My apologies for the delay. The site was not accepting this chapter last night for some reason. I had to convert it into another file format before it finally would post.

Chapter 3: Songs within songs

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

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

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

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

"Stop, Violet! Path won't hurt you! Nope, nope, nope!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the present:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several moments later in the song:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Good point," Dodger muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I hope that you don't mind Path joining us… as he is part of the tale."

Violet shifted uneasily but nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We will now sing you the Song of the Seven Hunters."

And as the howls of our parents rose in the night,

We knew that our happiness would never again take light

For as the valley's vista were left to our rear,

All that stood in front of us was uncertainty and fear

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

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

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

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

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

With a sickening thud claws landed on his back-

Blood... Viscera... Gore...

Soon the gasping corpse of the longneck lay-

Where my friend was moments before

How... how could I have done this?-

My mind in its blood craze did cry

But I knew the truth as Ali's scream echoed in the night-

My blood soaked claws did not lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No. No it was not."

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

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

"You know why Redclaw hated the valley, right?"

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

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

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

"What do you think it was telling you?" Dodger asked. If rebuffed, he wouldn't press further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Right behind you."

I watched as Ali walked away, her head held up high,

Her flank stood out like the Night Circle in the azure sky

Enemies no longer, disdain replaced with peace,

We both knew that from then until forever, our meetings would have to cease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taunt laughed. "Ha! See, Seeker isn't invincible after all… Ow!"

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

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

"I really thought I'd taught you better," Dodger muttered once Violet had gotten ahold of herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Violet!" Dodger reprimanded. Violet looked contrite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'll tell you after the song," Tracker promised.

Deceit and lies flew from my beak,

Me had to show that Petrie not weak

Eventually me convince them of my foul intent,

But me have no idea what that lie had meant

In near future there would be many hidden runner dead,

The burden of their murders would be on my head

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

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

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

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

"I got disturbed just hearing about it," Dodger said.

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

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

"Yeah," Tracker sighed.

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

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

However, his next words surprised them.

"Seeker, me think me sing along with next part."

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

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

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

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

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

A dark night fell upon the land,

with dark deeds soon to come from Calin's band

There were no flyers to warn the hidden runners of what was to come,

though they had rested their heads under the Night Circle,

for them the day would never come

The longnecks bellowed, and the fastrunners ran,

as Seeker and I fled across the land

If we did not arrive before our parents there stood,

then approve of our pairing they never would

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

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

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

Into the trees, into the bushes, into the grass we flew,

All of the leaf-eaters stared at us oddly,

while our desperation only grew

Finally at our destination,

hidden runners, sharpteeth, and others stood,

while we let out triumphant roars

Then we heard the sound of laughter,

and were surprised by the source

For a test it had been not, except in jest,

our parents would not have been so unkind

The actual approval, in the fastrunner way,

was to trick the pair who love did bind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violet spoke without thinking, "That's oddly specific." Oops. "I said that out loud, didn't I?"

Littlefoot closed his eyes. "That is something that we don't even talk about amongst ourselves…"

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

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

Taunt shrugged. "I promised never to mention it to you again."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And now the conclusion of our song…"

As we stood in the ravine bare,

the sound of flyers rang in the air,

a sound of life in a lifeless land,

where blood still soaked the burning sand

A reminder of why my grandparents died,

why Thicknose sacrificed, why children cried,

losses given freely so that others might live,

selfless heroism from those who were willing to give

So as we prepared to travel on,

to finally reside in the Mysterious Beyond,

we looked one last time at our former land,

and bowed our heads without further command

To the valley we could no longer return,

but in our minds its memories would still burn,

we would never forget the past that came before,

and our song would be heard forever more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What? I've only eaten a small meal today, and not eating makes me tired."

Littlefoot rolled his eyes. "...and pissy."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You'll do fine, Tracker," Dodger said before turning to follow Littlefoot.

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

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

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

"Perfect," Violet said. Tracker gave an involuntary shudder at the mention of 'Orange Death' but otherwise said nothing.

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

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

Well… this is awkward.

Despite their awkward meeting (and near-murder) Dodger's pack now knows the history of Seeker's pack. A story that Dodger had only heard in hushed whispers before, and that his packmates had been unaware of. But now they are faced with a true test of their hospitality. Will they prove themselves in the hunt to the pack that has decided to take them in? Or will the day give them yet another humiliation?

I look forward to seeing everyone's thoughts on the latest chapter. There wasn't much input from the 'present day' in the current chapter, but that might change in the next installment. But, I suppose you will just have to stay tuned to fine out. d-;

Until next time, I hope everyone has a wonderful week. (: