Chapter 6: A friendly game

"Urgh… how is this supposed to help again?"

Mender watched Arial's progress with a keen eye. While sitting on one of the flat rocks found in abundance in Hanging Rock she slowly brought her ankle and foot as far up as she could manage before bringing them down again. It was obvious that the exercise was having the desired effect.

"Your bone-vines are tight," Mender said, pointing at the location where Arial's sprained ligament was located, "Your wincing was a sign of that. So now we are pulling them to loosen them."

Arial grunted as she glared at the fastbiter. What would have been an amazing sight if the fastbiter in question were a hostile one and not her healer. "You mean I am pulling them. So let me get this straight: I am causing myself pain to stop me from having pain?"

Mender blinked, Well she is not in a good mood. At least this is better than when we tried this on Buse. "It is meant to stop your bone-vines from getting hurt worse. It may not make much sense, but it works." Mender thought for a moment before gesturing in the rough direction of the valley, "When Buse had a sprain I sent a flyer to ask the rainbowfaces about it. They recommended it."

Arial grunted again as some obscenities that Mender didn't quite understand were muttered under Arial's breath. Within a few moments, however, she stopped the exercise, breathing heavily.

"That's good, Arial. You were able to do twenty, so that is a good sign."

Arial leaned her head back as she rubbed the offending leg, "How am I ever going to get better at this rate?"

"How is my little girl?"

Mender rose in order to greet Detras's gaze. He stood upon another flattened rock on the rockface of the ravine, with an inquisitive look on his face. All of his attention was on his daughter, however. It was not lost on Mender that this was a question meant for two people.

"She is getting better. We were working on loosening her bone-vines."

Arial groaned, "If this is what you call working then I wonder what you call torture."

Mender gritted her teeth with concern, Please don't be mad, Detras… I am doing this to help your daughter.

"I am sure it is for the best, Arial. How much can you stretch your foot now?" Detras asked while giving Mender a respectful nod. If he had noticed how much this relieved Mender, he did not give outward notice.

"Urgh… all the way," Arial answered as she brought her foot and ankle up all of the way and then promptly brought it down again. The grimace on her face still indicated the pain that was present from the movement.

"That is better than before. And the pain should get better the more you do it," Mender affirmed, "We will have you back running around and playing games in no time."

Arial smiled briefly, but couldn't help but to retort, "I am an adult. Adults don't play games."

Detras smiled as he put his hands on his hips, "Oh, is that so? I guess we will just have to not play Find The Fish when you get better then… after all, as you are an adult…"

"Dad!" Arial protested in annoyance.

"Don't listen to her, Dad!" Orchid's voice added, "She is just mad because she knows she can't beat me!"

Detras laughed, "Not too old for that game, huh?"

"You boys are going down next time!" Arial boasted, "Isn't that right, Mom?"

"Right, dear!" Pearl's voice echoed from nearby as the sound of her footsteps and the rest of Mender's pack could be heard. It seemed that her and Arial's physical therapy session was coming to an end for today.

Mender smiled inwardly, Being this crazy about a game. Now this brings back memories…

As I walked after my sleep,

To drink from the stream so deep

A familiar voice made itself known,

No one could miss Taunt's mocking tone

She didn't realize that she was singing until the first few verses had already left her mouth. When the realization hit her, however, she froze in embarrassment.

"Um… sorry." Mender muttered awkwardly as she nervously flicked her tail behind her, "It's just your talk about the game…"

"Well don't tell us, silly! Finish the song!" came Orchid's playful voice.

"It isn't like I'm going anywhere." Arial affirmed, though her good natured shined through her annoyed words.

As Mender looked at the others, they too nodded for her to continue. Well, I guess that answers the question of what to do after Arial's treatment. Now where was I…

She resumed her song as if she had not missed a word.

The past:

"Not likely, Scales-For-Brains! Just face it: we girls rule, and you boys drool!"

The orange fastbiter looked at his mate with a mischievous tint to his eyes. "So says that girl who is drooling in anticipation."

This caused Cera to touch her mouth with her clawed hand. "Urgh… You know what I meant, you insufferable…"

"Hey, is the head ready yet?"

The argumentative pair turned at the booming voice behind them. They were then face to face with the large purple sharptooth.

"Why? You aren't playing, are you?" Cera offered defensively.

Chomper laughed. "No, as I would win, obviously. But I am eager to see all of you make idiots of yourselves. Me and Spotter have bet some fish on this little game."

Taunt snorted. "So… we are just entertainment for you guys, huh?"

"It about time they get that!" Petrie's voice bellowed from a nearby tree, "You better win this time, Taunt. Me no want to catch fish all day for Path!"

Cera chuckled. "Oh yeah? Then you should have bet on the winning side, Beak-face!"

The four friends traded banter for several moments as Taunt rested his crimson-stained side against the now severed head of the swimmer. For any leaf-eater it would have been a scene from their darkest nightmares, but for the sharpteeth it was a prelude for one of their favorite games. It was in this atmosphere that Violet came onto the scene.

She took a step back, obscuring herself behind a tree before she ended up in the open. I hope a fight's not about to start. Violet shifted her balance slightly, preparing to run in case things got ugly. No sense getting drawn into something not involving her pack.

"With Dodger on boy's side, you girls don't stand chance!" came the words of the flyer, "Me not lose fish this time!"

"Ha! With Violet on our team you will have to pay up again, Spotter!"

Okay, now it involves me. Not sure what's going on, but since no one's dead yet it might be safe just to ask. Violet slowly stepped out into the open, her posture oddly submissive. She really didn't want everyone turning on her if her guess was wrong. Should I say something or just wait to be noticed? Maybe I should have thought this through more…

"Ah, there she is! Are you ready for Capture the Head, Violet? I imagine this game would be great for you!" Cera spoke quickly, "I was just telling my idiot mate about how he doesn't stand a chance."

Taunt snorted. "Well, feathers-for-brains, it might help if you tell her what the actual game is… considering we kind of helped create it, remember?"

"Yes… you helped create it by stealing the head of my catch… Yes I certainly remember…" she sent a horrific glare Taunt's way, which only seemed to make him smile even wider.

"Oh, the game hasn't started already, has it?" Breeze suddenly appeared from the bushes. "Or is this the usual romantic chat between you two?"

"Could someone please explain to me what's going on?" Violet asked, deliberately trying to keep her voice level. Despite now being pretty sure nothing deadly was going to happen, she was getting increasingly nervous. She was confused as to what the situation actually was and worse didn't have either Dodger or Tracker to help her gauge how she should behave. Now is a really bad time for me to realize just how much I rely on my packmates, Violet thought, I'm never going to learn anything before it becomes a problem, am I?

Thankfully it was Chomper who first noticed the confusing series of scents radiating from Violet. Remembering how their first little encounter went, he spoke carefully, "It is alright, Violet. We are just playing around before the game… Stern Claw? Maybe you should explain things to her?"

This is normal for you guys? You must be really good friends, then. Violet knew from experience that an insult could be taken the wrong way and cause serious trouble; once an errant word on her part nearly started a fight.

Cera noted the tone from Chomper and took a closer look at Violet. The signs of near-panic were on her. Did she think we were actually fighting? Suppressing a sigh, she gently explained the situation.

"Capture the Head is a little game that my mate created when he stole the head from one of my kills. When I nearly caught him, he tossed the head to Seeker, and then they made a game of it." She then gestured to the head. "We had to resize the head for this game…"

"Which means that Path took a bite out of it," Breeze offered.

"Yes…" Cera confirmed, "and the goal is going to be for each team to try to place the head in their goal. The first one to three goals wins. If someone manages to bite you or tackle you then you must drop the head. If you fail to do so then Path will give the other team the head close to our goal."

"We call that being hard-assed," Taunt offered, "because if you can handle a bite on the ass…"

"We get it, Taunt!" both Cera and Violet offered simultaneously. Quickly regaining her composure, and not catching Violet's scramble to apologize for her outburst, Cera spoke again, "See, she's learning! She already knows how to deal with Taunt!"

Taunt simply rolled his eyes at the girls, though he did catch the glint of apology from Violet's eyes. I will have to be careful with her… she is still learning how to have a sense of humor. What kind of horrible packlife has she had?

Not catching any of this sub-text, Cera continued, "So… any questions, Violet?"

"Um, no, but have any of you seen Dodger? He wasn't there when I woke up." Violet left out that her first reaction at her brother not being in her line of sight was to panic until she remembered where she was.

"No worries; he was with me!"

Violet turned to see the advancing form of Seeker appear from the stream. His red crest feathers gave him a horrific glint, which was not matched by his friendly tone.

"I do believe that he is going to give Tracker some fish… to make things official."

Taunt did his best impression of a flyer's mating call, which made everyone present either roll their eyes or sigh in exasperation. "Oh…. should we expect eggs soon?"

Cera growled, "If you keep on asking questions like that then I will render you incapable of making eggs…"

Taunt smiled. "But that is your job… I am only the one who will make you make the eggs…"

"Shut up, Taunt!" nearly everyone yelled at once. This only made Taunt smile even wider.

Made everyone tell me to shut up… mission accomplished.

Taunt always did have different goals from everyone else.

Is he always like this? Even I am not that bad. "Maybe I should go find them," Violet suggested, wanting to put some distance between herself and Taunt before she let her annoyance get her into trouble.

"Um…" Taunt began before seeing the glares fall upon him again, "in all seriousness… perhaps you should wait… in case they are occupied."

Littlefoot shook his head in amusement. "Taunt is right… for once," he added under his breath, "Perhaps we should wait until they get over here on their own. I just… um… explained what that ritual means and um… yeah… perhaps we should wait."

"You think they would want privacy? We were there when you and Ponder were united," Ducky noted as she walked onto the scene. Spike followed closely behind her. "Where is she anyway?"

"Trying to avoid Taunt's… um.. taunts," Ruby answered from behind the fastbiter in question, "and also eating some of his fish that he left unprotected."

"My fish?!" Taunt spoke in surprise.

Ruby shrugged. "You never finished them, so finder's keepers. I found it so I kept it!"

"Oh, there they are now," Violet said, hurrying off to help Tracker. Switching places with her brother let her get away from whatever Taunt might say next. Taunt does not know when to quit.

"You think that we should find Tracker a good spot to watch the game?" Ducky questioned, "It is about as fun to watch as to play… or so Spotter says."

"And me right!" Petrie offered.

Cera nodded. "The same hill as last time?"

Littlefoot nodded. "I don't see why not. That would give her a good view."

"Sounds good to me," Tracker said.

"Could someone explain the rules to me?" Dodger asked, "I'm not entirely certain Violet won't leave anything out." Violet just rolled her eyes.

"Here is a head." Taunt then pointed at the head as if he were explaining things to a child. "You try to put this head in the girl's goal, and stop them from putting it in our goal. If you bite or tackle someone then they have to drop the head. If you don't drop the head then Path eats you."

"Not really!" Chomper clarified as Violet glared at Taunt angrily, "You just get a penalty if that happens… one that doesn't involve me eating you."

"Thanks for the clarification, Path… and yes, besides the Path eating you part…" Littlefoot shook his head at the smiling fastbiter. "...Taunt did get the rules right. Any questions, guys?"

"Nope, I'm good," Dodger replied.

"I'm ready," Violet added.

Littlefoot smiled. "Then let us begin! Ponder, Violet? Get Tracker to the hill so that she has a good view. Then we will do a practice run before the actual game begins."

Well, I'm back up here again, Tracker thought to herself. She looked around her. I'm literally in the exact same spot! Well, it is comfortable, so who cares?

"Um, Tracker?" Violet asked, sounding rather nervous. It's now or never.

"Yes, Violet?" Tracker responded, puzzled.

"Haven and I were talking last night, and she said it would be best if we figured out our ranks respective to each other." Violet looked away, a bit embarrassed.

Ruby's grip on Tracker's shoulder suddenly increased. She was uneasy about how this situation might develop.

"Ok…" Tracker braced herself. If Violet wanted to settle this by fighting, Tracker knew she'd lose even if healthy. Any other contest not involving hiding would probably be unwinnable as well. Maybe I should just concede and be done with it.

"Um, I agreed with her, and, well…"

What Violet did next shocked Tracker and even surprised Ponder. Violet averted her eyes downward, bowed her head, and held her arms open to her sides. Tracker didn't quite recognize the gesture, but, given the context, she could make a very good guess.

Ponder's expression softened. Oh...

"You're conceding?" Tracker asked, surprise evident in her voice. Violet took that as an acknowledgment and sat down in front of Tracker, not wanting to stand up right after making such a gesture when Tracker couldn't do so.

"What can I say? You'd make a better leader than I ever will."

Tracker didn't know what to say. She fiercely wanted to deny the statement, but it would be impolite to do so. "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence." Tracker glanced at Ponder. "You should probably get back down there before someone sends a search party."

Violet couldn't help but smile at that. "Let's see if Dodger and I can remember what playing is." Her tone was joking, but her words were serious. Never having a secure territory, her pack hadn't played a single physical game that wasn't a minor skill test, such as rock hopping, since it came into existence. Thought games, however, were something they could and did play regularly. "See you later."

"Good luck!" Tracker called after her friend.

Ponder walked away in silence after the display that she had just seen. She had nodded respectfully, but she was at a loss for words. She had no idea that the pack had never learned such basic gestures, or for that matter, settled their ranks.

"It is… much easier when everyone knows where they stand," Ruby finally spoke as the pack came into sight, "So, um… you never got that settled before?"

"Not really. You could say my getting my first kill sorta unsettled it. Tracker got her first kill when she was… well younger than me. It's actually a pretty funny story in hindsight, if you want to hear it. I wish I could have seen it." Violet said, sounding a bit wistful, "Dodger, well, he had to talk to her about a few things afterwards…" Violet was fighting the urge to laugh at what she remembered Tracker telling her.

"Oh?" Ruby inquired. She was still more than a little unsettled by what she had just seen. She had no idea that the pack was so underdeveloped. It was as if they had meet a pack of children who didn't know the basics of life. Much like them not so long ago…

"Well, before all that happened, we got attacked by another pack that apparently decided we were better food than neighbors. Tracker got cut off from us and fell in the river trying to escape. Dodger jumped in after her." At this Violet rolled her eyes. Her brother's sense of self-preservation was almost nonexistent. "Prowler, despite everything, was Dodger's friend; at least he was at the time. We followed the river, but the current outpaced us. They eventually got out at some point and decided to follow the river themselves to the Big Water. Well, during that time Dodger decided to really teach Tracker how to hunt because her hunting skills were, well, worse than mine currently are."

Ruby shivered at Violet's words. The pack had its own share of dinosaurs being washed down streams. Breeze and Taunt had survived such a journey, while the rest of their pack did not. It seemed that Dodger and Tracker were luckier than the allies that they had lost.

"Eventually they found signs of a swimmer herd and tracked it down. It took a whole day to do that. The next day they attacked. The swimmer almost got away, but Tracker got a lucky strike in. Unfortunately, a two-footer was in the area just watching all this and chased them both off before they got more than a bite out of it. We all found each other at the Big Water a couple days later," Violet finished.

Ruby was silent for several moments as she tried to collect her thoughts. Finally, however, she simply decided to speak her mind. "I'm so sorry… if that is a funny story then your stories must be very sad. We lost allies… One of Taunt's packmates died after washing down a river. Only Taunt and Breeze survived, as you may remember from the song." She shook her head. "I know that Taunt may seem insufferable sometimes, but that is how he deals with what life has given him. We wouldn't have him any other way."

"There's a reason I'm afraid of deep water," Violet replied, "I'm sorry Taunt lost his friends. I was actually screaming at Dodger not to go when he went after Tracker. That was selfish of me. He's saved me from my own mistakes so many times that I…" She couldn't find words to continue, so she just shook her head. "Sorry."

Ruby placed a hand on her shoulder. "We all have to make hard choices when times get tough. When times get tough then we have to make hard choices. I remember when we thought Haven was trapped in the water, but Seeker ordered us to flee… we had no idea that it was a trick to get Thud and Screech away from us. For all Seeker knew he had doomed Haven to death." She looked down. "Then there were other times when we risked everything for one packmate. I don't know what were the right choices, or even if there were right choices, I only hope that we make right choices in the future. I didn't know until I was a fastbiter how hard it could be to know exactly what those were."

"We can only hope," Violet replied. She shook herself, trying to rid herself of unwanted emotions. "Let's get down there before we depress ourselves too much." I'm a bit too good at doing that by myself, thank you.

As the duo walked down the hill they prepared themselves mentally for the battle that lay ahead. A battle in the metaphorical way, of course. A game was a battle of wits, and not a battle for blood. But would everyone be mindful of that difference?

Damn it! They are on my tail!

Taunt shifted to his right in order to dodge Ducky's latest strike. Despite his arrogant responses, he actually was growing concerned about the victory streak of the females. It made him worry that perhaps he was no longer performing up to his old standards, which itself brought back memories from his childhood as a sickly youth. He resolved to himself that he would no longer be that helpless again, and that drove him on in this game.

"You can't run for long, Stripe-Ass!"

Taunt gritted his teeth at Cera's taunt. "Watch me, dear!"

Knowing that they expected him to slow down as he went down the slope to the goal, he decided to surprise their expectations. He hunkered his legs down and rolled on his side. He planned on sliding down the hill.


Taunt smiled as he heard the females nearly lose their footing. Gotcha! However, he knew that this only bought him some time, which was why he did what he did next.

"Catch, Dodger!"

Why me? Dodger wondered as he caught the head and took off running. Not that comfortable with carrying the head and still trying to get used to the game he scanned the area for someone to pass the head to. Guys, I need help! And where's Violet? Violet was fast, which meant she could appear with very little warning.

"Over here, Dodger! Goal open!"

In response to Petrie's words Dodger readjusted his course and headed towards the goal.

Not that far away Violet heard the same words and decided to prove Petrie wrong. She sprinted towards the undefended goal.

"Quick, Dodger!" A male voice suddenly appeared in the distance, "Over here! She is almost on you!"

Spotting Finder, Dodger lobbed the head as best he could in the other fastbiter's direction. While not very graceful it got the head where he wanted it to go.

Seeing the flying head Violet readjusted to head directly to Finder, skirting very close to a tall bush.


Dodger didn't know what happened. One moment he was running the next he'd been stopped cold. Dizzy, he hurried to his feet, automatically looking for threats. Spotting Violet within reach, he helped her to her feet.

Ow! What hit me? Violet wondered. Seeing Dodger, she got her answer. Oh, right.

"Steady?" Dodger asked. He quickly looked her over for injuries.

"Steady," Violet confirmed. She copied her brother's injury search.

"Ready?" Violet just nodded.

"Goal!" Petrie shouted with excitement as Spike let out a victorious roar. The males had scored the first goal of the game. However, this moment of triumph was not echoed in Taunt's reaction.

"Are you two alright?!"

Ducky echoed Taunt's sentiments, "That was a bad hit!"

"Should we get out the healing plants?" Cera mouthed to Taunt, barely audible.

Dodger and Violet circled each other, checking to see if there was something they missed.

"Dodger, I'm fine. There weren't even claws involved," Violet protested.

"I know it wasn't a really bad hit, Violet, but everyone else is worried," Dodger replied, "You're sure you're okay?"

"I'm not even dizzy anymore," Violet said, sounding exasperated.

"Okay," Dodger said. He turned towards the others. "We're alright," he said loud enough for everyone to hear.

Cera and Taunt shared a glance as the others arrived at the goal. The expressions from the others communicated that they were equally concerned about the hit. They could put on vine armor to shield against claws and teeth, but collisions were another matter. Finally, however, Littlefoot merely shook his head in exasperation and kicked the head towards Violet.

"Alright, Violet, it is the girls' head. You get until 'five ground fuzzies' until us guys come after you." He then looked at his fellow males. "Everyone, get to your sides. The girls are going to start their assault soon!"

Once again, the game was on. Before the guys left, however, Violet could have sworn that she heard Taunt say,

"Watch out for the violet one, she is crazy! No offense, Dodger…"

"Okay, girls, what is the plan?"

Cera promptly went into leader mode, as she was the top-ranked member on the team. As she was the next in command, Ruby spoke next.

"A diversion? Maybe two of us could go one way, while the head goes another?"

Breeze nodded. "What if we did that, but one of us actually hid the head? And then backtracked… They would never suspect that."

Ducky shrugged. "My brother's sniffer would make that hard. That plan wouldn't work for long."

Cera growled in exasperation. They were fast running out of time before Chomper would begin his countdown. "Any ideas, Violet?"

"How far to the sides can we go?"

Cera pointed some distance away. "We can't cross the bushes on that side… or the scent markings on that side. Or as my mate so elegantly puts it, we have to stay between the sweet bubbles and the shit, or we will be in deeper shit."

Violet rolled her eyes at Taunt's idea of an explanation. "What would happen if a team crossed the boundary?

"Then the other team would get the head closer to the goal… why do you ask?"

"If we have whoever is carrying the head run along the boundary, a quick dodge should force anyone trying to stop us to cross the boundary, letting us get closer without risking losing the head."

Ruby pondered this for a moment. "That would be dirty, but a dirty win is still a win!"

Cera grinned. "Alright… this is what I think we should do…"

Spike shook with nervous anticipation as the first of the female's appeared through the bushes. It was during this game and hunts that the 'new' Spike was most on display as opposed to the 'old' Spike. Gone was the calm, nonchalant dinosaur and in its place was an excited bundle of feathers and muscle.

There's Haven… he immediately considered the possibility that they had sent out the dinosaur who would have known him the best… well… besides his own mate. That was when his mind realized something else: Ducky did not have the head.


Spike did not look at Taunt as his voice echoed from his side. He merely nodded his head.

"Alright! Finder and Taunt, use the threehorn strategy! Let's show these girls what we are made of!"

Spike smiled. This is going to be so much fun…

Well… here goes nothing.

With a slight nod of her head, Violet indicated her readiness. Now it was time to see if this crazy strategy of theirs would work or not. If they succeeded then they could get an easy goal… but if they miscalculated then they would give the males possession of the head very early in the second round. It was truly a gamble.

She didn't have long to consider that, however, as Cera let out a mighty roar and ran towards the other side of the clearing with a large tough-sweet in her mouth. The nearly inedible fruits which conveniently looked very much like a round head when seen from a distance. As soon as she went out of sight, Violet knew that it would be her turn to charge into the males' territory.

I guess it's my turn. Violet initially moved slowly, trying to check for surprises while she still had some cover. A quick glance told her that no one was looking in her direction. Time to go.

Violet took off, staying as close to the scent boundary as she dared. It wasn't too long before she was beyond what she could say was clear of surprises, but there really wasn't anything she could do about it except keep going.

"Ha! Got ya!"

Violet glanced back to see Cera get tackled. Oh, so that's how you do it.

Dodger, having rushed up to support Taunt, grimaced. No wonder they thought my collision was rough. It had hurt quite a bit more than he would admit, but he was used to pain.

Cera reacted to Taunt's slow recovery back to his feet with a subdued smile. The longer the delay, the more time that Violet had to get near the goal. With that in mind she decided to do something that was more reminiscent of Taunt than her.

"Hmmm… I thought that we agreed not to do that where others could see, dear."

Dodger nearly let go of Taunt as he tried and failed to control his laughter.

Taunt rose to his feet and shook his head with amusement. "I pounced on you for the head, dear… though it is good to know that you are in the mood…"

"Oh for the love of sanity! Just grab the head so we can beat the girls!" Spike's voice echoed from a distance, "She only stays down until Path gives the signal!"

Taunt nodded at Spike's reminder and turned to his mate. "Well, we can talk about that later.. right now we… what the…"

That was when he saw the tough-sweet. Cera's laughter only confirmed what had happened.

"Diversion!" Taunt roared into the sky, "Seeker, they are heading for the goal!"

Well, it was nice while it lasted, Violet thought. She pushed herself to her limit, hoping to outrun any oncoming pursuers.

"There she is!"

Must go faster. Must go faster. It's not much further. Violet didn't dare look behind her.

The sound of trampling footsteps arose in the distance. It was only then that she noticed the large form of Path some distance to her side. She didn't bother to fixate on that, however, as the form of Seeker began to approach her from the front. He was preparing for one last defense of the goal.

She did not notice Path's fixation on the boundary.

Violet shifted to the side, moving towards the boundary. She barely stayed within the playing area. Hope this works…

The brown fastbiter copied her movement as he appeared to fixate on the head in her mouth. He was matching her step for step. It was obvious that he was appearing to pounce.

Violet decided to try something involving a bit more precision. This is either my best idea or the worst. The moment Littlefoot leapt Violet let herself collapse, going from upright to sprawled almost instantly.

Ow. Ow, ow, ow. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Everything hurts. Assuming she lived through it Violet swore she'd never try that again. She was afraid to move lest she make something hurt worse, like the headache she could feel coming on; her head had hit the ground pretty hard.

Crash! "Shit!"

"Seeker! Are you alright!?"

Taunt suddenly appeared on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere. Within moments he was leaning over his leader with a concerned expression. Making an up and down gesture with his arms, he indicated to the others that there was an injury.

Violet got up slowly, almost every part of her body protesting. I'm dead. I'm dead. What was I thinking? She had no clue what Taunt's gesture meant, but she had a pretty good idea of what causing an injury to a pack leader meant.

"Injury! Get Ponder!" Cera's voice called from a distance.

"Coming!" Ruby's reply came a second later, "Oh, Seeker!" Came her response moments later when she saw Seeker's prone form. Now there were several footsteps heading in their direction.

"Urgh.. I'm alright, just a bloodied snout…" came Seeker's groggy reply, "She tricked me quite well…"

Violet just stared, her mind panicked. She subconsciously moved into the lowest pack-member posture. Her eyes conveyed something that was less 'I'm sorry' and more 'please don't kill me'. Dodger, help!

As if in slow motion, Taunt advanced towards her as Ponder took his place at Seeker's side. His face conveyed an odd emotion that Violet's panic-stricken form could not decipher at that moment. She merely shook nervously while the male sniffed her slowly.

"...And are you alright, Violet?"

Violet didn't quite comprehend what she heard. Still panicked, she took a step back. What do I do? Her shaking got worse.


Violet turned to look behind her. Seeing her brother, she felt slightly better, but was still quite fearful. "Help," Violet pleaded softly.

Seeing Littlefoot beyond Violet Dodger put together a rough picture of what happened. Oh. Oh, not good. "Violet, eyes on me." He needed her focused on him, not what was scaring her. "It was an accident. Everything's going to be alright." To reassure her Dodger deliberately put himself between Violet and Littlefoot.

"I'm fine, dear… I'm fine… It is just a bloody snout," Littlefoot's voice spoke from behind Dodger, "I think you should check up on Violet, though. How is she holding up?"

It took Dodger a moment to figure out that he was being addressed.

"Sir?" Dodger asked. He wasn't quite sure what Littlefoot had said.

"How is she doing? She had a pretty hard knock as well."

Dodger cringed. How exactly do I explain that she is currently fearing for her life and that I have no way of convincing her not to without your help?

"I think she is afraid, Seeker."

Littlefoot turned towards Taunt with a curious expression. Gone was the usual jocular tone from the orange fastbiter. Now he sounded outright concerned.

"Afraid? Of what?"

Taunt took a breath and whispered in his direction in a rather angry tone, "I think that Prowler was a bigger ass than we realized."

This finally gave Littlefoot pause as he placed another healing leaf in his remaining nostril. Taunt could be many things: insensitive, infuriating, and astonishingly humorous. However, the same empathy that allowed him to successfully annoy just about anyone also allowed him to see what others often overlooked. Now was one of those times.

Littlefoot gave a sad smile. "Arise, Violet. I am not mad at you."

Violet really couldn't think of anything to say. That was the last thing she was expecting to hear.

"Can I examine her?" Ponder asked Dodger, having realized what he was doing, "I am the pack healer most of the time."

Dodger turned back towards Violet. He wasn't letting anyone near Violet if she didn't want it.

Violet nodded towards her brother, who stepped back to give Ruby passage.

"It looks like you hit the ground hard… did Seeker tackle you?"

"No," Violet answered softly, "I fell on my own."

Ruby nodded at this. "You certainly play hard. But you did succeed in making Seeker go out of bounds…" She seemed to hum to herself. "You look okay. Do you feel alright?"

"Well, nothing's broken, so I guess I'm alright."

Ruby rolled her eyes at that response. A broken bone would have been a death sentence until they learned how to treat them from the rainbowfaces. Violet had shifted from being petrified to faking bravado. Much like a certain mate of hers…

"I went out of bounds?"

Ruby smiled as she turned towards Littlefoot's confused face. "You can talk to Path if you are not sure. But you went out of bounds because Violet forced you out."

Cera finally made her voice heard, "Now we get the head from here! Good luck, boys!"

"Really clever, Violet," Dodger told his sister, "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I'm fine," Violet said while trying to hide her wincing. That really hurt.

Path finally advanced on the scene, with his thunderous footsteps foretelling of his arrival. "Seeker and Violet are out for the round to recover. Everyone else, get back to your places. A penalty round is about to start." He then looked towards the males. "Who do you claim as your defender?"

Taunt sighed. "Me. I am the fastest of those that remain. Finder couldn't catch his own tail."

"Ass!" Spike shouted, but declined to disagree with Taunt's assessment.

"Slow ass!" Taunt shouted back, which made Path roll his eyes.

"And the girls?" Path inquired, "Who will be your head-holder?"

"Haven," Cera spoke without hesitation, "She will even the score."

"We will see about that!" Spike boasted.

"Indeed we will! Yep, yep, yep!"

"Alright, enough! You tail-chasers can resolve this during the penalty round. Get in your positions!" Path roared. He didn't have to speak twice. Everyone else began to move into position as Seeker and Violet proceeded to step out of the area of play. But not before Violet asked one final question of Dodger.

"Am I in trouble?"

"No, you are not," Seeker's voice came from nearby, "Though if we don't get out of the way before Path is ready then we might be. It is a rule during the game that he is the game leader and score keeper. And he takes that job very seriously."

Violet just nodded and headed for the boundary. I've caused enough chaos for one day.

Dodger looked back as he headed back to his team. Please be okay. He hated seeing her that scared. It was almost never that easy to get her back to normal. I don't need you hiding anything.

"Alright, everyone get set… begin!"

Okay, so it's Taunt versus Haven. Good luck, Taunt. You're going to need it.

"So this was your plan the entire time… I am just glad that I didn't land in the crap. That would have added insult to injury," Littlefoot muttered absentmindedly.

Violet looked in Littlefoot's direction, her face registering alarm. I probably shouldn't mention that this was originally my idea. Violet would be lying if she said she wasn't more than a little afraid of the pack leader.

"Because based upon your reaction I can tell it was your idea… it was certainly a good one."

"Sorry," Violet replied.

Littlefoot laughed, which caught the other fastbiter by surprise. "Don't be sorry. It was a good plan. It certainly has evened the odds… whoa!"

In front of the two fastbiters a roar erupted from the others as Taunt deflected a head toss from Ducky. Now the head was in play for everyone. The area of play instantly descended into chaos as every fastbiter entered into the field of play. Every fast biter besides Seeker and Violet, that is.

Well, that was all for nothing. I thought for sure we could score after all that. "I thought we had it," Violet muttered, "Come on. We need to score."

Seeker leaned on his front claws, "Come on, guys… we need to win this time! It has been so long…"

A roar then erupted from the playing field as Spike and Ducky collided. The head then rolled in front of Ruby. Her hesitation in grabbing the head was obvious.

"Come on, dear, you can do it…"

"I thought you were on the other team," Violet commented, trying not to sound too nervous. Her headache was making it difficult for her to think through what she should say.

"She is… but she has struggled the last few games. I just… well… would like her to get her confidence back." Littlefoot hesitated for several moments as Ruby barely dodged a tackle from Spike, "When you get a mate then you will understand."

"Yeah, I'm usually the one that needs help," Violet said, "Dodger usually doesn't make mistakes."

Littlefoot snorted. "We all make mistakes. What is important is how we learn from them… Nice one, Ponder!"

Ruby dodged another attempted tackle from Taunt as she veered towards the goal. Now only Dodger was in her way.

Violet grinned when her brother succeeded in tackling Ruby and grinned a bit wider when Ducky got to the head before Dodger did. It only took a moment for Ducky to hurl the head into the hole.

Littlefoot smiled slightly despite the loss for his team. "Well… that should make Ponder feel better anyway… she got an assist. Haven couldn't have made the goal without her attempt."

Dodger shook his head at the result, smiling bemusedly; he'd have expected a similar move from Violet. Maybe that's why the two are starting to get along…

Littlefoot sighed. "Well.. it looks like our break is over so…"

"Oh no you don't!"

Littlefoot closed his eyes as Ruby appeared seemingly out of nowhere and glared at her mate. She was in full-on healer mode. "You two need to sit out for another round. You have only now stopped bleeding. You were still bleeding until now."

Littlefoot opened his mouth before thinking better of it. He knew when he was in a battle that he couldn't win. When he did speak it was to say something else entirely.

"That was nicely done, dear. Haven couldn't have made that goal without your attempt."

Ruby allowed herself a slight puffing out of the chest. "Thanks, dear. Now you sit back and enjoy the view as we girls win again!"

Littlefoot rolled his eyes as his mate ran back into the playing field. It was then that Violet finally spoke with some amusement.

"Sometimes you just can't win, huh?" Reminds me of Dodger and Tracker when one of us gets hurt or I do something stupid. Tracker gets very good at copying Dodger when someone is injured, especially me.

"There are some things that trump rank… not that Path wouldn't have forced the matter anyway…" Littlefoot went back to his resting position. "He knows that he will be giving the orders one day…"

"I'd leave before then." Violet clamped her hands over her mouth. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Littlefoot laughed. "I am sure that things won't be too bad. Though I am not looking forward to being one of Path's lackeys. I guess we would be known as Path's food chasers then." He shook his head as another laugh left his mouth. "I suppose that is better than going hungry."

"Yeah, it probably is," Violet replied, suddenly sounding distant.

Littlefoot looked at Violet with his amusement quickly evaporating, "I am sorry. It is..." He sighed. "I lost my mother to his kind too."

"It's not that. I guess I've just gotten a bit too used to starving." It's unlikely he's had that problem very often. "I've never really thought of what I'd be willing to do to avoid it."

Littlefoot nodded. 'The hunger madness is a horrible thing… a horrible thing…" he trailed off with his tone conveying a reaction to a distant memory.

"I think my pack's gotten a bit too used to it," Violet said, "We've had to deal with it far too regularly. I remember one Cold Time that was honestly so bad I thought dying would have been better." Why did I say that out loud? "Please don't tell Dodger I said that; he worries about me too much as it is."

Littlefoot gave her a sympathetic smile. "Wanting to kill others… or to be killed… that comes with the hunger madness. At least you never had to kill one of your friends…" He then averted his eyes and sighed. "But you already heard that story."

"Have you ever had to deal with getting in trouble regularly?" Violet asked hesitantly. She'd been trying to find a way to apologize to her brother for not listening to him before she learned things the hard way for a while now.

The sound of roars emanated from the game, but Littlefoot's focus was now firmly on the conversation. He had no idea how to reply to that except by being truthful. "Well… when me and my friends were leaf-eaters we got into trouble all of the time. It is a wonder we never got eaten."

"How could you...you went outside the valley, didn't you?" I'd never be let out of my parents' sight if I'd left the nest and nearly got eaten. Which is why it only happened once.

"Several times…" Littlefoot confirmed, "We left to unblock the river… I left to find healing plants for my Grandfather… we left the herds in order to prevent them from breaking up… I left to pluck a tooth from a sharptooth's mouth in order to end the valley's bad luck…"

"You did what?" That's crazy even for me, Violet thought.

"It… was not my best moment," Littlefoot confirmed, "The valley had a lot of bad luck and… it's a long story. When I was a longneck I looked up to Doc, who I thought was the Lone Dinosaur." He saw the lack of comprehension on her face. "Nevermind. I was just being a stupid kid. But even after I survived that… somehow… that didn't stop us. We left several more times."

"Dodger's been watching me in some way my whole life. I snuck out of the nest once, and he went after me. I got confined to the nest unless Dodger was with me. I guess that was his punishment for trying to get me on his own. I don't think Dad intended for Dodger to replace him, though." Violet tried not to laugh, but the absurdity that made up much of her pack's humor made it hard not to. If they couldn't really do anything about a bad situation they might as well laugh at it. "If he's survived me I don't think my brother is going to have any trouble as a parent."

Littlefoot gave a light chuckle. "I tremble for when Ponder and I have children… we both fear that fate will pay us back for how often we challenged it. Though with teeth and claws hopefully they wouldn't be as helpless as we were as leaf-eaters… well and half-teeth in the case of Ponder," his smile turned into a slight frown, "If only my mother could see that… or my grandparents…"

"I miss Mom and my siblings," Violet said, "I've never quite felt like I lost my dad, though. If you've met Dodger you've met my dad. Just double his age, maybe a bit more, and you'd have him. My mom, though, was a bit like me, just not the same color."

Littlefoot nodded. "I had my grandparents so I still felt like there was a bit of my mother that remained, but still… I often talked to her, you know? Talked to the night sky which is where our ancestors watch us."

Another roar erupted from the game where Taunt had made a successful goal. However both fastbiters were so lost in their conversation that they didn't notice that development.

"I've heard Dodger talking to Dad more than once, usually right after I'd done something very ill-advised. He actually helped Tracker say goodbye to her old pack when she first joined. I didn't know about that for a very long time." Even when he barely knew her Dodger was a better friend than I was. Why didn't I ever listen until things got really bad? Violet wondered.

"Have you tried talking to your parents?" Littlefoot inquired.

"Once. I told Ponder Dodger and Tracker's half of the story. She didn't find it funny for some reason. Long story short Prowler and I got separated from them, and I didn't take it well. I ended up asking for help, or at least trying to. It ended up being a very long apology for how I'd behaved before then. That was the last time I completely ignored something Dodger told me to do until, what was it, yesterday?" Why didn't I listen to his advice as carefully?

Littlefoot nodded. "Well… if you are ever confused then I would recommend talking to those who have parted. Even if you are like Stern Claw and think you are just talking to yourself, sometimes yourself has some things to say that you need to hear." He began to preen his feathers. "I believe that my mom and grandparents are still there though."

"I'm just afraid mine are ashamed of me," Violet said before she could stop herself. "If we hadn't run into you guys I'd probably still be a child when I'm old enough to start a family."

"Prowler never really gave you a chance, Violet. Part of becoming an adult is learning how to try and try again even after repeated failure. I mean… we all could tell you some stories from when Path's parents were training us…"

"If that's true for everyone, how do you and Dodger manage to lead, if you don't mind my asking? Dodger got me out of a few really bad situations without even seeming like he was afraid. This might sound stupid, but sometimes I forget there are situations he might not be able to get me out of."

Another chorus of shouts and roars came from the playing field, but neither of them gave it any heed.

"It is amazing how much we don't notice the fear of those who protect us. I used to think of my grandparents as invincible, but that was only because they often hid their fears from me. It took me a long time to realize that they were not perfect protectors, but rather were just like me." Littlefoot's face took on an odd expression. "That realization was both liberating and horrifying."

"Perfect or not, I still don't get how Dodger does it. You know that trick I pulled? I got that idea from what I did shortly after Tracker and I became friends. I intentionally used my status as a child and Dodger's role as guardian to try and verbally attack Prowler without being attacked back. It didn't work so well."

Violet gestured to a small bite mark on her neck. "Dodger kept it from being worse. I feel horrible about how I acted, but I guess it never occurred to me that my brother has a limit. You guys nearly made me learn his limit in the hardest way possible." That was the closest Violet was ever going to get at as far as accusations or other ill-will was concerned. She'd said it; there was nothing more for her to do with it, especially since she was starting to consider Ducky her friend.

"Life is a harsh teacher. The important thing is that we learn from it before we become victims of its lessons." Littlefoot carefully gestured as if he were going to place a hand on her shoulder before thinking better of it. "You are still learning, but don't be too fearful of the lessons to come. You have a trusted pack at your side and ancestors to watch over you, so you have more than many have in this world."

"Hey, guys? You feeling better?"

Littlefoot turned towards Cera's yellowish form. He had almost forgotten about the game.

"I have been feeling better for a while," Littlefoot confirmed.

"Sorry," Violet apologized for a second time. She really didn't want Littlefoot mad at her and wasn't entirely sure she was in the clear. It paid to be careful.

Littlefoot finally got over his reluctance to touch her shoulder. "It's not a problem! Accidents happen."

Cera coughed awkwardly. "Well… we are tied at two points each."

Littlefoot considered Cera's words with some trepidation. Tied with the game on the line… things could get messy here. He knew very well how competitive Cera and Taunt both were, but the addition of the newcomers into the mix further intensified the situation. How would they react under such expectations?

Tied? Oh, no. Violet normally would be glad to have something she could win, but she was worried about what would happen if she messed up. She remembered quite well that Cera was at best less than impressed with her kill count. Violet really didn't want to hear what she would say if she cost her team the game.

"Well…" Littlefoot forced a smile on his face. "It looks like it comes down to this… good luck, girls, you will all need it!"

Cera grunted. "We shall see, Seeker. But I think that you will be humbled yet again… face it, girls rule and males drool!"

Taunt finally made his presence known. "So says the girl who just splattered the pack leader with her own saliva!"

Littlefoot snorted as he lightly rubbed Cera's saliva off of his snout. She had no idea that she was salivating at the thought of winning until Taunt alerted her to her faux pas.

Did I hit my head harder than I thought or something? Is there anything that can get these guys mad at each other? Violet cringed at that last thought. Best I not find out. Right now weird is good.

"I… um…" Cera stammered, suddenly unsure of herself.

Littlefoot took this opportunity to further fluster the former threehorn. Now it is time for Taunt to work his magic…

"Oh, Taunt? Care to avenge your leader?"

"This is not going to end well," Dodger whispered to his sister, having just arrived at the sidelines. Violet looked at him in alarm. "Not that kind of bad," he hastily amended.

As if on cue Taunt ran up to his mate and viscously licked her face, utterly covering her in thick saliva. Then, with what good sense he contained, he fled from the scene to the supposed safety of his team's side of the field.

"You… despicable… piece… of…"

Littlefoot did not let Cera finish as he gave Violet a cheeky smile. "Well that is our cue to leave. Good luck, ladies!" He took off sprinting and the rest of the males followed suit. Within moments only the hysterical laughter of Chomper and Petrie could be heard. Both of them being safe from Cera's wrath.

"So, I guess you want us to kick their tails, then?" Violet asked, hesitating a bit. Please don't lash out at me. Probably shouldn't have said anything… Maybe Tracker has the right idea about not speaking too often.

"You're damn right!" Cera huffed, "Let's show them feathered-assed scum-suckers what we girls are made of!"

If I screw up, I'm running and hiding behind Dodger. I don't care who laughs at me as long as I don't add to my scar collection, Violet thought before she followed Cera to the rest of their team.

"Well, we got her flustered so that means she will be rash this time… you know how she is when she is mad," Littlefoot noted to the others.

Taunt snorted. "You should try sharing a nest with her… you know, guys, could I like… use one of your sleeping spots tonight? I…"

Spike rolled his eyes and did not take the bait. "You knew what you were getting into when you mated with her, Taunt. Besides, I thought you always said that you preferred when she was angry… something about her being more loving when she was hateful…"

Littlefoot suppressed a groan though he couldn't stop a smile from appearing on his face. "All due respects, Taunt, I do not need to know about you and Stern Claw's love life… and… yes… you are on your own with this."

In contrast to everyone else Dodger was looking more than a bit worried. If something happens to Violet… He tried not to seem like he lacked confidence in her, but Dodger always planned for the worst result. Good results didn't usually require contingencies. She's been stuck around enough people with short tempers.

"We need to formulate a plan now though. Stern Claw will not be waiting for a well thought-out plan at this point. She simply wants to win and rub it in all of our faces." He paused for a moment to glance at Dodger. "Is everything alright, Dodger?"

Dodger did his best to seem impassive. He really didn't want to admit he was preparing for how to handle a Prowler-like incident in front of the instigator's mate and pack leader. "Everything's fine," he said as neutrally as possible. If they don't see through this I'm actually going to be worried about them. Even Violet could tell I'm lying.

Littlefoot smiled a bit wider. "Don't worry, Dodger. This is a regular thing between her and Taunt… I think it is how they say they love one another." He then paused for a moment. "...that being said Stern Claw will be going all out this time, and we need to be prepared."

"The old bait and ambush?" Taunt offered without commenting on Littlefoot's allusion to his and Cera's little romantic games, "She wants to kick both of our asses, so Dodger and Finder could go after the head while she is distracted."

Spike rolled his eyes but said nothing. He gave a nod indicating his silent acceptance of Taunt's proposal.

Littlefoot nodded. "Sounds good to me. You ready to guard the mid-field, Dodger?"

"Yes, sir," Dodger replied, "Um, how exactly would Stern Claw react to losing?" Translation: how quickly do I have to move to protect my sister?

Littlefoot misinterpreted his question as a joke. "She hasn't lost in so long I think I have forgotten. I suppose we'll find out if we are successful." He then ran off to his place without a word, leaving Dodger to his own thoughts.

Okay, so what are you going to do if I have to kill her? No one was touching his sister again. No one.

Okay, so what happened to the plan? Violet thought, I've been in longer planning sessions with Prowler. Okay, so I didn't actually contribute, or listen, to them, but they were sometimes longer.

Breeze looked alongside Violet as they both ran to what they assumed their positions were, "Do you have any idea what in the name of sanity we are doing?"

"I was hoping you knew," Violet answered unassuredly. This is my first game of Capture the Head after all.

Breeze laughed as she picked up speed. "Well, I don't really know, but here are some words of advice. When Stern Claw gets into this mood she usually uses the 'attack on all fronts' strategy." She shrugged as she continued to be vigilant for males. "We all are running to the goal as a group with no defenders. We will either win or lose here."

I'm not liking the sound of this. Violet wondered if it was too late to leave the game and hide somewhere.

"There she is! Hey, Stern Claw, did you come back for more?!"

Okay, Taunt is officially insane, Violet thought, Oh, there's Dodger. Violet noted his location in case things got dangerous but otherwise didn't consider it in relation to the game.

It was then that a loud roar could be heard. It was Cera.

"You're about to get all you can handle, boys!" Cera yelled with great ferocity as she ran at full sprint down the field. It was only now that Violet could see Ducky at the other edge. It was indeed an all-in attack. They would either make a goal here or leave themselves open for the males to make a goal. There was no margin for error.

Littlefoot held his posture as he counted down the time until Cera arrived.

Ten… nine… eight… seven...

Her eyes were like fire as she ran full speed down the grass-covered field. The heaving of her chest was unmistakable as dirt leapt behind her in her mad dash. Her entire focus was on the goal. Just what he wanted.

six… five… four…

He crouched down as he prepared for what was about to come. He had to time this correctly or else risk injury to them both.


He leaned back on his back legs.


He held his breath as his muscles burned with anticipation.


He leapt.

Breeze held her breath as Littlefoot suddenly appeared like an apparition from the tree itself. Within an instant both he and Cera were tumbling end over end as the head flew from Cera's mouth. It was only in a somewhat dazed state that she realized it was heading straight for her mouth. She grabbed it in the air without a thought.

Oh crap!

Terror struck her as both Dodger and Taunt appeared from the front. How was she supposed to get away from this gauntlet?

"Over here, Breeze!"

She looked to her side as Ruby waved her hands with excitement. However, she could see Spike stalking in the distance. Any pass to Ruby would be intercepted. That was when she saw a flash of orange.


He was now rapidly gaining on her as Dodger kept his position close by. She was fast running out of options. Except one.

As Taunt's body rose into the air she hurled the head towards the only open fastbiter.

It had to be me, didn't it? Violet thought as she ran as fast as she could towards the goal, the head secure in her mouth, Blegh… this does not taste good.

She looked to her left and right but saw no one. Maybe she'd get through. If it seems too good to be true it probably is, Dodger's voice echoed in her head in warning.

Violet made the mistake of actually stopping to get her bearings. Maybe I wasn't as okay as I thought… Whipping her head from left to right and back had left her quite dizzy.

Dodger almost wanted to apologize when he caught up with her.

Violet felt a nip on her tail and dropped the head in surprise.

"Sorry," Dodger whispered before picking up the head and running in the opposite direction.

"Oh no! We have to protect the goal! We do, we do!"

Ducky wasted no time in moving to a full-blown sprint towards her team's goal. Cera's plan had failed and they were now open to attack, but she had the 'advantage' of being slower than the others, which meant that she was a bit closer to her goal than Dodger was.

The race was on.

Well, this is one way to become a target, Dodger thought, I'm going to have to find some way to make it up to Violet after this. A quick glance behind him revealed that Ducky was gaining on him. Here goes nothing.

Ducky continued to gain on Dodger, much to her surprise. She was beginning to gain confidence despite the terrible situation that had befallen her team.

We might win yet! Yep, yep, yep!

She didn't dare look behind her, lest she lose her momentum, but she could deduce that Ruby was behind her. This would allow them to take the head even if the tackle incapacitated her. Now it was just up to her to make her move.

Pack leader or not… Haven is coming for you!

She quickened her pace as she advanced on his tail. It would only be a few more moments and…


In an instant the fastbiter appeared to change course utterly. Now in the resulting struggle to correct her direction she rolled onto her side. All of her forward momentum was gone!

What… what just happened?

When she finally felt like she'd gotten over her dizzy spell, Violet started to wonder if that was actually a good thing. Other team scored; we lost. I'm dead. She started glancing around nervously, afraid Cera would appear at any moment.

"Damn it… I guess you boys finally pulled your tails out of your mouths and won a game."

Taunt gave a cheeky smile as he helped Littlefoot off of the ground. For his part, Littlefoot smiled though he still groaned from his impact.

"Is that your way of congratulating us, Stern Claw?" Spike quickly offered before Taunt could speak, though the two exchanged a victorious nudge of the sides, "How are you two holding up? That was a big impact!"

Littlefoot shrugged. "I'm fine. Just a bit shook up. Stern Claw?"

Cera snorted. "I am perfectly fine! We will get even next time, boys! You just got lucky this time!" Then, with her tail arched up in an arrogant strut, she walked back towards the girls' side of the field, her face turned away from the boys' celebration.

"And how are you, Violet?"

"I'm okay," she said despite still feeling a bit off when she walked. There's no way I can run like this, Violet thought, her mind started to once again drift towards panic.

She then saw a flash of orange and brown as Taunt, Littlefoot, and Cera both arrived on the scene. Thoughts of the victory suddenly put on hold.

"I think you need to lie down, Violet," Cera offered bluntly, "We should go get Ponder." Without another word she began to gesture at the pink fastbiter in the distance.

Violet didn't need to be told twice. If Cera were paying attention she'd have noticed that Violet had started shaking a bit. I'm almost as helpless as Tracker right now. If she blames me… Violet was sure she'd be getting a painful reminder that incompetence was not tolerated.

It did not take long for Ruby to appear on the scene. She immediately leaned down and looked into Violet's eyes.

"Okay, Violet. I want you to turn towards the Bright Circle for me…" Ruby commanded in a soft voice, with more than a little concern showing through, "...but keep your eyes open so that I can see them."

Violet did as she was told despite not understanding why she was being asked to do it. If she did as she was told maybe she wouldn't end up hurt.

"Hmmm..." Ruby hummed with concern, "Now close your eyes for me and don't open them until I say."

Violet hesitated a bit before closing them. "Okay," she said, her voice sounding shaky.

The pause lasted for several seconds as some murmuring could be heard in the background. Even the thundering footsteps of Chomper could be heard getting closer as everyone seemed to be converging upon the scene, but yet Ruby did not give the order to open her eyes.

When Dodger finally got to the group he nearly lost his mind for a moment. Violet! For once he was thankful to have had Prowler as a pack leader. He got himself back under control almost as quickly as he panicked. "What happened?" Dodger asked Littlefoot, unable to keep the edge out of his voice.

"Head injury," Ruby answered without looking away, "We are seeing how bad right now… Violet can you open your eyes for me?"

Head injury? Oh, crap. V iolet opened her eyes as instructed. She couldn't see anyone other than Ruby, who was taking up most of her field of view.

Ruby sighed as she saw the pupils remain dilated for several more seconds than was normal. It was one of the signs that the rainbowfaces had told her to look for in the valley. It seemed that the last tackle had made Violet's head injury worse.

"How is it, Ponder?" Littlefoot asked in a stern, concerned voice. As he did this all of the other fastbiters in the pack got down on one knee in a watchful posture that Dodger had never seen before. Even Chomper imitated the gesture in the best way that his body would allow.

Dodger was a bit confused as to what the other pack was doing, but as far as he could tell there wasn't any threat that he could deal with. He forced himself to relax and sit down. He briefly considered imitating the other pack, but the tactical part of his mind rebelled at the thought of doing anything that was even slightly awkward, and thus potentially limiting to his ability to respond, while his sister was helpless. I hate injuries. I can't do anything about them.

"I forgot what the rainbowfaces called it… but she has the shaken head sickness. I don't know how bad yet. Is Haven here?"

She didn't have to ask twice. "I'm here, Ponder! What do you need?"

Ruby examined the eyes for a few more seconds as she considered the situation. Ducky had obtained some training as well when they were all caring for Taunt's broken leg after the battle. As a result, she had no doubt in her friend's abilities.

"She will need some pain-away plants, but not the bitter ones… remember the rainbowfaces said that can make it worse."

Ducky nodded. "I remember. Anything else?"

Ruby shook her head, as her friend sprinted in the direction of the forest. Within moments Spike and Taunt followed as well. The urgency did nothing to improve Dodger's concerns.

"Okay, Violet. I know that this is going to sound odd… but can you sing a song for me?"

"What?" Violet asked.

Ruby nodded as if she had expected that response. "A song. Something with a lot of pitch changes and words. I have to see how well you can do those things."

"Does it matter that I'm a terrible singer?"

"You're not a bad singer, Violet. Stop comparing yourself to Tracker," Dodger immediately corrected his sister. Violet was actually a good singer. Unfortunately, her point of comparison was Tracker, who had a natural gift for singing. Dodger then whispered a suggestion for a song.

"You sure?" Violet asked. Dodger just nodded. Violet prepared herself for a moment then started to sing.

Ruby tried to push aside her feelings about the song as Violet began to sing. She remembered what the rainbowfaces had told her to be on the lookout for. Slurring and confusion were the signs of a bad head-shake, and possibly one that would be fatal. With that mindset she forced all attention on what she could hear. She could not afford to let Violet down.

The others, however, paid attention to Violet's words. The song was sung with such emotion as to force everyone into silence. It was a song that communicated loss at the same time that it showed the continuation of what had once been. It reminded them of some of their older songs in a way. A reminder of the parents that many of them had lost. And those which they could not see again in person, despite being very much alive.

Littlefoot bowed his head. I hope that we don't have to sing this song about her soon. It was my hit that caused the injury in the first place… I should have been more careful… I should have watched where she was going…

"That was very good, Violet. I think your shaken-head sickness is not very bad. It is only bad." Ruby stated but then tried to correct herself, "I mean… it will get better soon."

Violet stared at Ruby, having caught what was originally said. She knew very little of head injuries, other than that she'd had a few. There were a few days that for the life of her she couldn't remember. Maybe this time I'll forget everything. Hm, that actually wouldn't be such a bad thing… "If you say so," Violet muttered in reply.

"She'll be okay?" Dodger asked Ruby. He caught Violet's disbelieving tone, but chose to ignore it. For now. Should I tell them she's hit her head a few times before now and once couldn't remember several days?

"I think so…" Ruby answered hesitantly, "...but this is odd."

Cera finally spoke up again with a hoarse voice, "Weird? In what way?"

Ruby sighed. "A little bump shouldn't be enough to cause this. Was her first hit today that bad? Did we make a mistake in letting her play again?"

"She's hit her head before," Dodger said reluctantly. He then looked over at his sister apologetically. Sorry, but they need to know. "A few times actually. One time…" Dodger cringed at the memory. "I was surprised she was still breathing, never mind that her skull wasn't shattered."

Ruby's face darkened as Cera gasped, "What happened?"

"A really bad day. Long story short, she was running along the cliffside, slipped at the turn, and fell. I didn't see anything else until I got to her. Her head hit a rock hard enough to crack it."

Ruby felt something tug at her stomach. She suddenly felt ill. "Violet… you need to stay awake, okay?"

Yep, I'm going to die, Violet thought. "That's what Dodger said last time." I didn't listen. I could have sworn the Night Circle was only half full when I got that headache. Why was it full the next day?

It was at that point that the sound of flapping wings could be heard.

"Tracker is impatient for news…" Petrie stated bluntly in an understatement for the ages, "What should me tell her?"

Ruby's mouth quivered for a moment. "She injured her head… but she is awake. We are treating her now."

Littlefoot added, "Tell her that she is in good hands."

A flutter of wings could be heard once more, then he was gone. Now all any of them could do was wait.

"How do threehorns keep ramming their heads together?" Violet complained, "This hurts."

Cera, despite herself, snorted. "I'm afraid my skull isn't what it once was. Threehorns are built for ramming. It is what we do… did." She sighed. "Though the crashing-head sickness could happen to us too."

Dodger idly wondered whether this would be a good time to admit, just from what he heard from the story, that he both deeply admired and was outright terrified by Cera's father. The word 'indestructable' came to mind.

Breeze spoke under her breath, "Where are those healing plants?"

"I see them!" Littlefoot announced, "They are rushing out of the forest now."

Please don't let this be like last time! Dodger thought. The day of Violet's last head injury had been the worst of his life. The aftermath wasn't much better. He wasn't sure if he could handle going through it again.

The trio of Taunt, Ducky, and Spike arrived with great haste as their healing leaves fell near Violet like a waterfall of green. Ruby quickly grabbed two of them and rubbed them in her hands.

"Okay, Violet, you need to eat some of this sap."

"This'll help?" Violet asked, not entirely convinced this would help at all.

Ruby nodded as Littlefoot and the other males began rubbing together the other leaves. "It should help the pain a little, but it will still hurt, a little." She then placed the sap in front of Violet's mouth and waited for her to accept the unappetizing mush.

Violet very reluctantly complied. Yuck. This is disgusting.

As Violet reluctantly consumed the foul-tasting sap Littlefoot looked straight into Dodger's eyes. "I think that we should get Tracker. A pack defends its vulnerable." His unspoken words came through loud and clear. We may not be able to defend them if they are split up.

"Violet, I'll be right back," Dodger said, turning to his sister.

"No getting hurt," Violet replied, trying to make a joke. Trying being the operative word.

"Ok." I will NOT say 'What could possibly happen?' I want to come back in one piece. He turned to leave.

"I'm coming with you!" Ducky stated as she got up to join the two males. Without further word the trio sprinted off towards the hill where Tracker lay. Soon the two packmates would be together.

Leaving Dodger as the last healthy member of his pack.

So what would be a game with the pack without a bit of unexpected drama. d-; It seems that Mender has had a previous head injury and this has finally caught up with her. Time will only tell how Dodger reacts to being the last remaining healthy pack member.

bryan mccloud: Luckily for Violet Path is now too big for the game, though he is the umpire. d-; However, you were quite on the mark when you mentioned that she shouldn't take the game 100% seriously. Her pack still needs some time to adjust to not being in peril all of the time. Violet in particular needs some time to adjust. Fastbiters with a history of head injuries should certainly try to avoid them in the future...

DevoutRelic: Thank you very much for the kind words and the review. (: I just hope that this and my future works can live up to expectations. With regards the the measurement of time in years, it was done a bit in the Seven Hunters, though not very often. Usually a more relative form of time measurement was used. I will keep this in mind as my co-author and I continue to re-work the roleplay into story form. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the flow and tone of the story just right, considering that this story was written in a different manner than most stories.

As for the Seven hunters universe, I do plan on this being the last story of the main Seven Hunters continuity, with any future works of mine either being in different LBT continuities (there are some other plot ideas that I think would be fascinating to explore), AU continuities of this story-idea (such as a what-if story if things in the Seven Hunters had gone differently, or perhaps someday if he is willing and has time, an Eight Hunter continuity story), or stories that could fit in both a canon or Seven Hunters continuity (like a prequel story about Ruby, which would technically fit either a canon story or the Seven Hunters).

Thank you again for the kind words. (: I am glad that you were helped during your time of need. And don't ever think that you are wasting my time by talking to me or leaving a long review. I am always glad to talk to my readers, and if you ever need to talk about anything, anything at all, feel free to contact me. I can be reached by PM on this site if you have a fanfiction account, and also by DeviantArt note (information for which can be found on my profile).

I look forward to hearing from you again. (:

JulianR94: Thank you for the review. (: In this chapter we have moved away slightly from the endless explanations of the last chapter and into a more action-based chapter. Though the new guests are still getting accustomed to not being in constant danger of being harmed. Perhaps Seeker's pack should have waited a few more days before putting Violet in a competitive situation...

gordhanx: Thank you for the detailed review. (: Yeah, I tried to begin with a bit more of a focus on the 'present' in order to elaborate on Mender's situation and the thoughts of the fastrunners. I always liked Pearl as a character, but she was not used as much in Songs of the Hunters due to the way the plot developed. I have always seen her as a very feminine and motherly character who could still hold her own against a harsh world. We will see a bit more of her in the future. (:

I am glad that you liked the chapter. I was a bit unsure how the conversation-focus was going to play out in terms of readability, as roleplays and stories often have different patterns of flow. But I am glad to hear that you liked the final result.

Thanks for the reviews, everyone (: I look forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions on the latest chapter.