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.

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.

Dun... dun... dun... I figured it was time for another cliffhanger, as one can never have too many of those. d-;

My apologies for the nearly two-week delay in getting this chapter ready. It was a matter of trying to determine how to best reconcile the current portion of the 'past story' (roleplay) thematically with the current events in the 'present-day' story. Now that this matter has been resolved Historian and I should have the next chapter ready in a little over a week. (:

DevoutRelic: Yep, the last update came relatively quick. The main delay when it comes to chapters in this story is due to the creation of the 'present scenes' and their integration with the 'past scenes' which come from the roleplay. In a manner of speaking Mender is telling us her story (through song and thought) as a new story unfolds around her. It is an interesting challenge and something new for me as an author. As for your comments about the dialogue, that is a good point and it is something that I have been keeping an eye on. This story is heavily dialogue-driven, but my co-author and I do need to be cautious to ensure that the underlying plot is not lost in that dialogue. In the chapters to come a better idea of the overall struggle in this story will come to light. As for Nahoda, let's just say that the next chapter might be rough for both 'past Nahoda' and 'present Nahoda'. Let's see what the fastrunner equivalent of the father cleaning the gun in front of the daughter's boyfriend is. XD

bryan mccloud: Yep, the rainbowfaces might be about to make a rather big mistake as far as 'cultural contamination' is concerned. And, yep, you are correct about Chomper taking on the role of assuming the 'Big Biter' jokes. I guess it is only right as he has kept calling his friends his 'ankle biters'. (-;

gordhanx: Yep, the little intros from the rainbowfaces was something that came to me as soon as the Archiver Stones came into the picture. I did like the use of quotes in the Seven Hunters, and I think their exclusion from Songs of the Hunters was a regretful omission in hindsight. The quotes are often good at setting the mood of the chapter. As for the Tracker moments, I am glad that you thought that was handled well. I must admit the inclusion of the whole rape angle into the story, though believable under the circumstances, was something that I feared Historian and I would handle wrong. For a subject that sensitive we neither wanted to downplay the horrors of the act, nor imply that the victim could not recover from the damage. I can only hope that my co-author and I did the subject with the respect and sensitivity it deserves.

Thanks for the reviews, everyone! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the latest chapter.