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DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #80 on: September 09, 2018, 09:09:29 AM »
FF.net link:  https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/13/We-Will-Hold-On-Forever

--

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 13: New Routines Part 1
“Angle your head like that Tria. Yes, that’s it…”

Tria stepped back. Cera and Tricia sat next to Mr. Threehorn as they watched him sternly instruct his mate on how to attack the boulder that had inexplicably rolled into this clearing far from any mountains long ago. Tricia sat on Cera’s foreleg, the sisters chewing leaves almost in tune as the three watched Tria.

Taking a deep breath, Tria charged and her horns crashed into the boulder. There was a spray of rocks and gravel. Shaking her head, Tria backed away and they assessed the damage. So far, less than a quarter of the boulder had been broken, pieces ranging from the size of Cera’s horn to her head scattered about. Tria panted, sweat tracing lines in the dust on her hide.

“Ah, I see the training bug’s catching.”

Verter strolled in, giving a nod to Mr. Threehorn. Chomper followed in the former’s wake. He waved to Cera and Tricia, but didn’t get any closer. With Tricia so young, they didn’t want to leave her with the impression it was okay to approach sharpteeth. Mr. Threehorn looked up and smiled. Cera thought his gaze lingered on Chomper’s few cuts and bruises, but his eyes flicked back to Verter so fast she wondered if she imagined it.

“You could say that, Verter.” Mr. Threehorn greeted. “I think she’s doing fair so far.”

Verter examined Tria’s handiwork. “What’s with the training interest all of a sudden?”

“Well, you heard about our family’s penchant for danger.” Tria said, stepping back. “After one too many near misses, I thought my husband shouldn’t do most of the fighting. If even Cera and Chomper are contributing, I shouldn’t be standing by.”

Verter watched as she backed a few paces and rammed into the boulder again, spraying more rocks onto the ground.

“Well, good luck with that.” He smiled. “Cera, come on. It’s time for us to work up a sweat.”

“Okay.” Cera said, reluctantly pulling her foot from Tricia as she stood.

“Oh, don’t be in a rush, Verter.” Mr. Threehorn waved his head invitingly. “Sit down. Press the grass.”

“I’m afraid I can’t waste time.” Verter said. “To prepare for this threat, these two need to get trained as quickly as possible.”

“I know, but it feels like a waste for you to be here and we don’t spend any time together. Shouldn’t we at least catch up a little?”

Verter hesitated. He smiled. “Well…for old time’s sake. Cera, Chomper, jog around the clearing while me and papa threehorn have a chat.”

“Alright.” Chomper said. “Come on, Cera.”

“Don’t ‘come on, Cera’ me.” Cera said. “I’ll lead the way.”

Chomper laughed but waved for her to walk alongside him.

“Tria, get used to ramming the boulder at that angle,” Mr. Threehorn said.

“Right, Topsy.”

As she and Chomper walked away, Cera couldn’t help glancing back. Tria had retreated and rammed the boulder again and then again, blue eyes unusually sharp. Cera winced. Tria was so sweet, so joyful in life’s little pleasures. It didn’t feel right she was throwing this much seriousness into learning how to protect them. It was only another sign of how abnormal everything had become. Shaking herself, Cera joined Chomper in working up for a morning jog.

Verter sat beside Mr. Threehorn. For a moment, they allowed the sound of Tria’s grunts and the crackle of the boulder to wash over them, soon joined by the fading in and out of Cera and Chomper’s footsteps and panting. Tricia padded over and leaned on Mr. Threehorn’s foreleg, closing her eyes at the contact.

“Your wit was missed yesterday.” Mr. Threehorn said finally. “It would have made the situation with Mr. Clubtail more tolerable.”

“If I did that, I might have hit a nerve and been accused of not taking the situation seriously.” Verter said. “You know the situation. I have to train those two.”

Mr. Threehorn nodded, watching Tria work. “How are they doing?”

“I told you yesterday. It’s only a first day but they are doing splendid. I’ve rarely seen children so young be so dedicated.” Verter smirked. “What, losing your memory at your old age?”

“No. Just,” Mr. Threehorn continued staring ahead, “Cera let slip about the vine you use yesterday.”

Verter frowned. “Topps…”

“Don’t see this as an issue of trust. It’s only natural we would check on our daughter after training. Though whipping…it seem we were right to be worried.”

“That is just to urge them on.” Verter said. “I’m not actually hitting them.”

“But we noticed some markings on her. And Chomper as well.” Mr. Threehorn replied. “This isn’t something we expected with the training you were talking about.”

“I just need to get back into the groove of using the vine. You remember our training when we were younger, harshness like that is normal.”

“But we agreed it wouldn’t be this harsh. They are children, they have limits. And I see how tired you are making them. You’re giving them the proper amounts of breaks, right?”

“I am.” Verter said. “Of course the first few days would be exhausting. They just need some time to acclimate to the routine.”

“I know. Still…” Mr. Threehorn sighed. “We didn’t know all the details. Maybe we were too quick to agree to this.”

Verter raised his head. “Are seriously thinking of calling this off?”

Mr. Threehorn met his eye. “I would if my daughter and her friend are at risk.”

“Since when was Chomper your child?” Verter said. “Will you indulge in their short-term comfort to push aside their long term needs?”

“I’m thinking about their long term wellbeing.” Mr. Threehorn said. “You weren’t exactly honest about the level of training this would be.”

“I thought we agreed on the level of training. Friends should trust each other, Topps. Is this one of Tria’s silly whims?”

“No, I share her worries. If Cera and Chomper are at risk, we might have to put a stop to this.”

Verter got to his feet. “That’s irresponsible!”

Mr. Threehorn stood up as well. “What would be irresponsible is letting two children take on responsibilities that are above them!”

“Is it really responsible to let a sharptooth child live here undisciplined and not have them be prepared when the killer could strike at any second?!”

They glared at each other, tense and ready to lock horns. Then a voice called near Mr. Threehorn’s foot. Tricia was pawing at her father, looking between him and Verter nervously and warbling pleadingly. Verter watched as Mr. Threehorn’s anger started out of him and he lowered his head to trace his muzzle across her side.

“You – you have a point.” Mr. Threehorn sighed. “Chomper does needs to be kept in check. And with this killer around and how adventures the children can be, they need to be prepared. I don’t like it but it’s necessary. This must be the parent in me talking. It can override the thinking part of my brain.”

Verter looked at him with surprise. “Well, that was quick. I didn’t expect you to give in so quickly.”

“Tricia woke me up.” Mr. Threehorn nuzzled her again, her little form relaxing and curling against him. “I didn’t want to start a fight while my youngest daughter was underfoot.”

There had been an abating in the rock cracking and Tria looked at them in concern.

“Everything alright over there?” she called.

“Don’t worry, we’ve settled things.” Mr. Threehorn replied. “Just go back to doing what you’re doing.”

Tria still looked uncertain but she nodded and went back to ramming her boulder. Verter watched Mr. Threehorn, something flickering in his expression.

“Hmm.” Verter sat down. “You sure have changed. I still remember a time you would be willing to fight no matter the time or place to deal with a spoiled upstart.”

“I know.” Mr. Threehorn’s lips twitched. “I still get the urge now and then but at my age, I need to choose my battles.”
   
“I can understand the sentiment. At our age, you have to become more thoughtful about conflict.” Verter smirked. “Youth was a simpler time. Remember that time someone said you passed the Threehorn Ascension test on a fluke? Oh, did you show him.”

“Yeah.” Mr. Threehorn smirked. “I plowed him into the ground. It was so satisfying to see him get up embarrassed.”

“Right?” Verter chuckled. “Oh, and there was that time an idiot challenged us on a route to a green glen. No matter what we said, he insisted he was right. After a long day of fighting, it was great to see you bend his horns and make him squeal in surrender.”

“It sure was. Oh, the faces he made when we made him eat the least appetizing green food at the glen. Priceless.” Mr. Threehorn chuckled. “Oh, do you also remember how I won a contest of strength? The guy was overconfident but I overpowered him and kept him from getting up until he admitted I was the stronger one. Seeing the look of humiliation on his face was worth all the cuts and bruises that came with fighting him.”

Verter and Mr. Threehorn laughed, old and familiar as they went through fond memories.

“I hear you still fight from time to time.” Verter said. “I’m sure you can keep up the good work.”

“Maybe.” Mr. Threehorn looked away. “But that is frowned upon around here. With so many different kinds and ways, we usually have to talk out our problems.”

“Oh, that’s rough.” Verter said, sympathetic. “To be faced with an absolute moron and not be able to do anything but argue them into submission must be torture.”

“No kidding.” Mr. Threehorn sighed. “Still, at least my daughters don’t have to be exposed to that kind of violence. They can enjoy life here without having to worry about a fight breaking out or seeing blood spilled.”

“Hmm.” Verter watched Tria crack into the boulder, leaving less than half of it left. He smiled. “Well, we saw a lot of fighting as kids and turned out alright.”

Mr. Threehorn snorted. “I’m not sure alright’s the right word. I still remember the blood my mother spilled to protect her territory. And what the herd leader did to that one guy…I’m amazed we had any childhood at all.”

“We still got up to a lot of mischief.” Verter chuckled, looking up in reminiscence. “The stunts you would pull even during the Time of the Great Growing…there was that time you raced the other guys and tricked them into jumping into a mud pool. Oh, the grownups would be mad when they caught us.”

“If they caught us.” Mr. Threehorn smirked. “I don’t think they ever found out why the water turned them blue.”

Verter nodded. “I can’t forget one time in my youth when I attempted to push some rocks uphill, they rolled off and almost hit some kids downhill. Oh, did I get hit behind the tail when the grownups found out.”

Mr. Threehorn winced. “Yeah, I got some of that when I was young. There was worse during the Time of Great Growing. Grownups weren’t very forgiving back then. It was understandable. Those were harsh times and to maintain order, there had to have consequences you would remember. ”

“Yes.” Verter nodded with satisfaction. “You could be harsh to anyone who crossed the line and everyone knew their place. It was tough but we lived it. I’m sure your daughters would’ve been fine in that environment.” 

“Maybe.” Mr. Threehorn frowned. “I don’t regret a lot of what happened. But it’s good the valley doesn’t need to deal with that kind of violence.”

“But can you see those times were better, even with the pain, even with-”
   
“There were good times,” Mr. Threehorn interrupted, “but they have ended. All that harsh behavior was to survive but in the valley, that isn’t necessary. In some ways, I’m glad. Now my family can lead better lives than we had.”

“I see.” Verter said. He was looking away. “Well, it’s good to have a life where your family can relax. That has…value.” He got to his feet. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to be off.”

“What?” Mr. Threehorn double-taked. “Oh, oh. Well, don’t let me keep you. Look after Cera and Chomper for us.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they’re well taken care of.” Verter looked back. “Good luck with training that mate of yours. Your daughter might be a bit late getting home but I’ll be sure she arrives before sleepy-bye time.”

“Sure. I know I’ve annoyed you with our concerns but thanks for all you’re doing Verter.”

There was a nod and a flicker of a smile but Verter was already walking away, calling for Cera and Chomper to jog with him back to the fighting grounds. For a second, Mr. Threehorn’s eyes lingered on their distancing figures, at a loss for the abrupt departure. A crackle made him turn. Tria had stepped back, catching her breath, the boulder in front of her reduced to more than a quarter of its size. Shifting, he forced a smile and tried to focus.

“Good going, Tria. Next strategy. How about-”

While Mr. Threehorn may have taken his eyes off Verter, someone else hadn’t. Sitting atop a high pine, Don watched Verter jog by with his panting charges. Barely paying attention to the two gossiping flyers on a branch below, he gripped his mount harder.

“For Wing Father’s sake,” Don said, “you’d better not harm them.”

--

“Just a little higher. Yeah, that’s the way.”

Littlefoot laughed as he jumped along. Patty was carefully swinging the tip of her tail over Littlefoot’s feet in slow, relaxed loops. He stumbled a bit at the next pass but upon Patty’s concerned look, he shook his head and motioned for her to continue.

They were at another location. They still stood in the open but near the Great Wall. There was a thick line of bright green trees and bushes pressed into that area but there wasn’t any room for more than a rainbowface-sized dinosaur to hide in. With their view of the rest of their surroundings, only interrupted by the occasional skinny tree or collection of bushes, Patty assured it would be safe spot to play.

After practicing a bit with jumping over their own tails that morning, they decided to move on to jumping over people’s tail. Practicing with Patty’s tail, Littlefoot was now back to tripping again. He wasn’t surprised. Having to coordinate with someone else’s tail was more challenging than coordinating with your own. Still, Littlefoot was making some progress and he was having a good time.

“Good, good.” Patty continued as she swished her tail. “You’re a quick learner.”

“That’s because – I have – a good teacher.” Littlefoot panted, after each jump. “Thanks for being – patient with me.”

“You don’t need to keep thanking me. I’m only doing what I want. Besides, I had a lot of time to be patient and…”

She trailed off. Littlefoot found himself staggering as the tail stopped behind him. Seeing her gaze fixed toward the line of trees, Littlefoot turned. Two cresthead swimmers were shoving each other as they darted between the trees, creaking tree limbs ominously as they pushed them aside. Even as he watched, they broke off two thick branches billowing with greens and laughed as they swung them at one another, nearly unbalancing as their feet caught on a root and stomped bushes flat. Patty’s mouth became thin.

“What are you doing? Don’t be careless with the plants!”

The cresthead swimmers stopped their mock duel, the leaves of their makeshift weapons pressing into the grass as they glanced at Patty with confusion.

“What’s your problem, lady?” One cresthead asked.

“You shouldn’t be wasting food like that.” Patty said. “With the branches you broke, there will be less leaves to grow on the trees and bushes.”

The other cresthead scrunched his nose. “Don’t get so bent out of shape. There’s plenty of green food in the valley. Breaking a few branches isn’t going to hurt anyone.”

“But it’s those small actions imitated by so many others that can endanger a valley, especially when scarcity comes.” Patty stepped forward. “Get some sense and have fun in less destructive ways.”

The crestheads examined her, annoyed. Then they jumped as an angry female voice rang out in the distance.

“Hey, did I say you boys can run off? Come back! Did you already forget there’s a killer on the loose?”

Looking a mix of scared and mutinous, one looked at his companion.

“C’mon Cory,” he said. “We can’t stick around.”

“Yeah. We weren’t going to have fun around here anyway.” Cory grimaced, throwing his branch to the ground. “Freaking newbies.” 

His companion also dropping a branch, the pair hassled off toward the voice. Patty’s gaze burned after them. Concerned, Littlefoot stepped closer.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m …” Patty took a breath, closing her eyes and opening them to reveal calm. “Sorry for snapping. After seeing everyone scraping for a living in the Mysterious Beyond, it makes me mad to see people waste.”

 “Hey, I get it.” Littlefoot replied. “I still remember living in the Mysterious Beyond. I cringe whenever I see someone crush a bush or topple a tree.”

She grimaced. “I’m amazed this valley still has greens available with that kind of attitude. Has there been any food crises?”

“Oh, a few. Not caused by people being careless but I’m sure that didn’t help. The Thundering Falls block up, the swarming leaf gobblers, the white sparkles during cold times…but the valley always bounces back.”

“Really?” Patty widened an eye. “After all of that, the valley is always plentiful, even with that behavior around?”

Littlefoot shrugged helplessly. “There just always seems to be enough. After a disaster, it takes only a few night circle cycles to recover. Sometimes it takes a cold time but it always gets better. I always just accepted it but now that you mention it,” he frowned, “it is strange.”

Patty looked around, considering their surroundings. An understanding came into her eyes.

“Is this one of those places?” she murmured. “So it really is as said…”

“You have an idea what it’s about?” Littlefoot asked.

“I’ve heard a theory. I didn’t believe it but…” Patty said. “You know dinosaurs can shape the environment, right?”

“Uh, yeah.” Littlefoot said, puzzled. “That was why you were so mad at those two. If we break too many plants, we could break the valley.”

“Those are physical influences. I’ve also heard,” she shifted, “beliefs and emotions can impact the environment.”

Littlefoot tilted his head. Patty stood taller, circling on the spot and waving her head.

“Look around you,” she said. “What do you see? A great number of dinosaurs, most recent arrivals but more than a few I guess who’ve lived here for generations, eating, relaxing, and enjoying their lives in the valley.”

“Not recently.” Littlefoot looked around. “These ghosts have got everyone spooked and with this killer…”

Patty winced. “A-anyway, I’d guess the normal mood around here is contentment. There has been a consistent population of happy dinosaurs here for a long time. But most of the world isn’t like that. Most don’t stay in one place long enough for an impact to be made and their emotions aren’t usually strong enough to effect the environment.  However, if enough people stay long enough in one location, their emotions can seep in and begin to influence the area.”

“But if I’m in a good mood, that isn’t strong enough to effect things,” he said. “I mean, I can’t make a flower bloom by smiling at it.”

“As much as I want you to believe in yourself, you’re probably right.” She smiled. “But it’s more than that. Normally, it’s hard to get everyone to feel a certain way consistently but with the Great Valley, there is a good reason for them to be content. There is enough green food to go around and they rarely have to worry about sharpteeth. After dinosaurs first settled here, this must have elicited a strong sense of goodwill. And when that seeped into the earth, the next time the plants grew back, it would be just a little faster and the sharpteeth would find it a little harder to get in. That maintains the good will. Before long, that good will sinks back in and the green food grows even faster, and so on and so forth, continuing the cycle. It’s the kind of thing that can keep this place going.”

For several moments, there was a thoughtful silence. Patty was watching her surroundings, impressed by the existence of this place. Distantly, there was the sound of a stern voice telling off two kids. Dinosaurs continued to pass and lol around. A twocrest walked by with a spikeback, saying. “I can’t believe that rumor is being spread. People are suspicious enough of visiting herds without someone stirring up trouble.”

“Huh.” Littlefoot said. “That is an interesting theory.”

Patty gave him a wry look. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“It’s not that.” Littlefoot said quickly. “It’s just I don’t know either way. There are a lot of unbelievable things I hear about but I like to keep an open mind. You’d have to ask Cera, she’s the disbelieving one. It does explain why the valley rarely has a serious food problem.”

He looked around and his mood lowered.

“I wish those who didn’t make it like Mother could see what the valley looked like,” he said. “So many of us had no idea what such a place really had to offer and I had my ideas but they didn’t compare to actually being here for the first time. Some even doubted the valley would be this good. Mother said she could see it with her heart but if she and others could see it like I did, I’m sure they’d be amazed,” he sighed. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Patty watched him sympathetically. “It must hurt there are people you couldn’t help.”

“Kind of, yeah. Looking back, there were many people we passed on our way to the valley who were clearly struggling. I feel guilty we didn’t stop to help. I mean, were all trying to survive on our own and squabbling over food and water. If only everyone could have stopped fighting and worked together to get to the Great Valley, then they might have made it.” 

Littlefoot lowered his head. Patty gave him a brief nuzzle.

“I didn’t mean to bring up such painful thoughts,” she said. “You did wonderfully with what’s possible.”

“I know.” Littlefoot sighed. “I wish it wasn’t like this…but I know.”

Patty sighed. “Sometimes we have to make hard decisions in order to survive.”

Littlefoot averted his gaze. “And sometimes we make decisions that make you really question what you can do.”

Patty looked at him speculatively, and he realized how strange that response sounded. Hastily, he shook his head.

“Anyway, let’s get back to tail jumping,” he said. “That’s better than talking about this depressing stuff, right?”

Patty examined him before smiling. “Right. I don’t know if this talk counts as rest but I think we regained enough energy to resume.”

“Yeah. Though I’m a little hungry.” Littlefoot glanced at the line of trees. “Say, why don’t we eat from plants those crestheads messed up. It would make sure the food isn’t wasted.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. Though you have your fill. I don’t need any.”

“Really?” Littlefoot glanced at her with confusion. “You’ve been really working at it with your tail. That must take some energy.”

“I’m fine.” Patty insisted. “I ate enough this morning before meeting up with you. I know how to eat in a way to make it really last. I can always eat later.”

Littlefoot tilted his head. “Okay. You rarely seem tired.”

A smile flickered on her muzzle. “Let’s say I’m very good at being on the go. Though speaking of those on the go…”

“What?” Littlefoot asked.

Patty hesitated but shook her head and smiled. “Never mind. It’s not important now. Anyway, eat up. I’ll be practicing the right speed to spin my tail until you get yourself filled up.”

Puzzled, Littlefoot nevertheless nodded, dragged a branch over, and started feasting, his thoughts far from the worries of the day and more toward the fun that carefully spinning tail promised.

--

“Hit that rock, come on, really hit it!”

Cera staggered back from her latest strike before shaking herself and rushing forward. She and Chomper were back in the fighting grounds, practicing against new rocks. Only the murmurs of passersby broke their solitude, those fighters from yesterday having never showed up. She concentrated on damaging the rock in front her with as few strikes as possible. She thought she was making some progress. More parts of the rock were breaking away with each hit. Maybe she was on a good wind or the rock was weak but she couldn’t help but be pleased by the results.

There was a smack beside her. “Ow!”

Cera glanced to her right as she walked backwards. Chomper had hit the rock with his muzzle and cried out, blinking as he stepped back and touched a cut under his left nostril. He winced.

“Chomper, is that the best you got?” Verter cried.

Chomper shook his head and glared at the rock before almost launching himself for the latest strike. She bit back a sigh. Chomper had been throwing his all into the training ever since it started. Though he got tired and even hurt a few times, he always got back up, insisting they continue. Really, Cera was impressed. His kind, almost naïve nature belied a brave soul willing to do anything for those he cared about. It was understandable Verter would want to nurture it.

Though did he have to give all of his attention to Chomper?

“Harder, Chomper! Go at it like it’s your most hated enemy!”

Cera glared as she prepared to charge again. She glimpsed Verter staring in Chomper’s direction, barely looked her way. She struggled with the mixed feelings in her stomach. Really, it made sense Verter mightn’t be giving her much focus. Cera was a born threehorn, used to this kind of hard work and repetition. Chomper on the other hand had rarely dealt with anything like these threehorn exercises and they were unfamiliar with the sharptooth routine. It was understandable Verter would put more focus in learning about Chomper and encouraging him onward. As yesterday’s talk showed, Verter had at least some method for his eccentricities. He would get back to her eventually. Even if Cera understood, that didn’t mean she had to like it.

In the hubbub of pebbles and fragments bursting from her rock, she heard a similar rocky crackle beside her.

“Harder, harder!”

Cera heard a growl of frustration. Backing up for the umpteenth time, she lowered her head and charged at her fastest rate yet. There was an almighty crack and much of the rock crumbled. A few twinges of pain in her face and horn made her wince but she only felt pride until she heard the scream.

“Aaah!”

Cera jerked around. Chomper lay curled near his rock, gripping his head while rock fragments were dotted around him. Heart skipping, she scampered over and swept away the debris to look him over.

“Chomper, are you okay?” she demanded. “Chomper!”

Chomper groaned. “Hurts. My head hurts!”

A look up confirmed he managed to knock some decent bits off his rock but at the cost of a red sore and some scrapes on his head. Gritting her teeth, Cera glared up as Verter rumbled over.

“What are you playing at?” she snapped. “You’re egging him on got him hurt!”

Wincing, Verter looked away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what his limits were.”

“I thought you knew how to handle training others!”

“I said I know how to train adult threehorns. I don’t know much about sharpteeth.”

Chomper rocked on the ground, hands on temples. “Hurts…”

Cera sighed and glanced down. “You at least know how to treat wounds?”

Verter nodded. “That is simple enough. I’ll be right back.”

He ran off, leaving her to stand awkwardly beside Chomper, who lay curled in a ball. A part of her felt guilty she ever had an envious thought about him. She tried to be reasonable about Verter in her head, that training was naturally dangerous and everyone made mistakes, but she couldn’t help a smidgen of doubt opening in her stomach. With the sound of ripping branches and splashes in the background, Cera moved a paw as though to stroke him but with how he winced thought better of it. Verter charged back in.

“Put these on his wounds.” Verter dropped wet leaves beside her. “They’ll clean them and the cool will calm him.”

Cera nodded. She grabbed one leaf with her mouth to put on Chomper’s head but he pulled away.

“I’m alright. Let’s continue training.”

“Are you serious?” she asked. “Those cuts are bad. They need to be treated.”

“But we can’t waste time. I must keep going.”

”If you collapse from your wounds, you won’t be able to keep training at all.” Cera said impatiently. “Where would that leave us? Now sit still and take it.”

Chomper sighed but stayed still as told, twitching as a wet leaf stung into his head wound and a few other smaller cuts. She layered others on, making him look like he wore a wet green mushroom on his head. Verter sighed.

“I guess now would be a good a time as any to take a break,” he said. “We’ll eat until Chomper’s healed enough to continue. Can you carry him to the forest edge, Cera?”

“If I must.” Cera turned to stare Chomper in the eye. “Don’t even think about saying that you can walk. You are riding me and don’t make a fuss. Understand?”

“Okay, okay.” Chomper said, sulky. “Guess I have to be bossed around.”

Ignoring that remark, Cera leaned in and Verter helped shift Chomper onto her back. He was heavier than Ducky or Petrie but it was weight she could handle. She walked with steady steps as she followed Verter to the edge, where he got them into the shade and started looking around.

“Don’t move,” he said. “I’ll forage for food.”

“Sorry I’m making you look for bugs.” Chomper muttered.

“It’s nothing.” Verter assured. “You’re too valuable to deny a meal. Finding bugs is no big deal.”

He began browsing the area, faint foot booms shushed as he paused and visually traced the outlines of the leaves, the bark of the trees, the silhouette of the grass. Cera sat down, taking this opportunity to relax. She glanced at Chomper. He sat slumped next to her, frustrated eyes looking at the earth. This was concerning. Chomper was a happy, sweet-tempered child and this level of anger was beyond him. She glanced at him, hesitated, but took the chance.

“You were really going at it with that rock,” she said.
   
“We’re supposed to go hard on them.” Chomper said. “That’s what this training is about.”

“But you were going at it like it insulted your mommy. Hard to train when acting like that.”

Verter chuckled. “And if there’s one thing that would motivate us fighting kinds, it’s besmirching the one who gave birth to us. Seriously, she has a point.”

Chomper looked up. He almost glared at them but something in him broke and he sighed. “I know. But what am I supposed to do? I need to make sure I don’t fall behind but no matter what I do, I…”

“You’re doing fine, Chomper.” Verter said, pulling at a few leaves from a high branch. “Not many can do what you’re doing. You’re getting stronger at your own pace.”

“But I can’t go ‘at my own pace’ when there’s a killer around. I’m trying to be faster but that I’m not able to keep up with Cera in running or even rock breaking is-”

Chomper thumped a foot into the ground. Cera looked at him speculatively.

“Is this size thing really bothering you?” she asked.

“It’s not about my size.” Chomper said. “It’s just…I want to help you guys. I want to do more.”

“From what I hear, you helped your friends plenty of times with your sniffer and sharptooth language.” Verter said.

“That isn’t good enough. I hate not being able to do much when my friends get endangered. After everything you all have done for me, it wouldn’t be right for me to sit back, especially after-” he stopped, glancing down awkwardly.

“What?” Cera asked. “Especially what?” At Chomper’s hesitation, she said. “Come on, I won’t laugh. We won’t be able to understand what’s going on if you don’t tell us.”

There were whispers to the side. Verter looked up and a longcrest swimmer and clubtail hidden behind some foliage a bit ahead stopped talking to stare at him. He offered a smile, but they turned and walked away.

“She’s right,” he said, shaking his attention back to the pair. “If this issue is effecting your training, it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing to laugh about. Come on, tell us.”

Cera nodded. Chomper looked between them, hesitating, but he exhaled slowly and met their eyes.

“I’m also doing this for my parents,” he said. “I’m a weirdo sharptooth who likes being nice and seeking friends even in our food, but they accepted me. They were troubled about the seeking friends in food part, but as long I could be tough and smart enough to survive, they allowed me to be who I am. They comforted me after other sharpteeth made fun of me and when I got lonely. They wanted me to be happy. They even fought Red Claw when he got angry me and Ruby’s families were friends but then they got hurt and…”

“Chomper,” Cera’s gaze was sympathetic, “it’s not your fault. There was nothing you could do.”

“That’s the problem!” Chomper threw his hands up. “Our families were friends because me and Ruby became friends. My parents fought to keep us together. That I couldn’t do anything but watch is…” He took a breath. “The least I could do is make sure no one else has to fight my battles. If they knew I could really take care of myself…at least they might be happy.”

“Huh.” Verter’s eyes were raised thoughtfully. “You sharpteeth go through a lot more than I thought.”

Cera nodded. “Was this eating at you this whole time?”

“A little.” Chomper admitted. “But not until these past few days. It’s just, with these ghosts, they made me realize what’s important. You guys have done so much to make sure me and Ruby could stay here. I just can’t stand aside and goof around anymore. I have to actually be useful, even if it’s hard and the challenges just make me-”

Chomper ripped bits of grass in frustration. Cera looked at him with concern.

“Anger has its place but I don’t think this is good for you,” she said.

“That’s kind of weird for you to say, since you’re known for getting angry.” Chomper said. “Anger can be good. It can get me focused.”

“It’s not good all the time. What if it makes you lash out at our friends?”

Verter nodded. “Unfocused anger isn’t very useful. Especially with who you are, don’t you want to be careful about that it?”

Chomper faltered. He lowered his eyes. “I – I don’t want to hurt my friends. But what am I supposed to do with this to keep them safe?”

“You would just need to learn to push aside your emotions.” Verter replied. “When I was talking with Topps back there, I was able to shove my worries aside and enjoy being with an old pal. Outside of training, aside from eating right and not getting your neck broken, you should learn to let go of your worries and enjoy the moment. Heck, you need it to sleep more easily. This will help not only focus your anger during training but life in general.”

“You think so?” Chomper asked.

Cera nodded. “As my daddy say, manage it carefully and put it to something useful.”

“Okay.” Chomper sighed but looked determined. “I’ll do my best to focus my anger on the training.”

There were sighs of relief. Verter broke a stick off a tree and gave it to Chomper, which was covered in bugs. Verter also handed leaves to Cera and they began to eat, Chomper actually looking perked up as he nibbled bugs off.

“I’m glad you two made me see things clearly,” he commented. “It is better to fight for our friends instead of with them.”

“It usually is.” Almost quietly, Cera added. “Boy, did I need to learn that lesson.”

Verter glanced at her. “What was that?”

“Oh, nothing.” She averted her gaze.

Verter examined her before gazing around. “Well, not much crawlies around here I can find. I’ll go check somewhere else.”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that.” Chomper said. “These will be fine.”

“Nonsense! You’re training. My trainees need the best food so they can keep going. Won’t be long.”

With a nod, Verter walked off. Chomper watched him go with a fond smile.

“He’s nice,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have such a good trainer.”

Cera narrowed her eyes to where Verter departed. “Maybe. He wasn’t so good with getting you injured though.”

“Hey, that was my fault.” Chomper protested. “I was getting too in the moment.”

“I know. Still, even if he is inexperienced with sharpteeth, you would think he would know to be careful with that. He wasn’t exactly telling the truth about enjoying being with my dad either. Didn’t you hear them yell earlier?”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I just thought that was your dad being your dad. Besides, maybe it’s been awhile since Verter trained others?” He looked at her. “Where are all these doubts coming from?”

“I just – oh, I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I guess it’s normal to have doubts the first few days but the way he’s been treating you is kind of weird. He was so ready to jump into training us moments after he finding out friendly sharpteeth exist. I don’t mean to blow this out of proportion but…do you really trust he knows what he’s doing?”

Chomper opened his mouth but uncertainty came in and he rubbed at his chest. They sat in silence until the rumble of a few dinosaurs passing by and whispering came to the fore. Verter came in from that group, bearing some leaves like a cup, gaze troubled.

“Why the long faces?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you talked about the meaning of life while I was away.”

“Huh? Oh, no!” Chomper started, forcing a laugh. “We were just …thinking about how to train better!” He patted his leaf covering and pumped his arms. “I’m feeling much better now. Still sore but I barely notice it.”

Verter surveyed them before smiling. “Well, I have something that might heal things faster.” He laid down leaves with crawlers writhing and crawling on top of them. “Here’s some of the promised grub. Got them on some good leaves, might as well fill both of my trainees’ stomachs.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t have!” Chomper laughed. He licked his lips. “Yum!”

“There are bugs on them?” Cera shuddered. “Gross.”

“Don’t worry Cera.” He pointed to his nose. “My sniffer will make sure your leaves are nice and bug-free before you have a bite.”

She sighed. “Just make sure not to leave too much slobber on them.”

Verter chuckled. “Once you’re done, we’ll resume training. We’ll avoid any more head ramming to allow Chomper’s head time to heal. Speaking of time, Cera…after seeing you help Chomper, I realized I hadn’t been paying as much attention to you as I thought. I apologize. You really did some impressive work on that rock. You’re both valuable to this mission and I should give you both equal due.”

“Huh? Oh, uh, thanks.” Cera said, taken aback. “I’ll make sure to eat when Chomper finishes the leaves.”

Chomper rose from eating to give her a look that said, “See? He knows what he’s doing.” Cera ignored him as he slurped up bugs from the leaves, some of his cheerful energy returning. Verter watched Chomper sniff around for more bugs before smiling at her. She jerked, forced a grin, and looked away. Now he was here, she felt some guilt. With the substantial threat of Mr. Clubtail’s killer, she shouldn’t sabotage their training with her suspicions. Her friends’ words about Verter rose in her head but she shoved them aside. Once Chomper finished eating, she stepped in and attacked the leaves with the determination to put her all into her training.

But a sliver of doubt remained.

--

Ruby stood with Petrie as she watched the various dinosaurs pass by the flyer family nest. The next day had brought a slight ease to the valley residents but most of them still walked cautiously, eyes on the lookout for any sudden movements. In the brief seconds passersby appeared and disappeared amongst the foliage below, she tried to note their body language, what they said if it was audible and with what tone, noting how they acted when another person was in the vicinity. Trying to get a snapshot of each dinosaur’s character was a challenge but she had done some of this in the Mysterious Beyond to wile away her days, so it shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Even as she tried to note the character of the individuals, her attention couldn’t help but stray to how they reacted to others, especially to different kinds. For so many cold times, this diverse intermingling had been her normal but now she tried to pay attention to what made it normal in the first place.

*What is it about the Great Valley that makes my parents and Chomper’s parents think is so great?* she mused. *It must be something about how the kinds relate to other kinds. Let’s see, that domehead passes the threehorn without growling, that threehorn doesn’t glare at the spiketail, the spiketail allows the thicknose to eat from the bush before she does…*

“Please don’t space out, Ruby.”

Ruby jumped. Don stood nearby, cool gaze on her.

“I’m aware it might be difficult for those your age, but do try to pay attention,” he said.

“Of course,” she said. “Sorry.”

Don harrumphed and walked past. Beside her, Petrie sent a sympathetic look. Beyond the sounds of Don pacing, Ruby could hear the chatter of Petrie’s brothers and sister and his parents talking fondly. Ruby thought she saw Petrie’s gaze almost waver to the nest but he stared ahead. Ruby’s heart stung. As someone separated from her family, she didn’t feel it was right he was sacrificing this rare family time to improve his deduction skills for others.

“After minutes of watching,” Don said, “I believe it’s time to assess what you can say about the people below. Don’t look around, just keep watching. When I point to someone, rattle off what you can tell me about them. Ready?” He pointed “That whiptail longneck over there.”

“Huh?” Petrie tilted his head. “Oh. He – she have tail raised, walk straightly, and look around. She trying to, um, guard?”

“Okay, but guard for who, what does this say about her?”

“She is trying to guard herself and anyone that’s nearby.” Ruby said. “She’s experienced with living in the Mysterious Beyond, so she knows how to live in times of crises and wants to help.”

“Adequate.” Don said. “Though the swing of the head does indicate some paranoia. Next: the sprinter in that direction.”

“He have a lot of scars.” Petrie said. “He look very grumpy. He look like – ooh, he get in lots of fights.”

“That is obvious.” 

“He is probably the type who fights to maintain his pride.” Ruby said. “Pride is very important to him, so he will do anything to maintain it.”

“Those scars look like they come from punishment for his temper but Ruby’s guess is closer –a natural consequence for a kind whose size requires sneakiness.”

Ruby frowned. It felt good to be validated but not for that validation to be used to for his generalizations. Petrie glanced up with traces of distress

“Well temper and pride often together, so maybe both,” he said.

“But they can be separate.” Don said. “The crestless swimmer to your left.”

“Oh, she…seems to be thinking about something.” Ruby frowned. “Maybe thinking about the killer? She doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to her surroundings, so it must be very deep thought.”

“Most likely about how this crises impacts her family. She has a motherly look in her eyes.”

“What? Oh.” Petrie said. “Me – me think me see that…”

“Not bad, not bad.” Don said. “The spikeback to the right.”

They continued and Ruby kept up as best as she could. Her cold times of observing others in the Mysterious Beyond provided some help but she was discovering many gaps in her knowledge. She had some familiarity with a few kinds but others she barely knew well enough to deduce whether Don’s judgement of them had any basis or not. She had to make up for that. But there were so many kinds out there, so many different ways. Though she felt that was what made the world wonderful, Ruby now found it crushing. How was she going to gather the knowledge to save the Mysterious Beyond from Red Claw in time? She pushed those thoughts down to concentrate but the worry remained. Fortunately, Don called a break after a few minutes and they rested their soothed throats.

“You are getting better.” Don admitted. His lips twitched. “But you have a long way to go.”

“Understood.” Ruby said.

Petrie glanced up at her. “You seem to be doing okay.”

“Okay isn’t good enough,” she said. “Good enough is getting better, more quickly.”

He looked down. “You still say some good things. Me wonder if me getting better.”

“Hey, you are.” Ruby put a hand on his back. “This is just the first round, and for a first round, you made some decent observations. We all get better at our own paces.”

“Is that a good thing? What if killer able to do bad thing because me too slow to learn how to watch and think?”

“Then practice harder and more frequently.” Don said. “Absent of magic, that is the only way to improve.”

Petrie sighed. “More people watching? Me hope it works.”

Ruby hesitated, but saw that now was a good time to make her suggestion. “Maybe we can improve our observation skills by talking to other dinosaurs. By being up close and personal, we can learn who they are.”

Don frowned. “I’m not sure how helpful that is. Dinosaurs do lie to others.”

“Even so, a person’s own words and actions involving you can help you judge what kind of person they are,” she persisted.

“There are still disadvantages,” he said. “For Wing Father’s sake, people hide parts of themselves, especially with strangers. Do you think many people would be honest or want to talk to you in this climate? If anything, they would be suspicious and not many would want to speak with you.”

“That is…” Ruby opened and closed her mouth. “Even with fewer people, it could still be useful. If we hear their reasoning about things, it could expand on how we judge people individually and as part of their kinds.”

“Mistruth and deception will still get in the way. Observing them from a distance is better. If they don’t know you’re watching, they are unguarded and you can judge them without being swayed by how they spin their actions. Some individuals and especially certain kinds love to put a positive light on what they do, especially if it might be suspect.”

“That’s…” Ruby clung her chin reluctantly. “There is a point there. I do remember when people watching in the Mysterious Beyond that people were guarded with others, even if they were nice. I thought here in the valley people might be more honest but in this climate, I guess my idea isn’t that much use after all.”

She looked down, feeling Petrie touch her hand in sympathy. Don watched, wings crossed. His features softened slightly.

“From your limited experience, that was a decent idea,” he said. “Maybe these exercises can help you think of a better one.” 

Ruby and Petrie looked up with surprise. Did Don just try to comfort her? His praise of the pair’ progress seemed genuine, albeit grudging, but this was a whole other level. Uncomfortable with their attention, Don coughed and his voice became more businesslike.
 
“As I was saying, if you want to improve faster, practice more. Let’s resume the exercise. So, what are your thoughts on that squareshi-”

He was cut off by the sound of angry whispering. Starting, they turned to find Papa Flyer irritably waving a paw-ful of berries. Incensed, Mama Flyer pointed hard at one of the kids and whispered back. Petrie’s brothers and sisters looked between their parents, this argument unexpected and unwanted. After another back and forth, Papa Flyer closed his eyes and took a determined breath before talking more calmly. Though annoyed, Mama Flyer relaxed enough to talk him down to handing half the berries over to the kids before walking off to near Petrie, Ruby, and Don’s standing spot, wings crossed. Don exhaled through his nose.

“For Wing Father’s sake, if it isn’t one interruption, it’s another with this family.”

Ruby sent him a look but fortunately Don had said this under his breath, so she didn’t think Mama Flyer heard. Thinking objectively, though, Ruby could understand why. Even if the killer’s threat necessitated it, learning in a noisy family’s presence could be distracting.

“Everything alright?” Petrie asked.

“It’s fine.” Mama Flyer managed a faint smile. “Just a disagreement over what is healthy to feed your brothers. We just need to cool off.”

Petrie’s gaze flicked down. “You even fight over that.” He fidgeted. “Mama, why can’t you and Papa get along more?”

Her comforting expression flickered before she sighed. “Oh Petrie, I wish we could but our personalities clash. It makes it hard to settle disagreements.”

“But why can’t you talk it out? Me talk with friends after fights and me still friends with them after.”

“Settling disputes between friends can be different from settling disputes between mates. It shouldn’t be but…he can be so frustrating, with his unnecessary boundaries, unreasonable suspicion and-” Mama Flyer stopped and forced a breath. “Sorry. I don’t mean to force this on you.”

“It’s only understandable, you know.” Don said.

Mama Flyer glanced at him in confusion. “I’m sorry?”

“The conflict between you two. Male flyers were never meant to be mates.”

Mama Flyer blinked, as though stunned. Then she bristled. “Now you see here, that has nothing to do with our fights.”

“Does it not?” Don asked. “It’s only nature. A mother flyer’s role is to raise the next generation and the male’s is to initiate the process. That is all. Trying to do more only leads to unnecessary conflict.”

“Don’t bring this up to nature! There are many reasons why relationships fail. That you would force this reason on us is -”

“What’s going on?” Papa Flyer walked over, gaze sweeping around.

Mama Flyer pointed. “He’s saying our relationship’s current status is because of flyer nature."

“Is he now?” Papa Flyer’s eyes bore onto Don. “Well, you do like offering opinions on things that aren’t your business.”

“I was merely comforting your former mate with objective facts.” Don said. “It was doomed from the beginning, so there’s only so much blame you can share between you two.”

“What makes you think nature is what happened to us?” Papa Flyer challenged. “Stop with that nonsense. You know nothing about us. We are more than our natures, don’t come in with your generalizations.”

Don looked between Mama Flyer and Papa Flyer, irritated, analyzing. Nervous, Ruby tugged on his wing but he didn’t notice.

“I thought so.” Don said at last. “’More than our natures.’ You were part of that coupling movement.”

“Coupling? Movement?” Petrie repeated. “What you talking about?”

“In your parents’ generation, there was a movement to change flyer tradition.” Don answered. “Male flyers wanted to be with those they mated with and the females wanted a companion to help raise the young. They observed the mating rituals of other kinds and suddenly wanted some version of that relationship. But just because it works for some kinds doesn’t mean it’ll work for us. Your mother and father’s example only demonstrates the movement’s failure.”

“Now don’t you go there.” Mama Flyer said. “With so many pursuing a major change in relations, it’s only inevitable a few will fail. Unfortunately, we are among them.”

“Do you have any facts to back that up?” Don asked. “I’ve heard it’s more than a few. For Wing Father’s sake, we aren’t built for relationships.”

“It’s what we aren’t experienced in.” Papa Flyer retorted. “I know more than a few couples who have succeeded and it has changed their lives for the better.”

“Have you checked to make sure that is still so? They’re likely putting on a front so they could refuse to admit there are challenges or their instincts are rebelling against them.” Don put his hands behind his back “Our way has worked for generations. We shouldn’t change our natures for change’s sake or just to be trendy.”

“Some say that long ago it was common for children not to be taken care of by their mothers.” Mama Flyer retorted. “If that was true, we changed that. Male flyers can do the same to take on roles in mating and parenting. For all your proclaimed wisdoms, you’re unwise about the complexity our own kinds display.”

Don sneered. “I thought veterans of adulthood would have a wiser view on the actions of their youth. Your mothers warned your generation about this and instead of accepting their wisdoms, you continue to dwell in denial. You’re as ignorant and disrespectful as when you first thanked them for attempting to pass down their knowledge by spitting in their faces.”

There was an intake of breath. Mama Flyer’s shocked expression turned into a glare. Petrie gazed up at Don with an angry grit to his beak. Ruby could relate. She wanted to shake Don; this was far out of line. Papa Flyer’s eyes bored into Don’s. He clenched and unclenched his hands, but stayed where he was.

“You know what dear, I change my mind about your brother.” Papa Flyer said. “At least Pterano was sometimes pleasant company. The same can’t be said for this – this…I won’t use that word in front of children. If this is how you always acted, no wonder your former flock kicked you out.”

Don jerked as though slapped. He glared back. Mama Flyer put a hand on her former mate’s shoulder.

“Dear.”

Papa Flyer didn’t seem to notice. Then he turned around. “I’m done. I’ve made my point here.”

He marched back to the nest. Mama Flyer hesitated but followed, her glance at Don not holding much sympathy. Petrie and Ruby stood next to Don, atmosphere tense.

“Why you have to talk like that?” Petrie said quietly. “Mama and Papa being together a good thing. It – it could be better but – why couldn’t you be quiet?”

“Yes, Don.” Ruby put her fists on her hips. “If you had kept your disagreement to yourself, we wouldn’t have argued. And the arguing wouldn’t have upset everyone.”

“It did.” Don murmured.

“Now because we’re upset, me and Petrie will have trouble concentrating on the lesson. Please concentrate on those consequences next time before bringing up your opinions.”

Don grimaced slightly. “As much as I hate considering others’ feelings when a truth must be told…it has value. I wouldn’t have had to deal with that unnecessary drama then.”

He walked over and sat on the edge. Ruby and Petrie continued to glare, but as he remained still, uncertainty set in. Tentatively, they stepped closer. His gaze on the distant mountains was hard and he frowned with grim contemplation. The expression didn’t look unusual on Don’s face, but it was unhappy enough compared to his usual attitude they felt moved to speak.

“Um, you okay?” Petrie said.

“I’m fine.” Don said. “That jab just hit a sore point. A lucky shot. It will go away.”

“When people are made angry, they tend to strike back.” Ruby said. Her tone wasn’t scolding but matter-of-fact. “Sometimes those strikes are very hard.”

“I should have expected that. None of what the young say should hit me but I suppose even my emotions are fickle things.”

“Did – did what cause fickling have to do with what you say yesterday?” Petrie asked. “About your old flock not accepting you back?”

“You also said something about an event a night circle cycle back.” Ruby said. “Is that related?”

Don averted his gaze. “That is none of your business. That’s a private matter.”

“My parents’ relationship also private matter, yet you still talked.” Petrie said. More softly, he continued. “When you have issue, sometimes talking can help.”

Ruby nodded. “Petrie has a point. If you’re training us, it would be advantageous if you’re not distracted by past points of distress.”

Looking at the pair, Don opened his mouth but paused. He gripped his chin, uncertainty weaving in his eyes. After several seconds, he sighed.

“I could do with no distractions.” He adjusted his posture, waving for the pair to sit down. “The event you reference does have a connection to what occurred with my flock. It only confirmed what I knew but…let me give you some background. I had already been kicked out of my flock for a few night circle cycles. I had glimpsed their activities and they sure didn’t appear to miss me. It burned to be thrown away so easily but I came to like having little contact with the ignorant. It meant fewer interruption to my contemplations. Still, it was dull to have no one to share my wisdoms with.

“Then one day, while I was flying around the Mysterious Beyond to clear my thoughts, I heard a cry for help. Far from the valley, I found one of my younger flockmates on a tall rock formation, looking scared and calling for help. I went over to ask him what the trouble was. Apparently while doing some exercise flights, he had got himself blown into the Mysterious Beyond and he forgot which way the valley was. I informed him about the air current that could get him back and he was so relieved. He actually seemed to appreciate my help. That was satisfying but before I could dwell on it, a shadow fell over us.

“It was a sharptooth. A great big sailback with long jaws. It lunged for us but we took off. Maybe it was desperate for food - who knows how they think – but it followed us. We would have normally flown into the sky but our morning flights exhausted us. We barely stayed out of reach. We urged each other on, gave each other tips to fly faster. Even with how terrified he was, he stayed beside me. I thought at least this demonstrated he was loyal to a former flockmate.”

Don’s tone became bitter. “We could feel the sharptooth’s snaps getting closer. I was tiring, falling behind. I am old, I can’t fly as fast as I used to. He kept glancing at me, and I thought he was fearful for my well-being. We continued to urge each other on but at last, on one of those snaps, he screamed and,” his voice broke, “flapped his wings enough to gain a second wind and rise into the sky. Flew away – leaving me behind. After all my wisdoms, he only used me so far as it could help him and once he saw me as a liability, he threw me away. Left me to be eaten like a common creature.

“Of course,” he sighed shakily, “I got away…but only barely. Some of my former flock came to check on me, claiming concern, but I turned them away. Nearly dying made me learn something – I can’t trust anyone to be reliable. Whether it’s for intelligence or compassion, they will let you down. I had enough of that, so I cut all ties with them. I would be on my own, improving my knowledge. I would prefer people engage with my ideas but if sticking to my views means that I have to be alone, so be it. I won’t compromise the truth for the fancy of others.”

Don exhaled slowly. Ruby and Petrie stared as they sorted through the mix of emotions swirling in them. Ruby tried to comprehend it – a friend, maybe even a child of a friend you knew your entire life, abandoning you out of fear. Placing any of their friends in that position made her heart ache.

“Wow, that just,” Petrie waved, “me not think it something that big.”

“It sounds like this flyer was appreciative but got scared and ran,” Ruby said, “but abandonment by impulse is still something you have a right to be angry about.”

“If nothing else, danger shows who your true allies are.” Don replied. “Sometimes relations can never be the same. It’s best to cut those ties and move on.”

“R-really?” Petrie murmured. “Even if it would be better to try to fix things you care about?”

“You can try, but no matter how much we fight it, there are relationships that can no longer be repaired.”

Petrie glanced at his parents as they engaged with their children, in the nest but standing apart. He gave a sad sigh.

“Anyway, that must have been hard.” Ruby said. “We hope talking about that hard thing at least helped a bit.”

“Yes,” Don stood, “I…do appreciate you listened to my story. That is a very unusual thing from your generation. It did help focus me on what’s really important.”

Ruby and Petrie sat up. Don was looking at them from the side, having challenge maintaining eye contact. Slowly, they smiled.

“So we return to lesson?” Petrie asked.

“Of course.” Don turned to them, all severe business again. “We wasted enough time. For Wing Father’s sake, we need to get our focus back on finding the killer’s identity. Let’s resume our scenario debates.”

“We’re going to break off from people judging to debating?” Ruby said skeptically. ”Wouldn’t finishing off where we started mean we start debates on a better foot?”

“Everything will make sense in time.” Don waved for them to walk from the cliffs and sit in a circle near the path walls. “We shall revisit a theme from yesterday: scheming. Whoever killed Mr. Clubtail is a cunning sort. Related to this, do you think he did the deed for some other purpose?”

Ruby frowned. “Don’t tell me we’re going to look at ‘scheming dinosaurs’ again? Looking in that way would only be a distraction.”

“If a kind has a certain tendency, it’s only natural to search for suspects among them.” Don said irritably. “But yes, we shouldn’t limit ourselves. No matter the temperament, all dinosaurs are scheming in some way. Not even the aggressive are exempt.”

“The aggressive…” Ruby repeated.

She and Petrie exchanged concerned glances, Don’s words bring a certain green threehorn to mind. Verter had bragged about his fighting record yet appeared so friendly. Ruby remembered how quickly his smoothed over his disappointment Cera’s parents rejected his request to train her and Chomper, transitioning back to bantering with Chomper and Cera’s family and making them laugh again. As soon as it occurred to her, Ruby dismissed this old suspicion as silly. Some didn’t tend to dwell on the negative; she knew people like that. Nevertheless an unsettled feeling lingered in her stomach…

Soon she and Petrie shall shake themselves and attempt to return to the debate but for several seconds Don watched closely as confusion and worry plagued their expressions.

They didn’t notice the guilt that flickered through his eyes.

Next time…

Part 2

--

Note:  Didn't quite make the end of August but the week after isn't too late. Knocking on wood, I hope to post part 2 next week.

Sovereign

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #81 on: September 11, 2018, 03:25:18 PM »
As always, this chapter offered us with many insightful conversations and scenes that make it easier for the reader to truly relate to what is happening. Usually, I would probably say that there have been many rather quiet chapters lately but I simply cannot complain when these “slow-paced” sequences are handled like this. In addition to that, the final revelation was a highly curious one and it ended the chapter on very nicely.

The opening scene with Topps and Verter was a good way to emphasize the latter’s almost manic urge to train Chomper and Cera. Topps’ reaction was a very believable one but it’s more than probable that telling him the whole truth at the very start would have led him to decline Verter’s offer from the beginning. Yet, this kind of manipulation again makes me bet that Verter isn’t helping just because of his concern for the duo’s future.

Patty and Littlefoot's discussion was also a rather interesting one with the former’s intriguing explanations about the dinosaurs’ effect on their environment. Even if it sounds quite outlandish, the following change of subject into Littlefoot’s Mother was a nice take on the old, familiar subject. As for the talk between Don and the two flyers was a really enjoyable one and the duo’s rebuke of Don in the end was a good way to end that scene. It seems like Don really knows quite a lot and knows what to do in most cases but he has some kind of habit of sticking to his beliefs stubbornly.

As for the very last sentence, it’s quite clear that it was the most important part of this installment. It was confirmed that Don was among those who sought to kill Mr. Clubtail or at least knew of the plans to kill him. While it’s too early to make far-reaching conclusions, the plot (or even conspiracy) among some of the dinosaurs seems to growing larger and more dangerous by the day. It is only a matter of time until Ruby and Petrie start to figure out that not all is as it seems with their teacher and one can only wonder what’ll happen then…

All in all, excellent job as usual. The subtle and slow-paced revelations about what is going to happen really works in this fic. The way you build the suspense and feeling in your stories is truly masterful and your storycrafting skills promise a lot that the coming chapters are not going to disappoint either. I eagerly look forward to the second part of this chapter! :^^spike

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #82 on: September 11, 2018, 07:14:35 PM »
@Sovereign Thank you for the review. I’m glad these quiet chapters still hold your interest and my building of the mystery holds you. I find I enjoy writing those kinds of stories.  Don’t worry, the quiet time won’t last forever. We’re around halfway in arc 2. I worked hard to get that Topps and Verter exchange right, so I’m happy you like it. So much is going on there. Yeah, Patty’s theory is weird and I had my doubts but I then found a reason to put that exchange in here. Don is quite stubborn and though he knows some things, his views can skew the facts. I look forward to seeing what your reaction to the context of Don’s look of guilt is. Things will happen (Yeah, this totally isn’t an exercise in vagueness).

rhombus

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #83 on: September 15, 2018, 02:57:46 AM »
First of all, my apologies as usual in the delay in getting to your story.  When it comes to your chapters I try to wait until a night when there is little on my agenda so that I can focus on reading your chapter and giving a proper review without any distractions.

Secondly, wow.  We have quite a lot to take in with this installment.  First we have the conversation between Topps and Verter which demonstrates quite effectively how threehorn discussions can quite quickly degrade into threats and just as quickly disengage, which is an interesting look into threehorn social dynamics.  The fact that Tria is being trained is also a sign that Verter’s words are certainly sinking in with the threehorn family.  Though Verter’s withholding of information once again points at him being a Machiavellian character.

Which leads us into the training scene, which shows rather quickly how Verter’s rush to train them has led Chomper into an injury.  Though this leads into a needed break, Verter’s initial desire to continue training clearly shows his manic need to train the kids fast.  There is certainly something fishy here...

And the final scene that really caught my attention was the investigation training scene with Ruby and Petrie.  Don has been settling in to training the children in their observation skills, and actually appears to be an effective teacher of the two.  And then there is very noticeable rationality on display in the speech of the trio, which almost makes me wondering if Don is having much more of an effect on them than can be expected from mere training.  And then comes the last sentence... how much exactly does Don know?  All in all, with the events of this chapter, I think we can safely say that our newcomers to the valley have a much darker backstory than they are letting on, and perhaps the Powers at work here are using them to make the kids useful to its cause…

Thank you for providing an excellent and thought-provoking story as usual.  :) I look forward to seeing what develops next.

I only found one small issue that was scientifically inaccurate:

Quote
“Well, good luck with that.” He smiled. “Cera, come on. It’s time for us to work up a sweat.”

As non-mammals do not sweat, this should probably be changed to something else.


Go ahead and check out my fanfictions, The Seven Hunters, Songs of the Hunters, and Mender's Tale
Mender's Tale.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #84 on: September 16, 2018, 01:15:27 AM »
@rhombus I appreciate the review. I didn’t think of Verter and Mr. Threehorn’s argument in terms of threehorns but I can see that. Mr. Threehorn disengaging is more to show how he’s mellowed since settling in the valley and my story’s events have been grinding him down. Glad you like the other parts too.

As for sweating, I did pause to google about if dinosaurs sweated after you mentioned it but my skimming was inconclusive. I don’t know if I will change that line or previous mentions of sweat but I’ll make sure to edit it out of future chapters.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #85 on: September 16, 2018, 12:17:41 PM »
FF.net Link:  https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/14/We-Will-Hold-On-Forever

--

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 14: New Routines Part 2

Chomper and Cera gazed up at the hill, mouths open with dread.

“We’re going to climb that?” Cera asked.

Verter smiled and waved ahead. After doing more rounds of jogging and stretching, he announced he was going to take them elsewhere for a new training session. They were so tired, so relieved to be back among the more lush parts of the valley, they didn’t put much thought to where they were going beyond maybe to another of the fighting grounds before he steered them to a rightly direction and they came upon this land feature.

The hill was high. There were grooves straddling up and terminating at smoothed out parts, mini ledges, and small protrusions. It was steep, so steep that it might as well be a cliff. Up top, there was a hint of grass and beyond that Chomper could smell the freshness of a small collection of trees. To their right, a green-patched path slithered down to ground level, where land-based dinosaurs could have an easier access to the bounty up there but Chomper had a feeling they wouldn’t be taking that route.

“This will be good for navigating rough terrain.” Verter said. “We’ll see how well you climb first before we get you pushing stuff up it.”

“Pushing stuff?” Chomper squeaked. “I thought you said we weren’t going to push any things up hills.”

“I said I wasn’t going to make you push boulders up hills.” Verter said. “There might be a milder version of that practice but let’s not concentrate on that now. Get climbing.”

“Climb? Up there.” Cera looked up anxiously. “Uh…”

Verter smiled slyly. “Are you saying you can’t handle it?”

“Of course not! It’s just, um – safety reasons. This is a rather high climb. If we fall, we would get hurt and that could get in the way of training.”

There was silence. Cera couldn’t help her anxiety over the risks. She had never liked heights, something in her instincts always revolting whenever she got near a high place. This was not helped when a pair of sprinters walked by and she heard one of them say, “Is that threehorn really thinking of making those kids climb a cliff?” Chomper glanced back after them but she stared ahead, trying to put the words out of her mind. 

Verter acted as though there had been no passersby. “Good point. I picked this spot for that reason. See the tall grass around there? It can soften any fall. I’ll be standing right here to catch you if worst comes to worst. Don’t worry, there are a lot more paw-holds than it looks. I’m sure you’ll be able to get to the top.”

“Okay.” Chomper looked up uncertainly. “I do like going high places. But I don’t see how this is going to help since we won’t be able to climb as much when we grow up.”

“Yeah.” Cera said. “You don’t see threehorns doing climbing competitions.”

Verter laughed. “If we could, we totally would. But while you’re still children, improving how you climb will be advantageous. In your adventures, you might need to escape a threat or access new routes through climbing. This exercise will help you with that. At least it would help you deal with that fear so it won’t get in the way in a crises situation.”

“Well…” Cera titled her head, Verter’s amusement at her joke easing her. “Oh, okay. Where do we begin climbing?”

Verter indicated to a spot and Cera and Chomper walked there, going through tall grass that was actually nice to the touch. Exchanging some uncertain glances, they looked for some handholds in the hill and began to climb.

Chomper would have liked to think it wasn’t as hard as he thought but that wasn’t the case. To start, he had to jump to reach the little crevice just about his head and scraped at the hill to get his toes into it. He dug his fingers into the rock, hauling himself so that he had both feet there. Then he looked up for the next handhold and strained his hand to it. Then the next handhold, and the next. He struggled to maintain even breathing as he ascended. It was challenging as suspected but he was able to do it. He now understood what his parents said once about hard tasks being more surmountable when actually working through them.

At least, that was what he thought until he didn’t dig his claws in enough at one ledge. Chomper yelped as he slid back, toe claws parting from the rock before he landed in the grass. It was as soft as Verter said and with how thick it was together, he felt little more than a distant ache. He shook himself.

“It’s alright, Chomper.” Verter said. “Keep going. Don’t let any mistakes discourage you.”

“R-right.” Chomper said.

He got back to the hill and resumed climbing, trying not to feel anything about seeing Cera far ahead. He could feel gravity pull on him. It was like he was challenging a force of nature and he felt that at any second, its weight would overcome him again. He tried not to hurry his pace to catch up with Cera. He looked around to ascertain his height, but that he hadn’t held on hard enough and the motion caused him to swing his place, making him woah until his body steadied. Then he took a deep breath and continued up. That wasn’t wise to do but at least he ascertained he got up ten feet. He heard a scream and, out of the top corner of his eye, he saw Cera miss a handhold and wobble before sliding down. She grabbed onto a paw-hold and adjusted her other legs to grip other spots, panting until she felt calm enough to continue. She gripped one protrusion or crack and then the other with her forelegs, grunts holding a nervous edge.

“You doing alright, Cera?” Chomper said.

“Managing,” her voice cracked. Her forepaw slipped on a crack and she yelped before throwing her forepaw back in. Then more measuredly. “Managing. This is far from the highest we climbed, no big deal.”

“Don’t talk too much.” Verter called. “Concentrate on climbing so you won’t fall.”

“Okay, okay.”

For nearly a minute, they put their focus on ascending from one crack or ledge to the next. A cool wind blew by, making him feel a thousand feet up. A handhold collapsed under Chomper’s claws and he yelled as he slid down until his foot caught a protrusion and he dug his claws into the earth. He panted before gazing around and finding some more handholds and starting up again.

This was more difficult than he thought. He had some climbing experience in the Mysterious Beyond and he and Cera did climb often on the gang’s adventures but most of the time, they were more perpendicular cliffs or at least had a lot of ledges where they could stand and rest. They rarely climbed such vertical land features, at least not tall ones and not without at least one other person to help push them up. He wondered if his parents would approve of this kind of training. They were tough in teaching him how to hunt, both for the physical dangers and in learning to swallow his reluctance about it, but would they have him climbing hills? They didn’t want to put him in too much danger but they would do anything to heighten his chance for survival. They would at least make sure it was safe. He could almost picture it now, his parents watching him ascend a cliff but heads hovering nearby, ready to catch him should he fall.

He shook the image from his mind. He was doing this kind of training so they wouldn’t have to be ready to catch him all the time. He had to be more independent, so he wouldn’t be a burden to anyone. Even as Chomper tried to concentrate on climbing one nook at a time, a part of his mind lingered on the motivations of another person.

“Cera,” he said lowly, “why did you decide to do this training?”

“What?” Cera huffed. “Don’t distract me. Didn’t your precious Verter say not to talk?”

“Hey, we can talk quietly.” Chomper said, annoyed. He glanced down and was relieved Verter appeared distracted by a few dinosaurs passing by. “As long as we concentrate, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Besides, I’m curious.”

Cera didn’t say anything for a moment, the click of each climbing movement filling the silence. “I just want to do something.” A crack echoed out as she got up to another paw-hold. “Just standing around being sad wasn’t going to help.”

“I get that.” Chomper panted as he pulled himself up to a rather narrow ledge. “This does mean we don’t have too think much about what happened.” 

“I’m not here to avoid my feelings.” Cera said quickly. “I just – this give me something useful to do.”

“Hey, you’re plenty useful Cera. You do so much on our adventures, ramming rocks or pushing us onto higher places. Even when you’re being snarky, you’re a good friend in a pinch.”

“…would you say that if you met me around the time my friends did?”

Chomper glanced at her. Cera ascended the hill with a down look. Verter had apparently finished with the passersby and stepped closer to the hill, head held as though to catch either of them should they fall.

“I’m not a nice person.” Cera continued. “You know how prickly I was with you the first two times we met. Even now, I still like winding you up.”

“Cera, you’re not that bad.” Chomper said, puzzled. “Sure, you can be annoying but that doesn’t stop me from liking you.”

“You don’t get it. I was much worse when I met my friends. I was so prideful and boastful about my accomplishments, yet turned tail at the slightest danger. I got into loads of fights with Littlefoot and the others on the journey to the valley, and I didn’t care at all about their feelings. More than once, I even almost-”

Cera’s voice cracked. Verter’s figure glanced back up briefly before his eyes settled on the piece of hill ahead of him.

“Oh.” Chomper paused. “Me and Ruby kind of gathered something like that with what you guys said about your adventures. But you’re much better now, Cera. You haven’t been that way for a while.”

“But I can still get that way. Remember when we tried to rescue Littlefoot’s dad from the Fire Mountain?” Cera took a deep breath. “At least with this – maybe the training can help me work on my fear. And I can be there when it matt-”

Cera slipped on a loose rock. She yelled as she started skidding down the hill. Chomper watched, startled. Her distancing figure scraped her forefeet at the hill to get a grip on something, anything, falling quite far. A quarter of the way to the ground, she grabbed for a small ledge and stopped her descent. She hung there, reorienting herself, before her other feet padded out and she climbed back up again. Her ascent was slow and it took a while for her to be close enough to see her face but when he did, he saw her mood was low. She appeared a bit surprised to see Chomper still hanging there and a look of guilt came in as she closed the distance, having a hard time making eye contact.

“I’m really screwing things up.” Cera muttered.

“Hey, don’t be like that.” Chomper said. “I’m struggling too. At least we’re in this together.”

“Knowing someone else is also suffering isn’t exactly reassuring but…thanks.”

They were three-quarters up the hill. Below, Chomper glimpsed Verter shifting position as he glanced up. Chomper was a bit happy Cera appreciated his thought but how she had been talking bothered him.

“If you’re so interested in improving, why are you suspicious of Verter?” he asked. “With what you mentioned earlier…what could make you say that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just what our friends said yesterday is eating at me.” Cera said. “I don’t exactly believe it – but it’s strange how much he pays attention to you. Don’t you find it kind of creepy?”

“Maybe he’s just amazed he’s training a sharptooth.” Chomper said. “He’s used to other threehorns but training someone who’s usually the enemy’s pretty weird. I think that would make many people excited.”

“Maybe,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it either. It’s just, for some reason, it bothers me…”

Silence. Verter bent his head to eat at some greens on a hill-mounted bush. Chomper gave her a considering look.

“Is this because you’re jealous of the attention he gave me?” he asked.

“No,” she said quickly. “I mean, it was annoying but this is completely different.”

“So it’s the weird thing? If we think everyone weird is suspicious, then we wouldn’t have any friends.” Chomper chuckled. “Hey, I wouldn’t have any friends. Not everyone’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean anything bad. I do think it’s better he’s trying to make up and give us more equal training. Especially since you live here and, um,” he coughed awkwardly, “it would be better if someone who’ll stay here longer knows how to defend our friends.”

“What? Oh…yeah.” Cera tone became quiet. “I will get more training opportunities with my parents. I just hope this one delivers...”

Chomper glanced at Cera questioningly, but his hand nearly missed the next ledge, and he had to scramble to not slide down. He continued climbing but his mind lingered on Cera’s doubts. He had a hard time believing them. Really, he found Verter’s attention a bit flattering; it indicated the threehorn saw potential in him. Still, now that Chomper looked back on it, he did notice how beadily Verter had been watching him while instructing them. It was a bit weird but he probably just enjoyed the novelty of teaching a sharptooth. Besides, Cera always doubted things. He liked her but he had to admit she wasn’t often right about things. Still, if even she admitted she found these doubts weird, what did that say about them? He shoved those thoughts aside and focused on the training, not wanting any distractions.

After minutes that stretched into forever, his claws dug into grass and he and Cera pulled themselves onto land, crawling from the ledge before collapsing, breaths heaving. In that instant, Chomper wanted to curl up and take a nap but his stomach growled, announcing it had been awhile since he ate. He glanced around uncertainly but Cera was already staring ahead.

“Food, at last.”

She pushed herself up to get to the small tree collection in front of them and Chomper scrambled to follow. He learned from his cold times of foraging that where there were plants, there was usually grub. Cera was already chomping on a bush, struggling not to swallow a long leaf whole to sate her. Sniffing about, it didn’t take him long to find some bugs near the dirt and hidden in trees, and he munched enthusiastically, grateful to feel like something other than exhausted rubber. A brightness was returning to Cera’s eyes. The air was filled with the sound of gnashing teeth and rustled plants but no sooner were they recovering did Verter jog in.

“Good job, you two,” he said. “There could be some improvements but we can work on that. Time to move along.”

Cera and Chomper looked at them with a mouthful of greens and bug parts, surprised.

“Ohredy?” Cera said, muffled. She swallowed. “I mean, already? We just got here.”

“We can’t take breaks on a whim.” Verter said. “They need to be regimented to compliment the training.” Upon their crestfallen looks, he continued. “You do want to catch up with this killer right? This is the hard work that comes with progress.”

“R-right.” Chomper swallowed the last of his bugs.

Cera chewed up the last of the leaves she gathered, muttering. “My stomach was feeling full anyway.”

They joined Verter in walking down the grass path to the ground, struggling to keep up with his hurried pace. He almost missed Verter muttering under his breath.

“…the nerve. If someone acts…rumors…”

“What was that?” Cera asked.

“Oh, nothing.” Verter said, shaking himself. “I’ve been traveling alone a lot, so I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to myself.”

Cera gave him a look but didn’t appear surprised. Chomper checked the bright circle’s position.

“Maybe we could rest with our friends when the day’s over,” he said.

“I’m afraid friend reunions will have to be skipped for today.” Verter said.

Cera and Chomper nearly tripped over their feet, glancing at him in shock.

“What?” Cera said. “Why?”

“With a killer around, we need to train as much as we can.” Verter was staring ahead. “It wouldn’t be productive to take up the limited time we have with side activities, right?”

“Oh.” Chomper slumped. “I – I guess that makes sense.”

Cera grumbled under her breath, glaring at the ground. Chomper tried not to let this bring down his spirits. He and Cera spent nearly every day with their friends, there should be no harm in spending a few away from them, especially if it was to train to protect them, right? Trying to make this a positive thought, he followed Verter and Cera to whatever the next part of training was.

--

Laughter echoed in the river. The swimmer family was enjoying a nice afternoon playing a game of dodge-splash. The brothers and sisters were divided up into teams, throwing and kicking water at each other. Mama Swimmer hovered, acting as a referee and alternating between cheering for each team. At the moment, the left team looked a bit more winded, cringing from the onslaught of the right team, but from the giggles and whoops everyone was having fun regardless.

“Hey, is this a private game or can anyone join?”

The two teams looked over and cheers went up as Ducky and Spike walked in to the water.

“There you are!” Bill said. “We were wondering if you two would show up!”

“Finally pulled yourselves away from that spiketail?” Eda asked.

Ducky forced a smile. “You could say that. Anyway, let’s play!”

There were cheers as Ducky walked over to the left team and Spike to the right team. Spike generated particular excitement, the right team chanting, “Spike! Spike! Spike! Spike!” as he made a show of stomping through the water, growling ominously. Ducky laughed as Spike’s façade broke with a big smile when he reached the front and sent a big wave splashing onto the left team.

There were squeals and the splashes resumed with greater vigor. Ducky smiled mischievously and threw water at Spike, her brother gasping and ducking down to avoid it. But in the process, his teammates cried out in dismay as his body splashed water on them. It was dubious if Spike had dodged Ducky’s splash at all.

But the right team recovered and retaliated with force. Ducky’s team jumped and dashed as they attempted to avoid being splashed. Bill jerked and leapt around the flying liquid, having long become an expert at this game. Bitty screamed and hopped about, getting sent off her feet with one strong splash. Ducky managed to stay standing but she had been splashed over a dozen times in her vain attempts to dodge. She didn’t care, laughing as she shook some of the water off her.

“Come on guys, we are supposed to splash back!” she told her team. “Let’s give them what they gave us!”

She dodged a splash and kicked a wave to the nearest right team member, Eda, who paused in the midst of her own wave sending to roll out of the way. This rallied Ducky’s teammates enough to really splash back and despite Spike’s presence on the other team, the tide turned. Spike stopped kicking water in favor of crouching and jerking to dodge splashes aimed at him. Riv tried to keep up but his face got hit once, twice, three times and he fell back, sputtering as he covered his head. Eda lasted the longest, ducking expertly as she kicked and threw water but eventually she squealed and giggled like the rest of her teammates as they got overwhelmed. Shaking water out of her eyes, Eda called out.

“Alright, you win! Mercy, mercy!”

Chuckling, Mama Swimmer clapped her hands and the splashing calmed, everyone panting but smiling. Wiping water off herself, Eda looked around and smiled at Ducky and Spike.

“Wow, that was a fun game you two,” she said.

“Yeah.” Riv said. “You really went all out.”

“Things are more fun when you two are around.” Bitty agreed.

The other siblings chimed in with nods and compliments. Mama Swimmer smiled down warmly. Spike laughed, leaning into himself bashfully as the others gave him congratulatory pats. Looking around, Ducky raised herself proudly.

“Well, we have our friends to thank. We come up with a lot of ways to have fun together, we do, we do. It only makes sense to take what we learn with them to our family.”

Bill nodded thoughtfully. “You sure like having fun with those friends. Since you’re with them all day, it makes sense you need to find new ways to have fun.”

“I do not know if it is time or anything like that,” Ducky admitted. “We just have really good friends that can make anything fun. We had a good game of pointy seed bowling yesterday. Oh, I cannot wait to see what fun we will have when we meet with them today. Maybe we can jump over Patty’s tail like Littlefoot said before.”

Bill smiled. “Well, have a good time. Jumping over a longneck’s tail…that’ll be fun to hear about.”

“You can also be part of that fun if you want.”

The murmurs and splashing of adjusting feet quieted. Ducky became very aware of the eyes staring at her and Spike.

“Us?” Eda said. “Joining your friends?”

“Right.” Ducky said. “I mean, Bill said it sounds like fun. Why not see if it really is.”

She looked hopefully at her hatch-mates: Eda, Bill, Loch and Fussy. They often agreed on how to be silly, and had enthusiastically welcomed Spike into the family when they arrived to the valley. With the two sets of siblings since, they were often a united front in organizing the chaos family get-togethers can become. But they were having a hard time meeting her eye.

“That – that does sound interesting.” Loch murmured. 

Fussy nodded. “Yeah. It’s…it’s nice you asked us.”

Silence. Mama Swimmer watched with concern.

“Ducky and Spike are always coming home with stories of their fun with their friends,” she said encouragingly. “I wouldn’t mind if any of you joined them.”

But there were still averted gazes. Spike walked carefully around his siblings, looking around and baying before standing next to Ducky. She didn’t like how supportive his presence was. She stared at her hatch-mates as they looked nervous, something in her twisting.

“It would be fun!” she said. “It would. Can you not at least try?”

“We’re not saying it won’t be fun.” Fussy said quickly. “Just…”

“It is about my friends, right?”

No one said anything but they didn’t really need to.

“Why?” Ducky looked around. “I know you are scared with what we get into but it does not happen all the time. I wish you would just try.”

“Well, we…” Riv scratched his face. “Why are you bringing this up again? I thought you were okay with us being with different people.”

“It is just-” Ducky put a finger to her lip. “I have fun with my friends. I also have fun with you guys. I thought if everyone were together, we would have double the fun.”

Spike nodded, baying with emphasis. Ducky stared hopefully at her siblings but they looked only more anxious. Eda sighed and stepped up.

“Everyone has different kinds of fun, Ducky,” she said. “Not all of it will fit everyone.”

“I am confused.” Ducky said. “I thought we all like having the same kinds of games – tag, swimmer and splasher, being really silly. My friends love those, so will you not have fun with each other?”

“Maybe.” Bitty hesitated. “We are more different than you think. You guys going all over the place for your fun, it does not click with us.”

“Oh, come on!” Ducky threw her hands up. “How do you know if you will not try?”

“Ducky has a point.” Mama Swimmer said. “Her and Spike’s friends might get into trouble occasionally but they’re really sweet. It would be nice to try once.”

“We haven’t decided anything like that, Mama.” Riv said. “Don’t force us.”

“Is now a great time to do that?” Osber asked. “There’s a killer around.”

“That would be too scary without Mama around.” Shean said.

“I didn’t say to try anything right away.” Mama Swimmer said quickly. "Just-”

She fell silent as there were moans and head shakes, her resolve faltering at the sight of their anxiety. Ducky’s stomach sank at the sight of Bitty fidgeting and shaking her head hard. She had been Ducky’s favorite of the batch and that she and all the others of the second batch didn’t want to try was hard for her.

“Maybe – maybe we can try after the killer is gone.” Ducky said weakly. “Or, oh, have my friends stay with us until then. That would be easier.”

“That is a good idea, Ducky.” Mama Swimmer said. “I would be more than willing to watch over them.”

“We can try that.” Fussy said reluctantly. “But don’t expect it to work out.”

“Yeah, what if they attract danger to us?” Norkel said nervously.

“They will not!” Ducky said. “We are their friends, and we do not think we attract danger. Please, let’s do it. I am tired of having to choose between being with my family and friends.”

There was silence. Some of the brothers and sisters looked down guiltily or gave them sympathetic looks. Eda sighed.

 “Ducky, we love you but sometimes you can’t hang out with everyone,” she said. “There are still brothers and sisters here I don’t know well. Not because they are bad or anything, but because we’re different.”

“Yeah.” Bill said. “That’s life.”

Ducky’s brothers and sister’s nodded. Even the latest batch, who were only born a few cold times ago, were bobbing their heads in agreement. Ducky’s heart sank. That not even her youngest siblings were willing to agree with her made her feel really alone.

“It is not fair.” Ducky said. She slumped down. “Me and Spike always thought it would be nice if you would join our friends.”

“Is it something you both want?” Loch asked. “Because Spike looks rather surprised by that.”

Ducky started and looked. Spike hastily shook his head and tried to look supportive but he had hid his slight surprise at her statement a bit too late. It might have occurred to him but he had been content with things as they were. He did look sad, but more for her than the sibling-friends situation and he looked rather guilty about that.

“Now please be nicer to Ducky and Spike.” Mama Swimmer said. “I know this is all distressing but they just want to be with those they love.”

“We’re not trying to be not nice.” Fussy said. “It’s just,” she turned to Ducky, “you understand, right Ducky? We find joy in other places, with other friends. Can you accept that? I know that is kind of sad, since that means we won’t know everyone perfectly, but…”

That pronouncement caused the siblings to look down. As much as this caused tension, they loved being around each other. The thought they would always be distant with some caused great sadness. Ducky looked around in distress.

“Okay,” she said. “Okay. I will try not bother you about it again. Please, go back to playing. Me and Spike will go somewhere else.”

“Ducky…” Eda reached a hand out.

“It is okay!” Ducky said, a bit loudly. “Me and Spike just need to… be away. I need to think about this. I will see you guys later.”

With that, Ducky sloshed out of the river, Spike following. After a pause, splashes hesitantly picked back up behind them. Mama Swimmer sloshed after them.

“I’m sorry, Ducky, Spike,” she said. “I wish I could have helped more but there are some things you can’t force on others, particularly when there are so many kids to marshal.”

“Then why did you have so many of us in the first place?” Ducky flipped around, throwing her hands up. “With less kids, you would have been able to give us more attention.”

“Ducky!” Mama Swimmer reeled back.

Ducky instantly regretted it. She lowered her head. “I am sorry Mama. I did not mean to get angry.”

“Oh, Ducky.” Mama Swimmer relaxed, nuzzling her and Spike. “I know these past few days have been stressful for you both. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend to you more.”

“It is okay.” Ducky waved. “Go watch over our brothers and sisters. We will be fine.”

Mama Swimmer hesitated, but at a call from one of the boys, she got up and went to attend to her other children, that unsure expression still present. Ducky and Spike feet patted through grass, making a beeline for a clearing where spiketail plates could be seen over the bushes. Pushing through, they saw Tega resting, a piece of long-grass hanging from her mouth but otherwise apparently asleep. Hesitating, Ducky and Spike approached.

“So, how did it go?”

The pair stopped. Tega spoke but her eyes remained closed. Ducky fidgeted.

“Um, not too well,” she said. “Oh, it would have been nice if we could all be together.”

“Hmm. Thought this would happen.”

The tree crackled. Wincing, Tega opened her eyes and examined the pair calmly. They had been talking off and on about selfishness since Tega came around that day. Ducky and Spike got some points in their favor but Tega’s arguments were harder to crack. Ducky’s head had become swim-y. Her convictions about the goodness of people was still there but she found all of this so confusing. The latest interaction with her brothers and sisters didn’t help matters.

“Selfishness exists even in your family.” Tega continued. “With so many siblings, it’s only natural their interests wouldn’t align with yours, especially if there’s a hint of danger.”

“They were not mean about it.” Ducky defended.

“You’re insistent about not saying a bad word about them.” Tega observed. “Rather greedy about making sure everyone is happy, aren’t you?”

“Well, that is because it is not nice to make people sad. They tried to let me down gently.”

“They let you down gently because the harsh method would get a scolding from Mama. If they were actually selfless, wouldn’t they just come along? This test was rather illuminating, wasn’t it?”

Ducky squirmed. “I – I do not want to think of this as a test. I really did want them to.”

“People can have more than one purpose for their actions.” Tega looked at Ducky with an understanding that was uncomfortable. “Having to get all of those brats to agree on anything is such an inconvenience. Wouldn’t it be easier if they just…did what you say? Go along without question.” 

“What? Oh no, no, I do not want to force anyone to be what they are not, that is creepy.”

“Come on, the thought must have occurred to you. Same for you, Spike. Wouldn’t it be ever so nice to order your friends to go your way for once? More powerful people do that to others all the time. Heck, with the rumors flying about, a certain green dinosaur really likes to do it.”

“Huh? Who?” Ducky asked.

“You need to listen more.” Tega said. “Come on, don’t tell me you’re so noble you wouldn’t do it?”

Ducky and Spike stared at her. To override others for who they were just to get what you want was too horrible to contemplate. They liked their friends and family as they were, they didn’t want to rob them of their agency. After the argument though, Ducky didn’t like how a small part of her found it tempting…

With another crack from the tree, Tega’s gaze gained a brief nervous edge as she spat out her piece of grass and grabbed another piece to chew.

“Well, enough of that,” she commented. “Groups are just pains anyway. All this negotiating and giving and taking – even as an undisputed leader, you’d still have to take care of some of their needs. It would be better if everyone could just survive on their own.”

“Oh, that is not true!” Ducky said, now feeling like she was on firmer ground. “It would be so sad if we had no one to be with. I like having friends and family to be around, I do, I do!”

“You did not sound like you liked being with a big family a few seconds ago.” Tega said. “Do you and Spike enjoy having so many siblings?”

“Um.” Ducky winced. “It is not like that most of the time. We mostly have fun.”

Spike stepped forward, nodding defiantly. “Uh-huh.”

“Hmm?” Tega sounded amused. “Even so, with so many brothers and sisters around, it must be annoying to get pushed aside in the shuffle.”

“Uh…” Ducky shook her head. “It is not fun but…I do know it is good to have people around and I like having lots of family and friends with me.”

“Pah.” Tega looked away. “If you live alone, you wouldn’t have to deal with that drama. You can just survive and entertain yourself at your own pace. You would only have to stick with others out of brief mutual interest. That is the ideal.” She sighed. “Things would be so much simpler that way but instead everyone insists on sticking to their groups.”

“But dinosaurs do not stick together just because they like to.” Ducky said. “Surviving together is better. Not only because of the company, though that is enough.” Spike smiled, and she patted his neck. “If you are not alone, then you can always have someone there to help you when you need it.”

Tega shifted uncomfortably. “That – it is a challenge to survive alone but if you are quick and hardy, then it’s possible.”

“Even if you are, you still might get into trouble. You might not know enough or think fast enough, so having a friend to talk out a solution with is very helpful, it is, it is.”

“I heard of that argument.” Tega said shortly. “If you are smart enough, you do not need anyone. Other people get in the way.”

“But what if you are trapped somewhere and cannot see a way out? What if you are scared and find out you do not know what to do? It would be very hard to rescue yourself, right?”

“Um, I…”

Tega suddenly wasn’t so laidback and confident. She licked her lips and looked around nervously. Concerned, Ducky stepped forward.

“Tega?”

There was another crackle from the nearby tree. Tega surged to her feet, eyes darting about, breaths quick and shallow.

“Tega, what is wrong?” Ducky asked. “Tega, it is alright! That is just the tree making its funny sounds, you do not need to be scared!”

Spike walked over to Ducky, bays sharp but soothing. Tega continued to pant but she glanced around and took some gulps of air, attempting to school calm back into her voice.

“Right. Just the tree. There is no danger around.”

“We told you that tree liked to make crackling sounds.” Ducky said. “Why did you not listen?”

Before Tega could respond, there was a rustle from the bushes. Mama Swimmer peaked through.

“Everything alright back here?” she asked.

“Yes, Mama.” Ducky turned, putting her hands behind her back. “Just a bit of a scare, but no big deal.”

“Hmm.” Mama Swimmer’s eyes searched the clearing, Tega’s indifferent expression already back in place. Sighing, she turned her head. “Well, it’s almost time for you to meet your friends. Normally, I would escort you there, but your brothers and sisters didn’t like being dragged across the valley last time, so as a compromise…I think Tega should do it.”

“Wait, Tega?” Ducky said.

Spike’s “eh?” echoed Ducky’s tone, the pair turning to look at Tega in wonderment. Tega met Mama Swimmer’s eyes, chewing her grass calmly

“Yes, I know.” Mama Swimmer said. “I wouldn’t ordinarily approve but with how cooperative she has been with looking after you, I feel comfortable enough to make the choice. Your conversations with my children don’t exactly make me happy but at least you keep them occupied after what happened yesterday. Maybe you changed or those rumors have been exaggerated. At any rate, I would appreciate if you took up the task.”

“What an honor.” Tega droned. She shrugged. “It seems simple enough to drag a couple of spawn across the valley.”

“I don’t feel that comfortable.” Mama Swimmer gazed sternly. “You have to be with them until you arrive to Patty’s. If there are any dangers, I expect you to get them away as quickly as possible. I do not want them to get hurt under your watch.”

“Yeah, yeah, I already heard it from that old longneck.” Tega said. “Don’t I look strong enough to carry a young bigmouth and spiketail away?”

“Just don’t slack off.” Mama Swimmer’s eyes softened as she gazed at Ducky and Spike. “I’ll see you before the bright circle comes down. Have fun with your friends.”

“We will, Mama!” Ducky waved.

Spike gave a grateful call. Mama Swimmer waved before returning to her other children. Stretching her legs, Tega spat her piece of grass out.

“Well, let’s not waste time. Let’s go.”

She began moving. Ducky and Spike scrambled to follow, moving out of the shade into the sunlight now leaning in a westerly direction. They walked away from the river and the trees that lined that area, only a few collections of vegetation around their path. They passed quite close to dinosaurs as they walked along, their stances alert as one whispered to his companion.

“…is suspicious, right?”

“Yeah. Maybe he’ll use them for his kind’s rivalries.”

Ducky looked around but the speakers were already out of hearing range. Confused, she turned her mind to more immediate matters. She caught Spike’s eye before their gaze drifted to their escort. Tega’s expression of lazy indifference hadn’t changed but there was something ever-so-slightly troubled in the tilt of her mouth that moved Ducky to reach out.

“Are you okay, Tega?” Ducky asked.

“Fine.” Tega said, eyes still ahead

“Are you sure? I mean, you really jumped back there.”

“Fine.”

“But that scare was not ordinary, it was like you were really-”

“I’m fine!” Tega snapped. “Just stop. I only want to get this duty over with, okay!” More softly, she said. “I’m fine. Really.”

Ducky reeled back, staring at Tega but the spiketail continued walking. Ducky opened her mouth but Spike nudged her and shook his head. Prodding her more wouldn’t work and probably only further upset her. Ducky nodded, looking down. Maybe it was best to give her space. Whatever Tega’s fears were about, Ducky felt sad she might have exasperated them and couldn’t help her right now.

They were somewhat relieved when Patty and most of their friends at last came into view. Littlefoot, Petrie, and Ruby were sitting next to each other, Littlefoot straining to think as Ruby apparently bombarded him with questions.

“…you ask your grandparents?” Ruby was asking. “It sounds like they might have more things to know about how longnecks do things.”

“I’ll try but they’re kind of busy.” Littlefoot replied. “You know what they’re trying to do with this killer.”

Ruby nodded, a bit disappointed. Petrie looked between them, a bit lost but perked up when Ducky and Spike smiled and waved at them. They stuck with Tega as she stopped in front of Patty.

“Here.” Tega said. “Your responsibility. Don’t lose them or anything.”

“Thanks.” Patty frowned.

Tega turned and lumbered away, without so much as looking back. Ducky and Spike closed the distance with their friends, who watched the departing spiketail with surprise.

“What was that about?” Ruby asked.

“I do not know.” Ducky said. “She is not much of a talking person but she has been acting strange ever since a tree scared her with its crackling sounds.”

Ruby frowned but glanced to the side. “Littlefoot?”

Littlefoot was staring at where Tega left. “She was there.”

“What?” Ducky said. “You mean near the tunnel? We all saw her.”

“No, I mean, she was there when Hyp’s mother was, um,” Littlefoot averted his gaze, “discovered. She was among the dinosaurs grazing and relaxing nearby.”

Ducky blinked and glanced at where she last saw Tega, the others doing the same.

“That is strange.” Ruby murmured. “But bumping into the same person two days in a row in the valley isn’t that strange right?”

“Maybe.” Littlefoot frowned. “It’s just weird to remember seeing someone so blasé get really scared about seeing a ghost…”

In the silence that followed, Patty raised her head and gave their surroundings another sweep, troubled. “Cera and Chomper aren’t here yet. Should we start the game?”

“Huh?” Littlefoot shook his head. “Oh, right. From what I heard, Verter might be training them even more today.” He tried to ignore how Patty’s frown deepened. “It would be bad to leave them in the lurch but I don’t want to delay this game so much the bright circle’s out of the sky and we have to go home again.”

“What game are you talking about?” Ducky asked.

“We thinking about doing hide and seek in the Secret Caverns.” Petrie explained. “The hiders explore a place to hide and seekers explore to find the hiders. It fun.”

Ducky clasped her hands. “Oh, that does sound like fun, it does, it does!”

Ruby chuckled. “We explored the Secret Caverns before but this would add an exciting element to that exploration. It would be kind of like an adventure.”

Petrie nodded rapidly. “Me can’t believe it but me like that.”
 
“Me too.” Littlefoot chuckled. “Oh, it feels like forever since we had one of those. Who knows what we might find in there? I can’t wait. Let’s go.”

There were nods and cries of agreement, their excitement contagious. Spike was halfway through bobbing his head eagerly when a thought occurred to him. He frowned, and the more he turned something over in his mind, the deeper his frown became. At length, he sat on his haunches and turned his head away, uttering a negative “eh.” The others turned to him, the celebratory mood faltering.

“What is it, Spike?” Littlefoot asked.

Spike glanced at Littlefoot, that long neck tilted with concern. He looked away, haunches digging into the earth.

“He’s not going to move. Why won’t you move Spike?” Ruby asked.

“Do – do you no want to go with us?” Petrie said, tone trembling. “What we do wrong?”

Spike winced. He cast a guilty glance but forced himself to look away again. Touching her lips as she looked at her brother, Ducky’s eyes widened.

“Oh, Spike got turned off when we said adventure,” she explained. “He does not like them anymore, oh no, no, no.”

“Does not like them?” Littlefoot repeated. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he is getting tired of them. We always pull him away from the relaxing life to go explore places that are sometimes dangerous and need lots of running. He finds that scary, he does, he does.”

“Really?” Ruby looked at Spike. “Now that I think about it, it makes sense.”

Petrie nodded. “Me do see him annoyed in our adventures but me did not think too much about it…” He fidgeted guiltily.

“Me neither. We don’t mean to get into trouble but it is what often happens when we go on an adventure.” Littlefoot stepped closer. “I’m sorry, Spike. We must be really insufferable to drag you all over the place. But you don’t need to worry. We’re just going to play in the Secret Caverns and look at some shiny rocks. We won’t be looking for any danger. I even picked the place because it would be safe from the killer. I swear, at the first sign of trouble, we’ll run straight to Patty, who’ll be guarding outside. After everything that happened the last few days, I just want us all to have fun.”

Spike slowly raised his gaze. Littlefoot’s face was contrite and understanding. After a moment, Spike smiled and gave him a big lick

“That’s the spirit.” Littlefoot laughed. “Be sure to stick to your goofball self while we hide and sneak around, okay?”

Spike nodded like a soldier to his general. Littlefoot shook his head and stepped ahead.

“Come on, let’s get to having some fun,” he continued.

“But what about Cera and Chomper?” Petrie asked. “How they find us if we not here?”

“Chomper could always use his sniffer to find us.” Ruby said reluctantly. “I do not like leaving them behind but if we’re to get to the Secret Caverns while there’s still time…”

“That’s the best we can do.” Littlefoot sighed. “We’ll show you the way, Patty.”

“Thanks.” Patty said. “That threehorn better give those two a break. Kids your age need a lot of rest.”

“I know,” he sighed again. He smiled. “But speaking of breaks, there’s some good treestars near the cave entrance. You can stand by and eat there. It’ll be a good break from me running you down.”

Patty chuckled. “You haven’t been running me down. But I’ll accept the chance for a breather. I am a bit famished.”

“A bit? I’ve barely seen you eat all day.” He shook his head. “You’re amazing, you know that? Well, this game should at least give you some time to fill your stomach.”

“Speaking of time,” Ruby cut in, “can I have some time to talk to Ducky, Spike, and Patty? I want to know some more about swimmers, spiketails, and longnecks.”

“Um, alright.” Ducky said, exchanging a bemused glance with Spike while Patty nodded.

Petrie flew over and put a hand on her shoulder. “No worry. She like this all day. She really want to hear how all kinds work.”

“Oh.” Ducky said. “Well, me and Spike have heard some strange things about how people talk about kinds?”

“What did you hear about?” Ruby asked, walking beside them.

Ducky started, putting her hands behind her. “Oh, nothing,” she said, a bit guilty for speaking behind Ruby’s back. “Just that someone will use someone else for their kind’s rivalries and that another someone really liking bossing others around. It is not much.”

Ruby touched her chin and even Petrie had a ponderous look on his face.

“You’re the latest person beside our friends to mention hearing strange rumors.” Ruby said. “No one has heard fully what these rumors are about, but they do worry people.”

“They always seem to be about the same person, though.” Petrie said. “Using someone for someone else…why that sound familiar?”

“But they are rumors.” Ducky said “The valley has said things that are not true before. They cannot be true now, right?”

Patty called out. “Are you three moving?”

“Huh?” Ruby said. “Oh, we’re moving, we’re moving.”

Hastily, the three caught up as Littlefoot led them onward, Patty casting a rumbling shadow over them. They laughed as Spike walked ahead in an exaggerated motion of his usual lopping walk, giving them a cheeky look that said, “Well, you asked for it.” Ducky giggled into her palm but a glance around showed Ruby and Petrie looking thoughtful. Ducky hadn’t expected what she overheard to cause them to have so much to think about. It was confusing, and slightly concerning. What was it about what she said that caused that flash of worry in their eyes?

--

Chomper curled on the cave floor. After Verter escorted him home, he had all but staggered his way in, collapsing onto his sleeping spot. He thought he would go to sleep right away but he stayed awake. After a full day of training, he was discovering it was possible to be too tired to fall asleep. He lay there, hoping the restless exhaustion in his bones would turn into the soothing tiredness that preceded blissful slumber…

Distantly, he heard the rumble of footsteps and Ruby’s voice near the entrance.

“Thanks for the escort and information, Patty! Night, friends!”

There were a patter that got closer and became tentative as it stopped behind him.

“Are you awake, Chomper?” Ruby said softly. “I hope you’re training went alright. I was wondering if we could talk and…”

She trailed off, tone hopeful. Chomper stirred, a pane of guilt in his gut.

“I – I can’t,” he mumbled. “I’m tired. Sorry, Ruby.”

“No, it’s fine.” Ruby touched the top of his head. “Let’s just get some rest.”

She walked over and settled on her sleeping spot. She was only around the corner, but in the silence, Chomper could feel the distance between them. He had heard Ruby bid his friends goodnight but had been unable to meet them. Just as might be the case the next few days. He shifted, trying to get comfortable. 

*This is worth it,* he thought. *This is worth it. Right?*

Next time…

The Next Fall Part 1

--

Note: I'll try to aim to post the next chapters for November or December. Classes have resumed, cutting two days out of my writing time, but I'll try to make them.

Sovereign

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #86 on: September 17, 2018, 02:48:21 PM »
The second part of this two-chapter installment was a rather nice one as it deepened our understanding of the characters’ motivations and their deepening misgivings about their current lives. This chapter offered practically no major developments but it paved way for some other interesting stuff soon enough. I had expected a bit more revelations from these two chapters but apparently I have to wait a few more months.

The first scene was quite intriguing as it showed Verter’s increasingly odd training methods and the developing, small misgivings both of the trainees begin to have towards the threehorn. I liked Chomper and Cera’s discussion during the climb as it showed just how Cera sees her past. I have kind of a hard time trying to imagine Cera being this open about it, though. Her later doubts towards Verter as well as Chomper’s thoughts in the end show that both of the two might be nearing their breaking point with their training.

Ducky’s talk with her siblings worked quite well as it’s often odd just how little time the main characters actually seem from their families. The near-fight with them and Tega’s speech afterwards might soon begin to have a real effect on Ducky. Tega’s fears, however, are unlikely to be just a random characteristic and I look forward to seeing if we’ll see more odd behavior from her. Likewise, Spike’s hesitations about her friends as well as Cera and Chomper’s absence seem to imply that the Gang might find less and less time or will to play together. How that’ll relate to the future chapters, however, remains to be seen…

One things that worries me is the seemingly complete disappearance of the ghosts after they seemed to be a daily occurrence in the beginning and even more interesting, nobody seems to question that fact. I may reading too deep into this but I’ve got a feeling something’s really wrong in the Valley… Even if these two chapters didn’t reveal anything major, you continue to do a good job in building the suspense and the subtle, small hints about the characters’ developments. In any case, I’ll eagerly wait to see what you’ll come up with in the coming months! :^^spike

rhombus

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #87 on: September 25, 2018, 09:05:25 PM »
This installment was a nice continuation of the developments from the previous offering.  Though lacking in major plot developments it did give us some additional insights into the overall perspectives of the characters as they begin to grow in their respective trainings/manipulations by the newcomers.  I think the two biggest developments that I have seen in this chapter is the doubt that has grown in Chomper’s mind as he realizes the distance that is growing between himself and the others, and the sudden assertiveness of Spike in showing his unwillingness to go on adventures.  Though these could be seen as developments that need to occur as these characters grow, I suspect that darker intentions are behind the training that led to these changes in the gang.  I must also echo Sovereign’s comments about the sudden disappearance of the ghosts... it all points to them and the newcomers perhaps being directly connected.  I wonder how long it will be before some of the adults begin to notice.

This was a good installment as usual.  :) I look forward to seeing how things develop from here.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #88 on: September 30, 2018, 12:24:10 AM »
@Sovereign Thank you for the review. Sorry for the slow pace. Originally, we were going to get to the action much faster but I realized that meant certain events would happen in an odd, rushed manner.

Originally, Cera was a bit more open about how she views her past but I thought it might be too honest for her, so I cut it down. It gave the pair an opportunity to bond a bit, especially as they haven’t had much time to directly talk with each other in these past chapters. I’m glad you like the confrontation with Ducky’s siblings. I had that conflict, so I thought I might as well have a scene showing it.

Yeah, it is of note that the ghosts haven’t been showing up for a while. That was intentional but I kind of forgot for characters to point it out. I should rectify that in the next chapters.

@rhombus I appreciate the review. Chomper likes Verter and with his issues, wants to put himself into the training, so I had to pace any doubt in a slower manner. I did want to follow up the talk about Spike and his aversion to adventure with some action and what better way than some misinterpreted talk about games and adventure. As I said above, I’ll try to fiddle with the ghost issue more.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #89 on: December 09, 2018, 11:32:21 AM »
FF.net Link:  https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/15/We-Will-Hold-On-Forever

--

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 15: The Next Fall Part 1

“Come on, come on, keep up the pace!”

Cera panted as she and Chomper found themselves jogging once again. Verter ran beside them, that vine dangling from his mouth. It was late-morning and the bright circle was nearly to the center position in the sky, beating down and making them sweat. As soon as they had breakfast, Verter had appeared and hauled them off. For the past few hours, they had been training nonstop, going over rock beatings, stretches, and more. They had been busy yesterday too but at least there were points of lag in their workouts and more than a few breaks. Now, though…

Crack!

Cera yelped as that vine struck a toe and hurried her steps. Verter carried that vine in his mouth, cracking it at them when they least expected. Occasionally, his gaze strayed around the area but his focus remained on them. He had been hurrying them all morning. He knew how to hit, barely an inch from the toes or with a light sting on the skin, rarely letting them slow. It was exhausting. She didn’t know where this was coming from. She had saw hints of that yesterday after the climbing exercise but this was way different.

He didn’t even seem to have time to socialize. When he escorted her to her family last night, Mr. Threehorn had been the only one up. His eyes flicked to her and he had opened his mouth to address Verter but the latter cut him off with a few words before walking off. This morning, they had all been up but Verter only allowed a few pleasantries and then he all but dragged Cera away. It was baffling but with the rate Verter was training her, she didn’t have any time to think about it.

“Keep going.” Verter called. “You’re doing so well.”

“Doing – well – is exhausting.” Chomper panted.

“That’s normal. Come on, you must be feeling a bit stronger.”

Chomper mumbled incoherently. He looked tired. His eyes were half-lidded, he thrust his arms with a weak energy, and his steps were haggard and clumsy. Verter was really working the little guy up. Cera wanted to glare at Verter for this, but she was so tired herself she could only concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

At last, they came upon the rock signaling the end point. As soon as they crossed, Cera and Chomper fell off their feet, panting, exhaustion searing through them.

“Now don’t just topple like a bunch of rocks. Get up.”

Taking several breaths, they pushed themselves up as Verter caught up.

“That was a good workout, wasn’t it?” Verter said. His smile was a bit strained. “Now, let’s get back to target practice.”

Chomper turned to him. “Target practice…already?”

“No time like the present. Hop to it.”

“Seriously?” Cera sighed. “When are we going to take a break?”

There were some whispers, and they turned to see a pair of widebeak swimmers watching, tutting. Verter glared but they were already walking off.

“When appropriate,” he said. “There is much to do, we can’t waste time.”

“But you’re rushing us, and not leaving us time to breath. Sometimes even we need a break, you know.”

He sent her a look. “I thought you said you could keep up with this.”

Cera winced. “I – I can, it’s just…I’ve been moving nonstop for several days. I know being tired’s unavoidable in training but it feels like we’re being sped up so fast. Can’t you see why I’m getting annoyed?”

For a second, something like irritation flashed across Verter’s face. Then he glanced around again and that smile returned. “Well, you can work off that annoyance with some rock ramming. Come on.”

Verter turned and walked away, steps a bit quick. Cera and Chomper were left with no choice but to scramble and follow.

“We are getting better, right?” Chomper whispered to her.

“I hope so.” Cera sighed. “All it feels like we’re being made to do is work, work, work.”

Chomper looked a bit disheartened. Cera almost wished she took back those words but she could tell she only reinforced doubts already present. Besides, she could relate to his feelings. She remembered last night how Tricia curled in a lonely figure as she slept between her parents. Cera’s heart ached. She had cut Verter some slack due to the story he gave two days ago but he was rapidly wearing her patience thin. For the sake of her family and friends, Verter had better make this training worth this absence or she was going to have words with him.

--

Early that morning, there was chatter and laughter. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck stood with Patty as they exchanging pleasantries and anecdotes. She had come as soon as Littlefoot and his grandparents started breakfast and she stood to the side as the grandparents ate. From the ease they exchanged words, an observer might think this happened every day.

“…he experienced, he has such love for fun.” Patty was saying. “He’s a joy to be around.”

“Yes.” Grandpa Longneck said. “It can be such a contrast, when he thinks with such deep thought and then decides to splash in the goo and play. We’re not complaining.”

“I’m amazed you aren’t complaining with being awake this early in the morning.” Grandma Longneck said. “I remember doing that at your age and it was torture. Don’t you struggle?”

“I did at first but after living on my own for so long, I learned how to greet the bright circle like an old friend.” Patty looked at them. “I hope you made some progress on the investigation.”

Grandma Longneck sighed. “We have been going up and down the cliff side where the drag trail ended all day yesterday but unfortunately we have still turned up nothing. This really is a struggle, especially with your herd leader pressuring us for results.”

“I’m sorry. Maybe I should talk to her not to lean on you so hard. By the way, have you heard the rumors going around the valley lately? They’re very concerning and might be connected to…”

Littlefoot was browsing the trees and bushes on the edge, chewing leaves. He saw his grandparents’ skeptical expressions but put the conversation in the background. He was in a good mood. For the most part, he felt awake, he didn’t have a bad sleep story in several days, and he was filling himself up rather well. Patty and his grandparents could be given time to talk and relax. He had made some great progress in the game of jumping over other people’s tails, and was ready to improve more today. He looked forward to doing it with his grandparents. Seeing a long-leaved bush, one that was rather succulent from when he remembered sampling it, Littlefoot went over to take a bite out. As he did so, he caught a shape moving among the trees and jumped. Then he realized who it was, and laughed.

“Hey Mr. Thicknose. You scared me. How are you doing?”

Mr. Thicknose had frozen mid-step, head turned to stare at him. In that brief second, Littlefoot thought Mr. Thicknose looked a bit drained but the latter forced in a smile.

“Oh hello Littlefoot. Didn’t mean to startle you. I should be asking how you’re doing.”

“Okay.” Littlefoot shrugged. “I’ve been having fun with my new friend, Patty. She’s been teaching me how to jump over my tail, and other people’s tails too.”

“Really?” Mr. Thicknose’s smile gained a genuine air. “Good. That’s good. Especially at this time, you should be enjoying yourself.”

Littlefoot’s bright expression waned. “Uh Mr. Thicknose…are you okay?”

“I’m…managing.” Mr. Thicknose sighed. “I won’t lie, this matter with Mr. Clubtail has me rattled. It’s bad enough he was murdered but after looking at this from various angles-”

“Oh, that’s right.” Littlefoot looked down. “You’re helping with the investigation.”

“Yes. I’m doing my duty but…looking into the mind of who could do this is exhausting. This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with death. I’ve been around for a long time and outlived many people, including a few of my students.” Those old eyes flashed briefly with guilt. “But murder…I’ve only dealt with that a few times and it’s never easy. I suppose there can be extenuating circumstances, but to kill someone because you want to…what purpose can someone have to do this?”

Littlefoot winced, the memory of the first sharptooth coming to mind. Mr. Thicknose stared pensively into the air before shaking his head.

“You don’t need to listen to this,” he said. “These aren’t matters kids should be dealing with.”

“No, that’s okay” Littlefoot shook his head. “Sometimes you just need to talk.”

Mr. Thicknose smiled and stepped forward. “Anyway, don’t let me keep you. I need to go talk with your grandparents. Make sure to have a lot of fun with that new friend.”

“You have some fun too.” Littlefoot smiled wryly. “Maybe not in the middle of investigating but after it’s over. You look like you need it.”

“I…will try. Fun is good, especially for old fogies like me.” Mr. Thicknose looked a bit wistful. “I wish I allowed myself to have more fun. So much of my life wasted pretending I knew everything, that I was above such ‘measly’ things as fun. I know better know, I’m grateful for the many extra cold times to apply it but…” he sighed. “There I go again. Well, see you Littlefoot.”

With that, he walked on. Littlefoot stared. Before he could think about Mr. Thicknose’s plight too closely, Patty bid farewell to his grandparents and she walked up to him, thoughtful.

“Shall we get going?” she asked.

Nodding, Littlefoot joined her in walking side-by-side to their next hang-out place. The only sounds were their steps as they moved through the valley. His eyes were lowered.

“You know, you could always eat with my grandparents,” he said. “You don’t need to stuff yourself and rush off to have a chat with them.”

Patty shrugged. “It’s a force of habit. I prefer to eat first thing when I wake up and the herd leader wants us to do that together before we go off to do our thing. With everything as it is now, it’s probably best not to cross her.”

“Yeah, it sounds like it.” Littlefoot sighed, lowering his head. “Everyone is really tense.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked, glancing at him with concern. “You seem kind of down. I shouldn’t have mentioned the current valley situation, I apologize-”

“No, it’s okay.” Littlefoot shook his head. “It’s just, I was thinking about Mr. Thicknose. I bumped into him while eating and he seemed kind of down.”

“Oh.” Patty said. “Yes, I believe I heard your grandparents mention him. So that was him. I can see why someone who spent most of his life in the Great Valley would be shaken by a murder."

“Chomper kind of hinted at that two days back,” he said. “He mentioned smelling blood on some of the valley residents who moved here.”

“Life is complicated,” she said. “In the Mysterious Beyond, you often make decisions you aren’t sure are the right thing to do. I’m sure there are more than a few dinosaurs here who regret what they did out there. Even so, there are killings so monstrous they inspire horror no matter the experience.”

“Yeah. No wonder most people don’t want to talk about it.”

She gave him a curious look. “Why does that occupy your mind? Does it stir up painful memories from your journey to the Great Valley?”

He averted his gaze. “You could say that.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Maybe. I just…” Littlefoot groped for words and shook his head. “Oh, never mind. You don’t need to hear about this anyway.”

Patty stopped. “Littlefoot, this is something that is clearly bothering you. It would be hard to have fun if you have something occupying your mind.”

“But it’s just…I can’t.” He closed his eyes “I’m ashamed of what I did.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t judge.”

“You don’t understand – if you hear about this, it would change how you look at me. I don’t want you to be scared of me.”

Patty brought her head close. “Littlefoot, I have seen and done a lot of things I thought good people would never do. It’s okay. I will listen.”

Littlefoot hesitated, staring into her eyes. He still had some reservation. There was a reason he didn’t reveal what happened with the first sharptooth to anyone beyond his grandparents. But if Patty had been seen as much as she claimed, perhaps she would understand. His chest cooling in encouragement, he took a deep breath.

“You see, I…I have killed.”   

Patty’s eyes widened. “You what?”

“You heard. I killed someone. I – I took a life.”

Littlefoot lowered his head. Patty thought this over with surprise.

“I can’t believe this. Someone so young…” she said. “I’m sure there’s an explanation for this.”

He nodded, gaze turned away. “When me and my friends were going to the Great Valley, we were being chased by the sharptooth, the one who killed Mother. He almost got us one time but we managed to escape. Near the valley, though, he was there, looking for food. He was in the way. He wasn’t going to stop chasing us. But there was a pond nearby and I got an idea. If we could push a boulder on a cliff when he was right underneath it, we could send him into the water and drown him. I pushed my friends to help and it didn’t go as planned but we managed to push the boulder on top of him and…”

Littlefoot didn’t need to elaborate. Hesitantly, he sneaked a look at Patty. Her head was raised, thoughtful.

“You did all that? Amazing.” she said. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. He was going to keep being a threat. You had no choice but to take him out.”

That all sounded reasonable, Littlefoot thought. In ordinary circumstances, having to kill in self-defense would have been hard, but he could recover. It was relieving to hear Patty’s understanding. But…

“That wasn’t the only reason I did it.” Littlefoot said. He took a deep breath. “A not tiny part of me also wanted – I mean, he killed Mother. I wanted him to suffer. Looking back, it’s kind of creepy. I pushed my friends into the plan and it nearly killed them. That shook me out of wanting revenge again but…was I doing the right thing if there were a selfish feeling behind it?”

He looked up. Patty was looking a bit uncomfortable. Littlefoot winced. Had he gone a bridge too far with showing this side of himself?

“You got rid of that sharptooth to save yourself and the others, right?” she said finally. “Even with those feelings, that was what you wanted?”

“Yes,” Littlefoot said, “but…”

“Then that still matters. Even if that desire for revenge was there, so was the decision to take out a threat to your survival. Look, people are complicated. They can have all sorts of feelings for doing the right thing. You’re a good person. I can see that.”

“You think so?” He looked up.

Patty nodded, a bit eagerly. “Life is full of mistakes and hard decisions. You can only do so much about them. At some point, you have to forgive yourself and move on. Remember your mistakes but learn to do good from them. In the end, you have to allow yourself to be happy.”

Littlefoot turned this over. There was some sense to it. His grandparents and friends often told him something like that when he felt an urge to apologize for a long-ago ill. They had long forgiven him, so should he. The sharptooth probably wouldn’t feel that way but diet aside, he wasn’t a pleasant person anyway. What did it matter what Littlefoot was feeling, if his intentions were still right. Everyone had bad thoughts sometimes, but there was nothing exactly wrong with them unless acted upon. Littlefoot looked up and felt himself smiling.

“I see,” he said. “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, Patty. At first, I didn’t know what to feel but you made things clear again. I’m feeling much better now.”

“No problem.” Patty said. “That’s what all good people should do, make others feel better.”

“You should allow yourself to be happy too, Patty.” Littlefoot said. “After all you went through, you deserve it.”

“Really?” Patty smiled. “I’ll try to. Anyway, let’s put aside all this death talk.”

“Yeah!” he bowed, grinning. “Let’s get back to having some fun. I still need to improve with jumping over other people’s tails. Make sure to teach me well with that.”

Patty laughed and nodded. Smiling, Littlefoot walked on and she resumed rumbling beside him. He still had some anxieties swimming in him but for now, he felt assured to put them aside and allow himself to enjoy the day.

--

“Again.”

Panting, Tria charged and cracked her horns against the boulder. There was a spray of rocks and a further fifth of the boulder parted from the rest. She and Mr. Threehorn were in a part of the valley where several boulders had rolled off the Great Wall and provided many targets to practice on. Tricia had been sent to Dinah and Dana’s parents to be watched over again. She tried not think about this, as she couldn’t afford the distraction.

“Again.”

With a final pullback, Tria thrust her head at the boulder again and caused it to crackle to pieces. Mr. Threehorn examined the damage from where he sat nearby.

“Five strikes,” he said. “You’re still not angling right.”

“This is harder than it looks, you know.” Tria said. 

“I know that. Now find another boulder and try again.”

Biting back a sigh, Tria looked around and examined the boulders dotted about. She had been training for hours. From the first moment after her daughters left, she had been ramming boulders, going from one place to another when that area’s supply ran out. She tried to remain determined but it waned with the exhaustion and repetitive work. She would have been able to cope better if not for her mate’s attitude. Almost since yesterday, there had been a slow but perceptive change in his demeanor. The first day and a quarter, he had been tough but fair, giving praise where he saw it. But gradually the compliments dropped away and he became impatient and annoyed. He seemed distracted. He wasn’t like some of the harsh Threehorn Ascension instructors from their past but it was getting on her nerves. What was his problem?

She found a suitable boulder and rammed into it, sending more debris onto the ground.   

“Harder.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Bend your back a little more. You can’t charge properly if you’re stiff.”

With a flicker of irritation, Tria tried to relax her back as told and backed up. A second strike and a quarter fell off the boulder.

“Harder! You’re not putting in enough!”

Tria backed away a third time and ran as fast as she could. There was a crackle and when she blinked the dirt out of her eyes, she saw she only took out a third of the boulder. With a grunt of frustration, she struck it again, hard, leaving only a part of the base standing. She panted, regathering herself as Mr. Threehorn got up and walked over to inspect the aftermath.

“Four strikes,” he said. “Still not enough. You need to go at it with no hesitation.”

She took another breath and looked, glaring. “I’m not hesitating. I’m trying as hard as I can.”

“No you’re not.” Mr. Threehorn said. His gaze was slightly low, and he spoke strangely, almost automatically, like he was somewhere else. “I see you stiffen briefly before you run. You need to throw yourself at the boulder in order to break it quickly.”

“I will. I just don’t want to get myself hurt.” 

He stirred, glaring. “That soft heart has no place on the battlefield. When you have an opponent in front of you, you have to be more ruthless than them in order to win. In battle, there can be no hesitation”

“I know, it’s just,” she lowered her head, “I’m trying my best.”

“That’s not good enough. I thought you wanted to put your all into this.” Mr. Threehorn sighed.
“You are doing so many little things wrong. It’s really frustrating.”

Tria stiffened. “Topsy…”

“Don’t make excuses.” His voice came out harsh. “The guys training with me got it quickly, and it was this pressure that drove them along. Why couldn’t you have stopped being soft at everything and been strong enough to pass the first time?”

She raised her head, stepping closer. “Topsy, what’s gotten into you?”

“I’m frustrated you’re too hesitant and won’t make the snap decisions needed to deal maximum damage to a target.” Mr. Threehorn said.

“I know that, I’m just trying to learn how to actually do it carefully.” Tria said, some frustration entering her voice. “I mean, I’m not unfamiliar with this, I am a threehorn.”

“You don’t do a good job of acting it. You rarely show the usual aggression we display.”

“Maybe I have my own way of being a threehorn!”

Tria and Mr. Threehorn glared into each other’s eyes. For a moment, their legs were splayed, giving no ground. Then Mr. Threehorn closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Look,” he said, “it’s not like you haven’t improved these last few days. You’re able to break down boulders in much fewer strikes and your stance and charging speed has improved. But you still need to work on the flaws I mentioned. You’re smart, I thought you could see that.”

Tria stared for a moment before looking away.

“You have a point,” she said. “I do have some ways to go. I did say I would be okay with you being harsh in training me, but I didn’t expect how harsh it would become.” She sighed. “I know that isn’t an excuse. I should be focusing on getting better but here I am whining like a child for not getting a reward for something basic.”

Mr. Threehorn watched as she her lower her head. He softened.

“Well, I might have gone too far with that proper threehorn comment,” he said. “I’ve had something troubling on my mind lately, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

“No, it’s fine. I should be able to take a teacher’s moods in stride.” Tria looked at him. “What’s been on your mind?”

“Oh, this shouldn’t be bothering me like this…but I’ve been getting the sense that Verter has been avoiding us lately.”

Tria blinked. “Avoiding us? I assumed he was busy training Cera and Chomper.”

“I know. But normally we could spare some moments to chat. But yesterday and today, he cut us off before we could get to much. Didn’t you find that strange?”

She frowned. “Now that you mention it, he does make some time to talk.”

“Did I do something wrong?” Mr. Threehorn wondered. “Did I say the wrong thing? What could I have said that turned him off like this?”

“What were you talking about last time?” Tria asked. “I saw you two yell when I was training last morning.”

He looked uncomfortable. “I was becoming concerned about the level he was training them. He’s been using vines as a whip. We talked about it, how you and I noticed some marks on Cera the first night.”

She frowned. “Yeah. I’m not really comfortable with Verter’s use of it. I don’t like him ordering them around like followers in that way. As long as he didn’t really hit them, I would be fine but today…”

“I know. There are a few more marks.” Mr. Threehorn frowned. “Well, maybe this is necessary to keep Chomper in line.”

Tria shifted her gaze. “I don’t think that makes me anymore comfortable.”

“Hey, if we want to make sure a potential troublemaker behaves, sometimes you have to scare them in order to keep them in line,” he replied, rising up to glare. “It might be harsh but in this time of crises, we can’t go easy on them.”

She shifted uncomfortably but there was nothing she could say to that. “What else did you talk about?”

Mr. Threehorn held his glare but relaxed. “After we cooled down, we talked about what we got up to during the Time of Great Growing. He seemed very fond of those times.”

“Hmm.” Tria said. “I can’t see what in that discussion might upset him.”

He nodded. “I did disagree with him about the violence of that time but I wasn’t being angry about it. I thought I sensed a shift in his mood then but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with his current behavior.  It’s just…something feels off…”

There was a pause as both considered the issue whose meaning they couldn’t pinpoint but left them uneased. Mr. Threehorn shook his head.

“I’m being paranoid,” he said. “Verter could really just be busy with training. I’ll ask him when he comes around tonight. I guess I’m just not happy with being away from Cera and Tricia so much.”

Tria nodded. “No, maybe that’s also my issue. Mind you, Cera is usually off with her friends and we do send Tricia away occasionally to have time alone. But with these ghosts and Mr. Clubtail’s death, I guess we don’t like not having our family being away during these tough times.”

“Precisely.” Mr. Threehorn said. “I’m still not happy with Cera having to train but if she and Chomper have to, I’d rather be training them. No matter the awkwardness of Chomper being around, at least we’d be spending some time together.”

She chuckled. “It would be a bit strange to have kids as fellow trainees but I agree. But let’s see about getting me trained first.”

“You’re right. We should get back on track.” He gave her a firm look “Be warned, I won’t be as harsh but I’ll still be firm and honest. Can you handle that?”

“I’m ready. I’ll be a big girl this time.”

Mr. Threehorn nodded, a smile flickering in. Getting back into position, Tria resumed ramming boulders and he gave feedback, the pair of them a bit more at ease after they aired out their concerns. That was all that was needed, a bit of communication between them. Though still \tired and sore, Tria felt in much better spirits. Even so, their minds couldn’t help lingering on those who were absent.

--

Ducky and Spike hesitated, glancing at each other. Tega lay in the clearing from yesterday, eyes closed and mighty sides rising and falling. Ducky wondered if this was the right time. She and Spike hadn’t been able to gather the nerve to talk with Tega since she arrived to sleep nearby this morning. They felt like they hit a sore point with her yesterday and decided to give her space. They spent the intervening time having fun with their siblings, playing tag and teasing each other, making up with them in a quiet way for their argument the day before. Even through these games, Ducky and Spike’s minds lingered on the spiketail.

After morning turned to afternoon, though, it became clear Tega wasn’t going to move through inaction. Ducky was far from close to finding out the truth about how selfish or selfless people were but she couldn’t leave someone hurt by without trying to do something nice. Feeling Spike give her a nudge of support, he and Ducky stepped forward.

“Tega?”

Tega opened one eye. Ducky stood there with Spike, holding an armful of long grass. She went over and laid them in front of her.

“These are for you.” Ducky continued. “We thought you might like them.”

Tega examined her offerings.

“These are good,” she admitted. “They are always on the higher grounds where they are a pain to get.”

“Me and Spike climbed to get them.” Ducky explained. “I am very good at climbing, I am, I am. It makes it easier to get treestars myself.”

“A nice trick to have.” Tega commented. “Wouldn’t last to adulthood but it’s useful while it lasts.”

Spike almost sighed at that last comment but kept it quiet. Tega bent down, opening her mouth to bite on a piece of grass but paused. She gave them a suspicious look.

“This isn’t about serving some point about selflessness, right?” she asked.

“No, it is not!” Ducky waved. “It is just…we want to say sorry. Talking about groups and selfishness made you uncomfortable. We should have saw that and stopped. We should have not asked about what was wrong after the tree crackle scared you. Some people need space to become okay but we were worried, so-”

“Fine.” Tega sighed. “It’s fine. I kind of had it coming. It’s the most selfish thing, not to think about the past, especially if it contradicts your beliefs.”

“What do you mean?” Ducky asked. 

“I mean – oh this is going to be hard – you have a point.” Tega said. Her expression was neutral. “It is better to survive in groups. I tried to dismiss it, that I didn’t need another pair of eyes to watch my back but then I got into danger and…”

Tega fell silent, her grass chewing a bit wistful. Ducky exchanged glances with Spike, who was blinking, a bit surprised Tega would give ground like this.

“Um…if it is alright, can you tell us what that danger thing was?” Ducky asked.

Tega gaze drifted to her. “You expect me to spill my innermost secrets?”

“Me and Spike want to better understand you.” Ducky’s expression was concerned. “If we know where your issue came from, we will be more careful with dealing with it. At least, we will try.”

“Eh, eh.” Spike nodded, eyes serious yet warm.

Tega looked between the two, considering their words. She closing her eyes.

“Oh, alright,” she said. “What you’re saying does make sense. Remember that fire that came around after the Thundering Falls got blocked up?”

“We do, we do.” Ducky said, Spike nodding. “That was…wow, how long ago was it? We did not like how everyone was becoming very mean because of the water situation, no we did not.”

“Yes. That made me want to keep to myself even more. I suspected that my usual eating habits would make me more unpopular. Anyway,” Tega said when Ducky and Spike frowned, “I wasn’t near anyone when the fire started. I was by myself in the middle of a forest, eating dried out grass and pretending it tasted good, like Spike being my usual slothful self.”

Spike made a questioning “eh?” Ducky stirred.

“Wait. What is sloth?” she asked.

“Another way to say lazy.” Tega said. “Anyway, it took a while but I heard the cries of people being panicked about something and looked around only to see a fiery glow in the distance. Worried, I immediately knew what it meant and made tracks for the nearest evacuation path. I wasn’t going to take any chances with where a fire could go in a dried out valley.”

Tega adjusted the grass in her mouth, thinking.

“Um, are you not going to eat that?” Ducky asked.

“Hey, chewing grass calms me. Do you want me to be nervous when I remember my scariest memory?” Tega said. “Where was I? Oh yes. The smell of smoke was getting stronger. I picked up my pace. I knew from the word of travelers to be vigilant around fires. Dry wood and winds can make them go fast. Still, I thought I could get to shelter easily. But faster than I anticipated, a glow swept past and the fire was upon me. I cursed myself: I forgot the trees in my area burned more quickly. There was still space to maneuver, but I kept running into dead-ends or having a burning tree fall into my path. I was…becoming scared. Wherever I looked, there was fire and the smoke was making it hard to breathe. I started to realize…no one knows where I am. I’m alone here. I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”

In spite of herself, Tega’s casual tone wavered. Ducky and Spike could understand why. They remembered running from fires. The intense heat, the choking smoke, the orange glow…it still shook them how close they and their friends came at times to being burned alive. It was only understandable Tega took some time to pull herself together.

“Then,” she took a calming breath, “I saw a gap in the flames. I was desperate for any way out, so I leapt through it and fortunately I didn’t get singed much. I got to the Great Wall cliffs as fast as I could and stayed there until the Thundering Falls surged back and put the fires out. But I realized something that day. Before, I thought my cleverness and common sense would allow me to survive on my own. Then I saw how things truly were. In order to survive, you had to know people. You had to be in groups.”

Tega fell silent. Ducky and Spike had listened, wide-eyed. In the quiet that followed, she slid a foot forward as though to touch Tega’s cheek but thought better of it.

“Wow, that sounds – horrible.” Ducky said. “It must be so hard to have something important to you challenged like that.”

“Yeah.” Tega grimaced. “I learned my lesson. Loners aren’t built for this world. It’s so unfair. Sometimes I just wanna-” She glanced at Ducky. “Saying sorry about it won’t help. That only makes it hurt even more.”

“Oh, sorry – I mean, I just want to make sure you know you are heard.” Ducky said. “Even if there is no way to solve the problem, knowing I hear and will be careful about it would make you feel better.”

“And then I could be happy, and you wouldn’t have to deal with another person’s mood.” Tega said. “Right?”

“That is…At least, I hope it is what is best for you. Besides, it is better to be happy, right?”

Tega surveyed Ducky, who squirmed but maintained her sincere expression. At length, Tega looked away.

“That’s in everyone’s self-interest,” she said. “But you’re right. I do want to think about something more pleasant.”

“Good for you.” Ducky smiled. “Do not worry. We will be sure not bother you about it again. Right Spike?”

Spike nodded and bayed, smile gentle. Tega snorted.

“You guys are saps,” she said. “But I won’t complain. Still, I’m not going to rely on a bunch of kids.”

“Do not worry.” Ducky said. “Relying does not go one way with friends. Sometime, there is a mutual helping.”

“Mutual, huh?” Tega said, amused. “But you can’t always avoid dependence on others. Cera and Chomper depend on Verter.”

“Well, one knows more and the others are supposed to learn. That cannot be helped.”

“But with one side being kids and the other being a stranger, one side has to really trust the other has a good self-interest in them.”

“But Verter is not a stranger. He is Cera’s parents’ childhood friend.” Ducky said. “He would want what is best for the kids of his friends, right?”

“People change when they grow up.” Tega said. “I heard he kept your two friends from your little get together yesterday.”

“That is probably because he has a lot of training for them to do. Cera and Chomper have to catch up a lot in order to become good in a short time, they do, they do.”

“If that’s so, why did he allow them to hang out with you the day before?” Tega asked. “Even with rushed training, there should be some time off. What in his self-interest caused him to change his mind? Eh, that’s why I hated relying on strangers as a kid. You have less of an idea if they’re looking out for your best interest. I’m glad I’m not that age anymore.”

Ducky and Spike exchanged worried looks. They had decided to trust Cera and Chomper’s word that Verter was trustworthy but Tega reopened their concerns. They thought it was sad but reasonable Verter would keep Cera and Chomper away to train them more but they wondered what else it could be? They shook themselves and talked on with Tega about other matters, but they couldn’t dismiss the coincidence that the day after the gang expressed their worries about Verter, Cera and Chomper didn’t come to them.

--

Chomper was exhausted. They had been training for hours, going over the same exercises over and over in what felt like a circle. They barely had enough time just to linger and fill their bellies before Verter rushed them to the next task. It was overwhelming and even he, desperate to find some use in Verter’s training regiment, was at his limit.

They were climbing again. They scaled to a lower cliff path at the base of the Great Wall. Above them, the mountains stretched high, some enough to scratch a line through the sky puffies. The good news for them was that it wasn’t as high as their exercise yesterday. The downside was that this cliff was more perpendicular and their strained muscles felt like they would stop working at any moment from the weight of the gravity. Verter had assured the ferns at the base would cushion their fall just as much but it was still nerve-wracking. Chomper grabbed for every crack or protrusion he could reach, breaths a bind in his chest.

“Are we…almost there?” he panted.

“Maybe.” Cera said, limping her foreleg to another crevice. “Just…keep climbing.”

“So…tired.”

A protrusion Chomper stepped on fell out from underfoot. He yelped as he slid down, claws scratching through the rock until he stopped and reoriented himself. It was scary and disheartening every time he slid down or nearly fell but he couldn’t give up. That cliff edge got closer. With exhaustion hollow in his bones, each scale felt like forever. Cera foreleg pulled up to a crevice but it slipped, sending a hidden rock sliding out. Cera wobbled as she fell back, leaning diagonally as her three other legs clung tightly to the rock, whoa’s climbing in pitch as her body wavered more and more. Chomper glanced at her in worry but she managed to throw her spare foreleg back into the crevice. She calmed her breathing, as though to wrestle her fear down. Then she stole herself and resumed climbing. Chomper followed after her, suddenly wondering why two kids were being forced to do a treacherous task like climb a cliff but he didn’t have the strength to pursue the thought.

With a last few grunts and gasps, Chomper pulled himself over the edge and Cera followed. They slumped together, tired, just wanting to give their muscles some measure of rest. For a few blissful seconds, they got that, spacing out with the relief of not moving. Then Verter’s feet marched over.

“Good job.” Verter said. “Now onto running.”

Cera looked up, incredulous. “W-what?!”

“No time like the present,” he commented. He chewed some lush round leaves with an energetic grind and he swallowed them, looking refreshed. “We need to pack as much training in the day as we can.”

“But we just got here,” she protested. “We’re tired. I don’t feel like I can take another step.”

“Nope, have to keep going.”

“Seriously.” Cera glared. “We’re – too – tired – to move. Give us our rest and we’ll be right with you.”

Verter gave a look. “I thought you said you could handle this training.”

“Not with you barely giving us any time to rest. If we were any more tired, we would have fallen off that dang wall. If we do the next thing you want, we’d probably screw it up.”

Chomper hesitated, glancing between them. Cera had a hard glare about her. He didn’t want her and Verter to be fighting, but he was too exhausted to think of what could be said to calm them down.

Verter frowned. “It’s just the kind of harsh training us threehorns are used to. We might be exhausted during a crises situation, so you need to know how to react in that state.”

“Shouldn’t we train how to do that when we’re not tired first?” Cera asked. “It’s kind of hard to do it tired when we’re too tired to know what we’re doing in the first place!”

“Keep your voice down!” Verter said hastily, glancing around. Was it just Chomper’s imagination or was he doing that a lot lately?

“Why should I?” she asked. “Should you be training kids this hard? We might get hurt at this rate. Tria was right, there is some serious risk here.”

Verter was annoyed. “And you listen to whatever she says?”

“She has some good ideas.” Cera said. “If you continue acting like this, I’m going to have to ask my parents if this kind of training is safe for us kids.”

“What?” his mouth fell open. “Now, you don’t need to go that far.”

“Why are you so hesitant? You seem okay with telling them some of what we’re doing,” she said. “I don’t want to kick up a fuss but if I’m too tired to think, I’m going to kick up one.”

Chomper looked from Cera and Verter as each of them spoke, touching his chin as he tried to follow the conversation. Two flyers passed by low, talking amongst themselves, only giving them a look as they flew on. For some reason, that further agitated Verter.

“But this could interrupt the flow of training,” he protested. “In order to be ready at any moment, we can’t delay or be distracted. If your parents get the wrong impression, they might stop the training. With this killer around, do you want to risk that?”

“That’s-” Cera hesitated. “If it’s better than getting hurt, then we have to take it. We’re being rundown. If you don’t slow down the pace, we might have to step back a bit.”

“Cera, really.” Verter said. “Do you feel the same way, Chomper?”

Chomper hesitated. “Cera has a point. I want to get better, but to get hurt like Tria said – I don’t think that would be worth it.”

There was a long silence. Chomper and Cera met Verter’s gaze, uncertain or defiant, but both at the end of their rope. Verter watched them, at a loss. He turned to look around at the valley scenery, gaze unfocused as though debating with himself.

“Right,” he said, voice turning brisk. “I hear you. Follow me. I know just what to do.”

“I told you, we’re tired.” Cera said.
 
“But I know the perfect place to take a break. I want to make up with you. Come on. It’s a bit of a walk but I know you’ll like it.”

“Well…”

Verter turned, expression pleading and Cera became uncertain. Pressing a foreleg to her chest, she exchanged looks with Chomper. If Verter really did know a good place to rest and wanted to makeup, they might as well give him a chance. Sighing, the pair pushed themselves up.

“Fine.” Cera said. “Show us this wonderful place.”

Verter turned and walked up the Great Wall. Taking a second or two to compose themselves, Chomper and Cera followed.

Despite the brief rest, they were still tired. Chomper’s barely had the energy to put one foot in front of the other. Uncertainty lay in his gut. He felt guilty for disagreeing with Verter after all the threehorn did to support him, but his instincts told him Cera was right. They were being rundown. Even at their harshest, his parents didn’t push him through this much so quickly. Still, Verter looked contrite about what he was doing. Maybe this rest place would be good and they could resume training on the right foot. He hoped the place was a nice meadow of grass, the kind that was soothing to lay down and nap on. With how tired he was, he could almost imagine the soft green blades, stirring in a gentle breeze.

He was so tired, it took some seconds for him to realize the green he was seeing was actually from the crisscross of vines hanging from the ceiling of the cave they were walking though.

“Wait, where are we going?” Cera asked.

“To our rest place.” Verter said.

Verter stopped and Chomper and Cera slowed not far from his tail. Chomper frowned as he looked around and took a sniff.

“But this cave leads right to the Mysterious Beyond,” he said. “Why would our rest place be-?”

Smack! Cera cried out and Chomper whirled around just in time to see her crumble to the ground. He looked about wildly for what attacked her but he didn’t notice the tail tip descending toward him until it was too late.

With another smack, Chomper let out a whimper and fell beside Cera. Verter stood there. For a moment, he didn’t acknowledge the unconscious forms behind him. Then he let out a long, low sigh.

Next time…

Part 2

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #90 on: December 16, 2018, 11:16:11 AM »
We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 16: The Next Fall Part 2

Petrie, Ruby, and Don sat a distance from the nest. They were doing another of their debates after dinosaur watching. Petrie never thought it would be hard work to sit around and think a lot. He wished he had been able to offer more of his observations but his throat felt a bit parched. Ruby did a lot of the talking. Mama Flyer was out on an errand and had asked before she left if anyone had any food requests. Don declined to have any as usual but Petrie ordered for those red berries she got two days back. He felt like he needed all the help he could get. His brothers and sisters sent bewildered looks every now and then but didn’t say anything. Papa Flyer tended to the little flyers, playing a little hopping game with them with his hand. He was determinedly not looking at Don.

Ruby tapped her chin, frowning. She had been taking in what she observed from the passing dinosaurs and debating with Don. Now it was her turn to make an argument and she considered Don’s request. 

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Just give out your best argument.” Don said. “It’s values and deficiencies. We shall see how much progress our discussions had.”

“Really?” Ruby said. “I’m not sure. I don’t really have an argument to respond to.”

“Pick one, any of them.” He waved a hand. “For Wing Father’s sake, respond to, say, the theory the killer is someone angry with Mr. Clubtail. We discussed it before. Just take some time to think about it.”

Ruby frowned and rubbed her chin. Petrie watched as the thoughts moved across her eyes and she tried to clink them together.

“I think that idea has value,” she said at last, “but you would have to look at Mr. Clubtail’s injuries first to see if it was someone angry who did it. If it was an angry person who did it, then the injuries would have anger marks. If so, there are other things to think about. Mr. Clubtail doesn’t seem like the type to make a comment that would make someone murderous but there are angry people who would murder others for mild insults. My parents told me some angry people have very delicate pride. So we would have to look for people who have delicate prides and have been violent. Mind you, that angry someone might be clear-headed enough to attack in a way that doesn’t leave those marks behind and plan his revenge carefully but it is a possibility to consider. Even people with grudges can be smart at times.”

Don examined her, and Ruby sat tensely. Then his expression relaxed.

“Not bad. Not bad at all,” he admitted. “That argument is quite convincing.”

Ruby smiled. Petrie looked up with a smile.

“Good job, Ruby!” he said.

Don watched them with a look that was almost…positive.

“I didn’t think you would be able to keep up but you certainly work hard,” he said. “You have improved much in these three days.”

“We have all improved.” Petrie said. “Well, me haven’t improved as much but…”

“Hey, you have.” Ruby said, placing a hand on his back. “I have seen you make some nice observations of passing dinosaurs and give nice ideas in our debates. You have improved but it hard to see it unless you see it as someone other than yourself.”

“True,” he murmured. “Well, me find it hard to say thoughts well and me not see all the things Ruby sees – almost like they ghosts.”

“Ghosts?” Don started, looking around. He glared. “Don’t scare me like that.”

Petrie jerked, confused. “What? Oh, sorry.”

“Though where have the ghosts gone?” Ruby mused. “They have been gone for a while now.”

“Maybe it’s like the weather.” Don said. “They move through and are now elsewhere to bother other people. Anyway, to return to Petrie’s concerns, everyone improves at different paces. It’s pointless to compare and contrast about it – that would only get in the way. For Wing Father’s sake, don’t let your guard down though. You still have much progress to make.”

“Yes, Don.” Ruby said, almost rolling her eyes.

Petrie sighed but found himself smiling. Don’s advice sounded right. He was still a bit envious but he was determined to work harder and concentrate on his own pace. Really, Don offered more than a bit of sound advice. Being in each other’s presence seemed to do them all good. Though Don didn’t smile, this was the most at ease Petrie had ever seen the elderly flyer. Being exposed to people who he could teach and interact with must have softened him. Petrie smiled. Maybe he was good inside after all.

“Moving on, we also need to consider other perspectives.” Don said. “We should return to the idea that Mr. Clubtail’s death was a means for another end. Do you still push against that?”

“Well, not so much against it,” Ruby frowned. “It’s just we don’t know much that leans toward it.”

Petrie nodded. “Someone could do this to get people scared and make those like Littlefoot’s grandparents look bad so they be leader but nobody doing that.”

“People don’t kill only for grandiose purposes.” Don said. “Often it is done for smaller reasons but coveted for with a passion that can kill.”

“Well, that isn’t very specific.” Ruby crossed her arms. “There are a lot of people who want things but not all people make what they want obvious.”

“But what if it was a desire that was very open, so deep that even those not paying attention could see it?”

“Oh, you mean like Verter?” Petrie said. “Everyone really notice he want to train Cera and Chomper. It kind of strange. Even me could see…see…” He sat up. “Wait.”

Ruby glanced at him questioningly but she too stiffened. They looked at Don expecting him to scoff or roll his eyes at the implied idea but he only watched them patiently.

“You can’t be serious.” Ruby said.

“I’m not saying anything.” Don said.

“Verter do this?” Petrie cried. “That would be…no, no. He Cera’s parents’ friend.”

“Being friends doesn’t preclude people from nefarious actions.” 

“You wrong. Friends would never do something like that. Though,” Petrie touched his chin, “it weird he couldn’t train Cera and Chomper first day they met and after Mr. Clubtail die, he get what he wanted.”

“That could be a coincidence.” Ruby said. “He wouldn’t go that far – I mean, just to train Cera and Chomper? Who would do that?”

“Ah, but that’s the thing.” Don replied. “One of your friends is a sharptooth.”

“Yes!” Petrie said. He hopped to his feet, pacing around with nervous energy. “Threehorns hate sharpteeth but they both can be mean and like fighting. What if Verter really want them to help him with threehorn fighting? Oh, this bad, this bad.”

“That’s right.” Don nodded with satisfaction. “It’s good to have someone see sense.”

“But not everyone who like fighting are the killing type.” Ruby said. She looked anxious. “Killing isn’t exactly common among threehorns anymore, at least not from what I heard.”

“Have you checked with all threehorns?” Don asked. “Even if that were true, wouldn’t it still be wise to investigate the matter?”

“Yes, Ruby.” Petrie said. “There are scary patterns around him. Shouldn’t that be enough to check on them?”

“That – that does concern me.” Ruby touched her chin. “Still…”

Before she could continue, Mama Flyer flew in. She landed at the nest, looking rather breathless. Papa Flyer looked up in puzzlement.

“What’s got you all rushed?” he asked.

“Cera, Chomper, and Verter weren’t at their usual training spot.” Mama Flyer said.

Petrie and Ruby sat up. Don whipped his head around.

“What?” he said.

Papa Flyer shrugged. “Well, they might be training elsewhere.”

“I thought of that but I checked the other fighting grounds and even the nearby resting places and they weren’t there either.” Mama Flyer rubbed an arm uneasily. “I don’t mean to cause alarm but it is strange.”

Petrie felt a stir in his stomach. There was a slight feeling of dread, distant but building, a tingly rush familiar from his and his friends’ adventures but that only made him more confused and nervous.

“What – what happening?” he said. “Are – are friends in danger? They are, aren’t they!”

“That should be obvious.” Don said sharply. “Something suspicious is going on. We need to take action.”

“Okay.” Petrie said, opening his wings. “Taking action now!” 

“Wait!” Ruby raised a hand. “This might be nothing. We don’t want to interrupt their practice just because our minds went to scary places.”

“You have put the clues together.” Don looked frightened. He made shooing motions forward. “Go on, talk to them! In this time, do you really want to take a chance with your friends?”

“Yes, Ruby.” Petrie clasped his hands. “Me worried about them. We have these clues, shouldn’t we do something now?”

Ruby hesitated, glancing at him and Don. Petrie stared up at her, hoping she would take this seriously. They had to do something quickly. She still looked conflicted, but as she rubbed her chest, she began to look scared. Ruby raised a hand to her beak.

“Chomper…” she said.

She got up and Petrie had to hastily fly after to catch up as they went over to his parents.

“Uh...we don’t mean to concern you but what you just talked about might be a concerning situation.” Ruby said.

Mama and Papa Flyer turned and stared. They were surprised but as the seconds went by, a hint of concern came in.

Meanwhile, Tria heard a crackle and she stepped back as she examined the remains of the boulder. It was mid-afternoon, and she had continued training since their earlier conversation. Though she was covered in dust and some scratches, she was in a much better mood. Her mate had continued to give feedback, and though it could be stern, it was fairer. She had paced herself better, taking more breaks to eat and rest. Those might be little matters but in the end, they helped made the training easier to handle. Mr. Threehorn got up from where he had been watching and walked over.

“Three strikes,” he said. “Good job, dear.”

“You think so?” Tria asked. “I don’t feel like I did that much different.”

“You followed my instructions and made the little changes that make all the difference.” Mr. Threehorn said. “There is still much you need to improve on but you have made progress.”

“Really?” she smiled. “Well, maybe I have it in me for this fighting thing after all. Thanks for being a good trainer.”

“Well…” He looked away. “After earlier, I’m not sure I’d call myself good.”

“Hey, we all make mistakes. I wouldn’t have had any idea of how to improve myself without you. Thanks, Topsy. I mean it.”

Mr. Threehorn lowered his head bashfully but smiled. They stared at each other and for a moment, Tria thought they were back to how their relationship was before…

“Mr. Threehorn! Tria!”

The pair turned. Ruby was living up to her kind’s name, running toward them as fast as her long legs could carry her,  Petrie and Mama Flyer flying not far behind her. Ruby slumped in front of Mr. Threehorn and Tria, panting as she caught her breath.

“What’s the problem?” Mr. Threehorn asked.

“It’s Cera and Chomper.” Ruby said, straightening. “Petrie’s mother couldn’t find them at their training spot.”

Tria and Mr. Threehorn stiffened. They stepped closer.

“What?” Tria said.

“Mama say she usually see them at their fighting ground.” Petrie answered. “Now she can’t see them there.”

“They could be taking a break-” Mr. Threehorn began.

“But Petrie’s mother also looked at their likely break spots and they weren’t at those spots.” Ruby said. “It’s worrying they aren’t seen in public with this killer around. We think you should look for them before anything worrying happens.”

“Why, has there been news on the killer?” Tria said quickly.

“Well,” Mama Flyer hesitated, “we think there might be a suspect close to them.”

“Who is it?” Mr. Threehorn said. “Is it someone who could cause even Verter trouble, or…?”

Ruby, Petrie, and Mama Flyer stiffened and glanced at each other nervously. For a moment, Mr. Threehorn and Tria were confused. Then something clicked.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Mr. Threehorn said. “He would never-”

“Are you implying what I think you’re implying?” Tria said shakily.

“It wasn’t so much my idea as Petrie’s and Ruby’s.” Mama Flyer said.

“Those two?” Mr. Threehorn glared. “What could they possibly know about this killer?”

“We noticed some strange patterns about your friend.” Ruby said. “Wasn’t it strange that after you refused your friend’s offer to train Cera and Chomper, Mr. Clubtail’s died the next day and you were forced to let him train them?”

“That’s just a coincidence,” he said impatiently. “That doesn’t prove anything.”
   
“But he training them so hard.” Petrie said. “They so tired they can barely move and think. That make them dependent on him.”

Tria nodded reluctantly. “It is harder than we like…”

“But it’s necessary.” Mr. Threehorn said firmly. “Being a stern trainer is normal.”

“But the first day with training, he allowed them to play with us.” Ruby said. “After we expressed our concerns about him, the next day they didn’t show up.”

“That’s-” Mr. Threehorn faltered. “He probably just has to pack a lot of training in the day. They need to prepare with this threat around.”

“But without any breaks or time for friends?” Petrie said. “Me not good with training but me thought you start easy before going hard.”

“That’s true.” Tria said. “You did begin easy with me.”

“And you told him Cera hit rocks and we adventure a lot but he say nothing about training until he find Chomper,” he said. “He very interested in Chomper. Ain’t that strange?”

Mr. Threehorn looked uncomfortable. “I – I know him. He’s been my friend for a long time. He wouldn’t do anything bad.”

“But you haven’t seen him for a long time.” Ruby said. “People can change, especially if trying to survive in the Mysterious Beyond. I know, my parents have talked about it.”

Mr. Threehorn appeared troubled by this. He tried to glare but his gaze flickered as he thought some things over. Petrie spoke up.

“Verter alone with Cera and Chomper,” he said. “We might be silly but – we worried about them. Can you check?”

“I just –” Mr. Threehorn shook his head. “This could be nothing. You’re being paranoid. We shouldn’t embarrass them by interrupting.”

“But wouldn’t it be better to check just in case?” Ruby asked. She clasped her hands. “Please, Chomper is with them. You could excuse yourself if it is nothing…but isn’t that better than not doing anything and this being something?”

Mr. Threehorn opened and closed his mouth. There was silence.

“Topsy, I think we should check on them.” Tria said nervously. “What do you think? Topsy!”

Mr. Threehorn didn’t say anything. His eyes were wide.

--

Cera groaned. She felt groggy. The last thing she remembered was Verter taking them somewhere to relax. She hadn’t planned on falling asleep but at least she got some rest. Still, she wasn’t very comfortable. She was lying on hard, cracked earth. She thought Verter was going to take her and Chomper to some place nice and grassy, no wonder she didn’t feel well-rested. Even her body felt a bit restricted in movement…

Then she shifted around and realized her body wasn’t restricted by exhaustion but by plant matter tied around her.

Opening her eyes, she looked around and found herself on one of the cliff trails in the Mysterious Beyond. She saw the many bare mountains and rock formations rise in front of her, only distant scrappy tuffs of trees and grass to add variety to the scenery. A rock from the cliff parted and fell, tacking against the mountain before landing with a distant crumble. It was a long way down. Nervously, Cera slid away from the edge. A groan made her turn. Chomper lay several feet to her left, rubbing his muzzle.

“What happened?” he mumbled.

Cera turned and stared. Any wry comment she had about wishing a height-enthusiast like him was closer to the edge instead left her when she saw he was bound up as well. “Chomper…”

“Ah, now you’re awake.” Verter’s voice came over them. “Move.”

Only then did she become aware of a green jawline and forelegs hovering at the edge of her vision. “Huh?”

“I said, move!”

The tug became harder and Cera and Chomper yelped as they were pulled to their feet. Verter’s forelegs moved quickly as he walked down the path. The pair attempted to keep up, stumbling, startled as they looked at themselves. They were covered with vines, crisscrossing their torsos and above and around their limbs. They constricted their movements, making them barely able to keep up. The vines led up to Verter’s neck, where it was smoothly tied around. They stared at the back of his frill with confusion and a bit of fear.

“What are you trying to pull?” Cera demanded.

“Is this a prank?” Chomper said nervously. “Seriously, why are we tied up?”

Verter didn’t respond, still moving. He wasn’t so much as looking at them. They were forced to move at a fast walk, their muscles aching with the exhaustion of today’s training but Cera still had enough energy to be annoyed.

“Hey, we asked you a question!” she snapped. “Don’t ignore us!”

“Stop moving so fast.” Chomper panted, struggling to keep up. “Come on, let us rest. Some of us still haven’t recovered from training.”

“No breaks.” Verter said.

“What do you mean, no breaks?” Cera said. “Come on, let us go. Let-”

Verter walked faster, and Cera and Chomper were all but running just to meet his gait. Looking around, they appeared to be on a Great Wall path on the Mysterious Beyond side of the mountain. Though she couldn’t look back, Cera could tell they were moving rapidly from the entrance to the Great Valley, the path sloping down to some distant, imperceptible point on the ground. Cera’s chest burned with cold, like earlier when Verter made his break offer, and a terrible suspicion came to her mind.

“No, no, no,” she said. “This has got to be a joke. You can’t be seriously thinking of-”

“What, Cera?” Chomper said. He was also getting scared. “Verter, please stop. We’re still tired, and haven’t eaten in a while.”

“You will eat when told to.” Verter’s voice was firm. “We will only be making stops when absolutely necessary.”

“What are you talking about?” Cera asked nervously. “Why are you taking us out of the valley? Let us go. Seriously, let us go!”

Cera stopped and placed her feet into some deep cracks. She stopped for a second and the vine connected to her tightened and struggled. But there was a tug and Cera flipped and landed, legs kicking as she was dragged on her side. The vines couldn’t cushion some of her skin from being scratched from the pebbles and protrusions. Cera cried out and scrambled, having to throw herself to her side to stagger back to her feet, wincing from a few cuts and scrapes.

“Cera!” Chomper cried. “Verter, please. Why are you acting like this?”

“Chomper, he’s not going to listen to us!” Cera said. “We need to free ourselves. We-”

She bent down to bite on the vines on her left leg but her head was constricted a few inches out of reach. She tried to do the same for her other leg but she got the same result. She saw the vine trailing over her connected to Verter and attempted to hop and bite at it, but they were walking too fast.

“I – I can’t reach it!” she said.

“Should you be doing that?” Chomper asked. “I mean, maybe this is part of training.”

“What part of training involves suddenly waking up and being tied in vines?” Cera said. “Come on, do you remember falling asleep? Something weird is going on and we need to take action!”

Chomper looked unsure but the more he thought about it, the more fear came to his eyes. He twisted his head this way and that, biting for the vines on his chest and ankles, teeth missing them by inches.

“Ugh, ah, I can’t reach them either!” he said. “My head’s too big. What do we do?”

Cera glared up. “Stop right now, Verter. We mean it. We don’t want to go along with this. We’ll – we’ll scream. We’ll call for help. Help! We’re being kidnapped! Hel-“

Crack! Cera had a brief glimpse of a something thick and green rapidly coming in before her cry for help became a yowl when the base of her sore horn got snapped. Verter pulled the whipping vine back as he stood in place, blue eyes furious.

“Do you want to bring sharpteeth on us?” he hissed. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”

“You’re the one who’s making this hard!” Cera said, glaring. “You’re kidnapping us, we fight back. Oh, if Dad knew-”

Her words were interrupted by a scream when her right leg got cracked by the vine, nearly collapsing as those tired leg muscles flared with agony. Chomper watched with disbelief.

“Cera!” he cried. “Verter, stop! This has got to be a joke, right? You can’t really be doing this.”

“Quiet! I don’t want any backtalk.” Verter flicked the vine back. “I was patient with your useless babbling but you’re going to be silent and do as I say.”

“No!” Cera said, breaths shaky but defiance in her gaze. “We’re not being dragged away from our home. We’re not living with you or-”

Verter raised the vine and Cera’s world soon became a blaze of pain. She cringed and cried out with each whip, that vine hitting sore muscles and cuts with agonizing accuracy. Cera shut her eyes, waiting for the assault to stop. She could barely make out Chomper yelling and struggling for her.

“Stop it, stop hurting her!”

“Let that be a lesson to you.” Verter brought his head close, breaths billowing into her. “This is how we are going to conduct ourselves from now on.”

“No, we aren’t.” Cera said faintly. The reality of the situation was setting in and she was shaking. “You’re taking us from our family, our friends. Daddy. Tri-”
   
Crack. Another strike from that vine. Cera lowered her head and whimpered, a new thrum of pain joining the rest. She swore he wasn’t leaving a single mark yet every strike was more painful than she could bear.

“Stop Verter!” Chomper said. He was almost crying. “I thought you were our friend.”

“I am.” Verter said. “I am doing what’s best for you.”

“No, you aren’t! A true friend wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t drag us from our home and-”

This time, the vine came for him. It cracked his tail. Chomper stumbled and gave a whine, pain shaking through him.

“We’ll be concentrating on survival now.” Verter said. “Keep your mind on that basic mission.”

Cera shook her head hard. “No, no. I don’t want this.”

“Do I have to hit you again?”

“Don’t touch her!” Chomper said.

“Because if you moan and groan one more time-”

“I said, don’t! Touch her!”

Verter glared at Chomper. “What are you going to do? Do you have a way to stop me?”
   
Verter whipped his vine in Cera’s direction. She cringed, closing her eyes. It kept missing but she could feel it whoosh over her closer…closer…

“Stop! Don’t you dare!” Chomper closed his eyes, shaking. “If you hurt her – if you hurt her –” His eyes opened, revealing slits. “If you hurt her…”

Snarling, Chomper rushed toward Verter’s left forefoot and bit at it. Crying out, Verter raised the foot, pushing Chomper to the ground. Chomper lay on his back for a second but he leapt back up and disappeared behind Verter’s foot, clawing and biting sounds in the air. Wincing, Verter raised his foot and pressed Chomper onto his back, leaving only Chomper’s head exposed, roaring and twisting in place.

“Chomper,” Verter said. “Stop.”

That foot came down an inch more. Those struggles slowed. After a few seconds, the snarling abated and only a whimper could be heard.
   
“That’s better.” Verter said. “That wasn’t much, but we’ll see about sharpening those skills. Are you going to cooperate?”

He released Chomper, who rose to his feet. He was shaking, tears in his eyes. There was a bit of red on his claws and muzzle, but he looked nothing more than defeated. Satisfied, Verter stepped forward.

“Well, shall we get go-”

There was a scream. Verter’s eyes darted to Cera as she fell to her side, spitting as her face twisted in agony. Not too far from her mouth was the vine connecting her to Verter, with chew marks on it. As much as she loathed taking advantage of Chomper’s plight, Cera couldn’t stand there and do nothing. She thought if she could bite down on the connecting vine, she could escape and possibly lead a distraction that could free Chomper as well. But the second she bit on the vine, her mouth was filled with a terrible burning sensation and she couldn’t help crying out. For a moment, all her world was that horrible taste coating her mouth, and she pressed her cheek to the ground as she tried to lick and spit it out. Then she saw Verter watching her and froze.

“It seems I’m going to have to be harsh.” he said quietly.

Verter raised his head and Cera and Chomper cried out as they were thrown off their feet. They struggled dangling on their connecting vine as he swooped them over the cliff. Cera screamed when the long drop came into view.

“What are you doing?” she said, tongue numb.

“You thought you could bite your way to freedom?” Verter asked. “I chose those vines because they were nauseating for both green and meat eaters. This is your punishment for being disobedient.”

Cera whimpered and struggled in the air. The rock near the bottom of the mountain must be as large as her head but it looked like a pebble from this distance. Already, she imagined what would happen if she fell, the rush of air around her, her body moving wildly as that distant ground rapidly neared. Her stomach dropped with every creak her connecting vine made and she closed her eyes.

“Alright, enough!” she said. “I don’t like this!”

“Admitting weakness? That’s a change.” Verter mocked.

“You made your point, okay?” Chomper said. “Leave her alone.”

“If she wanted to be left alone, she should have cooperated.” Verter said. “Now she suffers the consequences and-”

There was a snap. Cera fell an inch, vine creaking, body swinging about wildly.

“What?” Verter said, startled.

“Cera!” Chomper said. “Get us out of here!”

Cera’s connecting vine made another snap. Her heart seized. Though she only bit the vine once, it had been hard and now it couldn’t take her weight. She screamed as she fell a few feet, the momentum of the fall making her swing even more. Panicked, Verter stepped back, but that only made Cera swing forward. She yelled, waving her legs to put up some resistance, but she couldn’t stop herself from nearing the cliff face at too fast a pace…

She stopped abruptly. She panted, swinging in place only a few inches from the wall of rock. Then she was jerked and pulled up. She was unsure of what was happening until Mr. Threehorn’s determined face briefly came into view, grunting as he pulled her to the side and put her on the firm, assuring ground. Her heart soared.

“Daddy!” she said.

He smiled at her and for a moment, her worries fell away and all was right with the world…

Then she felt a jerk in her connecting vine and she was dragged away. Cera staggered, scrabbling her legs under her as she looked behind her, at the father she was being taken away from. 

“Verter, what do you think you’re going?” Tria’s voice demanded.

“Verter!” Mr. Threehorn said.

Verter stopped. His eyes searched the ground, conflict in his gaze.

“We are just going out to train,” he said finally.

“Verter-” Mr. Threehorn began.

“This is perfectly ordinary, you don’t need to wor-”

“Verter, look at me!”

Verter flinched. Slowly, he turned around, Cera and Chomper tugged to turn with him until she was near the rock wall and Chomper the cliffs. Mr. Threehorn stood two threehorn-lengths away, Tria a step behind him.

“Don’t tell me you are doing what I think you’re doing.” Mr. Threehorn said. His voice broke. “You aren’t taking them away, right?”

Verter opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Lowering his head, he sighed.

“It would have been better if you didn’t see this,” he said.

Mr. Threehorn’s breath shook. He closed his eyes and composed himself.

“Just tell us what this is all about?” he said harshly.

Verter was silent for a moment.

“Looks like I’m not getting out of this,” he said. “I thought you would understand, Topps. More than anybody. Has the Great Valley really changed you that much?”
 
“What are you talking about?” Tria demanded. “We would have never approved of you taking our kids.”

“I was never talking to you.” Verter said, glaring at her. “Have you really forgotten, Topps? The struggle to survive? Our threehorn way? I’ve fought so many battles out there in the Mysterious Beyond, and I haven’t.”

“Yes, I remember.” Mr. Threehorn said. “I remember how hard I had to be on my opponents to win. Sometimes I had to give them injuries they might still carry so we could survive.”

Verter nodded dreamily. “The Mysterious Beyond tends to bring that out of us. In the search for food, territory, standing, we fight. We threehorns are made to struggle in tough environments to survive. In a way, it’s a natural home for our way. That’s why I’ve been out there for so long. To fight until you both are tired and scratched up…ah, you never feel more alive. I like after all the effort and risk, you can ground an opponent into submitting defeat. Getting that look of humiliation and resentment…I can never get enough of it.”

Mr. Threehorn sighed. “So you like fighting. You aren’t the first threehorn to be like that. What does this have to do with…?” He fell silent, looking uneasy

Verter continued, not appearing to have heard. “Not everyone is humiliated or resentful when they get defeated. Some just get back up and move on like nothing happened. Oh, that made me mad. Even when others expressed appreciation for a good fight, I didn’t feel like they were taking me seriously. They mightn’t always say much but I could tell they were looking down on me. My pride couldn’t take it. So to get that feeling of satisfaction, I had to be go far to get that look of humiliation. Sometimes I had to go a lot farther.”

There was a chill. Cera stepped back and even Chomper with a flare of his nostrils widened his eyes as he got the implications of his words. Her parents stared.

“Oh no.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Verter, you can’t mean...?”

“I beat them until even the light left their eyes.” Verter said, with relish. “To see that contempt get replaced by fear and desperation as they realize there is no escape …that is power. I would make them regret ever challenging me or not taking me seriously by making them pay with their lives. That will only make sure others don’t question me. It is an extension of how we threehorns should be, and I am proud.”

Verter raised his head, blue eyes transported. Cera could see Chomper standing back, mouth open in horror. Mr. Threehorn and Tria watched with disbelief and pain. Then Verter lowered his head with disappointment.

“But that way has been falling,” he continued. “Ever since the great earthshake, threehorns have been turning away from our ruthless instincts. Now there is more talking, cooperation – not only amongst each other but with other kinds. This hasn’t been happening only with threehorns. Even other aggressive kinds have been suffering this decline. Even domeheads, domeheads are going this way. I saw two of them express concern for Cera and Chomper when we started training. There is a malaise going on and the Great Valley is the worst of it. All this softness and cooperation…it makes me sick!”

Verter spat at the ground, and Cera jumped away. Mr. Threehorn was shaking his head.

“So it is true,” he said. “You really did do this. Verter, why?”

“Why?” Verter repeated. “Topps, aren’t we threehorns? Isn’t aggression part of our nature? We fight to show dominance, to show who is right. What I am doing is only a natural extension of this.”

“No.” Mr. Threehorn shook his head. “We might be harsh but what we wouldn’t go so far as to be cruel.”

“Really? I remember the smirks you wore when you put others in their place. Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy making them squeal and moan?”

He winced. “That – that’s…”

Verter sighed. “This is why I didn’t talk to you. You have been in the Great Valley too long. But these two still have potential. They could embrace who they really are. Having lived in the valley, I knew they might resist my thinking, so I had to subtly move them onto my path.”

“So that’s what this is about.” Cera said shakily. “You were training us to make us like you.”

“It makes a scary sense.” Chomper said. “I mean, he worked us so hard we couldn’t think – and he stopped us from going to our friends so they couldn’t tell us something might be wrong.”

“I was planning on taking it slow, to wean them from their weak friends, but with the suspicions about me rising, I had to speed things up.” Verter said. “Don’t worry, I’ll treat them well. Cera could know what it’s like to be a true threehorn. And I will have Chomper. Just think, having a sharptooth by your side in the Mysterious Beyond. With the right training and instruction, no one would dare challenge us. It would be a useful way to show power and not be disrespected again. The valley has left them weak and servile, but with me they could show their true potential. Out there, they would be strong and fierce and take no quarter just like threehorns and sharpteeth should!”

Cera, Chomper, and her parents listened to this, horrified. She felt like something had been torn out of her. She liked Verter, how he laughed at her jokes and was so easygoing. Even with her annoyance and suspicion lately, that he was acting friendly just to make them go along with his plan was still a betrayal. She could see the devastation in Chomper’s face. All that hard work and encouragement was just to achieve Verter’s own ends. But her parents looked worse. Their mouths were open, disbelieving. Their friend, their best friend had done all these terrible things…

“They’re not going with you.”

Verter’s gaze turned, colding. “What?”

“They’re not going to with you.” Tria repeated. “You have lost your mind. ’Making them as their kinds should?’ They’re coming back to the valley where they belong. ”

“She – she’s right.” Mr. Threehorn found his voice. “We never agreed to this, the harshness of the training or this plan to have them live with you in the Mysterious Beyond. Give them back.”

Verter’s expression became plaintive. “Topps, really-”

“Cera and Chomper didn’t agree to this either. That you took them against their will…I can’t approve of that. They shouldn’t be dragged off to the Mysterious Beyond to endure who-knows-what.”

“They will be enduring it with me.” Verter insisted. “I’ll make sure they come to no harm. They need this to become stronger, to become the people they’re meant to be.”

“What you want them to be.” Mr. Threehorn replied. “What they need is to be with those they love and have a childhood. Cera and her friends have endured enough hardship. It’s why we went to the Great Valley in the first place, to have a better life. I won’t have you take that away from them.”   

Verter growled. “You’re making a big mistake. The world is harsh. They need this.”

“They also need happiness.” Tria said. “However tough things might be, kids need to enjoy life. Even for our kind, it’s what they deserve.”

Verter’s burning gaze turned to her. “You…you ruined him. He used to be so tough and strong, but you had to come in with your softness, and make him weak. Why couldn’t you just stay away?”

Tria stepped back. Before she could say anything, Mr. Threehorn cut in.

“Don’t go acting like I had no say in what happened,” he said. “I’ve been changing long before Tria came around. What you’re suggesting isn’t something I’d ever wanted for my girls. I won’t allow you twist my Cera with your sick games.”

Verter opened and closed his mouth, faltering to uncertainty. He glanced between Cera and Chomper, the longing in that gaze making her stomach twist. He looked at Mr. Threehorn and Tria.

“We – we can work this out, right?” Verter said plaintively. “You can have your daughter back in exchange for Chomper.”

Chomper blanched. “W-what?”

“Come on, it’s sensible. He’s only going to burden you anyway.” Verter continued. “A sharptooth child, in the Great Valley? You said it yourself Topps, you fear what will happen when he grows up. I could take him away, make sure you won’t have to deal with him again. I’ll make sure he won’t be a danger to anyone.”

“He’s lying.” Cera said. “He just said he was going to use him in threehorn fights. He’s going to make Chomper attack innocent people.”

“No, no.” Chomper shook his head. “Please don’t make me do this.”

“There are no innocents in the world of threehorn battles.” Verter said. “I’ll put him to proper use in this leaf eater world. I’ll make sure he won’t become the threat to others he would otherwise.”

“Please!” Chomper pleaded. “I don’t want this. I want to be with my friends, I don’t want to do these terrible things!”

Cera looked at him stricken, and glared at Verter. “Chomper isn’t a threat, he wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“Is that what you call this?” Verter raised his left forepaw, revealing scratches and bite marks. “You see the red on his muzzle. He was going wild on me not long ago.”

“Chomper was defending me from your whipping, that doesn’t count!”

“But it signals what’s to come,” he said. “You knew this was going to end in heartbreak either way. Why not cut your losses? Come on Topps, you were always suspicious of him anyway. You know I’m right.”

Mr. Threehorn’s expression faltered. Tria sent him a concerned look and Cera’s heart lurched when she saw there was conflict in his gaze.

“Daddy, no!” Cera said. “Don’t even think about it! He’s my friend, he…”

She looked to Chomper and trailed off. He looked so scared. The concept of being forced to go with Verter petrified him. But Chomper looked down and his eyes filled with a sad resignation. He had been struck by the comments about the future dangers he presented. Cera chilled. Was some part of him really going to go along with this? Mr. Threehorn sighed.

“You’re right,” he said. “I was always suspicious of him. And his departure would bring pain.”

Chomper looked up, eyes wide. Verter smiled smugly.

“Yes, you finally see-” he said.

“However,” Mr. Threehorn interrupted, “he has also helped my daughter and their friends through many dangers. He cares for them so much he volunteered for your training. For someone so young, that is exceptional. He is very kind. He will have to leave one day but at least we want him to leave with that kindness intact. Whatever real concerns I have, I’m not going to allow you to twist him for your schemes. He and Cera are coming home, and if you don’t cooperate Verter,” he quieted, “you know what we’ll have to do.”

Mr. Threehorn lowered his horns and stood unwaveringly. Relieved, Tria lowered her head beside him. Chomper stared at him, eyes wet with wonder and appreciation.

“Mr. Threehorn…” he said.

Cera was also relieved. Whatever her father’s feelings, he was going to do the right thing. She sent a smile at Chomper but then she turned to Verter. He was stunned. For a moment, something hurt crossed his gaze but then he lowered his head and those blue eyes became cold.

“So be it,” he said.

He launched forward. Cera and Chomper screamed as they were thrown off their feet, smacking and staggering into the ground as Verter closed the distance with Mr. Threehorn. Horns clanked as they pushed against each other, Cera and Chomper being tugged back and forth by the strength of the horn ramming. Mr. Threehorn dug his feet into the ground, maintaining position, but Verter pulled his head back and jabbed him with several forceful thrusts.

Mr. Threehorn jabbed back, going for Verter at odd angles. But Verter bent his head in little degrees, meeting them point by point, and he pushed hard at one of those jabs, making Mr. Threehorn stumble. He whipped his vine into Mr. Threehorn’s eye and Cera winced as her father cried out. Verter took advantage of this and jabbed harder, harder, eliciting pained growls as he got past the horns and drew blood…

A pink blur came in and Tria pushed past her mate, her horns clanking with his.

Verter snarled. “Stay out of this, female! You don’t belong here!”

“You brought Cera and her friend into this.” Tria said. “You got me involved.”

Snorting, Verter pushed hard. Tria did the same, running grooves into the earth as she tried to move him back. But Verter was the one who pushed her up the path. He pulled back and scratched his left horn into her frill, causing her to yell before he forced her back with a vine whip. Recovered, Mr. Threehorn charged in and resumed the fight, horns clanking as he put all his strength into pushing Verter down the path. Glaring, Verter spat into his eye. Mr. Threehorn yelped and Verter used that moment of weakness to bash his horns into Mr. Threehorn’s.

“You – had – so – much – potential!” Verter growled with each crash. “You had to go and squander it!”

“I’m not like you. I would never become you!” Mr. Threehorn said.

Verter snarled, and plowed in harder. The blows they exchanged were powerful, their gazes filled with anger and hatred. Cera staggered along, watching with wide eyes. This was wrong. Her father and Verter had laughed, had got along with such ease. That they were fighting so viciously felt like some sick sleep story. With each violent attack, it was like they were tearing their bond apart.

In the confusion, Cera saw a pink form moving on her side of the fight but Verter thrust from Mr. Threehorn and struck his head to the side. Tria yelled as she was slammed into the rock wall.
   
“Oh no you don’t!” Verter said. “I worked too hard to let go of them!”

Tria staggered back and shook her head, glaring. “They aren’t shiny rocks. We’ll get them!”

“You think only a few days of training would prepare you for this?” He stepped closer. “You weren’t born for this kind of thing and you never will!”

Yelling, Tria charged in. Mr. Threehorn staggered back to recover as she crashed her horns into Verter’s and they grappled. Verter pushed back, his mighty muscles allowing him to make her stumble her feet up the path. Cera watched, transfixed. She had never saw her stepmother fight with such passion, even against the first sharptooth. Tria barely avoided having those horns clank into her frill and stepped back. He gave a mocking smirk. Enraged, she stepped back and moved in with all her speed.

Crash! The loudest meeting of horns yet, and Verter stumbled back, dazed. Though tired from being pulled back and forth, Cera smiled proudly.

“Way to go, Tria!” she said. “Get him!”

But Tria hesitated. Something about Verter’s unfocused gaze disturbed her. She looked unsure but Verter shook his head and charged, Cera and Chomper stumbling and tripping as their legs barely kept up. Starting, Tria tilted her head at him and her horns crashed into his at an angle.

Verter flinched and pushed forward but couldn’t, the odd angle locking them in place. Tria was relieved. But Verter, irritated, wasn’t done. Slowly, he bent his head. Tria gasped as her horns creaked and bent. She tried to stay her ground but the creaks became louder and she shouted and had to pull her horns out. Before she could react, Verter went forward, slamming into her side and making her topple to the ground. Verter walked over and whipped her face with the vine, eliciting a cry.

“This is what you get for getting in my way!” he growled. “You were too weak to ever be a threehorn!”

Cera saw Verter’s eyes linger on her lower neck before raising his head.

“No!” Cera launched herself at his foot. “Stop hurting my family! Tria! I mean-”

Verter pushed her away, and she tumbled back, dazed by the blow.

“Where was I?” he said. “Oh yeah.”

He raised his head and went down to strike a particularly hard blow with his horns.

“Oh no, you don’t!”

Mr. Threehorn charged in and slammed Verter away with the side of his head, knocking Verter down. Cera fell on her side and Chomper jumped, almost getting struck by Verter’s stumbling foreleg. Stunned, Verter was about to get to his feet when Mr. Threehorn’s horns clanked into his. Angered, Verter grabbed the vine with his mouth and whipped Mr. Threehorn’s face, eliciting ow’s. But Mr. Threehorn caught the vine with his teeth. Wincing from the taste, he ground it down until the long end snapped off.

“Not so strong without that vine to whip about, huh?” Mr. Threehorn taunted. “Now you’ll have to fight like a fair threehorn.”

“You would have made the same choices in my position.” Verter got to his feet and pushed back. “There is a reason we became friends. You agreed with the harsh decisions the herd made and did some brutal things yourself. If you had made a slightly different set of choices, you would be right by my side.”

“No! Even at my worst, I never hurt and killed others just to satisfy my ego!”

“But you could have.” Verter said.

“But I didn’t.” Mr. Threehorn said. He faltered a bit. “That – that’s what matters.”

Verter sighed. “So it is. It’s too late to turn you now. But we can’t say the same for Cera and Chomper.”

“In your sleep stories!” Cera said, glaring. “We won’t follow you!”

“Do you really want to try taming a sharptooth?” Chomper growled. “You never know when I might turn around and bite your head off!”

“That’s what you say now but I’ve seen stronger wills broken with the right treatment.” Verter said. “Experience can change people. Even if you two somehow escape, you could still become like me.”

“No!” Chomper shook his head. “I wouldn’t dare!”

“You don’t know that.” Verter thrust Mr. Threehorn back. “Do you think people like me are born this way? I didn’t know this was where I would go but here I am.”

“Don’t listen to him, kids!” Mr. Threehorn panted, struggling to regain the advantage. “He’s trying to mess with you.”

“I had an adventurous personality like you, and look where that lead me.” Verter continued. “I can see that temper and those moments of selfishness leading you down a grim path, Cera.”

“What?” Cera yelped. “How do you know that?”

“I listened to you two while you were climbing. You shouldn’t have been so open about your feelings around others. You might have friends you care about now, but who knows, you might grow into someone who would come to abandon them for your pride.”

Cera closed her eyes, shaking her head. “No, no! I’d never!”

Mr. Threehorn pushed hard, anger energizing him. “Shut up, Verter!”

Verter ranked his horns in and made his opponent stagger back. “Oh and there’s Chomper. Once so friendly, that kindness to his leaf eater friends turns embittered when he has to hunt their kind and he lashes out at leaf eaters and sharpteeth alike. So sad.”

“No! I’ll…” Chomper gulped. “I’ll eat if I have to but I won’t be cruel.”

“That’s just it!” Verter pushed Mr. Threehorn up the path. “You don’t know! The future is filled with many unknowns. You can’t prepare for everything. Even if you try to resist, you wouldn’t be able to deny what draws you. You say you wouldn’t commit harm but with what you don’t know about the future, can either of you be sure of that?”

Cera and Chomper looked down. Even with fighting pulling her this way and that, she couldn’t help the distressing thoughts coming to her mind. Verter was right. She didn’t know what the future held. She thought things would be more or less the same as they were now but who said her behavior during her first encounters with her friends wouldn’t resurface? They have before. What if the choices presented to her made her abandon them for her own selfish interests? Or she fought with them like her father and Verter were doing now, all those warm feelings turned to hatred? Cera had been avoiding thoughts about the past for the pain they brought but she realized the future was just as treacherous. Suddenly, she didn’t want to think about what was to come. She only wanted to get out of here and be back with her friends, playing and enjoying her time with them and hoping things would always be this way.

Chomper was looking worse. He gazed into the middle distance, mouth open. For someone who cared so deeply, the thought his future departure might involve hurting his loved ones tore him up. He was aware he would have to eat leaf eaters again someday, but what if the struggle of the transition made him attack others and cause suffering? He shut his eyes and lowered his head but the images kept coming to him. The pair’s turmoil caused Verter to laugh.   

“See? You’re be better off leaving them to me, I’ll take care of their problems,” he said.

Mr. Threehorn growled. “Never! I’ll never let you influence the- ah!”

Verter’s horns slipped through and scratched the top of Mr. Threehorn’s frill. Verter pushed hard and Mr. Threehorn was toppled off his feet. He panted, laying on his side. He attempted to get up but struggled, suddenly very exhausted. He looked up at Verter, whose countenance was grim.

“Don’t make me do this, Topps,” he said quietly. “Even after all this, you’re still my old pal. Don’t let me down even more.”

Mr. Threehorn had enough energy to glare up. “A father never gives up.”

Verter sighed. “A disappointing end to a promising friendship.” His lips twisted. “I can’t promise this won’t be quick.”

He stepped back, aiming his horns at Mr. Threehorn’s neck. Cera and Chomper stirred, gazing up with dread.

“No Cera’s dad, don’t.” Chomper said.

“Daddy, just get out of here!” Cera said.

She and Chomper threw themselves at Verter’s forefeet. Cera rammed into the flesh with all the practice Verter had taught her, hearing the sounds of Chomper biting and scratching with equal force. But he only lightly kicked them away. Lying on the ground, she looked up at her father in fear. She saw his eyes stray toward her and Chomper. He couldn’t do more than jostle on the spot. Exhausted, with pain thrumming through her, Cera could only watch as Verter pulled his head back and thrust his horns down in a blur of speed…

There was a rush of feet and Mr. Threehorn pulled out of the way. He got no more than a scratch to the nose as Verter’s horns jutted past into the dirt. Mr. Threehorn disappeared from view but Verter stopped and cried out in dismay as Mr. Threehorn’s horns clanked into his, the pointy ends coming in from the left from Cera’s perspective. Verter jostled, pinned in place by the horns.

“You just don’t know when to quit, do you!” he snarled. “Don’t think I haven’t gotten this kind of trick before.”

“I know that.” Mr. Threehorn said.

“Then what are you trying to-”

Mr. Threehorn roared. Verter stopped, confused, but he almost didn’t hear the quiet rumble of feet before a crunching sound filled Cera’s ears. Verter’s eyes went wide and he struggled harder but there was a snap and a slackness came above Cera’s neck.

“Run, Cera!”

Obeying Tria’s voice, Cera ran, adrenaline masking the exhaustion as she fled pass Verter’s head. Her movements were restricted by the vines on her body but at least she was free. Tria ducked back and made to go around Verter to get Chomper’s vine.

“No!”

Verter jostled his horns out and slammed the side of his face into Mr. Threehorn’s, raising a rear foot to kick Tria as she passed. She gave a cry, scrambling as the force of the blow made her skid perpendicularly to the edge. Cera’s heart stopped but Tria regrouped and ran passed Verter, getting to Mr. Threehorn, who looked a bit dazed but still ready to fight. He stood protectively near Cera, who pressed herself against the rock wall. Verter backed away, forefoot pressing Chomper back.

“I won’t give him up.” Verter growled. “You may have her but I’m not giving him up.”

“Verter, enough!” Mr. Threehorn said. “Release Chomper and come back to speak for your crimes.”

“Crimes? Ha!” Verter laughed. “This is the threehorn life. Chomper is only going to make it more entertaining.”

Tria ran forward and crackled her horns against Verter’s, clinking them in, walking backwards to drag him back. “Oh, you’re not getting away.”

Verter unhooked himself and clanked back, growling. “Like you can do anything to stop me.”

“I just saved Cera, didn’t I?”

“Only with your sappy mate’s help! Even if he tries the same trick again, you won’t have a second victory.”

“Are Chomper and Cera really that important to you? Is what why you really did it? Murdered Mr. Clubtail?”

“What?” Verter blinked.

“You plotted that so you can have Cera and Chomper to yourself and influence them how you see fit. Oh, that was so convenient, I should have seen that com-”

“What are you talking about?” he demanded.

“Don’t play dumb.” Tria said. “I’m talking about how you killed Mr. Clubtail.”

“That wasn’t me!” Verter said, glaring. “I admit, I was planning on doing something but he was already dead when I found him. I merely took advantage of the situation.”

“What?” she blinked. “But – then who killed him?”

“Don’t listen, Tria.” Mr. Threehorn said. “He’s only trying to distract us.”

“Y-yeah.” Tria glared. “You won’t get away.”

Verter snarled. “You’re delirious – both of you!”

He pushed her away. Tria shook herself and rammed back, jostling her horns into Verter’s hard. She tried to get her mind back on task. She really screwed up when she hesitated over dazing Verter. She had been rattled by the damage she could do to another person when she should have found a way to free one of the kids. Now she tried to brace herself and discover how to free Chomper. She saw the poor sharptooth youth pant as he was jerked around, looking ready to collapse. She could bite the connecting vine off Verter’s neck vine if she stunned him again but then Chomper would have to drag all that plant weight behind him. Tria could bite it at the nape of Chomper’s neck but she would have to be quick before Verter roused himself. Mr. Threehorn could go in to free Chomper to deal with the time issue but that would leave Cera defenseless and Verter would notice this. There must be a way. Tria grappled with Verter, attempting to push her sharp points at the skin around the base of his horns, ignoring the aches and pains wincing through her.

“Avert your eyes, Cera.” Mr. Threehorn was saying. “This isn’t going to be pretty. We might have to fight extra hard and I don’t want you to…Cera?”

Tria’s heart fluttered at the confusion and faint panic in her mate’s voice. She wanted to look around to check what happened but she couldn’t with the fight she was in. A flutter of movement went past her and there was a faint crunch. Verter froze, and both battlers’ eyes turned to the side. Cera was grinding her teeth on Chomper’s connecting vine, moans muffled as she tried to rip into the nasty plant material. She froze when Verter looked at her, his face contorting with anger.

“Don’t you dare!”

He threw a forefoot back but Cera hastily worked on the vine and it broke apart. The forefoot hit the place they stood a second too late as the pair darted under Verter and Tria’s heads, going up the steep path, Cera poking at Chomper’s tail to urge him on.

“Go, go, g-!” she said.

There was a growl, and Cera screamed as she turned and found Verter in her face. He swiped one forepaw and another at her, Cera barely dodging and ducking as vines constricted her movement. He backed her against the wall and, though a part of her knew she had to run, those furious eyes rooted her to the spot.

“Useless girl,” he snarled, his face looming close. “You had to go and ruin everythin-”

There was a snarl and Chomper jumped in front of her.

“Stay away from her!” he said.

Verter drew back, thrown off for a moment, but he swiped a forefoot forward. Tria rushed in and crashed Verter aside with the side of her head.

“Get behind us, kids,” she said.

The pair moved. Tria pushed her horns into Verter’s, who watched Cera and Chomper rush up the path.

“No!”

He clanked Tria aside and went to follow but yowled when she bit his tail to keep him back. Mr. Threehorn almost reached them as he galloped down but Verter lashed his tail out of Tria’s teeth and pursued. Mr. Threehorn met his horns with his, just keeping them back in time for Cera and Chomper to get behind him as they backed up the path. They got to the top, where the ground was level, Verter pulling back and standing near the edge. Mr. Threehorn moved to block the pair from view, Tria catching up to present a united front

“Stop this, Verter.” Mr. Threehorn said. “You lost.”

Verter’s contracted pupils turned on him. “You…this is all because of you…”

He charged forward, ramming his horns into Mr. Threehorn’s.

“If only you hadn’t changed!” Verter said. “If only you hadn’t betrayed your own kind!”

“I haven’t betrayed anyone.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Verter, stop. Don’t make me-”

Verter screamed, and broke through Mr. Threehorn’s horns. He charged for Cera and Chomper, who screamed and circled around Tria, Verter following. Tria grabbed the dangling vines on his neck with her teeth when he passed, making him stop and gasp as his throat was constricted. Tria gritted her teeth and attempted to keep him in place but Verter’s progressed forward step by step, making Cera and Chomper back to the edge. The vines snapped and he charged, Cera and Chomper jumping and running along the cliff, the vines slowing their legs as the booms of those forefeet came in inches from their tails. Cera cried out when her tail tip felt an agonizing pressure, and fell onto her side as Verter pinned her in place.

“I will have one of you!” Verter said, breathing close. “I will show everyone who’s the strongest! Even if I have to-”

“Let her go!”

Verter turned and looked up. Mr. Threehorn ran in, pushing Verter hard, rocks crackling as the latter’s hind feet scrambled to stay on the edge. Cera felt the pressure lift up and the pain became that of a bruise exposed to air. She scrambled to run, Chomper doubling back for her and pulling her onward. Verter’s rear feet staggered as he pushed back against Mr. Threehorn with equal force, blue eyes boring into the dark with anger.

“You just had to get in my way!” he said. “Traitor! Traitor! Trait-”

There was a crackle and faster than anyone could react, Verter slid over the edge. Mr. Threehorn’s jaw dropped and he ran over but Verter was already falling, screaming, legs grabbing at the air as his figure shrank with distance. Cera and Chomper closed their eyes and pressed their faces into each other but they couldn’t block out the scream that went on for far too long before there was a thud, and they were left with silence. Shaking, Cera pulled herself away and looked around.

Tria stood a few paces back, mouth agape. Mr. Threehorn was near the edge, looking down, frozen. Cera couldn’t tell if he was breathing.

“T-Topsy?” Tria said.

Mr. Threehorn didn’t respond. Hesitantly, Tria stepped closer.

“Topsy, are you alright?” she asked.

Still, nothing. A shape seemed to be reflected in his eyes. Looking for anything, Tria glanced at the kids. Chomper’s head lay on Cera’s cheek, breaths shuddering, occasionally whimpering. Cera kept her gaze from the edge. She didn’t want to even glimpse what was left of Verter; she saw enough today.

“Topsy, we should get going.” Tria said. “The kids need to be treated, right?”

Mr. Threehorn’s lips twitched. “R-right.”

It didn’t take long to get back into the valley. Cera was barely aware of when their vines were bitten off or their wounds washed. Her feet passed through the tickle of grass. The trees were still, no breeze in the air. Occasionally, they went by a collection of flowers. Everything around her was distant, like on the other side of a canyon. Other dinosaurs passed by, voices indistinct. It was like another day in the Great Valley but it couldn’t be. It didn’t feel real after what she went through. Cera moved with Chomper and her parents, gaze vacant. Right now, all she wanted to do was retreat to her nest and escape the world in sleep stories…

“There you guys are!”

Littlefoot and the others were running towards them, accompanied by Grandpa and Grandma Longneck. They stopped, gazing at the four’s injuries with concern.

“My goodness, what happened?” Grandma Longneck asked.

Tria glanced around. Mr. Threehorn was still staring at the grass blankly and since no one else seemed fit to speak, she took a deep breath.

“We found Verter dragging Cera and Chomper out of the valley,” she said. “He wanted to use them for his brutal threehorn ways. When we told him to give them back, he refused and we were forced to…”

There were hitches in breath. Littlefoot and the others looked at Cera and Chomper.

“Is that true?” Littlefoot asked.

Cera nodded distantly. “He – he was taking us away. He wasn’t going to let us see our family or friends again.”

Littlefoot gave a soft gasp and he and the others came forward and embraced them. Cera didn’t protest, leaning into their touch, a part of her hoping they wouldn’t let go. She glimpsed Chomper inches to her right, small in Ruby’s arms.

“I’m sorry.” Grandpa Longneck said. “That must have been horrible for you.”

“Was he planning this this whole time?” Grandma Longneck asked.

“He pretty much admitted it.” Tria answered. “He used Mr. Clubtail’s death to pressure Cera and Chomper to train with him. He worked them so much he hoped to have them depend on him and they could be persuaded to leave. He claimed to still be our friend but he kidnapped Cera and Chomper behind our backs and-”

Crash! Cera and the others broke apart as Mr. Threehorn’s left foot buckled. He leaned into the ground, eyes suddenly all too wide.

“Daddy?” Cera said.

"Topsy, what’s wrong?” Tria asked.

Mr. Threehorn didn’t respond. He panted, breaths climbing in pitch until he screamed, screamed like something had been torn out of him. Cera broke from her friends, running over to press into Mr. Threehorn’s forefoot.

“Daddy, what is it?” Cera said. “What’s wrong?”

“We’re alright, dear.” Tria pressed into his side. “We’re here.”

Mr. Threehorn didn’t appear to hear. He continued screaming, breaking off with gasping breaths before he screamed again. Cera hadn’t heard anything like this before and that it came from her father was terrifying. Gradually, it subsided and he leaned there, shaking. The gang and the grandparents watched, horrified, sympathetic.

“You two should rest. We’ll have those wounds tended to.” Grandma Longneck said. “Still I can’t believe Verter killed Mr. Clubtail. All for the children…”

 “Mr. Clubtail…” Chomper looked up. “Is this our fault? All because we didn’t agree to train with him the first time?”

“Don’t blame yourselves.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Mr. Clubtail’s murder is the fault of Verter alone. Even if he did this to get you, you bear no fault in his actions.”

“That is if he was the one who did this.” Tria said.

Grandma Longneck stirred. “What do you mean?”

“When we were fighting, I accused him of killing Mr. Clubtail. He looked shocked. It was as though he found the idea ridiculous.”

“Is that so?” Grandpa Longneck said uncertainly. “Well, he was good at hiding his emotions. Maybe that was just an act-”

“But this was after we confronted him. I was fighting up close with him, it looked too genuine. I don’t think we can rest easy.” Tria turned, looking around at the valley. “The killer’s still out there.”

Next time…

The Anchors Part 1

--

Note: Hope to have the next set of chapters up by February or March next year.

Sovereign

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #91 on: December 17, 2018, 03:06:23 PM »
The events of this chapter felt really weird for some reason. Its focus was more than clear but the character motivations and the ending… I’m not too sure what to think. Verter got what he asked for but the beginning of this installment as well as the following conversation was something that made me frown while reading. I believe that’s only a testament to the power of this great fic and in many ways, they created another level of mystery into the fic.

From the very beginning, it was extremely convenient from Don to manipulate his students to accuse Verter of the murder all of a sudden and the way that scene moved forward made it really certain, at east for me, that Don knew of Verter all along. And considering that he offered his teachings at the same time as Verter is more than a bit suspicious.

Speaking of the threehorn, his claim of only willing to teach the kids to be like him for his own convenience in the Mysterious Beyond… not only was it disgusting but it felt more than weird. Even if he clearly wanted Chomper to join him, it still feels unbelievable for him to go through all this just for that aim. The discussion between him and Mr. Threehorn was well-written but the latter was far more patient than most parents would be if their children were being taken away from them by force. Yes, they were old friends but I still expected Mr. Threehorn to act sooner.

And in the end, Verter paid for what he did but the other threehorn’s breakdown opened a new concern for the story. He felt really weird the entire chapter which only makes me more worried about him and the future of the Valley. And considering that the killer is still out there… just brilliant work again. This fic makes me think and feel in a way very few others can and the ever-deepening mystery within the Valley is just great to follow. Even if I said the last chapters were slow, this one certainly made things much more interesting again. As always, amazing job! :)littlefoot

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #92 on: December 19, 2018, 03:25:41 PM »
Thank you for the review (and a belated thanks for the IP address link to this forum). It’s nice to hear you be invested in the story.

As for Verter and Chomper, I had this thought process in mind. At first, I had Verter more as a generic serial killer but I thought it would be more interesting to explore how aspects of threehorn social norms and traditions could become toxic. Verter grew up surrounded by violence and aggression, where it was used to solve problems and you only had standing and pride if you could beat your opponent. They are taught to really value those things. In that environment, I could see how some might come to the conclusion that to really have pride and standing, they have to murder their opponents. Under that view, some might even think a sharptooth ally might help with that, which Verter tried to do slow and steady. As I said, these behaviors are toxic, so they aren’t healthy or rational.

Speaking of Cera’s dad, he has been through a lot. Meeting his dead wife and daughters again has reopened old wounds and he was shaken by accidentally making the first sharptooth a threat, so he tried to escape from that in his reunion with Verter, only oops, the friend he had been with awhile starting in his teenage years turned horrible. I think the escape part and the magnitude of the betrayal led him to be so slow in acting sooner to get the kids back. All of that trauma piling up with having to kill Verter, well, snap! That’s how I’ve been building things but who knows, maybe I’ve been writing Mr. Threehorn too mellow.

rhombus

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #93 on: December 25, 2018, 11:24:48 AM »
Now this was an incredibly eventful chapter.  The hidden motivations of Verter, which have been seeping under the surface for quite some time, have now come out into the open - leading to the inevitable confrontation.  I do like how you have shown his motivations to be less than rational from an objective sense, but logical from his subjective cultural worldview.  From being raised in an environment that values violence (at least in the past), honor, and struggle he has developed a unique worldview that certainly turned toxic.  Ultimately Don's logical deduction (but see below) came just in time to prevent Chomper and Cera from continuing to be dragged off by the deranged threehorn.  I suspect the mental damage from this event will be quite troubling and disquieting for not only Mr. Threehorn and his family, but for Chomper as well.  They had begun to see him as a friend and instructor only to have it end like this.

But this is where I suspect there is much more than meets the eye.  Don's deduction about Verter seems almost too convenient as does his gradual instruction of his "students" into seeing Verter as a likely culprit.  I sense that one evil has been purged only for a hidden evil to still be in play.  Though, as this story has shown several times, things are seldom that simple.

Thank you yet again for another wonderful installment to the story.  :) I am now curious what the aftermath of this will entail and if, perhaps, the paths of the children might become more intertwined.  Perhaps they might begin to suspect that their respective newcomer friends might be manipulating them for an unknown purpose.


DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #94 on: January 02, 2019, 10:42:35 AM »
@rhombus Thank you for the review. Developing Verter and his motivations was fun and I feel it is better than my initial “general serial killer” idea. There will be repercussions to in future chapters, oh there will be. ;)

Aside question but how am I doing with Tria? I know she doesn’t have many fans, but I’m the type of writer who wants to give every character a fair shot and explore them while keeping them in-character.

Ducky123

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #95 on: February 14, 2019, 09:27:40 AM »
Oh boy I have a lot to catch up on. Has it really been 6 months already? :sducky

So the first review would be about chapter 13 (I think)

The talk between Topps and Verter was nice but Verter is still acting weird at times. I'm curious about why he prefers the harsher times of the past. Don is keeping an eye on him huh? Interesting.

The conversation between Patty and Littlefoot unearthed a rather surprising theory to be honest. I really don't think it was just a random thought so I'm looking forward to finding out more  :^^spike

Hmm so Chomper basically is suffering from a complex, feeling useless. I can certainly understand where this is coming from. Him hurting his head is a tad too ambitious though he should be careful  :PAli

Verter is acting kind again, still wondering what his motivations and ambitions are...

It seems Petrie's and Ruby's training is going well. This scene hit some interesting topics, it was intriguing to follow the narrative and see Don open up somewhat. I wonder if he's not as much of an antagonist as he first appeared to be. Nevertheless, he was being quite the dick during that argument :lol

Those are all very good developments, I shall attempt to catch up before I have to start reading prompt challenge entries again :yes
Note to self: finally create that signature lazy bum! :P

Ducky123

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #96 on: February 20, 2019, 03:39:38 AM »
 :PAli Review of chapter 14:  :PAli

Nothing much to say about the hill-climbing scene here, nothing really new about Verter that don't already know or suspect  :lol I liked the quick exchange between our two trainees. It seems like Cera is well aware of how much of an idiot she can be and not showing any pride about it. Just goes to show her character growth even if she's occasionally falling back into old habits.

Tega confuses me tbh. One the one hand she's this anti-social prick but she still puts up with Ducky and Spike and argues with them, questioning Ducky's views. I wonder what that scare was all about as well. Questions questions...  :thinking :thinking :thinking

It seems Ruby is really serious about learning the habits of other kinds  :olittlefoot

Well, the story is a little slow now but it is a very good thing. Things are being set up and I'm very intrigued. Keep up the good work  :Mo

Ducky123

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #97 on: February 21, 2019, 09:25:44 AM »
 ;)Cera Review of chapter 15  ;)Cera

Well, I'm on a roll today it seems.

Verter is going further yet again. This was to be expected of course but it is unsettling, wondering when and who will break first  :sducky

The conversation with Thicknose was nicely done :)

I would never consider it a killing act to get rid of a natural enemy, however I can see where Littlefoot is coming from :)

Tria is making some progress I see. Topps is being a little too harsh but he realizes his mistake and apologizes for his rude behavior. It seems like Topps has learned quite a bit in terms of argument and fight prevention :D

So there it finally is, Tega's backstory. Ironically, what we learned just now contradicts the way the Spiketail is acting. She learned her lesson during the fire yet she continued being a loner and tries to dissuade Ducky and Spike from non-selfish behavior. Well at least she was kind enough to open up and listen to these two. I'm beginning to think that she might be a good person somewhere deep down :)

Aaaaaaand, that escalated quickly. Verter now you've done it  :neutral Evil cliffhanger, I appreciate that :DD

Good job with this one as well!

Ducky123

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #98 on: February 27, 2019, 06:43:55 AM »
Review of chapter 16:

Well, well. Who would have thought that Petrie is the one to voice the suspicion. I had a funny feeling about Verter from the start as you probably know and I'm rather confident by now that Verter at least has a role to play in the bigger scheme of things. If they find out that he beat them unconscious with that vine, surely they will be more than pissed  :sducky

Tria is learning fast. I expected Mr. Threehorn to defend Verter but apparently he's just realized something :sducky

Okay, where do start? Finally we find out the true nature of Verter. Holy spiketail...

Needless to say, this chapter was absolutely amazing and both Verter's actions, the dialogue and the battle between the threehorns was genuinely excellent. Poor Verter though, although I can hardly feel remorse about his demise  :PAli

The aftermath will take some moments to wear off but the day has been saved. However one thing is certain: Verter didn't kill Clubtail...  :sducky

That was a great Arc and I wonder what this story will have in store next ;)Cera

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #99 on: March 01, 2019, 11:50:11 AM »
@Ducky123 Thank you for the reviews. Glad you are enjoying the many events. It is a challenge to juggle the many plot threads and the developments of these characters. One or two things you said made me smile ominously but I won’t tell you what. I have the sense Topps doesn’t want to be too harsh with his mate and he has mellowed out a bit in the series. Glad you enjoyed the fights, those are hard to coordinate and keep track of whose where. I look forward to your reaction to the next chapters.