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Chapter 8: Guests

"Fastrunners, as they are called by the local residents, occupy a most odd place in the developing proto-society of the region. As relatively small organisms they are easy targets of the larger or faster carnivores in the event that their speed and cunning fails them, whereas their status as omnivores make their presence suspect to the herbivores. As a result they are tolerated in some places but welcome in none."

"Though, one might suppose, this lack of knowing if one will be welcomed or reproached is not limited to this one species. Indeed territorial concerns often leads to many organisms not knowing their status until it is brought to their attention in a most direct fashion..."

Officer Chronos,

An introductory report on 'fastrunner' traditions


Just outside of Hanging Rock:

The male fastrunner carefully peeked his head above the rocks. Though the fastrunner family had done nothing more than chase him away, he preferred to avoid that occurring again.

Well, I wouldn't mind if she chases me.

His thoughts turned to the pink form in the distance. The one he jokingly thought of as his 'pink nemesis'. As much as he would deny it, he actually found it amusing when she took the initiative to chase him out of their territory. It was almost like she was a welcome neighbor and not a potential threat.

She had not chased him in the last three incursions, however. It had been the elder male who chased him off in his latest attempt to snag fish from their stream. He frowned at that realization, only peripherally aware that he was beginning to take a liking to his usual adversary..

I hope that she is alright.

Though perhaps his thoughts should have been focused on his own safety...


A pair of yellow eyes gleamed as they inspected the gorge in front of Hanging Rock. Within a few moments two additional pairs of eyes appeared in the rocks above her, their owners being careful to blend into the stones as if they were part of the ground itself. A trait that only a hidden runner could pull off.

And a purple fastrunner could not.

I think we have an intruder, Mender thought to herself. She glanced back towards Hanging Rock. Spotting Detras and having just seen Orchid on her way out here, she moved forward confidently, sure that her target wasn't a friend. Definitely an intruder. Time to get rid of him... permanently.

The fastrunner seemed to think the coast was clear as he moved forward with an aura of caution. His destination was obviously the stream as he made a beeline towards the edge of the gorge, rapidly advancing towards the water. He had no idea that he was now being watched.

For their part, Buse and Cynnil moved down the rocks with their eyes firmly fixed on the unfortunate fastrunner. He would be past them in mere moments, but this did not concern Mender. She knew that they were not there to ambush him on his way in… they were there to trap him once she chased him out.

No way out of the gorge except up… and my friends have that covered. Once he gets out of the gorge, however...

Her eyes again examined Hanging Rock itself. The small stream stood in front of it like a small oasis in a sea of dust. Both a welcome relief and the perfect bait. If he wanted to go to the left or right then she could chase him down as fastrunners were fast but lacked stamina. If this fastrunner was bright then there was only one path he could choose.

The same path he had originally taken.

The fastrunner seemed to stare for several moments at Hanging Rock as the the agitated voice of Arial bickered at her brother over some undoubtedly trivial matter. The laugh from Orchid all but confirmed it was nothing important. The male smiled slightly once he heard Arial laugh before continuing his advance.

Okay, here we go... Mender thought to herself as she slowly followed her target. No cover after this rock. She peeked around it. He's still oblivious. Now's my chance. Mender carefully moved out from behind the rock she had hidden behind and silently began her charge.

The fastrunner continued his move, quickly speeding up as he approached the stream. He knew full well that he would have to get his fish quickly before the family chased him once more. Once he finally reached his destination he did his customary check to make sure he wasn't being noticed.

That's when he locked eyes with something that most certainly was not another fastrunner.

So much for easy, Mender thought frustratedly as she quickened her pace, following the fastrunner along the bank of the stream. She started to gain on her prey.

The fastrunner weaved to the left and right in an attempt to gain distance on his foe, but a quick shift to the left confirmed what he was about to do.

Oh, no you don't. Anticipating the fastrunner's move, Mender turned towards the gorge at the same time he did, barely losing any ground as she did so.


Shit! Shit! Shit! Where the fuck did that come from!?

Nahoda could feel the ache within his legs as he attempted to outrun the fastbiter on his tail. He had somewhat expected to be chased from the territory but not from someone who planned on eating him. Were he not running for his life he might have found that thought humorous.

Okay, a little more and then I can go up the rocks… the bitch won't follow me up there… just a bit more…

Click!

The male struggled to change his direction as hidden runners emerged from the rocks like water running down the gorge. Their threatening clicks confirming that his only avenue for escape had been sealed away. In his desperation all rational thought ended, and he turned to pure instinct. Perhaps he gravitated towards what his subconscious thought was safety? Perhaps he wanted his final chase to end where most of them had begun? Or perhaps he simply wanted to die in the presence of others of his own kind? But for whatever reason his legs led him in a most unusual direction.

Straight towards Hanging Rock.


Arial heard the scream before she saw the sudden flash of purple.

Nahoda? Intruding again... What are you…

Then she saw it. The fastbiter in the distance.

She sprinted away before anyone could stop her.


Just a bit closer... just a bit closer... Mender kept repeating to herself as she kept pace with the fastrunner in front of her. She was almost close enough to take the leap that would end the chase along with the fastrunner's life.

He continued forward as if he were prepared to climb up Hanging Rock itself. The scent of desperation and terror now strong enough for even Mender's sniffer to detect.

Mender finally got close enough to make her leap. Just a couple more steps...

Suddenly the fastrunner disappeared in a flash of pink.

Thrown off-balance by her target no longer being in front of her, Mender tried to slow to a stop and turn towards the groaning sound she could now hear, but her own momentum sent her tumbling. I thought I was past this, Mender groaned to herself as she carefully picked herself up, This fastrunner better not have gotten away...

"He's harmless! You don't have to kill him!"

Mender stopped and stared at Arial, confused by what she was hearing. Harmless, sure. He's supposed to be food. He'll definitely be harmless then.

Orchid ran up to his sister and quickly put a hand on her shoulder. "Sis, I don't think they… I think he's dinner…" As quickly as possible he tried to pull her back, as Detras arrived on the scene and did the same, grabbing her other arm. This only resulted in Arial scrambling away and latching herself onto Nahoda's terrified form.

"No!"

Mender looked from Detras to Arial and back, her expression increasingly bewildered. She was certain she or her packmates could kill their prey before Arial realized what happened, but whether they should do that was another question entirely. "Arial, did you just run all the way here from Hanging Rock?" Mender finally asked, grasping onto the only thing that made sense to her right then, "Are you trying to mess your leg up again?" If she fell getting down here...

It was only then that the male began to come back to his senses. "Arial? What… she's here!" He struggled to rise to his feet. "Run! Save your…"

"She's my healer," Arial said simply as she positioned herself between Nahoda and the hidden runners, totally unaware of her father very carefully positioning himself beside Arial and gesturing for the rest of the family to do the same. His face was a picture of contradictions, a mixture of anger, bemusement, and pride as he stared at his daughter.

"You… know her?"

Arial violently nudged the male. "Shut up, Nahoda, I am trying to save your life," she took a deep breath, appearing unsure of what to say. The scent of determination quickly dissipating and being replaced with confusion and fear.

"Arial, look at me."

The fastrunner looked up, her eyes still glassy with uncertainty. It was obvious that she only then realized what she had done and how much she had risked.

"If he means that much to you then I won't eat him," Mender said before giving Arial a questioning look, "Are you courting him?"

The look that Arial gave Mender was one of utter incomprehension. It was as if Mender had rendered the fastrunner incapable of thought.

That was when Detras moved in front of his daughter.

"Nahoda."

The male continued to look dumbstruck.

"Nahoda!"

The male finally registered the voice. "S-sir?"

The elder male gave his mate a look as she placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. It was only then that he addressed the intruder.

"Well… we can't let our guests go hungry, now, can we?" Mender could not see the look that Detras was giving the male, but the horrified face of Nahoda gave her a hint. "So how about you and I help get some scaly swimmers for them… and have a little chat."

Detras and a still disturbed Nahoda were soon walking away, headed towards the stream in silence. Mender watched, slightly confused, as Pearl led Arial back towards Hanging Rock. Mirroring Mender's confusion was Orchid. Remaining behind with Mender, he seemed to understand the situation well enough to find it funny.

"I'm never going to get to eat a fastrunner, am I?" Mender wondered aloud, half hoping it might startle Orchid out of his amusement. No laughing at your sister, Orchid.

"We have been chasing him away for many Night Circles…. It's odd." He shook his head, obviously not registering Mender's creepy joke. "He was a nuisance, always eating our fish, but at some point… it's kind of welcoming you know? Someone who is always there…"

"Well, I was here today, and he didn't see me coming. I didn't see Arial coming either..." Mender trailed off, trying to puzzle everything out.

"She didn't see her coming, either," Orchid muttered, "She just acted…"

He shook his head and gave an exasperated laugh. "Heck of a way to impress a mate, sis."

"Wait, did she just...?" Mender sputtered, looking at Orchid in shock. Is that how you propose?

Orchid snorted, "No, but if you were him would you even bother looking for another female? She just saved him from a fucking fastbiter…" he looked up, "Um… no offense."

"Well, at least someone thinks I'm scary," Mender said, ignoring Orchid's unintentional jab, "If I ran into another fastbiter I'd probably be running for my life. Surprise meetings tend to go very badly."

"Don't put yourself short, Mender. We would be running with you!" Buse's voice called out, alerting Mender to the fact that the rest of her pack had now laid down in a mixture of exhaustion and uncertainty.

Orchid shook his head in disbelief. "I'm sure they couldn't have gone worse than this."

"Orchid, you have no idea just how wrong things can go," Mender said with a laugh, "Staza and I managed to find ourselves in quite a mess not long after first meeting Seeker and his pack..."


The past, six days after the events of chapter 7:

Violet walked through the brush with deliberate cautiousness. Today was the first day that Tracker was permitted to join her on scouting duty, which was in itself a huge show of confidence by the pack. Despite her lingering thoughts that she was unworthy of such trust, this mission filled her with hope.

"How are your legs feeling?" she finally spoke to her friend.

"Great. I hated not being able to walk," Tracker replied.

Violet absentmindedly took a glance at Tracker's now smaller leg musculature. Her days of being immobile had taken their toll, but the best way to combat this was to move around.

"I am glad to hear that," Violet replied softly. She doubted that she could have kept her wits about her like Tracker had in her situation. She is so much stronger than me…

The two fastbiters carefully peeked through some bushes as they examined another clearing in the deep forest. They were on the lookout for anything unusual. The pack did not need to hunt until tomorrow, but even finding a potential herd of prey would be useful. That was to say nothing about the potential of finding a threat.

"I don't see anything," Violet spoke in a whisper, "Do you smell anything?"

"I've got nothing," Tracker said, a bit annoyed, "Maybe we should find a hill." I don't like 'nothing'.'Nothing' has a tendency to turn into a very bad 'something'.

"You smell…" Violet hesitated. She was still unsure about her ability to determine smells. "Are you nervous, Tracker?" she asked softly. If she's scared then I'm scared…

"Its nothing, Violet," Tracker said, trying to sooth Violet's fears, "Just a bad memory."

Violet looked at her with some concern. There was no deceit in her words, nor in her smell. It had taken her a long time for Taunt to teach her how to tell when he was joking or serious, but she was now confident about her ability to determine that at least. Tracker was truly talking about something unpleasant in her past.

"You're talking about that time I don't remember, right?"

Tracker froze. Here come the questions. Again. "Yes, and I don't want to talk about it." Not that that ever dissuaded you before.

The cascade of smells that Violet then received threatened to overwhelm her. A mixture of anger, but lighter… frustration? A sadness that lingered… A terror that was distant… a horrifying mix that hinted at distant pain. A pain that wasn't there until she mentioned it.

"I'm.. I'm sorry!" Violet choked out as she quickly walked forward and acted like she was sniffing the ground. All that she knew was that she had caused her friend pain in some way, and she wanted to avoid making it worse.

"Violet, it's okay. It's okay. You've got nothing to be sorry for." Tracker sighed. I should have told you about this a long time ago. Now's not the time, though.

"But… I upset you… did I do that to you every time I asked about that?" she questioned with concern and more than a little guilt.

"Somewhat," Tracker reluctantly admitted. There's got to be a way to distract… I got it! "You didn't know. Do you remember those times I would wake up screaming in the middle of the night?"

Violet nodded. She remembered those incidents quite well.

"Well, one time Dodger was on watch and went to check on me. I wasn't thinking clearly, so I attacked him." Tracker couldn't keep herself from laughing. "He was more irritated with how poor my attack was than the attack itself. A hatchling could have done better."

Violet snickered at that. "That sounds like Dodger." She now gave up any pretense of sniffing the terrain as she looked around again, back in scouting mode. "I've noticed that you haven't done any of that since you have been here."

"It feels safer here." And knowing that Calin is dead helps more than I'm willing to admit.

Violet nodded at that. "This pack knows what they are doing… it is a shame that we need to go soon…" Her eyes bulged as she realized what she had implied. "...I mean… I didn't mean that Dodger…"

"Violet, if you want to stay, all you have to do is ask. Dodger just wants you safe, and there's no place safer than here," Tracker said.

Violet bowed her head, suddenly ashamed by her words despite Tracker's understanding. "But you are family. My family," she reiterated as she looked at Tracker sadly, "Family sticks together, right?"

"Right." Tracker wasn't going to argue the point with her friend; her heart wasn't in it. I need to talk to Dodger about this.

Violet nodded. "I just hope… we can find a place close by," she smiled slightly, "We have never had allies before… or friends."

"Then what am I, food?" Tracker asked jokingly.

Violet rolled her eyes. "I said we, you dolt!" but her eyes immediately bulged when she realized what she had said to her now, admittedly, higher-ranked counterpart. She gave an apologetic bow in the manner she had taught several days ago.

"Violet…" Tracker sighed. "If no one has torn Taunt to shreds, I'm pretty sure you can insult me. Just don't do it in front of another pack."

Violet nodded in understanding at Tracker's words as she again looked into the clearing. "Have you smelled the… stuff… that we were looking for?" She was hesitant to say its name. Despite their host pack's obvious unwillingness to give away all of their secrets Dodger had tasked them with finding and identifying the plant that had been used against Tracker. It, and the antidote, would prove valuable once they were on their own again.

"No, wait… I think I got something. Follow me." Tracker surged ahead, intent on following the smell to the source.

Violet followed dutifully, if a bit reluctantly. Even though it was not forbidden by their hosts to look for other things during their mission, she still felt it was a bit underhanded. She had to remind herself that this was for her pack, and it would not harm her hosts in any way. For the next few moments she followed Tracker at a speedy trot. A feat that would have been impressive for Tracker mere days before.

Tracker stopped in front of an unassuming plant. "That's the anti-death, or whatever you call it," Tracker said, "I'd know that smell anywhere."

Violet covered her nose after she gave it a strong sniff. Even though she had had smell lessons for the last week she doubted that she could make out any smells for the next few moments due to the stench permeating through her sniffer. "This stuff smells awful!"

"The stuff that kills you is worse," Tracker replied.

Violet grabbed one of the plants. "Well, awful as it is… I guess it is better than dying." She then looked at Tracker. "Do you smell the bad stuff anywhere?"

"Yeah. It's a bit further. I can't believe it's so far out. If there was a surprise attack they'd never get to it in time." I really want to know how they got it and tore a hole in my leg, Tracker thought irritatedly, Apparently I have the worst luck of any fastbiter ever hatched.

"Um…" Violet hesitated for a moment as she debated if she should mention what she was thinking. "I… have noticed Haven looking after a hole by her sleeping place. It… well, I saw her put something in it one day and put a rock over the hole when she thought I wasn't looking… Do you think they keep some of them in there?"

"Maybe, but it wouldn't last long. No Bright Circle, no tree, no bush, no Orange Death." Thank you boring lessons on leaf-eater food. Tracker could never understand why her parents had thought it important to know where leaf-eaters' food could be found, though she suspected it had something to do with finding leaf-eaters. The lessons were painfully boring, though, which was ironically why she remembered them so well.


"You got the offering ready, Leap?"

Leap groaned as Thud playfully mocked him. Thud knew full well that a juvenile swimmer was too large for him to carry alone.

"All due respects, sir, but you are an ass!"

His leader's boisterous laughter echoed across the forest as Swift soon joined in the symphony of amusement. A mere year ago he would have feared to speak so freely to Thud, but ever since the great battle they had grown as a pack. He simply considered Thud part of his family now, albeit one that gave the orders.

"Where do you think that my son gets it from, Leap?" A chuckle left his mouth. "But you are right, your sister and I will drag this a little ways. How about you go to the edge of our friends' territory and give the customary signal? Let's see if their scouting abilities have improved any."

Leap smiled coyly. "You want us to catch your son daydreaming again."

Thud shrugged. "I didn't say anything like that…. but yes." He smirked. "Happy hunting, Leap!"

Leap grinned as he bounded off deeper into the forest. The other pack wouldn't know what hit them.


"Over here!" Tracker called to Violet. She took a few cautious steps away from the Orange Death she just found. "Don't touch it."

Violet crouched down to where Tracker was gesturing. "This is it? This is the Orange Death? It doesn't look like much…"

Tracker just glared. Do I need to remind you…

Violet quickly realized how callous her statement sounded. Me and my big mouth! "Sorry, Tracker…" She bowed apologetically. "I just meant that if I had seen this without knowing about it then I would think it was just another plant."

"You're right; it's easy to overlook. Now let's get out of here before there's an accident." Or we get caught, Tracker silently added.


"This is it? This is the Orange Death? It doesn't look like much…"

Leap nearly slammed himself to the ground as he heard the words from the unseen fastbiter.

Intruders! And they know about the Orange Death!

Leap struggled to keep his breath slow and controlled. He could not discount the possibility that they could be new members of the pack… but that would not explain their surprise at seeing the Orange Death. Something here did not add up.

"You're right; it's easy to overlook. Now let's get out of here before there's an accident."

Leap sucked in a breath. He had to let his packmates know about this immediately. Without waiting to catch his bearings he stepped backwards to exit his hiding spot.

...And promptly stepped on a twig.


Crack!

Yikes! Tracker thought. Her head jerked towards the sound, but she couldn't see anything yet. "Violet, I think it's time to go…"

Violet struggled to her feet as she stared at the bushes where the sound had emerged. For several moments she could not see anything, but then suddenly the large shadow of a fastbiter appeared over the bushes. It was a figure that she had never seen before.

Tracker, however, recognized him instantly. However, past experience and what her mind associated him with did not allow her to remain calm. "Violet, run!" Tracker turned and followed her own advice, after practical shoving Violet away from the other fastbiter..

None of them noticed the fastbiter continue to stare at the spot where Tracker once stood. For several moments he merely stood there, unable to move or speak. It was only once the realization of what he had witnessed came to him that he finally collapsed to the ground and wept.


It was several moments later that his packmates found him.

"Leap! What happened?!"

Thud rushed through the underbrush with a speed that almost seemed unnatural. In a swift movement he quickly examined his packmate and assessed him for injuries. It was the lack of injuries that concerned him the most. What in the heck had happened here?

"It… it was her…"

Swift ran up and down the line of bushes staring at the trees around them with murderous intent. "Who, Leap? Who hurt you?"

Leap shook his head as he choked back a sob. "I… I hurt her… she was the one… the…"

Thud shook Leap. "Spit it out, Leap!" Despite not wanting to harm his friend he had to know what had transpired here.

"She's the one that made us decide to leave! To get away from Calin and his evil bastards!" he wailed, "She's the one that we thought died…"

Swift froze. "The one who… the cliff…"

Leap stared at his sister with an utterly defeated expression. "She's alive, sis."

Thud looked at the two siblings with exasperation as they both looked like they had experienced a death in the family. He had no idea what was going on and was quickly tiring of the situation.

"Can someone tell me what is going on?!"

Leap merely looked down as the scent of unrestrained remorse radiated from him. Finally it was his sister that addressed her leader with a shaky voice.

"It happened when we were in Calin's pack…"


Must go faster! Must go faster! Tracker thought repeatedly. She hadn't been this scared in a very long time. Quite by accident she was making Violet's mental situation even worse than her own.

Damn it! We have to warn the others! Violet thought in a panic. She had no idea what the significance was of who Tracker noticed, but she realized based upon her reaction that it must have been very bad news. At their current rate of speed it did not take them long to attract the appearance of Petrie.

"What wrong!? Should me give alert!?" he squawked overhead.

"Yes!" Tracker shouted without thinking things all the way through. If she had she might have made the connection between Leap and ally of Seeker.

Instantly Petrie raised his beak and soared into the air. It did not take long for his tell-tale alert to echo across the land. Based upon Tracker's reaction he did not hesitate to give his alert a treatment that everyone would understand.


Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!

Taunt dropped his ground fuzzy as Petrie's alert echoed in his ears. "A four call alert! Shit!"

In an instant he was sprinting headlong towards Ducky's sleeping area. Going directly at the threat was not an option now. A four call alert meant that a packmate was down or…

"We must be under attack!" Littlefoot screamed as he reached into the pit and literally threw a bulb of Orange Death towards Taunt. His spear was tossed at him by Ruby a split second later.

Taunt quickly poisoned his spear without speaking a word. The time for talking was over. Now was the time for action.

"What now?" Spike asked in the distance as he too grabbed his spear.

"What on earth is going on?" Dodger practically demanded. Where are Violet and Tracker?

Littlefoot did not waste time to look up as he passed the final spear to Ducky. "Spotter gave an alert. We are under attack! You stay here and guard Violet and Tracker if they get back."

"WHAT!" Dodger demanded. You want me to do WHAT while my packmates are in danger?!

Littlefoot glanced in his direction for a moment, as if he were weighing something in his mind.

"Follow then… if you see them, then guard them." his words were cold due to the magnitude of the situation. "Otherwise, help us avenge them."

"Yes, sir," Dodger replied just as coldly.

Without any further words being exchanged the fastbiters sprinted into the distance. The distant footsteps of Chomper becoming louder as they approached from his now aborted scouting mission... Soon the battle would be joined.


Thud's blood went cold as he listened to Swift's words. He had never heard the tale of what made her and her brother risk all to escape from Calin's pack, but now he realized why they had never told him. It was worse than he could ever have imagined.

"He made you… that… that irredeemable bastard!"

Leap sucked in a sob. "We had to leave… What if my sister were next? What if it were me? Calin didn't care who he hurt… who he killed… in those last days he didn't seem to care. He just wanted to see everyone bleed."

Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!

Thud looked up at where the alert came. "What?!"

Swift froze in horror. "Oh no… They must have found the intruders…"

Leap screamed, "She lived through Calin, we can't let her die now! She deserves better than that!"

Thud sucked in a deep breath. "Then let's warn the pack before they make a terrible mistake."

Without another word they ran into the coming chaos. Giving warning calls as they proceeded.


Littlefoot ran forward with great agitation as he held his spear close to his shoulder. They had no idea what awaited them in the brush, whether their guests were alive or dead; all that they knew was that the pack was under threat.

"Wing formation!" Littlefoot barked, "Spread out and get ready!"

"Wing formation?" Dodger asked. Understandably the pack hadn't exactly explained every strategy of theirs to him. Those strategies also didn't take him into consideration.

Taunt carefully clicked with his mouth. "Fall back to where I am!" Without looking to see if Dodger understood, Taunt then slowed until he was near the back of the pack. With only Dodger being out of place in the V-shaped formation.

Dodger slowed to a stop, letting everyone else run past his position before hurrying to catch back up with Taunt. Is there a reason someone couldn't have mentioned this before we got out here?

Just then Ducky let out a high-pitched hiss, which was soon followed by a click from Cera. At this point Littlefoot raised a hand for the others to stop. The pack had obviously found something.

Ducky then raised two claws and scraped the ground. Littlefoot nodded his head as if he understood her signal completely. He then made an odd gesture with his arm and clicked four times. As if on cue, Cera, Ducky, and Taunt advanced with their spears raised.

Dodger moved forward slightly to take Taunt's former position but did not go any further. Maybe I should have stayed behind… He was used to giving and receiving clear orders, not trying to puzzle some out that he didn't understand. Bad leader or not, at least I could understand Prowler's orders.

"They found something…" Spike's voice whispered in Dodger's ear, "Back us up." Without further explanation he too edge behind his three friends, spear raised.

Dodger followed close behind, hoping he was doing the right thing. Needing some room to rush an opponent, he shifted himself so that he would be on the flank though still behind the line. No sense trying to cut through his allies and make a mess.

Suddenly the bushes exploded as three fastbiters tore through the vegetation in a headlong sprint. It was only a swift reaction from Littlefoot that prevented a slaughter.

"Hold!"

Dodger moved forward the moment the three fastbiters came into view but stopped level with the pack's line at Littlefoot's order. Okay, sir. So what's the plan?Just tell me what to do.

"Thud?" Littlefoot spoke with obvious surprise and more than a little relief, "Did you surprise our scouting party?"

Thud breathed hoarsely; it was obvious that he had been sprinting for some time. "We didn't see any of you in a scouting party. We did see someone that Leap and Swift knew in Calin's pack, however…"

At that Dodger went from calm to silent but controlled rage. Some days ago Tracker had pulled him aside, or rather had him help her somewhere more private, and told him quite a few of the details she'd left out during the time-that-is-not-to-be-spoken-of. Calin was one of those details.

Ducky tightened the grip on her spear as Littlefoot held his breath. So the alert wasn't a mistake…

"But don't hurt her!" Leap suddenly interrupted as he stepped forward, "I'm… sure that she means no harm. She is one of the few who escaped before we tried."

Littlefoot spoke in a cold monotone as he processed Leap's words. He knew full well that they might not have much of a choice. "We will spare her if possible… did you see only one?"

Leap shook his head. "No… there was another."

Ruby gritted her teeth. "Crap! A scouting party?"

Littlefoot nodded. "Let's show them that this land is occupied… Thud, take your people to the west side, everyone else head east."

"And what of Path?!" Petrie's voice echoed from above, "Me see no intruders yet!"

Littlefoot sighed. "Have him scout the sleeping areas. If they are here then they will be found! Move out!"

"Sir, requesting permission to split off from the group. I'd like to find Violet and Tracker before something happens to them," Dodger requested.

"Spotter, where were they heading?" Littlefoot shouted in mid-sprint.

"East!" came the rapid response.

Littlefoot nodded as the others followed closely behind. "Looks like we are going the right direction! Just follow and hopefully we will find them!"

Dodger nodded in acquiescence but was still a bit bothered. Partially because they didn't want to be hopelessly spread out the pack wasn't moving as quickly as he knew he could on his own. Please be alright, you two.


"Who was that, Tracker?!" Violet finally asked as her friend collapsed beside Ducky's sleeping areas. It was then that she realized just how agitated her friend was. "Are you alright?"

"No, I'm not alright," Tracker admitted. By the time she slowed down enough to think she'd realized she'd made a huge error sounding the alert. At this point it almost seemed better just to keep running than admit that she apparently wasn't entirely right in the head.

Violet looked around her rapidly in fear that the intruder might still be in pursuit. "But who was that, Tracker? It… it was almost like you knew him."

"I did," Tracker muttered before walking away from her friend. Why didn't I just tell her all this once I was sure her head wasn't messed up the first time? She's really not going to react well if I tell her now.

Violet moved closer to her friend, as if in a protective gesture. "Do you think he will go after us?" the fear was obvious in her voice and her scent. "Where… where are the others?"

"The pack's either looking for us or for him. Possibly both. You're going to be fine, Violet." And I'm going to be asked to leave and never come back.

"How can you be sure?" Violet inquired, her fear deepening, "You said that you knew him and then ran… he must be dangerous. What if he hurts our friends? Or Dodger?" Her body began to shake at that thought.

"Violet, I overreacted. He's not nearly as dangerous as I made you think he is. Unlike you I'm pretty much scared of everything. Dodger will be fine. He's got plenty of friends with him."

Violet froze for a moment as she digested her words. "Who was he? Is he from… the times I don't remember?"

"Yes, and it's probably best if you don't remember it for now. I'll explain everything once this is taken care of if you don't want to just ask Haven first. She got me talking about it even when I was trying not to," Tracker said, "Actually, it might be better if you just talked to her." She'll keep you from losing your head in front of everyone.

Violet felt a lump in her throat as her fear and uncertainty remained despite Tracker's words. Before she could speak, however, a familiar sound echoed in her ears.

"There they are!"

Honestly, I'd feel better seeing Leap right now, Tracker thought worriedly as the pack approached, They're not going to be happy once everything is sorted out.

"You two alright?" Dodger asked when he reached his packmates. His question was directed at both of them, but his eyes were directed at Tracker. She seemed far too nervous for seeing friendlies.

"We're not hurt," Tracker answered, causing Dodger to frown. She wasn't lying, but it was obvious she wasn't telling him everything.

"Thank, goodness!" Littlefoot exclaimed as he skidded to where the two fastbiters rested. Instantly the others gathered around the two guests with their spears raised in a protective formation around them. It was only then that Littlefoot addressed them directly, "Girls, I need you to tell me what you saw, okay? We need to know what we are up against. Spotter hasn't found anything yet."

"It was an overreaction," Tracker said, sounding ashamed, "I saw someone and panicked." Please don't make me explain everything. Please.

Littlefoot frowned at her response, and hesitated for a moment. "Well, if it was another fasbiter then that is something worth alerting us about. This is our territory." He sighed. "Can you tell me who they were… or describe what they look like?"

Tracker snuck a glance over at Ducky. Help!

Ducky moved forward as Littlefoot was about to speak. "Let me handle this, please." The tone was not lost on Littlefoot as he edged away slightly but remained in ear-range. "We have to know what we are up against, Tracker, we do, we do…"

"It was a mistaken attack. It was someone both you and I know." I hope she gets the hint.

Ducky took in a breath as the implications of Tracker's words registered in her mind. She needed confirmation, however, and mouthed out the word 'Leap?'

Tracker nodded in confirmation. Would telling everyone everything keep me alive?

Ducky grimaced and briefly considered the repercussions on everyone from this mistake. It was obvious why Tracker would react that way upon encountering someone from that dark portion of her life, but it was also obvious what such an admission of error would mean for Tracker. She had to find some way to mitigate the damage.

"Call off the alert, Seeker," she finally spoke as Tracker looked away in shame, "It is a false alert."

Littlefoot looked surprised. "Are you sure?"

Ducky nodded. "You know, we never told them what Thud's pack looked like, and we never told them about our new guests."

Ducky was uncertain about Littlefoot's reaction but was relieved a moment later when he gave the necessary call to give the all clear. It was only then that he spoke.

"It seems that Violet and Tracker did a better job at scouting than we did at explaining," he spoke with an apologetic tone, "Tracker, the fastbiters that you saw are our allies, Thud, Swift, and Leap. You have nothing to fear from them."

The others breathed sighs of relief as well as they dropped their spears to their sides. The only thing that mattered to them at the moment was that the 'threat' was over. An inconvenience was far better than an actual threat to life and limb.

"Well, I guess we had better show our new friends our old allies," Cera offered sarcastically, "Considering how poor we are at explaining things, perhaps we should just show them."

Taunt finally laughed, his relief evident. "Heck of a training session!"

Ruby rolled her eyes. "Well, let's give the girls a chance to catch their breath... and us as well. It will be nice to talk to our friends again." As if on cue she sucked in a deep breath. "I am sure that you two will actually like them. They are among the nicest fastbiters you will ever meet."

Okay, this could actually end up worse than I imagined, Tracker thought, Why does every time I try not to tell everyone about something, 'everyone' just gets bigger? I should've just kept running. Not sure what to do, she kept her thoughts to herself. She wasn't looking forward to inevitably humiliating both herself and Leap.

Ducky hesitated before pulling away. She had been told about Tracker's past in Calin's pack, and could only assume what Leap was forced to do, but she had no confirmation. She also didn't want to out Tracker's darkest secrets in front of the others. Unsure of what to do, she mutely looked into Tracker's eyes. The unspoken words being obvious, 'Are you ready for this?'

'No, but what choice do I have?' was the unspoken reply.

Ducky looked down, but reluctantly pulled away. She did not envy her friend, but all she could do was to help her in the aftermath. For better or worse, a difficult reunion was about to take place.


Leap had never been as deeply relieved as he was in his walk towards the center of the pack territory. Littlefoot's call had meant that the crisis had been resolved without bloodshed, the best possible resolution. This meant that Tracker was still alive.

If anyone deserves to survive it is her.

"You alright, brother?"

Leap sucked in a breath. He understood the context of his sister's question.

"Yeah… I am just glad that she is alright. We took so much from her…"

"Calin took it from her, not you two," Thud's voice spoke resolutely, "You had no choice."

"There is always a choice…" Leap tried to protest.

"Without being murdered?" Thud glared at Leap.

Leap bowed his head. "No…"

"Then you had no choice," Thud replied sadly, "You two were victims as well. The important thing is that you two are alive to tell the tale, and so apparently is she. The best thing that we can do right now is help our allies, and explain to them the situation. We cannot change the past."

Leap reluctantly nodded at his pack leader's proclamation. He was right, of course.

"There they are!"

Leap looked up at Seeker's voice, making a smile of sorts with his tail. It was so good to see his friends after so long… but that was when he saw who else was waiting for him.

Oh shit.

He tried to suppress the rising taste of adrenaline in his throat as the other members of Littlefoot's pack moved into an open circle formation and bowed their heads in greeting. It was only out of instinct that he replied in kind. His mind was in a daze.

"It is nice to have all of you again!" Littlefoot greeted warmly, as it was custom for the leader to take care of the initial formalities, "What brings you back to our territory?"

Thud smiled with his tail. "The pleasure is all mine, Seeker. We have come to follow the herds, but if it does not offend you, may we stay for a time? We offer our services as a peace offering."

Littlefoot smiled with a bit of mischief in his eyes. "Couldn't find prey, eh?"

Thud rolled his eyes. "We have, but we have left it unattended due to… uh… the incident."

Leap gulped and didn't hear much of the banter for the next several moments. It was only when the formalities were over that his brain seemed to register his surroundings again.

"We would be glad to help you drag the offering, and we welcome your company." Littlefoot stomped his foot, which communicated that the formalities were over. Instantly the other members of his pack relaxed their postures from polite formality to friendly informality. "Speaking of company, I think that it is time that you meet three of our guests."

Thud snorted. "I think Leap has already met them."

Cera laughed. "Yeah, but now that they know Leap isn't some kind of monster, I think they will be more welcoming this time. We forgot to tell them what all of you look like."

Leap felt like something inside of him died. Cera's words cut deeper than she knew.

"Leap, Swift, and Thud, I would like you to meet Tracker, Violet, and their leader, Dodger. Dodger, Violet, and Tracker, here are our allies, Thud, Swift, and Leap."

Leap sucked in a breath as he bowed respectfully along with the rest of the pack. Tracker had already indicated what she thought of him. She ran. Ran in a blind panic. Despite his admiration of her survivor's spirit, he knew that she would never forgive him. Which was just as well; he would never forgive himself.

"I am pleased to meet your acquaintance and hope that civility can remain between us," Thud greeted Dodger, as the two exchanged respectful sniffs. Then Thud moved onto Violet as Swift greeted the pack leader; Leap knew it would be his turn soon. He could not be inhospitable here.

"Greetings, Leap," Dodger greeted plainly. His scent communicated neutrality.

Leap swallowed. "Greetings, sir." He bowed a bit more deeply than required. "I hope that we can be friends."

Appearing satisfied by his answer, but having a bit of curiosity in his eyes, Dodger moved aside so that the next pack member could greet him. He could only assume that his frightened and anguished scent was obvious to everyone.

"Hi," Violet said in as friendly as manner as she could, approaching Leap, "Did you get lost chasing us? We didn't make any big turns."

Leap momentarily froze at Violet's words, being unsure about how to respond to that. Was it a thinly-veiled insult or an attempt at humor? In any case his jumbled mind had difficulty processing anything besides the difficult greeting that awaited him next.

"A pleasure to meet you," he answered simply. He did not notice Dodger quickly ushering Violet away. All of his focus was on the green fastbiter that was slowly shuffling towards him. It was a face that he had never expected to see again before their improbable meeting earlier that day. His heart raced and he stopped breathing as he awaited her words. The words that he was sure would cut him in two.

"I'm glad the false alert didn't get you hurt," Tracker said after a long pause. There were plenty of things she wanted to say, very few of which wouldn't draw curious ears and probing questions.

Leap closed his eyes and bowed his head at her greeting. Despite her intentions he interpreted it as a lukewarm greeting. An indication of her deep contempt. Her agitated scent only confirmed his perspective in his mind. Despite his initial intentions, he felt the despair in his chest grow. He had helped to hurt a beautiful child along with his other packmates. As a consequence he let his rational mind let go and let his instincts take over.

With a swift movement he kneeled so low that his face touched the ground in front of her sickle claws. In a gesture that communicated outright submission, he answered her greeting.

"I don't deserve any kindness from you, but I hope one day you can forgive me."

Dodger stared, more than a bit disturbed. Violet was just confused. She resolved she was going to corner Ducky until she got all of her answers since cornering Tracker would not be taken well on several levels, pack rankings especially.

Tracker did her best to haul Leap upright, a bit embarrassed. Oh. How badly has he been beating himself up over this? "I already have," she whispered in Leap's ear before pulling back well out of touching distance before anyone else started staring.

Littlefoot stared at the display that he had just seen with extreme concern. Never before had he seen one of his allies react in such a way. He knew in that moment that there was some piece of the puzzle that he was missing, and he resolved to eventually find out what that was. But for now he had to maintain decorum and spare his guests any further discomfort.

"Well, it is an honor to have all of you meet one another," He could tell that none of his packmates were listening at the moment after the display they had just seen, but he continued nonetheless, "My pack will assist in moving the peace offering…"

A thought just hit him at that moment. Tracker knew the person that she saw, and Leap apologized using the most extreme gesture possible. But since when did Leap ever hurt anyone… oh… oh…

Littlefoot blinked. He knew that he had to prevent a bloodbath.

"...on second thought, Dodger? Could you help us as well… and Haven…"

Ducky looked up in surprise.

"...perhaps you can stay here with me. We need to discuss some things with our allies."

Dodger glanced at Tracker, who jerked her head away from the pack, indicating he should go. "Yes, sir," Dodger finally replied and followed most of Littlefoot's pack away.


Littlefoot sighed as the rest of the pack left. It was only in the absence of Chomper and the others that the facade began to break down and Tracker allowed herself to be supported by Ducky. Meanwhile, Leap finally allowed himself to collapse in shame. His sister tried to comfort him as Thud stood in front of him, as if to offer him some privacy.

Violet, afraid she might say something to upset Tracker further, stood to one side completely unsure what to do with herself.

"Alright. I can only assume what is going on," Littlefoot spoke with an exhausted voice, "...and I know that we all have experienced hard times in the past, but as leader of my pack I need to know things that threaten its stability."

He looked up at Ducky, who had a resigned look upon her face. "Now someone tell me what in the name of sanity is going on."

Though not exactly directed at her, Violet cringed at both the words and Littlefoot's tone. She was starting to wish she'd followed Dodger.

"I'm not sure where to begin," Tracker said, now embarrassed to the point that having this conversation with Leap alone would have been easier.

"I hurt her…" Leap spoke in something halfway between a whisper and a moan, "...when I was in Calin's pack I was forced to hurt her to show that I wasn't weak." He bowed his head in shame, being unable to go on.

Violet stood still, confused and angry. She didn't know what to do.

Ducky whispered softly in her friend's ear, "Do you want me to speak, Tracker?"

"It might be best," Tracker whispered back, "Can you try to protect Leap a bit? He feels bad enough as it is."

Ducky nodded sadly as she gestured for Swift and Thud to take Leap some distance away. She only began to speak once they had brought some distance between themselves and Tracker.

"Tracker already told me this in confidence, but she was captured by Calin's pack at the same time Leap and Swift were in it. At that time Redclaw did not want their numbers to be lowered by in-fighting, so he wanted his packmates to be made hard through being harsh with one another." Ducky swallowed; she was speaking much faster than she usually did. The story was just too horrible for her to dwell on it. "Tracker was young back then and by far the weakest so Calin…"

"Enough." Ducky nearly jumped at Littlefoot's words. "I don't need to be told what exactly happened. I have heard enough."

He bowed his head as he approached Tracker. "My friends have lost so much from that damn fiend… Thud lost a brother… Taunt and Breeze lost their pack… I lost my grandparents… Spotter lost a sister… and we all lost our innocence." He carefully placed a claw on her shoulder. "Is there anything I can do to help, Tracker? I am sorry that this had to be aired so publicly."

"Could you talk to Leap?" Tracker asked. There really wasn't anything that could be done for her that hadn't already been done, but maybe there was a way to help Leap. She hated causing someone else pain, even indirectly. "It seems that he can't understand that I don't hate him. I forgave him."

Littlefoot nodded. "I think he needs time, but I will talk to him." However, it was then that Violet's angry scent reached his snout. "But I think that you might need to talk to someone as well."

"Haven, get ready to tackle Violet, just in case," Tracker whispered, having caught the same scent as Littlefoot.


"Damn, this thing is heavy!" Chomper roared with some exertion, "Why didn't Seeker have Thud and his pack haul this monster!"

Taunt smiled jocularly. "Maybe he thought that Mr. Purple Ass needed some exercise!"

Chomper growled. "Perhaps I should go on a diet and only eat annoying fastbiters!"

Cera laughed at her mate's antics as she helped push the massive swimmer. She then spoke in a hushed tone so that Dodger wouldn't hear, "All joking aside, what is going on between Tracker and Leap?"

Breeze shrugged before whispering back, "I know, it is odd, isn't it? I have never seen someone actually use that gesture. He was acting almost like a scorned lover."

"You do realize I can hear you, right?" Dodger asked from the other side of the swimmer.

Taunt looked at his mate with an amused expression, as both Cera and Breeze squirmed in embarrassment. It was Ruby who finally spoke, however.

"Dodger, do you have any idea what that was about?" She moved over to the side of the swimmer where Dodger was as the others shifted within hearing range as well. "I am concerned about the both of them. I have never seen Leap act that way."

"I'm not really sure," Dodger replied, "If I'm putting everything together correctly I think they may have met before." I'll let you guys put the rest of what I was thinking together. What do you guys know about Leap that I might not?

"It is very odd," Taunt acknowledged, suddenly being devoid of all humor, "It was like he was apologizing for hurting her or something."

"Yeah," Spike offered, "But I haven't seen Leap hurt anything but prey. He is about as gentle as Path was when he was a much smaller purple ass."

"Hey!" Chomper growled before muttering something about 'insolent ankle biters'. This did not stop him from offering his thoughts, however.

"Well… he and Swift were part of Calin's pack long ago..."

Dodger closed his eyes and started counting. He's an ally of Seeker's so I can't kill him. Can't forget that, he thought after reaching twenty. If he'd followed his first inclination he'd have left the others behind and torn Leap into pieces so mutilated that no one would recognize the pieces as a fastbiter, never mind Leap.

Ruby blinked. "Say, Dodger, didn't you mention having encountered Calin's pack once? Did you see Leap and Swift then?"

"No. If I saw them they wouldn't be here now," Dodger replied rather coldly. If I saw them then that would mean they were dangerously close to or attacking Violet. Two of their former packmates died for that.

Cera spoke, not seeing Dodger's demeanor, "Yeah, we didn't react very kindly to them at first, but they lost so much in trying to find us."

Taunt nodded. "Yeah, if they hadn't told us about Redclaw's plans then he would still be ruling the Mysterious Beyond right now. Their brother paid the price for their escape."

"How long ago was that?" Dodger asked, trying to figure something out.

"It was Cold Time before Battle for Valley!" Petrie affirmed, "Me remember that time. Horrible time."

"It wasn't too much before that my pack got attacked... " Dodger said, thinking, "Tracker was missing for several days."

Chomper stopped, as everyone else stopped what they were doing. Finally Ruby spoke, "Are you saying that she… was captured by Calin's pack?"

Dodger kept his mouth shut, refusing to confirm Ruby's suspicion. He'd already said too much of a story that wasn't entirely his to tell. While ashamed for his own failures Dodger didn't want to embarrass Tracker.

At that exchange, the rest of the packmates walked around the swimmer and exchanged sympathetic expressions with Dodger. They knew full well from Leap and Swift's stories, and the implied things that weren't spoken, what being captured by his pack entailed.

Petrie didn't say a word as he came to a conclusion of his own. Me see why Seeker send us away. Dodger hearing whatever Leap do would not be good for Leap!

But unknown to him, Violet's reaction wouldn't be much better.


It took Violet a bit to fully grasp what happened to Tracker. When she finally put it together she proved that she and her brother were most definitely siblings. You're not sorry enough, Leap. I'll fix that! With that she let out as shriek and rushed the larger fastbiter.

In an instant Thud lurched in front of the targetted fastbiter. He did not have to defend his comrade, however, as Littlefoot and Ducky both landed on Violet's back, with Littlefoot placing a claw against her throat.

"Don't make a murderer out of me, Violet," Littlefoot spoke in a frightening monotone, "Tracker doesn't want this."

"Stop, Violet!" Ducky screeched as Tracker echoed her sentiments.

"That's an order," Tracker added, intentionally pulling rank on her friend for the first time. Violet reluctantly stopped moving entirely.

Is there anything I can't screw up? Violet wondered, ashamed of herself.

Littlefoot maintained his position on top of the smaller fastbiter. "If I let you go, will you go to Tracker and leave Leap alone?"

Violet nodded as much as she dared with the claw at her throat, now extremely frightened.

Seemingly satisfied, Littlefoot allowed himself to rise to his feet again. He did not look back at Violet as he walked towards Leap. He had a conversation to make.

"Leap… I think we should have a talk."


How can Tracker be so calm? I am furious! How can they do that to my friend?! A thousand deaths is too good for those bastards!

Violet continued to fume as she looked away from Tracker's concerned form. She couldn't bear to look at her and think of what horrors she had experienced.

"Violet," Tracker said. No response. "Violet, look at me."

With great reluctance Violet finally moved her eyes onto Tracker's face. The lingering rage and agitation was obvious on all of her features.

Realizing the tone that she'd have to take, Tracker reluctantly hardened her own features and prepared for what probably wouldn't be a very civil conversation. I'm starting to feel like a parent. Maybe I should talk to Thud about what that's like.

"What were you thinking?" Tracker demanded, shifting so that it would be easy to stand up.

Violet sucked in a breath. "I wasn't," she finally admitted.

"So you decided to reject my decision on how to handle things and take matters into your own hands on a whim? You think you can ignore my lead when Dodger's not around to see?" Tracker didn't want to belabor the point too much, but Violet's literally blindly rushing into things when angered was extremely dangerous for both herself and the pack as a whole. This had to end now.

"I…" Violet began, "I never knew that this happened to you. How am I supposed to act? How am I supposed to act when I hear that my best friend was hurt by a monster?" Her rage had been dissipated somewhat, but a coldness remained in her voice. She had never felt so enraged in her life.

"That monster is dead, Violet. Calin is dead. Leap didn't do anything to hurt me of his own volition. One thing he did do was keep his mouth shut when I tried to escape. He probably thought that was a suicide at the time, but he didn't sound the alert that night like he was supposed to." Tracker stood up, too agitated to remain sitting. "There were those far worse than Leap that liked hurting me because it was fun! If we see them I'll gladly help you tear their throats out. Leap's been through enough and has apparently tortured himself enough. He doesn't need your help.

"As for how you are supposed to react, do what you've been doing your whole life. Watch Dodger. Watch me. If you really want to stay here, watch Haven. Do you want Prowler to have the last laugh? Do you want to act like him? Striking out at everything that angers you without caring who you hurt in the process? Fine, then. Go ahead. Just don't expect me to stand there and watch." Tracker finally stopped, still shaking in agitation.

Violet had never heard such a torrent of anger from Tracker before, and that was enough to horrify her. In the back of her mind she realized that her reaction was more than mere anger as Violet's response, but was an echo of the rage that she felt on those who tormented her seasons ago. Worse yet, the one person who had done all in his power to allow her to escape had been attacked by her. She had screwed up in a way that she had never screwed up before.

She bowed her head and lowered herself apologetically. She had no idea what she could say to spare Tracker any more pain. As a result she let her gesture speak for her.

"Violet, little sister," Tracker said, referencing the two's adoptive relationship verbally for the first time as she eased Violet's head back level to her own, "You've trusted me for many seasons to keep you from making social mistakes. Trust me now. I'm trying to keep you safe; Dodger's not the only one looking out for you. Let me handle this."

Violet nodded mutely at her friend's words. She had never outright said their relationship until now, but she didn't disagree. The maturity of Tracker was firmly on display here.

"I… forgot about all of this. About this horrible time in your life. What kind of horrible friend am I to forget that?" Violet replied sadly as she shook her head, "Why didn't you tell me? I… I don't know what I could have done, but I could have listened. Why did you suffer alone?"

"You hit your head on a rock hard enough to break the rock. I'm not quite sure what that says about the solidness of your skull," Tracker said in an attempt to lighten the conversation a bit, "but you had a headache after that that you still weren't over when Dodger found me. I'm surprised you remembered anything at all." Tracker took a steadying breath. "I didn't tell Dodger much because I was embarrassed. I didn't tell you anything because I didn't want you to suffer at all. Life was scary enough for you as it was. Would you have ever been able to go to sleep again knowing there is actually something that hurt me bad enough that within only a few days I was willing to risk dying to escape? As far as I knew you couldn't smell at all. How would you feel knowing that there might be something hunting you? I didn't want you living with that."

Violet continued to look down for a moment before opening her mouth to speak. However, despite having so much to say, she couldn't form the words. In the end she simply communicated her thoughts in the only way she could.

With obvious wetness in her eyes, she gave Tracker a nuzzle. Some messages could not be communicated in mere words.

She has a lot of trust in me to tell Violet to listen to me if she decides to stay, Ducky thought to herself contemplatively as the two females continued to share a moment, but would she be happy staying without her friends?

Ducky sighed. She realized that one way or another that things with Violet might begin to get a bit more complicated. But at the moment there were more pressing matters.

"Leap?" Ducky whispered as she gestured towards the nearby bushes. He quickly nodded as it was obvious that his chance to get into a safer position had presented itself. Within moments he was outside of earshot of the conversation, leaving Littlefoot, Ducky, Violet, and Tracker to continue uninterrupted.

Littlefoot merely preened his feathers nervously, as he was suddenly left without any idea how to proceed. The only thing that he could gather was that he should remain silent until the moment between the girls was over.

Now that things had finally calmed down Tracker realized, to her horror, that she and Violet had spoken extremely freely to each other in front of a group of other fastbiters, only one of whom she really trusted. Okay, so how do I get out of this? I should've dragged Violet somewhere more private. She gave her unintentional audience an apologetic look.

Ducky noted the look and gave Littlefoot a knowing expression. Upon seeing that he was doing his best to avoid adding to anyone's embarrassment, she decided to speak.

"So um…" Now it was her turn to shift uncomfortably. "...would you two like some time alone? Because if you do then we could leave, yep, yep, yep."

It's a bit late for that, Haven, Tracker thought. She looked around, noticing that Thud and Swift were still in the area, but there was no sign of Leap. "Where'd Leap go?"

Littlefoot looked in the direction where Leap had been directed earlier. "I think that he wanted to give you two some privacy."

"More like not wanting to give me a second chance," Violet muttered. Tracker shot her a disapproving look but said nothing.

Ducky shrugged. "We can bring him back if you want to talk to him… but um…" she struggled to find a civil way to tell them that further attacks on Leap would be frowned upon.

"Perhaps, Violet, you could sit over here…" Littlefoot gestured to a place beside Ducky and him.

"Okay," Violet said nervously before moving to where Littlefoot indicated. She made a point to sit so that Ducky was between herself and him, though. Littlefoot may have inadvertently cured her fear of two-footers by giving her something, or rather someone, else to be afraid of.

Thud sighed deeply as he gave Swift a look. She took the hint and asked the relevant question.

"Would you like me to bring my brother back?"

"Yes," Tracker said, keeping her voice steady. She was still a bit nervous at the idea of talking to him again. What if I say something that hurts him more?

Swift silently walked behind the bushes to where Leap had journeyed. Leaving the assembled dinosaurs in awkward silence for several moments.

Well, this is awkward, Tracker thought. She noticed Violet was trying to inconspicuously study Thud, 'trying' being the operative word. She absentmindedly remembered that Violet's father had not exactly been young when she hatched.

Littlefoot coughed awkwardly as he resisted the urge to preen his feathers again. This is certainly not something Dein taught me back when I was being trained. He then suppressed a cringe as he considered how Dein would handle such a situation. On second thought, that is probably a good thing.

Before he could explore such thoughts any longer, the tell-tale sound of footsteps could be heard. Within moments Swift and Leap's distinct forms appeared from behind the foliage. Leap remained silent, however, obviously waiting to be addressed. He did not move more than five footsteps beyond the bushes; his hesitancy was obvious.

Tracker tried to think of something encouraging to say, but her mind wasn't working. This was a bad idea, but it's too late to back out now.

Leap looked down awkwardly, being too uncomfortable to look at her directly.

"You… inspired the rest of my family to leave the pack, you know…" he began awkwardly, being aware that she was not aware at the time she was in the pack that Swift and he were siblings, "You showed that escape was possible. And we… we didn't want to do what we were made to do anymore…"

"So you didn't think it was a suicide?" Tracker asked carefully. She'd been under the impression that Calin and his pack had thought her dead. It was hard for her to imagine that she would not have been hunted down and killed, if she were lucky, had anyone thought otherwise.

Leap took in a deep breath. "My brother… who is not here anymore… he was one of those who were sent to look for you. Calin… offered whoever found you the honor of disposing of you however they saw fit. He saw where you had jumped from the cliff and saw where you had dragged yourself away. But he didn't want to add to your suffering," he hesitated before continuing, "He covered up the footprints you made in the sand and claimed that something must have dragged your body away… there were bellydraggers in the area. We were in a hurry to get to where the Hidden Runners were so Calin took his word for it."

"I wouldn't have gotten far," Tracker said, remembering the ordeal, "I messed my arm up really badly. Dodger helped fix it. That hurt." I'm lucky I didn't meet any bellydraggers. By the time Dodger found me I could barely walk.

Leap grew silent for several moments before speaking, "The pack… did not leave you in good shape."

Tracker shot Violet a warning glance. She needn't have bothered. Violet just looked ill at what she was hearing.

It took Tracker a moment to recall Leap's brother, Verok, from the song. "I wish I could thank Verok for stopping the pursuit," she said, "Seeker and the others sung about what you did during your escape."

Leap suppressed the urge to bow his head. "He… he was just glad that you had escaped. So many others in that pack never had the chance."

"Far too many…" Ducky shook her head as the thoughts of previous encounters with the remnants of Calin's pack came to mind. The damage that the monster caused did not end with his death.

"I could never understand why so many didn't just leave as a group or at least all at once," Tracker said. She paused, reconsidering what she had just said. "No, that's a lie. I understand fear."

"It was worse than that, I'm afraid," Swift finally spoke, "You were only there a few days… though that was more than enough… but you did not know who to trust. If anyone tried to make a group then there certainly would have been at least one informant which would have told Calin. Then there were the flyers… always watching… the only reason that my brothers and I could flee was because we knew we were trustworthy."

"We… debated telling some of the others that were being treated like you were… but we decided against it." Leap added in a low voice. " If anyone would have turned another in then they would have gained in rank… and who would want higher rank more than someone being used like that? If they thought that we were going to fail, then they would have been tempted to go for a more certain reprieve from what happened to them... we… we decided to leave them behind."

Swift bowed her head as well. "I still regret that."

Leap sighed, "So do I."

Tracker looked down, trying to figure out what to say next. She could understand their reasoning quite well. She'd been there only a few days and had been desperate for a reprieve. That was why she'd tried such a dangerous escape. If she made a mistake, she'd have been killed instantly. "If I were still there, it probably would have been best to leave me behind, too," Tracker finally said, "I'd have just slowed you down. I'm not very fast." I wouldn't have betrayed them, though. The isolation I was going through was killing me. Just knowing I had a friend somewhere would have been enough.

Littlefoot took this as an opportunity to speak, "We actually talked to one of the survivors of the pack nearly a year ago, and she gave us some idea of what happened to those who were suspected of betrayal," he shivered, "Kerwat… do you remember him?"

Leap nodded. "I do… he didn't make much of an impression one way or another."

Tracker tried to remember the fastbiter but failed. She really only remembered the ones that had distinguished themselves by their actions, either good or bad. I wonder if it would disturb Leap to know just how much "I'm sorry" meant at the time.

Littlefoot sighed, "Apparently Redclaw had made a cruel pact with Calin, such that he mentioned that he had a debilitating disability but also gave him his protection, so Calin became unstable…"

Swift nodded. "Yeah… unstable doesn't quite do the bastard justice."

Littlefoot continued, "Well, Kerwat was one of those who were tasked with finding you guys," he looked at Leap and Swift as he said this, "...and Calin discovered him near your brother's body and assumed that Kerwat had killed him to silence him…"

Leap cringed. "Oh no…"

Littlefoot looked ill, "Calin had the others hold him down, while he began to cut Kerwat up slowly, starting with his eyes… and going from there. He made sure that everyone in the pack heard his cries and saw what was left before he had Reclaw eat him. There were no further escape attempts after that."

Tracker suddenly felt very cold. A glance over at Violet showed that her friend was on the verge of being sick and was almost definitely going to be having nightmares after this. Thank you, Seeker, Tracker thought sarcastically. She'd die before she said that out loud, though.

Littlefoot looked at Swift and Leap with a sympathetic expression. "You did the best that you two could do. You were stuck in a horrible situation, and had to do horrible things. That does not mean that either of you should continue to torture yourselves over what cannot be changed." He then looked at Tracker intensely. "That goes for everyone who had to deal with that monster."

Tracker looked away, at a loss for words and feeling a bit intimidated. Whether he meant to or not, Littlefoot was quite good at being intimidating. Tracker was pretty sure she couldn't scare a hatchling.


"What do you think that they are all talking about?"

Taunt shrugged at the question from the massive sharptooth. He couldn't deny that his curiosity had been awakened, but even he knew that this was probably something that they were not meant to hear.

"I think that they don't want us to know," Taunt admitted, "They seem to be upset, though."

Cera stepped forward as she tried to get a better vantage point. I hope that they are alright…

Considering who was there and who wasn't, Dodger had a pretty good idea what Littlefoot and the others were talking about. Tracker looks alright. Violet doesn't. That wasn't really an indicator of anything. Violet was almost incapable of hiding anything even without her scent giving her away; that never stopped her from trying, though. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but Taunt's right. I don't think we're supposed to know."

Taunt's momentary strut was cut off by a sharp bite to his tail by his mate.

"Hmmm… well if we are not supposed to know, then I suppose that we won't know," Ruby offered, "I wonder what history Tracker has with Thud's pack…" she mumbled under her breath, but it was loud enough for Dodger to barely hear.

"Nothing she told me," Dodger said after walking to stand beside Ruby, "Nothing she told me." The repeat came across as more a sigh than a sentence.


Is Seeker considering expanding his pack? Thud glanced at the still agitated Violet in a much less conspicuous manner than she had examined him earlier. I have no doubt that she could be trained well here… but they would have quite a few extra females. He wrinkled his snout at that thought. It was not uncommon for some packs to have one male mated to multiple females, or vice versa, but not for sharpteeth of their kind. He had strong doubts that Ruby would permit Littlefoot to do such a thing in any case, and he knew that Taunt would not be stupid enough to try.

So… would she only stay here for a while until she entered her time of mating… or would Seeker try to recruit another male member? His pack is already huge.

"So… um… is there anything that we can do to help?" he asked Tracker almost helplessly. He had to admit that he was hopelessly lost with how to address the crimes of the past.

"Just try not to say anything to Dodger. I'm not really sure how he'll react. He nearly tore our former pack leader apart for kicking me." Maybe I should explain… "I was hurt at the time. A hunt against a threehorn went wrong, and I got hurt. Prowler blamed me. A few insults and injuries to me later and Dodger was actually trying to kill him. Prowler's about Finder's size."

Thud put the pieces together. "I take it that he is your mate?"

Tracker just nodded. She didn't bother to hold back a slight smile.

Thud looked at Leap. "Well… in that case I agree that we should not mention this while my pack is here… but Tracker?"

"Yes?"

Thud raised his tail slightly in the equivalent of a kind smile. "You really should tell him at some point. He certainly loves you, and this isn't something that you should deal with alone."

"Yes, Tracker," Ducky spoke, "I am sure that he will help you just like we have helped you. We are your friends, and we are here to help."

"I told him a bit when he found me and most of it a few days ago. I just left Leap out of it," Tracker admitted, "That didn't seem like something anyone needed to know. I didn't mean to even tell Haven anything. It just slipped out."

Ducky stepped forward and offered her feathered arm to Tracker. "As hard as it is for you, I am glad that you talked about it, I am, I am." She paused for a moment. "You were obviously sad and distant, and that is not how anyone should be, nope, nope, nope."

"Honestly I still can't figure out what Dodger sees in me," Tracker said, "I'm not really good at anything except finding stuff. Even when I first joined the pack the very fact I was there nearly started a fight. But he's always stuck by me, even listened the first time I told him he was being too hard on Violet." Tracker paused, realizing she was rambling. "I guess I don't know why he wants to stick with me of all people."

"Don't say that, Tracker!" Violet rose from her position, which made Littlefoot shift uncomfortably, "If you don't know what Dodger sees in you then you must be blind. You are calm, cautious, and respectful… everything that I am not. I can't even smell well."

Ducky looked at Littlefoot knowingly. Both of them have a lot to work through.

"For someone that spent most of her life not being able to tell scents apart at all, Violet, you've managed to make friends quite easily. Most of the pack here likes you. The rest at least don't have a negative opinion of you." She subtly glanced at Littlefoot, checking his reaction. "The only friend I've really got here is Haven. The rest barely know me. I haven't exactly been that talkative."

"It is understandable why you were quiet, Tracker, I would hardly think that you would want to talk with the dinosaur who stabbed you with a poisoned stick," Ducky affirmed, "Now that we all know what you have been through, how can any of us judge you?"

Littlefoot nodded. "We are willing to be your friends, Tracker, if you are willing to be friendly with us. Dodger is not your mate out of pity; he simply knows when there is something in front of him that is too precious to let go."

Tracker opened her mouth to argue, to say there really wasn't anything special about her, but her tendency to defer to those senior in rank caused her to slam it shut. She had a whole lifetime telling her that such a course of action wasn't safe, so she kept quiet.

"You may speak," Littlefoot spoke softly, the expression on Tracker's face indicating to him what was going on mentally, "My friends can always speak freely to me."

"I just don't want to make a mess of things. I've only been on a few hunts in my life. I can't fight; just ask Finder," Tracker said. She glanced over at Leap. "I still get nightmares sometimes," she added softly. With all that against me, how am I supposed to be a good parent? Dodger knows more about how to be a mom and a dad than I know about being a mom. Tracker wasn't sure if she wanted to tell everyone that last thought.

"You have barely had the chance to fight… let alone to act like adults," Littlefoot spoke with a compassionate voice, "You all did the best that you could but with what we are teaching you, you should be better prepared for the future."

Ducky nodded, "And sometimes running is the best option. What exactly did my brother say to you when you were caught?"

"He wanted to know who I was and why I was there. I stuttered, not really answering. I tried to back away. He told me that without a peace offering I wasn't welcome here," Tracker said, "He was advancing towards me and was apparently glad I was scared. That's when Dodger moved in. I don't know if he was planning to attack or just give Finder a reason to back off, but I accidently gave him away. That's when the fight started." Tracker looked down, embarrassed.

"I tried to help, but I ended up on my back so quickly I don't think I actually did anything. If I'd been there by myself I would've just surrendered." She shuddered at the thought of the last time she'd done that. "Finder told me to yield or die, apparently forgetting about Dodger. Dodger drove him back. I hid behind Dodger. Then Dodger told me to run. You were there for the rest."

"Considering what happened to you the last time you surrendered, anyone can understand why you behaved how you did," Littlefoot nearly cringed when he realized his bluntness, "We thought that it was an attack, so we didn't give you much of a choice."

"I wasn't much of a help. Had I not been so stupid and gotten so close that fight would've never happened." Tracker was still bothered that she'd much such a simple mistake. "Stupid stick."

"Finder said that he nearly ran into you. Why do you keep on blaming yourself?" Ducky asked softly, "If we cannot let go of the past then how can we accept the present?"

"My present hasn't exactly been very nice, Haven. Calin aside, there's a pretty big difference between my pack and yours. Yours is so big nothing wants to bother you. Once Path is completely grown up nothing will bother you. Mine was made up of four kids led by someone with the ego the size of a mountain. I've got no skills; Violet couldn't smell. The only reason we're alive is that Dodger can out-stubborn a threehorn."

"We used to be a bunch of leaf-eaters who had just turned into sharpteeth, and had no idea what we were doing. We even got to be chased by him for a while!" Littlefoot pointed at Thud for emphasis, "But yet we made it out in one piece because we stuck together and we were able to be trained. You have already stuck together and survived through so much, and now you have the chance to be trained by us. You are not as helpless as you think."

Ducky grasped Tracker's shoulder. "You cannot defeat your enemies if you let your own thoughts defeat you. Believe in yourself, Tracker, we believe in you."

"It can't hurt to try," Tracker said, "Just don't ask me to spar Finder. That would hurt."

Neither Littlefoot nor Ducky spoke for several moments as they allowed Tracker's own words to sink in for the two females of the other pack. What they needed more than anything else was a boost in confidence. Finally, though, Littlefoot looked in the direction of the rest of the pack and decided it was time to draw the moment to a close.

"Hmmm… I see a giant purple two-footer squirming around so that he doesn't think I noticed him… and several fastbiters who are conveniently looking in every other direction but ours."

In truth Littlefoot was underplaying the reaction from the pack, Chomper was trying to look away towards the distant hills, but he stood out like a bright purple mountain trying to eavesdrop on a distant conversation.

"Do you think they heard anything?" Tracker asked, unable to hide her panic. They're never going to stop talking about me while I'm here if…

"No, I am sure that he heard nothing," Littlefoot responding confidently, "They know that what we are discussing was meant to be private. That is why they stayed back."

Tracker made no attempt to hide her sigh of relief. She really didn't want to become a topic of conversation.

"Well… Perhaps we should rejoin the rest of the pack," Thud offered awkwardly, "The swimmer awaits us, and I would imagine that some of us are hungry…"


Great Valley, the present

"Where is that flyer?"

Axiom nudged her brother as she shook her head. "Brother, I am sure the flyer will be here as soon as he can fly here. It isn't like he is going to fly over there until the morning anyway."

Datum sighed as he picked up his stick and examined his previous handiwork. "We are never going to make a fire at this rate." He cringed as pain registered in his mind upon clutching the stick. "Damn it!"

Axiom nearly bowled over her brother as she slapped vines onto his chest, "That is why Mommy and Daddy wanted us to use these, silly! Your hands are going to be all blistered…"

"They already are…"

"See what I mean?!"

Axiom shook her head as she placed the vines around her hands and then, with a firm grip, began to twist the stick back and forth against the small hole in the log. If Mommy and Daddy can make a spark like this then so can I! She then heard her brother resuming his task, this time with the proper protection for his hands. And I will beat my brother to making fire!

"Looks like an odd game."

Axiom nearly threw the stick as the voice of the young flyer reached her ears. Oh no… this is not for the valley's eyes...

"Um… we are just trying out a new way to make sharp sticks… it's kind of a game." Datum lied awkwardly.

The flyer gave Datum an extremely disbelieving look, or at least as much of one as a flyer can manage. "So how does this game work?" he asked neutrally.

Axiom's breath caught in her throat, "Well… we um… we make a hole and then we put a sharp rock into it," the flyer noticed that she was trying to obstruct his view of the hole in the wood, "and then we twist the stick back and forth.. Whoever gets a sharp stick first wins."

"Sounds like your parents were just trying to keep you busy," the flyer said, dismissively.

Datum rolled his eyes as he unconsciously slipped into more proper speech, "They are currently conducting a study of threehorn digestive ailments. I hope that they continue to keep us busy until that is over."

"Why would they want to do that? That doesn't seem safe."

Axiom looked around uneasily. "It is safe when the threehorn is away. They're checking their, you know… relieving spots."

Datum coughed. "So, um, thanks again for coming out here. Are you ready to take our message?"

"Ready when you are," the flyer answered.

It was quite noticeable to the flyer that both youngling rainbowfaces looked immensely relieved upon receiving that affirmation. Though as he received their message for their fastbiter friend he paid careful attention to the now visible holes in the log by the site of their 'pointed stick game'.

He smiled. Even if the rainbowfaces wished to keep their secrets, he knew someone who might be smart enough to solve them. And since his friend, Biter, was the recipient of the message it would not be a violation of the flyer's vow. After all, was not the conveyance of a sender's intentions and emotions part of his job?

You like puzzles as much as I do, Biter. I wonder what you make of this.


Thanks for the reviews, everyone! I look forward to your thoughts on the latest installment.

As we have seen in this chapter, fastbiters may handle certain things in a different way than humans, but that doesn't mean that they do not feel trauma in the same way. If anything else I hope that this chapter has brought home the double-sided nature of the trauma of war. When innocents are forced to do atrocities due to a terrible situation, it victimizes both the victim and the victimizer. The repercussions of the horrors of the past will continue to reverberate for quite some time.

As for the present, we will just have to wait and see if Biter can piece together the puzzle that is about to be laid before him. And though Nahoda has survived Mender we will just how to see if he survives his talk with Detras. (-; And if Arial can solve the puzzle that is her emotions at the moment.

DevoutRelic: There were some small hints at Mender's lack of smell, but nothing too overt. Her disability in the fastbiter world is something that would be seen as severe as being born blind in a pre-industrial warrior culture. The fact that Seeker's pack was willing to be accepting and help upon hearing about her problems is something that would seen as exceptionally kind in most other packs. This might play a role in the future.

As for the alliance this is something that will be slowly be revealed as the story goes along. For now, let's just say that all of the changes that have happened since the Stone of Cold Fire have lead to some interesting arrangements.

bryan mccloud: Yep! Even the pack leader must be fearful of a mate who has been crossed. (-; The bad thing about Ruby scolding you is that you always get scolded twice. d-;

gordhanx: Thank you for the review. And yeah... the disclaimer was mainly out of an excess of caution, but though the subject of rape was brought up in a very tangential fashion in the Seven Hunters, I do realize that it can be a difficult subject for many. As we have seen in this chapter fastbiters can handle the matter in a different way than humans, but that doesn't mean that it was no less traumatic. Thansk for the review, and I look forward to your thoughts on the latest chapter. (: