Chapter 37: Total Invasion Force

There was neither sound nor movement when Blackjack made his announcement except for the cool night air swirling around them. The half-moon shone overhead, turning the landscape into a plain monochrome desert – not that there was much of a difference during the day. The Great Valley's Spiketail guards formed a straight line, behind which were Grandpa and Grandma Longneck, Ms. Swimmer and Mr. Threehorn.

"How do we know you're not just faking surrender as part of Styracus's plan!" Mr. Threehorn thundered.

"I have nothing to do with that Spikefrill. In fact, I did this against his orders," Blackjack replied calmly. Even though his voice was calm, he inwardly seethed at Mr. Threehorn's insinuation that he was part of Styracus's plan.

"So why not just run away? Why come to us?" Grandma Longneck asked. As much as she did not want to admit it, Blackjack did seem somewhat suspicious. Why else would surrendering dinosaurs approach them with weapons in hand?

"I do not merely wish to flee from Styracus, I wish to kill him!" Blackjack shouted. He stepped closer to Mr. Threehorn but four of the Spiketail guards shoved him back.

"Join the group," Mr. Threehorn muttered. He then cleared his throat. "Listen, Blackjack, you're welcome to kill Styracus yourself; it'll save us some work. But you're not joining us!"

Blackjack scowled as his tail lashed about irritably, crushing anything nearby. Several of the dinosaurs behind him screamed profanities as they were nearly mowed down by the massive tail club.

At the same time, some of the Spiketail guards looked somewhat uneasy as they saw Blackjack's unintentional show of force. Granted, they had every right to be nervous as Blackjack was quite capable of crippling or even killing them with one blow, not to mention his tough armor was nearly invulnerable to their spiked tails.

Grandpa Longneck cleared his throat. "Blackjack, I will be straightforward, I do not fully trust you or your group right now but I will give you the benefit of doubt, if only because you willingly surrendered your weapons," he said.

"I understand," Blackjack replied. He hated talking like this; it made him feel inferior but he was smart enough to know that behaving arrogantly or throwing his weight around could get him and his group killed. He then stepped forward but the Spiketail guards forced him back.

"Mr. Longneck may have let join us in our fight but you're not a Great Valley inhabitant. Don't you ever forget that," a Spiketail guard said coldly.

"Blackjack, you will stay here for the night. When the Bright Circle rises we will come get you," Mr. Threehorn said.

The group of Great Valley dinosaurs headed back to the nesting area at the oasis, leaving Blackjack and his group alone in the grey rock plains.

One by one, the dinosaurs present began to fall asleep. Blackjack was the last to fall asleep. As he lay down on the hard packed sand, he wondered if joining up with the Great Valley dinosaurs was the best idea. How did he know that they would not simply just kill him while he and his group slept? Those questions would have to wait as tiredness overtook his body and he drifted off to sleep.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Berry Valley, Sierra's message had been long since been received by Excidium and now assorted sharpteeth – all Diamonds and Reborn as they did not require any food – lived there. Unlike the Great Valley, there were almost no campfires or torches burning. The only torches in the valley the ones that formed the corners of a square, designating the landing zone for assorted flyers.

Styracus tried to block out the noise of the new sharpteeth entertaining themselves as he lay in his nest of soft grass. He groaned; the preferred entertainment of the Diamonds and Reborn was fighting, partially because they could feel no pain and they could sustain injuries that would kill normal dinosaurs. Not to mention they possessed preternatural healing abilities.

Thankfully, the noise seemed to die down for a bit and Styracus was able to relax. As he was about to drift off to sleep, his eyes shot open as he heard someone hollering "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" followed by thunderous cheering. He got up and looked around the clearing he was in.

The clearing in question happened to be one of the few clearings in Berry Valley that was surrounded by trees. While the clearing's soft, high grass made it an ideal sleeping area; the trees did pose somewhat of a problem. The trees themselves were unremarkable during the day; just an average height tree with dark green leaves shaped like spearheads and dark green flower buds scattered among the leaves. At night, the tree underwent a startling transformation. Each of the buds would slowly open to reveal pale white flowers with five ovoid petals that radiated out from the stem. The flowers themselves were innocuous, save for the fact that they emitted a very soft white light, not unlike that of the moon. Normally, the light would pose no problem but with so many of the trees nearby, the light was bright enough to make sleeping difficult. Not to mention the flowers attracted insects that would scatter the flower's glowing pollen around.

Styracus sighed as one of the insects buzzed by his face. He lay down in his nest again and closed his eyes, trying to block out the flowers' light. "Why did I have to choose this place?" he muttered. Granted, this was literally the only place in the valley that had not been used as a battle arena at one point or another.

A Yellowbelly head arced through the air and landed on Styracus just before he drifted off to sleep. He got up and kicked the head aside as two sickleclaws – both of them with crystalline claws and a soft electric blue aura around them entered the grove.

"I'm trying to sleep, damn it!" Styracus snapped. He tried to sound as authoritative as possible; a much more difficult task taking into account how tired he was.

As the two dinosaurs got closer to Styracus, he heard faint sound of electrical arcing and the smell of ozone began to fill his nostrils. They paid no heed to him and the first sickleclaw picked up the head and punted it over the trees. He and his companion exited the grove, leaving the pungent scent of ozone behind them.

Styracus sniffed the air but the ozone hanging in the air made his nose burn and his eyes water. He walked over to another empty nest and lay down. He closed his eyes, blocking out the trees' soft white glow. He could do nothing about the distant cheering of the bloodthirsty sharpteeth as they fought. Around him were Theta, Hasta, Sierra, Ozzie, Saber, Icthy and Dil, asleep in their own nests. Their bodies were speckled with the trees' glowing pollen. Styracus envied their ability to sleep in spite of the glowing flowers and the sounds of the battling Reborn and Diamonds.

A short distance away from the grove, two sickleclaws with metallic blades growing from their arms were dueling. Several other Diamonds were watching them fight. Each clang and shower of sparks from the clashing blades was met with roars of approval from the crowd. The blood that stained the grass was clearly visible thanks to the light that the Diamonds gave off.

The first sickleclaw grabbed his opponent's blade and pulled him forward, not caring that he had cut his hand to the bone. He then immediately rammed his own pointed blade into his opponent's chest with such force that the bloodied point protruded from his back.

The crowd cheered even more wildly. But the sickleclaw impaled on the blade was not finished; he reached over and tore a piece out of his opponent's neck, spraying the nearby spectators with blood.

The bloodthirsty crowd cheered again as the impaled sickleclaw grabbed the blade he was impaled on, severed it with a bite and pulled the blade out of his chest. He then attacked with a barrage of nearly invisible slashes that spattered blood on the spectators. He was so intoxicated by the scent of blood that he could not hear the cheering of the crowd.

He pointed to his opponent – now missing an arm and a leg along with a good portion of his tail – lying on the ground.

The other Diamonds raised their own blades into the air. The victorious sickleclaw grinned, not caring that part of his face was little more than a skull thanks to an earlier bout where it was cut off. He then slashed his prone opponent's abdomen once, spilling his entrails all over the bloody ground.

The crowd cheered even more as they dispersed, leaving the horrifically injured but still living Reborn on the ground. Strangely enough, as he lay there, the blue corona seemed to glow even more brightly as his wounds gradually healed.

Obviously, Styracus and the rest of his dinosaurs found this type of "entertainment" rather distasteful but they kept it to themselves. After all, who would want to aggravate these bloodthirsty and supernaturally tough sharpteeth?

Several hours later and hundreds of miles away, the sun rose over the oasis where the Great Valley dinosaurs were staying. The light of the sunrise bathed the harsh rocks, steadily turning them from a harsh grey to a warm gold. The rising sun also gave an appealing tint to the scraggly shrubs that were scattered around the oasis.

Littlefoot rose to his feet as the sun's warm rays bathed his back, providing a stark contrast to the cool night air. He looked around and noticed that the other dinosaurs were starting to awaken. He looked at the sky; several wispy clouds, tinted brilliant gold by the rising sun, scuttled overhead. The skies overhead were a calming mix of grey, purple, gold and orange. He suppressed a few tears; it could be the last time he would ever see a sunrise.

He pushed his thoughts aside as he headed to the sterile lake, now glowing like liquid gold. En route, Cera, Ali, Strut, Shorty, Nod and Deimos joined him.

"So this is it. Only one more night together," Strut said with a sigh.

"What are you talking about?" Cera demanded.

"We're heading to the Great Valley. I don't think Styracus's forces are going to give up without a fight."

Cera narrowed her eyes. "They want a fight… We'll give it to them!"

"I'm sure we will," Nod replied. "But looking back, I never figured out why I used to love fighting so much. I mean, now I see the result of it… and it seems so wrong."

"To be honest, I've always liked fighting. Even when I was hatchling, I loved to fight," Deimos replied. His face then darkened. "But what we are doing is totally different. It is war."

"Yeah, but how is it different from you killing another dinosaur to eat?" Cera countered.

"Because I don't kill a bunch of dinosaurs and leave their bodies behind. And there's an unspoken code between sharpteeth and the leaf-eaters to not use weapons when we hunt for food. We abide by that code out of respect."

"And yet you eat the loser of that 'duel'. Pretty disrespectful if you ask me."

Deimos tried to ignore Cera's ignorant remark but it showed in his facial expression. "Remember, I can't live without meat. I can get by on crawlers and fish but not forever. Not to mention, I'm not always successful. I can't count the number of times my hunts have failed or the times where the dinosaur I was hunting breaks the code and whacks me over the head with a rock or something," he said. As he moved his arm to scratch an itch, what appeared to be a very old stab wound was seen on his side. He then snatched a crawler that darted by him and bit its head off. No one stopped eating, not even when the blood spurted on them; they were too hardened by the violence of warfare to care.

Shorty said nothing as he listened to Cera make a direct insult to Deimos. He sighed; her father's prejudices had become ingrained in her.

The group continued eating breakfast in silence, the insipid plants of the oasis providing a stark contrast to the dazzling hues of the sunrise. Around them, some of the dinosaurs were busy gathering their weapons and preparing to head out.

Littlefoot saw Grandpa Longneck and Grandma Longneck standing in the middle of the oasis along with several dinosaurs who were lining up behind them. "Come on, let's get moving," he said.

The others around him finished up their meals and headed out to the core of the oasis to get into formation.

Meanwhile, Blackjack and his herd were already awakened by the sun's warm rays. They were looking for anything edible in the harsh outskirts of the oasis. Blackjack said nothing as he munched on some stringy plants. A Crested Swimmer a few meters away looked disgustedly at a small, weedy plant he had dug out from the hard packed sand. He then tossed the plant over his shoulder; the plant's fetid odor had ruined his appetite.

The Wise One and his translator were trying to keep their minds off their growling stomachs by engaging in a target competition. They were throwing rocks at a hollow stump about fifteen meters away. The Wise One tossed his rock, landing it right in the middle of the stump. The translator nodded and threw his rock. The speeding rock clipped the top of the stump, knocking off a small fragment and continued on its way past the stump.

As Blackjack swallowed his mouthful of food, he spotted Mr. Threehorn approaching with his attachment of guards.

"Blackjack, gather your herd and meet here," Mr. Threehorn ordered.

"Everyone! Move in!" Blackajck shouted. His dinosaurs stopped their activities – mostly eating, relaxing or sharing stories – and gathered around Blackjack.

Mr. Threehorn and his guards looked over the gathered dinosaurs. The air was silent for a few moments and then Mr. Threehorn spoke. "Blackjack, you alone are responsible for your herd's behavior. If your dinosaurs cause any problems, they will have to answer to Mr. Longneck. Is that clear?" he said.

"Yes."

Mr. Threehorn then cleared his throat. "We are getting ready to move out," he said. "You can either come with us or stay behind."

"I said I will join you in your fight against Styracus."

"Fine. Now for the restrictions."

Blackjack sighed but Mr. Threehorn's tone of voice made it clear that he was not to be contradicted.

"First, you and your herd will have no say in our council meetings. If you have information, you can share it but you cannot vote. Also, the only weapons you and your herd can use are wooden clubs or staves. You cannot enter the area where Mr. Bigmouth is working nor can you enter the sleeping areas. Finally, your sleeping area is separate from ours," Mr. Threehorn said. "Do you understand that?"

"I do," Blackjack replied.

"Good. Now come with me."

Mr. Threehorn and his detachment of guards flanked Blackjack and his herd and escorted them to the core of the oasis. By this time, the sun had already risen and the skies had changed from orange and gold to the brilliant blue of a clear afternoon.

At the core of the oasis, the Great Valley dinosaurs were busy organizing into a massive convoy. Bron, Blue-Scale, Grandma Longneck, Grandpa Longneck, Tyr and Ranno were at the head of the convoy – mainly because their large size would have served to plow through obstacles. The three Longnecks each had two flyers – one armed with a sling and one armed with a blowgun and poison darts – riding on them. The slingers rode on the back while the blowgunners rode on the head (this was mainly because there was not enough space on the head of the Longnecks for a large supply of sling stones and blowgunners could carry more ammunition in smaller space). The riders served as a combination of a lookout and a turret. Behind them was a contingent of Fast-Runners, Swimmers, Runners and one sickleclaw – Deimos, all of whom carried a variety of melee weapons. In the middle of the convoy were the young children ("young" defined as too small to use a weapon effectively) and some dinosaurs who were carrying the eggs that had yet to hatch. Also in the middle of the convoy were Mr. Bigmouth and his assistants, who were carrying the assorted medicinal herbs and poisons. Capping off the convoy was another contingent of dinosaurs with melee weapons.

Several dinosaurs were scurrying about and getting themselves into position. A Great Valley Air Corps flyer helped tie the last load of sickleclaw paste on to one of Mr. Bigmouth's Spiketail assistants.

Blackjack and his herd were among the last dinosaurs to arrive. Around them were several other dinosaurs who had not yet been assigned to a place in the convoy.

"All right, you go in the back," Mr. Threehorn said gruffly.

A Fast-Runner pointed to the open space at the back of the convoy with her spear.

Blackjack nodded. He could not help but marvel at the efficiency that the Great valley dinosaurs displayed. His dinosaurs followed him as he entered the space that was designated for his herd. After his herd had occupied the space, the convoy was capped off by three Longnecks – also with the slinger/blowgunner combination that the Longnecks at the head of the convoy had. As the convoy was capped off by the three Longnecks, the remaining Fast-Runners, Swimmers and Runners lined up along the convoy's side. Accompanying them were Spiketails, Clubtails and Threehorns – some of whom carried slingers, blowgunners or lancers. A few Longnecks also lined the convoy's side and they also carried slingers or blowgunners. Their goal was to keep any hostiles from entering the convoy.

Blackjack was in the middle of the space with his other dinosaurs around him. He was rather surprised to see how much space there was between himself and his fellow dinosaurs. Granted the convoy was enormous – he could barely see the head of it.

Meanwhile, at the middle of the convoy, Cera, Littlefoot, Raptix, Shorty, Spike, Ali and Ducky were guarding the convoy's right flank. Cera, Littlefoot, Shorty, Spike and Ali were not yet large enough to carry a fully grown Fast-Runner so their riders were children – except for Raptix, who was riding on Cera.

Ducky leaned on her wood staff. She was internally torn apart. Yes, she wanted her home back but she could still never bring herself to kill another leaf-eater. Granted, she hated killing at all but killing a leaf-eater seemed even more wrong. In fact, the only times she had killed were Cloud Island when she threw the javelin that pierced a rogue Swimmer's chest and the javelin that killed Procella. But she had thrown those javelins blind. She sighed; that was reason the Great Valley Air Corps seemed to be so nonchalant all the time – even after they had just splattered another dinosaur's brains all over the ground with a well launched sling stone. It was a lot easier to kill if your enemy remained faceless.

"Something wrong, Ducky?" Littlefoot asked. The young Fast-Runner lancer on his back listened intently.

Ducky sighed. "I am fine," she said. It was a bald lie; her face said it all.

"Ducky, you can talk to us. We'll always be here for you. Tell us, what's wrong?"

Ducky sighed. "It is just that…killing. I… just cannot do it," she said.

"We don't like this any more than you do. Even Deimos doesn't like it. But we are righting a wrong. And that sometimes involves doing things that we don't like doing."

"Besides, we must stop Styracus by any means possible. If we kill him, we'll probably save many others that would have been involved in this war," the lancer added. For one so young, he was remarkably perceptive.

Ducky nodded. Littlefoot and the lancer were right. She said nothing as she resumed her place on the convoy.

Several members of the Great Valley Air Corps flitted overhead.

As soon as the last dinosaur was in their place, Grandpa Longneck gave the signal for the convoy to move out. The slow, thudding footsteps of the Longnecks echoed around the oasis as the convoy slowly started on its trek to the Great Valley.

Meanwhile, back at the Great Valley's Thundering Falls Lake, Red-Eye surveyed his domain. The sharp scent of ozone filled his nostrils as two Reborn passed by him. He grinned; there was no way the Great Valley dinosaurs were going to take back the valley with these supernaturally tough dinosaurs guarding it.

He dipped his head into the cool water and took a long gulp. Suddenly, someone tapped him on the leg. He turned around and spotted a small brown sickleclaw next to him.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Red-Eye, Blackjack has desert-" the sickleclaw said.

"I know and frankly that's not a major issue now. All we have to do right now is keep the valley until we can turn it over to Styracus."

The sickleclaw nodded and returned to his post by Aconite and Hellebore's grove.

Red-Eye looked at sun reflecting off the glassy surface of the Thundering Falls Lake as he thought about the Great Valley dinosaurs. It has been several months since the war started; had they simply moved on?

The sound of two sticks clashing together broke him out of his trance. He turned around to see a young Fast-Runner from Styracus's herd and a young sickleclaw fighting with child-sized wooden staves behind him.

The Fast-Runner – a dark purple male – glared at his opponent. Suddenly, he shifted his grip and bought the staff horizontal to his face as soon as his opponent's weapon plunged down towards his head. As soon as he felt his opponent's staff make contact with his own, he rotated his whole body, using the momentum to redirect the blow. He then retaliated by thrusting the butt of his staff into his opponent's jaw, dazing her bit. All of this was in one fluid motion and in the span of a few seconds. He inwardly grinned; the hours of sparring were starting to pay off.

The dazed sickleclaw quickly recovered and readjusted her grip on her staff as her opponent swiped at her from the right.

"Children, there are appropriate places to spar. The main lake is not one of them," Red-Eye said as soon as the two weapons made contact. He was quite pleased to see that young dinosaurs had pursued martial activities as soon as they could hold a club or a staff – they would later be needed to replace the casualties that will inevitably occur. The fact that a near equal proportion of leaf-eaters and sharpteeth had been born did not bother him. At this point in the war, Styracus's herd was seen almost as – ironically enough – sharpteeth that just happened to eat plants for they fought as viciously as any sickleclaw.

"Sorry," the sickleclaw said, holding her staff vertical with her right hand.

The Fast-Runner said nothing but held his staff vertical with his left hand.

The two young fighters walked towards the feeding grounds. At the feeding grounds, there were not only plants for Styracus's herd but there was also a "holding pen" that housed some of the captured Great Valley dinosaurs (along with some migrating dinosaurs), who were allowed to live relatively normal lives (including reproduction) until a sharptooth was hungry. Granted, they previously had to deal with uprisings there but they stopped since Reborn and Diamonds were assigned to guard them (watching a single Reborn sickleclaw butcher a full-grown Longneck in mere minutes tends to ruin prisoner morale).

Red-Eye took a deep breath and gazed at the mountains as the late afternoon sun slowly faded into the purple and orange of sunset.

Meanwhile, at an oasis not too far from the Great Valley, the Great Valley dinosaurs were busy setting up camp. The oasis was quite large and several lush fruit-bearing trees surrounded a massive lake. Several smaller bushes laden with berries were scattered around the lake as well. The entire area was carpeted with lush grass.

Mr. Bigmouth and his assistants had already set aside their herbs and poisons in a designated spot and were feasting on the berries from the shrubs.

Blackjack and his herd were trying to strike up conversations with the Great Valley dinosaurs but no one seemed interested.

Other dinosaurs were eating, chatting or lounging around. The cool night air was alive with the sound of chatter. There was also the occasional clatter of sticks as the children play-fought.

Deimos, Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Chomper, Ali, Shorty, Spike and Petrie were currently eating by the lake. Deimos and Chomper were both enjoying some fish they had caught from the lake.

Grandma Longneck, Grandpa Longneck, Blue-Scale and Mr. Threehorn were discussing their next move over a meal. They were by the lake but in an area that did not have other dinosaurs present.

"All right, so we are about one night away from the Great Valley," Grandpa Longneck said. "Getting to the valley should not be an issue."

"Our main problem is how do we enter the valley?" Blue-Scale said, swallowing his mouthful of fish.

Mr. Threehorn snorted. "I say we simply place the Threehorns and other big dinosaurs at the front and we just simply charge in through one of the entrances then start pounding the enemy dinosaurs," he said. It was a classic Mr. Threehorn idea – brutal, crude and lacking any sort of strategy or subtlety.

"One problem," Grandpa Longneck said. "What will we do if we run into a dead end and get ambushed?"

"We'll flatten them."

"It doesn't work that way," Grandma Longneck replied. "If we get trapped in a dead end the enemy will have no problem killing us – especially if we get caught near the mountains."

Mr. Threehorn inwardly flinched; Grandma Longneck's bluntness was uncharacteristic and usually signaled a serious issue. Nevertheless, he remained calm. "We can simply force our way past the enemy blockade," he countered.

"There is also the issue of Styracus's plant eaters. We can't force our way past a Longneck, Threehorn or Clubtail blockade," Grandpa Longneck replied.

Mr. Threehorn swore mentally; he had totally forgotten about Styracus's herd. His idea was shot down and he hated that. "Any other ideas?"

"We could try attacking from multiple points, kind of like Deimos's formation that he showed you a while back," Blue-Scale suggested.

Everyone grew silent as they remembered Deimos's demonstration of the sickleclaw hunting method (adapted to warfare): a swarm of dinosaurs darting around and attacking the Longneck's vulnerable belly and legs.

"That sounds perfect but the only problem is that the Valley is too large to attack from every entrance. We can't give the signal for every group to simultaneously rush in and overwhelm the defenders; it's just too great a distance," Grandpa Longneck said. He had to admit, between Blue-Scale and Deimos, it seemed that sharpteeth were natural-born tacticians.

"We don't have to use all the entrances. As long as we use at least more than two, we should be fine."

"I still say that using one big group to smash through the opposition is better than scattering our forces," Mr. Threehorn countered.

"Did you not see Deimos's demonstration?"

"A Longneck is different from a valley with lots of dinosaurs with assorted weapons."

"The premise is the same: attack from multiple angles so you confuse the enemy."

Mr. Threehorn opened his mouth to say something but no words came out. His plan was truly and totally taken down.

"How about we do flyovers to gather information first?" Grandma Longneck cut in. "And remember; we want to attack at night."

"Should we do the flyovers now or tomorrow?" Mr. Threehorn asked.

"We can't see anything now so we really don't have a choice," Blue-Scale replied.

"Okay, so tomorrow morning we send out flyers to do recon. At the same time, we move closer to the valley. And when the flyers return we refine our strategy and then we attack when brightfall occurs," Grandpa Longneck said. "If anyone has any issues with the plan, please speak up now."

Everyone present nodded their assent and then dispersed to either eat or relax.

Grandpa Longneck looked at the moon. He really hoped this plan would work.

Back at the feeding grounds, Blackjack had given up trying to strike up conversations. He sighed as he swallowed his mouthful of leaves.

Ducky and Deimos went up to him. "Hi," Ducky said cheerfully.

"What?" Blackjack replied. He did not look up from his meal.

"I just wanted to say hi. So how are things?"

"Pretty good even though no one wants to talk to me or my herd," Blackjack said. "But why?"

"They are just nervous. Give it time and they will start talking. They will, they will."

Blackjack gulped. He had hoped that the Great Valley dinosaurs were not nervous about him since that could mean his expulsion or worse. "Nervous about what?"

"Retaking the Great Valley."

Blackjack let out a mental sigh of relief. "Understandable. I mean, Styracus's dinosaurs are really tough fighters."

"To be blunt, I can see why everyone's avoiding you. It's really suspicious to approach a group of dinosaurs with weapons in hand and then announce your surrender," Deimos replied.

Ducky sighed. Deimos tended to be rude and rather blunt when it came to conversations. She and the others had gotten used to it but the same could not be said for Blackjack. She knew this conversation will take an ugly turn.

Blackjack scowled. "Rather bold of that for a sickleclaw to say that."

"Hey! At least I proved myself by saving Littlefoot! What have you done to prove yourself! I'll tell you what you've done to prove yourself: not a damn thing!"

"And you're a sharptooth. The others should be afraid of you eating them, not me."

Of course, that was rather hypocritical of Blackjack considering that he had cooperated with sharpteeth when he fought for Styracus.

"You should look at yourself. You worked with sharpteeth. Tell me, did you fear them eating you?" Deimos spat. The hypocrisy of Blackjack's statement was not lost on him.

Blackjack ground his teeth in rage as his tail seemed to cock back for a lethal blow.

"We are all allies here. Please, do not fight each other," Ducky said, getting between Deimos and Blackjack.

Blackjack relaxed as he stomped off to finish eating. He shot some ugly glances at Deimos who returned them. Deimos did not think highly of new arrivals – especially when they appeared only a day before a major battle.

Deimos looked at Ducky. "Look, not everyone can be as polite as you can be," he said. "And frankly, the stress of the upcoming battle is making it worse."

"I know but can you please treat Blackjack a little nicer?" Ducky asked.

"Can you all just please stop complaining about my damn manners! Seriously, just leave me alone!"

Ducky recoiled a bit; it was rather unusual for Deimos to snap at his friends like that but then again, the entire population was under unusual stress. Even the normally cheery Petrie seemed rather bitter and her last conversation with Cera ended with a barrage of profanities that would cause a sharptooth to flee.

She sighed and went off to the lake to reflect and relax.

Deimos watched Ducky walk off. She was right, if the others accepted Blackjack, then maybe he was an ally. After all, they accepted him after he fled from Excidium. And now he had gotten off on a bad start with an ally.

He sighed. He owed Ducky and Blackjack an apology. He may have been stressed out but that did not give him carte blanche to curse out or insult his allies.

He then got up and headed off to where Blackjack and his herd were located.

Mr. Bigmouth was in the corner of the feeding grounds near the lake. He was using his digging stick to dig up a plant that looked like a miniature treestar tree – except with reddish leaves and a smooth green stem. The tough sod growing around the plant required him to break the sod into pieces with his digging stick and toss it aside. Unlike their previous encampments, there were no fires burning as the moon was bright enough that it was not needed; not to mention they wanted to avoid giving away their position.

"Hey, Mr. Bigmouth, what you looking for?" Petrie asked. He was flitting above Mr. Bigmouth as to not get in the way.

"Looking… for… sweetroot," Mr. Bigmouth grunted, slamming the stick into the ground and levering up the last piece of sod which he tossed aside. He then started scooping away the sandy soil with his hands.

Petrie tilted his head as he dodged some sand that Mr. Bigmouth inadvertently kicked up. "Why you no eat treestars?"

"Sweetroot's not just a food. The roots are edible and really sweet – hence the name – but the leaves are reputed to be poisonous. And I plan to turn the leaves into either a medicine or a weapon." Mr. Bigmouth then sighed as some nostalgic memories came back. "Ah, how I long for the days when I could just head out with some other dinosaurs from other valleys to explore and learn about other valleys and plants and other things."

Suddenly, something clicked in Petrie's head. "Oh, so that why we no see you when we were kids?"

Mr. Bigmouth nodded. He finally had cleared enough sand to uproot the plant. At the same time, Petrie fluttered off to meet his friends.

Petrie landed by the main lake. There, Littlefoot, Shorty, Ruby, Ducky, Spike and Cera were eating their meal of treestars and berries. Raptix was also there; he was busy trying to catch a crawler. The air would have normally been thick with chatter but there was near total silence save for the sounds of eating.

"So what everyone doing?" Petrie asked, grabbing a treestar from the communal pile.

"What does it look like?" Cera replied. Her tone was unusually harsh and she seemed to be even more blunt that usual.

Petrie ignored her and continued eating. After all, everyone was under unusual tension.

"And trying to watch Raptix catch a crawler," Ducky added as she ate a treestar.

"Damn it! Stay still!" Raptix shouted as he pounced on the strangely agile crawler. The crawler dodged and Raptix ended up sliding face first into Ruby's pile of berries.

Everyone laughed as Raptix emerged from underneath the pile of berries, his snout and feathers splotched with bright orange juice.

The crawler flicked its tongue at him as it scurried away.

Raptix scowled at first as he shook off the berry juice then he broke into a wide grin as well. The tension in the air was starting to melt away at Raptix's little slip-up.

"So what do you want to do now?" Raptix asked.

"How about ball?" Shorty suggested. He tried to stifle a stray giggle as he laid eyes on Raptix's orange and purple-blue color scheme.

Before anyone could respond, Deimos came onto the site. He accidentally kicked aside Cera's meal of treestars.

"Oh. Hi Deimos. You want to play ball with us too?" Ducky asked.

Deimos shook his head. He loved playing ball but he was here for a different purpose. "Ducky, I need to talk to you about something."

"Sure!"

He sighed; apologizing was something that sharpteeth are not really used to doing. "Ducky, I…" He looked down at his feet and nervously swished his tail.

"Come on, you can say it," Cera said with a grin. She loved watching others – especially Deimos – squirm. In fact, watching Deimos grow uncomfortable made up for the fact that he had just ruined her meal.

Deimos took a deep breath. "I… I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that to you."

"It's okay, everyone gets mad sometimes," Ducky said.

"Thanks."

"Oh, Deimos, could you please apologize to Blackjack?"

Deimos nodded. "Okay."

He then headed off to find Blackjack.

Ruby returned with a pinecone. "It's not the same seedpod we use in the Great Valley but I think this is sufficient."

Cera finished off her meal. "What are we waiting for? Let's play!"

Soon the sound of laughter permeated the air. For that moment, everyone forgot that they were preparing to invade their former home; an undertaking that will not be easy and will most certainly be bloody and result in casualties.

Deimos passed by several dinosaurs eating their meals. Most of them ignored him for they were used to his presence. He heard indistinct but unfriendly whispers from some of Blackjack's herd. He paid them no heed.

"Let them think what they want," he muttered. "They'll be thanking me once I save their asses."

He then passed by Mr. Bigmouth who had ripped up his corner of the feeding grounds. A large pile of dirt surrounded him. A Fast-Runner and a Threehorn – apparently his assistants – were helping in the excavation. Several dinosaurs were giving them dirty looks for wrecking the feeding grounds. He paid them no heed as he continued digging. Deimos's curiosity was piqued. Had Mr. Bigmouth actually found something important? Or had his constant exposure to various toxic plants ruined his brain?

"Mr. Bigmouth," Deimos began, peering over the edge of the shallow pit.

Mr. Bigmouth ignored him and continued digging.

Deimos, seeing as Mr. Bigmouth was too engrossed to care about him, turned around to head off when Mr. Bigmouth finally spoke.

"I think I've found some things that may help us in our upcoming battle," Mr. Bigmouth said, climbing out of the pit. He sounded strangely excited for someone who had just torn up part of the feeding grounds.

Deimos rolled his eyes; all he could see was a pit and a massive pile of dirt. It was as he suspected; Mr. Bigmouth's work with herbal poisons had taken their toll on his brain. "Tell me," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm and boredom.

"Come in and I'll show you!"

Mr. Bigmouth then leapt into the pit. Deimos, seeing as he had nothing else better to do, followed. The pit was actually fairly shallow, only a foot or so deep at most but it was wide enough to fit Mr. Bigmouth, himself and the Fast-Runner. The pit's sandy soil was actually quite cool. The Fast-Runner was using a stick to dig out an object roughly as long as her arm.

Deimos leaned against a solid looking portion of excavation. Mr. Bigmouth picked up something that he placed in a small calabash and showed it to Deimos.

His skepticism instantly melted when he found out what Mr. Bigmouth had found. It was a small circular obsidian disk about the size of his eye. Even though he and Mr. Bigmouth were very familiar with obsidian (it was their preferred material for spearheads and other edged weapons); it was different from the other pieces of obsidian they found. For starters, it was not black but clear with a slight blue tint – like that of a still lake on a sunny day. Furthermore, it looked like it had been exposed to intense heat and then shaped and ground by hand.

"What is it?" Deimos asked.

Mr. Bigmouth examined the glass disk and held his chin in thought. He had remembered seeing this exact same material decades ago when he had embarked on his first expedition with some other herbivore valleys but he has not seen it since. Now what were those dinosaurs who worked with his material called? Wingbacks? No.

"Hey! If you're here, give me a hand!" the Fast-Runner shouted, continuing to dig out the object.

Deimos ignored her and stared at Mr. Bigmouth, who was completely lost in thought. Deimos sighed; yes, Mr. Bigmouth had lost his mind.

Suddenly, Mr. Bigmouth spoke. "Deimos, this is a special form of the rocks we use for spearheads and knives. I believe it is called 'glass'. And it is a specialty found only-"

"Big deal," Deimos replied. He then climbed out of the pit. He had no interest in Mr. Bigmouth's archeology lesson

"So what were you talking about?" the Fast-Runner asked. She had almost finished digging out that strange rod.

"Glass and Wingtails."

"What's a 'Wingtail'."

"Wingtails are these mysterious flyers from the Feral Forest. Far, far beyond the Land of the Mists. I have only been there once and I never plan to do it again."

Mr. Bigmouth shuddered as he recalled his experience with that expedition so many years ago. He had purged his memory of most of the details but he learned the hard way that Wingtails were hardcore xenophobes. But he got to see something few if any other dinosaurs got to see: Wingtail glass working. He achieved it by "getting lost" and wandering around. But even then, he only got to see a little bit of the complex process; the harvesting of the raw material from the Black Mountain.

He had covertly watched the process, hiding behind a rocky outcropping as the Wingtails used long silver sticks to grab the lava from the molten streams that flowed from the volcano or picked up the appropriate rocks from the ground. Even though he was quite far from the lava streams, the area was hot enough that it made him uncomfortable. He could only imagine how hot it was near the glowing streams of lava that the Wingtails harvested their raw material from. Yet, the Wingtails seemed to be unaffected by the intense radiant heat given off by the molten rock. He assumed that their feathers gave them some insulation. What he did not know was that they used a mixture of powdered minerals and various herbs smeared onto their feathers to give them further protection from the heat and that they worked in short shifts.

"Mr. Bigmouth, you may want to look at this," the Fast-Runner said, bringing Mr. Bigmouth out of his reverie.

Mr. Bigmouth turned to the Fast-Runner, who was holding a stick about as long as her arm. The stick was caked with dirt but where the dirt had been scraped away there was a flash as the sunlight reflected off the stick's bare metal.

His jaw dropped; he never seen this material outside the Feral Forest. "A Wingtail glasswork tool?" he asked in an awed whisper.

The Fast-Runner scraped away more of the caked dirt, revealing a grimy metal rod. The rod itself was dulled with decades of being buried underground and one end was blackened, indicating that it had been exposed to high temperatures. But the metal showed no signs of corrosion. She picked up the rod and leaned it against the wall.

Mr. Bigmouth looked around the pit some more. "How about we just fill this hole up?"

"Fine by me," the Fast-Runner replied, climbing out of the pit.

Mr. Bigmouth followed as well – with his finds in hand. He then looked over the pit to ensure that his finds and everyone else was safely out of the pit. When that was done, he gave the signal for his Threehorn helper to push the mound of dirt back into the pit. Some other dinosaurs also helped but they had no interest in Mr. Bigmouth's archeological expedition; they just wanted his pit filled up.

Deimos had finally found Blackjack and his herd. They had mostly segregated themselves from the others – partially because they did not particularly like the Great Valley dinosaurs but mainly because the Great Valley dinosaurs did not really bother to include them in their activities. Most of his herd was sleeping but some were awake and eating or simply chatting. He cautiously stepped forward. A few of the dinosaurs – mostly the Swimmers – gave him dirty looks but most of them ignored him.

He then continued deeper into their herd until he found Blackjack munching on some treestars.

"Blackjack…" Deimos trailed off; apologizing never got any easier for him.

Blackjack turned his massive head towards the sickleclaw. "What do you want?" he demanded between bites of leaves.

"I just want to say that…"

Blackjack scowled; his time was valuable to him and this sickleclaw was wasting it! "Say it or leave me alone!" he growled.

"I'm sorry," Deimos finished. He forced himself to say the words even he wanted to give Blackjack a piece of his mind.

"Okay, apology accepted. Bye now!"

Blackjack then turned his head back away from Deimos and continued eating.

Deimos fumed as he walked away from Blackjack and his herd. As soon as he was out of earshot, he spoke: "Did Ducky even speak to him! He's so damn rude it's a miracle that the whole valley doesn't hate him!"

He then headed to the lake to grab some fish before he went to sleep. Around him, he could see that many of the dinosaurs were heading to their nests. He could see several patrolling dinosaurs equipped with spears.

Deimos waded into the lake, letting the cool water lap at his legs. He hated Blackjack but at the same time, he and his herd provided additional troops. He swallowed his hatred; he would have to learn to tolerate them – not an easy task.

He snatched a fish out of the water when he heard something splash into the water behind him. His heart raced as he turned around and prepared to attack but relaxed when he saw it was just Ruby.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"Just getting a snack," Ruby replied. She snatched a snail that crawled along the wet banks and smashed it against a rock. She slurped up the fleshy parts of the snail and spat out some shell fragments. "And Deimos, don't worry. You're not the only one who doesn't like Blackjack."

She then walked off into the darkness back to her nest.

Deimos shrugged and headed back to his nest, located on the opposite side of the lake. Raptix was already sleeping in the nest next to him. Deimos lay down in the grass and quickly fell asleep.

The hours of the night crept by with nothing to break the humid air except the sound of insects and the footsteps of the patrolling dinosaurs.

Dawn broke over the still meadow. Golden rays of light danced along the grass and lake as the orange-red sun rose behind a thin veil of clouds.

Below, many of the dinosaurs were still sleeping as the warm rays of light struck them. A few of the dinosaurs were already awake and eating breakfast.

Blackjack and his herd were eating their meals near the main lake along with the rest of the Great Valley's inhabitants.

A young Crested Swimmer and Longneck ran past Blackjack; the two were chasing after a pinecone. The sound of their laughter echoed through the air. He paid no heed to them but some of his herd watched their antics with delight. Relationships between the two herds were slowly warming up – thanks to Grandpa Longneck's decision to include them with the communal breakfast.

Cera was munching on some treestars while Deimos was eating a few crawlers. Cera repeatedly shot dirty looks at Blackjack. She did not particularly like Clubtails and Blackjack did little to dispel that opinion.

"Cera, what's wrong?" Littlefoot asked.

"Nothing," she replied, swallowing her mouthful of treestars.

Littlefoot frowned; he knew Cera was hiding something but the sour expression on her face told him that pressing the issue would not be a wise thing to do.

Breakfast went by without any major issues. Grandpa Longneck and some of the more accepting inhabitants were attempting to chat with Blackjack and his herd. Despite the cold façade that Blackjack and his herd put up, one could tell that they were gradually opening up.

In one corner of the campsite, a group of dinosaurs were practicing with assorted weapons. Most of them were practicing with slings and blowguns but some threw javelins, knives or even simple sticks and rocks. Large, brown inedible seedpods had been set up on the grass as targets.

Cera, Littlefoot, Spike, Shorty, Hyp and Ruby were watching a young Crested Swimmer raise her javelin, step forward and hurl it into the air. The javelin arced through the air and stuck point first in front of the seedpod. A young Fast-Runner cocked his arm back and threw his javelin. His javelin struck the seedpod and pinned it to the ground. A Clubtail had volunteered to keep score by standing on the field and keeping track of whose javelins landed the closest to the target.

"Nice!" Hyp said.

The Crested Swimmer grabbed her second javelin and launched it…right onto the Clubtail. Luckily, the spearhead glanced off his armor plate and he was unharmed. He shot a dirty look at the Crested Swimmer.

"Uh, the Bright Circle was in my eye?" she said with a sheepish smile.

The Clubtail gave a snort and turned back to the seedpod.

The Fast-Runner suppressed a few snickers as he launched another javelin. He put too much power behind the throw and sent the javelin clear over the seedpod and into a nearby rock, shattering the javelin's stone head.

The Crested Swimmer sighed and launched her third javelin, striking and pinning the seedpod as well. "Your move," she said with a smirk.

The Fast-Runner scowled and launched his third javelin. The javelin arced through the air and struck the Crested Swimmer's previous javelin, causing it to fall over but the Fast-Runner's own javelin did not penetrate the seedpod at all.

"Mind if we join?" a voice from behind Cera asked.

"Sure why-" Cera's words died on her lips as she turned around and spotted the owner of the voice. A Yellowbelly.

Her eyes widened with as she scanned the speaking Yellowbelly along with his companion. Horrifying memories of being squeezed, hugged, poked and prodded by those overly affectionate dinosaurs flooded her brain. "Touch me and I will hurt you!" she growled.

The Wise One and his translator stared at Cera's outburst. The Wise One signed something that roughly translated to: "What?"

"Cera! That's no way to greet new arrivals!" Littlefoot admonished. He then turned to the two. "I apologize for her behavior." He sighed; this was not the first and would most certainly not be the last time she had said something rude.

"TALK ABOUT RUDE. IT SEEMS THAT THREEHORN BY THE NAME OF CERA HAS NOT CHANGED WITH TIME," the Wise One signed. Thankfully, the translator did not translate that statement.

Spike made some noises that expressed his displeasure with the Wise One's statement. He did not exactly understand what the Wise One was "saying" but he got the gist of the message.

"Can't he talk?" Cera asked, staring at the Wise One.

"Cera! Knock it off!" Littlefoot scolded.

"I should have introduced myself. My name is very hard to pronounce in Leaf Eater but you may simply refer to me as 'the Translator'. And I assume you know of the Wise One?" the Translator asked. "He says that he knows a certain Threehorn named Cera."

Cera scowled. "How does he know my name?" she demanded. "And if he's going to ask me about something, he should have the guts to ask to my face!"

The Translator shook his head. "The Wise One cannot speak." Anticipating their response, he quickly added, "We use something called 'Handtalk'."

"So why are you here?' Littlefoot asked.

The Wise One sighed. "A SPIKEFRILL NAMED STYRACUS INVADED OUR VALLEY AND SEIZED IT FOR HIS OWN PURPOSES. WE ARE THE ONLY SURVIVING YELLOWBELLIES," he signed. The Translator quickly relayed the words to the gathered group. A stunned silence spread through the group; they had not expected Styracus's campaign to spread. The only sounds heard were the sounds of stones and other weaponry striking the targets.

Several seconds ticked by without comment until Shorty shattered the still air. "That bastard!" Shorty growled, grinding his foot into the grass as if he were crushing Styracus underfoot. "Let's make him pay!"

Cera said nothing but walked away from the two new arrivals. She had no interest in listening to the Wise One and the Translator's sob story. The others looked at Cera and her abrupt departure.

"Is she always like that?" the Translator asked.

"She'll get nicer," Shorty replied. He then frowned. "Usually."

"So back to the pleasantries," Littlefoot said.

A nervous chuckle rippled through the group at the display of sarcastic black humor.

"So in any case, do you want to join us in a game of ball?" Hyp asked.

The Wise One and the Translator both shook their heads.

"WE WOULD LIKE TO PRACTICE," the Wise One signed.

Everyone gave odd looks to the two and then headed off; their cryptic statement lost on the Great Valley dinosaurs. Littlefoot stayed behind to watch the two Yellowbellies.

The two were wandering around the area looking for rocks. Littlefoot turned around and walked off; dinosaurs gathering rocks to either throw or shape into weapons were nothing new.

Just when Littlefoot was about to walk out of their sight, he saw something amazing.

The rock that the Wise One had thrown soared through the air and struck the tree at the far end of the field. Littlefoot had only seen that tree struck three times before – twice with a sling stone and once with a blowgun dart. It was thought impossible to muster enough force to launch a rock so far with one's bare hands. Just to make sure it was not a fluke, he kept an eye on the two.

The Translator threw a second stone. This stone was nowhere near as far as the Wise One's rock but it the distance it traveled rivaled some of the lesser slingers, who in-turn outranged those who threw rocks by hand.

"Damn, I never knew the Yellowbellies were capable of this. I mean, when I met them, I saw them as lazy weirdoes… But it looks like I have to reconsider," Littlefoot thought as he watched in amazement.

Just as he thought, the Wise One's first shot was not a fluke. He planted his second stone near his first one.

Littlefoot ran off to tell the others about the seemingly supernatural aim that the Yellowbellies possessed.

When he arrived at the clearing, his friends were playing ball as usual. Hyp was refereeing while Cera, Ruby, Spike, Shorty and a few other Great Valley dinosaurs were playing.

"Hey guys-" he began.

"Look out!"

"Wh-"

Littlefoot had the words knocked right out of him as the hard seed pod smacked him right in the jaw. "Ow!"

"Sorry!" Ruby called, running up to Littlefoot and picking up the seed pod.

"It's okay."

"Is there any reason you see fit to interrupt our game?" Cera asked. Littlefoot ignored her acerbic tone; it was as much of a trademark as Ducky's "Yep. Yep. Yep"

"There's something I want to show you about the Yellowbellies!" he exclaimed.

"What? They squeezed the wrong Great Valley dinosaur and got beaten to a pulp?"

Littlefoot sighed. "No! It's their proficiency with weapons!"

An awkward silence settled upon the group. The only sounds heard were the sound of insects and distant laughter from other playing dinosaurs. Several painful seconds passed before guffaws broke out among the group.

"Yellowbellies and weapons!" Shorty said between snorts of laughter. "You kill me!"

"The day I see a Yellowbelly with a spear is the day Mr. Clubtail smells good!" Cera said with tears in her eyes from laughing so hard.

Littlefoot frowned. To be fair, he did expect this reaction; after all, their first impression of the Yellowbellies was far from militaristic – in fact, they seemed downright, well, stupid. "Guys, I'm serious! Head to the practice area with me and you'll see!"

Cera took a deep breath to get her laughter under control. "Fine, we'll go see these 'fighting Yellowbellies'." Granted, she didn't take the whole announcement seriously and agreed to see the Yellowbellies just to play along with Littlefoot's "joke".

Littlefoot sighed as he led the group to the practice area. Along the way, he passed by some other dinosaurs leaving the practice area with weapons in hand. He hoped that the Wise One and the Translator were still practicing or else his reputation was permanently ruined.

Sure enough, the Wise One and the Translator were still throwing stones. By now, they had attracted a fair number of curious spectators, many of whom had heard… less than flattering tales of Yellowbellies. But like Littlefoot, they stared in disbelief as the two Yellowbellies threw stones with accuracy and power that rivaled their best slingers.

When Littlefoot's group arrived, they joined the spectators. Cera gaped in astonishment as one of the stones soared clear past the halfway point – marked by an upright stick. Hand thrown stones barely made it to the halfway point, if that.

"I… I… I knew all along that the Yellowbellies were hiding something from us!" Cera said. It was a blatant lie; she didn't like to admit that she was wrong. Everyone else ignored her and watched the Yellowbellies practice.

Suddenly Grandpa Longneck's voice echoed throughout the oasis.

"That was fast; I didn't think the Great Valley Air Corps would return so quickly," Shorty said. The Great Valley Air Corps had been sent out a few hours ago on a recon mission to examine the Great Valley and determine the best plan of attack.

At the main lake, Pterano, Ptyrax and some of the flyers had landed and were relaying their information to the Great Valley's tacticians – Raptix, Deimos, Blue-Scale, Grandpa Longneck and Mr. Threehorn. Unfortunately, getting this vital information had cost Coatal, Grey-Wing and Quetzal their lives. The other dinosaurs began to arrive on the scene – even Blackjack and his herd were invited.

The tacticians were huddled around a crude sketch of the Great Valley in the dirt and discussing the best avenues of attack.

"Okay, so the main entrance is the most heavily guarded, which rules out its use," Raptix said, pointing to the representation of the Great Valley drawn in the dirt. "But that means all the large dinosaurs have to enter here, near the Great Rock Pass. Not that it should be a problem as –according to the information we have received – there are far less guards there," he added, pointing to a large gap in the western part of the Great Valley.

"Exactly," Mr. Threehorn countered. "We should easily be able to smash our way through the few guards posted there."

"Actually, the Great Rock Pass is more hazardous even if there are fewer guards posted there," Grandpa Longneck said. "What counts is position. That part of the Great Valley is very clear and Overlook Rock is easily accessible to even large four-footers. In that case, we could be easily spotted and intercepted. In addition, those guarding the pass could throw projectiles at us and we would have almost no means of retaliating. Finally, the Great Rock Pass has been known to suffer rockfalls. What worries me is that a large stone thrown at the right place could completely block off the pass or even kill the entire group."

"If I may," Blue-Scale said. "If we take all our large dinosaurs and attack the main entrance, we could potentially attract all the defenders in the Great Valley, leaving the other entrances open. Once that is done, we can trap them between the two forces and slaughter them."

"One other thing, if we spread confusion and havoc throughout the valley, then their forces will be weakened," Deimos added.

"How do you propose we do that?"

Deimos shrugged. "I had proposed having the Great Valley Air Corps drop lit torches or burning bundles of grass. Dinosaurs fear fire and having it drop from the sky at random near their forces is a great way to reduce enemy morale."

"I must reject your plan," Grandpa Longneck said. "While you are right that spreading fear and confusion greatly aids our chances of victory, fire is too unpredictable and dangerous to use."

"Not to mention we're trying to retake our home, not destroy it, idiot!" Mr. Threehorn interjected.

"Mr. Threehorn, please refrain from calling those discussing the plans for attack 'idiots'."

Raptix looked at the map and drew small arrows leading from the circle (representing their current encampment) to several small entrances along the side of the Great Valley. "Deimos is on the right track but I disagree with his use of fire. Having dinosaurs appear at sudden is likely to cause just as much panic. If we had Runners, Fast-Runners and similar dinosaurs enter these small entrances," – he pointed to the small entrances and arrows on the sketch – "attack the dinosaurs and then disappear, panic would spread."

"One problem," Grandpa Longneck said. "That isn't going to work all the time. If one of these small squads gets caught, there is a highly likelihood that they will be killed."

Raptix scratched his chin. "What about using that method exclusively, slowly wearing down their forces by attacking and then retreating?"

"Takes too long! We need to hit hard and fast!"

Grandpa Longneck looked at his fellow tacticians. He digested the information that he was given and the tactics that the others had suggested. Realizing that a hybrid of the tactics would be best, he spoke. "All of your proposed tactics have good and bad points and I have analyzed them. So far, I think that that the best idea is combining Raptix's idea with Mr. Threehorn's idea. To elaborate, we will have flyers circling over the valley bombarding the enemies with rocks; at the same time, small squads of dinosaurs will enter the side entrances and attack any enemies they see. These small squads will have a flyer with them. After a certain amount of time, they will fly back to the outside encampment; that will be the signal for the main squad of large dinosaurs to charge in."

"What about the children and eggs?" Raptix cut in.

"That has been addressed; they will stay in the encampment and serve non-fighting roles like making weapons or treating the injured. We will also recruit some volunteers to guard them."

"Are there any objections to my plan?" Grandpa Longneck asked.

No one said anything.

"All right," he continued. "Now when should we attack?"

"Late at night when all the dinosaurs sleeping," Deimos suggested.

"One problem, what if the Night Circle isn't up and we can't see?" Blue-Scale countered. "You need to keep in mind that leafeaters can't see as well in the dark as we do and most of the Great Valley's current inhabitants are sharpteeth. If we use torches, we give our positions away."

"Brightfall sounds like a good time because it is dark enough to hide our forces and ambush the enemies but not so dark that we can't see," Mr. Threehorn suggested.

"That gives a very narrow gap for attack. If we don't time it right, we then run into the same problems that attacking at night poses," Grandpa Longneck replied.

"What about before brightrise? It's got that same 'dark but light' advantage that brightfall has but if the fight drags on, it becomes light and we can see without problems. Of course, light means that neither side really has an advantage in a fight," Raptix said.

"Well, that's the best option," Grandpa Longneck said. "Any objections?"

No one said anything.

"We are fairly close to the Great Valley as it is," Grandpa Longneck continued. "Even though moving closer would allow us to attack faster, this is the nearest oasis. So we must use this as our starting point."

"Sounds good," Deimos said.

Grandpa Longneck then turned to the crowd and spoke. "Everyone," he said. "We have made our plan for attack."

"What is it?" a dark green Swimmer snapped. "I want to smash some heads already!" Some other dinosaurs – mostly from Blackjack's herd echoed his sentiment.

"Patience. The attack will take place in two parts at brightrise. The first part is we send the Great Valley Air Corps to attack from the air and send small groups of dinosaurs along with one flyer for each group through the small caves to attack by land. Once the ground flyers fly back to our encampment that will be the signal for the main group to charge in through the main entrance – this is second part."

"Any questions?" Blue-Scale asked.

There was no response.

"All right, dismissed!" Grandpa Longneck barked.

The group dispersed and headed back to their activities.

Deimos met up with Littlefoot and his group as they headed back to the feeding grounds. The air seemed to hold a nearly visible tension. The skies began to turn a dark purple, orange and gold as the sun dipped below the horizon.

"So I guess this is it," Chomper said, glancing at his feet.

"Damn straight it is! We'll beat Styracus so hard that his whole herd will feel it!" Cera boasted. Despite the raw power and bravado that her words exuded, she was still as nervous as any of the others.

"Me no like this," Petrie said from atop Littlefoot's head. He then puffed out his chest. "But me be brave about this!"

"Remember what Mr. Longneck said," Deimos added. "We're not invading until brightrise; we've still got a lot of time."

"So let's play some ball!" Shorty blurted out. "Besides, it might be the last time we do so," he muttered darkly.

"We'll we're at the – spot!" Littlefoot exclaimed, his mouth agape. Sure enough, the spot where his group usually played ball had been taken over by the other members of the Great Valley and used as a location to produce weapons. He blinked his eyes to ensure that he wasn't seeing things.

Sure enough, one of the goal areas had been taken over by Runners weaving slings out of long grass. The other goal area was occupied by a group of Swimmer huddled around a fire. Judging from the calabashes near them and the bundles of long twigs, they were making poison darts. The darts they made were slightly different than the other darts; the tips were charred to harden them, letting them penetrate skin with greater ease. The middle of the field was occupied by dinosaurs making everything from obsidian spearheads to maces. Several other dinosaurs were carrying raw materials to their companions.

Even the goal posts weren't safe – they had been removed and turned into spear shafts.

"Well, now what?" Ruby asked.

"Hey guys! Over here!" Strut shouted. The group rushed over to him. He was sitting around a small fire and an open dart canister was near his feet as was a calabash filled with an emerald green liquid. The intense color gave away its identity – penthium poison.

"Strut, just out of curiosity, you going to fly with the Great Valley Air Corps or are you going to invade on the ground?" Deimos asked.

"Invade on the ground; the flyers don't like dinosaurs using poison darts while riding them," Strut replied as he whittled down a twig into a dart and briefly stuck the sharp point into the fire. In seconds, the point at the end charred and hardened. Strut then dipped the point into the green liquid and with a smooth twirl, coated the dart with the toxin. He then placed it on a small stone near the fire to allow them to dry.

Chomper looked at the dart canister; it almost filled with poison darts. Why was Strut making so much?

"Well, I guess we could join in making weapons," Deimos suggested.

"Okay, we'll be eating dinner," Littlefoot said. Shorty, Cera, Spike and Chomper moved to an alternate part of the feeding grounds to get dinner.

Deimos looked around for what weapon to make for himself; he quickly rejected the projectile weapons for ideological reasons (he just liked fighting in close quarters). He then decided on his favorite weapon – the obsidian lance. But when he saw a Swimmer completely pulverize a large brown seedpod with one swing of his crude mace (originally wielded by Blackjack's herd), he quickly changed his mind. He walked over to the dinosaur.

"Nice weapon, care to teach me how to make it?" he asked.

"All you do is tie a big rock to heavy stick and make sure it is balanced," the Swimmer replied. He moved to an empty area and practiced his moves. Despite the crudeness and heft of the mace, the Swimmer's movements were fluid, graceful and lethal.

Deimos sighed and went off to fetch the raw materials.

The rest of the day passed by with nothing else significant occurring. As Littlefoot and his friends retreated to their nests to rest, all they could think about was the impending battle. By this time, night had completely fallen and the dinosaurs headed back to their nests to sleep in preparation for the upcoming battle.

Raptix was preening himself when Deimos returned to his nest and placed his newly finished mace next to it. The mace itself was a large fist sized rock that had been tied onto the top of a heavy tree branch with vines or rope woven from the grass – it was hard to tell. Raptix examined the mace and tried to pick it up. Unfortunately for the small fast-biter, the weapon was too awkward and large for him to handle.

"So what are you planning to do?" Raptix asked as he put the mace down.

"Go to sleep and then beat Styracus's dinosaurs to a bloody smear," Deimos replied as he lay down in his nest.

Raptix shrugged. After all, he felt the same way.

The hours of the night slowly crawled by. Suddenly, just before dawn, Grandpa Longneck's voice echoed through the clearing. It was still dark but the dinosaurs got up and hastily ate at the main lake while Grandpa Longneck spoke. Splashes were heard as Deimos, Raptix, Blue-Scale, Chomper, Tyr and Ranno waded into the lake to get their meal of fish.

"Okay, while we are all here, I need at least ten volunteers to guard the eggs and children," he said. He paid no heed to the splashing of the sharpteeth behind him.

Several dinosaurs raised their hands or otherwise signaled to Grandpa Longneck. Not surprisingly, many of those who volunteered were barely older than the children they guarded.

Grandpa Longneck then nodded. "Those who volunteered to guard the eggs, please step aside. Now I will need four groups to attack via the side entrances. Once you have formed your group, grab a flyer, your weapons and head out. When you see the light of brightrise, head in and attack."

When Grandpa Longneck finished, Raptix returned with a small fish in his mouth. He put it on the ground and spoke. "Can I be in one of the groups?" he asked.

"And I'll join him," Ruby piped up.

"I'll help too!" a young Runner added.

"And me too!" a Fast-Runner said.

Grandpa Longneck looked at the group and nodded.

Raptix quickly gulped down the fish and went to fetch some weaponry along with a flyer. Luckily, he didn't have to go searching for a flyer as one of them found him. The weapons were another story; they were stored near the feeding grounds. He then led his group to the feeding grounds.

Many minutes later, the other three groups had formed and armed themselves. Grandpa Longneck then ordered them to head to the Great Valley. He shivered, knowing that there was a pretty damn good chance that at least one member would be killed and a not insubstantial chance that all of them would die in the process. He quickly pushed the thought out of his head, while the loss of life was tragic, this was war – a brutal and dirty affair. He then turned to the remaining dinosaurs and cleared his throat.

"Everyone else," he said, fighting to keep his voice neutral. "Gather whatever weapons you want to use and meet back here."

The group obeyed, instantly dispersing to grab the weaponry that the first four squads had not taken or fashion their own. This action had taken over an hour. By this time, the brilliant reds and orange of sunrise bathed the landscape, revealing the oasis and the barren landscape around it.

As for the Great Valley dinosaurs surrounding Grandpa Longneck, they were wielded a vast array of weapons – everything from sticks, stones, stone knives, spears, slings and maces. Some even wielded the metal rods that Mr. Bigmouth had excavated. And still others chose to fight with nothing more than their bare hands. Even though they stood still as if frozen in ice, the panoply of weapons and the calm but threatening expressions exuded a menacing aura.

Blue-Scale looked at the massive force – composed of all the quadrupeds along with some who weren't chosen to be the fighters in the small groups. At this time, the sun began to rise higher into the dawn sky, pushing away the darkness of the night. The combination of the sun and the clouds turned the water of the main lake into blood.

He sighed as he looked at the illusory lake of blood; he knew that many will die in this battle. He knew that from this day forward, the history of the Great Valley's dinosaurs will forever be marred with this saga of bloodshed.