The Land Before Time: Fyn
Part 3: The Great Valley
Sounds that didn't make sense, colors and images out of focus, emotions flickering by, and his grandfather's voice, repeating the words "only a few of us are gifted with the ability to look past the panic, and make clear decisions in a time of crisis," and "Fyn, you'll come to discover that having strength is only a small part of actually being strong. You must also have a noble heart, and a keen mind." All of this made up Fyn's sleep story on this night. He wanted to forget the horrors that he had faced earlier that day; the Sharptooth attack, his grandfather's death, being separated from his father and sisters, and lastly turning over leadership of the herd to a dangerous, self-centered dinosaur, but instead, they all came back to him in his sleep. Fyn tossed and turned upon the cold, hard, wet ground. The skywater that had started when the herd had left what remained of the rock bridge hadn't cleared at all. Finally, a crash of thunder woke him from his tortured slumber.
As Fyn awoke, the images and sounds from his sleep story seemed to linger for a while, and for a moment, he thought they were real. As they disappeared, he began to make sense of his surroundings. He was in a gorge, still close to the crack in the earth, the place that turned his entire world upside-down. Skywater was falling, and everyone else was still asleep, including Sorven. A thought occurred to Fyn, then.
"I know how to get to the Great Valley. I could run away if I wanted to." Immediately, though, he put the thought out of his mind. Running away would be like throwing away everything his grandfather had taught him. He also knew that he couldn't leave his mother here, alone with Sorven, and what if Sorven were to lead everyone to their doom because he didn't know where he was going? Fyn thought about it for a while. After what seemed an eternity, he made the choice to stay. The journey would be much harder now, with an incompetent leader, but he had promised himself he would reach the Great Valley.
Nearby, his mother began to stir. She too, it seemed, had not slept well. Fyn moved to her side as the tip of the Bright Circle began to creep over the horizon.
"Mother, the Bright Circle's rising. We need to get ready to leave."
His mother yawned and stretched. "Yes, Fyn." She sighed. "I just had a terrible sleep story."
"So did I," Fyn said.
As they spoke, Sorven woke up, and gave a loud, harsh call for everyone else to do the same. He pushed his way through the herd over to Fyn and Keva.
"Good to see you two are up so early." He smirked. "Anything else I need to know about until we get to the mountains?"
"No," Fyn said with downcast eyes.
"Are you sure?" Sorven growled, bringing his face right up to Fyn's.
"That's all I know."
"Leave him alone," Keva said, her voice laced with motherly anger.
"You would do best to mind your place!" Sorven snapped. He moved away, and called again, this time for the herd to begin moving.
Fyn and Keva had no choice but to obey. As they stood and began to hike, they finally realized the toll the previous day had taken on their bodies. Both ached all over, and Keva had a thin line running down her snout where Sorven had hit her. They moved on slowly, as everyone began to get the sleepiness out of their systems. For Fyn, taking the first steps away from his sleeping-place was the hardest walk of the entire journey.
Back at what was left of the rock bridge, the Sharptooth was still pinned to the wall by the rocks. After a quick check, Labon had confirmed him dead, and he and his daughters started their own journey to the Great Valley. On this morning, though, the Sharptooth stirred. One of his yellow eyes opened, followed by the other. Immediately, he was aware of pain. The Longnecks had done this. He had to find them, make them pay, have his revenge, but first he had to break free. With one powerful kick, he dislodged most of the rocks. He pushed himself out the rest of the way using his tremendous mass. He picked up the scent of the Longnecks almost immediately. He knew where they were headed, and he knew that there was another crossing not far away. If he hurried, he could still follow them. A shiver of anticipation rippled down his spine. He would destroy all of them if he could. One way or another, the problem would end.
As the day progressed, the Bright Circle beat down hard with its heat. As the herd continued to walk, following the crack in the earth, they noticed that the Skywater that had fallen was turning into a mist, rising from the scorching ground. As the ground began to heat, every step became painful, but Fyn and Keva didn't mind it. Their goal was clear, and nothing would stand between them and it. Sorven barely let the herd rest, driving them as far as he could. Soon, everyone was exhausted. Finally, Sorven stopped at a depression that held leftover skywater from the night before.
"We'll stop here for a drink," he said, "but we will not stay long. Prepare to leave soon." With that, he shoved his muzzle into the depression and began to drink, taking huge gulps of water. By the time he was done, it was half-gone. Everyone noticed, but none dared to challenge him. Fyn and Keva were the last to drink. By the time they got there, only a small puddle remained.
"Drink it, Mother," Fyn said, "you need it more than I do."
"We'll share it," Keva said.
The two bent down to drink. There was barely enough water to wet their mouths, but it was better than nothing. They could hear Sorven call again for them to leave. They hurried from the puddle, and rejoined the herd as they began to move again.
Their path took them into a gorge, and they began to lose sight of the land above. As they descended into it, everyone became quiet. The gorge was eerily desolate. Its sides were smooth, there were no loose rocks, and no plants grew anywhere. As they moved farther and farther into it, Fyn noticed something. Sorven was glancing around anxiously. Perhaps he thought the gorge was taking him away from his goal, and he couldn't see where he was going. Could it be the onset of panic? Fyn remembered that his grandfather had told him that panic could make dinosaurs do rash and dangerous things. He hoped this wouldn't be the case. Fyn had been keeping an eye on where the Bright Circle was in relation to the herd. He knew that they were still going the right way, but Sorven obviously hadn't considered the option. Finally, with no end to the gorge in sight, he stopped.
"Fyn!" he yelled, "get up here now and tell me we're going the right way!"
Fyn had no choice but to listen. He moved to the front of the herd, and was confronted by Sorven.
"Well?" the Longneck asked.
"We're still going the right way. There's no need to worry."
"And how could you possibly know that?"
"I've been looking at the Bright Circle, seeing if it's still in the same place as last time. If it is, then we're headed in the right direction."
Sorven looked confused, then angry.
"Well obviously I knew that," he said, correcting himself. One of the Longnecks in the front of the herd couldn't resist a snicker. Sorven heard him and whirled around, pinning against a wall.
"Is something funny?"
The Longneck was gasping for air and shaking his head.
"I didn't think so. Get back to your place or we'll leave you behind."
Sorven released his hold on the Longneck, and he dropped to the ground.
As the herd began to move, Fyn rushed to the Longneck's side. Keva was not far behind.
"Please get up. You know Sorven won't wait for you."
The Fin-Neck grimaced. "I know. I should have been able to walk that off, but after the last few days, I've just been so weak."
"Can you stand?" Keva asked. "If you can get up, I'll support you."
"I'll try," the stranger answered.
With a groan, he got to his feet. Immediately, Keva was right next to him, allowing him to rest some of his weight on her side. Arranged in this manner, they began to walk again. It wasn't long before the Longneck spoke.
"We can't go on long like this. Sorven's never been much of a leader, and you know that at the first sign of danger, he'll leave us all to fend for ourselves."
Keva nodded agreement as the Longneck continued. "Not that I blame you, Fyn. I know that he threatened you and your mother. Unfortunately, none of us is in a position to challenge Sorven to get leadership back." He sighed.
Fyn addressed the Longneck next. "What's your name?"
"I'm Alten, pleased to meet you." He looked back at his side, which almost certainly was in pain.
"I think I can manage, now," he said, removing himself from Keva's side. Gingerly, he placed all of his weight back on his own feet. Fyn could tell it hurt.
"If you don't mind, though, can I stay back here with you guys? The company at the front of the herd is far from hospitable."
"Sure," Fyn agreed. He'd already taken a liking to this Longneck. Slowly, he and Keva were forming a friendship with Alten; a herd within a herd. As they looked ahead, Fyn could see that the gorge was becoming more and more shallow.
"We're almost out!" He exclaimed.
As the herd moved back towards the surface, Fyn could see that the Bright Circle was setting. In the distance, he could also see the Mountains that Burned. Black smoke poured from the middle of the range. The Smoking Mountain! All the herd had to do was cross this stretch of Drylands. Meanwhile, Sorven was shaking his head and glancing around nervously. The crack in the earth was no longer in sight. For the second time that day, he stormed over to Fyn.
"Alright, what have you done?" he yelled, "the crack in the earth is gone!" He raised his tail to strike Keva again. She stood, staunchly waiting for the impact.
"Wait, don't!" Fyn cried. Sorven stopped. "The next place we have to go is those mountains. I promise."
"Across those Drylands?" He seemed hesitant, then faced Fyn again. "If you have mislead me-" He let his sentence hang, moving back to the front of the herd. Again, he drove them forward.
"As soon as I get to the Great Valley, I'll be done with him," Alten said.
"Don't count on it," Fyn said, "he's the kind that will still act in charge when we get there. Just remember; the Great Valley is somewhere within those mountains. We don't have to walk much longer. Just a few more days."
"Of course," he thought, "a lot can happen in a few days. I found that out the hard way."
Fyn began to settle in, and prepared for Sorven to signal a stop for the night, but the signal never came. Instead, as the Bright Circle finally left the sky, Sorven again gave the order to move.
"What's wrong with him?" Alten asked, "Poldar would never have done this."
Fyn wasn't sure, but he had suspicions. The indicators were all there: Sorven's unstable mood, his constant glances behind him, and his reaction upon leaving the gorge. He had a hunch that Sorven was falling victim to panic.
"The best we can do is carry on," Keva said, picking herself up and following the herd. Before long, Fyn and Alten joined her.
When they finally stopped in a wide, open spot in the Drylands, Fyn was exhausted. His muscles could barely move, and he couldn't even speak. When the order was given to stop, he fell asleep on his feet and collapsed to the ground.
The following morning, Fyn picked himself up off of the ground slowly. His body still ached, possibly more than the day before, and he was hungry. He knew that in the mountains, food would be available, but they still seemed so far away. Once again, everyone was still asleep. Fyn decided to wander off towards some rocks he'd seen when they stopped for the night. Perhaps he'd find some sort of green food there. Hungrily and hopefully, he approached. As he got closer, however, he heard a clicking noise. Curious but alert, he decided to sidestep and see what was on the other side of the rock first. As he moved, the clicking creature came into view. It looked small, barely standing taller than Fyn, and it had a long tail and stood on two legs. Its body was orange, with dark stripes running down its sides, and it had a yellow underbelly. It looked harmless, but when Fyn approached, its head snapped upright. Fyn stopped. For a while, the two simply stared at each other, then the creature glanced towards the herd, then back at Fyn. Suddenly, it screeched and ran away in the opposite direction. At that moment, Fyn realized what he had just faced: a Sharptooth known to the grown-ups as a Fast Biter. This was a small one, but before it had left, he could clearly see its sharp teeth, and, perhaps more dangerous, the large claw on each foot. He was surprised and relieved that this one had been alone. His parents had always told him that they hunted in packs. Fyn didn't plan on sticking around long enough to find out. He immediately headed back to the herd.
When he arrived, others were waking up, and Sorven was waiting.
"Trying to run away, are we?" he said with a sneer. "I can't imagine you'd get very far out there alone." He lowered his head down to Fyn's eye level. "If you weren't so valuable to me, I'd leave you here for the Sharpteeth."
"Listen," Fyn said, "whether you believe me or not, I saw a Fast Biter by some rocks near here. I know it was only one, but they travel in packs, and for all we know, they could be stalking us right now! You have to move the herd."
Sorven growled. "I know exactly what you're thinking. 'Poor Sorven's going to be afraid and lose control, and then I can take over again!' Well you know what? You're wrong. I will not fall for your tricks, and as for getting the herd on the move, I don't need you to tell me to do that. Now get back in your place before I make you sorely regret this conversation."
Fyn scowled once at Sorven, then moved back to his mother and Alten.
"Fyn," Keva said, "try not to push Sorven too hard. He's barely stable right now. If he loses control, a lot of us could get hurt."
"But he's not even listening to me! I really did see a Fast Biter. You two believe me, don't you?"
"After all that's happened so far," Alten said, "there's no doubt in my mind that you saw one."
Keva nodded, "but Sorven will never admit that he believes you, and as long as the rest of the herd believes him, we will be in danger. The best we can do is to stay on guard."
As the Longnecks continued their journey that day, the wind picked up speed, howling and driving sand into the herd. The conditions were far from favorable, and Fyn couldn't see far behind, to make sure the Fast Biters weren't following. This unnerved him greatly, but his mother reassured him, telling him that as long as they stuck together in a herd, they would not be attacked. She warned Fyn not to stray far from the herd for this reason. Eventually, the blowing winds began to calm again, and Fyn could see that they were getting closer to the mountains. Now he could see just how high they were. Some of them actually had clouds around their peaks. Every so often, he could see a flyer circling one, then swooping into the smaller mountains below.
They continued onwards, and when they were ordered to stop, they slept near the base of the mountains. The climate was cooler here, and Fyn was glad for a change in atmosphere. Perhaps now he could finally sleep restfully. He lay down to sleep, feeling the cool, dry earth underneath him, and, after a while, fell into a deep sleep. He wasn't asleep for long, however, when the sleep story came back.
In this version of his sleep story, everything up until the sandstorm was a blur. When he tried to look up through the hole in the sandstorm, as he'd done every other time, no hole was there. Now he was frightened. He could see nothing but the ground beneath his feet. He started to walk, hoping that he could find a way out. Then, as suddenly as the sandstorm had started, it faded away, replaced by a bright light. Fyn blinked, and strained his eyes to make out what was in front of him. From the looks of things, he was in a cave, and the light was pouring from a round opening in front of him. As his eyes adjusted even more, he could make out a figure, standing in the light.
"Grandpa!" he said.
In fact, the figure was Poldar, but there were no marks on him; nothing to indicate that he'd been in a fight with a Sharptooth. In fact, everything about him looked pristine. At the sight of him, Fyn was overwhelmed. Suddenly, he broke down in front of Poldar.
"Grandpa, I failed. I didn't do what you wanted. Now Sorven is the leader."
Poldar smiled. "You must not blame yourself for what happened. You had no choice."
"That's what everyone tells me, but I don't believe it."
"All that you need be concerned about is getting everyone to the Valley safely. This is the ultimate role of a herd leader, and you haven't failed, as far as I can see. And trust me," he chuckled, "I can see a lot more now."
"What do you mean?"
"You and your mother took in Alten when everyone else had left him to die. Sorven may be the herd leader by title, but you are performing the leader's duties, and my final instructions to you as well."
"I guess that does make me feel a bit better." Then he remembered something.
"What about Dad and my sisters. Are they...?"
"Some things I cannot tell you, but know this: so far, your father has held up his promise."
"Grandpa, I wish you were here. Our journey is almost over."
Poldar looked at him with a more serious expression now.
"Your journey is far from over, Fyn. In fact, the hardest part is yet to come."
"But we're close now, and I know the way-"
"Keep your wits about you and your heart close as you journey towards your final destination, my Grandson." Poldar was starting to fade away, and the light behind him was growing brighter.
"Grandpa, wait! There's so much more I want to know!"
"Make me proud, grandson," Poldar said, and the last thing Fyn saw of him was his smile, so proud and wise, fading into light. The light flared once, in a spectacular display, then everything went dark.
Fyn woke up to the sounds of the herd moving. Apparently, Sorven had wasted no time in getting everyone to leave.
"Maybe my information about the Fast Biters scared him after all." He thought about his dream. Had his grandfather really spoken with him, or had he imagined it all? One way or another, what he had said echoed clearly in his mind. The challenge was not in what he had already done, but what lay ahead. Fyn felt beaten by the journey, the hardships, and the unfairness of his situation, yet now something inside him had changed. Something small, but still present, like a single voice amidst a crowd; a voice telling him that all was not lost, that he wasn't a failure, and that he would see this journey through, come what may. Fyn gathered himself and followed the herd once again, saying nothing.
It wasn't long before the herd came to a pass leading into the Mountains that Burn.
"Where to from here?" Sorven called in his usual, unfriendly manner.
"All my grandfather said was that it's in these mountains somewhere," Fyn answered.
Sorven did not approve of this answer. "I've had it with you. Your grandfather was an old fool to not give you specific directions. From here on out, I'll find my own way! I can find the Great Valley without Poldar's help." He turned to Keva. "I can see now. I should have dealt with you and your son long ago. It will give me great pleasure to do this."
Sorven lowered into an attacking stance, his tail raised and his feet planted for a charge. Fyn could tell that this time, there would be no going back. Sorven had been pushed too far over the edge. Warily, Keva adopted a defensive stance, and Alten rushed to her side. Suddenly, Sorven froze, and his eyes widened, focusing on something behind Fyn and Keva. Alten had seen it, too.
Slowly, Fyn turned around. Standing only about a tree's length away was the Fast Biter he'd seen earlier that day. It looked at him, and made a curious chattering sound. Its large toe claw clicked on the rocky ground. Suddenly, it raised its head and emitted an abrupt bark. As if on cue, others began to appear on all sides but the entrance to the mountains. The herd began to back towards the entrance. With every step they took, the Fast Biters followed. For now, the herd was pushed together into a compact group. However, one Longneck accidentally broke out of the group. Immediately, the Fast Biters focused their attention on him. He stepped back into the group just in time, as the Fast Biters jumped at him. They fell short, backing off and snarling.
Sorven, meanwhile, was at the back of the herd, safe, or so he thought. He began to formulate a plan. The herd was between the Fast Biters and himself. If he ran now, he could make it the rest of the way to the Great Valley on his own, while the herd was distracting the creatures. "Yes," he thought, "the herd will eventually be overcome, but they would have died anyway. Their deaths are of no consequence. Perhaps I can even play the story to make me a hero, the sole survivor, when I reach the Great Valley. It will be a tragic, but unavoidable accident." He chuckled, running through the plan a second time. It sounded good, but he was running out of time to put it into action. Swiftly, he made up his mind, turned, and prepared to desert his herd.
Fyn saw Sorven preparing to leave. "Coward," he thought, "leaving us all to die here while he takes the Great Valley for himself." Suddenly, he remembered what happened when one of the Longnecks had stepped out of the herd, how the Fast Biters had been onto him faster than the wind. He disliked Sorven, but no one deserved to die by the Fast Biters.
"Sorven! Don't move!" he cried.
Sorven saw him and grinned. "Good luck, kid. Such a shame the whole herd had to be wiped out by the Fast Biters, with I alone surviving. Give my regards to your grandfather when you see him. It won't be long, now."
Sorven took off, running with all of his might. The Fast Biters, as Fyn predicted, saw him immediately, and they were much faster. Within moments, they caught up to him. One jumped onto his flank, digging its terrible claw into him. Two more jumped onto his back. Fyn looked away as more piled onto the helpless Sorven. The sounds of his death were cut off after a few short moments. All in the herd were silent. Sorven's death had attracted the entire Fast Biter pack. Fyn saw the opportunity.
"We need to go while the Fast Biters are distracted. There's nothing we can do for Sorven now," he whispered. The Longnecks around him agreed, and word was passed down.
"It looks like they're only attacking us only if we leave the herd," Fyn added, "follow me and stay together. I think I can get us around them."
Slowly, Fyn began to edge along the opposite side of the pass. The herd followed. As they passed the Fast Biters, some looked up and screeched, but none attacked. They were too intrigued by their new meal. Fyn tried not to look at what was left of Sorven. No dinosaur deserved that fate. Finally, when they were farther down the pass, and the Fast Biters were out of sight, they stopped.
"Fyn," Keva said, coming up behind the little Fin-Neck, "I think you've shown the herd exactly how capable a leader you really are."
Fyn tried to comprehend what she had just said. All he had done was told his fellow Longnecks how to stay safe during the Fast Biter attack, and guided the herd past them. Then he looked down. He was standing in front of the entire herd, the position Poldar had always taken. He thought back to what his grandfather had said in his sleep story. When Fyn had told Poldar that he had failed him, Poldar simply responded by saying "All that you need be concerned about is getting everyone to the Valley safely. This is the ultimate role of a herd leader, and you haven't failed, as far as I can see." The more Fyn thought about it, the more he realized that his actions had been those of a herd leader. Now, his task was clear. The burden of leadership was his to bear, and he would bear it with honor, and with the strength and compassion of his grandfather behind him. On the horizon, the Bright Circle was setting on another day. Night was following, and with it, Fyn could begin to see the very first stars start to form in the sky. He looked up to them, realizing that his grandfather must be up there, smiling. A single tear came to his eye.
"This is for you, grandpa," he whispered.
He turned to the herd.
"With Sorven dead, I assume leadership of the herd, being next in line, unless there are any challenges."
No one spoke. It seemed that the herd had more confidence in him than he had previously felt. Fyn felt anxiety and excitement flowing through him. This was his chance, his opportunity to bring his kind to a better life. He calmed himself, clearing his mind and making a final decision.
"I can see green food growing on the slopes of this pass a little farther ahead. We'll head for that and stop."
The other Longnecks nodded assent. Fyn instinctively waited for the call to begin the walk. Then he realized it was his responsibility, now. He gathered all of the air he could fit into his lungs, and released it, forming an entirely anticlimactic bleat. Several of the grown-ups behind him laughed.
"Okay," he admitted, "so that needs a bit of work. First things first, I guess. Let's get to that food."
He walked, and as he moved, he could feel the ground behind him shaking. The others were following him. He would never have believed it if he hadn't been here, right now. Each tremor he felt was another life, another story, counting on him to bring it to safety. The feeling was exhilarating, and it brought on a new feeling of maturity in him. Now he could do what he did best: help others.
"I wonder what Salde and Rya would say about this," he thought. Then he was hit by pangs of loss, remembering that they weren't here. He hoped they were safe. He quickly put the thought out of his mind. He had a mission to accomplish. There would be time for thought and reflection when everyone was resting, secure.
Before long, Fyn decided that there was enough green food growing on the rocky walls to feed everyone, and called a stop. He addressed his fellow Longnecks.
"We'll stop here. Eat what you can, but try to save some for everyone. Remember, when the Night Circle rises tomorrow, we could easily be in the Great Valley, and who knows what delicious food grows there?"
His words had apparently had an effect. Some of the herd began to talk amongst each other, telling each other what food they thought would grow in the Great Valley. While they fed and talked, Keva and Alten walked up to him.
"So," said Alten in a joking manner, "how's your new position treating you?"
Keva caught on. "Oh yes, what can I do for you, my most powerful and supreme leader?"
Fyn blushed, and the two older Longnecks laughed.
"I'm proud of you and how you handled things today," Keva said. "Your grandfather didn't make his decisions without careful consideration, and this choice was the right one. Maybe he even knew this would happen-" her voice trailed off. The subject of Poldar's death was still fresh in everyone's mind, and talking about him still brought up strong emotions.
"Mother, you should go eat," Fyn said.
"Not without you," she countered.
"I'm a herd leader now, I eat last. Do as I say and get food," he said in a mock authoritative tone.
"A leader you may be, but you're still my son. Come on, no one's touched the green food over there yet." She gestured towards a small rocky platform covered with grasses and tiny trees.
"I suppose I can't argue with that," Fyn said. He and his mother began to walk away, then he looked back and saw Alten, standing alone.
"Come on, Alten," he said, "you're invited, too."
As always, Alten was ready with a quip. "Ah the great leader summons me. I must come at once. As if I actually need an invitation to enjoy good food." He licked his chops.
Fyn laughed. "You'd better get moving then, or it'll all be gone when you get there."
He and his mother walked over to the platform, with Alten trailing. When they arrived, Fyn could tell there was a problem: it was too high for him to reach, and his mother and Alten could only reach the food that grew on its edge.
"Hmm," Keva said with a smile, "it looks like I need to find a way to get you up there."
She pretended to think for a moment, then dipped her head towards Fyn, scooping him up. "Hold on!" she said. Fyn rose quickly, and held onto his mother's face tightly as she reared up on her hind legs. When she finally stopped, all he had to do was step off. His mother's action seemed very familiar. Fyn tried to recall where he'd seen it before. Then he remembered.
"I didn't know you knew how to do that move, too. The last time I saw it, Dad used it on a Sharptooth."
"Well," she said, "it's not hard to do, it just takes practice and balance. Your father was very good at using it to get to the tops of trees. He's creative, and I can understand how he managed to use it on a Sharptooth."
"He told me he'd teach it to me someday."
"Why not learn now?"
Fyn was ecstatic. "Really? You'd teach me?"
"Sure," she said, then turning to Alten, who was gorging himself on some delicious-looking sprouts she added "do you want to help at all?"
She got no response. Alten was truly in a state of bliss, to the point where it was comical. Both Fyn and Keva laughed. In fact, Fyn realized that it was the first time that he and his mother had laughed in days. His mother directed her attention back to him.
"All right. Why don't you use that tree over there?" She gestured towards a tree about twice Fyn's height.
Fyn stepped over to it. "Okay, now what?"
"Now," Keva said, "place your front feet on the trunk, and walk them up."
Fyn did as he was told, walking his feet up the trunk until he was nearly vertical.
"Good, you've learned the first step. That's all you need to do to reach a high tree. Now try pushing back off and balancing yourself."
Fyn gulped. This would be tricky. Trying not to think too hard about what he was doing, he pushed himself backwards... and was immediately rewarded by a face full of grass. His mother laughed.
"Try again," she said.
In all actuality, it took Fyn several tries before he could balance, and even then, he couldn't stay up for long. It would take a while before he could perform the action starting from the ground, instead of a tree. He finished his practice and began to eat. The green food here was delicious, and nowhere near as dry as what grew in the Drylands. His mother was enjoying it, too. Alten had already eaten his fill. Keva jokingly offered him a clump of grass, and he put on the most hilarious sick face Fyn had ever seen. Finally, when they were done, they headed back to the rest of the herd. Morale was high. Everyone was talking about the Great Valley. Despite the hardships they had faced, all of the fatigue seemed to disappear from them. Soon, everyone fell asleep. Fyn followed them, trembling with excitement about what might await him tomorrow.
The Fast Biters had been eating since they brought the Longneck down. Their target had been large, and it didn't take long for them to all eat their fill. Now they simply stood by, guarding their prize. As they stood by, their leader chattered loudly; a warning call. The other Fast Biters looked at him in surprise. They could face most threats in the Drylands or in this pass. Then they felt it. The ground began to shake. It was almost imperceptible at first, but soon everyone could feel it. They began to flee in a wide arc, first towards the other side of the pass, then towards the Drylands. It didn't take long for them to see their intruder. Heading for the carcass was a fully-grown Sharptooth. As he moved forward, they could see that he had a long, ugly scar running across his back, and limped slightly.
The Sharptooth stopped in front of the Longneck, examining it. It wasn't the one that had defeated him, but at least it was food. It began to devour what was left, leaving nothing behind but bones for the Fast Biters. Tonight, he would rest, but already he could smell the herd. Tomorrow, he would track them down easily, and finish them all. He laid his head down and closed his eyes, falling into a dreamless sleep. Tomorrow, for better or worse, there would be a reckoning.
Fyn awoke the next morning to what he saw as a brand new beginning. No longer did he have to live in the shadow of fear that Sorven's leadership had become. Today, he would finally see the Great Valley, or he would die trying. He decided to wait for everyone else to wake. Everyone would need all the energy they could muster for the final push for the Valley. Already, some of the dinosaurs were waking. The wind had picked up speed again, and the pass was channeling it into fast-moving streams. When everyone was awake, Fyn made sure they were fed, and started the last stretch of the journey. Immediately, he began to look for signs of the Smoking Mountain. His father had told him that it sat on one side of the Valley. If they could find it, they would be close to the cave that led into the Great Valley.
"Everyone," he said, "we need to keep moving so we can spot the Smoking Mountain."
He was met with blank stares from most of the herd. Fyn was worried. Was he losing his credibility as leader already? Then he remembered that not many of them had been told the same stories we had.
"The Smoking Mountain," he said, "is a big mountain that shoots out fire and smoke. It's located in the Great Valley, so if we can find it, we'll be close. If we can find the smoke, we can follow it to the source."
Now, everyone understood. As they moved out, everyone began looking for some sign. They climbed up narrow paths, and traversed slippery, rocky terrain, all the while searching. Finally, near the peak of one mountain, they saw thick, black smoke pouring out from a place farther into the range. Upon closer examination, Fyn could see that the smoke was coming from something that looked like a mountain, with the top missing.
"That's it." Fyn called to the Longnecks. "All we have to do is head for the smoke." As they started down, Fyn began to wonder why this day was supposed to be a challenge, and why this particular range was called the "Mountains that Burn." Everything today had been easy so far, not to mention that everyone was in good spirits. Fyn started to let his mind wander, wondering what the Great Valley would be like, then he caught himself. He was becoming complacent, and complacency, he decided, could make short work of a herd. As they traveled farther, the air became thick with heat, and plants were fewer and farther between. The rocks, as well as the very ground, also became dark, almost black. Fyn wasn't sure, but he had a feeling that they were coming close to the heart of the Mountains that Burn. They continued onwards, feeling the intense heat that was now radiating from the ground and the air. Still, they walked. Finally, after navigating through shallow canyons that seemed to be made of some strange black rock, the Longnecks were confronted by a sight unlike anything they had ever seen. Towering in front of them was the Smoking Mountain. Fire flowed down its sides, and its thick smoke blocked out any light from the Bright Circle. In front of the herd was a flat, charred landscape, pockmarked with holes and cracks. Periodically, steam and fire would gush into the air through one of these. It reminded Fyn of the jumping water field back at home, only more dangerous. On the other side of the field was a canyon, but it was deeper, and rocks piled up on one side of it had mostly protected it from the Smoking Mountain's wrath.
"Listen, everyone," he said, "See that canyon? That's where we're going next. I know this field looks frightening, but it's just like the jumping water field. As long as you know where to step, you'll be fine. He moved forward, onto the black plain to prove it. The next to follow were his mother and Alten. Soon, everyone was moving across the field. They soon learned to avoid the holes and cracks, which were the only places that were dangerous. Fyn was impressed. They were making progress. Just as he crossed the middle of the field, he heard a bone-rattling roar from behind. Turning around, he saw something he had hoped he would never see again. It was the Sharptooth that had killed Poldar. Somehow, he had survived and followed the herd here. He obviously had not fared well through the fight at the crack in the earth. He walked with a slight limp, and had a scar running down his back, from where Poldar had hit him with his tail. Everyone was alerted. They began to scatter, running blindly.
"No!" Fyn shouted, "Stay as a herd. If we panic, we'll just bring more danger to ourselves."
Somehow, the Longnecks heard him. As the Sharptooth approached, they all came to Fyn, and formed their herd assembly. The Sharptooth was unphased. Fyn decided that it was bent on only one thing: revenge.
"Everyone move back!" he ordered. The herd began to move, but the Sharptooth was gaining. As it came closer, a voice shouted from the back of the herd.
"This Sharptooth wants me. Let him have his fight."
To Fyn's astonishment, Keva stepped out of the herd. Fyn saw in her eyes that stopping her would be impossible. Even so, as her son he tried to convince her otherwise.
"You don't have to do this, Mother."
Keva looked Fyn squarely in the eye. "Yes I do. It's time for this to end. He's not scared of any of us. If we continue to move back, it will still follow.
"Listen to me now, Fyn. As my son. Follow Poldar's instructions. Your purpose is to make sure everyone else gets to the Great Valley safely. Don't worry, I can handle myself. Go now!"
She adopted her defensive stance as the Sharptooth advanced. His eyes narrowed. This dinosaur had been there when he was defeated. She would die first. He growled, advancing slowly, cautiously. Fyn was mesmerized by the sight. Now, the two were circling, each waiting for the other to move.
"Fyn, you need to get the herd to move. I'll help your mother," said Alten, emerging from the herd.
"Right," Fyn agreed, tearing his eyes away from the scene in front of him.
"Everyone to the canyon!" he yelled. The wind was blowing violently now, sending burning ash all over. The herd paid no attention to the stinging debris. They moved swiftly, navigating around the field, until finally they reached the canyon on the other side. Once everyone was safely across, Fyn looked back. Alten, Keva, and the Sharptooth were still locked in combat. No one had taken serious damage yet, but both sides had surface scrapes. As he watched, he saw something forming in the distance. He squinted to see it. Whatever it was, it was growing and moving fast. Then he remembered the last part of his sleep story and he knew exactly what it was. It was a sandstorm, and it was headed straight for him! He called to his mother and Alten.
"Sandstorm! Get out of there!"
Alten heard him, and quickly looked towards the roiling sand moving ever closer. It wasn't a long glance, but it was just the advantage the Sharptooth needed. He dove forward, putting all of his strength into a single ramming charge. Alten was knocked off his feet, and immobilized. As Keva saw him laying on the scorching earth, she flashed back to the first time the Sharptooth attacked. In Alten, she saw Labon, also immobilized and struggling to get up. Again, the Sharptooth ignored her and advanced for the kill. Keva had to stop it. Thinking quickly, she rushed for the Sharptooth.
"This is for my father!" she yelled, capturing the beast's attention. When the Sharptooth turned his head, she was ready. She reared up on her back legs, and shoved the Sharptooth forward with all of her strength, just as Labon did to defend Fyn back at the grove, but this time, instead of pulling back, she followed through all the way to the ground. The Sharptooth smashed into the earth, and Fyn heard a loud crack. The rise and fall of the Sharptooth's chest grew slower, then stopped. It was finally dead. Fyn looked at his mother's face, expecting to see some sort of joy, or at least relief. He saw none. His mother's face was passive. She had done what she had to do. Nothing more. She moved over to Alten, to help him up. At that moment, his world became brown, and filled with flying sand, which stung when it hit him. He scolded himself internally for getting so carried away with the battle that he forgot about the approaching he realized that Keva and Alten were still out there, and they couldn't see where to go. Without sight, crossing the field would be very dangerous. He made up his mind to help them, but he had something else to take care of, first.
"I'm here!" he called to the herd, their sight restricted by the blowing sand. "Listen to me. I'm going back out to help Keva and Alten. Stay exactly where you are." He could see nothing, but their voices all agreed. Moving quickly, he stepped back onto the dangerous field. Being small, he had an advantage others didn't. He was closer to the ground, and could make out most of the path in front of him. As he moved farther and farther away from the herd, he tried to walk in as straight a line as possible. "Mother, Alten!" he called.
"Over here!" Fyn followed the sound of the grown-ups' voices. Through the sand, he could make out their silhouettes. Thankfully, Alten was back on his feet.
"Fyn, I can see you," Keva said.
"Follow me, and stay close. We can do this." Fyn said through the howling wind.
The Longnecks moved closer, bending down as far as they could to see Fyn. Slowly, they began to work their way back. They moved with caution, and Fyn could see relatively far ahead. Before they were back, though, a booming sound rocked the entire range. Fire erupted into the air directly next to Alten. He stumbled, but was supported by Keva. Fyn quickly determined what was happening. The Smoking Mountain was erupting.
"Move faster!" he yelled. The ground was shaking, and fire and steam began to break through normal patches of ground, as well as the cracks and holes. Fyn pushed forward faster. Finally, they made it back into the canyon.
"Is everyone still here?" Fyn called. Everyone answered back with confirmation.
"Good," Fyn said. The storm wasn't letting up, and if they were going to try to make it to the Great Valley, he'd need to pay attention to where they were going. "Follow Keva and Alten. They'll follow me." Again, murmurs of assent could be heard. Suddenly, Fyn heard a hissing noise behind him. Through the sandstorm, he could just make out a bright, glowing orange shape.
"The fire that flows," he thought. This time, though, it had started to spread across the field, and was heading for them. Wasting no time, Fyn started to walk into the driving wind and stinging sand, with the herd following. They moved until they could no longer hear the hissing behind them. Unfortunately, the storm was still acting up. Fyn was starting to believe that he'd made everyone lost. They would be wandering these mountains forever, just trying to find the entrance to the Great Valley. Exhausted, he finally broke down, falling onto the dirt. The challenges had been too much, and Fyn felt he'd never truly been ready for this position. As he lay, he could hear the others wondering why they'd stopped, and why Fyn wasn't speaking. Finally, Fyn realized something. Whether he had given up or not, they at least deserved a chance at a better life. He'd finish this journey for them, for the herd. Picking himself off of the ground, he noticed two things. The first was that the sandstorm was slowly dying down, and the second was that he was standing on grass. What had his grandfather's final direction been? He racked his brain until it came to him.
"The cave opening into the Great Valley is hidden by trees and boulders. The only sign that it's there at all is a small stream flowing out of the trees. This stream leads to a pond shaped like a Longneck's foot. When you find the stream, you must follow it into the cave. The Great Valley is on the other side."
As his visibility became better, Fyn could now see that water was in front of him. Relieved, he began to drink, to wet his sand-dried mouth. It wasn't until he lifted his head back up that he realized that he was drinking out of a pond. And it looked exactly like a Longneck's foot!
Meanwhile, everyone had begun to talk, nervously chatting about whether or not they'd actually find the Great Valley. Fyn shushed them, and listened. Just above the sound of the dying wind, he could hear a slight trickling. He rushed towards it. Sure enough, it was a small stream flowing into the pond, just as Poldar had said.
"Everyone come here!" He yelled, his voice filled with excitement. They could all see clearly now, and they followed the little Fin-Neck. Fyn began to follow the stream, which led up to a thick stand of trees.
"We'll have to push through," Keva said from behind.
Nodding, Fyn began to move through the underbrush. It was so thick, that every step he took was met with resistance. He pushed on, breaking through the green barrier until finally, he tumbled out on the other side. Shaking his head, he looked at his surroundings. Right in front of him was the last location he had to find: the cave. It was massive, and the entrance could easily fit five Longnecks side by side. As Keva emerged from the trees, Fyn spoke.
"Mother, it's just through this cave, we're almost there!"
She had no words; the sight left her breathless, but she nodded. As everyone else emerged from the trees, Fyn addressed them all.
"This is it. The last obstacle, the only other thing standing between us and our future. My grandfather told me that his one wish was not to set foot in the Great Valley, but to ensure that everyone else could first. Today, we are all honoring his wish." He paused. The next part of his speech would be difficult for him. "I want everyone to remember him," he said, choking up, "and everyone else who lost their lives to help us achieve this goal, as we walk through this cave." Fyn could see that his speech had brought tears to the eyes of many of the Longnecks. He was not the only one to lose a family member forever on this journey. When everyone was ready, Fyn crossed into the cave. Everyone followed behind.
The trip through the cave was so silent, with everyone deep in reflection, that they could hear drops of water hitting the floor far away. Fyn, himself, was deep in thought. He thought of the first dinosaurs to fall in the Sail-Tooth attack, those who had succumbed to the heat in the desert, and Poldar and Sorven, two polar opposites who had been brought down by Sharpteeth; one trying to save the herd and the other fleeing. He also thought about Labon and his sisters. Were they safe? He had no way of knowing. He thought about them until his ears picked up a roaring noise up ahead. Curious, he ran towards it. As he rounded a bend, he slipped in some mud. He quickly got up and shook himself clean, and in doing so, noticed something in the mud. It was a footprint, just the right size for a Fin-Neck. Could it mean that-?
He had to know. Ahead, he could see the cave opening. It was bright, just as it had been in his dream, but as Fyn approached, he could see that the brightness was water. He was slack-jawed with amazement; he was standing right behind a massive waterfall. The grove had small ones, so waterfalls were nothing strange to him, but none even slightly compared to this one. He could see a rock ledge just at the cave's opening. As the herd began to join him, Fyn stepped onto the ledge. A path led from it to the world outside. Fyn began to follow the path, not knowing what to expect on the other side of the falling water. As he began to step outside of the waterfall, his eyes squinted, from the sudden brightness of the sun. He fought to regain his vision. When it finally did return, he was greeted by a miraculous sight.
Down below was the most luscious, green paradise he'd ever seen. He could see that at the point where the waterfall met the ground, there was a small lake, off of which a winding river flowed. In the distance, he could see the Smoking Mountain, one of his last challenges, as well as his guiding sign to the Great Valley. The Valley had wide open plains, lush jungle, and places like the grove, where the thick jungle gave way to small clusters of trees and rocks. In short, it had everything it needed for Leaf-Eaters to survive. Perhaps one of the most important things Fyn saw as he looked down into the Great Valley, though, was dinosaurs of every shape, size, and color. As everyone else joined him, all marveled at the sight before them. Some even thought they'd died.
Fyn turned to his mother. "We made it, just like Grandpa said we would."
"Yes, Fyn," she said softly, in awe, "we did."
Fyn continued to follow the path, which led down towards the Valley floor. The path was worn smooth, but the rock was not slippery. Fyn was relieved that he could finally walk down a slope without the fear of falling. Ahead, he could see five young dinosaurs playing on the rocks: a Swimmer, a Flyer, a Spiketail, a Three-Horn, and a Longneck. Running ahead of the herd, Fyn decided to introduce himself. As he approached, the other dinosaurs looked up from their game.
"Oh boy, Farwalkers!" the Swimmer proclaimed.
"Oh no," the Three-Horn groaned, "more Longnecks."
All of them turned to greet Fyn as he approached. Fyn spoke first.
"Hi, my name's Fyn. I'm a Fin-Neck. My family and I are new here. We came from the Mysterious Beyond."
At these words, the other Longneck's eyes lit up. "The Mysterious Beyond? You migrated here?" he seemed to reflect on something briefly, then spoke again. "Well congratulations on finding the Great Valley. I'm Littlefoot, and these-" he gestured to the other assorted dinosaurs "-are my friends."
The Three-Horn spoke first. "I'm Cera."
"Me Petrie," the Flyer said in a squeaky voice. Then, it was the little Swimmer's turn.
"I'm Ducky, and this is my brother, Spike. He cannot talk, no no no." At these words, the Spiketail mumbled something and nodded his head.
"Do you want to come meet my grandparents?" Littlefoot asked. Fyn was delighted, but as the herd approached from behind, he remembered that his task wasn't over yet.
"I will in a moment," he said, "but my herd needs to find whoever greets the newcomers."
"Well that's not a problem at all," Littlefoot said, "my grandparents do that."
"Great," Fyn said. "Can you show us the way?"
Fyn followed Littlefoot down into the Valley. Next to him flew Petrie, asking questions.
"So you come from Mysterious Beyond? What it like where you live?"
"Well, there are less trees, and it's right in the middle of the Drylands," Fyn answered. "Until now, we never had to leave, but we were driven out by Sharpteeth."
Petrie nodded. "Me see Sharpteeth before. They mean and vicious, grr."
Fyn laughed, in spite of himself. The little Flyer was hilarious. Next, it was the swimmer's turn to speak.
"I hope you do not mind me asking, but what is that on your neck?" Fyn was confused for a moment, then realized that Ducky had probably never seen a Fin-Neck before.
"That's my sail," he said, "I was born with it."
"Oh," Ducky said, "well I think it looks neat, yep yep yep."
Fyn saw that Littlefoot was approaching two of the biggest Longnecks he'd ever seen. They were certainly much bigger than his parents. A little intimidated, he asked Littlefoot "are they your grandparents?"
Littlefoot smiled. "They are, but don't be worried, they're really nice." As the herd moved forward, Littlefoot ran to his grandfather.
"Grandpa, there's a new herd here, and I found a new friend," he gestured to Fyn.
Littlefoot's grandfather looked at Fyn. "I'm very glad you made it here. What is your name?"
"Well, Fyn, I'm sure you and your family will be quite content here." Littlefoot had been right. His grandfather was soft-spoken and kind. The Longneck addressed Keva, who had been in line behind Fyn.
"Welcome to the Great Valley. It's been a long time since we've seen Fin-Necks here. Please feel free to stay and enjoy what we have to offer." Apparently word had spread, because other dinosaurs began to come from all sides, eager to see the newcomers.
"We thank you for your hospitality," Keva said. "We plan to live here now. Our old home was taken by Sharpteeth."
The old Longneck nodded solemnly. Fyn could see that he understood. "You are safe here, now, and my congratulations go out to your herd, as well as yourself, for braving the perils of the Mysterious Beyond to lead them here."
"You're very kind," Keva said, "but I'm not the herd leader."
"I beg your pardon?" said a Three-Horn who had just taken his place next to Littlefoot's grandparents.
"I'm not the leader," Keva repeated.
"Then who is?" the Three-Horn questioned.
"I am," Fyn said, stepping forwards. Littlefoot and his friends were in awe, and the grown-ups were stunned, amazed at how such a young dinosaur had accomplished such a feat. The Three-Horn, especially, looked dumbfounded.
Cera walked up behind Fyn. "My dad's probably in shock, now that he knows a kid Longneck led a herd of Longnecks across the Mysterious Beyond. He really can't stand to be outdone. Don't worry about it. He'll calm down."
Fyn was relieved. The last thing he wanted to do was to make enemies here. Finally, it was Littlefoot's grandmother who spoke.
"Well, this certainly is an inspiring turn of events. This has never been done in the history of the Great Valley." Addressing Fyn she said "your bravery will be remembered here for a long time."
Fyn thanked her. As he turned to join Littlefoot and his friends, he remembered the footprint in the cave.
"Sir," he said to Littlefoot's grandfather, "did any other Fin-Necks come here recently?"
The old Longneck thought for a moment. "As a matter of fact, two young girl Fin-Necks, and their father arrived just before you did."
Fyn's heart nearly stopped. They had made it.
"Thank you," he said. He left to search the crowd. Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike caught up with him.
"What you looking for?" Petrie asked.
"During the journey, my dad and sisters were separated from me. I think they're here."
Petrie rocketed up into the sky and hovered, observing.
"Is that them?"
Fyn followed his gaze. Moving towards the herd were three Fin-Necks. Fyn could see that one was significantly larger than the other two. He knew exactly who they were.
"Dad, Salde, Rya, you're here!" he called, running to them. When they met, all of them embraced.
"I'm so proud of you, Fyn," Labon said. "I knew you'd be able to do it." As he and his father touched muzzles, Fyn realized that the leadership of the herd was no longer his. Labon was back.
"You know," Labon said, "if you want, you can lead the herd for a while."
Fyn thought about it. He had enjoyed much about leading, but he was still a child. One thing he'd noticed as herd leader was that he had matured mentally at a rapid pace. He wasn't sure he wanted that yet.
"Thanks Dad, but I still have to live as a kid first."
Labon understood. "I'll resume my role as leader, then, but first you have to give me permission."
Fyn tried to remember how the exchange was done. Grinning, he said "I... turn my leadership over... to you?"
"Close enough," Labon said, "now I'm going to go see your mother. Are you coming?"
Fyn looked back towards his new friends.
"Ah, I see," said Labon. "Meet us here when you're ready to come back."
"Thanks, Dad," Fyn said. He started towards his friends, but there was one final word of thanks for him. It was Alten.
"Fyn, I want to thank you personally. If it wasn't for you and your mother, I wouldn't be standing here today. I owe you my life. You can always count on me as a friend." The Longneck walked away, to join the herd. Fyn was glad that he'd arrived safely. After the injustice he suffered under Sorven, it seemed natural. As he prepared to join his new friends, he realized that he had one last "thank you" to make.
"Fyn, are you coming?" Ducky asked.
"In a moment," he answered. Fyn looked up at the sky, where the stars were starting to show. "Thank you, Grandpa." he whispered.
Then, he turned and ran to his friends. A new chapter had opened on his life. Fyn would come to have many adventures with Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie, and Spike as they grew together, and all of theme would become great friends.
But those are other stories.
I always loved watching The Land Before Time as a kid. I loved the characters, and dinosaurs in general have always interested me. Watching the movies, I cried when Littlefoot's mother died, and laughed at the antics of Petrie, the comic relief of the Great Valley. The movies were my inspiration, and I told myself they would always be my favorites. There came a time, though, when I began to move away from it, gravitating towards other things in life. I lost any connection I once had to The Land Before Time. Then, five years ago, my little brother was born. Within a year, he was watching the movies. One night, I sat down with him and watched the first Land Before Time. Watching from the standpoint of an older teenager, I saw deeper into the story, and into the characters and their motivations. It was then that I decided to create a character who represented me. At this point, there was no plan to write anything, I just felt I should try to see what my own idea for a character would look and act like. I started off with my favorite herbivore: Amargasaurus, and gave him a name: Fyn, a name that I felt symbolized one of Amargasaurus' best traits: the sail it proudly wore. I began to flesh out his background story, building on it day by day. Eventually, over the next four years I noticed that some of his traits began to mirror my own. It was at that point that I decided to start creating a solid story. I began with one sentence, a sentence that could have been spoken by any narrator in the Land Before Time series: "Millions of years ago, when the earth was young, the world was a much different place." Even as a young adult, the words still carried a sort of power, and majesty. From there, I created a sequence of events that, in some cases, were similar to things I had encountered in my life: the death of Fyn's grandfather, long separation from my own father, being given a leadership position and not feeling ready for it, and the strong bond between the main characters. Finishing this work was physically draining, and I typed the last chapter almost entirely in one sitting, but I feel it was well worth it. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I close now with an old Fin-Neck saying.
"May the Bright Circle's light always guide your journey."
Thank you for reading this work. I look forward to continuing writing about Fyn and his adventures with Littlefoot, Cera, Petrie, Ducky, and Spike in the near future. Until then, read on and write on, fellow authors!