This story is a response to the Gang of Five's April, 2021 prompt, "It was at that moment, as (name) chased after me, that I realized that I probably had taken things too far". It takes place within my 'War Before Time' series, after 'Because You're a Sharpneck', during the earlier parts of 'Mentors of Yesteryears'. Those of you familiar with Because You're a Sharpneck will probably be thinking "But ... Littlefoot and the gang don't even know Dagara. Don't they live in separate valleys?" Don't worry your precious little heads. It'll be clear enough in due time.

By the way, Dagara is an Amargasaurus, if anyone wonders what a 'sharpneck' is. I took a lot of creative liberty with their biology, though.

If you're curious about the cover image, I made it. You can find it on my ArtStation account under 'Ethan Alleyne' (my name really isn't a secret).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this!

Surviving a Sharpneck

~Okay, she's banking right- No! Left! Scratch that. Her movements are completely unpredictable, and I've got just a few heartbeats before it's too late. How does she do that? She's shattering my expectations at every turn! So much for 'Advanced Imagination'. No, don't think like that. Always try to find a way. Wait ... I see what she's doing! All I gotta do is- Oh no ... Whoa, WHOOAAAAHH!~

"OOOOF!" Littlefoot sharply exhaled, thudding to his back before he felt a firm foot planted on his stomach, the other paw poised for a knockout stomp that would never come.

The Bright Circle was eclipsed by an elongated neck much like his own, albeit a bit shorter. It's owner cracked a slight grin. Even the glare could scarcely conceal teeth more menacing than any leafeater he had ever seen.

"Gotcha," she proudly proclaimed, her voice laced with a trace of growl.

Littlefoot retorted with a grin of his own.

She tilted her Sun-silhouetted head. "Why are you-? Ah, clever. I didn't notice your tail around my ankl- wWWAAH! Oof ..."

Littlefoot turned the tables in a flash, paws and tail subduing her on the grass.

She smirked. "Sweet move."

"Give up?" he asked.

"Nah. Sharpnecks never give up. I'll overpower you, plain and simple."

He rolled his eyes. "Uh huh. Good luck with that, Dagara ... uh oh."

It didn't matter that he'd use a decent technique, didn't matter that he was slightly heavier than she was. This creature's strength was explosive as a fire mountain. One day he'd outgrow her by a more significant margin. Maybe that would even the odds, but for now? All he could do was grit his teeth, tighten his grip and- nope. Too late. She'd broken his grip and thrown him off ... through the air ... man, he knew she was strong, but this was ridiculous! Well, Doc said he needed to prepare for unfair situations. The Mysterious Beyond never cared about 'fair'. From sickness and injury to overwhelming numbers of sharpteeth, it could throw anything at him in the coming years.

If there was a way to prepare, it was Dagara.

Littlefoot landed in a calculated roll, springing off the ground just before her tail swept beneath his airborne feet. Ah, so he could predict her!

He touched down just in time to parry her tail to tail in a dull clap. Wow, what an impact ... he could only imagine what that would sound like when they were older. A thunderclap, maybe. He withdrew his tail, or attempted, anyway. She'd wrapped hers firmly around his.

"Shoulda pulled back faster," Dagara declared.

She yanked him to the ground. He rolled with the tug, right back onto his feet and used the momentum to try the same with her. It worked! She was down. Now to move in for a pin she couldn't escape!

Littlefoot stopped short, gulping as rubbery resin pressed against his neck. Under that resin hid about two dozen, deadly spikes running down the back of her neck. They didn't call her a 'sharpneck' for nothing. She hadn't fully recovered from the fall. She didn't have time to do that, so she did the next best thing - roll onto her belly and raise her spikes to block him.

"That tree goop actually works!" she chirped, climbing to her feet. "Good thing you came up with the idea to dull my spikes with the stuff when we spar!"

"Yeah ... good thing ..." Littlefoot agreed with a far-off look in his eye.

She raised an eyebrow. "Lemme guess, your life's flashing before your eyes?"

He nodded. "How'd you know?"

"My spikes tend to have that effect," Dagara shrugged almost smugly.

"I can imagine. They're almost like sharptooth teeth ..." he reflected.

She stared at him.

He winced. It was an open secret that Dagara's teeth were somewhat sharper than those of most leafeaters. Everyone knew. No one talked about it. She usually hid them, or avoided big grins unless they were conveniently difficult to scrutinise at the time. He remembered the first time he heard a much younger dinosaur point it out.

"Lady, are you a sharptooth?"

He never forgot the stunned look on her face. The fact that she'd been called a 'lady' by a kid too new to the world to know better brought a chuckle later.

"I mean, 'lady'? I'm, like, ankle-high to grownup longneck!" she later laughed.

But they never repeated the 'sharptooth' part. It was as if it hadn't happened. Far as he was concerned, she was a friend, albeit an unusual species of longneck with a few natural quirks. Maybe she'd been teased over her teeth. That would explain a lot.

"I'm ... I'm sorry," Littlefoot stammered.

Dagara began to smile. "Hm, you're right. My spikes kinda are like sharp teeth. Can't wait to see the look on a sharptooth's face when I use 'em for real! I doubt most of them have ever faced a sharpneck before. I'm probably the last one, after all."

"Yeah," Littlefoot chuckled in relief. "They won't know what hit them. And I'll be there, snacking on salty seeds and enjoying the show."

She beamed as her burnt sienna scales turned peach, their flowing, darker markings popping to pink. The sharpneck's colour-changing scales always fascinated him. Dagara frowned down at herself. The change was purely emotion-oriented, and she hated this particular colour scheme: one of the reasons why he hesitated to tell her how nice it looked. Some day, maybe ...

Dagara shook her head as though shaking off the fading colours. "Don't shortchange yourself. It won't be a party without you. When The Time of Great Growing's done with you, we might have to change your name to Thunderfoot!"

"Hm ..." Littlefoot considered the matter. "'Thunderfoot' ... not bad. Most longnecks change their name when they get older. My dad did. Guess it's sort of a tradition, but ... I kinda like 'Littlefoot'," he stared at the ground with a bittersweet smile. "It's the name my mother gave me."

Dagara's face fell. "Oh. I completely understand."

Littlefoot brightened. "Still, we'll make a pretty great team! Like fire and thunder!"

He gave her a friendly nudge shoulder to shoulder. Dagara's peach scales returned with a vengeance, vaguely floral patterns dancing across her pink markings. He'd never seen them this bright, never seen them pulse like that. It was mesmerising.

Dagara fidgeted, literally looking about for a distraction.

"But," she began

"But ...?" Littlefoot urged.

"... I could probably solo any number of sharpteeth in a few years, though."

He burst into laughter. Okay, so maybe that was just an attempt to move on so that her scales could return to normal, but it was a hilariously absurd boast nonetheless.

Dagara smiled with an eye roll. "Alright,I'm exaggerating, but I could solo Red Claw, Screech and Thud if I were angry."

"Are you serious?" Littlefoot chuckled.

Dagara nodded grimly. "Dead serious. Things get ugly when I'm angry."

The gravity of her tone stopped the laughter dead in his throat. "*Ahem* ... well, I wouldn't be surprised. After all, you're the strongest kid I know ... who's roughly my age and size."

"Then what am I? Chewed up tree bark?" snapped a newcomer.

Anxiety flashed across Dagara's face before being masked behind amicability. "Hiya, Cera!"

Cera raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Dag. What's this about you being stronger than me?"

"I never said that directly," Littlefoot argued.

"Defending her, huh? How nice of you, but Dagara doesn't need defending. She's a sharpneck. They're almost as tough as threehorns."

"'Almost'?" Dagara chortled.

"You haven't proven otherwise until we've sparred," Cera countered before considering the subject. "Come to think of it ... you've never sparred with me before. It's always Littlefoot."

Dagara glanced away uncomfortably. ~Uh oh.~

"Do you like him better than the rest of us or something?" Cera pressed.

The sharpneck sighed. Cera wouldn't want to hear the truth, but it was a long time coming.

"Look, Cera, I know myself, and I know you well enough," Dagara slowly explained. "I don't wanna be 'The Girl Who Killed Cera'."

That answer crashed Cera's brain like a longneck tripping on a catastrophically placed rock. Why would the sharpneck say something like that? Her mind self-resuscitated and its hierarchical threehorn thought process went to work:

Littlefoot spars with Dagara.

Things go well enough, even if she usually wins.

Cera spars with Dagara.

Cera ... dies?

Therefore ...

/ \



/ Littlefoot \


/- _-_-_Cera_-_-_-\

"NOOOOO!" Cera bellowed. "NO-NO-NOOOO! I do NOT accept this!"

"Cera, calm down," Littlefoot hushed.

"You calm down!" Cera spat irrationally before whipping around at Dagara. "Okay, let's settle this! You! Me! Here! NOW! No more excuses, no distractions! I can't believe you think I'm such a weakling! I'll have you know that I beat Littlefoot in, like, ten heartbeats flat before we started training! RESPECT ME!"

"Slow down and I'll explain," Dagara offered.

"Explain? You think I'm an idiot too! THERE'S NOTHING TO EXPLAIN! FACE ME LIKE A WOMAN!" roared Cera.

The tirade escalated and Cera's words garbled to near-unintelligible yelling. It wasn't about clear communication so much as unleashing her outrage at the sharpneck's statement.

Dagara bit her lip, eyes squeezed shut in her best attempt to cope with abject aggravation. ~Better my lip than Cera.~

Littlefoot shook his head at the threehorn and moved to munch a bush.

"You're leaving me with this?" Dagara exclaimed.

Littlefoot shrugged. "No sense talking to her when she gets like that. Wait a while. She'll calm down if you ignore her long enough ... or she'll run out of air. Whichever comes first."

Dagara glanced back at the threehorn before turning to leave. Cera dashed in front of her and continued to bark, quite literally.

The sharpneck glowered. What Littlefoot didn't know was that she couldn't ignore this nonsense for long. Her psychology didn't allow it. She needed a plan.

Dagara's eyes snapped to something beyond Cera. "Hey! You over there! What are you doing hiding and spying on us?"

Cera stopped and scanned the bushes Dagara had been shouting at. Even Littlefoot's full attention was drawn, but there was no one to be seen. Moments later, Littlefoot chuckled quietly. Cera took notice.

"What's so funny?" demanded the threehorn. "Hey ... where's Dagara?"

The chuckles intensified.

It took a moment for Cera to piece the ploy together.

"OOOH! That sharpneck is in for it now!"Cera bellowed. "Say, which way'd she go?"

Apparently anticipating this question, Littlefoot had disappeared.

Cera stomped away to find her prey, muttering angry nothings all the while.

About an hour later, Cera found Dagara standing at the edge of a river. The threehorn crouched in the foliage, sizing up her target. So, this was what hunting felt like? How close could she get before-?

"Hi Cera," Dagara called back without looking.

The threehorn deflated, emerged from the bush and sauntered up beside her. Time had calmed her temper, but that didn't mean she would let off the sharpneck easy.

"How'd you know I was there?" asked Cera.

Dagara paused. How best to put it? Hmm ...

"You have a very specific scent," Dagara explained.

Cera's brow wrinkled. "I have a smell? No one's ever told me that."

Dagara shrugged. "Everyone has a smell."

"Yeah, but the only guy I know who really notices is Chomper," Cera reflected.

The sharpneck froze for a nearly imperceptible moment.

Cera idly tapped the soil. "So ... what do I smell like?"

Dagara cast her a cringing squint. "You don't wanna know."

Cera winced. "That bad, huh?"

"Not really. Actually, you smell pretty good."

Cera couldn't quite figure out how 'pretty good' equated to 'you don't wanna know'. Anyway, it didn't matter. She wasn't here to discuss the sharpneck's eccentricities.

"How'd you find me?" asked Dagara.

"I have my ways," Cera boasted, chin high.

"It was an accident, wasn't it?"

"You can't prove nothing!" Cera protested.

The sharpneck gave her a sly smile. "Double negatives make positives."


"Not nothin'."

"... Anyway, you know why I'm here."

"Uh huh."

"So fight me."

"Nuh uh."

"I thought sharpnecks like to fight!"

"We do ..."

"Then fight me!"

"... just not with you."

"You can't make me leave."

"You can't make me fight."

"Come on! It's not like you've got something better to do! What're you doing here, anyway? Everyone knows you can't swim. You're not even drinking!"

"Oh ... um ..."

"You're just standing there, starin' at the water floppers!"

"I think they're cute!"

Cera gave her a look.

"The water floppers! I think they're cute! That's why I like to watch them, heh heh! Yeah ..."

"You're hiding something."

Dagara's sass quickly found its legs. "Ooh, the intrigue! What am I hiding, oh great and perceptive Cera?"

The threehorn eyed her with critically. "Why are you so fake?"

Dagara blinked. "Fake?"

"You're always talking with that higher-than-necessary voice, like you're trying to sound more girly than you actually are."

"I am not! Okay ... maybe that's how it sounds, but there's a good reason for that!"

Cera ignored her. "One moment, you're Ducky-level peppy, then you're threehorn-level snarky, and sometimes you're almost scary. Which is it? Pick a personality!"

Dagara turned to glare Cera in the eye, uncomfortably close. The threehorn fought the impulse to step back. She'd never noticed how fiery Dagara's amber eyes could be. Since when were the pupils slightly slit?

"I see what you're doing," Dagara seemed to purr in a low, ominous growl. "You're trying to work me up into sparring with you. Not a smart move. You've seen me 'almost scary'." She pressed her forehead against Cera's, her searing gaze at point blank. "Hope that you never see me 'scary'."

Cera resisted a gulp. Not fake. Definitely not fake. So that's what Dagara's real voice sounded like. It triggered every fight or flight instinct in Cera's psyche for reasons beyond her.

Dagara pulled away almost sheepishly, her 'fake' voice returning. "Sorry."

The threehorn puffed up bravado. "Don't be. I've faced down sharpteeth a hundred times your size. You're not even a little one."

Dagara seemed to bite back some kind of sound, or expression. A laugh? A smirk? Both?

"So, we good?" Dagara chirped.

Cera grunted disagreeably.

The sharpneck shrugged and finally began to drink.

Tail tapping thoughtfully, Cera ran through her options. What was the surefire way to trigger a sparring match? Let's see ... there was one thing that just might do the job.

Months Earlier

It only made sense to learn the sharptooth language. After all, why fight if you could negotiate given the opportunity? Chomper was all too eager when asked by Littlefoot to teach him. Dagara was reluctant, but quick enough to join the lessons.

"So that's how you say 'hello'?" she asked. "Hm. Not too tricky."

She repeated the vocalisation.

Chomper clapped his tiny paws. "That was really good! Maybe work on the ending just a bit. Could be a little less shaky. You try, Littlefoot."

Littlefoot nodded. "Okay, here it goes.

He attempted to replicate the complex sound.

Chomper gave him a blank stare before fiddling with his claws. "Um ... you see ... if you say that to any sharptooth of any kind or age, girl or boy, so long as they can speak they will tell their friends, family and acquaintances, who will also tell their friends, family and acquaintances. Then they will all form a pack and hunt you down along with anyone they think is your friend ... or family ... or acquaintance. You can go into hiding, but they'll keep hunting you 'till the day they die."

The longneck's jaw dropped. "Chomper, what did I say?"

The small sharptooth shook his head with eyes squeezed shut. "Probably best you don't know, but I'm gonna have a hard time un-hearing it."

"Is there any leafeater equivalent for something that bad?" Dagara wondered.

"Probably not. You'll figure it out when you learn a bit more," Chomper assured.

And so they decided to drop the matter, never imagining that an overhearing Cera would do quite the opposite.

Figuring the gang needed no more than three sharptooth-speakers, Cera hadn't made much of an effort to learn the language ... but she had learnt one thing. The Ultimate Sharptooth Offense was just too good not to have in her arsenal. At least Dagara wasn't a sharptooth, otherwise there was no telling how she'd take it.

A gnarled, ghastly grin crawled across Cera's face like the vilest of hundred-legged critters that only crept from their crevices in the dead of the night.

Sensing a spike in the ambient mischief, Dagara turned and almost jumped at the sight of Cera's expression.

"Yyyiiikes. I hope Tricia never has to see that," the sharpneck muttered.

Cera cleared her throat.


The sharpneck took a quick breath and buried her head under the water.

Cera rolled her eyes and sat, waiting. Moments passed and sure enough, Dagara came up gasping for air. The threehorn's tail wagged up a storm as she gleefully unleashed that despicable combination of growls she'd been practicing for months.

Dagara's panting persisted. Perhaps she hadn't heard her? Oop. Nope! The sharpneck definitely heard her. Cera could tell from the hurt glint in Dagara's eyes. She actually felt a bit bad for the girl. Oh well, sharpnecks were tough. It'd pass like water off a swimmer's back soon enough. Hopefully not too soon.

Cera backed off and lowered herself into a battle stance. "I see I've got your attention. Tell you what. If you beat me, I promise never to say it again."

If anything, Dagara only panted harder.

Cera huffed. Could it really take that long to catch your breath? The sharpneck was shaking. Impending tears? Cera sure hoped not. Hm, Dagara's scales were turning bright red with yellow markings that danced like fire - ah, the infamous 'Battle Blush'! By far the brightest Battle Blush Cera had ever seen! Boy oh boy! Cera was in for the sparring match of her life! Hold on a sec ... was that ... steam rising from Dagara's muzzle? The water on the sharpneck's face was quickly evaporating, but it didn't stop there. Every pant puffed white mist from her mouth. Cera had never seen that happen before. It wasn't 'breathless panting' anymore. More like 'fury-of-a-raging-volcano panting'.

Cera could scarcely contain her excitement, even as a tiny voice screamed 'RUN!' at the back of her mind.

"Come on!" the threehorn challenged.


Cera's mind spun. What was that horrible noise? A roar that seemed to go on forever, escalating in pitch and intensity until Cera's ears hurt. Was there a sharptooth in the valley? It took a moment to identify the source as Dagara, the sharpneck whose snarls now streamed copious steam from between deadly, dagger-like teeth: the sharpneck whose eyes burned wrath, pupils slimmed to sinister slithers worthy of any predator; the sharpneck who was stalking towards her.

"C-C-Come at me!" Cera squeaked.

Dagara dashed forth, blazing fast. Cera almost couldn't comprehend the motion before the sharpneck was behind her. A rumbling growl released scalding steam against her scales. Merciless teeth latched around Cera's tail and she was launched into the air with a mighty heave.


Moments Earlier


Guido was a living mystery. With no knowledge of his origins and kind, it was as though he one day simply dropped out of the sky. Being the one person Petrie knew more prone to panic than he was, the flyer had enjoyed being the voice of encouragement behind his feathered friend's courage when necessary. Mysteriousness aside, Petrie thought he had the glider figured out, but now? Guido was more than a glider.

Now, Guido had learnt to fly.

The change wasn't instant. It had its ups and downs: bursts of bravery punctuated by discouragement and sometimes sheer terror that brought back the old Guido. However, it became clear that day after day, Guido's boldness grew with the lean muscles strengthened with every flight, slowly transforming him into the sleek, aerodynamic creature he was born to be. Perhaps flight held the missing component of Guido's personality. He wasn't meant to scamper the underbrush, hoping his legs could carry him fast enough when his life depended on it. The sky was his birthright. The new Guido flew in the face of everything Petrie knew about him, pun unrepentantly intended. Now, it seemed Guido embarked on adventures to The Mysterious Beyond more often than the gang did, which worried Petrie to no end. At least wings were a big convenience in avoiding sharpteeth.

Well, most sharpteeth.

Perched in a tree, Petrie listened, rapt with wonder as Guido spun the yarn of his most recent escapade.

"So I'm sure I've lost this guy, then 'WHOOSH!'" Guido accentuated the point by spreading his wings in a blustery burst. "The sharptooth flyer dives at me out of nowhere!"

Petrie gasped at the twist.

"I flew all over the place, dodging, hiding, diving, darting, but I just couldn't shake him!" Guido continued. "So, after much deliberation, I decided to bust out the big boys!"

Petrie tilted his head. "Bust out the ... what?"

Guido raised a foot to reveal a sickle-shaped claw.

Petrie gaped. "Since when you have those?"

Guido grinned with sheepish pride. "I dunno. Since forever, possibly, or maybe I grew them some time recently. They're kinda hidden under the feathers, so I never realised until about a week ago. I've got smaller ones on all my toes and wings, but these are the biggest." His eyes glinted mischief as he examined his newfound talons. "This opens up so many possibilities."

Petrie gulped. "Um ... so they really enough to stop big, flying sharptooth?"

"When he's not expecting me to rush right up in his face?" Guido chuckled at the memory. "Oh yes. Yes they are. I can still hear him screaming."


"Like that?" asked Petrie, seeking the source of the screech. It sounded almost like a sharptooth ...

Guido shook his head. "No, not like that."

"aaaaAAAAAIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" came an intensifying shriek.

Guido nodded. "More like that. Say, where's that even coming fro-?"

Petrie dove into Guido, pushing him out of the way just as Cera hurtled into the branches. The flyers fluttered to a nearby tree.

Guido gratefully slapped a panicked Petrie on the back. "Thanks for the save, buddy! How'd you react so fast?"

"Me ..." Petrie panted, "... me started waking up every morning telling meself, 'Self, something crazy going to happen, and you no can do a thing about it'. That way, me be better ready for it." Petrie cleared his throat before addressing the situation with the appropriate agitation. "CERA! How YOU get up here?!"

"I, uh ... definitely wasn't yeeted," lied a shaken Cera.

The flyers exchanged glances.

"Sooo ... who yeeted you?" Guido asked.

"I said I wasn't yeeted!" Cera snapped before hastily changing the subject. "Say, Guido, you're surprisingly calm considering what just happened."

Guido shrugged with a laidback smile. "Panicking is too stressful. Besides, after fighting off a flying sharptooth? I'm pretty sure little can rattle me these days." He looked down. "AAAUUGGHHH!"

He shot into the sky. Petrie's wide-eyed stare followed him before he slowly lowered his gaze and spotted ... it. His eyes popped that much wider.

"You okay up there?" came Dagara's voice.

Cera nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Good. Now get down here."


"Get down here," Dagara repeated with eldritch serenity. "I'm not finished with you."

Cera looked to see Dagara standing at the base of the tree, staring up at her with single-minded focus. Despite the sharpneck's calm disposition, her Battle Blush raged like an inferno. Cera took a closer look. Dagara's eyes looked ... funny. Where were the pupils? Oh, still there ... just slit to the point where Cera didn't immediately notice them.

"Um, what ... what happened to your eyes?" Cera asked nervously.

"I'm not interested in answering that question," dismissed Dagara. "Just get down here."

The threehorn swallowed. She wasn't horrified. Nope. Cera had seen far worse than one little angry sharpneck. She just couldn't remember any good examples at the moment.

Knowing that Cera wouldn't comply, Dagara walked away.

Cera's tension ebbed with a sigh before she took in the view: a sea of treetops peppered with fruity hues, the valley's towering cliffs in the backdrop adorned in garments of green. So, this was how flyers saw the world?

~This is actually kinda nice,~ Cera thought. ~I think I'll stay up here for a while. That'll give me the drop on Dag when she least expects it. Y'know what? Maybe I'll leave her alone. She obviously feels challenged by me, otherwise she wouldn't go out of her way to-~


The tree lurched. Cera yelped and clung tighter.


That sharpneck was ramming her refuge! Cera told herself that the tree would hold. Then again, if Dagara could toss her all the way up there in the first place ...? No! It had to hold! Trees withstood pounding wind storm after storm. Dagara was wasting her time ... unless she decided to bite and slash at the trunk with her spikes, as was the case.

"Okay, Dag. You're clearly worked up, so I'll-"

Dagara's snarl cut her off as she shredded bark and gutted white plant matter.

"... I'll let you off easy, this time," Cera continued.

The sharpneck backed off for another charge. Cera had a pretty strong hunch that talking was a lost cause at this stage.

"Petrie? Could you maybe tell my dad to-?"

The flyer was nowhere to be seen.


"C-calm down a sec, will ya?" urged Cera. "Let's call it a tie!"

*THWAAMMM!* *Kra-kraaAAaackk!*

"Y-you don't want the tree to fall on top of yooouuuuuaaaaAAAAAAEEEEEE!"

Dagara's spikes had lodged into the trunk, temporarily trapping her, but the damage was done. The tree came crashing down, sending Cera rolling from the grove into a field where she bumped into a threehorn foot. She shook off the scare and jumped to her feet.

"Daddy!" the youngster greeted gleefully.

Daddy Topps frowned down at her. "Your flyer friend said something about Dagara giving you trouble."

Cera's eyes fluttered in surprise. "Petrie sure moves quickly ..." she muttered.

"But I knew he was exaggerating," Daddy Topps smiled. "There's no way a sharpneck could give a threehorn trouble! All that talk about their toughness is nothing but hot air."

"Hee!" Cera giggled self-consciously. "Yeah. Crazy, right? We had a little scuffle, but I just did what any threehorn would do and-"

A feral Dagara burst from the bushes, skewered bark bedecking her spikes.

Cera practically screamed her head off.

Daddy Topps stepped forward. "Now see here, young lady! Cera put your in your place fair and square! If you have a problem with that, you can-!"

( ( SSKRRRRRAAAAEEEEEEEEEE! ) ) Dagara roared.

His jaw slackened.

Dagara barreled towards him with ravenous speed.

He recovered with a huff. "What's she gonna do? Bite at my toes?"



Cera watched from behind a rock, gritting her teeth. This had gotten out of hand. From all appearances, her dad was making his best effort to squish Dagara, but the sharpneck was too fast, too small, dodging, dashing and lashing out with teeth, spikes and razor-sharp strategic instinct. Daddy Topps bellowed his fury as he thundered after the sharpneck who had made a mad rush for a dry riverbed.

The threehorn girl knitted her brow. Was Dagara fleeing? That couldn't be right. Uh oh. Clever girl.

"Daddy! It's a trap!"

It was too late. Dagara made an almost impossibly sharp turn, leaving Daddy Topps to tumble into the riverbed with a dull boom.

"I'm okay!" he announced. "RUN!"

When Daddy Topps said 'run', it was safe to bet things were past the point of no return. Luckily, Cera had left the scene seconds before he uttered that command. If she knew anything about situations like this, it was that escaping into the tall grass was always a smart move. Unluckily, that would only help for so long if Dagara was half as good a tracker as Chomper.

The sharpneck's piercing roar sent chills down her spine. ~It was at that moment, as Dagara chased after me, that I realised that I probably had taken things too far.~

Littlefoot sat in a clearing under a small tree, eyes closed, meticulously meditating on tactics that just might save lives in future adventures. However, some niggling warning was interfering with his 'Advanced Imagination' session. Perhaps things were too quiet; perhaps a disturbance reached his senses on the subconscious level, or it was just one of those gut instincts inexplicable yet invariably meaningful.

Someone burst from the tall grass. "LITTLEFOOT! SHE'S AFTER ME!"

He sighed without opening his eyes. ~Aaand there it is.~

"Just apologise to her," Littlefoot suggested, easily deducing the gist of the situation.

"Oh, apologise to her? Yeah, sure," Cera chuckled hopelessly, "that'll definitely- Get real! That's not gonna work! I messed up big time! I'm a goner!"

Littlefoot cracked an eyelid. Cera was begging? And unblinkingly admitting her mistakes? Unusual. Concerningly unusual.

"Okay, what did you do?" he asked in resignation.

"I told her ... uh ..." Cera whispered into his ear.

Littlefoot choked on his shock. "You said WHAT?!"

"Look, they're two of us! Maybe we can-!"

"Cera, she's a sharpneck!"

"We can ambush and pin her down until she calms-!"

"Let me rephrase that: CERA, she's a SHARPNECK!"


Cera zipped up the tree and hid among the leaves - something Littlefoot had no clue she could do. Then again, dinosaurs did unbelievable things when just plain terrified.

Blades of grass flung asunder as Dagara exploded onto the scene, scanning her surroundings as evaporating moisture steamed from her mouth.

~Okay, that's new,~ thought a nervous but mildly fascinated Littlefoot. "Uh, hi Dagara!"

She didn't appear to notice him, sniffing the ground like a predator on the hunt. The sharpneck was zeroing in on Cera's tree when Littlefoot moved in front of her. She began to step over him as though he were nothing more than a small boulder in her path. Her touch was almost hot enough to burn.

"Ow! You're kinda squishing me!" he protested.

Dagara blinked as she seemed to notice him for the first time. "... Littlefoot ...?"

Littlefoot almost didn't recognise the voice. It sounded more like a growl than anything else, yet somehow more authentic, less forced than her usual voice.

"Yeah, ouch," he replied.

She quickly got off of him. Her wildfire of a Battle Blush died down somewhat. The Dagara he knew was only half there, if the semi-frenzied look in her eyes was any indication.

"Does that hurt?" he asked, buying time while expressing concern.

"What?" she growled.

"You're burning up, like you've got a fever, but worse. Smoke's coming out of your mouth."

She glanced past him, catching motion in the tree. "Please move."

His gaze softened as he noticed droplets evaporating from the edges of her eyes. "I know you're upset. Let me help."

"I said move."

"What are you gonna do to my friend?" he asked firmly.

Dagara looked away "I ..." She took a deep, steaming breath. "I just gotta talk to her."

"Is that all?"

"Yes. Now. Please. Move," she rumbled.

"No," Littlefoot replied.

Dagara burnt him a look between annoyed and white-hot livid.

He stood his ground.

She took another attempt at a calming breath. He was brave and loyal. Even in her berserk state, she could respect that.

"I hear a river," Dagara stated.

Littlefoot was grateful for the change of subject. "Yeah. There's one just beyond the grass. It's helps with Advanced Imagination. Very calming."

"How wide is it?"

"Fairly wide."

"And deep enough not to break something if you fall in from a tree?"

~Where's she going with this?~ "Yes, it's deep enough."

"Basically safe to swim in?"

"Well, not for you, 'cause, y'know, you can't swim, but the younger kids swim there sometimes. Why do you ask?"


One Yeet Later


A short-lived scream heralded Littlefoot's big splash into the river.


Cera jerked from the tree with the jarring impact of a charge to the trunk. After hitting the ground, she scrambled to a stand and found herself face to face with the horror beast. She saw jaws full of fatal teeth spread before her face. Icy fear froze the scream in her lungs, but the jaws never came. They just hovered there, a mere instant from contact, shaking with the sharpneck's entire body.

That all changed in a flash.

Cera was pretty sure her heart stopped. The sharpneck had pounced! It was all over! Cera closed her eyes as she felt Dagara's sweltering body heat waft past her. A mental check for pain yielded nothing. She was alive? Why?

She looked back to see Dagara bite a chunk out of the tree trunk before slashing deep with her spikes. Okaaay ... no explanation necessary. All that mattered was the opportunity to run.

Dagara's hot paw pinned Cera's tail to the ground.

"HELP! HELP!" Cera shrieked.

"QUIET!" snarled the sharpneck. "NOW EXPLAIN YOURSELF!"

Sadly, contradictory commands + panic = petrified silence.

"WHY'D YOU SAY THAT TO ME?!" Dagara demanded. "IT HURT!"

"I- I- I- I- I- I-"

"I almost did THAT to you!"

Dagara gestured the eviscerated tree. It creaked and fell.

"TALK! FAST!" The sharpneck's muscles spasmed. "I ... CAN'T ... STOP!"

Dagara lunged. Her jaws clapped like thunder beside Cera's ear, harmless yet horrifying nonetheless. Taking a shaking step back, Dagara roared into the heavens, forcing Cera to shield her ears from the deafening din.

"I'm SORRY!" Cera blurted.

The roaring stopped. Somehow, Dagara heard her in the midst of it. Muscles visibly resisting, the sharpneck forced herself to sit. It looked more like a pre-pounce position than a simple sit, but it was an improvement. Cera noticed steaming tears racing down from the sharpneck's eyes fixed in a stare that never blinked. To say the least, it was rather distracting, but Cera managed to push past the lump in her throat.

"I," Cera's voice cracked. "I'm sorry."

Dagara's eyes narrowed a smidgen. "You're just saying that 'cause you're scared."

"M-maybe a little ... or a lot ... but I really am sorry. I don't even know what the thing I said means!"

"You don't?" The perplexed sharpneck finally blinked as her pupils returned to some semblence of normalcy.

"I didn't know you'd take it that hard, 'cause you're not a sharptooth. It wasn't supposed to hurt like that, but it did and I'm ... I'm really, really sorry!"

All that stress finally hit the threshold and Cera collapsed in a fit of tears. This was wrong in every conceivable way. Threehorns weren't supposed to cry like this. In private? Maybe, but never with an audience. This was almost more humiliating than the actual chase.

Cera stiffened as Dagara draped a foreleg over her and squeezed. This had to be some creative method of suffocation. Strangely, it didn't hurt. Was the sharpneck actually hugging her? Dagara's dropping temperature had mellowed to a comfortable warmth that rendered the hug preternaturally palatable. Threehorn pride compelled Cera to squirm away. Common sense told her that was a horrible idea, even if she were strong enough to break Dagara's grip. So she let it happen, noticing Dagara's tears pattering against her scales.

"I'm sorry too!" Dagara sobbed. "I acted like a total maniac!"

"It's my fault! I insulted you!"

"No, it's my fault! My reaction was a gross act of disproportionate retribution!"

*Sniff* "... what?"

"I went too far! Way, way too far!"

From there, the conversation degenerated into unbecomingly loud weeping.

Littlefoot rushed from the grass, adorned with a water weeds and a large snapping shell pinching his back. The longneck's jaw loosened at the sight of the two toughest girls he knew hugging and ugly crying. He considered nipping his foot to confirm whether or not it was a sleep story.

"Don't look at me!" Cera yelled upon seeing him, breaking the hug and burying her face in the dirt.

Nope. Probably not a sleep story.

Littlefoot averted his eyes with a smile. "So, I guess you guys just needed to talk after all, huh?"

Cera removed her head from the ground, confident that any residual tears and mucus were no longer visible under the mask of soil.

"Yeah, guess so," Cera sniffed. "I almost thought Dagara was gonna eat me! Kinda silly, huh? I mean, she's not a sharptooth or anything."

Dagara fidgeted and cleared her throat before spotting the snapping shell pinching Littlefoot's back.

He followed her gaze. "Oh ... I hadn't even noticed it. Funny how some stuff only hurts when you realise it's there."

Dagara stepped up to him. "Let me get that for you. It's about time I was open with you guys."

The sharpneck chomped the shell off his scales and began to crunch it.

Cera had officially lost track of the times her heart had stopped that day.

Littlefoot's startled stare gave way to a smile. "I kinda figured."

He reaffirmed his approval of her with a tail pat to the back. She promptly turned peach and pink.

Cera shook her head vigorously. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, but Dagara's a longneck!"

"I'm a sharpneck," a sheepish Dagara corrected. "It's a type of longneck, but it's all in the name."

"But we see her eat green food all the time!" insisted Cera.

"Yeah, but I sneak away to eat red food when I can."

"So ... you're like Ruby, then?" Cera asked.

Dagara shook her head. "Sort of ... and no. Ruby's not much of a hunter, but in some ways the sharptooth side of me is stronger than it would be in a full sharptooth. Sometimes, it's like my body has a mind of it's own, which can be good. It helps me act fast without pausing to think," she sighed. "It can also be dangerous. If you startle or scare me, I might bite. If you annoy me, I might bite. I always have to watch myself and hold back, but if you make me really angry, I could completely lose control." She smiled at the longneck. "That's why I usually spar with Littlefoot. He makes me happy, which keeps me in control. However, you ... can kinda get me riled up sometimes."

Cera looked at Littlefoot. "And you knew about this?"

"Well, not exactly," Littlefoot admitted. "I thought it was possible: the teeth, the way she uses her voice, her interest in crawlers and floppers. The hints were there, but I didn't know all the details. In any event, I thought Dagara would tell us when she's ready."

"But what about the whole getting-so-hot-that-steam-comes-out-of-her-mouth thing?" Cera turned to the sharpneck. "Can you breathe fire or something?"

Dagara's face lit up at the thought. "Hey! That'd be awesome! But no. You know how your body gets warmer when you push yourself? It's the same with me when I get super mad, but on a whole different level. Makes me stronger, faster and less prone to pain, but leaves me sore, tired, thirsty and hungry in the end, like my body's gone beyond itself or something."

"'Beyond itself' enough to hurl someone all the way into the river?" asked Littlefoot, pensively looking in the water's direction.

"I ..." Dagara's eyes mildly crossed in thought. "Okay, I gotta admit, that's never happened before, and it doesn't really make sense to me either."

"So you change colour, you heat up and get strong when you're really mad, you're part sharptooth, you even breathe steam like some kind of ..." Cera sifted through her brain for a comparable example. "Nothing does that! Mr. Thicknose told us about tons of living things and nothing else does that!"

"Maybe nothing you know of, nothing around here, but my dad says sharpnecks come from 'The Lands of Death'," Dagara explained: "A faraway place where only the strongest survive. When it's cold, waterholes freeze. When it's hot, they'll steam and dry up before your very eyes. The weather changes without warning every few days, if you're lucky: flashfloods and frozen sky water storms come weekly with little warning. There isn't always enough green food, so we have to eat red food as well. We decided we wanted better, so we crossed a new path made by an earthshake and ended up here, The Lands of Life. Surviving here was easy, but sharpnecks need a challenge otherwise we'll go stir-crazy. We started helping leafeaters with their problems, feeding the hungry, clearing paths, protecting herds. We even hunted sharpteeth - a bit of a double standard, when you think of it. Eventually, the sharpteeth banded together to wipe us out. For the most part, they succeeded, but as you can see," she winked, "they missed one."

Cera exploded, stomping in circles. "Fine! Make me question reality, why don'tcha? Lemme guess, Petrie's secretly part sharptooth? Chomper's developed a taste for green food? Spike talks to himself when he's alone? Cold fire's real after all? Stars can fall? C'mon, world! I can handle it!"

"So, can we still be friends?" Dagara asked in a small voice.

Stopping, Cera stared at the sharpneck.

"I mean, I don't know if I was much of a friend before this," Dagara backtracked. "I sort of avoided you mostly, but I'd like to be your friend, if that's okay with you."

Considering the nightmare beast the sharpneck had been a few minutes ago, it was strange to see her stumbling over herself like that. Somewhat touching though, not that Cera would admit it. To think Dagara valued her friendship enough to ask.

"Are you serious?" Cera replied. "It'd take more than that to scare off a threehorn! One thing, though. You don't need to talk like that anymore."

A twinge of fear twitched the sharpneck's face. "I ... I dunno. I've been hiding my voice for so long. Folks will start to ask questions."

"Maybe they'll think you're hitting The Time of Great Growing or something," Cera shrugged. "If you're scared, why not just ease into it? And if folks ask questions, we've got your back."

Dagara glanced between her friends before sighing. "I dunno, but I'll give it a try." She cleared her throat and dropped the act. "This ... is my real voice."

Littlefoot had made up his mind not to care if it wasn't easy on the ear, but this? To be honest, he was pleasantly surprised. Now that she'd calmed down, her voice took the form of a purr: mellowly mellifluous, but brimming with the quiet, predatory power of a creature times their size.

He couldn't help but smile. "I like it! I really like it!"

Cera seemed lost. "Um ... yeah. Me too. Say, how do you pack that much sound into your long, skinny neck? It's like you swallowed a thunderstorm, I'm not even kidding, and you still sound like a girl. How does that even work?"

The longneck and sharpneck chuckled. Littlefoot fell silent. Dagara looked at him. He was still as stone, eyes bulging, staring out to the horizon. Something wasn't right. She could feel it in the atmosphere. A chill rushed down her spine as she followed his gaze.

"You know what? Never mind," Cera dismissed. "At this stage, I refuse to be surprised by anything the world throws at me. Hm ... Evening already? I was sure The Bright Circle was higher than that. Hey, what's up with you two?"

"That's not The Bright Circle," Littlefoot declared.

Cera frowned. "How could it not be?"

The threehorn looked up. Clouds concealed the true Bright Circle hanging nearly overhead. She looked to the horizon. Though smaller than The Bright Circle, this thing was growing, falling, faster ... and faster ... and faster, it's bluish white light dethroning the Sun itself.

Dagara stepped back as wonder congealed to dread. Drawing nearer, its form became clearer: a geometric shape shrouded in frigid flames that chilled the valley in its radiance. Finally, it disappeared beyond the cliffs in a silent scintillation. The haunting calm that followed was unbearable, so much so that Cera eventually felt obligated to break it.

She gave Littlefoot a stern stare. "No."

"What?" asked the shaken longneck.

"If anything was ever a 'stone of cold fire', it's that." She gestured the cliffs behind which it disappeared. "When you ask us all to sneak out and see what it is, my answer is 'no'. I'm not going. You can't make me."

Littlefoot managed a laugh. The quaver in her voice was evident, but she was trying to deescalate their fears with snark. He appreciated that.

"That last adventure wasn't my fault. It was Pterano's," Littlefoot argued before thinking. "Although ... this is a pretty big deal."

"I said no!"

He was undaunted. "Maybe we should-"

It happened in an instant. The air stung, cold as death. The valley walls turned to dust in the wake of racing tsunamis of icy inferno that engulfed them all.

Dagara awoke with a scream.

"SHUT UP, SHARPNECK! IT'S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!" someone snapped from a distance.

Her adoptive threehorn father, Wartar, groaned as he opened his eyes. He truly loved his daughter, but she was a bit of a handful sometimes at night. At least she wasn't threatening the neighbors in her sleep again.

"I just had the craziest sleep story!" Dagara blurted. "A giant stone of cold fire fell from the sky and KILLED us all!"

Wartar raised an eyebrow. "Is that all?"

"I also yeeted a threehorn girl into a tree before knocking it down: very unrealistic, now that I think about it."

He yawned. "And the crazy part?"

Dagara snorted a snicker. "That I made friends with the threehorn!"

Wartar roared a rare big, boisterous belly laugh, joined by his daughter.

"And ... and get this!" she managed between the howling. "I was also good friends with this longneck kid!"

The laughter dialed to eleven.

"And he- HA HA! He was willing to SPAR with me!"

Hysterical hilarity racked them mercilessly, tears rolling down their eyes. It was thoroughly cathartic, and Dagara was grateful. If she didn't laugh, she was fairly certain she would cry because, yeeting and fireballs aside, it could have happened in another valley, another life.

If only.

Once in a dream, I thought I could be

anyone I wanted.

Hard to believe, but it felt real to me,

until the morning

When I'm awake I still can't shake

the taste of freedom

It's the loneliest road

- 'Once in a Dream' by In the City

If you're in the mood, look up 'Once in a Dream'. It's the perfect end credits song for this story.

Anyway, we're not finished yet! Consider the following an after-credits scene.

There was nothing to see. Nothing to hear, but he was there, like a spectre watching the sharpneck and her father from the top of a hill overlooking the herd. He clicked his tongue and shook his head before turning to his mental, augmented reality display.

[Dream Sim terminated]

[Val 62 - 1,420,097 - Amargasaurus, 'Dagara']



[2 messages from Zenith]

[Messages ignored]


[Analysing subject's valley compatibility ...]


*Beep!* *Beep!* *Beep!* *Beep!* *Beep!* *Beep!*

[8 messages from Zenith]

[Messages ignored]

[Zenith blocked]


[... Analysis complete]

[Va 12, 'Hidden Valley', Subject Compatibility: 14%]

[Va 23, 'The Great Valley', Subject Compatibility: 78%]

He massaged his temple.

"Psychoanalysing the natives again, Apogee?" came a female voice.

He flinched and turned to see a rainbow-hued face much like his own. Aside from colour scheme, the similarities stopped there. Though by no means the largest of sharpteeth, her agile, fast biter form was tall enough to overshadow him by a couple feet, which served to make him all the more nervous.

"Oh! Hello, Zenith!" he fumbled. "Still in your predatory guise, I see!"

"It commands respect," she stated simply.

"I didn't know you were here!" he went on. "Those messages suggested otherwise."

"Hm," she grunted disapprovingly. "I arrived a few moments ago, but I wanted to see how many messages you'd dismiss. Why did you block me?"

"I was too engrossed in my work to be disturbed, sorry," he apologised. "Dream sims are delicate procedures, even from within. One subject broke the physics engine through sheer force of will and wrath." He chuckled. "She started tossing other juveniles substantial distances and knocking down trees! That Dagara always subverts my expectations."

Zenith blinked blankly. "Who?"

"Val 62 - 1,420,097," he clarified.

"Oh, the Amargasaurus. Why the interest?"

"She's an endling."

"Do you personally study all endlings?" Zenith sounded doubtful.

"When they're practically living weapons? Oh yes," Apogee went on. "Dagara's DNA is fairly common to sauropods. Sure, she's genetically rigged for high aggression, hardiness and metachrosis, but that's not overly exotic. So then, why is she eating meat? How does her energy output spike to the point of evaporating saliva without injuring her? Even her natural, genetic traits are amplified! How did this happen? I've discovered a microbe that forces these traits upon her. I would assume it to be a natural symbiote, but none of the other sauropod species possess it."

"So one of our own tampered with Amargasaurus kind?" asked Zenith.

"It seems likely. Genetic ethics don't apply down here, but an entire species, altered to what end? I was curious as to how these microbes would affect her psychology, so I ran some dream sims ... until the latest sim ran into the ground."

"My messages interfered?"

"Eh, I wouldn't say 'interfered'," he continued. "More like 'crashed the whole thing'! Your first message about the Chicxulub Conspiracy Theory manifested literally as a doomsday scenario! Fortunately, I'd already gathered sufficient data for a secondary conclusion."

She rolled her eyes. "What did you conclude?"

"Dagara isn't thriving here. She's a pariah. 81.4% of the threehorn herd has attempted to end her life at least once."

"And the remaining 18.6%?"

"That would be her father ... and those too young, old or otherwise incapacitated to try. Being an endling of note, her well-being is in our best interest."

"You're considering another transfer? Memory wipe, the whole shebang? You know, peril is part of 'The Circle of Life', as they call it. Every time a Saurian's unhappy or in danger, we can't just pull a Val 31: Subject 57,392."

Apogee blinked blankly. "Who?"

"Guido," Zenith clarified.

"Ah, Guido."

"Does she have loved ones here? Healthy relationships?"

"Well, yes. A handful."

"How has she survived thus far?"

"They intervene. Besides, sharpnec- I mean, Amargasauruses are not easy to eliminate."

"Hm." She frowned. "Okay, what destination did you have in mind? The Great Valley, by any chance?"

Apogee winced - she knew him too well. "Well ... yes. Granted, Dagara nearly killed Val 12 - 315,305 in the last sim, but I doubt Cera would have antagonised her in such an extreme manner had I not ... nudged her in that direction."

"But she almost killed 315,305 all the same," reminded Zenith.

Apogee nodded in defeat.

"Then it's settled," Zenith concluded. "Let her be. Besides, a memory wipe can only do so much. Deep down, she'll know something's missing. It'll haunt her."

He smiled. "Well, look at you, empathising with the Saurians!"

She scoffed.

"So, what were you trying to tell me about the Chicxulub Conspiracy Theory?" he asked.

"It's no longer a theory."

"Excuse me?"

She turned to reveal a deep wound laced with sparking embers of cold fire.

Apogee drew a devastated breath. "Th ... th-that shouldn't be possible! Who did this?"

"The Hunter's Bond," she answered, chuckling dryly. "Years of deep cover among the Saurian predators' ranks and only now we discover how far down the rabbit hole goes."

"But Saurians don't have the means of inflicting such a wound!"

"They had antitech," Zenith shrugged.

"Where on Earth would they get antitech?"

Zenith shook her head, mildly irritated by his incredulity. "We thought the Hunters' Bond was merely an alliance meant to protect against ecosystem destroyers like Amargasauruses. That's only the tip of the iceberg. The Bond is a weapon, crafted by the Chicxu to preempt the Pangea Movement." Subtle desperation grew in her eyes. "They don't know. They don't know about Project Chicxulub. They have no clue that their so-called 'Great Guardians' will burn this world to oblivion!"

Apogee wasn't accustomed to seeing his partner this distressed. He placed a comforting paw on her shoulder.

"They're deeply indoctrinated," she continued. "Any attempts to convince the predators of the truth will likely trigger a war once 'The Great Guardians' catch wind of it. I imagine they've anticipated such attempts."

Apogee smirked grimly. "Chicxulub, great deceptions, false extraterrestrial benefactors: It's like The First World all over again."

"Not if we can help it," Zenith asserted, raising a tensed paw as cold fire danced between its claws. "I've contacted our superiors. The Interference Prohibitive Protocol has been relaxed somewhat."

Apogee repressed a squee.

Zenith gave him one of her patented critical glares.

He cleared his throat. "Sorry."

Okay, I'm done now ;).

SEQUEL: 'Circle of Death' - What happens when Red Claw finally catches the kids? Will they defy death with the help of their new friend? Or will death have its way in a twist no one could imagine? Things are not what they seem. Rated low T for violence.

For more in my 'War Before Time' setting, check out:

'Mentors of Yesteryears - War Before Time' (part of the main story)

'Babysitting a Sharpneck - War Before Time'

'Because You're a Sharpneck - War Before Time'

'War Before Time I: Fall of the Valley' (also part of the main story - sequel to 'Mentors of Yesteryears')

The stories take place in that order.

Thanks for reading!