leave you in good shape.”

Tracker shot Violet a warning glance. She needn’t have bothered. Violet just looked ill at what she was hearing.

It took Tracker a moment to recall Leap’s brother, Verok, from the song. “I wish I could thank Verok for stopping the pursuit,” she said, “Seeker and the others sung about what you did during your escape.”

Leap suppressed the urge to bow his head. “He… he was just glad that you had escaped. So many others in that pack never had the chance.”

“Far too many…” Ducky shook her head as the thoughts of previous encounters with the remnants of Calin’s pack came to mind. The damage that the monster caused did not end with his death.

“I could never understand why so many didn’t just leave as a group or at least all at once,” Tracker said. She paused, reconsidering what she had just said. “No, that’s a lie. I understand fear.”

“It was worse than that, I’m afraid,” Swift finally spoke, “You were only there a few days… though that was more than enough… but you did not know who to trust. If anyone tried to make a group then there certainly would have been at least one informant which would have told Calin. Then there were the flyers… always watching… the only reason that my brothers and I could flee was because we knew we were trustworthy.”

“We… debated telling some of the others that were being treated like you were… but we decided against it.” Leap added in a low voice. “ If anyone would have turned another in then they would have gained in rank… and who would want higher rank more than someone being used like that? If they thought that we were going to fail, then they would have been tempted to go for a more certain reprieve from what happened to them... we… we decided to leave them behind.”

Swift bowed her head as well. “I still regret that.”

Leap sighed, “So do I.”

Tracker looked down, trying to figure out what to say next. She could understand their reasoning quite well. She’d been there only a few days and had been desperate for a reprieve. That was why she’d tried such a dangerous escape. If she made a mistake, she’d have been killed instantly. “If I were still there, it probably would have been best to leave me behind, too,” Tracker finally said, “I’d have just slowed you down. I’m not very fast.” I wouldn’t have betrayed them, though. The isolation I was going through was killing me. Just knowing I had a friend somewhere would have been enough.

Littlefoot took this as an opportunity to speak, “We actually talked to one of the survivors of the pack nearly a year ago, and she gave us some idea of what happened to those who were suspected of betrayal,” he shivered, “Kerwat… do you remember him?”

Leap nodded. “I do… he didn’t make much of an impression one way or another.”

Tracker tried to remember the fastbiter but failed. She really only remembered the ones that had distinguished themselves by their actions, either good or bad. I wonder if it would disturb Leap to know just how much “I’m sorry” meant at the time.

Littlefoot sighed, “Apparently Redclaw had made a cruel pact with Calin, such that he mentioned that he had a debilitating disability but also gave him his protection, so Calin became unstable…”

Swift nodded. “Yeah… unstable doesn’t quite do the bastard justice.”

Littlefoot continued, “Well, Kerwat was one of those who were tasked with finding you guys,” he looked at Leap and Swift as he said this, “...and Calin discovered him near your brother’s body and assumed that Kerwat had killed him to silence him…”

Leap cringed. “Oh no…”

Littlefoot looked ill, “Calin had the others hold him down, while he began to cut Kerwat up slowly, starting with his eyes… and going from there. He made sure that everyone in the pack heard his cries and saw what was left before he had Reclaw eat him. There were no further escape attempts after that.”

Tracker suddenly felt very cold. A glance over at Violet showed that her friend was on the verge of being sick and was almost definitely going to be having nightmares after this. Thank you, Seeker, Tracker thought sarcastically. She’d die before she said that out loud, though.

Littlefoot looked at Swift and Leap with a sympathetic expression. “You did the best that you two could do. You were stuck in a horrible situation, and had to do horrible things. That does not mean that either of you should continue to torture yourselves over what cannot be changed.” He then looked at Tracker intensely. “That goes for everyone who had to deal with that monster.”

Tracker looked away, at a loss for words and feeling a bit intimidated. Whether he meant to or not, Littlefoot was quite good at being intimidating. Tracker was pretty sure she couldn’t scare a hatchling.


“What do you think that they are all talking about?”

Taunt shrugged at the question from the massive sharptooth. He couldn’t deny that his curiosity had been awakened, but even he knew that this was probably something that they were not meant to hear.

“I think that they don’t want us to know,” Taunt admitted, “They seem to be upset, though.”

Cera stepped forward as she tried to get a better vantage point. I hope that they are alright…

Considering who was there and who wasn’t, Dodger had a pretty good idea what Littlefoot and the others were talking about. Tracker looks alright. Violet doesn’t. That wasn’t really an indicator of anything. Violet was almost incapable of hiding anything even without her scent giving her away; that never stopped her from trying, though. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Taunt’s right. I don’t think we’re supposed to know.”

Taunt’s momentary strut was cut off by a sharp bite to his tail by his mate.

“Hmmm… well if we are not supposed to know, then I suppose that we won’t know,” Ruby offered, “I wonder what history Tracker has with Thud’s pack…” she mumbled under her breath, but it was loud enough for Dodger to barely hear.

“Nothing she told me,” Dodger said after walking to stand beside Ruby, “Nothing she told me.” The repeat came across as more a sigh than a sentence.


Is Seeker considering expanding his pack? Thud glanced at the still agitated Violet in a much less conspicuous manner than she had examined him earlier. I have no doubt that she could be trained well here… but they would have quite a few extra females. He wrinkled his snout at that thought. It was not uncommon for some packs to have one male mated to multiple females, or vice versa, but not for sharpteeth of their kind. He had strong doubts that Ruby would permit Littlefoot to do such a thing in any case, and he knew that Taunt would not be stupid enough to try.

So… would she only stay here for a while until she entered her time of mating… or would Seeker try to recruit another male member? His pack is already huge.

“So… um… is there anything that we can do to help?” he asked Tracker almost helplessly. He had to admit that he was hopelessly lost with how to address the crimes of the past.

“Just try not to say anything to Dodger. I’m not really sure how he’ll react. He nearly tore our former pack leader apart for kicking me.” Maybe I should explain… “I was hurt at the time. A hunt against a threehorn went wrong, and I got hurt. Prowler blamed me. A few insults and injuries to me later and Dodger was actually trying to kill him. Prowler’s about Finder’s size.”

Thud put the pieces together. “I take it that he is your mate?”

Tracker just nodded. She didn’t bother to hold back a slight smile.

Thud looked at Leap. “Well… in that case I agree that we should not mention this while my pack is here… but Tracker?”


Thud raised his tail slightly in the equivalent of a kind smile. “You really should tell him at some point. He certainly loves you, and this isn’t something that you should deal with alone.”

“Yes, Tracker,” Ducky spoke, “I am sure that he will help you just like we have helped you. We are your friends, and we are here to help.”

“I told him a bit when he found me and most of it a few days ago. I just left Leap out of it,” Tracker admitted, “That didn’t seem like something anyone needed to know. I didn’t mean to even tell Haven anything. It just slipped out.”

Ducky stepped forward and offered her feathered arm to Tracker. “As hard as it is for you, I am glad that you talked about it, I am, I am.” She paused for a moment. “You were obviously sad and distant, and that is not how anyone should be, nope, nope, nope.”

“Honestly I still can’t figure out what Dodger sees in me,” Tracker said, “I’m not really good at anything except finding stuff. Even when I first joined the pack the very fact I was there nearly started a fight. But he’s always stuck by me, even listened the first time I told him he was being too hard on Violet.” Tracker paused, realizing she was rambling. “I guess I don’t know why he wants to stick with me of all people.”

“Don’t say that, Tracker!” Violet rose from her position, which made Littlefoot shift uncomfortably, “If you don’t know what Dodger sees in you then you must be blind. You are calm, cautious, and respectful… everything that I am not. I can’t even smell well.”

Ducky looked at Littlefoot knowingly. Both of them have a lot to work through.

“For someone that spent most of her life not being able to tell scents apart at all, Violet, you’ve managed to make friends quite easily. Most of the pack here likes you. The rest at least don’t have a negative opinion of you.” She subtly glanced at Littlefoot, checking his reaction. “The only friend I’ve really got here is Haven. The rest barely know me. I haven’t exactly been that talkative.”

“It is understandable why you were quiet, Tracker, I would hardly think that you would want to talk with the dinosaur who stabbed you with a poisoned stick,” Ducky affirmed, “Now that we all know what you have been through, how can any of us judge you?”

Littlefoot nodded. “We are willing to be your friends, Tracker, if you are willing to be friendly with us. Dodger is not your mate out of pity; he simply knows when there is something in front of him that is too precious to let go.”

Tracker opened her mouth to argue, to say there really wasn’t anything special about her, but her tendency to defer to those senior in rank caused her to slam it shut. She had a whole lifetime telling her that such a course of action wasn’t safe, so she kept quiet.

“You may speak,” Littlefoot spoke softly, the expression on Tracker’s face indicating to him what was going on mentally, “My friends can always speak freely to me.”

“I just don’t want to make a mess of things. I’ve only been on a few hunts in my life. I can’t fight; just ask Finder,” Tracker said. She glanced over at Leap. “I still get nightmares sometimes,” she added softly. With all that against me, how am I supposed to be a good parent? Dodger knows more about how to be a mom and a dad than I know about being a mom. Tracker wasn’t sure if she wanted to tell everyone that last thought.

“You have barely had the chance to fight… let alone to act like adults,” Littlefoot spoke with a compassionate voice, “You all did the best that you could but with what we are teaching you, you should be better prepared for the future.”

Ducky nodded, “And sometimes running is the best option. What exactly did my brother say to you when you were caught?”

“He wanted to know who I was and why I was there. I stuttered, not really answering. I tried to back away. He told me that without a peace offering I wasn’t welcome here,” Tracker said, “He was advancing towards me and was apparently glad I was scared. That’s when Dodger moved in. I don’t know if he was planning to attack or just give Finder a reason to back off, but I accidently gave him away. That’s when the fight started.” Tracker looked down, embarrassed.

“I tried to help, but I ended up on my back so quickly I don’t think I actually did anything. If I’d been there by myself I would’ve just surrendered.” She shuddered at the thought of the last time she’d done that. “Finder told me to yield or die, apparently forgetting about Dodger. Dodger drove him back. I hid behind Dodger. Then Dodger told me to run. You were there for the rest.”

“Considering what happened to you the last time you surrendered, anyone can understand why you behaved how you did,” Littlefoot nearly cringed when he realized his bluntness, “We thought that it was an attack, so we didn’t give you much of a choice.”

“I wasn’t much of a help. Had I not been so stupid and gotten so close that fight would’ve never happened.” Tracker was still bothered that she’d much such a simple mistake. “Stupid stick.”

“Finder said that he nearly ran into you. Why do you keep on blaming yourself?” Ducky asked softly, “If we cannot let go of the past then how can we accept the present?”

“My present hasn’t exactly been very nice, Haven. Calin aside, there’s a pretty big difference between my pack and yours. Yours is so big nothing wants to bother you. Once Path is completely grown up nothing will bother you. Mine was made up of four kids led by someone with the ego the size of a mountain. I’ve got no skills; Violet couldn’t smell. The only reason we’re alive is that Dodger can out-stubborn a threehorn.”

“We used to be a bunch of leaf-eaters who had just turned into sharpteeth, and had no idea what we were doing. We even got to be chased by him for a while!” Littlefoot pointed at Thud for emphasis, “But yet we made it out in one piece because we stuck together and we were able to be trained. You have already stuck together and survived through so much, and now you have the chance to be trained by us. You are not as helpless as you think.”

Ducky grasped Tracker’s shoulder. “You cannot defeat your enemies if you let your own thoughts defeat you. Believe in yourself, Tracker, we believe in you.”

“It can’t hurt to try,” Tracker said, “Just don’t ask me to spar Finder. That would hurt.”

Neither Littlefoot nor Ducky spoke for several moments as they allowed Tracker’s own words to sink in for the two females of the other pack. What they needed more than anything else was a boost in confidence. Finally, though, Littlefoot looked in the direction of the rest of the pack and decided it was time to draw the moment to a close.

“Hmmm… I see a giant purple two-footer squirming around so that he doesn’t think I noticed him… and several fastbiters who are conveniently looking in every other direction but ours.”

In truth Littlefoot was underplaying the reaction from the pack, Chomper was trying to look away towards the distant hills, but he stood out like a bright purple mountain trying to eavesdrop on a distant conversation.

“Do you think they heard anything?” Tracker asked, unable to hide her panic. They’re never going to stop talking about me while I’m here if…

“No, I am sure that he heard nothing,” Littlefoot responding confidently, “They know that what we are discussing was meant to be private. That is why they stayed back.”

Tracker made no attempt to hide her sigh of relief. She really didn’t want to become a topic of conversation.

“Well… Perhaps we should rejoin the rest of the pack,” Thud offered awkwardly, “The swimmer awaits us, and I would imagine that some of us are hungry…”


Great Valley, the present

“Where is that flyer?”

Axiom nudged her brother as she shook her head. “Brother, I am sure the flyer will be here as soon as he can fly here. It isn’t like he is going to fly over there until the morning anyway.”

Datum sighed as he picked up his stick and examined his previous handiwork. “We are never going to make a fire at this rate.” He cringed as pain registered in his mind upon clutching the stick. “Damn it!”

Axiom nearly bowled over her brother as she slapped vines onto his chest, “That is why Mommy and Daddy wanted us to use these, silly! Your hands are going to be all blistered…”

“They already are…”

“See what I mean?!”

Axiom shook her head as she placed the vines around her hands and then, with a firm grip, began to twist the stick back and forth against the small hole in the log. If Mommy and Daddy can make a spark like this then so can I! She then heard her brother resuming his task, this time with the proper protection for his hands. And I will beat my brother to making fire!

“Looks like an odd game.”

Axiom nearly threw the stick as the voice of the young flyer reached her ears. Oh no… this is not for the valley’s eyes...

“Um… we are just trying out a new way to make sharp sticks… it’s kind of a game.” Datum lied awkwardly.

The flyer gave Datum an extremely disbelieving look, or at least as much of one as a flyer can manage. “So how does this game work?” he asked neutrally.

Axiom’s breath caught in her throat, “Well… we um… we make a hole and then we put a sharp rock into it,” the flyer noticed that she was trying to obstruct his view of the hole in the wood, “and then we twist the stick back and forth.. Whoever gets a sharp stick first wins.”

“Sounds like your parents were just trying to keep you busy,” the flyer said, dismissively.

Datum rolled his eyes as he unconsciously slipped into more proper speech, “They are currently conducting a study of threehorn digestive ailments. I hope that they continue to keep us busy until that is over.”

“Why would they want to do that? That doesn’t seem safe.”

Axiom looked around uneasily. “It is safe when the threehorn is away. They’re checking their, you know… relieving spots.”

Datum coughed. “So, um, thanks again for coming out here. Are you ready to take our message?”

“Ready when you are,” the flyer answered.

It was quite noticeable to the flyer that both youngling rainbowfaces looked immensely relieved upon receiving that affirmation. Though as he received their message for their fastbiter friend he paid careful attention to the now visible holes in the log by the site of their ‘pointed stick game’.

He smiled. Even if the rainbowfaces wished to keep their secrets, he knew someone who might be smart enough to solve them. And since his friend, Biter, was the recipient of the message it would not be a violation of the flyer’s vow. After all, was not the conveyance of a sender’s intentions and emotions part of his job?

You like puzzles as much as I do, Biter. I wonder what you make of this.

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link:https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/10/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 9: Conflicts, civil and otherwise (part 1)

“The mating ritual of fastrunners is a most curious subject, and, like the rituals of most species, is not a matter readily known to outsiders. However the male’s method of persuasion is probably one that the residents of the Mysterious Beyond would easily guess. In a species known for its speed and agility, the mating ritual does indeed involve a chase. As the females tend to be faster than the males, a catch of the female in this case indicates some interest from the female.”

“It is not known if the mating ritual can instead be initiated by the female, as is the case in several other species of this group, as our information is fragmentary on this matter. Although, as a chase from the female could be construed as either an invitation or threat, the significance of such a chase might not be immediately clear to the male.”

Officer Chronos,
An introductory report on 'fastrunner' traditions

"So... if you don't mind us asking..."

Upon hearing Cynnil's words Orchid stopped the pretense of being interested in the snapping shell that he had caught. Part of him had hoped that Mender's brief summary of a song was enough to take the focus off of what was going on with the fastrunner family, but the tone of the hidden runner's voice confirmed that the matter was not closed.

Here we go...

"How did this whole thing even happen? Why didn't we chase him off for good? Why did my sister save him?" Orchid replied with a sigh, anticipating their questions, "Which question were you going to ask?"

Cynnil tilted her head with some amusement at the fastrunner before Buse cheekily answered for them.


Orchid snorted in amusement despite his deep misgivings about the situation. "Well, it's a long story... he started as a nuisance, and then kind of a welcome nuisance, and then my dad tried to kill him..."

"That's quite an escalation!" Mender exclaimed as Orchid trailed off. It was then that the fastrunner noticed some embarrassment on the fastbiter's features. "I saw him entering the territory so we..."

"Decided to remove the threat."...and get a meal... Orchid finished, "I know... I know... and I'm sure Dad wouldn't have minded, but well... he doesn't know the full story..." He looked nervously in the direction where Nahoda and his father had been walking.

"A story that you are involved in based upon your reaction. What do you think will happen when he learns the full story?" Cynnil asked carefully.

Orchid clicked his beak nervously. It was obvious that he didn't know. It was then that he noticed Mender's gaze appear to stare into his eyes.

Untold stories and unresolved conflicts... I can certainly relate to that, Orchid, Mender thought to herself. Perhaps you will be more willing to tell us what is going on if we show you the same courtesy?

"Perhaps a song might be in order?" Mender offered hesitantly, "A song for a song. I will sing to you about another time when mistakes nearly led to bloodshed, and then you can sing to us about why you look like that you are fearing bloodshed right now. Deal?"

Orchid laughed at the fastbiter's offer. "It is not my blood that I fear being shed... but that sounds like a good idea..."

Mender suppressed a smile. Distract the anxious and then explain the problem. Why do I get the feeling that Staza would find this amusing?


The past:

“Uh… Tracker?”

Tracker slightly cringed when she heard the voice of Taunt behind her, but as she turned and saw the ashamed look on his face she immediately regretted her use of body language.  The fastbiter obviously did not want to cause her any harm.

“Are you…”

Tracker watched with more than a little surprise as Taunt appeared to look lost all of a sudden.  As if his normal wit had left him, and he had no idea where to go.

“I mean… I am glad that you and Violet are alright.  We were worried about both of you…” he hesitated for a moment, “Just remember that we are all here if you ever need help, alright?”

Tracker merely nodded as she did not trust her own words at that moment.  For his part Taunt quickly walked away, as if the entire situation was just as awkward for him as well.  In his wake the scent of concern and confusion radiated from him, but it was mixed with another as well.

Pity.  Taunt must have suspected the truth.

“Uh… Tracker?” Dodger began awkwardly as he carefully positioned himself into the scrape which served as his and Tracker’s sleeping area, “Would you like to talk to me about… well… what happened today?”

Tracker sighed. She really didn’t want to talk to anyone. Not about that. The day had been awkward enough as it was. Worse, it appeared that Taunt had figured out what happened to her, which meant the others might have as well. “I wish the day would just hurry up and be over.” Not that that will solve anything. She sighed again.“But I guess tomorrow won’t be any better. What do you want to know?”

Dodger took notice of his mate’s scent.  The agitation that it conveyed was palpable.  He had noticed that same scene on the night that the two formally became mates, but he had not compelled her to elaborate.  Though the two were mates in formality, they had not mated in actuality, which for fastbiters was an important act.  It was that act which aligned the instincts of mates to the mating bond.  Now her reaction to Leap, her reluctance to solemnize their bond, and her new agitation were beginning to make him suspect the possible meaning of it all.

“Well…” I guess I owe it to her to be direct.  “First… are you alright?”

“No. I’m not. Haven’t been entirely alright for a long time actually.” If he really wants to know everything, I’ll tell him. It’s not like tonight can get worse if I don’t keep any secrets.

Dodger froze for a moment.   He had expected a deflection, but Tracker was surprisingly direct on this night.  He could only assume that it was now because she couldn’t run from the past anymore because the past had come back to meet her.  Regardless of his own misgivings and insecurities, he decided that if she was finally ready to talk about what he suspected was causing her trouble then he would be strong for her sake.  He would ask the necessary questions and be there for her in her time of need.

After all, was that not what mates did for one another?

“What happened, dear?  What did Leap do?”

Tracker resisted the urge to groan. That had to be the first question? “I’ll tell you, but first you’ve got to promise not to get mad.” I can’t even stop Violet. How am I going to stop you if you decide tearing Leap apart is a good idea?

Dodger took a deep breath as his claws ripped into the ground below him, “I can’t promise away my emotions, Tracker… but I promise that I will control myself.” His eyes then look directly into her eyes. “What happened?”

How do I explain this? Dodger has never really bought into ‘I didn’t have a choice’ as a justification. Explanation, maybe. Justification, never. “Do remember that day we got attacked? The one where Violet got her biggest head injury?”

Dodger nodded. “As much as I would like to, I will never be able to forget that day.”

“Well, after you went to help Violet, I tried to sneak away. It didn’t work.” Here’s where it gets more problematic. “As I told you a few days ago the pack that attacked us was Calin’s. I surrendered.” Tracker cringed at the memory of what followed. “He and his pack took full advantage of that.”

Tracker had expected Dodger to get angry at what happened or at least say something. She had not expected an embrace, but she had no problem returning it. Now if only I could stay like this all night… All too soon, though, the embrace was over and the less than pleasant topic of discussion was back.

“Tracker…” Dodger began, but it seemed that his voice had left him.  He had no idea how to begin with what Tracker had just confirmed. “I… After you escaped from them and refused to tell me what happened I suspected…”

He shook his head as he bowed his head in shame. “I failed you.”

“No. No, you didn’t. We were in a bad situation, and Violet was already in trouble. If anyone failed it was me. You taught me more about hiding, sneaking, and evading than my parents did. Granted, they had quite a few kids, and then there’s my half-siblings… I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”

Despite her words, Dodger began to shake as he glared at the ground.  His scent began to subtly change from sadness and regret to a rapidly rising anger.  Anger at himself...  anger at Calin...  and anger at his packmates who did such things to his beloved.

“Dodger, calm down,” Tracker said, cutting her mate off before he could speak, “If it hadn’t been me it would’ve been someone else. It could’ve been Violet. I wasn’t the only one that got hurt.” She deliberately softened her tone. “Calin and quite a bit of his pack are dead anyway. Most of the pack just did as they were told so they’d live the next day.” Do not make me draw comparisons between you and Prowler. You’ve admitted that you didn’t take him on due to fear. And to Seeker no less.

Dodger closed his eyes as he gritted his teeth in rage.  He struggled to bring his breathing under control, “So Leap was one of those who used you.” It wasn’t spoken as a question. “But yet Seeker counts him amongst his allies?”

“Leap helped me get out of there and his brother covered up my tracks. I’d be dead without them,” Tracker said angrily. Why is this so much harder than the conversation I had with Violet? Oh, wait. That was a lecture.

Having never felt more defeated in his life, Dodger began to shake as he continued to bow his head in shame.  A conflicting torrent of emotions filled him in that very moment.  Even if Leap didn’t really have a choice, and even if he had saved his mate, that didn’t dissipate the rage that he felt in his heart.  Leap may no longer have been the target of such rage, but that didn’t mean that he could pretend that things were back to how they were before.  When he finally did speak, he spoke in an icy rage.

“A thousand deaths are not enough for Calin!” he spat on the ground.

“You and Haven are agreed on that. Me, I’d rather try to forget all of it. Why let wreck the rest of my life? Why give him that power?” Please, Dodger. Listen.

Dodger was silent for several moments.  The anger that had radiated from him was now being overtaken with the bitter scent of defeat.  It was a scent that Tracker had smelled often from herself and the others of the bottom rank in Calin’s pack.  She was about to speak again when Dodger finally sighed and spoke.

“Are… are you sure that…” He shook his head. “...you are alright with Leap being here?  Even if he is blameless in all this…”

“Does it matter? It’s not like anything can reasonably be done about it. Change what you can, accept what you can’t. You’re the one that told that, remember?” Technically, that had been directed at Violet, but Dodger had expanded it into a full-blown lesson since both of the girls, still kids at the time, had been listening. Tracker had a feeling Violet never really learned that lesson, though.

Dodger remained silent as Tracker’s words sank in.  He could not deny that she was correct, but to accept something intellectually was entirely different from accepting it emotionally.  He needed something else to forgive Leap for what had happened.  He needed an emotional connection.

“How exactly did Leap save you?”

“He didn’t do his job. He caught me trying to sneak off and let me go. Had anyone seen him, had anyone else caught me, he’d have died. Really badly. If you want to know what Calin did to someone that he only suspected of treachery, ask Violet. I’m pretty sure she’ll end up with a nightmare about it tonight. She really shouldn’t have been part of that conversation.” I really don’t want to describe it. I’m just glad I didn’t have to see it.

Dodger’s expression softened somewhat.  He had forgotten that his sister was part of Tracker’s group as well.  He knew that his mate’s words were undoubtedly true.

“So… he risked being killed,” Dodger stated mutely, “I know you don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t blame you, but how did Calin do these things?  Why didn’t the others rise up against him?  Why didn’t others do what Leap did?” he ignored the taste of adrenaline in his mouth as he mentioned Leap.  It was hard to think of his actions as justified, but if it meant that he saved his mate’s life then Dodger could reluctantly forgive.

But he would not forgive the monster that forced such monstrous actions upon his mate.  He would never forgive Calin or those who enabled him.

“Same reason you never took on Prowler. Fear. Most of Calin’s pack was made up of individuals, not family or friends. You never knew who you could trust. All it would take would be for one person to tell Calin. Then you’d be dead. Honestly, without Leap and Verok, I’d have lived longer staying where I was. I’d have never made it. Leap and Swift barely got away. Verok didn’t make it.”

“I remember Verok’s tale in the Song of the Seven Hunters, “Dodger confirmed, “But… Calin allowed those three siblings into his pack?  I thought you said that he only took in individuals.”

“I think they split up before running into Calin’s pack. Calin’s idea of recruiting was to make a group fight its members until only one was left. No group, no fight. If most of the group was like me, well, they ended up getting torn apart so as not to waste time. It something I can’t unsee.”

Dodger placed a hand on his mate’s shoulder as he looked at her with utter incomprehension. “He made families fight one another to the death?  And you saw this?”

“No. Someone just told me about what normally happens. There was a group of four. Three were smaller and weak like me. One was more like you. They just killed the weaker three. A fight wasn’t worth their time.” Tracker fought back a wave of nausea. It had been a horrifying thing to witness.

“I’m so sorry, Tracker…” Dodger was having trouble comprehending the horror of such an event.  Not only had his mate been violated, not only had she been threatened with death, but she had also seen the cold-blooded murder of three members of a family.  The only thing that exceeded his astonishment was his sense of disgust. “I can’t imagine… how… how did the survivor even cope?  How… how would I…”

The question was left unstated, How would I have reacted in that situation?

“Why do you think I don’t talk about stuff? The survivor, well, she didn’t handle it well. I should have tried talking to her. Just having a friend would’ve helped me. She ran off the next day. They brought her back, surprisingly alive but in quite a bit of pain. Never heard a word from her. Never even learned her name. Rather than share her fate, assuming I wasn’t killed in some horrible way, I tried something else.” Should I really say this? “It’s why I jumped off the cliff. If I messed up, I’d die. If I didn’t, everyone would think I was dead. Apparently I was wrong to assume such a thing, but that was the idea. Once I got back home, I tried to forget it ever happened.” Home, for Tracker, was where her family was. Her pack was her family now.

Dodger embraced her again, deciding that the last thing that she needed right now was more words.  However, after several moments, he finally did speak.

“You’re home now, Tracker.  You’re home and safe.” He could feel her shiver under his touch, though he could not tell if it was due to remembering her horrific story or due to his touch.  After all the times that she had been touched intimately during her captivity…

Dodger pulled away suddenly. “I’m… I’m so sorry!” He edged back in order to give his mate some space. “I wasn’t thinking.”

Tracker pulled her mate back towards her. “I’m okay, Dodger. I know I’m safe.”

Dodger relaxed slightly at her affirmation, but he still had lingering anger at himself for not considering the possibility of her being uncomfortable, “Alright… I just assumed that you didn’t want to be touched in that way.  That you weren’t ready.”

Tracker sighed. She really wasn’t sure what to say. When her leg had still been healing she had been uncomfortable. The feeling of helplessness was too similar. “I think I’m okay now,” she said glancing at her now mostly healed injury.

Dodger noticed her gesture, and immediately realized that she had both answered his question, but not at the same time.

“I will wait as long as you need, dear.  I just don’t want you to..think about any of this when we are together.  There is supposed to be happiness between mates… I don’t want Calin to have taken that from you.”

“He hasn’t,” Tracker said, nuzzling her mate. Maybe we can try tomorrow. Today has just been too much. My leg’s better, and I trust Dodger, so I should be fine. If I’m not, maybe I can try Violet’s way of handling unpleasant memories… Where am I going to find a hard enough rock around here?

Dodger returned Tracker’s gesture as he settled down beside her. “I am glad to hear that.  He doesn’t deserve to have that much power.  He deserved the pitiful end that Seeker gave him.” He took in a deep breath as he tried to force himself to calm down.  He had no doubt that nightmares would greet them both on this night, but he resolved to be here for his beloved whenever those terrors of the night came.  Despite the terrible truths that had been shared on this night, he knew that they would get through it together.  And, though some part of his instincts still cried for his blood, he knew that Leap would get through the coming days as well.  Despite the emotion of the moment, however, he couldn’t resist asking one question with more than a little levity.  In fact, he couldn’t hold back a slightly amused snort as he asked it.

“Forgive me for asking, but how exactly did you keep Violet from murdering Leap?”

“Um, well, that didn’t go so well…” I nearly got your sister killed. How am I supposed to be a parent one day when I can’t keep a friend that is older than me safe? Tracker looked down, embarrassed.

Dodger nodded, not seeing his mate’s reaction as he was curled up against her. “Not to talk down about my sister, but that was to be expected, dear.  This… is a situation where one would expect to freak out.  You obviously were able to talk her down as Leap is still alive.”  

“Everyone else reacted faster than I did. Seeker and Haven managed to tackle her. I ended up lecturing her. I, um, forgot to take her somewhere more private,” Tracker confessed.

Dodger sighed. “I will talk to her in the morning, unless…” He blinked as he pondered what he was considering. “Do you think that my sister would want to rest with us tonight?  I think that she would want to be with family after all of this.  I know that I do.”

Tracker didn’t reply. She just got up and walked over to Violet’s sleeping area. It didn’t take any convincing to get Violet to come back with her. Maybe I should explain things to Haven. Violet certainly isn’t. Violet hadn’t even noticed Tracker wasn’t following her.

Ducky watched through one open eye the two fastbiters as they began to walk away.  As Tracker turned around Ducky merely gave her a wink and a wave of her feathered arm.  Remembering her time huddling with her swimmer family whenever they experienced loss, she could understand the need to be with family all too well.  Tracker did not need to explain anything to her.

Tracker gave Ducky an apologetic smile before hurrying after Violet. She was glad the other fastbiter understood.

Despite Dodger’s predictions, his pack made it through the night undisturbed by sleep stories of any kind.  The unity of family allowed them to persevere despite the shadows of the specters of the past.  Before any of them realized it, it was soon the next morning.


“I don’t know what happened between them, but it seems like the rest of our packmates have vowed to keep it to themselves.  I just hope that the three are okay.”

“I am sure that they will be fine.  You told them that we were there if they needed us, right?”

“Yeah… I did, though I didn’t know what to say…”

“Ha!  That’s a change!”

“Shh… I think that I hear them coming…”

Violet and Tracker walked into view, Violet looking a bit irritated. “Have either of you seen Dodger? He left before I woke up.” And I can’t find him because I can’t smell him.

Taunt’s expression took an odd twist as he turned towards his mate.  Cera matched his gesture and quickly looked in the direction where the rest of the pack should be. “Uh… no.  No we have not.”

“Right here,” Dodger said, stepping out from the bushes behind Taunt.

Taunt immediately jumped, which caused Cera to take shelter beside him as well.  It only took them a moment to realize that the sudden ‘threat’ was Dodger himself.  The look of embarrassment on both of their faces was priceless.

“Sorry,” Dodger said. Got some interesting information, though.

“He does that,” Tracker said, as if it explained everything. Her mate’s ability to effectively disappear was not something that was safe to underestimate.

Taunt shook his head at Dodger’s antics, not being sure if he was honestly sorry or not.  He couldn’t help but feel some grudging respect for anyone who had bested him.

“That would come in handy during some of our hunts,” Cera stated, as she tried to swallow her pride.  Were she still a threehorn then she would have been more resistant in showing any acknowledgement of her being bested. “We… didn’t even smell you.”

Dodger gave her an odd look. Does she really want an explanation about staying completely downwind or close to much stronger smells? We’d be here all day. “That’s the idea. I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Me have lot of practice too!”

“Not so loud, Spotter. I’m right here,” Dodger complained, “Is there a reason you decided to fly closer? I could see and hear you just fine.” You aren’t quite as sneaky as you think you are.

Petrie rolled his eyes. “Maybe you did, but they not!”

Tracker and Violet relaxed from their defensive positions. “You… you…” Violet sputtered. And I thought Taunt was the only one I had to worry about.

“Bravo!” The sound of stomping feet could be heard as Seeker applauded in the fastbiter way as he emerged from some bushes with the rest of his pack. “That will not come in handy with sparring, but it is a nice skill to have when scouting.”

“You want us to spar?” Dodger asked. He hadn’t expected that. In his experience sparring was very dangerous.

Ruby noted Dodger’s obvious reluctance and could detect his unstated question. “Sparring is dangerous without precautions, but we can teach you about that.”

Ducky nodded. “This is not something that we would invite strangers to do, but we trust you, we do, we do. We always spar when Thud’s pack is here.”

Littlefoot smiled. “Allies who know how to fight can be very useful indeed.  Did you ever wonder why Finder and Ponder had vines all over them when they chased all of you?”

“I thought it was odd, but I was more concerned with not dying. Finder is not easy to fight against,” Dodger admitted.

Spike had the slightest hint of a grin on his face. “That comes with practice.  Seeker is not easy to fight against.”

Littlefoot nodded. “And you should see Stern Claw and Taunt in a fight.  They have beaten me quite a few times.  Stern Claw is terrifying when she is mad.”

“Hmrph!” Cera replied, “I am also terrifying when I am not mad.”

Taunt rolled his eyes as she spoke under his breath, “You can say that again…”

Violet just nodded her head in agreement. Cera still made her a bit nervous for a variety of reasons, rank being chief among them.

Littlefoot noted the nervousness in Violet’s expression, but said nothing.  She would be given a more suitable opponent for her first bout.  Dodger on the other hand…

“So, how are we supposed to spar safely?” Dodger asked, “I’ve never sparred at full speed with Violet or Tracker. It’s too dangerous.”

Littlefoot nodded. “Indeed it is.  That is why we are first going to show you how to protect yourself with vines.  We don’t have all day to have you prepare your vines, but we can show you the basics after we eat some more of the swimmer… then we will see how well all of you do in a fight.” His eyes gleamed with a mixture of curiosity and compassion. “And don’t worry, we will start all of you out slowly.  We don’t want anyone getting seriously hurt.”

“You’re sure it’s safe?” Tracker asked. Her face clearly communicating: I don’t need any more injuries.

Littlefoot nodded. “I am certain.  We will set some special rules for your first fight.  It takes a while to get used to fighting another of your kind.” That was when he glanced at her leg.  “How is your leg feeling?”

“It’s fine,” Tracker said, “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Littlefoot smiled with his tail as he turned towards Dodger with a knowing expression. “So, is your pack ready?” He nudged his head ever so slightly towards Tracker as he said this.  It was clearly a way of asking how she was doing without embarrassing her in front of the pack.

“We’re ready,” Dodger said after a quick glance to and nod from Tracker.

Littlefoot sighed as he turned back towards his pack and Thud’s pack.  In particular his gaze fell upon Leap.  I know who we will not have Leap face…

“Alright, everyone, eat up and get ready!  We have a busy day ahead of us!”


Back to the present:

Well... this is certainly more complicated than it was for Ruby... and that is certainly saying something.

Pearl watched her daughter with a mixture of exasperation and compassion. The existence of actual predators in their home had been a difficult adjustment, but one that they had grown to accept for the time being. The potential killing of one of their own kind on the other hand...

Sighing, Pearl gestured to the grass and invited her daughter to sit. She honestly had no idea where to begin. Luckily for her, Arial spoke without hesitation.

"Do you think Nahoda is okay? Daddy said he was going to get scaly swimmers, but..."

Pearl raised her hand before speaking in a calm voice, "Your father is many things, dear, but a cold-hearted killer he is not." She thought about it for a moment. "If we hear any screaming then he probably just told Mender to start chasing him again."


Pearl smiled at her daughter's reaction. Yep, someone is in love.

"I'm sure he is fine, dear. You have nothing to worry about." she cooed carefully, trying to put her daughter at ease, "Well, except for this conversation."

She sighed as her daughter's continence fell. Despite her offer to sit, her daughter was now pacing. A comforting activity for a nervous fastbiter. One who is on their feet can run on a moment's beat.

Despite her daughter's nervousness, and her own, Pearl rested herself on the grass beside the stream. There was no need for her to be seen as a threat; her daughter was seeing enough phantom threats as it was.

"Nahoda ran towards us."

This made Arial break out of her inner thoughts for a moment as she looked towards her mother for elaboration.

"He ran towards our home," Pearl added carefully, "Which means that he sought safety here. He sought safety in the place where he had been chased out many times. An odd response, isn't it?" Unless he felt welcomed despite our best efforts.

Arial shifted her weight between her two legs, a gesture that her mother could read from a mile away. "Well Nahoda can be an idiot sometimes. Just look at how many times we have had to chase him off for taking our scaly swimmers."

Pearl's eyes glistened with the hint of a smile. "And you know him well enough to call him an idiot?"

Arial's beak twitched. "Well Dad calls him an idiot."

Pearl countered, "I don't think that your father knows Nahoda the way that you do."

The response was immediate.

"You don't know the half of it!"

In the silence that followed Pearl could only stare at her daughter's enraged form. Despite the firmness in her eyes and the scent of frustration washing over her, the shakiness in her legs gave away her inner conflict. Pearl had been around long enough to know when her children were angry at a situation and not at her. As soon as she walked the short distance to her daughter and place her hand on her shoulder, Arial broke down.

Her mother wasn't close behind.

"Well, dear." Pearl spoke with heavy emotion, "How about you fill your mother in? And we can work through this together?"

Arial gritted her beak. "Where do I even start?"

Pearl sighed before loosening her embrace. "How about the beginning?"


For a moment Mender considered tackling Orchid to prevent him from running in the direction of Arial. Though she felt the temptation to sprint over there as well. Arial was obviously upset.

But unlike Orchid, Mender could also hear Pearl’s calm voice.

"Arial's fine, Orchid." Mender affirmed gently as she nodded towards Cynnil that she was not just saying this calm the fastrunner down, "That conversation is not for us."

Orchid did not respond for several moments, but eventually he sat down again. His expression growing even more grave.

Just what role did you play in this, Orchid? You look like you expect to be exiled.

Despite being uncertain if the fastrunner would even pay attention, Mender resumed her tale. The irony of the story taking on a more ominous tone not being lost on her.


The past:

“Alright, I have been observing all of you for a while, and I have determined who your first sparring partners are going to be...”

As Littlefoot’s voice boomed in the clearing, each of Dodger’s pack mates considered their circumstances in a unique way.

I hope this goes well, Tracker thought.

How do they fight in this stuff? Violet really didn’t like the vines. They felt weird.

This is going to be fun. Dodger was actually excited about sparring. He didn’t really like to fight, largely because it meant a near death experience. However, he loved to learn new skills, and this was a perfect chance.

“...Finder and Cera…”

Time for me to redeem myself after last time.  Cera thought to herself.  She had lost five attacks to three.  It was her worst showing in many Night Circles.

“...Ponder and Violet…”

Help! Violet thought, Why’d he put me against Ponder? What if I accidently hurt her? Is Seeker still mad at me? If I mess up that way he’ll be really mad.

“...Haven and Tracker…”

Well, at least it’s not Finder. Maybe Haven will go easy on me, Tracker thought, At least she won’t try to humiliate me.

“...Swift and Leap… how about a bit of sibling rivalry?”

There were a few chuckles from Taunt and the others over his comment, though the reason for Leap being assigned to his sister was not lost on those who were in the delicate conversation the day before.

“...and Taunt and Dodger. Thud and I will face those of you who make it through the first round.”

“Well, count me out on that,” Tracker muttered. I’ve said it time and again. I can’t fight.

“Don’t count yourself out, Tracker,” Littlefoot responded, with his tail smile still in full force, “We can’t get better without practice.  There will be more time for sparring once the competition is over.  This is more about bragging rights…” he smirked as he glanced at Finder, “...and showing Finder who is boss after what happened last time.”

Finder laughed arrogantly, “It isn’t my fault that you are so easy to pin to the ground!”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes. “We will see if your luck holds out today, Finder… we shall see…” He then cleared his throat. “Alright, let’s begin!  Haven and Tracker, you’re up!”


Ducky watched the other fastbiter as she shifted nervously in the center of the clearing.  It was obvious that she had no idea where to begin.

Did I mention I’ve never won a fight in my life, unless you count being alive winning? Tracker thought, This is going to be very embarrassing.

“Seeker? Permission to have practice rounds?”

Seeker nodded at Ducky’s request. “Certainly, Haven.”

Ducky smiled with her tail as she approached Tracker. “Let me explain how things are going to work, Tracker.  After all it is hard to do what you are supposed to do unless you have been told first, yep, yep, yep!”

Tracker smiled at Ducky’s verbal tic. Even if she never saw her again she doubted she’d be able to forget her friend.

“First, what we are going to do first are practice rounds, where even if we strike one another then the points won’t count.  This will allow you to get used to how a fight is like before we starting doing it for points.  Understand?”

Tracker nodded. “We’re safe in these things, right?”

Ducky nodded. “Yep, yep, yep!  We even have mud caked on our claws to prevent us from cutting one another if we miss the vines.  We may get some bruises and be sore, but that is part of the fun!” she then gestured at the ground between them, “The second thing that we do is bow to show that this is for play, and not an actual dominance battle.”  Ducky then bowed slightly as she allowed her eyes to follow Tracker’s eyes.

Tracker copied Ducky. If this were a dominance battle I’d have conceded already. I like being able to walk.

Ducky was unaware of Tracker’s misgivings on the matter of dominance as she continued, “Next, a point is scored if we make full contact without the other dodging, blocking, or otherwise deflecting the attack.  For example, this…” she did a glancing blow on Tracker’s knee, “would not be a point, but this…”

Tracker then felt a thud as Ducky firmly struck Tracker in the chest, striking her vine armor.

“...would be a point.  When we get a point then Spotter will let us know.  Then we break apart, bow again, and fight again.”

“Um, are there any extra points for a hit that would be deadly?” Tracker asked more for her mate’s benefit than her own. She’d seen how Dodger fought many times. Most of his attacks would kill if they hit their intended targets.

Ducky shook her head. “Nope, nope, nope.  We train for that as well, but we do not do that in a normal spar.  We would use a lot more vines for that, and the defender is simply a target in that game.  It is hard to move when you have enough vines to defend against a jumping kick to the throat.  This is why jumping attacks are not going to be used in this game.”

Dodger is going to have a very hard time today, Tracker thought, grimacing. “Okay. Got it.”

Ducky smiled. “Alright, in that case let us begin!” she then bowed deeply as Tracker repeated the gesture.

“Practice round, begin!” Chomper’s voice boomed as Ducky rose to her full height and began moving in a fluid manner, shifting weight from foot to foot.

Tracker backed up a couple steps, waiting for Ducky to make the first move.

“A defensive strategy can be best if you are at a disadvantage,” Ducky affirmed as she advanced with a strike of her forelimb towards Tracker’s neck.

Tracker pulled back and hurriedly moved to the side before she got backed into the audience. She made an untargeted swipe to give Ducky a reason not to follow too closely.

“Good.  The best defense for an attack is often to take the offense,” Ducky noted as she shifted back, “But what do you do when the attack is followed up by another?”

Tracker dodged the first strike and blocked the second one, coupling the block with an attack of her own. Thanks for the lessons, Dodger, but I’m starting to wish I’d practiced more.

“I can see you have already had lessons,” Ducky confirmed, “Now let’s see how you react when there are many attacks.”

Tracker barely blocked the first strike to her neck. The second came from her left, and she barely deflected it. She nearly lost her balance when Ducky’s right foot connected with her chest. A tail strike to the face sent her sprawling.

Normally, Tracker would’ve rolled back onto her feet. Now she just stayed down. Ouch. How’d she do that? “I told you I’m no good at this.”

“No, you are not,” Ducky affirmed with surprising bluntness, “But that is why we practice.  You cannot become good unless you started out as bad.  Do you think I was a good fighter when I started?” she asked as she assisted Tracker back to her feet.

“Probably still better than me,” Tracker replied.

Ducky laughed. “Nope, nope, nope!  I was a swimmer, remember?  At least you have always had claws!” she smiled as she bowed again, “Now let’s see how you do on the offense.”


“Hmm… she has some spunk, I will give her that.”

Littlefoot nodded at Thud’s comment as Tracker leapt at Ducky with all of the ferocity of an actual fight.  Though Tracker had yet to score a single point, it seemed that Ducky’s words had inspired her to redouble her efforts.  

A flying strike on a tail?  Littlefoot pondered openly, as Ducky took the supposed misjudged attack as a time to strike.  That was when Tracker surprised them all.

“Point for Tracker!” Chomper’s roar echoed across the clearing.

“Now that is an interesting technique!” Littlefoot whispered towards Thud as Ducky shook off her surprise, “Left Haven an opening, and she took the bait.”

Thud nodded. “She knew that she was getting overconfident, and used that to her advantage.  When the strongest, use your strength; when the weakest, use the other’s against them.”

Littlefoot could only agree as he marveled at how far Ducky had been tossed by Tracker’s tail swipe and throw.  Chomper would certainly need to even out the dirt fighting area before the next match.

“So what are your plans with these newcomers, Seeker?” Thud asked rather bluntly as the two fastbiters in the fighting area began to circle one another again, “They seem strong enough, but there is such a thing as oversized pack.”

Littlefoot nodded at this. “I… don’t think that Dodger and Tracker have an interest in staying with our pack.  They are already bonded and would make for good allies if they were to remain nearby.”  ...and they wouldn’t be too much competition for food either! Littlefoot noted to himself as he considered the ramifications of having a smaller pack within half a day’s trot from his pack’s territory.  Despite the affection that he had for them, he also had to consider the practicalities of the situation as well.

Thud seemed to laugh with his eyes. “Ah… so you are just planning on keeping Violet then?  I don’t think Ponder would appreciate you doubling-up.”

This had the desired effect as Littlefoot glared at the elder fastbiter’s cheeky smile. “I can see where your son gets it from… but for your information, I think that she will go with them as well.  She is Dodger’s sister after all.”

Thud blinked and gave a small bow to show that no disrespect was meant. “True, and I don’t actually think that my joke was your intention… but what if she does decide to stay?  It can be hard being an unpaired one when the Time of Mating comes.  Especially if she is not around family… males can be cruel during such times.  Eggs are too precious to let others stay around.  Others who are not related by blood.”

Littlefoot shook his head, but remained silent for a moment.  He could hear Chomper call the final point for Ducky, but at the moment all that he could think about were Thud’s words.  He had not really thought that far ahead to consider the sex ratio of his pack with another female.  As it was Ducky was already unpaired.

“I suppose that is something that I will have to consider if the time comes.  It might not come to that.”

Thud nodded, but remained silent.  Littlefoot had not told him about Violet’s disability, but he could detect the ‘hints’ that she had an impairment of some kind.  If she were to remain in a large group then her talents could be best served, and she would be most protected from her faults.  In a pack of three, on the other hand…

“Um, Seeker, are there rules against biting?” Dodger asked after walking up to the pack leader.

Littlefoot tried his best not to jump at the other pack leader’s voice.  He had gotten so lost in his conversation that he had forgotten that another fight was about to begin.  That was when the context of Dodger’s question finally reached his mind.

Are there rules against biting?

Littlefoot leaned back on his haunches as he glanced towards Taunt, who now looked somewhat apprehensive about the situation.

“Uh… you do realize we’re not supposed to kill one another, right?” Taunt asked in a joking matter, but there was a hint of tension in his voice.

Littlefoot 'smirked' a bit with his tail as he considered the situation. “Usually we do not in spars, unless it is in one of our more ‘intensive’ trainings.  Would you prefer to bite?”

“Well, I do use that a lot,” Dodger replied with a hint of laughter. Usually when I’m trying to kill someone, though, he mentally added. “If it’s not a problem…”

Littlefoot gave a little look towards Thud as the other glanced towards his son.  Littlefoot allowed the tension to build for a moment before speaking again. “Well… that is up to your opponent.  But remember that we use protection here.  So if you use your teeth then we will need to make sure that they can’t do too much damage…”

“Somehow I’m concerned about how that works,” Dodger said. He really didn’t want anyone messing with his teeth for any reason.

“I… uh… well, I won’t back down if he wants to use teeth, but yes, Seeker, I would want to use the sticky berries if we are going that route…” Taunt muttered with a mixture of bravado and concern, all of the humor was lost in his voice.  For once Taunt was dead serious.  Cera merely looked on with determination as she gave him a reassuring clasp on the back.

“Well…” Littlefoot hummed, “If you want to have the sticky berries put on all of your teeth, then both of you can bite.  They don’t taste good, but they will keep you from tasting one another.”

“Eh, I’ll just try to adapt,” Dodger said, reconsidering, “I don’t want to delay things too long.” I don’t think they can stop me from literally using my head, though.

Littlefoot clasped his clawed hands together for a moment. “Excellent!  But keep in mind if there is any biting…” he left the threat unfinished.  He knew that both Taunt and Dodger were prideful, and he would not tolerate his packmate, or his guest, being harmed in the heat of the moment.

“Understood,” Taunt affirmed firmly.

“I understand, sir,” Dodger affirmed with a nod, “Ready to get out there, Taunt?”

Taunt presented his characteristic cocky smile. “Of course!  Ready if you are.”

Littlefoot watched as both Taunt and Dodger advanced into the field of conflict.  Both communicated pride in their demeanor, but he couldn’t help but think that someone would have a damaged ego by the time the match was concluded.

“Kick his ass, Taunt!” Cera yelled in support of his mate, “But don’t bite his ass, or Seeker will kick yours!”

Littlefoot could only roll his eyes on the antics of his two packmates.  This battle would be a proxy battle for Cera’s ego as well.

“A lot of ego in this fight,” Thud noted with a smug look on his face, “Want to take bets on this one?”

Littlefoot snorted. “Ha!  I thought we were analyzing our pack members for improvement.”

Thud smirked. “Yes, and I analyzing your ability to make good bets.  I bet you four ground fuzzies that ‘Mr. I want to bite’ over there gets at least three points on my son.”

Littlefoot looked shocked. “You’re betting against your son?”

Thud shrugged. “Pride comes before the fall… besides if I am right then I can give him one of the ground fuzzies to make him feel better.”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes. “Only one of them?

“Well…” Thud snickered, “I have to eat too, don’t I?”

Littlefoot turned towards the fight as he smiled widely. “You’re on.  If Dodger gets at least three points then I owe you, otherwise…”


Okay, so how do I do this? Dodger wondered. He used biting quite often in combat, so fighting without it was going to be difficult. Best to play it safe at first. See what Taunt does.

The orange fastbiter circled Dodger with a curious expression.  Taunt’s eyes conveyed no emotion, only a cold, calculating stare.  It was obvious that he was gauging Dodger’s reactions.  It only took a few moments for Taunt to make a quick thrust with his forelimb towards Dodger.

Dodger moved to the side slightly to avoid to the attack. He didn’t want to get entangled with a block if there were a follow-up attack.

But there was no follow up attack, nor any commentary from the silent fastbiter.  He merely continued to circle Dodger and stared at him eye-to-eye.  It was as if Taunt had been told this was a staring competition, and not a battle.  It was as if he were waiting for Dodger to make a move.

If he’s planning on me making a move he’s going to be waiting a long time. Dodger thought. Best to wait for an opening. It’s not like I’m going up against half a dozen opponents.

“Enough of the foreplay, son! I don’t think he is interested!”

It seemed that his father’s taunt was enough to shake Taunt out of his desire to wait this out.  With an almost ferocious response he jumped at the other fastbiter, both feet extended.

Acting mostly on instinct, Dodger jumped to the side before making a second jump to hit Taunt in midair, claws aimed at Taunt’s vine-protected neck.

In an instant that seemed to drag on for an eternity Dodger’s eyes beheld a sight that made no sense. As if his opponent had been struck from above, Taunt suddenly crumple in mid-air in order to deflect the counter-attack, with his forelimbs colliding with Dodger’s forelimbs.  It was only then that Dodger realized that Taunt was letting their momentum carry them into the ground.

The collision felt far-away, as if it were not even real.

More from momentum than intention Dodger head-butted Taunt when they landed. He followed this up with a couple of kicks to get himself away from Taunt. Had this been a real fight, he’d have gone for Taunt’s throat rather than retreat.

Taunt barely dodged the kicks, as they landed on his legs, and thus did not count as a ‘clean hit’.  With a swift movement, however, he sprinted towards the other fastbiter’s chest, not even attempting to defend against a possible counter-attack.

Dodger swiped at Taunt’s neck with both hands before lunging forward for another head-butt. His final attack connected, but he took a hit in the chest, awarding Taunt the point.


Littlefoot smirked at the result, “It looks like you will soon owe me some ground fuzzies, Thud.”

Thud shrugged, “Don’t count your eggs until you eat them, Seeker.  I have a feeling that my son has just made a big miscalculation.”


Damn it!  He could have killed me if this were an actual fight!

Though he had scored two more points since the first hard-fought point, his head still rang with a massive headache.  He had let his ego get ahead of him, and had made some foolish mistakes.  His father’s own comments had further encouraged him to show the old fastbiter that he could stand on his own.

He probably bet against me again.  He always does that to make me prove myself!  The thought of his father eating a free meal on his failures only drove him onwards.  He would not allow his father to succeed on this day.  He would make his winning record 3-0 for his father’s last three visits to the pack.

He swore it.

Dodger kept up his defense against Taunt’s most recent attack. He backed up a step to force Taunt to lunge and possibly create another opening for him to exploit.

He is learning… well that won’t save him now….

With a look that could be mistaken for rage, Taunt sprinted towards his opponent and allowed himself to leap towards his neck.  He would make his attack as brutal as it was simple.


What has gotten into him? Dodger wondered, He’s been recklessly aggressive since the fight started. Even Violet would have been more cautious. Dodger hated to admit it, but he was starting to get nervous. Taunt could potentially win just by tiring him out.

His thoughts were cut off, however, when Taunt suddenly shifted to his right.

Too sudden. Fake.

Dodger shifted to the left and back to counter Taunt’s real attack. Dodger took the opening created by off-footing his opponent and leapt at Taunt’s own side.

“Point for Dodger!”

That worked? Dodger mentally asked. The question showed on his face.

Taunt for his part almost looked embarrassed about leaving himself so open to attack.  He merely gave a slight nod to his opponent as he returned to his corner.

“Well… things just got more interesting.”

Dodger glanced to the side at the sound of Thud’s voice. Okay, time to show them what I can really do since everyone’s watching. He loosened up a bit, preparing for the next clash.

“Begin!” Spotter’s voice called out as Chomper’s footsteps could be heard as he moved to get a better vantage point.  Now the question on everyone’s mind was who would make the first move?

Unlike every other bout before, Dodger moved first, rushing Taunt in an attempt to provoke a counter-rush. At that point he planned to jump to the side and launch another attack.

Taunt took the bait as he rushed forward in order to meet offense with offense.  He quickly began to shift his weight to the back of his feet in preparation for a jumping strike on his opponent.

Right when Taunt leapt Dodger jumped to the side, turning while airborne. He ignored the jolt from the landing and made a second leap, slashing at Taunt’s throat.


“You alright, Taunt?” Dodger asked, noticing his opponent was trying to catch his breath more than his latest attack required. He couldn’t possibly be winded already.

“Break!”  Littlefoot suddenly called out as Thud ran into the field of battle with Ruby close behind.

Dodger backed away from Taunt, slightly alarmed. He really didn’t want to get in a fight with Thud.

“Taunt, are you alright?”  Ruby called out as she advanced towards him with a concerned expression.  His father did not have time to ask a similar question, however, before Taunt spoke.

“I’m fine!” He coughed one more time after he said this. “He just tightened up my vines is all!”

Reluctantly, the other fastbiters backed off and allowed Taunt to rise to his feet under his own power.  All of them knew that he would refuse to show any weakness during a battle.  Especially not during one that he was currently winning.


He has my son already figured out… Taunt noted to himself as he watched the battle commence in its typical ferocious fashion.  He almost felt bad for baiting his son into losing his cool.

“Dodger might have the makings of a great pack leader… but I don’t think that he sees it.”

Thud blinked as he turned towards his fellow pack leader, silently asking him to elaborate.

“He seems very dismissive of his own abilities.  He blames himself for all of his pack’s shortcomings… but he can see what we see.” Littlefoot’s mouth twitched. “...he has the sight, you know?”

Thud nodded as his son fell to the ground once more in a failed attack.  He neglected to brag about winning his bet with Littlefoot, as the score was now tied at three apiece. “The sight of a leader… to see what the others will do based upon what they have done before.”

Littlefoot nodded. “Path and I have it.  Stern Claw has it when she is calm… but the others don’t have it quite like we do, you know?  I wonder if this will wake Dodger up.”

Thud snorted as he saw Dodger deflect one of his son’s attacks with ease and use his momentum to toss his son like a skipping stone., “Dodger seems to be quite awake.”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean…”

“Point for Dodger!  Game point!”

Thud took a deep breath. “Let’s see if my son can mount a comeback…”


Not like this… I can’t let it end like this.

Taunt tried to quiet his racing heart as he stared at his opponent.  It had come to this.  If he were going to mount a comeback, or at least make a good final stand, then it would have to be now.

“You can do it, Taunt!”

Taunt nodded without turning away at his mate’s words.  The fact that there were no implied jokes in her cheer showed how concerned she was.  That was an emotion that he never wanted to hear from his mate.  He never wanted to be helpless.

Not again!  I am not a child anymore!

He continued to stare at his opponent as he circled him mutely.  He had to make his move soon or Chomper would force them to make a move upon risk of a penalty.  Unreasonable delays would not be permitted.

Taunt sighed.  It was now or never.

He realized that his opponent would know he was coming, so he merely affirmed that fact with a quick bow and an extension of his claws in a fighting stance.  This would be a straight assault, no trickery or gimmicks.  Either his attack would fool his opponent or it would not.

And here we go, Dodger thought. He shifted into a defensive stance and waited for Taunt’s attack. Waiting for an opening was much easier than making one.

With burning exertion in his legs, Taunt charged at his foe.  He could feel every tendon in his legs vibrating with each stomp of his feet.  He could feel every ragged beat of his heart.  He knew that even if he won this round then he would be spent for the next battle.  This was his last stand.  With that in mind he finally leaped.

Taunt could feel the air flow over his scales as he struck out at the opponent below him, only to register surprise as his claws collided with the dirt.


Dodger crashed into Taunt’s back hard enough to send both of them sprawling. He barely managed to get in an obvious neck strike.


Taunt lay on the ground for several moments as he registered what had just taken place.  Dodger must have dove under his leaping attack and delivered the final blow to his undefended neck.  Now all that remained was a stinging pain in his neck, and an even more stinging blow to his pride.  He had been defeated horribly not only in front of his mate, but also his father.  With sorrowful resignation he tried to rise to his feet.

Dodger moved over to help Taunt stand up, having already gotten to his feet. “Good fight, Taunt. I’ve had an easier time against three opponents.” This guy’s good.

Taunt reluctantly accepted his opponent’s hand as he went to his feet. “I apologize that I proved to be an unworthy opponent,” Taunt replied as if he had not heard Dodger’s praise, “I reflected poorly on my pack today.  I hope that my packmates prove worthy of your presence.”

Then, without saying another word, Taunt retreated to where his mate was waiting, only stopping to give an apologetic bow towards his pack leader and his father.  The kind of treatment one would expect from a pack member who had failed to live up to the pack’s expectations.

Dodger looked helplessly at Littlefoot, unsure what to do with himself. If I knew this would hurt him this bad, I’d have just let Taunt hit me.

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Exceeded the character limit again. Here is the conclusion of the chapter:

Back to the present:

Arial reluctantly pulled away from her mother as she struggled to regain her composure. This had been the third time that she had lost any sense of control that day, and it scared her.

"I... don't know what has gotten into me."

Pearl smiled. "Love. Love makes us do strange things. Though sometimes it takes a scare before we put our priorities in order." her smile weakened somewhat as she remembered what it took before she followed her eventual mate. In that case it was the attempted murder of Detras by her brother.

Arial noticed her mother's response and tilted her head. Her mother's response was bitter, but the bitterness was not directed at her.

"I am just thinking back to when I met your father, dear. At least you didn't have to bash in your brother's head."

Arial was silent for a moment before the memories of that particular story came back to her. She had never met her uncle for obvious reasons, but she did not regret that fact at all. It had only been her mom's swift attack that had saved Arial's father. At a loss at what to say she remained silent.

"So... I seem to remember when we all chased Nahoda from our stream the first time..." Pearl offered tentatively, "Was that the first time that you had seen him?"

Arial looked away slightly. "No..."

It was at that time that her mother did the last thing that she expected. She laughed.

"What's so funny!?"

Pearl smiled knowingly. "I joked with your father after we saw you nearly bit him in the chase. You seemed quite enthusiastic about getting close to him, and I guess not for the reason that your father suspected."

Arial merely glared at her mom, her hands on her hips making her look like a caricature of futile offense.

"Alright, Dear. You obviously are familiar with this male, but we are not." Except for the fact that he likes to steal our fish! "So how about you tell your mother about how all of this began."

Arial sighed. There was no getting out of this.

"It all began about three full Night Circles ago..."

Fish! Fish! Fish!

Normally Nahoda would have been more careful when in a strange territory, but that was before starvation had reared its ugly head. For the first time since he had been chased from his parents he finally had a filling meal.

Or rather he would as soon as he caught the slippery fiends.

“Come back here you…”

“I was walking by the stream, looking for snapping shells when I heard some splashing. I figured it was my brother so I decided to pester him.”

Pearl chuckled. “You wanted to pounce on him!”

Arial grunted at her mother, “Like I said… pester.”

“Ha! Got ya!”

The fastrunner ripped into the crimson fish with the ferocity of a tyrannosaurus ripping into its prey. This was the first proper meal he had in several days. In this moment of ecstasy nothing else mattered. He had a meal. He was content.

This is the perfect place! Rock walls… a stream with scaly swimmers… and no sharpteeth…

Nahoda smiled. He could do something that he hadn’t done since his father had driven him from home.

He was going to take a bath.

“So the idiot was taking a bath in the stream. He wasn’t looking around at all. He had no idea that I was even around.”

“And you decided to pounce on the stranger?!” Pearl asked with bemusement.

Arial groaned, “Mom! I just caught a glance at him… I thought it was Orchid.”

Pearl placed her hands on her hips. “So he was not the only idiot not paying attention, hmm?”

Arial rolled her eyes. “Anyway… I prepared to sprint at him.”

Nahoda cooed as the cool water washed over his body. From the Black Hills to the Desolate Plains he had been chased from one territory to another. Only here had he experienced a moment of peace. Perhaps here he could form a territory… find a female… form a…

He never got a chance to finish that thought.

“Gotcha, Orchid!”

In a confusing cascade of pink, blue, and purple Nahoda was pummeled into the stream. His unknown assailant had caught him entirely unaware as he desperately flailed away from the attacker. The assault only ended when a pain-inducing bite landed on his tail.


Nahoda scrambled as he retaliated and kicked out at the mysterious pink beast. With a resounding thud she landed on top of him. Her laughter making him freeze in a mixture of terror and confusion.

“Ha! That was great! Why are you…”

The female froze. Her beautiful laugh and playful demeanor suddenly being displaced with a mixture of fear and confusion. It was a change that made Nahoda wish he could trade anything for her welcome laugh to return once more. Such happiness had been non-existent in his journey, and its extinguishing was to him a personal tragedy.

“Hi… My name is Nahoda. What’s yours?”

He barely had time to move out of the way before she charged him again.

“I chased him towards the twisting gorge, but he… he…” Arial gritted her beak in agitation.

Pearl looked at her with concern. “Did he try to attack you?”

Arial shook her head. “No! The bastard was laughing!”

“Ha! You’re a good dancer! But you never told me your name!”

Nahoda dodged Arial’s charge with ease. The female was feisty as her flirtatious attack had showed him, but her speed still needed work.

Still a good female, part of his mind affirmed.

“You bastard! Get out of my territory and stay away from my scaly swimmers!”

Nahoda smiled as the female charged him again, this time sending him barreling to the ground. “Not until you tell me your name first!”

Arial suppressed a scream at the insufferable male. “The name’s Arial, and stay the fuck out!”

She charged off towards the stream before he could even say a word. Her confusion about her feelings sending her to her thinking space. For Nahoda’s part, only one thought consumed his mind.

‘Arial… Her name is Arial. I can’t wait to see her tomorrow.’

Little did he know that her father would be there to greet him.
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I'm aiming to be a white whistle too, you know?

About time I catch up, huh?

Review of chapter 2:

Mender is actually Violet!? Oh wow :lol

Pretty interesting chapter as we learn more about the other pack (and Mender) though Violet seems to be causing trouble and heaven knows where Prongler is... the situation has calmed down but is far from being resolved yet...

It's also good to know Littlefoot and his pack haven't inherited the evilness of Calin :lol

Review of chapter 3:

Interesting backstory of the other pack. It certainly explains why Violet was so scared of our friendly Sharptooth :p Ducky is actually acting like herself again, that's a good sign :yes

From possible intruders to possible friends... quite some contradiction there but as it was just a misunderstanding there's room for friendship to develop :yes Telling the stories of each other pack is a good way to accomplish that... and hunting together even more so :)

The story looks quite promising to me already, looking forward to reading more!

Review of Chapter 4:

Despite the hunt, this is actually quite an introspective chapter. Dodger takes some hunting strategy lessons and Violet has grown more self-conscience and self-esteem since she can finally prove that she has it in her :)

You know, Rhombus, I'm not sure if I've told you this before in 100 chapters of your previous chapters but it just became very clear to me in this one: You're a talented writer but there are many who have a great writing style and good and intriguing stories to tell but the one thing that distinguishes you from them is your ability to analyse the situation, the action and thoughts of your characters and find the proper way to make something great out of that. It's that high level of introspection, the good action and the ocasional humor that make your stories such a joy to read :p

Also, why does nobody review this? This deserves more attention! :(

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The Friendly Parallelogram

Thank you for the review, Ducky. :) I haven't got much feedback on this story outside of fanfiction.net, and I greatly appreciate your thoughts.

You know, Rhombus, I'm not sure if I've told you this before in 100 chapters of your previous chapters but it just became very clear to me in this one: You're a talented writer but there are many who have a great writing style and good and intriguing stories to tell but the one thing that distinguishes you from them is your ability to analyse the situation, the action and thoughts of your characters and find the proper way to make something great out of that. It's that high level of introspection, the good action and the ocasional humor that make your stories such a joy to read

Thank you. I must admit that at times I probably need to be careful not to become too introspective and to drag the narrative out too much, but that is something that I try to avoid by incorporating periodic action even in the more introspective chapters. An additional complication in this story that it actually directly comes from an active roleplay between Historian1912 and myself. The revision of the RP and the addition of 'present' elements into the narrative is something that is proving to be quite the challenge. But thus far I do enjoy how this story is developing. I especially look forward to your thoughts on the later chapters. Much like what happened in Songs of the Hunters, it wasn't until chapter 7 that I decided to turn the present scenes into a proper story. :lol So things will be picking up pretty soon.

Until next time, I look forward to your thoughts and constructive criticism. :) I should have the next chapter posted in the next few days.
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The Friendly Parallelogram

Fanfiction link:https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11964771/11/Mender-s-Tale

Chapter 10: Conflicts, civil and otherwise (part 2)

“Good communication and the clarification of misunderstandings should be the top priority of an exploration officer of the Consortium. Often the best way to use a weapon in a mission is to ensure that it doesn’t have to be used at all.”

Precept number 3,
Essential Precepts of Consortium Operations

The past:

Littlefoot sighed as he saw the scene. “Alright, Leap and Swift, you are up next. And Dodger? Good fighting out there.”

Dodger bowed in acknowledgment of the compliment and walked over to his mate, feeling very awkward. Maybe Tracker can help me? Seeker was no help at all.

“Over here, Dodger,” Ducky called, “The winners and losers are kept separate until the matches are over.”

Dodger couldn’t help but glare slightly at Ducky for even remotely connecting the word ‘loser’ with his mate even if she had not meant it insultingly. During Tracker’s fight there were a few times where he had to restrain himself, and in a couple cases be restrained by his sister, from going out there and turning Ducky into a single giant bruise.

Tracker looked a little off-put at not getting to talk to her mate when it looked like he needed it but was otherwise unbothered by Ducky’s statement. “We’ll talk later,” Tracker promised. She took her mate’s nod of acknowledgement as a good sign.

“So…” Ducky began as Dodger finally sat beside her in the ‘winner’s circle’, “You did very well with Taunt. That is the worst that he has been beaten since Stern Claw had her ‘great’ day and won all of the rounds with no points made against her.”

“Badly? I distinctly remember getting hit three times out there, all of them consecutively. If that’s your definition of bad, I don’t want to face him when he’s having a good day.” Dodger was shocked that anyone could say that Taunt did anything short of excellently.

Ducky nodded. “True, but you made five points against him consecutively. No one has done that to him in a long time, nope, nope, nope.”

“I just got lucky. In a real fight I would have been dead long before I got those hits in.”

Ducky grew silent for several moments before speaking again. “That is why we train. You learned very quickly though.” She stopped for a moment. “Did… I make you angry somehow? If I did then I am sorry, I am, I am.”

“I’m just a bit overprotective of Tracker. Violet actually had to hold me back a couple times during your fight,” Dodger replied, “Normally when she’s in trouble I help her out.”

Ducky looked down for a moment. “That… that is understandable. How is she doing after the fight? Was she upset about losing? I told her that she did well for a first time…” Ducky trailed off as she had so many questions to ask.

“Alright, fighters, get in your places!”

As the two fastbiters listened to one another, Leap and Swift both got into their places. This would be a fight between siblings.

“I think this is the first time I have seen both of them fight in the first round. I wonder why Seeker set it up this way this time,” Ducky pondered.

“Probably to keep Leap and me separate. I don’t think Seeker expected me to win. I didn’t expect me to win.” Dodger had done quite a bit of thinking on that subject while being outfitted with the protective vines.

Ducky shifted uneasily as she choked out a question, “Uh… so Tracker talked to you about what happened?”

“Yeah. I was a bit disturbed when she started the conversation with asking me to promise I wouldn’t get mad.” That had not been a good sign. It never was.

Ducky grew silent for several moments as they watched Swift get to an early 2-0 lead. She always was a better fighter than her brother.

“Point for Leap!”

Both of the fastbiters watched as Leap helped his sister back to her feet after landing a defensive kick to her chest. Now the battle was 2-1.

“Wow, he must have been practicing,” Ducky noted, “His defense is usually not very good.”

“Interesting,” Dodger said, acutely studying Leap. He’d promised Tracker he wouldn’t kill Leap, but he’d said nothing about causing him severe pain. If they faced each other in the next round, he wanted to get what revenge he could without hurting his relationship with Littlefoot and his pack.

Ducky studied Dodger silently as Chomper’s announcement of another point could be heard in the background. She didn’t know Dodger particularly well, but she could deduce the meaning of the glint in his eye. Despite her timid nature she felt compelled to say something.

“He is not Calin, Dodger.”

“I know he’s not Calin. That’s why I didn’t kill him yesterday when I guessed what he did to my mate,” Dodger replied, a dangerous edge to his voice. “And I promised Tracker I wouldn’t kill him,” he said in a more normal, resigned, tone.

Ducky grew silent but could smell the stench of anger and resignation radiating from Dodger. In a way she couldn’t fault him for his emotions, but she also felt empathy for Leap as well. For him it must be like being victimized once again. After all, Tracker was not the only one to be forced to do things against her will.

“Another point for Leap! It is 4-2 for Leap, game point!”

Dodger jerked his attention back to the fight. “Swift seems to be having a bad day.”

Ducky nodded. “This reminds me of the one time I beat my brother when he had the coughing sickness. He was upset for days,” Ducky noted to herself with some amusement, “Finder has always beaten me ever since though. He is a much better fighter than me, he is, he is.”

“He’s also bigger than you.”

Ducky snorted. “Yes, but not as much bigger as back when I was a swimmer! I used to ride on his back sometimes.”

“How did you two end up being siblings, if you don’t mind my asking? You were two completely different kinds.” Ironically, that was the part of the story of the Seven Hunters that he had the most trouble with.

“It happened back when we were going to the Great Valley. We came across an abandoned nest, and his egg was the only one left. As soon as he hatched I realized that we couldn’t leave him there. So from that point on I took him in.” She smiled at the memory. “My brothers and sisters just called him our spiketail brother.”

“I don’t really like spiketails. Trying to hunt one nearly cost me my sister. When she got hit, I thought her leg was shattered. I’m still not convinced something wasn’t at least cracked; she couldn’t walk for quite a few days.”

Ducky nodded. “Spiketails are formidable prey…” She watched the continuing battle closely as the two siblings circled one another. “They seemed much more inviting back when I was not trying to eat them. But then again… so did threehorns and longnecks.”

“Threehorns seemed inviting? From the impression I’ve been getting from Stern Claw, I can’t imagine them being easy to hang around. Violet’s still seems afraid of her.”

Ducky shifted uneasily as Leap made his first attempt at striking his sister this round. “Umm… well she is quite nice when you get to know her. She is one of my best friends.” She cringed a bit when she saw Leap land on his face but quickly recover. “But, then again, you have to have a thick skin to handle Taunt.” She chuckled at that thought.

“Getting to know her is a bit difficult. I think I’ve talked to her for more than a moment only once. Speaking of Taunt, is he okay? He didn’t seem to take losing very well.”

Ducky frowned. “He is usually good-natured about losing, but he seems to have really blamed himself this time. He did not want to appear weak in front of his father.” She quickly closed her mouth as if she had said too much.

“If he wanted to avoid appearing weak, I’d say he’d succeeded,” Dodger said, touching his chest where he’d taken multiple hits.

Ducky didn’t know what to say without giving away Taunt’s childhood secrets, so she remained silent. He was still self-conscious about it. However, before she could say anything, Leap succeeded in making a swipe at his sister’s face which met its target.

“Leap wins the round!”

Ducky grew tense. She knew what this meant.


“Well, shit.”

Thud could not disagree with Littlefoot’s assessment as Leap looked towards the ‘winner’s circle’ and the place where Tracker’s mate sat with an unreadable expression. Even Swift stood in an uncertain manner as if she didn’t know where to go. Littlefoot seemed to be considering his options when Ducky gave him a placative gesture.

“It seems that Haven thinks that things are alright…”

Littlefoot did not react to Thud’s comment for a moment, but then reluctantly waved Leap towards the winner’s area. This was a gesture that Thud echoed a moment later. Though Thud did not envy his packmate at this point.

Well this is going to be awkward…


I’m so dead… so dead… so dead…

Leap tried to compose himself as he conspicuously sat on the other side of Ducky. It wasn’t every day that you were in the same area as the mate of your victim. To say that there was not an accepted social rule for such a situation would be an understatement. Typically the expected social ritual would involve being disemboweled by an angry mate…

Not quite sure how to react in a way that didn’t involve Leap being in multiple pieces, Dodger did his best to not react at all. A glance he gave Leap, though, was not all that friendly or even neutral.

I don’t know what to do… I can’t apologize; he would not accept that. I can’t run away, I am honor-bound to participate. I guess… I guess…

Leap sucked in a deep breath as he closed his eyes. Perhaps it was time to meet the consequences of his actions.

“Easy, Leap.”

Leap nearly jumped as Ducky touched his back.

“We won’t let things get out of hand,” Ducky’s voice continued in a soft whisper, as her eyes met Dodger’s. It was probably fortunate that she couldn’t read his mind.


You promised Tracker, remember? Don’t kill him. Not maiming him was probably implied. No breaking his arm and making it look like an accident. Dodger was doing everything he could to control himself. His first reaction was to eliminate anything that had or could hurt Tracker. He reminded himself that breaking a promise would hurt her quite badly as well.Maybe trying to get to know him better will make him seem more like a person than a cause of pain for Tracker. How do I do that? He found it very ironic that Tracker could probably handle such a problem far better than he could.

“Next up: Ponder and Violet!”

“Are you guys sure this is a good idea?” Dodger wondered aloud. There are plenty of things that can go wrong here. Violet has never been a controlled fighter, and Ponder is probably the worst person she can fight short of Seeker himself; Stern Claw, at least, isn’t Seeker’s mate. He’d been noticing that Violet got more nervous around the higher-ranking fast-biters than the lower-ranking ones. If she were up against Seeker she would probably just surrender.

Leap cringed, as his thoughts remained in overdrive. Is he talking about me and him being in the same place? If so then I agree wholeheartedly!

Ducky, however, understood the meaning. “Ponder is very understanding of newer fighters. She will go easy on her.”

“Uh… yes,” Leap stammered out, “She was very helpful when my sister and I arrived. She and Haven were willing to help even when they weren’t sure if they could trust us or not.” The undertones of Leap’s statement were obvious to everyone.

“It’s the rank situation I’m more worried about. The higher-ranked someone is the more nervous she gets,” Dodger said reluctantly, not happy to openly state yet another of Violet’s insecurities.

It was at this moment that Ducky surprised both of her counterparts by standing up and cheering at Ruby, “Good luck out there, Ponder! Remember not to rise so high that you trample on the low,” she finished in leaf-eater.

Ruby seemed to pause for a moment as she stared at her opponent. Then, with a deep bow, she exaggerated the gesture to indicate that what was about to follow was just play.

“You know, Tracker was wishing she could learn that. Said something about trying to listen in when a story-speaker was talking,” Dodger said. Ducky’s use of the leaf-eater language reminding him of a comment Tracker had made a few nights prior.

“Perhaps we will have time to teach her the basics,” Ducky noted as she sat down again, “Though I imagine a story-speaker would be curious to learn that a sharptooth was listening in.”

Leap then spoke up, “Seeker’s grandfather was a story-speaker, wasn’t he? I remember him mentioning that one day.”

Ducky nodded. “Yep, yep, yep! Leaf-eaters tell stories instead of singing them, but the principal is the same. I guess that is why he is such a good singer.”

“Tracker loves stories more than anything else. Honestly I don’t know how she remembers them all so well. I’m pretty sure she could repeat your pack’s song back to you word for word.” Dodger was very proud of Tracker’s ability. Prowler had just belittled her for it, not really seeing the point of such a skill.

Ducky smiled. “That would be great. I am sure that Seeker and Ponder will remember yours as well. That way our descendents can hear of our deeds and lessons after we are up there with our ancestors.” She reflected for a moment. “Though I hope that we do not have to join them too soon, oh no, no, no.”

Leap nodded. “I think that we all can agree with that.”

Dodger briefly considered jokingly suggesting otherwise before deciding that that would be cruel. Leap looked like he was ready to bolt as it was.


The present:

“So I take it that after your little display, that Nahoda decided that he was interested?”

Pearl was careful to step away from her daughter in case she took offense, but the worst reaction that she got was a harsh glare.

“You’re enjoying this, Mom?”

Pearl smirked. “Why wouldn’t I? It looks like my girl has finally found her champion.”

Arial scoffed, “Champion? He’s an idiot. He thought my attack was an invitation”

Pearl shrugged. “Well no one’s perfect. Are you sure that you didn’t mean it as an invitation?”

“What are you saying, Mother?” The use of the formal word was not lost on Pearl. “That I wanted him to come back?”

Pearl rolled her eyes. “How many males from outside of the family have you been around, Arial? Since you have grown into your adult feathers?”

Arial looked away. The answer to that was ‘none’.

“I’m simply saying that perhaps you weren’t too disappointed when Mr. Doesn’t-Get-The-Point decided to come back,” Pearl finished, “When was that, by the way?”

Arial answered in a far-away voice, “When Dad found him…”

“Oh… oh dear.”

Sunlight, bright and welcoming, enveloped everything that the fastrunner could see. Like a silent friend it illuminated the desolate scene and brought everything into focus. From its high perch the fastrunner could almost imagine that he was a flyer. One with the sky. Seer of all.

But, much as he would want to do so, Detras had no time for daydreaming. He had a family to protect.

He carefully examined the stream. There stood his mate and his son, chatting about something as his daughter munched on a snapping shell nearby. Plentiful food for a family of four was one of the blessing of this place. A blessing that they could not take for granted.

That was when he saw it.

It was faint, but then again threats were always faint before they became obvious. But it was there nonetheless. A slight hint of violet on the outline of the cliffs.

A male fastrunner. And he was staring right at his daughter.

Detras rose to his feet. He would make sure that was the last thing the intruder ever saw.

“I was not aware that he was around. But that was when I saw Dad come off of Hanging Rock with one of those pointed sticks Spotter showed us how to make.”

“And instead of a predator you assumed it was your special friend?” Pearl prompted.

Arial rubbed her hands nervously. “Well… if it had been a sharptooth then he would have alerted us all. As soon as Daddy went up the bluffs I knew what I had to do.”

Arial hurried up the bluff in the opposite direction of her father. If the insufferable male had any amount of sense he would be heading down this way and not…


She didn’t even have time to groan as powerful arms grabbed her neck and a playful bite greeted her beak. Before she even had time to react the male had retreated from outside striking distance.

Darn it! Now we’re even, some part of her mind complained.

“You have to get out of here, Nahoda!”

The male smirked as he sprung to his feet. “Gonna chase me away again?”

She closed her eyes and counted to three. Ancestors give me strength not to kill this male before my father does…

“My father is after you, Nahoda. You need to get out of here now!”

The male stammered, “Your... father?”

“Don’t worry, Arial I’m coming!”

Nahoda froze as he saw the massive purple male in the distance. In that moment he did the only logical thing.

He ran.


The past:

It's official. Seeker is trying to humiliate me, Violet thought, There is absolutely no way this is going to turn out well.

Ruby began to circle the agitated fastbiter in a slow and steady rhythm.

“Would you like a few practice rounds, like what Tracker got?” Ruby offered, “I don’t want to start until you are ready.”

“I’m ready,” Violet said, her voice suggesting the opposite. If I wait too long I’ll just surrender.

Ruby frowned as she knew it was her pride talking and not her head. “Very well. Just do your best; that is all that any of us can do.” With that she raised her hands in an offensive posture and began to circle her opponent swiftly.

Violet copied the maneuver but was uncharacteristically in a defensive posture. Anyone that knew her would know that she was most definitely not confident in her abilities based on that alone.

Ruby carefully positioned herself for an attack. Well… let’s see how this goes. I will make it as easy on her as I can, Haven, but I can’t dumb this down too much…without any further thought she began her attack by launching a flurry of forelimb strikes towards her opponent. She would see how the novice handled the new threat.

Violet backed up to avoid the first couple of strikes and give her time to block the following ones. She immediately tried a counterattack of her own after the last block. She couldn’t stay on the defensive forever.

Ruby retreated back. Not terrible for a first try, but I don’t want her to think I am treating her like a child. Now for the real fight…

She considered her opponent for a moment as she kept within three body-lengths of Ruby. A rather brave strategy, but Ruby could detect that this bravado was being used to hide her own insecurities. Nonetheless, she had to respect her determination. Without wasting any further time, however, she launched a feigned attack to the left of Violet.

Violet moved to her right, trying to copy one of Dodger’s strategies and potentially score a point. Despite not being in the best position to do so, she launched her own attack, rushing Ruby…

Took the bait… Ruby thought to herself as she shifted her body to strike out with a ferocious kick directed towards her opponent’s abdomen.

Violet doubled over when Ruby’s kick connected, her own momentum making the blow worse. She stumbled backwards, falling over and clutching her stomach. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. I think I’m going to be sick.

“Point to Ponder!”

Ruby noted her opponent clutching her stomach and immediately made a hand gesture to put the designated healer, Thud, on standby. “Are you alright, Violet?”

“Give me a moment.” She stood up, and walked out of the fighting area for a moment. Doing her best to not really be seen, she ended up losing her breakfast. Well, that’s better than being torn open, I guess. She walked back to her starting point, still panting a bit. Her abdomen still ached. “Okay, I’m ready.”

Ruby grimaced a bit, but waved Thud off. It was obvious that Violet was not going to back down.


“Wow, she has spirit, doesn’t she?!”

Littlefoot nodded at that assessment from Thud. Violet’s demeanor had certainly become much more forceful and confident since she had met his pack. He would have to make sure to comment on that even if she didn’t get a single point in this match.

“Not bad for a first spar,” Littlefoot noted, “She is looking better than I did when Dein was training my pack.”

Thud laughed. “I almost wish I was there to see that!”

Littlefoot groaned. “No. No, you don’t. Those were some of the hardest days of my life. He just didn’t let up.”

Thud put on a cheeky smile. “I didn’t say that I would want to have him train me… I just said that it would be entertaining to watch you suffer.”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes. “Let’s just see if you are so cocky when you have to enter the battles…”

Thud smiled. “Oh? Have someone in mind to humble me, do you?”

Littlefoot merely laughed. “You will just have to wait and see, Thud. Wait and see…”


Not again, Violet mentally groaned as she stumbled backwards after taking a kick to the chest, This really hurts. She unconsciously shielded the area with her arm.

“Point to Ponder!”

In front of the momentarily distracted fastbiter stood the source of her anguish. The pink fastbiter’s eyes seemed to fixate on Violet for a moment before Ruby nodded slightly. Satisfied that Violet was not injured, she then retreated back into her corner. A noticeable satisfied tint existed in her eye. After all, she was winning 2-0.

I’ve got to land a hit somehow. But how? Nothing I’ve tried works. Ugh, Dodger makes this look easy. Violet did her best to keep her frustrations inaudible, but she still found herself growling in frustration. She was not having a good day.

Ruby seemed to notice the frustration on the other fastbiter’s demeanor and quickly bowed her head in a stance that indicated she was ready whenever she was. Though the second meaning of the gesture was not lost on Violet: remember that this is only play.

Calm down, Violet, calm down, Violet reminded herself, It’s just a game. Once she felt she was calm enough she indicated her readiness. Here we go again…

Ruby didn’t waste any time as she burst towards the violet fastbiter with tremendous speed. She had tried to trick Violet on her previous attacks, but now she was going for something a bit more direct. It only took an instant before Ruby’s mud covered claws were speeding towards Violet’s midsection.

Rather than dodge, Violet tried to meet her opponent head on. What happened next was a bit of a blur for her. One moment she was counter-rushing her opponent. The next, everything hurt.

Urgh… well that didn’t go to plan. Go to plan it didn’t… Ruby groggily thought as she heard Petrie fly near her.

“Split point! Uh… you two need help?”

Ruby tried to comprehend what her friend was saying for a moment before recognition reached her consciousness. “Uh… I should be fine; is Violet alright?” With that she slowly rose to her feet, only feeling a bit shaken up by the experience.

Rising to her feet, Ruby could see that Violet was quite slow to get up from the impact. Not only that, but she could also see a noticeable glaze to her eyes. It was obvious that Violet was more than a bit confused at this point.

“That… was a good hit, Violet!” Ruby spoke as she saw Violet look at her with dawning recollection, “We both got points on that one… are you alright?”

Violet didn’t answer; she was trying and failing to avoid panic. Pain she could handle. What she couldn’t handle was managing to injure Littlefoot’s mate. She was pretty sure he was already mad after the incident with Leap. This would probably make it much worse.

Ruby stopped upon smelling the obvious agitation radiating from the other fastbiter. Sighing slightly she realized that she had to de-escalate the situation. It was obvious that if she was not agitated about her own injuries then she must be…

“I’m fine, Violet.” She then lowered her voice to a barely-audible whisper. “There is no need to be afraid. We still have a few more rounds to go if you are up to it.”

Violet stole a quick glance at Ruby’s mate. She couldn’t smell him, and his expression was undecipherable. “Seeker’s not mad, is he? He almost killed me last time I messed up,” she whispered, her voice shaky. She might have been responsible for that situation in the first place, but the pack leader’s reaction had scared her far worse than anything Prowler had done.

Ruby took a deep breath. She could only assume what Violet ‘screwing up’ entailed as Violet had been part of whatever conversation Thud’s pack and the two females from Seeker’s pack had separately from the others. She could only assume that whatever it had been involved Leap in some way.

“He isn’t angry now,” she responded carefully, “If he was then we would all know it. Unless you try to betray us then you have nothing to fear from us.” She hoped that this resolved the issue as she could only assume that the others would intervene sooner or later. If they continued speaking then it would be obvious that this was not the usual banter during a match.

“You sure?” Violet looked like she was ready to bolt, assuming she could. Her entire body had protested her attempt to stand up. Not good. Ouch.

Ruby noted her discomfort. “Positive.” She tilted her head, “Are you alright to go on? You could walk a few laps if you want to loosen up your muscles. It was a pretty hard hit.”

Violet thought over what she wanted to do. She really didn’t feel alright but was too stubborn to quit without anyone else intervening. “Just give me a moment,” she said, forcing herself upright. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ugh. This is going to really hurt in the morning. Violet walked around a bit to loosen up. “Okay I think I’m ready.”

Ruby smiled. “Excellent!” She then gave a nod to Chomper and Petrie who retook their positions. “Let us get started…”


“Point to Ponder! Ponder wins the match!”

Littlefoot watched the proceedings with some interest as Violet walked off of the fighting area with a slight limp. It was obvious that she had taken a bit more of a pounding than she was willing to let others know about.

“She is quite an enigma, isn’t she?” Littlefoot muttered, “She looked like she was going to bolt there for a moment, but then she kept on fighting without a hint of fear.”

Thud was silent for a moment, as if he were thinking about the situation. “Well… the person she was afraid of was not in that circle with her.”

Littlefoot’s expression darkened upon that realization. He briefly considered the obvious implications of Thud’s suggestion. “I didn’t scare her that much, did I?”

Thud shrugged. “You obviously made an impression.”

Neither fastbiter spoke again as the two remaining contestants of the first round entered into the fighting circle. Spike and Cera both looked ready to tear one another apart as they took on their respective fighting stances, with Finder observing her coldly and Cera jumping back and forth as if she could pounce in any direction. It was obvious that this would be a hellacious battle.


The present:

'Trying to go after my daughter!? I will show you fear, you brute!'

The fear within his daughter's eyes were obvious and heartbreaking. He had assumed that he was far enough away that a chase would be all that was needed here.

But he had miscalculated.

In his mind Arial must have gone searching for something in order to get so far away from the stream. Perhaps she had seen the male and decided to attempt a counter-attack of her own? If so then she did not realize that she was the target.

He snapped his beak shut as he glared at his quarry. It was time to put his spear into use.

Detras could feel the percussion of each step as he walked through the soft grass and the warm ground. Despite the tranquil trappings of the world around him, his head was heavy with the emotions of the moment. The last time he had traveled beside Nahoda it had been less than civil.

In fact it had almost been deadly.

He turned his head towards the young male. The younger fastrunner attempted to keep his gaze forward as the elder male turned his harsh glare towards him. His purple feathers glistened in the sunlight, though his feathered head was ducked in fear.

Well, at least he isn’t completely stupid.

“Where are you from, Nahoda?”

The younger fastrunner nearly jumped into the air as Detras spoke. There was no anger in his voice, but it was authoritative nonetheless.

“I-I... Nowhere, sir,” the young male stammered.

Detras rolled his eyes, “Nowhere? It seems like you came from nowhere, but we all know you came from somewhere.”

Nahoda swallowed. “I mean nowhere important, sir. As soon as I left the nest I tried to go anywhere I could survive….” He looked away. “...easier said than done.”

Detras moved in front of the male, as if to block his path. His eyes were like fire, but his words were calm. “The Mysterious Beyond is a harsh place, Nahoda. Though one wonders how you will protect a female if you can barely protect yourself.”

Nahoda sputtered, “Sir…”

Detras shook his head. “We will gather scaly swimmers. Then we can talk.” His voice invited no disagreement as he sat beside the stream, not even looking at the other male as he began to search for the elusive scaly swimmers. Hopefully they will be easier to catch than Nahoda was!

Detras could feel his arm ache with anticipation as he prepared to draw it back. As soon as Nahoda made a mistake he would make his move.


Detras’s eyes went wide as Nahoda stumbled on the slick rocks. Now!

The spear left his hand without a moment’s hesitation.


The past:

“Finder is really good, he is, he is. My brother can be brutal when he fights.”

Ducky’s voice barely rose above the commotion of the fighting as the three dinosaurs watched the fight with varying levels of apprehension.

“I’ve noticed,” Dodger commented with a grimace, remembering his own fight against Spike, “Tracker really noticed.” He was honestly surprised that Tracker’s only injury had been to her leg, regardless of how bad that injury was.

“I wonder how they are doing over there,” Leap noted with a soft voice, “Violet took quite a few good hits.”

“She is a tough one," Ruby acknowledged, “I could tell that she was a bit sore when she got the split point, but she refused to give up.” She omitted the need to calm Violet’s concerns about Littlefoot. She didn’t want to ruin Violet’s reputation, or make things odd between Littlefoot and Dodger.

“She doesn’t know how to give up,” Dodger said, “Do you remember what I said about that incident with the spiketails?” He hoped Ruby remembered since he really didn’t want to explain it again.

“I do,” Ruby noted, “It is fortunate that she is stubborn, but she has also learned to be… um… more than a little cautious when she is not being stubborn.”

“She kept trying to walk despite the fact that just touching her leg nearly made her scream. She only stayed still when Prowler couldn’t see.” Dodger sighed and moved so he was next to Ruby. “Ponder, what happened out there?” he asked in a low tone.

Ruby held her breath for a moment as she debated the best way to explain the situation without lying. “She was concerned that she had hurt me, and that that would upset Seeker.” She intentionally left out why she suspected Violet would be afraid of Seeker. “I had to explain to her that she had not upset my mate, so she had nothing to worry about.” Seeker… you and I are going to have a chat about this tonight!

“I’m going to gut Prowler next time I see him,” Dodger muttered in a tone so low Ruby could barely make out the words. He took a calming breath. “Did she seem alright after that?” Dodger asked in a more normal but extremely concerned tone, “You were closer than I was.”

Ruby nodded. “She seemed alright after that. It was just a play fight, and injuries happen. It wasn’t like she was challenging me for rank or something.”

“She wouldn’t dare,” Dodger said. Oops. Did not mean to say that out loud. “Disregard that.”

Ruby remained silent but considered Dodger’s words momentarily. Hmmm… seems like there must be a bit of history there… something else to talk to Seeker about.

Neither one of them had much time to think, however, before Leap spoke out, “Wow!”

“Point for Stern Claw!”

Darn. I missed it. I love the irony, though. Dodger held his tongue when a rather jeering comment sprang to mind. Having Spike on his back after he had similarly slammed Tracker down hard enough to stun her was too good to at least mentally comment on.

“A throw!” Ducky exclaimed, “Stern Claw used Finder’s momentum against him!”

Ruby grimaced. “He is going to be sore after that…”

“Can’t help but think he deserved that. Just sorry I didn’t get to do it,” Dodger muttered, hardly realizing he was speaking aloud.

All banter stopped for several moments as the others considered Dodger’s statement. Ruby had an expression of surprise, whereas Ducky had more than a bit of anger in her features.

“My pack put aside our old misgivings when we accepted you here with us,” Ducky spoke in a low, yet not openly threatening, growl, “Do you yet still harbor anger at us?” The odd formality of her speech was not lost on Dodger. He had deeply offended one of the most kind-hearted of the pack. This was an open questioning of his intentions.

“Haven, I saw my best friend slammed to the ground hard enough I thought her spine might have broken. I didn’t realize she was okay until after I drove Finder back. Is wishing for a friendlier rematch a step too far? I seem to remember you getting far angrier when your brother was barely injured at all,” Dodger said defensively.

Ducky glared. “When we agreed to help you all get back on your feet, I let go of my anger. Hard as it was, I let it all go. But yet you still enjoy watching one of your allies in pain?” Ducky began to calm down, but she was still agitated to the point of losing her vocal tick. This change in demeanor was obvious to all present. “A sparring match is not a place to settle old scores, Dodger. If you still have one with any of us then you should declare it openly.” She then sat back down and observed the fight that had already resumed with great ferocity. She found that its pace matched her mood at that moment. If he thinks that way about Finder, then what does he think about me? The memory of her throwing the spear into Tracker’s leg played in her mind.

Dodger forcibly kept himself from speaking further. If anyone, especially Ducky, breathed a word of this to Tracker he’d never hear the end of it. Worse she’d be right. I need to calm down. This is getting me nowhere.

I’m so dead… Leap thought to himself, If he thinks that way about Finder then what does he think about me?

“Point for Stern Claw!”

Ruby was barely paying attention to the fight at this point, despite the fact that Cera was making a surprisingly good showing against her rival. Ruby was now too burdened with the knowledge that some wounds from the recent past had not yet healed. Even though Violet and Tracker seemed to be adapting well, it seemed that Dodger still held a grudge against the indignities of the past. I wonder how much of this is him never really being educated in the ways of our kind, she mused, the irony of her not originally being of her kind not being lost on her, When a fight is over the loser submits, and the winner is victorious. A pack cannot stand if everyone holds grudges; if everyone holds grudges then the pack falls.

Ruby sighed deeply. This would be yet another conversation that she would have to have with her mate.


“Well, sacred spiketail dung! It looks like Stern Claw might actually win this one!”

Thud could only agree with Littlefoot’s exclamation. It seemed that Stern Claw’s expert use of the throw earlier in the match had made Finder doubt his own strategy. As a result she quickly ran up the score on the reigning champion of the game.

“So… after this who should face who?” Thud asked his host, “We have Haven, Ponder, Stern Claw, Dodger, and Leap. That is five, but we need one more to make three matches.”

Littlefoot smirked. “I will do it.”

Thud rolled his eyes. “Trying to prove something, Seeker? You know it would look bad if you lost in the second round. Perhaps someone might try to challenge you for dominance?” he teased.

Littlefoot snorted. “If this pack decided things by strength alone, Thud, then Path would run everything and Finder would be his captain of the ankle-biters. Thankfully, this isn’t the case.”

Thud chuckled lightly. “True, but I wonder if your guests get that. Have you ever considered that they might see it as odd for the leader to enter in the earlier stage?”

Littlefoot’s interest was now perked. “I’m listening.”

Thud nodded. “Perhaps I should enter into the second round...”


“Congratulations, dear! Don’t worry; I shall keep our former champion company with my lovely commentary and companionship!”

Spike bristled at Taunt’s words, but he resolved to not give him any satisfaction as he walked by the orange fastbiter. He was still cross about his lackluster performance.

“Shut it, Taunt,” Spike merely offered as he sat down from the loser’s side, a position that he had not seen for quite a few weeks.

Taunt smiled slightly. “Easy, Finder, at least you didn’t lose to one of the guests like I did. I really need to practice more.” He said this more to calm Finder from his obvious disappointment, but some of Taunt’s displeasure with himself still remained.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Violet asked, catching a possible insult in Taunt’s words and advancing towards him before Tracker could stop her. No one insults my brother. Tracker didn’t bother to correct her; she’d been having similar thoughts.

“What he means,” Spike began with more than a little annoyance in his voice, “is that we have been practicing all of the time for years, but yet your brother still managed to beat Taunt. With our vines and safeguards we should have more experience than nearly any other fastbiter in the Mysterious Beyond, but yet he still found a way to be victorious.”

“What happens when you make a mistake?” Tracker asked calmly before Violet said something she’d quickly regret.

Taunt was momentarily taken aback by her question. “What do you mean?”

“What happens when you make a mistake and your opponent gets a hit in?”

“In this kind of game, they get a point. In real life, if you are lucky, you get a scar. If not, then you meet your ancestors,” Taunt muttered glumly.

“Dodger has been fighting to kill since he was a kid. You tend to get pretty good at fighting when losing a fight means you die.” Tracker said before guiding Violet back to where they were sitting.

“Well, Violet,” Taunt muttered, “Don’t feel too bad about earlier. As I have just demonstrated, we are all capable of saying stupid things from time to time.”

“You are especially adept at it,” Spike noted with a smirk as Taunt gave him an obscene claw gesture. This merely caused Spike to erupt into laughter.

Seeing Taunt’s gesture Tracker reflexively blocked Violet’s view. Bad gesture or not, I’d rather she not learn ways to insult silently.

Taunt snorted. No wonder why Violet is so innocent: they try to shield her from everything… though as he thought about it, he dropped the idea that he had, ...probably a good idea in her case, though I am tempted to show her everything that I know.

Tracker, apparently able to read his mind, shot Taunt a warning look.

Taunt merely responded with a grin, but then he quickly gave her a slight nod. It was a clear sign that Violet would not learn of his vast wealth of insults, but that Tracker would now be the recipient of his wares. Beside him, Finder merely grunted in amusement.


“Alright, winners! We have decided on the matches for the second round!”

Dodger gave Littlefoot his undivided attention. He’d been mulling over a way to apologize to Ducky, but he had yet to figure that out. Now he had no time. I wonder who I’m up against.

“Ponder, my dear?” Littlefoot smiled at her as he lowered his voice to a conversational level, “You get to face the new entrant into the game.”

Ruby blinked. “Who is that?”

Littlefoot smiled. “Why, that would be Thud. Aren’t you excited?”

Ruby glared at him and placed her hands on her sides, “You, dear, will get to have another sparring match tonight.”

Littlefoot smiled a bit at her playful threat, but yet he still feared that she would let him have quite an earful that night, “We did choose these at random… uh hum… anyway on to the other matches… Leap?”

Leap looked at Littlefoot with wide eyes.

“Leap you are to face Stern Claw, which means that Haven gets to face Dodger. Good luck to you all.”

Leap felt relieved, despite the obvious pounding that he would get from facing Cera, but at least he wouldn’t have to face the dinosaur who probably wished for him to be murdered. That relief suddenly vanished, however, when he turned his attention to Ducky and Dodger.

The two fastbiters were staring each other down. Ironically it had been Ducky that started it.

What? You think I’m going to back down just because my sister and my mate are your friends? Dodger thought, On second thought, that’s not entirely ridiculous… I still have a reputation to uphold, though.

Ducky continued to glare at the pack leader. Despite her usual kind-hearted nature, Dodger had crossed a line with her that profoundly upset her. He had taken enjoyment out of her brother’s pain, and she took that personally. She resolved that this fight would be done without any kindness on her part. The only thing that would keep her from ripping out his throat would be the protective vines. Without even thinking about it, she began to raise her left leg. She was about to subconsciously make a gesture that would escalate this much further.

“Seeker, sir!”

Dodger broke out of what was quickly becoming a challenge at hearing Leap’s voice. He moved closer to investigate while keeping an eye on Ducky. All thoughts of apologizing were gone. He could do that when he’d beaten her in front of the whole pack.

Littlefoot looked taken aback by the events going on in front of him. Ducky and Dodger seemed to be on the verge of some kind of grudge battle, whereas Leap had suddenly spoken out. He resisted the urge to ask what in the hell was going on, and faced Leap.

“I request to face Dodger, sir.”

You’ve got to be joking, Dodger thought, What are you thinking, Leap? You do realize I still don’t like you very much, right?

Ducky was even more direct. “What!? He is mine, Leap!”

Littlefoot narrowed his eyes at this display. “If someone doesn’t tell me what is going on right now, then all of you will have to face me.”

The silence stretched on for several moments, but no one said anything. It was a truly stifling atmosphere. Gone was the harmony and good-naturedness that had existed moments before.

Littlefoot looked at his mate, but she too remained silent. It was improper to get involved in another person’s challenge.

“Very well then. Haven and Dodger, I order both of you to tell me what is going on here. If there is conflict then I need to know what it is about.”

Can’t you just let us beat each other to death and get it over with? Dodger wondered. This was worse than being called to account for his siblings’ actions by his father. He was being called to account for his own. He’d let his pack and himself down. “We had a bit of a disagreement over a comment I made, sir.” Understatement of my life.

“That is right,” Ducky agreed, still in an agitated state, “We had a disagreement.”

Littlefoot merely looked at her. “Enough of a disagreement for you to drop the nopes and yeps, and to get halfway to making one of Taunt’s gestures? That is more than a mere disagreement, Haven.”

Ducky remained silent as she averted her eyes. It was obvious that this was a more profound rift than she was willing to admit.

Littlefoot sighed deeply, as Thud watched from some distance behind. Very carefully, Littlefoot raised his right arm and lowered it twice, before swiftly making a striking motion with his left claw, which was cut short. Two possible challengers in a battle, not a game. All of the banter across the pack stopped immediately.

“If either of you want to fight this out then I will give you the chance. All you have to do is take off your vines and face one another in the fighting circle over there,” Littlefoot pointed as he continued to speak in a cold monotone, “But keep in mind that I will personally see to it that whoever wins in injured a hundred times more severely than the loser by the time I am done with them. So… any takers?”

Dodger made a point to see that his vines were secured as tightly as possible. There was absolutely nothing for him to gain by such a fight and everything to lose. “No, sir.”

Ducky shook her head. A feeling of shame washing over her.

Littlefoot closed his eyes. “I hope that one day both of you will find it in yourselves to admit to me what actually happened here. I am disappointed in both of you.” He then opened them again as he faced Leap. “Are you sure, Leap?”

Leap gulped. “I stand by my words. My fate is my own.”

Littlefoot nodded. “Very well. Leap will face Dodger in this round, and Haven will face Stern Claw. Get ready, everyone.”

Ruby tried to get his attention by stroking her mate’s shoulder, but he walked away as if he had somewhere else to be at that moment. It was a sign of his displeasure in her, and she knew it. In the same way he had kept some truths from her, she had just then failed to give him information. Though she did so for good reasons, she suspected that his reasoning for his secrets would undoubtedly use the same justification. The entire situation made her feel empty and alone.

I’m sorry, dear.

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