Chapter 37: Sinister Dealings

Even though he had spent a few days with Littlefoot and his friends in their homeland, Kairyn still found himself lost in the luxurious natural beauty the Great Valley offered. Despite the sheer mass of trees, flowing rivers and vast open fields, there was always a new corner that he had not explored and the gang were more than happy to give both him and Melissa the guided tour. Through a maze of twisting paths hidden in a dense patch of forest, Littlefoot brought them to a little area by a tiny running stream where a plethora of fruit and berries sat amongst the branches of the trees and punctuating the shrubs around them. Their bright, vibrant colours accented the invitation to sample their plump and ripened flesh. Ducky quickly labelled it 'the sweetest spot in all the Great Valley' as the gang all dived in. Kairyn was a little apprehensive at first. The fruit looked alien despite their vivid and healthy colours but once he saw Melissa tucking into a bright red fruit that looked like a rather fat, round apple straight off the tree without a thought, he quickly joined in. He was glad he did and helped himself to more the moment he was done with the first one.

Having eaten their fill, the gang all sat down with a mighty flop next to the trickling stream to give their meal a chance to go down. No one could say anything having eaten to the point of bursting as they lay vegetating on the soft grass. After a few minutes of silence, Melissa sat up and gazed at her reflection in the nearby stream. She slowly lowered her fingers into the crystal clear water distorting her smiling face as they pierced the surface. A gentle tingle prickled the tips of her digits as the water pulled and rippled between them.

"This is such a wonderful place. It's no wonder you are all so fond of it," she said finally still mesmerised by the calm flow of the water. The gang all began to stir and rolled up to a comfy lounging position to get a look over to where Melissa's voice was coming from.

"Yeah, no kidding. I've never seen anything like this before. I mean we have parks in the city and I've heard that there are some natural reserves elsewhere in the country in our time but – they've got nothing on the Great Valley. Not even close!" Kairyn chimed in.

"What is your homeland like Kairyn?" Ducky then asked as she shuffled closer to Melissa and promptly found Melissa's free hand draped over her shoulder the moment they made contact.

"What Second London? Err… well… it's…" Kairyn stammered, clearly not expecting the question. "It's nothing like here. It's all concreted over, hardly a patch of grass anywhere; not the natural stuff anyway. I mean, we all play sports and games on synthetic pitches, less chance of getting friction burns or grass stains on your clothes. There's a ton of buildings everywhere, loads of them. Skyscrapers that are taller than the trees even here. Heck, I'm not even sure I could even tell ya where the nearest tree is." Kairyn laughed at his last statement.

"There… aren't any trees where you live?" Littlefoot asked slowly. His tone was both alarmed and somewhat saddened.

"Well I mean, we have… machines that act as trees. They recycle all the junk in the city air and produce oxygen just like trees do. More efficiently in fact," Kairyn quickly babbled as a reassuring counterpoint but Littlefoot still looked dismayed. Somehow, he couldn't imagine living in a home where there were no trees or herbaceous vegetation. To him, the very concept sounded like living out in the Mysterious Beyond.

"Hey! Don't look at me like that! It wasn't my decision to build the city the way it is," Kairyn flapped unable to withstand the pained expression on Littlefoot's face. "I guess that's just how things developed. Humans use technology to better their own lives and build things to do just that."

"Yes. And that's the reason why when things go wrong, they are often left stranded without a hope once their mechanical contraptions break down or go awry," a slow drawling voice said over them. A chorus of gasps escaped all their throats as they shot a nervous gaze up into the nearest tree canopy.

"Black Ghost!" Littlefoot squeaked swallowing the knot of air wedged in his voicebox. There, perched in a joint between the trunk and an extending branch stood a black cloaked figure. With a quick hop, he dropped to the ground kicking up a spray of pollen and petals as he landed in the flowering grass.

"Where the hell'd you come from!" Kairyn yelped equally spooked and now on his feet.

"Another pointless question," the Black Ghost sighed as he stepped towards the group who were still a little startled by his sudden appearance. Kairyn's lip curled into a snarl as he watched the back of cloaked man move towards the water's edge. Everyone stared at him intently as he bent down and lowered his cupped, gloved hands into the stream and took a drink from it.

"Where have you been Mr Ghost? Did you find that Shadow Spawn thing that attacked us last night?" Littlefoot asked anxiously.

"To an extent," the Black Ghost replied tonelessly as he took another sip. "But by the time I'd gotten to it, it had already starting dissolving into nothing."

"So, we safe then. No more scary monsters coming into Great Valley?" Petrie piped fluttering down from another tree he had shot up into upon the unexpected arrival.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," the Black Ghost said plainly.

"Oh will you cut the melodramatic crap and just tell us what the hell's going on!" Kairyn snapped. Whatever tranquillity the sunny little spot had granted him previously had all but dissipated now the Black Ghost was within eyesight. The Black Ghost paused, water still seeping out between the gaps in his fingers, before taking one last gulp and standing upright.

"You can rest easy for now. There haven't been any more Shadow Spawn wandering around," he reported. Everyone gave a sigh of relief but the Black Ghost quickly followed up. "But, be on your guard. I still haven't been able to pinpoint exactly where that one Spawn had come from. I figured it was from that base beyond the Great Valley's borders."

Kairyn felt his chest pull tight, "You know about the Keltech base?"

"Well if I didn't, I do now," the Black Ghost replied smoothly. Kairyn stammered for a moment before scowling at him. "Relax, I found it whilst investigating the area after you and Littlefoot were attacked. I'd imagine they're responsible for bringing dark matter to this world and they're probably still playing around with it in there but I seriously doubt they have the know-how to create Shadow Spawn. My guess is that they still think it is an energy source."

"Did you go in there?" Kairyn asked sternly, his mind suddenly flicking over to his brother and his safety.

"No… given the events last time I set foot on Keltech grounds, I'd see little reason to want to return there without suitable cause." Kairyn felt a hot, angry flush shoot down his arms and into his hands. Clenching his fists into tight balls was all he could do to prevent himself from lashing out and smacking the Black Ghost in the vacant space where his face should be.

"Besides, getting in and out of that base without causing mass panic would be nearly impossible."

"Even for you?" Littlefoot asked.

"Everyone has their limits," the Black Ghost replied which made Kairyn snort somewhat smugly.

The group all huddled a little closer as the Black Ghost elaborated on his findings from yesterday. In turn, Littlefoot and his friends were eager to share what they had discussed this morning over at Friendship's Circle in the hopes that more of the underlying mystery could be revealed. The Black Ghost rubbed his chin in careful thought the more he heard.

"Hmm… that does sound slightly suspicious. Keltech using old technology from a previous human invasion to this realm," he said slowly.

"Yeah, and all the stuff to do with the Red Phoenix and the Stones of Essence. What do you think they could be after?" Littlefoot asked.

"I don't know. But I certainly hope it isn't the same thing as what the Red Phoenix Corporation were hoping to achieve. Their foolish actions nearly brought about the eradication of life as we know it," the Black Ghost replied.

"How do you know about what the Red Phoenix Corporation did? You weren't in league with them or something were you?" Kairyn said snidely.

"Reports, chronicles and other shreds of information tell of what the Red Phoenix did and the research they performed back then. Obviously, details are lost over time and with a three hundred year time difference between them and Keltech, it's little wonder they hardly knew anything about what happened when the Red Phoenix Corporation tried to use the Stones of Essence for their own personal gain. It is not uncommon for one man to follow in the footsteps of a previous discovery of another. As far as they are concerned, they were just taking a blind stare into a blank period of human history. They didn't have any idea of the atrocity that that company brought upon the world; and I seriously doubt they do even now."

"And how is it that you are so knowledgeable on the subject Mr Black Ghost?" Melissa asked curiously. "You appear to know an awful lot more about this than anyone. About the Red Phoenix's technology, what they did, and how they used these stones." Kairyn couldn't help but notice that the Black Ghost jerked rather suddenly at her question. It was as if she'd picked up on something and he was not expecting to be quizzed on it.

The Black Ghost was silent for a while which gave everyone ample time to edge closer; awaiting his response. When he finally did speak, the group were very surprised at how open he was about it. Given how secretive the Black Ghost normally was, he told them exactly what they wanted to know. He told them all about the research he had done regarding the Stones of Essence, their origin and how he had been searching for them. They were spellbound by his tale that seemed almost otherworldly as they sat hooked on every word.

"So, lemme get this straight." Kairyn then said after a good few minutes of storytelling. "You're from a world that exists somewhere between our time in 327NE and the events after Littlefoot and his friends defeated the Red Phoenix?" He massaged his forehead with his fingertips trying to wrap his mind around the idea.

"Yes. Although, I'm not sure when exactly because in my world, the concepts of time are lost."

"What do you mean by that?" Melissa asked.

"It's difficult to pin a date when one day blends into the next with no one to keep a record of it. You see, my world has been destroyed as a result of what Littlefoot and his friends accomplished when they defeated the Red Phoenix and the monster of the same name that the corporation created."

"What?!" all of the dinosaur children gasped taken aback.

"Your world's been destroyed… because of what we did?!" Littlefoot stammered hardly able to breathe. The Black Ghost nodded slowly.

"It is also how, in my world, we know of the Stones of Essence and the legend behind them. It was the stones and their holders that brought about the destruction… one simple act that changed and warped reality into a hell on earth." Littlefoot and his friends couldn't believe what they were hearing.

"B-but… I-I… I don't understand!" the young longneck continued to trip over his words. "We beat the Red Phoenix to save everyone! How did we end up destroying your world?!"

"Does the phrase 'righting the final wrong' mean anything to you?" the Black Ghost then said to him. Littlefoot looked up at the hooded man both amazed and frightened.

"Y-yes. It is what Jason and I realised we had to do to make things right again after all that had happened. He had to go back to where he was from so that everything would go back to normal."

"Of course; a truly noble task. And what was it you both did before he returned to where he came from?" the Black Ghost said very carefully. All eyes turned to Littlefoot as he stopped to remember the morning that Jason left the Great Valley.

"N-no… we didn't do anything bad. Jason just gave me his red stone and I gave him my blue one so we'd remember each other. Then he went back, that's all." Littlefoot said innocently desperately searching within the Black Ghost's voided hood for some assurance that he wasn't responsible for his world's destruction. That's when the Black Ghost nodded his head very slowly. Littlefoot suddenly found that he could not breathe.

"N…no… Us swapping our stones… that caused your world to…"

"As unintentional and innocent as the gesture seemed at that moment, it was because you swapped your rightful stones, that caused a great disturbance in the fabric of reality. The holders of the stones crossed time's flow with the wrong essences in hand and it changed everything."

Littlefoot suddenly felt very sick. The whole forest enclosure flipped and spun before him making him incredibly dizzy. He dropped his horrified gaze down to the ground unable to look at the Black Ghost as a fiery, turbulent mix of guilt and disgust churned in the pit of his stomach. A simple gesture of friendship had caused the downfall of an entire world he didn't even know existed.

"Hang on just a minute! You can't just blame Littlefoot for the sorry state your home is in!" Kairyn stormed shoving the Black Ghost away from the distraught longneck. "What proof do you have? You didn't even know Littlefoot before you almost tried to kill him back in London! How would you know anything!"

"Because… Jason told me," the Black Ghost then said very deliberately.

In that moment, every thought and emotion that had been screaming in Littlefoot's head was instantly silenced. A cold shiver crawled through him and chilled every bone in his body. The icy creeping fastened its stinging grip around Littlefoot's heart, stealing a beat. He could now feel it thumping inside him as he slowly raised his head to glare back into the Black Ghost's empty hood.

"…What… did you just say…?" Littlefoot asked slowly, barely whispering.

"I said, Jason told me… about what happened; about everything. That's how I know about you and everything you and your friends did." Littlefoot legs felt as weak and flimsy as the blades of grass blowing in the wind around him as he strained to listen.

"You… know Jason?" Petrie asked as they all leaned even closer and the hooded figure nodded.

"He came to my world after departing yours…" he started but Kairyn cut in.

"He's lying! He can't possibly know your friend! All he knows is his name and that's not good enough! He's just saying that to manipulate you, don't listen!" he shouted angrily. Kairyn hated watching the pained expression etched into every one of his dinosaur friends' faces as they stood barely two feet away and entranced by every word he spoke.

"He came to my world, as did his companions, Jill Fielding and Daniel Stone of the Red Phoenix's private military corps. Even the sergeant's dog, Zephyr was there. It was never their intention but it happened all the same," the Black Ghost continued, making the gang all gasp in bewilderment.

"He does know about them! About all of them! Yep, yep, yep!" Ducky breathed in shock. Kairyn felt lost. It was like the Black Ghost had a hypnotic spell over all of them just by uttering a few names. He turned to Melissa to do something but she simply shook her head. With nothing to come back with, Kairyn fell into a seat on the grass next to Melissa as Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike all inched forward eager to hear more.

Kairyn couldn't help but feel hurt that the Black Ghost had stolen all the gang's attention away. As they fired question after question about their human friends' well-being, that pang of hurt burned into a knot of jealousy that stuck fast in his gut and refused to dissipate as he sat slumped under a tree. Even Melissa seemed to be ignoring him as she was intrigued by the conversation and was listening in.

"So where are they now? Are they still in your world?" Cera asked excitedly.

"That I do not know. As I said, my world is in complete chaos because of what occurred. By taking Littlefoot's stone through the Doorway, removing it from its rightful holder and leaving his in the process, Jason accidently cause some sort of flux which brought about a ravaged future. A world where humans were still on the brink of extinction. Only this time, we were not pursued by the undead creatures created by the Red Phoenix that Jason, Jill and Daniel described from their time. We were in danger of being wiped out by something far more powerful and far more dangerous. The Corruption's Curse."

"And… what that?" Petrie asked nervously.

"The Corruption's Curse is what plagued my world. It created monsters of immense power that quickly consumed anyone who fell victim to it. The groups of humans surviving in this hell soon disappeared until there was only a handful of us left. I remember Sergeant Stone having to kill Zephyr with his own hands when his faithful companion fell under the curse. It was crushing.

But we underestimated the beasts that the curse created. We thought they were mindless killing machines but some of them were… intelligent, organised. I helped your friends fight the monsters but soon even we were overrun. We were captured and taken to a stronghold of some sort where they were forcefully infecting both the living and the dead with the curse. I remember hearing the screams of those having the curse jabbed directly into their bodies. I managed to escape but I never found Jason, Jill or Daniel once we were taken captive. I don't know what happened to them."

"So, how did you end up in our time?" Melissa then asked from behind the gathered crowd.

"I don't like to put things down to sheer luck but I can't deny that that is what happened. A doorway like the one that brought us here opened up before me. I didn't know where it had come from but I was being chased at the time so I jumped in without a thought. Ever since then, I've been looking for a way to reverse what happened. To prevent that evil curse from ever being created. To do that, I had to reclaim the Stones of Essence and undo the mistake that Jason made. To truly right the final wrong. But, things haven't exactly been going as well as I'd hoped."

"Why? What happened?" Cera asked.

"I didn't realise it at first but I quickly found out that I was followed when I made the jump to the New Era years, a reality somehow different from my own. One of the more sophisticated monsters was tailing me. Somehow, he had managed to bond with the curse and retained his mind, as twisted as it is. A savage creature who's been hunting me ever since I escaped that torturous hell pit."

"And who's that?" Melissa asked. The question seemed to silence the cloaked man for a few tense seconds before he breathed a name in a hiss of malice.

"…Zeiger…"

Meanwhile, at the Keltech base just outside the Great Valley, the very monster that the Black Ghost had begrudgingly mentioned was still in a rather tense meeting with the corporation's heads. Director Thorne was sat at the top end of the long and lavish silver table, his legs crossed and rocking in the steely frame of the chrome chair, deep in thought. Professor Clements, looking haggard and pasty-faced with nervousness, was sat in the next chair down to Thorne's right. Schneider, half sitting and half on his toes ready to spring into action at a mere whistle of the wind, was in the next to the professor. His shooting hand laying restlessly on his right thigh close to his gun holster. Directly opposite him, across the table, was Zeiger who sat with a ceaseless grin on his face. A claw-tipped finger resting gingerly against his cheek as he watched the director milling over his thoughts. His glowing, yellow eyes then rolled down to the back of Tyronne's head who was ducked, on his knees, just in front of him; his sword balanced on its tip, planted between his seat and the curve of Tyronne's spine. The entire boardroom was engulfed in such an unbearable silence that even the flashing of gazes could have shattered the tension.

"I see…" Director Thorne said finally. "So what you are saying is that our current experimentations with the dark matter are not going to produce the energy output we are aiming for?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying. For superior intellects, you guys sure are slow," Zeiger snickered. Schneider fidgeted in his seat but quickly composed himself.

"I disagree. All our work so far has done wonders in bringing out the potential of this previously undiscovered element," Thorne countered but Zeiger dipped his head and sniggered.

"That's because you fools don't know what you are doing with it. As I said before, there are many applications for this 'dark matter' as you call it. All your tinkering so far hasn't even scratched the surface of what it can do. I'm surprised you even got it to bring you here on this fool's errand to chase down the Stones."

Professor Clements let slip an unintentional babble of shock but Zeiger didn't seem fazed.

"Please, I already know about your misguided efforts to acquire the Stones of Essence. You are looking for the four stones in a bid to gain mastery of them for your little pet projects."

Professor Clements was about to say something but Director Thorne got in before him.

"So you have some knowledge on our works. You seem to have us at a disadvantage," the director said coolly. "But what I don't understand is, if you are as gifted as you claim to be, why is it that you went through the trouble of almost uprooting our entire operation just to grant us some insight into dark matter and the Stones. How does any of your rip-roaring activities benefit you?"

Zeiger lent back in his chair to peer at Thorne down the length of his nose. "I am looking for my lost compatriot, the Black Ghost as you all seem to call him; you are looking for the Stones of Essence. I have knowledge on how to fast track your projects with the dark matter; you have the manpower and resources necessary to conduct a full search for my missing person. You follow?"

"And vot vould you do vit zees… creature vonce you have him?" Schneider barked trying his best to sound diplomatic but his gruff voice only belayed the attempt.

"I'm sure a man of your… qualities can appreciate confidentiality of business," Zeiger slurred. He enjoyed unsettling the giant of a man who seemed to bite at every quip he threw his way like a wild dog murderous for raw flesh.

"Out of zee question! You expect us to lend out our personnel, MY SOLDIERS, for und kindergarten game of hide und seek? You can go to hell!" Schneider erupted.

"Despite the vocabulary, I'm afraid I concur with the colonel. I fail to see how any of this will benefit us. What could you possibly tell us that would see our working quantities improve so drastically that would, in turn, allow us to permit you the use of our troops?" Director Thorne said matter-of-factly.

At that moment, Zeiger stood up and towered over Tyronne who was still at his feet. Seeing the shadow fall over him, Tyronne looked back over his shoulder to find the palm of Zeiger's hand directly in line with his face. He flinched as a dark swirl materialised in the centre of Zeiger's palm and then shot out at him. Tyronne wailed as the purple-black smoke wrapped around him and seemed to bind itself to him. Schneider, taking his chance, leapt up to standing, drew his gun and aimed to fire. Already a step ahead, Zeiger yanked Tyronne up from the floor by the scruff of his neck just as Schneider pulled the trigger. Tyronne yelped in panic as the muzzle flare cracked a blinding spark at his eye level. He knew Schneider would not miss and he was being used as a human shield. A fatal combination.

Tyronne, cringing at the thought of being executed by his own superior officer, slowly unfurled from his hunched ball. He looked around at Schneider, whose gun was still in his thick fingers but the muzzle was dangling somewhere underneath the table. The expression on the colonel's face was one of horrified awe. The bullet was a perfect killing headshot; there was no way Tyronne could have survived yet there he was, standing up and still breathing. He glanced down at his hands and saw an eerie purple glow pulsing all over him. The light was all over his body, encasing him.

"I don't believe it," Professor Clements gawked reappearing having dived under the table when the shot was fired. "A fully functioning repulsive shield. One that completely covers the entire body."

"I understand this is one of the technologies you were attempting to develop wasn't it? A full repulsive barrier that repels any enemy projectiles? That, alongside your weapons program to produce the first fully operational weapons grade plasma rifle complete with regenerative ammo stock, right? I can give you a demonstration of what that'll do to a target if you like. You game big guy?" Zeiger said slyly eyeing Schneider sideways.

"We've been working tirelessly for years to try and perfect that kind of battle technology. You must show us how to achieve it," the professor said practically begging.

"Hmm… I dunno. I think it's your boss's call. Whaddya say Mr Director? Do we have an accord?" Zeiger said turning to Thorne who was just straightening his jacket.

"Let's see if we can't come to some sort of arrangement shall we?" he then said.

Zeiger smiled, unafraid to flash his demonic fangs as he did, "I knew that we could do business one way or another."

Meanwhile, back in the Great Valley, the Black Ghost had just finished a horrifying tale detailing the destruction and roaming monsters that plagued his world. He spoke of terrifying creatures warped in shape and nature by the Corruption's Curse and about the cruel and merciless Zeiger and his hatred for all humankind. Everyone was dumbstruck by his story, even Kairyn couldn't help but be drawn into it. As the Black Ghost went on, every so often, Kairyn saw a mental flash of something jump before his mind's eye. A dream he had had before coming to the dinosaur world. He could remember three people running for their lives, being chased by a hulking beast before being swallowed alive by an devastating earthquake. The more the Black Ghost spoke, the more vivid the memory was.

"And this was all in a sleep story you had?" Littlefoot asked Kairyn hurryingly as they walked through the woodlands to head back to the open fields. The group had since broken up and gone their separate ways to check in with their families. The Black Ghost had performed his usual disappearing act, claiming he was going to investigate some things further while Melissa headed off with Spike and Ducky.

"Yeah. I definitely remember there being three humans on the run in some sort of post-apocalyptic dump of a city," Kairyn said slowly, trying hard to replay the dream over again but without the Black Ghost there, he found it hard.

"Do you think it could have been our friends?" Littlefoot asked somewhat hopefully.

"I can't deny that it's not a wonderful coincidence but I can't say for sure because I don't remember any names. Heck, I didn't even think they could be real until you guys spoke about them. I just thought it was a whacked out dream."

"So… do you believe what the Black Ghost said?" Littlefoot then asked cautiously. Kairyn didn't answer right away.

"…I dunno what to believe at the moment. This is all happening a bit fast. I'm still trying to get my head around this whole Corruption's Curse thing and these Shadow Spawn creatures. I just hope none of that crazy stuff goes on here."

"Me too…" Littlefoot agreed gravely, a creeping chill running through him again.

At this particular point of the afternoon, Littlefoot knew exactly where to find his grandparents who were resting under the shade of a large tree. Greeted by their warm smiles, Littlefoot gave a minimal report on their day, leaving out any specific details about their discussions of the morning. They then both took shelter under a tree of their own a little way away from the elderly couple. As they settled in the cool grass, it was then that an uncomfortable feeling wormed its way into their guts. None of the other denizens of the Great Valley had even the slightest clue of what was going on and if anything were to happen, they would be completely unprepared. Littlefoot and Kairyn both looked up and over at Grandma and Grandpa Longneck as they sat talking to each other. Grandma Longneck gave a light-hearted laugh at something Grandpa has just said to her and he chortled too.

"You know, I'm kinda starting to get a little worried. Grandma and Grandpa don't know anything about this and they are the grown-ups. They're supposed to be the ones looking out for us but we are the ones who know everything," Littlefoot then said as he continued to watch his grandparents conversing.

"Well, you wanna fill them in on what we've been talking about? About us being attacked last night?" Kairyn offered. Littlefoot sighed and dropped his gaze. He knew that if he did tell them, it would only cause valley-wide panic and it would only be harder for them to do anything about it if the adults were on full alert. They'd be under strict curfew and their movements would be severely limited. Not only that, he knew that some of the dinosaurs were just itching for an excuse to run the humans out of the Great Valley and he didn't want that at all.

"I… don't want them to worry about me. But, I guess, if we really do need their help and the Great Valley is in danger, we can always go to them then," Littlefoot said trying to console himself but it didn't offer any solace.

"Let's just hope it doesn't come to that eh?" Kairyn said trying to find Littlefoot's eyes. Catching his gaze, Littlefoot smiled and nodded.

Before they had realised it, the sun had starting to shrink behind the burly shoulders of the surrounding mountains granting the great rocky giants a burning orange halo as it disappeared from the sky. A gentle buzz of insects creaked harmoniously as Kairyn, Littlefoot and his grandparents began making their way towards home. It wasn't until they reached the nesting place that those creeping thoughts of the day's events and discussions started to play on their minds again. Even with a loving wish for a peaceful night's sleep from Grandma and Grandpa Longneck, Littlefoot and Kairyn found it difficult to switch off. Their nerves were frayed at the idea that another Shadow Spawn attack could occur at any moment whilst they were asleep. It took them a while but eventually tiredness got the better of them and they reluctantly drifted off into an edgy slumber.

Across the Valley, over by a gently flowing stream, Ducky and Spike's family were all tucked up together and sound asleep. Ducky and Spike were nestled slightly away from the group with Melissa backed up and leaning against Spike's stomach, rising and falling with every stuffy, snorting breath the spiketail made as he slept. Suddenly, Melissa's eyes snapped open and she stood bolt upright. Her face was expressionless and her eyes were glaring as if entranced. Then, she began walking. She headed away from the stream and into the trees where she disappeared from sight. As the bushes around the tree trunks rustled, Ducky began to stir. Still bleary-eyed, Ducky gave a quick glance around before settling back down to sleep again.

The next morning, after a very restless night, Littlefoot and Kairyn found a rather distraught Spike come barrelling into their clearing. Catching onto Spike's hysterical babbling, Littlefoot quickly realised that something was wrong and they both dashed after the spiketail as he headed for the stream. When they got there, they saw that Ducky was sat on the grass hugging her knees and looking lost.

"Ducky? What happened? Is everything okay?" Littlefoot said anxiously.

"Hey, where's Melissa?" Kairyn asked just as quickly.

"I do not know. She is gone again," Ducky replied sheepishly. Kairyn felt a rush of panic strike him with full force.

"Oh no! What if she's collapsed somewhere again?" he flapped.

"Do you know where she went Ducky?" Littlefoot asked but she shook her head sorrowfully.

"We have to find her! If she's fallen ill again…" Kairyn said still flailing.

"It's okay Kairyn, calm down; we'll find her. Let's get Petrie and Cera and we'll start searching," Littlefoot suggested. Kairyn took a deep breath and nodded. With that, the four of them headed off, splashing through the quiet stream to rally up the rest of the gang.

The group all hunted for the missing girl. They combed every area they could think of that Melissa might have gone to but each spot was deserted. Having broken up into individual search parties, they reconvened in one of the meadows after a time.

"Couldn't find her in the spot we were in yesterday," Cera said.

"She is not at Friendship's Circle, nope, nope, nope," Ducky reported riding in on Spike.

"Me no see her from sky," Petrie cawed swooping in from above.

"I checked the Thundering Falls and down by the Fast Water but she's not there either," Littlefoot said slightly breathless from running.

"Oh man. Where could she have gone? Why the hell would she just disappear like that without telling anyone?" Kairyn said floundering.

"What about up in mountains? We find her there last time she go missing," Petrie suggested.

"You could be right Petrie. Let's check up by the Great Wall," Littlefoot said already leading the way and the gang followed without objection.

It was a fair trek to get up to the Great Wall but with the looming fear that Melissa could be in trouble, they all pushed on without a break. By the time they'd got up to the Great Wall, they were panting and exhausted for marching at such a brisk pace, but, to their dismay, the dusty open clearing was completely barren.

"She's not here either, damn it!" Kairyn cursed kicking a stone angrily.

"There were no tracks this time. Maybe she did not come up here after all," Ducky said.

"So we just wasted our time stomping all the way up here? Ugh… great," Cera huffed. The soles of her feet were hot and stinging from the heat of the baked earth.

"We had to check; this was where we found her last time," Littlefoot said trying to keep spirits up. Kairyn was about to speak when a strange buzzing erupted in his right ear. Flinching at first, he then dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out the radio his brother had given him. The display was flashing the numbers "140.85" as it rang in his ear. The group all crowded around him as he clicked a button on the transmitter and raised his right index finger to his right ear.

"H-h… hello?" Kairyn stammered. His brother's voice echoed through a brief fizz of static.

"Kai, it's Tyronne. Where are you?"

"I'm err… up near the mountains by that silver doorway machine, why?"

"You need to come here. Colonel Schneider has ordered you to come to the base to file your next video log."

"What? Right now? I'm kinda in the middle of something," Kairyn protested.

"Then drop it. Hurry up and get your arse here now or the colonel's gonna be pissed if he finds out you're not doing your job. Just get the vlog done and then you can get back to whatever it is you are doing."

"Okay fine. I'm coming," Kairyn huffed before clicking the radio off and putting it back into his pocket. "I gotta go guys. I've gotta go tell the Keltech base what I've been doing all yesterday."

"You gonna tell them about what happen to you and Littlefoot the other night?" Petrie asked.

"No. We don't need Keltech snooping around the Great Valley thinking there are monsters running around the place. They'd only cause more trouble for everyone. I'll just tell them everything's fine then we can get back to looking for Melissa."

"Can we not come with you?" Ducky asked sweetly.

"Trust me, it's better you didn't. God only knows what they'll do if they find a group of talking dinosaur kids wandering around. You'll probably all end up as lab rats," Kairyn said half joking. With a quick wave, Kairyn trotted down the path leading away from the Great Valley leaving the gang of five dinosaur friends standing in the whipping dust.

Arriving at the base, Kairyn quickly made his way to the communications room to find his brother. As he quick-marched down the halls, he couldn't help but notice the flakes of rubble dusting the floor. Also, large numbers of crates and boxes that were piled up in the hallway appeared disturbed and toppled like someone had barged through them and knocked them over. He was even more alarmed to see that one corridor's wall was crumbling and riddled with bullet holes. Kairyn dropped his gaze when he saw a number of Keltech employees glaring at him as he walked through. As he made his way into the military quarters of the base, he saw Tyronne at a console in the operations room and went over to meet him.

"Took your time," Tyronne said as they both began marching down the hall to the same reporting room as last time.

"Yeah sorry," Kairyn said anxiously. He couldn't help but feel uncomfortable within the confines of the base. The claustrophobia of being contained within the grey and drab concrete walls felt suffocating compared to the wide and free outdoors of the Great Valley. It made him even more edgy seeing all the disorganisation and gaping chunks torn out of the walls. It was then, as he looked up at his brother's face, that he noticed how haggard he appeared.

"You okay Ty? You look kinda drained," Kairyn asked. He let out a tiny gasp when he saw how bloodshot his eyes were when Tyronne turned to face him.

"Yeah, had a bit of a rough night. Didn't sleep too well," Tyronne said rubbing his face briskly.

"Not got anything to do with those bullet holes in the wall back there has it?" Kairyn asked warily. Tyronne didn't respond right away.

"That had… something to do with it…" Tyronne said choosing his words carefully.

"Seems like a bit of a stupid place for target practice. You weren't… attacked were you?" Kairyn pressed but Tyronne seemed reluctant to answer him. That's when Kairyn noticed a bandage stuck to the side of Tyronne's neck.

"What's with the plaster on your neck? You're hurt! You were attacked weren't you!" Kairyn gasped. Tyronne hushed his little brother before bundling him into the reporting room.

"Tyronne, come on tell me. What happened to you?" Kairyn said as he fought to keep his balance as his brother dragged him into the deserted room.

"Look, there are certain things I can't speak about right now. Not here anyway," Tyronne said to him in a hurried whisper. "There have been some things going on but I'll be strung up if they found out I was blabbing about it openly. Look Kai… when the time is right, I'll tell you but right now I can't."

Kairyn could see, from the look in his brother's tired and veiny eyes as he stared into them, that he was troubled. However, he knew that there would be serious consequences if he were to divulge any information. Kairyn sighed, unconvinced by his words but accepting of his brother's plight. His collarbone itched again and he scratched at it. Tyronne nodded before tapping Kairyn on the shoulder and gesturing to the camera and console. With another heavy sigh, Kairyn stood up and shuffled his way over to the seat to give his report.

Meanwhile, down in the research laboratories of the base, Director Thorne and Professor Clements were busy working, looking over some samples of dark matter that were floating around in giant metal cylinders.

"Looks like the creature delivered. The dark matter seems to be of a greater concentration and is producing a much more malleable product for us to use to strengthen the serums for our shielding technology," Professor Clements said as he eyed the results on the computer screen beside the cylinder. "It's not perfect but it will definitely prove useful."

"Well, at least he was good enough for that. I still don't fully trust Zeiger to uphold his end of the deal completely. You can see how he looks down on us as lower lifeforms but that will be his own downfall in the end," Thorne said slickly from over the professor's shoulder.

"Are we really going to spend our valuable resources and manpower on some fruitless manhunt? We don't even know if this 'Black Ghost' character even exists. He could be making the whole damn thing up," Clements muttered irritably.

"No. Both of Stephen's sons have mentioned the Black Ghost and the audio logs from Kairyn's conversations within his dinosaur friends suggest that there is someone using that alias somewhere in that valley. Either way, I see no harm in playing along for now. Besides, if what Zeiger said is true and the Black Ghost can indeed track down the other Stones of Essence, then we'll need to get hold of him just as much as Zeiger does. We can make him work for us before we turf him over to that freak of nature. He seems to know quite a bit about the Red Phoenix corporation's exploits. He might even be able to inform us on how use the stones."

"Well, we have the ruby and Stephen's kid is walking around with the yellow one. We just need to figure out how to get the last two then we can put them to work in the Phoenix project. That is on the premise that the vessel doesn't reject the stones' energy," Clements said flatly. Director Thorne stood upright and cupped his fingers around his chin.

"You are still unsure of the methods? Hmm… we still have too many loose threads to pull this all together but at least there has been some progress. From Kairyn's audio recordings from his implanted tracer, the Black Ghost is frequenting them and is drip-feeding them information regarding the stones. We now know that Littlefoot cannot control the red stone because it is not his. If we can cross reference these findings with what our scout is picking up and the data from the kid's Minicom, we may very well be able to find the last two stones and fast track the Phoenix project to its final stages," Thorne said carefully. "How much longer before the girl is ready to be redeployed?"

Professor Clements tapped at the holographic keyboard at the work surface and pulled up some diagnostic data on screen.

"She's almost done but it was a close call. Had she not left when she did to get back here, we'd probably have had to send a collection team out for her. The shielding has almost completely worn off. If she were to come into contact with any more dark matter it would cause a critical system failure and we'd lose her. It's imperative that she remain in peak condition if she's going to stand a chance of surviving this. From what I know about Stephen's research on this, this could very well end up in another failure."

Director Thorne offered a sly smile.

"Good. We'll have her meet up with the boy again so he can continue thinking he's on this escort and reconnaissance mission. In the meantime, I need to talk to the colonel. We need to organise a strategy to capture this Black Ghost guy."

Just then, a warning message popped up on Clements' screen. Tapping away at the keyboard, he then let out a wail.

"What is it?" Thorne barked, unamused by the old man's squeals.

"Someone's in my lab!" he screeched.

"Probably just Schneider looking for us," Thorne said dismissively as he turned to the door to exit the lab.

"No, it's not Schneider! It's that damn kid! Stephen's boy is in there!"

Kairyn couldn't believe what he was seeing. Having finished his report, he had wandered through the halls in an attempt to try and uncover anything about what had attacked the base and, more importantly, his brother. He initially thought that the Black Ghost was behind the assault which would have meant he had lied about not entering the base having found it. Despite that, nothing could have prepared him for what he had witnessed by entering this lab. There, floating in a thick glass tube full of a colourless liquid he could only presume was water, was a young blonde haired girl no older than he was with a breathing mask fitted around her nose and mouth. She was instantly recognisable.

"No… no way…" Kairyn breathed in shock. "Melissa?!" He rested a hand gingerly on the glass too dumbstruck to do anything but stare at her. "Why are you here Melissa? How did you…"

He was cut short by a bleeping of the console behind him. Kairyn whirled around and looked at the messages that suddenly popped up. He was firstly surprised that the console was active but as he read what was on screen, he came more and more confused.

"Project Phoenix? Ready for data storage transfer…" Kairyn's brain then sparked. Quickly, he dipped his hand into his pocket, pulled out his Minicom and placed it on the data transfer hub sat next to the screen. He then activated the console and a download progress bar popped up on screen. Kairyn held his breath as the percentage numbers spun up incrementally at blinding speed. The bar on screen then flashed green as the data transfer was completed. Kairyn snatched his Minicom off the hub and hit the escape key on the keyboard just as a voice screeched at him from the doorway.

"What are you doing in my lab?!" the voice shrilled.