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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
'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.
"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.
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.
Orchid sighed. Despite his attempt to focus on the song, all of his focus was on the events of the day.
More specifically, his role in what transpired.
"Dad… I only hope that you can forgive me…"
Not at all bothered by the interruption, Mender gave Orchid a concerned look combined with a bit of hope that he'd actually explain what was bothering him.
Orchid gave no indication that he even noticed that the song had stopped, merely shaking his head and staring at the ground. The hidden runners certainly had noticed, however.
"Is he alright?" Buse hissed in Mender's direction. By his standards it was a whisper.
Cynnil sighed as she tentatively stepped in the fastrunner's direction. "I'm sure your sister is alright, Orchid. If anything it seems like she may have found..."
"I lied to my parents and nearly got my father killed. What kind of son does that?"
"I've done both to my brother, and he pretty much raised me," Mender said, "What does that say about me, Orchid?"
Orchid was silent for several moments, making the others think that he was not going to answer. But when he did answer his voice came through as a hoarse whisper.
"It all began when Arial told me what was going on…"
"Are you alright, Arial?!"
His sister didn't react immediately, which made Orchid quickly shake her. "Are you alright?!"
"He's going to kill him!"
Orchid snorted after he gave his sister a quick inspection. "Serves the bastard right! That's what he gets for… wait! Where are you going?!"
"So what happened?" Mender asked, not quite seeing a problem yet. She had, after all, earlier that day tried to eat Nahoda.
"I tried to talk sense into her, but she didn't listen. It wasn't until we ran to the top of the rock wall of the gorge that she finally tried to explain things.
"This is all my fault! I was the one who pounced on him last night… he must have took it as a…"
Orchid sputtered as Nahoda appeared in the distance, appearing like a small pebble from their height. "You made him your mate?!"
"No, you ignorant tail-chaser! I thought he was you, and I tried to tackle him!"
Orchid rubbed his cheek as his sister's words registered in his mind. Oh… Oh.
"He thinks you… no wonder he came back," Orchid muttered mutely, "But, sis, what do.."
"We can't let him be killed because of my stupid mistake!" Arial exclaimed as Detras came into view, a spear in his hand. That was when Nahoda tripped.
"Even though my sister didn't get it... I just couldn't let my dad kill the love-struck fool. I mean… Arial…"
"You were pretty sure she was interested?" Mender asked, trying to be sure she understood Orchid correctly.
The fastrunner nodded. "I couldn't know for sure… but she reacted as if something more was going on. The situation didn't exactly give me time to ask more."
"So what happened next?" Buse prompted.
Orchid sighed. "That's when it happened..."
The moment seemed to freeze into an eternity of uncertainty. There was no time to ask any more questions. The only things that he knew were that his sister had feelings of some kind for this male, even if they were only compassion, and that his father was preparing to murder what he thought was a murderous intruder. He only had time to act.
And act he did.
Shaking his sister harshly he pointed at the loose rocks on the cliff face. With any luck they could block their father's chase.
The two fastrunners quickly burst into action as they placed the entirety of their weight into the loose rock at the top of the cliff. When it finally did give way they barely had time to scramble onto the wall.
It was only when Orchid regained his footing that he saw the results of his handiwork.
Despite the fact that it was his mate up there facing his fellow packmate, Littlefoot couldn't make himself take much interest in the fight's proceedings. The guest pack leader that he had built some camaraderie with was at odds with one of his best friends for some unknown reason, and his own mate refused to say a word to him about. Worse yet, Leap of all dinosaurs had decided to take Ducky's place in the fight with Dodger. Littlefoot could only guess at what Dodger knew about Tracker's past, but he could assume what his opinion of Leap would be.
What a dark day.
In his mind he contemplated the possibilities. If Ducky and Dodger did come to blows then he would be honor bound to determine who instigated the fight. If it were Dodger then he had no doubt that he would put an immediate end to the conflict by ending the threat from Dodger once and for all, but what if it were Ducky? Could he honestly allow his friend to be ripped apart, even if she had instigated such a conflict? His directive as part of fastbiter tradition was very clear, but his emotions were not. Then there was the matter of the two females, Tracker and Violet. What would come of them if such a conflict occurred?
Dark days indeed.
He sighed deeply as he contemplated the dark thoughts that were meant for pack leaders alone. He had been able to avoid the matters of dominance and competition quite well thus far, but it seemed that the newcomers had brought these long dormant issues to the foreground. Now the only question was: how to resolve the issue before it became any more severe?
Seeing Dodger and Ducky nearly come to blows had alarmed Tracker. Having to tackle Violet to keep her out of trouble alarmed her even more. When this is over I am going to get the truth out of him if I have to enlist Path's help to beat it out of him, Tracker thought, concerned about her mate and what he might have done. She didn't think Ducky was blameless, but Ducky wasn't part of her pack. That made things different.
Taunt was silent and tense after seeing the exchange that had transpired moments ago. Even his mate seemed unsure about the situation as she had been in the process of walking towards the winners area when the altercation had occurred. Now all he was left with was a growing concern in his belly. Please don't let whatever the fuck this is go any further.
"Taunt, a little help," Tracker pleaded, still struggling to control Violet.
Both Taunt and Finder broke out of their respective trances as they went over and leaned against Violet, holding her in place. It was Finder that spoke first, "Easy, girl… going over there is not going to help things right now."
"What do we do, then?" Violet asked in a defeated tone. She had finally exhausted herself to the point she wasn't sure she could stand up even if they let her.
"Nothing. Nothing at the moment," Taunt replied sadly, "It looks like Seeker put a stop to whatever it was for now, but eventually they will have to work it out. And perhaps people will have to talk some sense into them."
"I'll talk some sense into him, alright," Tracker said in a tone that suggested doom for anyone that tried to stop her. Dodger, you know better than anyone what happens when those I care about are in trouble…
Being mindful of Tracker's tone, Taunt waited a few moments before speaking again. "Violet, if we let you go now will you calm down?"
"I'm not even sure I can stand," Violet admitted, too shaky on the inside to care about whether or not she looked weak, "I'm tired." Tired of everything. Why can't things just work out for once?
You and me both, Violet, you and me both. Taunt then let go of Violet and allowed her to lay down beside Tracker. Meanwhile, the fight between Ruby and Thud continued on unabated, though no one was paying much attention.
"The match goes to Thud!"
Dodger barely heard the announcement. He'd been almost numb since Littlefoot said he was disappointed in him. Never mind that he was not the only target, those words had felt worse than getting a head-butt from a two-footer. And I should know, now that I've experienced both. How do I fix this? Can I fix this?
"I guess it is our turn now," Leap muttered in a barely audible voice. He was not looking forward to this at all and completely expected that the vitriol that Dodger had for Ducky at the moment would be visited upon him. And that was assuming that Dodger still didn't know the full details of what happened back in Calin's pack. His only relief was the fact that he was protected by vines and having his opponent's claws covered in hard mud. But it was barely any relief at all.
"Hey, Leap," Dodger said suddenly. I can do this. For Tracker. Prove to her that I can control myself. That I can let things go. If she wants to forgive Leap, what right do I have to hold a grudge on her behalf?
Cera and Ducky were now watching the interaction with extreme interest. Despite Ducky's anger at Dodger, her concern for Leap was overwhelming. She had no idea how this was going to develop.
Dodger practically got in Leap's face so he could drop his voice low enough to try to give them a bit of privacy. "I know what you did. All of it..." he whispered, nearly hissing.
Leap grew still. He was certain he was dead at this point. Oh shit...
"I also know you and your brother helped Tracker when no one else would…" Dodger sighed, steeling himself for what he was about to say. For Tracker.
Leap forced himself to stay silent, as he was now uncertain where Dodger was going with this. For despite Tracker's act of forgiveness, he didn't really forgive himself. He always felt that he was tainted by his actions. The fact that everyone in the pack had been forced to do horrible things did not change those feelings. The only thing that radiated from him besides fear was the unmistakable scent of shame.
"For that I can only say 'thank you'. Tracker's willing to forgive you; who am I to contradict my mate in such a manner? Let's leave the past where it belongs." That last part was as much for himself as for Leap. "Good luck out there, Leap." With that Dodger stepped back and moved to his starting point.
Leap sucked in a breath, still stunned by this sudden development. He realized that this deserved a reaction from him of some kind, but he was unsure what to do and he didn't trust his voice at that moment. So he used his body instead.
With a sudden movement, Leap bowed formally and gave a polite nod. It was the best response that he could give at the moment. Though he was certain that he would certainly receive quite a beating in the battle ahead, he was relieved by his opponent's gesture. It was as if a mighty weight had been removed from his shoulders.
Time to get this over with…
With a final bow to communicate to one another that this was a game, both opponents moved into fighting stances. The match was on.
"Who thought this was a good idea?" Tracker thought aloud, not really directing her question at anyone in particular, "Someone's going to get hurt."
Taunt opened his mouth to speak but quickly closed it as he was unsure what to say. He had guessed what had occurred between her and Leap years ago, but that didn't mean that bringing that up would be a good idea. Far from it. As a result he merely looked at Swift helplessly.
Swift for her part coughed before responding. "I'm… I'm sure that my brother will be fine if Thud authorized this…"
I'm not so sure, Tracker thought in response but didn't actually say anything, Dodger, please don't do anything you'll regret. She'd seen Dodger fight plenty of times. If he wanted to, she was pretty sure he could severely injure Leap without it looking intentional. Remember what you promised me.
"This is such a stupid idea…" Thud breathed to no one in particular, not realizing that the other entrants to the second round could hear him clearly.
Cera breathed deeply but did not speak. Well… it was his idea…
Ducky was not so silent. "I should be the one out there."
Her response caused Thud and Cera both to look in her direction. Now it seemed that Cera worked up the nerve to speak.
"Heck no, Haven! You two would rip one another apart."
Ducky grimaced. "It is Leap I am mainly concerned about… Dodger had more of a reason to strike him than me." She quickly went silent, realizing that she had said too much.
"Care to elaborate?" Cera asked, both concerned and intrigued, "Dodger seemed pretty calm around Leap."
Ducky quickly looked down, ashamed. "That… that is something that Leap or Tracker can tell you about. It is not my place." She hesitated. "It… well it has to do with Calin's pack."
Thud was more blunt, but no less evasive. "Calin made all of his members do horrible things. Those memories should die with him."
It was in that moment that the battle that all of them had been fearing began suddenly in the clearing. Both of the fastbiters traded blows, which were deflected by a sideways retreat. It was obvious that they were testing one another.
The fish landed in the pile just like all of the others that two fastrunners had caught. Despite the fact that enough fish had been obtained to feed the entire family, it seemed that neither was willing to break the silence.
That was until Nahoda finally worked up the courage.
Detras dropped the fish that he had grabbed, splashing the two dinosaurs in the resulting spray of water. He had been expecting many things, but an apology wasn't exactly one of them.
"I um… Arial pounced on me so I thought she was interested, you know… If I had known she was with family I would have done things properly… I..."
Detras closed his eyes as if to contain his annoyance. "You mean you wouldn't have charged into my family's territory and pounced on my daughter?" He then pointed a finger in the other's direction. "How would a stunt like that have turned out without the rock slide, Nahoda?"
Nahoda gulped. "I would be dead, sir."
Detras turned his attention back to the stream. I was nearly the dead one.
Detras growled in frustration as the spear embedded itself into the rock wall, causing it to fall harmlessly to the ground. He wasted no time in sprinting towards the weapon while keeping an eye on his daughter's attacker. He would finish this!
But it appeared that the rock wall had another idea.
As he leapt for the spear it disappeared behind a cascading boulder. That was when the sound reached his ears. Everything became silent against the roar of the chaos around him. He had no idea that the next rock had his name on it.
Perhaps it was his mind playing tricks on him or maybe it was wishful thinking, but he could almost hear his children over the chaos.
That was when Nahoda tackled him.
"It was a smart move to take the initiative when the rock slide happened, I will give you that. Most people would have ran but you seemed quite willing to face the threat when it was down." Detras walked towards Nahoda. "It was wise to run before I got up."
Nahoda sputtered, "What?"
Detras glared at the male. "You attacked me when I was down and then you ran off, Nahoda. I am curious why you didn't try to finish the job. Or did you think better of it?"
Nahoda merely stared at Detras as if the elder had grown a second tail. His voice left him in a disbelieving tone, "Is that what you think I was doing?"
The elder snorted bitterly. "Are you arguing you weren't running away? Perhaps you were merely advancing in a different direction then?" he added mockingly, though his eyes no longer seemed as harsh. He had the chance to kill me, but he settled for knocking me off of my feet. Was that for Arial's sake?
Nahoda's bemusement quickly turned to anger. "Of course I ran! Any fastrunner with a brain would!" He then took his turn to point at the male. "The reason why I saved your life, sir, is because you were in harm's way."
Detras blinked. "What?"
Nahoda growled. "Did you not hear Arial and your son scream? Did you not see the rock fall where you were?"
Detras took a step forward, his features guarded but not hostile. It was obvious that he had heard something that confirmed the younger male's truthfulness. "Explain."
The younger male sighed. "It happened after I fell..."
Leap dodged to the left as he tried to shake off the fastbiter's latest attack. He knew that he had a slight advantage in maneuverability, but that was the only advantage that he could count on in this battle. With that in mind, he quickly jumped to the right and feigned an attack to his other side, leaving his flank open to attack, or so he hoped that Dodger would think.
Being a bit overly cautious after his fight with Taunt, Dodger pulled back rather than attack. He liked for his opponents to truly overcommit to an attack rather than still have room to adjust before he got his own attack in. This is going to be harder than I thought.
Leap simply retreated back as well. It was obvious that his opponent wasn't going to take the bait. He merely resumed his circling of the larger fastbiter, looking for an opening.
Dodger feigned a rush, seeing if he could put Leap off-balance. Hope he doesn't counter-rush. I nearly pulled Violet out of her fight after her collision with Ponder. Those are dangerous.
Ha! Just what I was looking for… Leap thought in his mind as he jumped backwards and struck out with his mud-covered claws at the now advancing face of his opponent.
Glad for the extra room Leap had unintentionally given him, Dodger forced himself to stop and turned his slide into an intentional spin, trying to get a tail strike in or at least keep Leap literally off his back.
"Point for Dodger!"
Shit… Leap thought to himself as the ground that had moments before been under him, suddenly seemed to have allowed his face to take residence. It took him a few moments to realize what had happened. Tail strike...
Dodger did his best not to look shocked. He hadn't expected to actually connect with his target. He'd expected Leap to retreat and thus buy himself enough time to turn back around. That worked? Best if I don't tell Leap that wasn't entirely intentional.
"Urgh…" Leap muttered as he forced himself to his feet, "Got a bit too cocky there…"
Dodger just shrugged. He couldn't think of anything to say that someone wouldn't think was mockery. I don't need everyone even angrier at me than they already are.
Not being aware of Dodger's mental dialogue, Leap simply shook himself off and positioned himself in a battle stance again. "Ready?"
"Ready." Dodger settled himself into a defensive stance. He wanted to see how Leap attacked at bit more before starting a round with an attack of his own.
"That… wasn't so bad," Cera admitted out loud as she watched the two begin to circle once more. This was almost as friendly of a match as the prior one with Taunt. However, the conversation between the others moments ago still ran in her mind. Seeker will tell me what is going on.
Ducky remained silent as she watched the battle with substantial interest. She had an agitated expression and only the smell of nervousness radiated from them.
"I am pleased," Thud noted as he continued to watch the interactions between the two opponents. After all, observation led to knowledge, and knowledge could lead to victory. It was with that in mind that he carefully noted the reactions of his packmate and the enigma that was Dodger.
Returning to his starting point after a surprisingly easy score, Dodger felt it was time to actually launch an attack. I've got to be careful about this. Not surprisingly, everyone seems to think I'm one hit away from ripping him into tiny pieces. With that in mind, he rushed Leap with the simple intent of breaking through any blocks and getting a good kick in. That was the easiest way to avoid looking like he was intending serious injury; it was also a good way to leave oneself exposed to a counterattack.
A mistake, Thud noted immediately, Come on Leap, I know that you can take advantage of this.
Seeing the opportunity immediately, Leap leaped backwards to avoid the massive clawed feet, and quickly allowed himself to land hard on the slippery grass. He promptly used the momentum from his landing to propel himself into the air as he launched a kick at Dodger's head.
Oh, this is going to hurt! Thud barely had time to think before reality ensued in front of his eyes.
Should've seen that coming, Dodger thought. Though his head was aching he was glad what were for him instinctual responses. Dodger had let himself drop with the blow and rolled, allowing himself to be back on his feet in a few moments, a very useful skill in a real fight. Dodger instinctively moved into a defensive stance, still trying to get over the dizziness from moving so quickly.
He has seen his share of battle. That is something that I would expect of my packmates, but not from some youngster, Leap noted, I will have to ask Seeker about this.
"Damn, Leap landed a hard one there!" Cera remarked with a somewhat pleased expression, "I think Dodger will take this battle though. Did you see how he handled that?"
Ducky nodded but said nothing. It was obvious that Dodger was a sore subject for her at the moment.
"So… either of you two looking forward to facing me in the next round?"
Cera snorted knowing full well that she had only beaten Thud twice in her battles with the elder fastbiter, whereas Ducky had yet to score a victory against him. "Not wanting to face him yourself?"
Thud did not immediately respond as the sound of Chomper announcing another point for Dodger could be heard in the distance. "I have a feeling that someone else wants to have a piece of Dodger."
Nahoda tried his best to keep his gaze on the larger male as he stared at Nahoda with piercing eyes. It was a gaze that felt threatening, yet not hostile. An odd contradiction. Nonetheless he would not let himself show further weakness to this male.
If he couldn't stare her father in his face then how could he protect Arial?
"It all began when I fell..."
Time appeared to stand still for Nahoda. One moment he was sprinting up the gorge, and the next his foot seemed to step on nothing but air. That was when his other foot landed on something wet.
The rest was inevitable.
In a moment that dragged for an eternity the beautiful blue sky disappeared from his view and the brown rocks came into fine focus. As soon as his beak collided with the solid ground he knew that his short life was over. He would be killed by the father of his desired female. An ignominious end to a life that had barely begun.
That was when the spear crashed off of the rocks in front of him.
'I still have a chance!' Nahoda forced himself off of his unwanted perch, ignoring the burning pain from his battered legs. He could worry about those after he had scrambled to safety...
...and escape from the angry father. As Detras's footsteps echoed across the rocks Nahoda realized he only had moments to spare before he was tackled. His headlong advance continued just in time as the scenery began to move once more.
"I wasn't thinking. I was just trying to get away... you can be rather scary, sir," Nahoda admitted.
Detras said nothing in response but retained his imposing stare. Seeing that Detras's scariness remained, Nahoda was quick to continue.
"I jumped over the giant jagged boulders in the gorge to get away... but you jumped too. Then I tried to lose you in that one cave..."
Detras finally spoke, "Everyone knows about the cave, Nahoda. Even the smaller leaf-eaters use it to get to the valley. I took the shortcut and blocked you."
Nahoda nodded. "That was when I heard Arial's brother."
Nahoda screeched to a halt as Detras suddenly appeared in front of him. His attempt to escape through the cave had been foiled. 'Where did he come from?!'
The third voice was a new one and despite his potentially lethal situation, Nahoda couldn't help but take notice. That was when he heard another sound entirely.
The sound of cracking rocks.
The young male forced himself to look up. The large boulder that had previously been balanced on the gorge's desolate cliff had taken flight like a wingless flyer. Its shadow appeared between the two combatants as the determined faces of another male and his beautiful Arial appeared in the rock's absence.
That was when their determined faces turned to terror.
Orchid barely had time to process the situation as the shadow began to shift towards the elder fastrunner's advancing form. He had no idea the danger that awaited him. Only Nahoda could see the death that awaited... only Nahoda could barely hear the terror of his children over the wind... only Nahoda could attempt to make the situation right. Even in the weeks that transpired since Nahoda could not place his exact reasons for what happened next, but whether it was for his love of Arial or his desire to not see another fastrunner be forced to lose a parent, he acted.
Nahoda charged the elder which earned him a momentary look of surprise until Nahoda's body collided into his chest. As soon as they tumbled to the ground the boulder landed.
The elder groaned for a moment as Nahoda struggled to catch his breath. It was only then that he looked at his handiwork. The elder male was struggling to rise to his feet as a small trickle of blood dripped from his chest where the young male had struck. However he was alive. Arial would still have a father.
Nahoda sprinted away for a final time. This time he was unopposed.
"So that's what happened." Nahoda finally looked down, giving and exhausted sigh. "I couldn't let Arial be without a father. Especially because of this horrible misunderstanding."
The elder male simply tilted his head at the younger fastrunner, and for a moment Nahoda briefly considered continuing. That was when Detras finally spoke again.
"I want to believe you, Nahoda, I really do. But part of me does not."
Nahoda's heart sank. But I'm telling the truth! First my father and now Arial's, why won't they listen?
"Your father kicked you out of the nest, didn't he?"
The younger male blinked, not understanding this sudden change in subject. He quickly nodded. "He didn't even warn me. I was getting fish one day to help my mom... and then he chased me out."
Detras nodded at this as he took a bite of one of the fish that they had caught. "My father was the same way. I knew how to find food and run away, so when my mother had new eggs it was time for me to go." He gestured in the distance. "It was hard for me. Very hard. But it inspired me to do things differently for my children. To make sure they were ready before facing the world." His voice almost made Nahoda feel at ease.
That was until Detras sprung forward and whispered in the younger male's ear, "If what you are saying is true then my son and daughter nearly killed me in trying to save you." A breath escaped the older male as he continued, "Do you swear what you say is true?"
Nahoda closed his eyes. "Yes, sir. But, sir, Arial and your son. I am sure that..."
"Do you swear with your life?"
Nahoda's beak clicked shut. The threat was obvious, but he would not back down. He knew that his words were the truth.
Detras looked at his grimly. "Then forgive me for what I am about to do, Nahoda, but I need to make absolutely sure. For your sake... and for the sake of my family."
Nahoda blinked. "Sir?"
But Detras did not respond. Instead he looked towards where Mender was just concluding her song. He could almost make out the form of his son in the background. That was when the elder male shouted something that made Nahoda's blood run cold.
"Mender! I need you for a moment..."
"Are you ready for this, Seeker?"
Littlefoot did not speak immediately as he tightened up his vine armor around his neck. Failing to do it successfully, however, Ruby quickly began to tie the vines appropriately. He didn't bother insisting otherwise when she began to put vines on his hips as well. He knew that arguing against his mate would be useless when the matter of his personal security was in play.
"Of course I am ready," Littlefoot spoke with more than a little bravado, but he quickly felt a pang of shame when he realized that his mate's normally supportive words were missing in this moment. Obviously the secrets that both of them had deemed to keep from the other had caused a bit of a domestic dispute. "Thanks for helping me, dear."
Ruby looked up for a moment and gave a slight smile before quickly resuming her work.
Still pissed, Littlefoot noted, Lovely…
"Very well," Thud spoke despite clearly seeing the tension in front of him, "But you do realize that this is more than a little spar, right? I mean, he threatened one of your packmates, and you both have something to prove."
"I said that I am ready," Littlefoot barked, before relenting upon realizing his harshness, "What happens now has to happen, and both of you know it. I can't back down from something that I accepted earlier. Regardless of how unwise it may have been."
Ruby coughed slightly as if to remind him that her opinion of the stupidity of him facing another pack leader in a spar was brought to his attention earlier by her. Nonetheless she offered no disputing of his assessment of the situation. He would have to give the next fight his all regardless of the consequences. It was one thing for a pack leader to lose a spar to a packmate in a friendly spar, but it would be another for a pack leader to lose a spar to another fastbiter after disciplining the fastbiter in question. The unfortunate situation had been set in motion, and now it simply had to play itself out. It was now Cera versus Thud and Littlefoot versus Dodger in the second-to-last round. Littlefoot knew that he had to put up a strong show for the sake of his honor and the honor of his packmates.
Nothing else would do.
"This could get really ugly…" Taunt muttered in a low voice to Breeze as Spike looked on with an unreadable expression, "Seeker won't want to be easy on this one."
Breeze shifted on her sore leg partially out of the continued pain that radiated from it due to her recent hunting injury, but also out of nervousness for what lay ahead, "What in the name of sanity happened between Haven and him anyway? He is lucky that Seeker didn't escalate things further."
Spike spoke lowly, as if to avoid being heard by Dodger in the distance, or his fellow packmates, "She won't say, but whatever it was really pissed my sister off. She hasn't moved from her spot over there even though we are in the final rounds… I don't think she trusts herself around his pack…"
None of them realized that the wind was carrying the sound of their conversation straight to Dodger's perceptive ears.
Well this can't possibly get worse. Well, technically it can, but somebody would end up dead at that point. I don't plan on it being me. Dodger sighed. He really didn't want to fight Littlefoot. He didn't even want this mess of a conflict with Ducky. What I want is irrelevant. It doesn't change anything. He checked his vines' tightness one more time. If Finder thinks this is going to be one-sided, though, he better watch closely. I've been through far worse than this. Dodger shuddered at the memory of his fight with Prowler the previous Cold Time. He wasn't entirely certain that fight hadn't ended simply because neither combatant could stand up on their own anymore. There's no possible way this can get that bad. Not without Seeker breaking his own rules.
"You ready for this?" Tracker asked. She'd been trying to help with Dodger's vines, but, being unfamiliar with them, she wasn't as much help as she wished she was.
"Since when did being ready matter? It's not a fight I can walk away from."
"Dodger, what happened over there with Haven?" Tracker asked, wincing right after speaking. That was not the best thing I could've asked.
"I said I was glad that Finder got a bit hurt in his fight after what happened to you when we fought him," Dodger said, feeling somewhat ashamed. I definitely shouldn't have said that out loud.
"Thanks for sticking up for me, but you can't get into a fight over stuff like that. It sets a bad example for Violet," Tracker replied. She really didn't feel right correcting her mate and pack leader, largely because she wasn't sure she wouldn't have done the same in a similar situation, though most likely a situation involving Violet. Tracker had yet to see a fight where Dodger hadn't done far better than both of his packmates. "Be careful out there, alright?"
Violet, who had been standing a bit of a ways away and not really paying attention for most of the conversation, being too focused on trying to figure out what everyone else was thinking, cut in before Dodger entered the fighting area.
"This isn't fair. You've been through two fights already, and Seeker's had a chance to watch both of them. He's already bigger than you. Is he trying to humiliate you?" Violet was rapidly approaching hysterical. Nothing was making sense, and that frightened her.
Dodger gave his sister a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. "If he thinks he's going to humiliate me, he's got another thing coming, little sister." With that, Dodger turned and entered the fighting area. I'm probably going to need a new skull after this, though.
Littlefoot fixed his stare upon Dodger as he took in the sights and smells of the moment. It pained him to act so coldly to his counterpart, but he knew what honor demanded of him in that moment. He had been given preferential treatment in the fight by starting late in the same manner that Thud had, as pack leaders started from a position of advantage to show that their underlings fighting them were doing so as a competition, and not as a formal challenge. However, this made the current situation all the more difficult for him. It meant that if he were beaten here then Dodger would not have only caused a dispute with one of his packmates, but he also would have humiliated him in front of his pack as well. This would be an unacceptable outcome for him. In fact, he thought glumly, he might as well give the leadership to Cera or Chomper at that point. If he couldn't defend the honor of his packmates then he owed it to them to let someone at the helm who could do the job. It was with this in mind that he acted next.
"Still remaining silent?" he asked in a blunt fashion. It was an obvious reference to his unwillingness to speak earlier when he asked what the dispute was between himself and Ducky.
"I don't remember you asking the same of Haven, sir," Dodger said as calmly as he could. It was pretty close to being completely disrespectful, regardless of his tone, but he wasn't about to just tell his part of the tale while Ducky escaped with her dignity intact.
"That is a matter for myself and my packmates to attend to," Littlefoot responded cooly. His facial expression now had a tenseness to it that appeared almost feral. It was obvious that Littlefoot was fighting back his emotions at the moment. Though he was angry at Dodger, most of his anger was directed at the entire situation. But he couldn't attack a situation. He could attack the fastbiter that stood before him. "Any last words before we do this?"
Dodger bit back a very long series of insults that weren't so much directed at Littlefoot as they would have been an expression of just how little faith he had in the other pack leader's ability to deal with Ducky even if she had been directly involved in an attack and he'd done nothing but defend himself. Violet also doesn't need to hear any of that. Instead, Dodger just shook his head. He wasn't entirely sure he could control his tongue once he started talking at this point.
Littlefoot merely nodded slightly as he shifted into a fighting stance. "So be it."
Littlefoot considered his opponent with some concern. It wasn't that Dodger was particularly strong or fast, but it was the, for the lack of a better term, "leader-ness" of his opponent that had him disturbed. It was a trait that he had seen in himself, in Thud, and, to a lesser extent, in Ruby and Cera. The ability to read their opponents and exploit their traits. It was something that he would have to be mindful of.
Come on… attack me you arrogant bastard!
Dodger held his position for a moment longer. Apparently deciding that waiting further was pointless he rushed in completely appearing to make an attack on Littlefoot's right but truly intending on jumping to the fastbiter's then exposed left at the last moment.
Acting purely on instinct, Littlefoot shifted into the attack deciding to meet Dodger's claws with his own outstretched feet. It was an incredibly aggressive strategy that nearly ended in disaster as Dodger's head barely missed ramming into Littlefoot's exposed stomach, instead hitting his hip and causing the elder fastbiter to roll back on his feet. In response, Littlefoot resumed his circling, internally cursing his missed opportunity.
Damn it! The last thing I need to do is to show him my strategy without even getting a fucking point!
Dodger feigned a rush and quickly pulled back. He immediately followed this up with the real thing, intending to continue normally as last time, but this time he intended to drop and try to knock the other pack leader off his feet with his tail. For this to work perfectly, he would need to roll completely back on his feet quickly regardless of the attack's effectiveness and exploit any opportunities created.
You have to be shitting me… Littlefoot thought in a hurried frenzy as the other fastbiter began to rush towards him again. In that moment he knew that he had to decide on the best course of action, preferably one that would not provide his opponent momentum to use against him. That was when he saw the fastbiter ever so slightly look down.
Nearly turned sideways as he prepared to drop Dodger jumped away and let what could have been a messy landing turn himself back towards Littlefoot. As soon as he was turned back around he leapt at his opponent.
Damn this all! Littlefoot now decided to use the ground strategy and kick upwards towards his quickly falling opponent. Even if it resulted in a point from the opposition, he wanted to make him pay for it.
Littlefoot slowly regained full awareness as he rolled upon the hard ground. He felt his feet collide with Dodger's stomach and also felt the tell-tale sensation of another head colliding with his 's voice confirmed the situation a few moments later.
"Split point. One to one." His lack of enthusiasm was now obvious compared to the previous fights. Chomper realized that this was now more of a duel than a friendly spar.
Well… I'm not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me on my back. Littlefoot fumed as he rose shakily to his feet. The next round was about to begin.
"We have to do something!" Violet hissed as her talons dug into the hard ground. She could not bear to watch much more of this fight. She had already seen the tranquility of Seeker's pack turn cold in an instant, and now she saw a fastbiter that she had learned to both respect and fear kick her brother in the stomach. She had no idea what to do anymore. She just wanted the madness to end.
"There's nothing we can do. Do you want to embarrass Dodger by stopping the fight?" Tracker asked, frustration at the whole situation evident in her voice. Now you know what it feels like to be truly helpless, Violet. I'd rather not introduce you to anything else I've been trying to keep from hurting you, so please get a hold of yourself or I'll get someone to do it for you. Tracker took a deep calming breath. She needed it.
Violet shook despite Tracker's words. "Why is this happening?" She had a hard time believing that her brother, or Haven, for that matter, could have caused such a divisive rift to form between the packs. Now all of Littlefoot's packmates were in one area, whereas Thud's were in another. All other battles apparently having been forgotten for the time being. Her and Tracker were alone with their agitation, watching a battle whose ending they could not foresee.
"We defend those we're closest to," Tracker replied, explaining without really explaining. She really didn't want to get into this with Violet. She'd either be mad at her brother or want to take Ducky on herself if she knew the whole thing. Neither were good options.
"So then we should defend Dodger," Violet offered as a shout from Chomper confirmed that Littlefoot had gotten a point on Dodger with a tail strike to his face. A modest attack but one that still caused the agitation in her belly to grow further.
Violet's last comment finally went past Tracker's ability to remain calm and not react. "Violet," Tracker said in a surprisingly dangerous tone, grabbing her friend's head and forcing her to look her in the eye, "If you care about your brother and don't want to make him look weak, you will sit there and be silent unless directly addressed until this is over. Do you understand me?" She wasn't going to release her friend until she got an answer.
Violet quaked under the gaze of the sole source of stability that she had at the moment. To have Tracker effectively berate her and pull rank was psychologically devastating. It was all that she could do to quickly nod and close her eyes to avoid showing her distress. She had gone from intense desire to do anything to effectively shutting down. She would simply surrender to the situation and see where it led her. It wasn't like she had any choice.
"Point for Dodger. It is two to two."
"This is hard to watch. Seeker just got kicked in the fucking face."
Cera could only make a snarky reply to that, "Yes, Taunt, we know. We all have eyes too, you know?" But the usual humor was gone in her voice. She was just as concerned as the others.
"This is horrible, but I fear it could get worse," Spike noted with some urgency, "What are we to do if, well, you know…"
"It turns into an actual challenge?" Ruby offered, "It won't come to that, Finder."
"How can you be sure? It isn't like this entire situation hasn't turned into a huge mess in an instant," Breeze questioned.
"Dodger blames himself for everything. Haven't you seen how he has reacted since he has been here? He almost has been Seeker's shadow the entire time," Taunt finally burst out, "I think this is mainly about saving face for him… he won't challenge."
The others were silent for a moment as Petrie landed nearby, his eyes still fixed on the match despite obviously moving to get within earshot of his friends.
"This not good! Any idea why this happen? They act like enemies, but me know they not."
Spike sighed. "Dodger and my sister had a fight, as I am sure you noticed. No one decided to speak to him about what caused it, so now Seeker is pissed at Dodger."
Ruby looked down. "I should have told him what it was about…"
Cera glared at her. "Was it your fight?"
Ruby looked at her with surprise. "No, but…"
Cera nodded. "Then it wasn't your story to tell. You know how these things work, Ponder."
Ruby shook her head as she looked at the fight with more than a little despair. "But this is stupid and hopeless. It is hopelessly stupid. Seeker likes Dodger. I know that he doesn't want to do this."
Breeze simply looked at Taunt with a knowing expression. Before they had been packmates in Seeker's pack they had been packmates in Skytail's pack, and as such they knew how these things had to proceed.
"This simply has to run its course, Ponder. Then we will help pick up the pieces," Breeze finally spoke, "That is what friends are for."
Murmured affirmations were given as everyone continued to watch the fight before them. The only question was: in what shape would their leader be by the time the battle was done?
Never thought being close to winning would actually be problematic, Dodger thought almost distractedly as his fight with Littlefoot continued, I have no clue what that might mean outside of these fights, but I know this is my last no matter what. I've got nothing left for another one. He knew he was tiring, and his injuries were just making the situation worse. Despite being one strike from potential victory Dodger was on the defensive, trying to avoid further serious injury. Why is nothing ever simple?
Littlefoot approached the fastbiter with another series of slashed attacks with his claws. He now seemed almost possessed, as if the thought of losing was worse than death for him at this point. His eyes communicated a craze that he had only seen once before.
The time when he had fought Prowler.
He'd quickly figured out that his former friend didn't care if he killed him as long as he won the fight. Seeing the same look in Littlefoot's eyes nearly panicked Dodger and put him in complete defensive mode. If I give him an opening I won't be surprised if he tries to break something.
It did not take long for Littlefoot to try to seek out an opening once more. This time he lunged at his counterpart's neck with bared teeth while simultaneously striking at his chest with his two hind feet. It was an all-or-nothing attack. One that was surprisingly reckless and desperate from the pack leader.
Dodger let himself take the hit in the chest but made a point of hitting Littlefoot in the jaw, or at least trying to. He missed, but it gave his opponent pause. Want to try that again, Seeker? Are the rules irrelevant now? I thought we weren't supposed to used teeth?
"Point for Seeker. It is now four to four." Chomper intoned with the same demeanor that one would expect from someone narrating a funeral. It seemed just as nonplussed by the attack as Dodger was.
"Surprised you fell for that." Littlefoot muttered as he rubbed his jaw.
"Whatever you say, sir." Dodger didn't believe the pack leader for a moment. He hadn't tried a single biting attack himself the entire time in any of his three fights. He had assumed that meant fake biting attacks as well.
"This will be for the game," Chomper said in a tired voice as he gestured for them to spread out, "Begin."
"This is getting dangerous now," Leap spoke with great concern, "What in the hell was that?"
Thud twisted his mouth as he considered the situation. "He is facing a new opponent and doesn't know how to respond, but yet he can't fail here and save face. In that situation you use everything at your disposal. Even if it is a dirty trick."
Swift nodded. "All is fair in battle."
Leap grunted. "If this was a battle then Dodger would already be dead."
Thud nodded. "All the more reason to ensure that it doesn't turn into a battle. If Seeker loses and they go at it, I want you to do exactly as I say…"
Both Swift and her brother looked at their pack leader oddly. It was Leap that finally answered, "Anything you say, sir. But what do you have in mind?"
Thud spit on the ground as if the idea he were about to say left a bitter taste in his mouth. "In that case Seeker would be in a bad position, and technically Dodger could make a challenge, which the others would not allow… but if I made a challenge I could give either of them pause."
Swift blinked. "You wouldn't!"
Thud nodded. "Of course I wouldn't! But it would be enough for them to focus on something other than themselves for a moment. Then cooler heads could pull them apart." He shook his head. "But hopefully it doesn't come to that. Hopefully they both walk away and get checked by a healer."
As he said this the obvious form of Ruby could be seen entering the area with a handful of healing plants. She was joined by another green fastbiter, who likewise laid the healing plants down on the ground. It was a green fastbiter who looked noticeably upset. The angry form of Cera and Ruby only confirmed the source of her angst.
Good… well at least she realizes the trouble she has caused.
Thud gestured to his two packmates. "Get behind me, pack. Let's at least stand at attention for what is about to come."
So it comes down to this…
Littlefoot gritted his teeth. He simply could not lose this fight. He would have let his packmate down, and betrayed his own reputation. He was the fastbiter that had bested Calin. He had been the fastbiter who led the pack to victory on numerous occasions. But yet here he was being one point away from defeat from an upstart. Had peace defeated him to such an extent that he could be bested by a novice? As much as he didn't want to admit it to himself, this was now as much about ego as it was about his packmate's honor.
In that moment he could not see that the 'novice' in front of him was a fellow fastbiter who had been trained by misfortune to be a fearless fighter. His arrogance and fear of shame had driven him into a place where there was no escape. Every fastbiter had its weakness, and in that moment Littlefoot had found his.
He awaited an opening from his opponent. Any opening. The only thing that mattered right now was victory, and that would not be stripped from him.
Dodger finally went on the offensive to give himself some breathing room. He really only had enough strength for one major attack, but he would need a very good opening. As it was he went at Littlefoot with a standard set of kicks and strikes, never going more than three strikes at a time before withdrawing. Getting a bit more creative he stopped attacking towards point-awarding targets and went for Littlefoot's leg, trying to unbalance him.
He's getting tired. This can be used to my advantage… Littlefoot retreated backwards while keeping his face towards his opponent. He just needed to get him into the right position…
Littlefoot smirked ever so slightly. He knew just the spot. With an almost sprinting gait, he propelled himself towards the left corner of the fighting area.
Dodger turned and followed Littlefoot with his eyes. Oh, I see what you're trying to do, Seeker. I might just turn that back on you. He advanced on Littlefoot's position, intending to back him into the tree and pummel him until he got a real hit in. Okay, so this is do or die. Well, hopefully not die… He rushed his opponent.
Littlefoot smiled. Gotcha.
As Dodger collided with his adversary, Littlefoot allowed himself to fall over onto his back and let the other fastbiter's momentum carry him Littlefoot the ground. Then, with the same basic maneuver Dodger had worked against Taunt, he firmly kicked his feet into Dodger's stomach, forcing him airborne and straight into the tree that loomed above him.
Littlefoot lay on the ground for several moments, waiting for the signal from Chomper that he had finally won the match, and kept some of his dignity intact. Instead, however, only stunned silence and a gasp reached his ears. That was when he finally allowed himself to rise and look at his handiwork. His satisfaction evaporated immediately.
Dodger lay under the tree in a prone position and his eyes closed. It was as if the fastbiter were in a deep sleep. Suddenly all thoughts of victory left his mind.
Oh Mother, what have I done?
Mender approached the two fastrunners somewhat awkwardly, not entirely sure why Detras wanted her. She didn't need to look behind her to know that Orchid was close behind. It was Arial's distant voice that spoke first, however.
"Dad, what are you doing?!"
Detras gestured towards Mender as looked towards Nahoda. It was as if he had not heard his daughter. "Mender, if it isn't too much trouble I would like to borrow your sniffer."
"Okay..." Mender replied, "What for?" You're sniffer's probably better than mine, but if you want my help...
The elder fastrunner detected her unease. "There is one thing that even the worst fastbiter sniffer is better at than a fastrunner's, and that is detecting fear…" He looked sideways at Nahoda who was now trying to appear calm, but failing miserably. "...and if someone is telling the truth. Care to be a truth-finder for a moment?"
Mender just nodded her acquiescence.
It was at that moment that Arial's sprinting body arrived on the scene. It took her brother and the hidden runners to prevent her from rushing Nahoda as Mender advanced.
"It's okay, sis!" Orchid desperately tried to calm his sister, "Mender's not going to hurt him!"
"He is checking for the truth, dear," Cynnil clarified.
"Could you please be quiet for a moment?" Mender asked the onlookers. I can't focus like this.
It was then that Mender finally took a long look at the smaller male. His eyes were wide open and fearful, but his facial expression was as calm as he could muster. It was as if he were trying to appear brave for the sake of his audience. The slight tremor in his legs and the rapid twitch of his tail gave away his inner apprehension, however.
"Hello, Mender. I hope this goes better than our first meeting," Nahoda offered with fake bravado. His words were kind, but she could tell that his attempt at humor was for the sake of the nearby female fastrunner.
"Just hold still a moment, Nahoda," Mender said, somewhat ignoring the fastrunner's words in favor of getting the task done more quickly.
"Alright." Detras walked over to Mender's side as he rubbed his hands together. "Nahoda, is it true that you had no ill intentions for my daughter?"
The fastrunner did not hesitate. "It is true. I love Arial."
"He's not lying," Mender said after a few moments. He could really use a bath, though.
"And is it true…" Detras began again, pacing, "That you thought that my daughter was interested in you because she pounced on you?"
Nahoda became defensive. "She is interested in me! She just needed to know me better."
"And how many times has she seen you to get to know you better?"
Nahoda looked embarrassed. "Um… well it stopped after the two-footers got into…"
Detras repeated himself, "How many times?"
"I don't know… twelve, maybe?"
"He's mostly telling the truth," Mender said carefully, "I'm not sure whether he's just unsure about the number or if he doesn't want to say the real one."
Nahoda relented with a sigh, "It was nearly every night until the two-footers came. She helped me to find scaly swimmers." He looked up at Arial with an apologetic expression at telling their secret.
Mender turned to Detras and nodded her confirmation.
Arial stepped forward against the protests of her mother, who had now arrived. "Dad, that is enough! We can tell you…"
"Two more questions." Detras looked at his children, ignoring Nahoda entirely. "Did my children cause the rockslide, and did you tackle me to save my life?"
Orchid looked sick. "Dad…"
This is not good... Mender thought.
Nahoda nodded his head. "Yes, on both counts. But, sir… I'm sure..."
"Your assessment, Mender?" Detras interrupted. He was now looking at nothing in particular. It was as if he were glaring at the sky. The scent of resignation washed over him like a rainstorm. A storm that Mender knew that her words would soon break.
"He's telling the truth," Mender said reluctantly. I'm starting to see why Orchid was so upset.
The children did not dare move as their father's silence lingered for what seemed like an eternity. Not even Pearl dared advance for a moment, before finally walking to her mate's side. Only Mender's ears were sensitive enough to detect her words.
"They did it to protect someone that Arial loves, dear. They meant no harm to you. Let's go back to Hanging Rock and…"
Mender froze for a moment before moving a bit closer to Orchid and Arial. Don't make me intervene, Detras. She shifted her weight in preparation for a fight.
"Nahoda, you are blameless and worthy of my daughter's approval. When my daughter leaves our territory you are free to go with her." Detras spoke with a weary tone.
Even with just a short glance in his direction, Mender could tell that Nahoda's eyes were now brighter than they'd been just a moment ago. Most of her attention, however, remained firmly on Detras.
"As for the rest of you… please enjoy your meal. I'm afraid that I have lost my appetite."
The elderly male then walked, expressionless, past his children, ignoring a muted plea from his daughter. Pearl could only look on as her mate proceeded towards Hanging Rock, undoubtedly going to his thinking place as Ruby called it. There was certainly much to ponder on this day. As her daughter embraced Nahoda, it was only Orchid's words that broke the silence.
"Oh Mother, what have we done?"
Thanks for the reviews, everyone! I had intended on posting the new chapter on Wednesday or Thursday, but some medical issues on my end (ear infection and a rather severe reaction to a medication) delayed the posting until now. Thankfully, I seem to be almost back to my old self health-wise, and the next chapter should be expected in the next week or two.
bryan mccloud: Yeah, I didn't think of it that way, but Arial does have some of Chomper's old traits, such as the mischievousness. And your comments on Dodger truly bore fruit in this chapter. As for how the situation resolves, we will just have to wait and see... Littlefoot has defended his pride, but can he live with the consequences of that pride?
gordhanx: Yep, Nahoda has quite a backstory, which in many ways is the typical story of a fastrunner male. The fact that Detras has not told his children to leave yet is a testament to the fact that he did not want to treat his children as he was treated when his parents laid new eggs. The Dodger scenes were also fun (and somewhat emotional) to write. One really has to feel for both Dodger and Tracker in that situation. But as for Arial not loving Nahoda... well... let's just say the rational part of her mind and the emotional part were at cross-purposes, as we saw in this chapter. She has quite a liking for the 'insufferable male'. d-;
DevoutRelic: Don't worry I wasn't quite done torturing Nahoda just yet. d-; Though Detras now has confirmation that Nahoda is worth of his daughter's hand, he now must confront the fact that his children nearly (accidentally) killed him in their attempt to save Nahoda. Why the misconception was not immediately resolved, and what this means for the siblings, will be elaborated upon in the next few chapters. Additionally, if you ever want to PM me with any grammar mistakes you notice I would greatly appreciate it. Even with two authors sometimes small mistakes fall through the cracks. Thanks again for the kind words and your review. (:
Keijo6: Thank you very much for the detailed review. The in-depth focus on relationships in this story is probably its greatest strength, but it is also something that Historian1912 and I will need to be cautious about, to ensure that the plot is not excessively slowed down or backtracked by the interpersonal focus. As for the level of technology, we will just have to wait and see. Let's just say that the 'present' portion of the story is going to slowly begin to be focused on more and more as the story develops. I only hope that this arrangement of having two stories in one united by certain themes works out in the end. Much like Songs of the Hunters this story is an experiment. I just hope it ends up being a successful one. Thanks again, and I look forward to your future reviews. (:
xPrimalHunterx: How about I update a day earlier than that as an early gift? (-; Happy birthday!