Be advised that the following chapters touch upon some issues that I did not cover in detail in the Seven Hunters or Songs of the Hunters. However, in the context of a warlike pack based upon domination and violence, what I have described here (however unpleasant) is in keeping with actual human experience during wartime. Reader discretion is advised.
Chapter 7: Revelations
Several hours later:
Why did it have to happen to Violet? Tracker wondered. She was glad to hear that Violet had shown none of the problems Dodger had mentioned the last time Violet had a head injury. I had my own ordeal to go through. At least Violet can't remember anything between her injury and the start of the next Night Circle Cycle. I'd have welcomed having that problem at the time.
Seeing Dodger in the distance, trying almost in vain to keep his two packmates in view, Tracker wished she could go over and talk to him. He's blaming himself again. He always does that when something goes wrong. She shook her head. There was nothing she could do about it, as much as she wished to, except maybe get someone to talk some sense into him. How do I do that without making a scene? I can't even stand up properly on my own.
"How is the feeling in your legs?" Ducky's voice suddenly asked some distance away.
"Fine as long I don't try to stand. Weight hurts." Why is Haven talking to me? Ducky wasn't quite the last person Tracker had expected to speak to her since she'd seen her talking to Violet more than once, but it was still strange.
The green fastbiter sighed as she sat down some distance from Tracker. It was immediately noticeable to Tracker that it was just far enough not to be imposing, but close enough to invite conversation. The smell which radiated off of Ducky communicated a mix of regret and concern.
"The pain is actually good. It was like that when Seeker had his training accident. First it lacked feeling, then it hurt, then it hurt a lot, then it got better." She frowned. "We talked to the rainbowfaces about it and they said something about the 'nerves' still being alive, whatever that means…"
"Good to know. I can finally give Dodger some good news." Tracker glanced towards Dodger, checking to make sure he was still there. "Maybe someone should talk to him…" He's not handling this well.
Ducky was silent for several moments, and Tracker thought that perhaps she had been ignored. But then Ducky spoke with a far-away tone, "I am sure Seeker will talk to him again… there are certain things that only a leader would know." She paused for a moment before looking at Tracker with an odd expression. "...just like there are certain things that only a packmate would know. What exactly happened to Violet before?"
"I thought Dodger told you what happened. I wasn't there to actually see what happened. I was otherwise occupied," Tracker said evasively. The conversation was starting to drift into an area she very much wanted to avoid.
Ducky was silent for several moments as more than a hint of irritation radiated from the fastbiter. It was a scent that Tracker had not smelled on Ducky before. Well… at least since the time that she had been injured by her.
"There are stories that are hard to tell, and things that are hard to do. One of the hardest is to lose a packmate. The less we know about what happened to her the greater the chance that she will be lost." Tracker thought she could hear Ducky grit her teeth. "Believe it or not, Tracker, I do not care to lose any more people in my life."
"There's honestly not much I can tell you about Violet's accident. I saw her the morning before the attack started and didn't see her again until maybe eight or nine days later." Tracker was actually starting to get a bit angry. I do not want to talk about this. I didn't even tell Violet exactly what happened. Made for some awkward conversations when I woke up screaming in the middle of the night.
"You smell afraid," Ducky stated flatly.
"Just drop it, Haven. This is personal," Tracker growled. Back off!
Ducky turned to face Tracker at that moment with an unreadable expression on her face. Tracker's expression held firm under her gaze, which made something click in Ducky's mind.
"Just promise me two things, Tracker. Whatever it is that you are not telling me… promise me that it is not something that threatens my pack or your packmates." she took a deep breath before taking on a more gentle expression, "...and talk to someone, anyone, about it. You are acting like Leap and his sister acted when they told us about Calin's pack. You are, you are."
"Wha… how'd you know?" Tracker hissed. Am I that obvious? Dodger kept telling me to talk about it, even to Violet if I didn't want to talk to him. I didn't want to scare her; she was just a kid. Still is, mostly. Never mind that Violet was technically older, Tracker had taken almost an older sister role with her and tried to help Dodger look after her.
Ducky closed her eyes at Tracker's admission as she bowed her head slightly. "So it was Calin… I am so sorry." She then slowly walked beside Tracker and sat down a bit closer. Her scent now conveyed sadness and pity, a smell that Tracker despised.
"Violet and I talked a bit about… him…" she nearly spat, "I was telling her about how fastbiters talk without words, and he came up. Our pack has come across far too many of the survivors of his pack. Their stories were so terrible…"
"I'm still not sure what I should've done," Tracker said regretfully, "We were too spread out… Violet was actually the first to run into trouble. Ugh, someone should've been with her." Oops. Please don't read too much into that.
"She… she never mentioned anything about that…" Ducky spoke with great concern as she rose before sitting again, as if confused about what to do, "She did not smell like she was hiding anything… maybe she did not remember? Maybe she tried to forget about it?"
Ducky was working herself into a frenzy. "Oh no... I told her about those horrible stories… what if she begins to remember all of that…"
"Haven!" Tracker snapped, hoping to get the other fastbiter back under control. I'm really sticking my neck out here. "Violet got out alright. Dodger made it to her in time, and made some of them pay for it." Tracker tried but failed to avoid sounding proud of her pack leader; this wasn't exactly the time for it.
Ducky finally sat down again as she tried to catch her breath. She had grown quite protective of Violet since Dodger's pack had collided with her pack. The thought of her having to be traumatized in Calin's pack upset her greatly.
"So all of you were able to escape."
Tracker shook her head sadly. "He was with me when it started. We split up when we heard Violet scream. As you probably noticed I'm not very fast. I thought I was good enough at hiding to get away so I told Dodger to go after her when he hesitated, like he wasn't sure what to do. I think he knew what would probably happen better than I did; it's part of why we try not to ever be alone." Tracker looked directly at Ducky. "Had I known what was to come I wouldn't have changed my decision, though I would've warned Dodger not to blame himself. I made the decision that time."
Ducky swallowed, and merely allowed her tail to touch Tracker's for support. Perhaps it was something about Ducky personally that made Tracker open up, or perhaps it was simply her desire to let the truth be known. But, for whatever reason, Tracker continued.
"I got cut off and, fool that I was, surrendered," Tracker replied, sounding ashamed as Ducky looked on in horror, "After that…" She shuddered and stopped speaking for a moment. She decided to deliberately skip over most of it. It was too unpleasant.
"Several days later I tried to escape. I'm certain the only reason it worked was because I tried something that should've killed me. Jumped off a cliff, slid, messed up my arm, and then got hopelessly lost. I got hungry, tired, sick. Dodger found me eventually."
"It isn't your fault," Ducky spoke with a small voice as Tracker began to ramble, "Whatever you had to do in that horrible pack… do not blame yourself."
Ducky placed a hand on Tracker's shoulder, ignoring an initial flinch. "You cannot let those feelings stay inside of you. You need to talk to someone, Dodger, Violet, me, anyone. If you let them stay in you then they will eat you alive." She bowed her head and closed her eyes. "It never fails… It hurts to think that we had to kill many of his packmates… most of them were just trying to stay alive."
"This probably sounds heartless, but I'm actually glad that Violet got hurt the way she did, well, at least since she got better. She doesn't remember what happened. She doesn't remember how bad off I was. She….she didn't have to deal with seeing her brother look so… lost. Violet's everything to Dodger." That last statement didn't bother Tracker in the least. If questioned she'd admit that she felt just as if not more lost after losing her whole pack.
Ducky frowned. "I wish Leap and Swift were here… they were some of Calin's victims as well. Perhaps… perhaps you would be more comfortable talking to someone who went through what you went through."
"Trust me, we didn't go through the same thing. I was nothing but a plaything for that pack!" Tracker spat bitterly. I should've known I was in trouble right from the start.
Ducky jerked as soon as she heard Tracker's words. Calin, that fucking bastard! Instantly she knew what Tracker had experienced. The experiences of many of the other survivors that they had met and spared in the years since the battle had confirmed the outright brutality of the pack. Ducky immediately embraced Tracker and lay her head upon her shoulder as a mother would do to an upset child.
"It is not your fault, Tracker. None of it. You understand me?"
"I know. Thanks for not mocking me." You fought; I just gave up.
Ducky sputtered, "Wh.. what?! I would never do that! You are not something to be mocked. You are a person, Tracker. A beautiful, caring person. Regardless of whatever Calin and his dung-eating ringleaders may have said."
Tracker stared at Ducky for a moment, trying to get herself back under control. I'm not going to cry, not where everyone can see me. "Violet's still choosing her friends well, I see." Violet's far too easy to deceive and far too trusting for me not to worry about her.
Ducky smiled slightly. "She is a good fastbiter, too. It's just that she needed to be taught how to be an effective one." Ducky thought for a moment. "I guess that the rest of you will have to be taught that too… but that is not what we are talking about right now."
"Can you walk if I help hold you?"
"If it's not too much trouble for you... , Where do you want to go?"
Ducky looked at her with an intense expression. One that almost seemed to stare through her. "You do not want to cry in front of Dodger because it would make him feel worse, and you do not want to cry in front of Violet because it will scare her…. Cry with me then."
Tracker didn't say anything; she couldn't risk losing control. She just offered Ducky her hand. Words meant quite a bit to her; actions meant more.
Where are they going? Violet wondered as she watched Ducky and Tracker leave her field of vision. She didn't know what they'd said, but whatever they'd been talking about had run through quite a few emotions. Tracker's usually not that openly emotional, at least not when I'm not the only one around.
It was at this point that Breeze came walking towards Violet's resting area. Though Violet was still finding it difficult to focus on anything in too much detail, she did notice that Breeze had a series of things impaled on a stick.
"How are you feeling, Violet?" Breeze began, "Have you noticed any changes to your vision or smell?"
Smell? Oh crap! "Um… n-no," Violet stammered. I can't fake this. They're going to find out…
Breeze frowned at her response. "Violet, while Ponder is helping Seeker scout the territory I am the healer assigned to you. I have had all of the training that she had from the rainbowfaces. So you can be honest with me, okay? If anything has changed then we need to know about it so that we can fix it." Her voices hinted that she was uncertain about the fixing part. "If there is something new then we need to know as soon as possible."
"Nothing's changed," Violet said more calmly. I can't lose what I don't have.
Breeze seemed to accept this answer as she sat in front of her face. "How many claws do I have up?"
"Two," Violet replied. It's not like I was staring at the Bright Circle. "I can see just fine."
"And now?" She then held up one claw.
"One." Violet couldn't keep the frustration out of her voice. Why would I lie when I told you I was fine?
"I know that this may seem stupid, Violet, but sometimes if you have a head injury.. or have eaten bad sweet bubbles… you don't know that you are impaired." Breeze smiled at the scent of frustration, which was actually a bit of a good sign. "Are you ready for a few more stupid questions?"
"As long as they're not coming from Taunt." Maybe that's not the best thing to say… "Um, I mean…"
"Ha! She can't be too messed up! She remembers me!" a familiar voice called from the nearby nest.
"If hitting your head could make people forget you, Taunt, then people would be bashing their heads against rocks all day!" Cera retorted.
"Ha! Can't get rid of me that easy!"
Breeze rolled her eyes at the antics of her friends. Taunt was an ass, but they wouldn't change him for the world. "Alright, well, you know who the pack members are so I can skip that question… What is the earliest memory that you remember?"
"In my whole life?" Violet asked, confused. How could that help?
"Yep, I asked Dodger about the stuff that you remember… I have to test your memory. Head injuries can make you forget things."
"I've noticed," Violet growled, a bit angry. The last time I hit my head, according to Dodger, I forgot what my parents looked like, among other things. Thanks to Dodger's descriptions she had an idea of what they looked like, but that would be like describing Dodger as blue. Quite a few details were gone, never to be regained.
Breeze noted the anger, but did not relent. "I'm sorry, Violet. But can you please try to remember? Dodger said that you forgot a lot the last time… but you did remember um… a few things." She stopped herself before she gave away details of Violet's memories. "Can you tell me what those were?"
"Well, I remember when I was really little I heard stories about the Grand Valley and how it had so many leaf-eaters. I wanted to see it for myself so when I was a bit older I tried to sneak away from my nest and into the valley. It didn't work. Dodger caught me and brought me back."
Breeze nodded. "He mentioned that would be one of the earliest clear memories. The earlier ones are fuzzy then?"
"Yeah. I remember bits, like a joke, a prank, or a fight, but nothing solid. I do remember feeling safe, though, much safer than I have in, well, I can't remember when." Violet couldn't help but laugh at her own poor word usage.
"Oh no, she is going into Ponder speak…"
"Shut up, Taunt!"
Breeze rolled her eyes. "You did well, Violet. I only have one more round of tests before you can get your new healing plants." She then carefully walked behind Violet and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Keep your head facing forward, Violet, I am going to test your ability to smell things from a distance."
Dodger, having only been paying a slight bit of attention to Violet's tests until now, was on full alert. Subtlety he shifted himself so that he was completely ready to charge. Target: Taunt. One word and you'll regret it for the rest of your life.
Violet couldn't hide her own panic. I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead. I'm dead.
Breeze was concentrating on getting her objects ready and missed the signs of panic from Violet. When she finally spoke she was several fastbiter lengths away from her and all of her other objects were put away. This would be a direct smell test at first. Simply trying to identify one object by smell alone.
"Okay, Violet, I am five lengths behind you. The wind is blowing towards you. Can you smell what I have in my possession?"
Should I guess? No, that'd just make look like an idiot. Reluctantly Violet just remained silent and shook her head. Not being an outcast was nice while it lasted.
An audible gasp came from Cera as Taunt took on a sad expression. His bowed head indicated his regret for his previous teasing. His thoughts now being obvious. She has lost her sense of smell… that poor thing.
Breeze spoke after a pause, shock in her voice, "...okay… I will move closer. Speak when you can smell it."
"Don't bother," Violet said, "I can already tell you I can't make out anything past two lengths." Her voice carried as much despair as anger. "There's nothing new that's wrong."
Violet couldn't keep her voice from breaking. "I hatched like that."
Silence reigned for several moments as Breeze walked back to her original position beside Violet. Both Cera and Taunt spoke in hushed tones to one another as they contemplated Violet's condition. It was not a totally unheard of condition, but it was a significant one. A blinded sharptooth was a doomed one, but a smell-blind one was often seen as a liability by a pack.
"So you can smell me from here…" Breeze asked softly from very nearby.
"Kind of, but I have absolutely no clue what you're feeling. My sniffer could be touching you and I still wouldn't." I wouldn't have any clue what I was smelling meant. Violet kept her voice a bit more level. She felt a bit better when she saw her brother approaching. Between him and Tracker she had a pretty good set of cues to follow. Mostly she just listened to what was said and how it was said; she also watched how someone moved. Having only a few fastbiters to work with, she wasn't entirely sure how useful any of that was with fastbiters in general.
Breeze sighed and put her objects away. It was obvious that nothing more could be done here.
"But you can smell things that are close to you…" Taunt spoke suddenly, not being aware of Dodger's harsh glare, "You mentioned that you can't smell emotions… but does a person's scent ever smell a little bit different to you?"
Cera nodded. "Taunt has a point… if different fastbiters are near you do they smell different to you?"
"If I concentrate, yes. Otherwise it's like trying to figure out who is talking when everyone is shouting at once; it gets confusing pretty fast."
Taunt jumped up excitedly. "There's hope then!"
Cera smiled. "If a bunch of leaf-eaters could learn how to handle our sniffers then we can help you learn as well!"
"What do you think, Violet?" Dodger really didn't want to push his sister into trying Taunt and Cera's idea no matter how much he liked it. If he knew Violet she was still trying to get past the idea that no one had told her to get lost.
Violet stared at Cera and Taunt, dumbfounded. Yep, still in shock, Dodger thought. "Violet," he prompted his sister again.
"W-what?" Violet asked, her question not really directly aimed at anyone in particular. She was surprised that no one had laughed at her. When one of the kids from her home pack had found out about her smell-blindness she'd been teased by him and his siblings mercilessly until her own siblings had had enough and beat her tormentors bloody. No one, not even Prowler on his worst day, bothered her about her smell-blindness after that.
"We can help you learn to identify those smells that you smell," Breeze offered, "You wouldn't be able to smell from a distance, but you could learn to experience what we do when we smell someone we care for."
Cera stepped forward. "It won't be easy… it wasn't for us… but it gets easier with practice."
Taunt smiled. "Are you willing to give it a chance?"
"Well, if I can finally figure out when you're joking and when you're insulting me I'll try anything," Violet said, almost reflexively trying to get a jab in at Taunt.
Remembering his teasing before he realized her disability, Taunt bowed his head in an apologetic gesture that Violent recognized from her and Ducky's discussion.
"Hey, I've heard worse," Violet said, trying to indicate there were no hard feelings.
Only now Taunt raised his head back to its usual confident level. He didn't mind pranking people to the point of rage, but harming those who were suffering was something that he would never knowingly do. He had far too many memories from when he was a weak child in a harsh, unforgiving world.
Cera smiled at the reactions from both dinosaurs. "Well then… perhaps we can start with Taunt?"
Taunt blinked. "What?"
Cera smiled. "Let's sit on either side of her and have her try to separate our two scents. Then we can show her how your scent changes when your mood changes."
Breeze snickered. "What if that doesn't change?"
Cera rolled her eyes. "Oh, trust me… I can change his mood. He can feel fear if I am in the proper mood for it."
"No one's going to get hurt, right?" Violet asked hesitantly, not out of fear of pain but just being unsure of where the conversation was headed.
Breeze chuckled lightly. "No one is going to get hurt, Violet. Stern Claw often sounds much more menacing than she actually is… that is something that you will learn when you are trained in how to smell emotions…"
As if on cue, Taunt and Cera stood in front of Violet. "Ready, Violet? I promise that I won't kill my mate. After all, I haven't killed him yet," Cera offered with a smile as Taunt rolled his eyes in response.
"Ready," Violet responded. As ready as I'll ever be.
Never mind how many times Ducky comforted a victim of Calin's cruel legacy, she could never get rid of the bitter taste of bile in her throat. She was a kind soul, Taunt had even called her the nicest fastbiter he had known, but even she could not choke back the hatred for Calin whenever she was confronted with his damage. In her arms right now was a sobbing mess that had once been a young female such as herself. But now that her emotional mask had fallen the true depths of her anguish could not be hidden. Calin's pack had harmed her in ways that no child deserved. She only hoped that by sharing her experience that she could gain some semblance of closure.
The monster was dead, but his monstrous acts remained.
Tracker tried in vain to get herself at least slightly under control. "S-sorry I'm such a mess, Haven." Tracker said. I wish we could've met sooner. Violet would've been in a panic if I broke down in front of her.
Ducky sighed, ignoring her own burning tears. Despite thankfully having never experienced the horrors that Tracker had, she couldn't help but feel her pain and humiliation. Cera had once told her that that was her greatest strength… and her greatest weakness. She could not ignore the suffering in front of her.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Tracker. Just remember that Calin and his pack are gone now. He cannot harm you anymore. We saw to that."
"But they didn't have a damn choice!" Ducky froze at the agitated response from the stricken fastbiter. Up until now she had not heard a single curse from the other pack. It just highlighted her extremely agitated state. "If they didn't do that… then he… he…"
Ducky closed her eyes and sighed sadly. "...then he would kill the 'weaklings'…"
Tracker nodded as she continued to sob, "The bastard laughed while they used me. He wanted his pack to be merciless…" she shivered, "...he told me that I would either live with them on top of me, or die with the ground on top of me… the weak had no place among the fighters."
Ducky remained silent as she continued to hug Tracker tightly. She knew that she had to get all of this out.
"Only Leap had any compassion… he… he apologized…" she sucked in a breath as Ducky shivered at the mention of Leap's name, "he whispered after he got done… it was the only mercy I received..."
Ducky swallowed despite her throat was dry, "Leap and his sister told us that they had to do terrible things in Calin's pack… he never said what those things were. I don't think he wanted to remember…"
Tracker shivered and remained silent for several moments. It was as if she were struggling to comprehend the turmoil in her own mind.
"Haven, I know it's a lot to ask, but, next time you see him… could you tell Leap I forgive him?" Tracker asked, unsure whether she had a right to request such a thing.
Ducky nodded slowly. "I am sure that he will be relieved, Tracker. Even though he did not have a choice, it is very forgiving of you. I… do not know if I could forgive if…"
"It's not easy, but I don't want to hold on to this for the rest of my life," Tracker said. It took me a long time just to forgive myself for making a few costly mistakes. Staying angry hurts no one but myself.
Ducky took in a deep breath as she finally pulled away from Tracker. The sobbing had come to an end, though the emotions still remained.
"That is the spirit, Tracker. Just know that you are not alone. You have Dodger and you have us." She looked into her eyes. "Regardless of where you may go, you are not alone. Calin cannot defeat you if you refuse to let him."
"Does everyone have to know?" Tracker asked. This could be really embarrassing… Violet would find out for sure.
"I will not tell another soul, Tracker," Ducky affirmed, "None of this will harm the pack… this is your tale to tell, Tracker, no one else's." She sighed. "I will only talk to Leap as you requested."
"Thanks." Tracker breathed a sigh of relief.
Ducky finally wiped her eyes. "Well… do you feel better? We can go back to the others before they go looking for us."
"I'm okay," Tracker replied. Not great, but I'm okay. "I should be fine by the time we get back." No sense letting Violet see how upset I was.
Ducky patted her counterpart on the back as they began to take the long walk back to the pack's meeting place. It was only when they had gotten closer to the forest's clearing that she noticed the silent sentinel that stood in the large tree in front of them. Ducky said nothing, but merely nodded at the form that she knew was Petrie's. It was the unspoken vow of the flyer that, though he may see more than anyone, he would take some secrets to the grave. Such was the silent vow of a flyer.
However, upon entering the clearing, they immediately noticed an odd sight.
That's actually not the weirdest thing I've ever seen, Tracker thought, Well, if Dodger hasn't killed anyone I guess everything is okay. Could someone please explain this before Violet notices Haven and starts worrying about her reaction? Tracker had found out about Violet's smell-blindness in an extremely unpleasant manner. She really didn't want to see it repeated with Ducky.
"Hey, girls…" Breeze's voice suddenly whispered towards them, "We are trying to train Violet to use her sniffer."
Ducky looked perplexed. "She is almost as old as we are… how can she not have learned how to use her sniffer?"
"Haven, Violet is, well…" Tracker sighed. I might as well just say it. "Violet's smell-blind." Way to sound like you're embarrassed to be her friend, Tracker, she chided herself.
Much to Tracker's surprise Ducky remained silent for several moments. "That… that actually explains a lot," she offered finally, "She missed things that others would not have missed."
Unsure of where Ducky was going with this, Tracker started to tense up as if preparing for a fight. It was a useless gesture, but Tracker was extremely protective of Violet. If you've got nothing good to say, Haven, please keep it to yourself.
Ducky noticed a sudden 'stiffness' in Tracker's smell. "Is she alright, Breeze?" Ducky offered cautiously as she gave Breeze a 'watch what you say' look, "If they are training her then that means she is not completely smell-blind."
Breeze paused at Ducky's expression and opened her mouth before quickly closing it. "She can smell a little… right now we have taught her how to tell Taunt and Stern Claw apart."
That was fast, Tracker thought, I wonder if she can recognize my scent. I never asked if she could.
Meanwhile, the smell training was continuing in the clearing.
"Okay, Violet," Cera spoke from several meters behind Violet, "Now we are going to test your ability to smell fear…" she then quickly placed a claw against Taunt's neck causing an immediate, if temporary, reaction of fear from the orange fastbiter.
Violet noticed a slight change in Taunt's scent. "His scent changed for a moment." Almost missed it.
"Knew you could do it, Violet," Dodger told his sister. He kept his reaction down to just a smile despite feeling elated enough to embarrass himself enough that Littlefoot's pack would have to immortalize it in song. That's what Taunt is for. Violet would also never let me live it down.
Ducky took the opportunity to walk closer to Violet, but was careful to stay far enough away as to not interfere with the test. "Good job, Violet! What have you been taught to smell so far?"
"Just Taunt and Stern Claw," Violet answered, sounding a bit nervous. I hope she's not just being polite. A glance at Tracker, somewhat further away, revealed no answers.
Ducky smiled. "Well, that is a good start. Smelling emotions is the hardest part."
"It's not easy," Violet replied. Dang it. I still don't know what she's thinking. Come on, Tracker, give me a hint. Not being to actually tell whether Ducky still wanted to be her friend or was just being polite was making her nervous.
"You smell nervous," Ducky offered honestly, "Would you like me to get into your smell-range, Violet?"
"I'd still need someone to tell me what I'm smelling. Unless you're afraid of something everything's just a big jumble of smells," Violet replied. She hung her head dejectedly. I've still got a long way to go.
Looking towards Dodger, as if asking for permission, Ducky moved closer to Violet and gestured for Tracker to join her.
Dodger moved to help Tracker, though she had them move too quickly for his help to actually make the trip less painful. Okay, rushing was a bad idea, Tracker thought, wincing.
Ducky froze and looked at the scene with horror. "Oh, I am sorry, Tracker! I am, I am!"
Violet noticed the Ducky's change in scent. Oh, so that's what that smells like. I hope Tracker's okay.
"No worries," Tracker told Ducky with a grimace, "It's about time I tried that on my own, anyway."
Ducky then sat down as Dodger brought Tracker to a place just beside the green fastbiter. It was then that she noticed that Violet seemed to be less nervous than before.
"What changed, Violet?" Taunt offered before Ducky could speak, "Did you smell something?"
"Haven's scent really changed for a few moments," Violet replied, "I wasn't expecting that."
Cera smiled. "That's great, Violet! You are learning fast!"
Ducky nodded. "Maybe you can teach your friends about those gestures I told you about, while they help you learn how to use your sniffer? That way you are all ready for life out there."
Violet smiled a bit. That's something I know I can do. "I can do that."
"Thanks a lot, Haven," Dodger muttered under his breath. Is there anyone that didn't hear that?
Cera stared at Dodger for a moment as she debated saying something to the effect of 'even the best of us don't know everything', but quickly thought better of it. Fortunately for the awkwardness of the moment, but unfortunately for her sanity, Taunt chose that moment to speak.
"Maybe I can teach them to have a sense of humor next."
Cera groaned. "Like you have been trying to do for the last several years with the pack? Maybe it is not us that needs a lesson, perhaps it is your humor that needs work."
Taunt smiled coyly. "Ha! See, you are capable of humor after all!"
Somewhat overwhelmed by the changes in scent, Violet covered her nose in an attempt to block it all out. She couldn't decipher all that at once. Whoah! How do you guys not go crazy with all these smells? I can barely keep track of them.
Breeze seemed to notice Violet's distress. "It is hard to keep track of them all, isn't it? That is something that takes a while to learn, but if you have been ignoring it all this time…"
Ducky nodded. "Reminds me about how hard it was for us to learn how to smell… there were so many of them… and many were so similar…"
"I couldn't tell who was who for a moment," Violet admitted, somewhat embarrassed, "I'm never going to get this right."
Taunt frowned for a moment, realizing that his little joke had disheartened her. "Sure you will! Trying to tell smells in a crowd is the hardest thing to do. You have to learn to use your sniffer just like how you learned to run. One step at a time."
Cera nodded. "For once Stripe-Ass is correct. It will just take time."
"So, Violet… what was it you wanted to show us?" Tracker asked her friend in an attempt to steer the conversation back to something that Violet had more confidence in.
"Well, apparently we've been doing some of our gestures wrong," Violet replied, now feeling much more confident, "Haven showed me how to do them right. Here's one I think you might recognize…"
Littlefoot grunted as he helped drag the longneck corpse towards the meeting place. Even with Spike and Chomper's help it was still quite a challenge. Finally, however, they decided that it was close enough to the clearing to be within comfortable range of Tracker and Violet's abilities.
"Whew! That was worse than the hunt itself!"
Chomper snorted at Littlefoot's exclamation. "At least the hunt was fun!"
Spike merely sighed as he again dug into the beast's neck. The trio had already consumed the first bites as was their right. There was plenty for the others.
"Well… I am sure that they won't be happy with us doing the hunt ourselves…" The others had been waiting for them to give the word that a suitable prey was found. Instead, Littlefoot had given the order to strike while the longneck was in a vulnerable position. "Ponder is going to be pissed…"
Spike sighed… Breeze would undoubtedly chew him out as well.
"Hey… what are they doing?"
Littlefoot looked curiously at Chomper's question. Whatever he was seeing was out of Littlefoot's visual range as Chomper stood higher than them. However, after a moment's sprint, both he and Spike could see a most interesting scene in the clearing.
"No, Tracker, a little higher." Violet tried to get her friend to correctly do a rank acknowledgement. Who decided that having the difference between one rank below and two being nearly impossible to recognize was a good idea? "There, you got it."
"I'm suddenly glad we're not a large pack," Tracker said, "My neck hurts."
Ducky laughed. "That is why our pack usually just uses the simpler 'one up' or 'one down' gestures. As it is Finder and Taunt's rank shifts constantly. So much so I forget who outranks who."
Taunt snorted. "If he would just quit trying to challenge me then it wouldn't be so complicated."
"If you would just submit to my mate already then this wouldn't be so complicated," Breeze retorted with an amused smirk as Cera rolled her eyes.
"I'm never going to understand these people," Tracker whispered to Dodger. How do they manage to openly talk about rank changes like it is nothing important? Every time Prowler and Dodger nearly decided to rearrange how we operated it seemed like they were intent on killing each other. Their last fight nearly did kill them.
Seeing the scene play out in front of them, Littlefoot could only look at Spike with some amusement. "It seems like things are going well if Violet can give the others lessons!"
Spike nodded. "Tracker seems to be moving around as well."
"Ah, there you three are. You three are right there."
Littlefoot turned suddenly as Ruby's form appeared from the bushes. He had forgotten that she was the one on guard duty.
"How are…" That was when she saw it. In a moment that seemed to last for ages for Littlefoot his mate's expression went from pleasantly surprised to unconcealed anger, "You three hunted without anyone else?!"
Littlefoot smiled apologetically. "Now, dear…"
Ruby raised a finger as the thoughts about rank continued to echo in her head. "Maybe I should show the newcomers an important thing about rank. An angry Ponder outranks everyone!"
As Littlefoot retreated in the distance while Ruby, and then Breeze, raised hell at their respective mates, the remaining dinosaurs watched the scene with some bemusement.
"I'm not the only one seeing this, am I?" Violet asked. It was one thing to know that a pack leader could be questioned; it was quite another to see one being yelled at.
"Yep, I'm never going to understand this pack," Tracker said.
Ducky laughed as she offered her hand to help Tracker up, "That is one of the great things about being mated to a pack leader, Tracker, you can set them straight if they mess up…" Dodger noticeably stiffened, "Let's go get the food before Path eats it all!" she finally offered humorously.
Haven has something against me, doesn't she? Dodger thought as he followed everyone else, No wonder Violet likes her.
Hanging Rock in the 'present':
Hmmmm... count on a hidden runner to make a hunt interesting.
Her prey stood in front of her as if to challenge her resolve. The rest of its herd had remained back in a defensive line, whereas this adventurous fool and sprung forward to challenge her pack. It would have been so easy to envelop the prey... but she knew her competitor. This had to be a trick somehow.
"Wow, Mender, you're looking at that rock like you want to rip it apart!"
Mender looked up from the smooth stones residing in makeshift holes in the ground and fixed her gaze on her opponent.
"A hunt is a hunt. Even if it is just stones and bones."
And then she looked down again at the field of play. Suppressing a groan she carefully examined her opponent's recent moves. She has a strategy of some kind. The question is: what is it?
'Ambush and Retreat' was one of the numerous ideas that had come from the rainbowfaces over the intervening years, though unlike a healing remedy or other 'inadvertent cultural interferences' from Chronos this game had found wide acceptance among hidden runners and fastbiters alike. It was a simple game at its core, with 8 rows of 8 holes and 16 stones or bone pieces per player. What made it unique, however, is what it allowed its players to do.
To practice strategy without actually staging a hunt.
After a few more moments of contemplation, Mender took one of her bone pieces and moved it towards Cynnil's line. She then leaned back with a satisfied grin.
"Trying to make me overreact again, huh?"
Cynnil nodded as she moved the endangered stone to safety, "Correct. Had you tried to surround my stone then I would have taken your bone."
Mender quickly moved one of her bone shards, surrounding Cynnil's stone on two sides in the process, "Left one of the younglings vulnerable though." She then took the stone and placed it aside.
Cynnil countered by moving one of her stones at the front of the line, now trapping Mender's piece in her corner of the grid, "You know what happens when you take a youngling... the adults get mad."
Mender smiled evilly, Exactly! Seeing her opening, she then moved her bone shard in front of the stone that had just been moved, and then picked it up. Cynnil had missed the fact that she had made herself vulnerable.
"You are getting much better at hiding your intentions. I did not see that coming." Cynnil bowed her head slightly as she gestured at the game. She knew that the game had been lost.
Mender nodded slightly out of respect, "I was thinking about what Spotter told me the last time me and him played. Make your opponent overconfident and then go for the kill."
Cynnil smiled, "That flyer scares me sometimes."
"That's because he's scary!" Mender affirmed with a laugh, "No wonder why my brother still doesn't quite like him. I wonder if I will get to sing that part of the story before we have to leave the fastrunners."
The hidden runner rubbed her chin as she considered those words, "Speaking of songs I noticed that you left out a few verses."
Mender twitched her tail nervously, "Cynnil, you know that…"
"I am not criticizing. That part of the song is not for the ears of outsiders." The hidden runner waved her hand dismissively, "I was just surprised that you were able to switch up the song on the spot. It isn't like we sing them to outsiders that often."
"I sing them to myself sometimes…" …and leave out the depressing parts. Mender sighed as she looked towards the fastrunners in the distance who were now bathing in the water of the stream, "I am just not sure where we go from here."
"We are no longer talking about the songs, are we?" Cynnil's gaze followed Mender's as the pieces began to connect in her mind, "I am sure Arial will be fine. She only needs a bit more time and she will be good as new. Probably no more than eight more nights."
"Ten nights. She is hiding some of her discomfort from us because she doesn't want to look weak," Mender reported without much thought. You can't hide it from me, Arial. I was the master of hiding wounds.
Cynnil looked at Mender in surprise as if she had missed the detail entirely, but did not contradict her friend's assessment. However, it was the look of turmoil in Mender's eyes that told her what was coming next. Bad news.
"It is what Pearl told me that has me concerned."
Cynnil looked uneasy at her comrade's tone, "Oh?"
Mender looked at her leader directly. No reason to sneak around the bush. "The Mysterious Beyond knows about the arrangement."
Arial watched the three dinosaurs pace in the distance. It had only been moments ago that they had been playing their odd little game, but now it appeared that some serious discussion was taking place. Even Buse looks upset. What happened?
"I see that Mender has told Cynnil."
Arial shook the water out of her feathers as she looked back at her father. His attention was focused on the fastbiters as well, but he did not appear to be confused about the situation at all.
"Well it couldn't have stayed secret forever. With this many dinosaurs involved it was bound to be noticed sooner or later."
Arial quickly shifted to the new speaker. Her mother did not sound confused either.
"I just wonder what they will decide, you know that the valley doesn't…"
"Can somebody tell us what is going on?!"
It was only when Orchid spoke up that both parents finally stopped speaking and looked at their children. In their freshly dried state, with feathers puffing every which way, they almost looked like the young children that they used to be. However, the seriousness in their children's eyes and the maturity of their bodies broke any illusion of those childhood days. They both knew that they had some explaining to do.
The Great Valley:
Attached you will find the report that you requested, Malarek. We are still indebted to you for your gift of the Archiver Stones. Words cannot describe how ecstatic we were when we saw that the 'flying sky stones' (as the locals call them) that had recently landed near our home would provide us with enough storage for us and our progeny to record our research for centuries to come. Your warnings about avoiding cultural contamination are well understood by us, and will certainly continue to be honored.
Please be advised, however, that due to the level 3 quarantine around this planet that our narrow-beams transmissions will only allow for our reports to be sent in segments at a time. As you indicated an interest in the social situation amongst this planet's inhabitants, we will send you this information first.
Social development amongst the terrestrial megafauna on Creastor 420c: addendum 34
The arrangement of Brekan's Gulch (the alliance)
No discussion of the social groups on this planet can commence without mentioning the alliance between the hidden runners of the Northern Lands, the allies of Seeker, and the Great Valley. Originally established as an agreement to exchange medicinal plants between the three powers, and a general agreement to not be hostile to the territorial claims of the others, it quickly expanded to include many other stipulations. All parties get medicinal supplies, the hidden runners of the Northern Lands get protection from allied carnivores, the allies of Seeker get the mutual respect of their respective territorial grounds, all parties get the assistance of hidden runner reports, and each is protected in the event of another tyrant. On its surface then it may seem like a typical alliance combined with a trade agreement. However few treaties, even amongst the space-faring races, would include one of the unspoken provisions of this agreement: that its existence remain a secret to most of the residents of the valley.
Now on its surface this would seem to place the Great Valley at a disadvantage, but its leaders felt that the general antipathy between carnivorous and herbivorous species would demand that formal cooperation remain confidential. Ad hoc arrangements to obtain help from carnivorous beings have been successful in the past (see prior report on the Battle of the Valley), but the constant influx of new residents and the continued pressures of predation make general knowledge of any permanent arrangement unacceptable to the non-flight capable population.
The role of the flight-capable species in the alliance
Due to their relative safety from land-based predation and their ability to transverse large distances in a relatively short amount of time, flight-capable species are understandably an important component of the alliance. When considering this, however, one must…
"Ah, damn it!"
"Language dear! The children are present."
Chronos groaned as he tried to aim the rock towards the estimated location of the communications satellite. "I am sure it is language they have heard before. They attended the last valley meeting."
Logos rolled her eyes as she continued to calibrate the Archiver Stone to her species by rolling it in her hands, "Well I hope we can do better than a valley meeting, dear."
"You talk funny in the talk-back, dad." Datum noted with amusement, intentionally using the language he had told him not to use in his reports.
Logos snorted, "Now how would you say that so that it translates properly, dear?"
"You verbally communicate in an irregular manner in the recording, Father." Axiom intoned as she stuck out her tongue at her brother.
"Your attempt to correct my misuse of language only indicates to any rational observer that you missed the underlying point of my joke." Datum crossed his arms as he leaned back in amused satisfaction. He may be expected to talk 'properly' in his reports to a world he never visited, but he intended to mock that kind of talk it in his world.
This earned a hearty laugh from everyone involved as the two children continued to examine their special stones. That was when Axiom turned a bit more serious.
"What do you think will happen if the rest find out about the agreement?"
Chronos and Logos shared a look for a moment before sighing.
"Now that, Axiom…" Logos began, "that is a good question."
Communication reestablished… Seeking node…
Chronos smiled, "Well hopefully we can send this report before that happens, or the Bright Circle burns out, or the heat death of the universe…"
"Dear!" Logos gave her mate a playful slap as he held on to the nearly indestructible stone.
"Hey!" Chronos laughed as he waited for the playback to begin again, "But in all seriousness, Axiom, I think it will be fine. All of us have been through worse."
Datum nodded his head as if to convince himself, I hope you're right, Dad. We might be in a valley, but some of my friends are still out there. I wonder what Biter is up to now?
My apologies for the delay, everyone. I must admit that I have been busy preparing my students for their final exams over the last few weeks and this lack of time had only made my confusion on where to go in the 'present day' portion of the story grow. Now, however, I have regained my inspiration and have a plan for the future of the story. I do eagerly look forward to your comments and criticism, however, as this story is going to use some techniques and cover some topics that I have not covered before. To a great extent my talented co-author for the 'past portion' of the tale, Historian1912, can take credit for the movement into new areas that have not been crossed until now. We both look forward to your thoughts and critique. (:
Thanks again for the reviews!
gordhanx: Thank you for the detailed review as always. (: Yep, there was quite a bit of character development in the previous chapter as we got to see a bit more of the new pack and what makes them tick. Though Littlefoot should probably give the newcomers a lesson on not taking things too seriously when survival is not involved. Dodger's pack has been through a hard time and this has led to them having one mode for anything they put their minds to: go all-in.
Hunter: Nope. No major characters have died in quite awhile, though there were some close calls in the last story. As the 'past' portion of this story is a prequel to Songs of the Hunters you can expect anyone who was alive in that story to remain alive in this one. As for the others... you will have to wait and see. ;-)
DevoutRelic: I bet Seeker would be surprised if he realized how insecure all of the members of Dodger's pack is. Violet's case is more obvious, but even the others have signs of not understanding their place or how to react in others of their kind in the world in which they find themselves. This is something that will continue to play itself out in future chapters. As for the lack of plot development, you are quite right there. The previous chapter was more of a chance for characterization of these newcomers... though the plot seems to have caught up in this chapter (much to Tracker's detriment). We will have to see if these developments lead to any further complications.
bryan mccloud: Indeed. d-; Or at least a hard fruit (coconut). If anyone needs a helmet it is Violet.
JulianR94: You are indeed correct that it is a most curious situation. Dodger's pack has more than enough experience with surviving, but little knowledge on the niceties of pack life or understanding subtext. I have based their life history off of actual child soldiers in third-world civil wars. Such children often have more knowledge and trauma of war than anyone should have, while at the same time having utter innocence in many other respects. As for Mender in her present form... let's just say you might be correct there. We will see a bit more of her journey in the following chapters.