Chapter 1: An awkward introduction
Hanging Rock, after the events of Songs of the Hunters:
Mender squirmed under the fastrunner's concerned expression. The fact that she was a fearsome predator and that Pearl was an omnivore made little difference to her.
"Um... That was kind of our fault."
Mender was spared the glares as her pack leader stepped forward with an apologetic bow. She had the lighter tones to her feathers that was common of females of her species, but had a posture that conveyed dominance. Cynnil soft-spoken words soon followed her placative gesture, "While I was explaining the situation to both of you, I sent the others to explain things to Arial."
The male fastrunner shook his head before sending his head into his hands in exasperation.
"Well, look at the bright side, ma'am. This is only the first misunderstanding this season," Buse, a light green member of Mender's odd pack noted. He had the dark green coloration typical of males, but had a noticeable kink in his tail.
"The season has only begun," Mender retorted with some regret. We really should have learned to leave the pleasantries to Cynnil. She did not allow her self-doubts to override her emotions, however, as she continued to examine Arial's eyes.
"Your eye holes aren't big, so that's a good sign," she noted absentmindedly, "Okay, try to follow my finger with your eyes."
As she moved her finger, Arial followed her finger by moving her head, which earned a shake of Arial's head, "Without moving your head."
Arial growled in annoyance but did as the fastbiter instructed.
"What are you doing?"
Mender did not turn to look at the male fastrunner as Orchid's curious voice called out, "I am testing her head. If her eye holes are normal, and her eyes are good at following, then that is a good sign."
"A good sign?" Orchid spoke impatiently as his scent reeked of so much concern and annoyance that even Mender could smell it, "So does that mean she is okay or not?"
Mender shrugged, "I still need to test her coordination." she then pointed at a feather on Orchid's back, "Okay, Arial, try to bite that feather."
Orchid tilted his head, "Wha..."
"Ow! That was not my feather!"
Arial smiled, "No, but she did bite what she was aiming for," the siblings glared at one another for a moment as Orchid rubbed his back. It was only after suppressing a snort at seeing that display that Mender finally turned towards the parents with a relieved expression, "Pearl? Detras? She should be okay. She doesn't have the head sickness."
"Oh thank goodness!" Pearl erupted as she embraced her daughter in a hug, which earned an embarrassed squirm and an audible protest from Arial. Detras's relieved sigh could be heard by everyone in the cave.
"Well, um... our apologies for the unfortunate introduction. I wish I could say that things usually go smoothly when we make a nest call, but..."
Detras waved his hand to cut Cynnil's speech, "I can imagine. You are a pack of hidden runners and a fastbiter. I don't imagine most strangers sit around and wait for your explanations," Cynnil's expression was confirmation enough for Detras that he was right, "My question is: why did Petrie not tell us ahead of time? We haven't seen him in weeks."
"That would be because he is helping Path find some tail," Buse offered helpfully.
"Oh for the love of..." Mender exclaimed as she looked at Cynnil apologetically at her helper's blunt assessment. Cynnil, for her part, merely rolled her eyes.
"As our packmate so bluntly put it... yes, Spotter is leading Path to where some potential mates might be available. He felt the call shortly after the battle apparently."
Detras deadpanned, "So he figured that he would start a new battle after barely surviving the last one?"
Now it was Buse's turn to tilt his head in confusion. His question was answered by Pearl, however.
"Two footers need to have a territory before courting, but it usually is not the males who need the territory... the males need to try to get invited into... um..."
"And sometimes the females try to make sure the males are worthy by challenging them," Detras finished.
Buse looked horrified, which made Cynnil smile with amusement, "And you thought our kind's way was difficult, huh?"
Perhaps out of embarrassment or nervousness, Buse began to prepare some no-infection sap by crushing two of the bulbs they had gathered for that purpose. For the first time in several moments Buse appeared to be at a loss for words.
Conversations about mating always made Mender feel uncomfortable. Nonetheless her concern for Chomper was obvious, "I hope that he is alright."
It was only then that Orchid seemed to soften his agitated facade, "Chomper is strong and smart. I am sure that he will find himself a nice mate that likes him."
"...or at least have enough sense to run off," Arial added.
Mender smiled, "I haven't heard him called Chomper in a long time..." she then carefully took the sap and began to cover Arial's cuts with the substance, "Not since I was a member of Seeker's pack."
This earned stunned expressions from all of the fastrunners. When they had a moment to process her words, however, they spoke nearly simultaneously.
"...my sister's packmate?
Mender was surprised by the reaction, but then promptly realized that she shouldn't have been. Idiot. This is Ponder's family. Of course they would find this to be important.
"It is a long story," Mender paused as she finished up work on Arial's leg, "It was before I was really an adult, or called Mender."
Detras's beak clicked in surprise, "You met them as a child?"
Mender laughed, "I guess you could say that. I had not had my first hunt yet."
Silence fell on the fastrunners for several moments as Mender finished her work on Arial's leg. That was when she realized that her current audience did not consist of predators like her. Me and my big mouth...
"But you had your first hunt with them. I remember the song."
Thanks, Buse. Even in my most awkward moments you make me appear reasonable.
"Perhaps we could hear the song too?"
Mender stared at Arial. Much to her surprise the fastrunner's face communicated no trepidation at the mention of predation. Her brother's reaction was even more unexpected.
"If the song involves sis's antics then it must be good! Just don't repeat the verses like she does... Ow! Mom!"
Mender could only look on in a mixture of bewilderment and amusement as the fastrunners laughed at the antics of the siblings, though this did not reduce her embarrassment at being asked to sing about that particular part of her life. Looking towards her pack leader, however, provided Mender with no reprieve.
"Yes, a song would be a nice way to introduce ourselves, don't you think?"
Crap. I wonder if this is what a trapped ground fuzzy feels like... "If... all of you are sure..."
"Yeah!" came Orchid's response as he carefully moved his tail out of reach of his mother and sister. The welcoming faces of the relieved mother and Mender's current patient confirmed that Orchid's assessment was shared by all.
"And we can share some of our tales as well. Though I imagine Ruby has told you many of them."
Mender tilted her head, "She mentioned some of them in her pack's song."
"It took me awhile to memorize that," Arial noted with pride.
"Well I would hope so! It nearly took a day to sing the damn thing!" Orchid was prepared this time, and leapt out of the way of his sister's bite.
"My song is not quite that long," Mender laughed. Their antics reminded her of a pack that she had met several years prior, "But I hope that you all find it worth remembering."
Detras and Pearl gestured for their guests to have a seat near the opening of the cave. Keeping in mind the fastrunner tradition, Pearl spoke next.
"Our apologies for not offering you food... we obviously did not know you were coming."
Mender blinked in confusion, Why would they be expected to provide us with food?
"Um... it is our custom to provide the meal," Cynnil offered as Buse suddenly left the cave to grab the few fish that the pack had gathered a few hours prior during their preparations to meet the fastrunners.
Well those preparations were kind of pointless, Mender noted, as she awkwardly spoke up, "Buse is getting some fish. We... um caught them a while ago."
"Sigh... so you spent time gathering fish, and you sent hidden runners to explain things to all of us, but yet it still ended up with my sister tumbling down a ledge?" Orchid questioned with amusement in his voice.
Mender looked down, This happens every time.
"Don't be sad, Mender. This just means that you have the same luck as my sister's pack," Arial offered while glaring at her brother, "They went out to touch a rock and ended up as sharpteeth. Nothing ever turns out normal for them, but they are still here."
Cynnil smiled, "From what Mender sung to us it seems that they were like that even as leaf-eaters."
"They were," Detras affirmed as he finally sat down, "And her siblings aren't any better..."
Mender blinked at the reaction of the siblings as Buse carefully dumped his handful of fish in front of the group. Cynnil's reaction was equally uncertain.
"And neither are her parents, as recent events have proved," Pearl added with a knowing smile as she handed a fish to her mate, "But enough about our mistakes... perhaps you could tell us how you met our daughter?"
Mender took a deep breath as she tried to process the sudden change in mood, Ponder's family is as confusing as Seeker's pack. "Well my brother and friend are in the song before I make an appearance. It all started with a misunderstanding."
"Of course it did... uph!" Buse was suddenly silenced by Cynnil stuffing a fish in his face.
Well I should probably begin before my helper decides to 'help' again.
Mender briefly turned her attention outside of the cave and focused on the bright Night Circle and the numerous stars surrounding it. Well, ancestors, let's see if I can carry a tune this time. And Taunt's ancestors? No laughing up there!
She turned back towards her audience and hesitantly cleared her voice, Come on, Mender, you can do this!
"Well, I won't keep you all waiting. I will now sing you the song of how I met Seeker's pack."
It all began when the shelter we took
Was on the wrong side of the stream
Our pack of four was about to face
A threat from the night serene...
Several years prior - moments after the events of the prologue:
Dodger had come close to dozing off when a scent passed across his nose. Fastbiter. Outsider.
Both Dodger and Tracker were instantly on their feet. Tracker, living up to her name, locked onto the scent first and started pursuing it. Dodger hurriedly woke Prowler and Violet.
"We're not alone. Stay down," the deputy said to the two former sleepers before darting after his friend.
Dodger soon caught up with Tracker. The green fastbiter gave the signal for 'I see one'. Dodger nodded.
Tracker gestured towards the fastbiter, wanting to get closer. Dodger pointed to Tracker then himself, making it clear to Tracker she wasn't going alone.
The duo split up, Dodger moving hard to the left while Tracker stayed directly behind their target.
Tracker kept closer, closer than Dodger would consider safe. One mistaken step told her why.
Spike swerved around in alarm at the sudden sound. In an instant he saw what had made the commotion.
A green fastbiter stared back at him. His reaction was nearly instinctual.
"Who are you, and why are you here?!"
Tracker stammered. She'd been caught and was far too close to make a run for it.
"Um...I..uh." Tracker really didn't know what to say. She started to back away slowly.
Dodger, fortunately, had been watching Tracker and quietly moved closer, coming in behind the larger fastbiter.
Spike was entirely focused on the female fastbiter. Her fear motivated him to press the issue.
"This is the land of Seeker and his pack!" He bared his teeth at the newcomer. "Unless you come bringing a peace offering then you are not welcome here!"
The fastbiter continued to back away, but then he noticed something. She seemed to be staring at something behind him.
He barely had time to turn around before the other fastbiter was upon him.
This is going to hurt, Dodger thought as he leapt at his opponent. He was surprised to encounter more stick than fastbiter, though.
Wanting to help, Tracker made her own leap while the large fastbiter was distracted.
Spike screamed out of surprise as Tracker slammed against his back and slashed against his flesh. Out of instinct more than anything else, he swerved to the left and collapsed to the ground. In a swift motion he again rose from the ground and aimed his spear at the female.
"Yield or die!"
Ruby was nearly out of breath as she sprinted towards the sleeping areas. She did not want to call out an alert and lose the element of surprise, but she had to alert the pack immediately nonetheless. If she couldn't do that with her voice then she would have to do that with her feet.
She nearly collapsed in front of Littlefoot, which caused him to jump up in surprise. In an instant everyone was awake.
"Ponder, what is it?!"
Ruby took a gasping breath. "Fastbiters! Fastbiters have invaded our territory!"
The rest of the pack stared in the direction of Spike's booming voice. It seemed that the battle had already begun. Not wasting any time, Littlefoot gave the alert call to Chomper for a fastbiter invasion then, with a booming voice, addressed the rest of his pack.
"Grab your pointed sticks! We have to save Finder!"
Dodger was not a dinosaur prone to losing sense when angered. Threatening Tracker, however, was one of two things that made him go from fighting mad to murderous. The other was threatening Violet, which wasn't a safe option even when Dodger wasn't around.
His vision turned red, Dodger leaped at Spike, intent on tearing the larger fastbiter's throat out. All he succeeded in doing was unbalancing Spike enough that he had to retreat a couple fastbiter lengths to avoid creating a fatal opening.
Tracker scrambled to her feet and all but hid behind Dodger. She was nearly scared out of her mind.
Spike weaved to his left as the rampaging fastbiter again tried to lunge at his throat.
All I need is a clear shot…
He stayed back, however, and avoided making a bold move. He knew that his spear was the great equalizer in this battle. If he were to overextend himself then he might lose his spear, and then his life would follow.
Come on, you idiot! Come a bit closer…
Spike raised his spear a bit higher as if he were trying to impale something just above Dodger's head. Then, with deliberate slowness, he edged backwards as if he were about to flee.
Let's see if you take the bait…
Dodger wasn't quite sure what to make of the stick, but he had cooled off enough to see that he was being baited. He intentionally started backing up a few steps.
One. Two. Three.
"Tracker, run!" Dodger shouted as he turned to do the same. He practically pushed Tracker into running at an angle to her original direction, almost directly towards the stream. They couldn't risk leading this guy back to the others. Hopefully they could outrun him or at least make him lose interest. Or better yet get out of this territory.
Littlefoot panted with exertion as he and the others sprinted towards Spike's scream.
Hold on, Finder! We are coming!
His legs burned with energy as he hands shook with anticipation. Ruby's alert about foreign fastbiters had stunned him, but Spike's scream had made his surprise turn to red-hot rage.
Now he wanted blood.
Breeze's call broke Littlefoot out of his daze as she hissed in the direction of the intruders.
Littlefoot focused his eyes on the scene ahead of him. It appeared that Breeze had made the observation before he could even process it. The green body of Spike could be seen running through the distant grass, while the shaking grass ahead of him indicated the source of his determined sprint. Spike had the intruders on the run.
"Chase and kill!" Littlefoot barked out with unusual vitriol, "No one attacks our home! No one!"
The aggressive shouts of the others echoed his sentiments as the pack spread out into a line with their spears aimed ahead of them.
The other pack may have started the fight, but they were determined to end it. Like the roar before the arrival of a storm their shrieks of rage could be heard into the night.
The chase was on.
Violet could hear numerous shrieks in the distance. Her heart sank. It sounded like a whole pack of fastbiters had found her brother and her friend.
"We've got to help them!" Violet nearly shrieked at Prowler, who had yet to move since hearing the enemy fastbiters.
"How?" Prowler demanded, "Did you not hear all that? There's got to be at least twice our number even if Dodger and Tracker were here."
"So you're just going to leave them?!"
"If it saves the rest of the pack, then yes."
"There won't be much of a pack without them!" Violet could barely stop herself from attacking Prowler. You... you coward.
The pack leader turned away. "He'd come after you!" Violet shouted. She was beyond angry now. My brother is a better leader than you could ever be.
"We are leaving," Prowler hissed dangerously.
"Make me," Violet hissed back, putting every ounce of contempt she had into the juvenile phrase. I'm not leaving my brother, you pile of spiketail dung.
Why you little… Prowler lunged at Violet, slashing her across the nose.
Violet jerked back with a shriek of pain.
Rather than take advantage of Violet's distraction, Prowler froze. His eyes communicated rage but also something else, something Violet couldn't identify. In a moment that seemed to drag on for an eternity, Prowler turned and sprinted away, leaving a very confused and injured fastbiter in his wake.
Violet watched him go, still surprised there hadn't been another attack.
Hearing further shrieks, Violet turned towards the sound and ran to help what was left of her family and her pack.
Ducky growled in frustration at the two fastbiters in front of them. First they had invaded their home, and now they had attacked her brother. This unprovoked assault unleashed something primal in the green fastbiter. Something unexpected.
Her eyes narrowed at the retreating forms in front of her. One was pulling away from the rest of the pack despite their best run, whereas the other was still in their sights.
You will not get away from us! We will catch you, we will! We will!
What happened next came to Ducky in a blur. It happened so fast that she was unaware if it came from instinct or her vindictive thoughts. All that she knew was that within a split second her spear had sailed from her hand and lifted off into the night sky. She only consciously registered her target when the spear was well on its way.
Let's see if you can dodge this!
Tracker kept her focus on Dodger's tail. She did her best to keep up, but Dodger was unintentionally putting some distance between himself and her. She didn't dare look back.
All of a sudden she felt a slight sting and jerked away. Unfortunately for Tracker she overbalanced and sent her world spinning. She yelped in panic. Shaking herself off Tracker tried to start running again. She made it maybe three steps before going down once more.
Dodger was practically at Tracker's side the instant she hit the ground. "You okay?!" he asked worriedly.
"My leg's not working!" Tracker shrieked, her voice now conveying extreme pain as well as panic.
Dodger stared at the oncoming fastbiters. It nearly got him killed; a sharpened stick came less than a claw's length from impaling him in the throat.
Despite the chaos Dodger was completely calm. He accepted that he was probably going to die, but, if there was a chance of saving Tracker's life he was going to take it. She was his responsibility, and he really liked her. Oh, who was he kidding? If they both got out of this alive he was going to tell Tracker he loved her.
Tracker clutched her ankle mournfully as the sensation of feeling evaporated from it like ground sparkles on a warm day. Within the span of a few moments she had gone from being in peak physical condition to being an invalid who could not even rise from her prone position. She now realized that it was in this position that she would soon die.
A choked sob left her throat as she could hear the mindless horde approach her. She could only imagine what sort of end would await her at their hands. However, it was the falling of a single spear that broke her morose thoughts.
The spear had embedded itself mere inches away from her friend's throat. Yet, Dodger remained where he was, like a silent sentinel. Every expression and mannerism from him communicated his acceptance of his fate.
She frowned. He may accept that fate for himself, but she would be damned if she would be accepting of it.
"Run, Dodger! Save yourself!"
Her friend looked taken aback by her words, as if their implications were something that he refused to accept. His response came in a choked, barely understandable jumble of words.
"No, Tracker! I won't leave you here… you…"
Tracker growled as she closed her eyes in an effort to drown out the rising pain and fear. If she could not save herself then she could at least save him. For she knew exactly what he was trying to convey in this last few tense moments. They were feelings that she felt herself.
With a herculean effort she raised her hand and touched her friend's face. With a soft, firm voice that came from acceptance she spoke into his eyes.
"I love you too, Dodger, but you can't save me. Save yourself and live a good life. That is all that you can do for me now."
A good life? Without you I don't have a life worth living, Dodger thought before tearing his gaze from Tracker. He didn't respond verbally, but his actions made his intention clear. Planting himself between Tracker and the oncoming pack, Dodger got ready for what would was probably going to be the last fight of his life.
Littlefoot's roar echoed into the night. Within an instant all of the others had assumed an envelopment strategy and kept a wide berth around the stricken fastbiter and her defender. It was a maneuver that they had practiced many times before.
Ruby's face was grim as she raised her spear at the small male. The smell of desperation, anger, and fear emanated from him like smoke from a roaring fire. He obviously knew that this was his final battle.
Beware those who have nothing to lose, her thoughts cautioned.
She remained silent as Ducky took a position at Ruby's side. Despite no longer having her spear she could still provide backup.
"Was it worth it?"
Ruby turned in shock at Ducky's sudden question. It was an unspoken command that they should remain silent and let the pack leader do the talking, but it seemed that Ducky's rage had demands of its own.
"Was your worthless life worth attacking my brother, you fiends?!"
Dodger kept silent. There was nothing he could say that would be appropriate. He was pretty sure that "Your brother threatened my friend when she was cowering." would not go over well.
"Or my mate, you bastard!" Breeze's enraged form suddenly appeared, her spear pointed directly at Dodger. She seemed to stop right where Ducky had terminated her advance, as if an invisible line existed there that only they could see.
Expecting an attack, especially from either of the fastbiters that spoke, Dodger crouched into a ready position.
Littlefoot took a deep breath in order to calm his already frayed nerves. He could not fault Ducky for her outburst, nor Spike's protective mate, but now was not the time. With a single raised hand he commanded silence.
"You are in our territory. We do not take kindly to that, intruder."
He circled to his left, as he gestured with his tail to the others. Two flicks to the left and one to the right. The meaning was clear in the pack's code. Within moments two of their number circled outward in case any other members of their pack attacked, and one quietly maneuvered to sneak behind Dodger.
But first he wanted answers.
"Who sent you? Or did you honestly think that you could challenge the pack that bested Redclaw? The pack that was ordained by the stone. The pack of Seeker."
He narrowed his eyes at the fastbiter as his friend began to howl in pain. He would get right down to business.
"Who are you, and why the fuck are you here?!"
Dodger knew who this pack was. He'd heard of them before. Trying to figure out a good way to respond to Seeker, or at least he assumed that was who was speaking, was a bit of a challenge. The brown fastbiter definitely seemed to be the one in charge. This was probably going to end badly if the fastbiters that disappeared and were probably coming around behind him were any indication, so being entirely polite would be a waste of effort.
"Is this how you treat wanderers? We've encountered no markers indicating the territory was claimed, and you attacked my friend when she wasn't even thinking of being a threat. You say you beat Redclaw. Congratulations on becoming his replacement," Dodger growled.
Congratulations on getting yourself killed, Dodger. Almost paradoxically Dodger moved to one side of Tracker rather than remain in front of her so he could get a glimpse of what was definitely behind him.
He did his best to ignore Tracker's crying. There was nothing he could do for her. They would probably be going to the Great Beyond together in a moment.
Spike gripped his spear in a mixture of anger and agitation. His first instinct was to put a permanent end to the mouthy fastbiter, but his words had a greater impact than his features conveyed.
We didn't mark our territory by the stream…
The look in the injured fastbiter's face was heartbreaking, but not as heartbreaking as the look in Dodger's eyes. He obviously knew that he was doomed.
Are we becoming the next Redclaw?
That taunt had stung the hardest. In the past year they had undertaken some rather unsavory actions, from chasing away other packs to terrorizing herds. All of this was done into making a fearsome reputation and securing their territory from any challengers. But had they in the process lost sight of the bigger picture?
It was in that moment that he saw Littlefoot's gaze fall upon him. Of course, it was partially his choice. Spike had been the one who had been directly attacked, and thus it was his choice whether vengeance was still demanded. Despite his anger and the instinctual desire to shed the blood of his attackers, he knew what the right choice actually was.
"Let him talk," Spike uttered in leaf-eater, "No one has died yet today."
Littlefoot nodded at Spike's words as the implications were clear. They would give the fastbiter a chance. Despite an angry growl from Breeze, she and Ducky remained silent as the tradition demanded. It had been Spike's choice.
With noticeable exhausted, Littlefoot spoke again in a disbelieving voice.
"You seriously had no idea where our territory was?"
"Had we known, we would have either tried to go around or turned back entirely. We haven't survived as long as we have by looking for trouble," Dodger answered. He was more than a bit surprised to still be alive but was already trying to figure out a way to survive this mess. He'd already decided it best to be as polite as possible from this point on lest he provoke an attack.
Littlefoot's spear shook slightly at the other fastbiter's words. The stench of fear was ever-present, but he could detect no subterfuge. However if that was true then that could only confirm one possibility.
"Who are you exactly?" Littlefoot attempted to shift the conversation in order to garner more information, "Who is your pack leader, and why is he not telling us all of this?"
"My name is Dodger, deputy to Prowler. The last time I saw him was back where we were sleeping. We smelled one of your guys and decided to investigate to get a better idea of our situation." Dodger managed to calm himself, mostly. He was afraid, but now he also had reason for hope. "It's something we do all the time, usually without anyone knowing we were there. Had Tracker here not stepped on a stick we would have withdrawn at least to the other side of the stream and gotten as far away as we could in the morning." Dodger wasn't sure if it was a good idea to mention what the other half of his pack was probably doing at the moment, especially since he wasn't entirely sure himself.
"Spread out and stand watch!"
Littlefoot's barked order echoed into the night as Dodger looked at him in confusion. The leaf-eater words sounded like bellows and screeches to the defeated fastbiter. Within moments only Ruby, Littlefoot, and Taunt were in front of the two fastbiters as the others took positions around the group.
"You will forgive us for not assuming that your friends have our best intentions at heart?" Taunt's words were obviously dripping with sarcasm, but they conveyed no obvious malice.
Ruby nodded though her attention was focused on something else entirely, "I think that will need to be treated. Otherwise we will not be able to treat it when we need to."
Littlefoot paused at the words of his companion. The pain from the silent fastbiter was obvious through her clenched jaw and tense claws. It was as if she were fighting a battle that she could not see.
"Where do you feel the pain? We need to know how far it has spread," Littlefoot asked softly.
"M-my leg," Tracker replied almost without thinking. She did her best to gesture to the area above her injury. The painful part encompassed most of her leg.
Dodger looked down quickly but didn't actually get closer to Tracker. He still wasn't sure what to make of the other pack; literally risking his neck wasn't an option right now.
"Then we don't have much time," Littlefoot's voice broke through Dodger's contemplation, "When the Orange Death reaches the chest then it is over."
Dodger just stared at the pack leader, at a loss for words. Tracker apparently wasn't.
"I'm going to die, aren't I?" Tracker asked sullenly. She had no idea how a poison could be stopped. She just tried to avoid them.
Littlefoot's face took on a determined expression that was equal parts reassuring and frightening, "Not if we can help it… Dodger, we will watch Tracker while you get the plants. You have asked us to believe a lot from you… now we ask the same of you."
Dodger looked at Tracker to give himself a moment to get himself under control. He didn't mind helping. He was more concerned about leaving Tracker alone.
"I'll need someone to help me find what is needed. The only plant I know of is the Night Flower, and Tracker taught me that," Dodger said, "I also have one condition. The one that threw the stick stays away from Tracker."
Silence reigned for several moments as the tension hung over the dinosaurs like a thick fog. The eyes of the pack leader stared deeply into the eyes of Dodger as neither blinked or averted their gaze. Littlefoot didn't change his expression as he spoke into the night.
"Taunt, accompany him. Haven… stay where you are."
Dodger had just gotten his conditions, but the pack had also gotten theirs. Alone with the pack, Tracker was entirely at their mercy if Dodger tried anything funny. A hostage in all but name.
Tracker bit back her objection at being left. Dodger definitely didn't look like he wanted to leave, and she didn't want to make him feel even worse.
Once Dodger was out of sight Tracker tried to get a good look around while not being too obvious about it. She trusted Dodger to do everything he could for her, but she did not trust the fastbiters currently with her. They scared her, the leader especially. She'd overheard a few stories about Redclaw over the years, despite Dodger and Prowler's efforts to not scare her and Violet more than necessary. If these fastbiters were to be believed, they had killed that monster. Why they hadn't just killed her already she'd never know. Didn't you have to be as ruthless as Redclaw to defeat Redclaw? The two fastbiters standing over her certainly looked the part.
"You should put some pressure on that to relieve the pain. The pain can be relieved by some pressure."
"What?" Tracker asked. She was surprised anyone was even talking to her. The repeat was just confusing.
"The pain can be relieved a little by pressure," Littlefoot confirmed, "I found that out when I had a little accident with the stuff…"
His voice was interrupted by a nervous chuckle. "I would not recommend practicing fighting with that stuff. It doesn't end well."
Tracker stared at the fastbiter. She wasn't sure if he was telling the truth or not. Just having a conversation was surreal enough. Who knew her first conversation with a fastbiter not in her group would be one that was trying to kill her just a little while ago?
Littlefoot leaned down and looked at the fallen fastbiter. "Believe it or not I do not enjoy killing, outsider. I hunt to eat; I kill to defend; but I do not kill for pleasure. If you honestly came across our territory by accident then the last thing that I want to see is for you take your final breath." Littlefoot paused for a moment as if he were thinking about something. "Speaking of which, I know that it is hard, but try to take small breaths. The poison travels faster as you breathe faster."
Tracker practically stopped breathing for a moment. If they were trying to kill her, they were putting way too much effort into it. Getting control of her breathing she pretended she was on a hunt. Don't breath loud. Stay calm.
"Stop where you are!"
Littlefoot turned at the sudden exclamation from Cera. It seemed that their momentary respite had come to an end.
"Ponder, guard Tracker!"
Then, as suddenly as he had spoke, Littlefoot disappeared into the darkness.
Tracker wasn't sure if the guard order was to watch or protect her. Maybe it was both? Unable to do anything else, she continued to focus on her breathing and waited for Dodger to return.
Thanks for the kind words, Julian! I am deeply appreciative of each of you who have taken the time to read the prologue on this site and the Gang of Five. I hope that you find the rest of this story to your satisfaction.
On another note, I seem to have come to a bit of writer's block on the idea that I had for Ruby's origin. The basic idea has already been planned out to my satisfaction, though I seem to be having difficulty in actually writing the story itself. For that reason, instead of the Ruby story (which I will put on hold for a little while), you may be seeing some short stories being posted in the near future along with the weekly installments of Mender's Tale.