Words in italics indicate flashbacks.
The Gang of Five forum's Fanfic Prompt Challenge for the year of 2019 is up! Since I'd thoroughly enjoyed the creative writing prompts for the July and August entries in the previous year, I'm hoping to be a bit more active for the contest this year.
Granted, not all the prompts are my cup of tea, but I'll do my best for those I'm confident about! The theme for the month of December 2018 is: "Religious or not, we all have beliefs or certainties that sustain us, even in our most desperate moments. Write a story showcasing a character relying on his/her beliefs, morals, or philosophy to overcome an obstacle or hardship."
Chapter 1: Daddy's Threehorn Way
"You must remember to always be strong and unrelenting, Cera. Threehorns like us must never give up. We shall not falter… even in the face of defeat, we must never surrender without giving it our all!"
"…and the reason for that is because we threehorns are the best at everything! We're better than longnecks, swimmers, spiketails, even those stupid flyers! There's a reason we don't need to be together with anyone, and that's because we're better than them all!"
That was what I had been taught by my mommy and daddy from hatch day.
And yeah, sure, I guess I don't actually remember my hatch day, but having your mommy and daddy constantly emphasize those words every night for the past five Cold Times of your life meant that it eventually got ingrained into me.
Mama always tells me the first statement, while daddy always says the second. According to my daddy, this is what he calls the Threehorn Way. Yes… that's the way that we threehorns breathe and live!
Did I mention that I was a threehorn?
Hmph! Come on, isn't it obvious?
Is the answer still no?
Well, let me say it here, then! In fact, let me mention it so many times that our ancestors hanging out in the stars above will never forget it for the rest of their eternal afterlife in the Great Beyond!
I'm Cera, and I am the very best threehorn that there is!
That's right! I may be young, but I just know that I'm destined to be the greatest threehorn in the whole wide Mysterious Beyond! Heh! I betcha that I'm better than all of my sisters… yes, even Jabber! Even if she'd hatched the first out of all of us, I swear that I'll surpass her one day, and the fact that I'm the runt of the litter won't change that!
I'll prove it, too! Soon I'll be a big threehorn, just like my mommy and daddy! And once that happens… the world will tremble before the great Cera's might! Muhahahaha!
If I close my eyes right now, I could see the road to my glorious future paved for me right under my feet! I'll be a herd leader, yes… the strongest threehorn of them all! I'll be so strong by that point that I'll be able to crush smoking mountains with my bare three horns! Hee hee hee!
Of course, I would actually have to make it to adulthood first… which, unfortunately, is quite a problem at the moment.
For you see, I most unfortunately happen to be in quite a bit of a pickle right now. And why, you may ask?
Hmph! Ya think I'd tell you, just like that? I'm not someone who lets sensitive information slip from my tongue haphazardly! You have some nerve to assume that!
Hee, you're certainly persistent! I like that! You have the threehorn attitude, don'tcha? Well, it is quite a confusing tale, so perhaps I should start at the very beginning…
To think that it had all started with a laugh.
Looking back, it had been such a minor occurrence compared to all the nonsense that I've had to go through thereafter. Funny how one only realized that in retrospect.
But before suffering through all of that, that moment was one of the most memorable moments for me… in a bad kind of way.
I had just gotten sprayed by the vilest thing ever from a buzzer, and in the most humiliating manner too. While shaking the disgusting purple liquid off my face, I felt my heart stop when my ears were able to discern the sound of a childish laugh.
Flicking the last of the annoying liquid off my eyes, I shift my hind legs about to spin around and get a close look at the source of the voice, only to find myself surprised to see that it had come from a young longneck boy giggling at me. He was trying to keep himself hidden in the tall ferns… though he wasn't doing a very good job at it, considering that his very own laugh gave him away.
Are these dinosaurs called longnecks, anyway? Daddy mentioned them in passing once or twice… but I don't really recall. I mean, we threehorns keep to ourselves most of the time, so I don't see other species often. Not that it matters… we are the best, after all!
Needless to say, I wasn't pleased to learn that there was a witness to that embarrassing incident. It was something that I had intended to take with me to my end, even if said end was a sharptooth's jaw, and now someone else knows about it?
How dare he?! That disrespectful, spying little flathead jerk! I'll show him! This was now a matter of pride — I'll make sure that he'll never, ever have the guts to narrate this mortifying incident to another dinosaur, even if I have to force him to agree to my terms and conditions by beating him to a pulp!
"What are you laughing at?!" I snarled furiously at him, relishing the gasp of surprise on him when he realized that he'd been caught out like a fresh treestar against this barren wasteland.
I wasn't going to give the longneck any time to contemplate his life choices, however. This was one mistake that was going to end in painful bruises for him. Pawing at the ground with my front legs, I leaned forward and prepared to unleash some pain.
A growl left my mouth when I saw him jump out of the vegetation and attempt to mimic my movements — crouching down and pawing at the ground as well.
Why, that little…! Did he actually think that he was a threehorn? The gall of him! Oh, that's the last straw! How dare that punk even try to mimic my movements? I'm gonna pummel him!
Closing my eyes tightly shut, I let my instincts guide me as I lunged towards him, thrusting my single horn forward as I charged in the direction of the ignorant boy with all my might. Opening my mouth, I let out a furious bellow, feeling the wind blowing hard against my face at the speed that I was racing towards my target.
But my Daddy beat me to it.
With a large looming shadow, he backed me up and hissed a low growl at the longneck. Sure enough, he got the hint and began backing away.
Daddy then took that as his cue for his job being done. With a firm voice that brokered no disagreement, he turned towards me. "Come, Cera. Threehorns never play with long… necks."
He was trying to keep a level head, but I could see that Daddy was fuming within. Why else would he drawl out the word "longnecks" and mispronounce the species name when I knew perfectly well that he could say it correctly had he wanted to.
Of course, Daddy's behavior made it glaringly obvious to me that he didn't want to dignify a lower species like them.
With my Daddy by my back, I feel a burst of confidence flow through me, making me stick my tongue out at the flathead before stomping out from under my Daddy's feet to personally confront him. "Threehorns never play with longnecks!" I articulated to the longneck, repeating my Daddy's statement while glaring daggers at the ignorant, pesky boy as I nonchalantly shot down whatever idea he might have had brewing in his flat little head.
The confused lad didn't even get the chance to reply. As I aggressively strut towards him as an intimidation tactic, his—very big—parent gently lifted the flathead up by the tail and headed off.
Hah! Serves that stalker right! Yeah, you better run!
A moment later, I felt my own situation mirroring the longneck's. I panicked for a brief moment until I realized that it was my own Daddy that was lifting me off the ground to get us away from that filthy flathead.
As my Daddy and the big longneck began heading in opposite directions, I let a smirk adorn my face when I realize that I'd won.
I beat that longneck fair and square! He was terrified of me… he feared me! Muhahahaha!
Very unlike my usual self, I let out a tiny squeal of joy. Beating that flathead stalker was the first step on my path of following my Daddy's teachings to become the best threehorn to ever roam this land. It appeared to me that obeying what he said would allow me to succeed in the goal that I'd promised myself to achieve — being the very best threehorn ever.
In other words, this Threehorn Way that my father spoke off as gospel? It totally ruled!
The elation eventually wore off, though. It slowly left me as the Bright Circle set and the Night Circle came up.
I stretch my feet on the dirt ground, groggily gazing at my family as my mama cooed my sisters.
"Why aren't you with them, Cera?" My Daddy called out in curiosity, tilting his head inquisitively as he asked me what I personally felt was an admittedly stupid question.
I distinctly remember answering him in jest, holding my head proudly up to the night sky. "Well, I'm better than them, Daddy! I'm a big girl now, I can sleep all by myself!"
Daddy appeared to be momentarily shocked, but a wide grin and a hearty laugh soon replaced the flicker of mild concern that flashed on his face. Before I could whine and complain to Daddy about being too overprotective of me, he surprised me by nuzzling my face with his horn.
"Now that's my Cera! That's my big threehorn daughter!" he heartily said to me, causing me to giggle in return and reciprocate the gesture.
"Topps?" I perk my head as I heard my Mama calling for my Daddy. "A little help with the other kids here? They're being extra clingy today!"
"I'm coming, dear!" Daddy muttered with a sigh, before facing me with jubilant eyes. "Remember the Threehorn Way, Cera. We threehorns are the best at everything, and you've just proved that to me by showing bravery."
But as he stood up and walked over, Daddy suddenly murmured in a soft voice. "Stepping outside her comfort zone… they grow up so fast…"
"Now, now." I heard my Mama chuckle. "She might be independent, but she's still our little Cera…"
As Daddy went on over, everyone else huddled together as a group. Eventually, they all collectively let the sweet embrace of sleep claim them.
But I, on the other hand, was still wide awake, unable to fall asleep.
Eventually I couldn't take it anymore. With a grunt I lazily got to my feet and trudged off to get some fresh air. And rather fortunately for me, the rest of my family was still sound asleep.
Big threehorn, remember? That's what Daddy said I was. Surely I was big enough to have a little night walk on my own without waking them up?
I trudged along the path, a hopping green thing suddenly catching my eye. I made sure to quicken my pace as I saw the hopper bouncing away from me.
How dare it try to get away from me? I resent that! I mean, I'm the greatest!
However, those thoughts were eventually dashed in the most unexpected of ways.
I quirked my head when the hopper returned back to me, a surprised gasp leaving me when I saw why.
The longneck from earlier was ecstatically chasing it.
Graghhh! Did that fool know nothing about personal space? I had literally just told him that threehorns never play with longnecks!
"You again?" I spit as I charged right up to his ignorant little face. "Go away!" My eyes briefly hover to the green hopper that had also caught his brown eyes. Without wasting any time, I instantly took it upon myself to beat him again. "That's my hopper!" I declared, turning back to chase after it for myself.
Truth be told, I hadn't even wanted to catch it until I followed the longneck's eyes and saw him eyeing it as well, but I wasn't going to tell him that. Life was a competition, and I intended to win at everything, right down to something as small and minuscule as possession over a hopper.
It might seem insignificant, but my Daddy told me not to give anyone any leeway!
"I saw him first…" I heard him grumble in disdain. I almost rolled my eyes at his incessant arguing. Can't he see that he couldn't beat me?! Without looking back, I conjure up the first excuse that I could think of to dispute his claim.
"Well, he's in my pond!" I shoot back at him as I jumped down to the marshy swampland, landing in the dirty water and ending up right next to the hopper. If the longneck wanted to argue that it was his hopper so much, then I'll prove him wrong by catching it first!
Just as I was about to pounce on the ugly looking thing, I feel a force plough into my behind, leading to my face being pushed into the mud. As I shake my head to flick the grimy liquid off my face, I came face-to-face with a sheepish looking longneck. Apparently he'd liked my slide maneuver enough to try it for himself.
Geez, what a lame copycat.
I shot him a warning glare for the moment, refocusing my attention on the hopper as it disappeared into the murky depths.
But not for long. I immediately leapt onto the hopper, only to accidentally burst a bubble. I scowl while cluelessly looking on, realizing seconds later that it was but a reflection which I had hit when the longneck—once again—copied what I did.
"Hey!" I chirped as I played around in the swampy marsh, trying to catch the blasted hopper, "This is kinda fun!"
In the back of my mind, I did mull about how I was now technically playing with the longneck, which meant that the boy would have the last laugh. I pushed the thought away, arguing against my inner thoughts by telling it that we were "hanging out", not playing.
Yeah, we're not playing! The two of us are totally hanging out!
And that was when things went horribly wrong. The ground shaking beneath my feet was my first warning, the looming shadow was my second, but before I could muse about it, the terrifying sight that befell my widening eyes was the clincher.
"Sharptooth!" I shriek, all my prior bravado dead in the muddy water as I leapt away and ran for it, the longneck following closely behind me as the vile creature went in pursuit after us, sending waves of mud splashing as its large feet crashed into murky water.
Somewhere within my mind, my brain had the gall to go, 'Shouldn't a threehorn be brave and stand her ground? Isn't that the Threehorn Way?'
As my flustered self raced out of the watery prison and into a dead forest to take cover from the terrifying beast, I distinctly recalled that this was the first time my instincts had told my mind to shut up about following Daddy's Threehorn Way.
Oh, this cannot be happening. Come on!
I stared at the great divide in the earth that had split the land, mercilessly cutting through the solid earth. Honestly, I don't mind cracks in rocks, considering that as a threehorn, I loved cracking rocks apart and smashing them with my horn.
However, I had a very big problem with this crack. Namely, I had a problem with the fact that it separated me from my family.
Becoming a flyer to get to the other side was looking very tempting as of now.
"Cera!" My father yelled at me, his eyes turning cold. "Is there really… no way across?"
"No, Daddy! I can't possibly jump across that chasm!"
Hearing my answer, my Daddy squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, he looked like he had aged multiple Cold Times. "Then I'm sorry, Cera. You'll have to find some other way to get across."
Wa-Wait a moment… they were leaving me behind!?
"Wait! Daddy! Mama!" I yelped, panic seizing ahold of me. They can't leave me! They can't!
"You're a big threehorn now, remember?" my Daddy yelled across the cliff, echoing the same words that I'd told to him earlier. "A big girl, right?" he prodded, winking at Mama with a grin before turning back in my direction. Well, you're going to have to be my big girl and find your way back to Daddy! I can't help you… so it's all on you to help yourself!"
At this point, I choked up, but maintained my cool. I wasn't about to cry. It went against everything Daddy stood for… I refused.
I didn't want to admit to my Daddy that I wasn't ready.
And yet although I had not said those fears which clouded my heart aloud, my Daddy surprised me by saying words of reassurance to me, almost making me wonder if he could read my mind. "Never say you can't, Cera. The Threehorn Way, remember?"
I flashed a cocky smile despite my broken heart, unable to see if my Daddy could discern my facial features from this distance. I really hoped he couldn't.
"Yeah… the Threehorn Way…" I recited somberly, mouthing the words to myself as a harrowing affirmation that this was really happening. Daddy didn't even have to hear those words to know what I was saying, he could probably read my lips and figure it out.
The remainder of my family then leaned out as far as they could and threw me some final words of support.
"Good luck, sis!"
"Yeah, see you soon!"
"Mommy wishes you all the best, my dear Cera! I'll pray to the stars above for your success!"
"Cera. You're my big girl now, and I know you'll prove it by standing against the world on your own two feet! I assure you, we'll see each other again soon…"
And then, just like that… they were gone. My Daddy, my Mama, my siblings… all of them just left, leaving me to stare vacantly at a blank cliff face.
I wasn't sure how long I stood there, staring at where they had once been. When I squeezed my eyes shut, I was actually able to imagine their figures still being there. Eventually, I sniff, letting the first tears trail down my face as my fiery façade broke down.
Despite everything that I'd told myself… I hated being alone. As much as I'd wanted to be better than them to the point where I'd pick play fights with my sisters, as much as I told Daddy and Mama that I was a big girl, I never wanted them to leave me to fend for myself.
Perhaps I wasn't as independent as I thought…
"You must remember to always be strong and unrelenting, Cera. Threehorns like us must never give up. We shall not falter… even in the face of defeat, we must never surrender without giving it our all!"
I grunted, straightening myself up as my Mama's words echoed throughout my mind. A smug smirk managed to find its way to my mouth.
I could do this. I was a threehorn. And not just any threehorn, but the very best that there was.
Perhaps this was life's way of throwing me a challenge. And if it was, then who was I to decline the opportunity to throw down the gauntlet?
I hastily flinched upon hearing the cry, flicking away any last traces of tears from my reddened eyes. Turning towards the source of the voice, I saw him again.
I didn't want to admit it, but he had been the braver of the two of us when we were being chased down by Sharptooth. Of course, I chose to keep my innermost thoughts to myself, as that was something that I would never ever admit.
After all, threehorns were supposed to be the best. It was the Threehorn Way, hm?
"Cera, hello!" he greeted, the same stupid optimistic smile plastered on his face as though he and I hadn't been running for our lives earlier. It made me sick just looking at his cheerful demeanor.
As a result, I didn't even bother with pleasantries. "What do you want?" I demanded with a forceful tone.
"Heh heh! Nothing!" he tried to deflect the question, not-so-subtly asking another one to change the topic. "Where are you going?"
Turning away from him, I quickly made up an excuse. My father's final words to me rang in my ears, giving me just the words I needed to turn him down. "I'm going to find my own kind. They're on the other side." Wasn't technically a lie, too.
"I've looked all over here. You can't climb up the other side."
Man, he was stupid. Didn't he realize that I'd managed to figure that much out as well? I mean, I'm no flyer! Of course I couldn't get there or I wouldn't even be listening to his nonsense right now!
"Maybe you can't…" I proceed to tell him off, taking a step into the rocky slope that led to down the canyon below. It was a risky gambit, but at this point, it beat staying with this guy and having to listen to the idealistic nonsense that he spewed from his mouth.
Seriously, his corny speech made me want to physically throw up.
"Wait! I'm going to the Great Valley! We could—"
"Ahhhh!" I shrieked, losing my footing. Before I could slip further, I stomp upon the sloped ground, managing to gain enough traction to stop my fall. Shaking my head in disbelief of the events that'd just transpired, I glared daggers at him in response.
Da-damn that flathead! It was his fault that I slipped on the rocky terrain beneath my feet! He distracted me, that pest!
"…help each other?" he resumed his offer when he was certain that I had recovered from my mistake.
But by that point, I'd firmly made up my mind, deciding that I've had more than enough of him for the rest of my lifetime. I made a vow to myself that I was going to find my family without his help, and I made sure that he knew it.
"Hmph!" I scoffed indignantly, "A threehorn does not need help from a longneck!" To make sure he got the message, I kicked my hind legs at him to throw dirt into his face, only realizing my mistake far too late when I lost my footing and slid all the way to the bottom of the canyon with a shrill cry.
"Well… at least we wouldn't be alone!" he tried to encourage as I got to my feet, looking down at my form from the cliff above.
…he really was persistent, wasn't he? Seriously, if he wasn't such a longneck, he might have actually made a good threehorn.
I cringe at the thought, shaking my head to expel the mental image from my head. That longneck as a threehorn… no.
It was a terrifying idea. Worse than that Sharptooth who'd chased me.
Okay, maybe not. But the image I'd conjured up was still up there on my personal list of the very few things that scared me.
I looked up, if only to reassure myself that, "Hey, genius. He's a longneck, Cera! The day that flathead becomes a threehorn is the day you wake up as a dumb, weak flyer." As I looked up at him, I slowly came to the realization that he was still peering down at me, tilting his head curiously as though he was awaiting something.
Wait… was he actually waiting for my reply?
I growled under my raspy breath. Oh, I'd give him my reply, alright.
"When I find my sisters, I won't be alone! So… go away." I strutted off into a cavern formed by the Earthshake, leaving the longneck above me gaping as I gave him the cold shoulder.
Out of sight, out of mind. Hmph, good riddance!
That longneck could go find someone else to be friends with, because I most certainly didn't need his help to find my family. He can take his dumb "Great Valley" and preach it to a gullible group of morons, but I was not about to be suckered in by his sweet, deceptive words!
With a nervous chuckle, I reaffirm to myself that I had made the right choice, fighting down a tinge of fear within me. Threehorns like me don't get scared, and they certainly didn't need help from anyone… least of all some crummy longneck!
After all, as Daddy would say if he was walking right beside me… it was the Threehorn Way.
I'm sorry that I'd lagged so behind on this piece! I'd to undergo wisdom tooth surgery twice in January, which really messed with my plans and schedule for the month. The unusual style I used for this work was also a reason as to its tardiness — I kept on feeling as though it wasn't as good as my usual output, and thus it remained in edit purgatory for a very long time until the deadline loomed upon the horizon.
You might have noticed that I've broken from the norm and used first-person POV for this story. Part of the reason is because there's a really prolific fanfic author in my other main writing fandom who writes primarily in 1st person, so I felt inspired to experiment with this style after reading his work… but I'll admit that the main reason I wrote this way is because I really wanted to delve into Cera's thoughts. Tee hee!
And yeah, to be honest, because I split it up into multiple parts, I don't think that I really hit the prompt on the nail with this singular chapter, despite focusing on Cera rebelling against her situation with her ideals. You might have to judge the story as a completed piece before the way I opted to approach the prompt really makes sense.
Still, if the prose seems a little off, don't hesitate to let me know! In the end, I'll admit that I'm still a relative newbie with this writing style, so any constructive critique is certainly welcome. ;)