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DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« on: June 18, 2017, 06:23:46 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/1/We-...Hold-On-Forever

Summary: A chance encounter with old enemies leads Littlefoot and friends to discover a phenomena they can barely comprehend. The answers to that phenomena shall lead to tough choices that will drive them to their very breaking point.

Notes: So, yeah, my first chaptered fic for this fandom. This is going to be a long one. This was originally going to be twenty-two chapters but with some chapters reaching as high as fifty or sixty pages, I decided I'll cut in half any that exceed forty and wait until next week to post the second part (Yes, if I have the second part mostly completed, I don't need to wait that long...but I'm Satan :p ). I'm not sure about consistent updates, since I'm planning on writing and mostly completing the next chapter before posting the current one. It might vacillate between weekly and monthly depending on. I'll try to figure that out as I adapt to writing and posting long fic.

So without further ado, here’s it begins:

---P1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

The Analyzer

Chapter 01: From The Mists Part 1


On a little known river in the Mysterious Beyond, two companions by convenience were once again in a foul mood.

“You really did it this time, Dil.” Ichy muttered.

He and Dil had been riding through the waters in mutual silence, stewing over the latest blunder in their never-ending search for nourishment. Lately, their prey in the Land of Mists had adapted to the changed environment and got cleverer, making getting a full belly an arduous challenge. New predators and other residents had moved in and they didn’t take too kindly to the old guard. The mists that helped Ichy and Dil in so many hunts had then disadvantaged them. The pair were often unaware of the presence of the aggressive competition until it was almost too late. They usually had to scramble away before being found. Dil’s stealth in the water in these cases was limited and nontransferable to land. With all these obstacles in the way, it was only a matter of time before the pair really ticked off someone bigger and meaner than them.

Dil’s eyes lowered. “Well, how was I supposed to know that longneck swimmer was there with how still he was?”

“You should have been more careful after the last time we nearly got caught.” Ichy said. “Always stay low while swimming. How hard is that to understand?”

“It’s kind of hard to be invisible and keep ears above water.” Dil growled. “C’mon Ichy, I did everything you asked. I kept quiet. I asked if there were any swimming longnecks in the area. I swam so slowly I might as well have stayed still. I did my best. But those swimming longnecks were everywhere! Face it Ichy, it just wasn’t a way to live.”

“It’s called adapting. You either shape up or ship out. Those regular longnecks shipped out, remember? We were going to be the ones who shaped up – fitting right in with the mists, taking advantage of the new rivers, making all the weird creatures our dinner. We might have even got used to those large swimming longnecks and carved out our own niche. But that takes time and look where your impatience to get somewhere got us – chased out of the Land of Mists on the threat of becoming someone’s dinner! We can never go back and lean on the advantages we had there. Now we have to go the even longer route to get our next meal.”

Dil grunted. “Don’t think because you’re the eyes you’re also the brain. You didn’t see him either. You couldn’t fast talk your way out of the situation - you barely got us out of there alive. Look, we can pass blame all week if we want, but what’s done is done. What’s important is how this longer route is going to give us a meal.”

Ichy was displeased to be denied the last word but he was tired from arguing and Dil did have a point. His gaze turned onward, to where the river bent and vanished into the distance.

“I’ve seen a few rivers like this whenever we neared the edge of the Land of Mists, and I’ve followed them some ways. Not much life kicking around but they do lead to some caves we can take advantage of. If we do this right, we can have all the morsels we need.”

“Morsels for me, more like.” Dil said. “You’re doing well for someone who hasn’t eaten much lately.”

“That’s because you thought I was some other feathered flyer and nearly ate me again!” Ichy snapped. “If that small domehead hadn’t slipped into the river, I believe you really would have finished me off. That’d scare the appetite out of anyone.”

“Still, you haven’t chomped on much of my later catches.” Dil paused, her next words laced with the slightest fraction of concern. “You should be too tired to fly by now.”

Ichy shrugged. “Maybe I’m adapting to the sparse pickings. Or that whole escape mess is still giving me a high. Either way, I’ll get my appetite back when we feast in the Great Valley.”

Dil stopped so abruptly Ichy was nearly flung off her snout. “The Great Valley? You’re kidding me!”

“No, but don’t you see how brilliant it is?” Ichy said eagerly. He waved expansively. “Only plant eaters live there. Any meat eaters that wander in get chased out – usually because they’re too big and stomping to stay hidden for long. But we’re small enough to sneak around and nip any tiny prey unfortunate enough that stray near us. They can’t know all the tunnels – by the time they think something’s up, we can disappear back into the dark. We can time ourselves enough that it would take forever for them to get suspicious. After all, some dinosaurs must disappear or die in the Great Valley. They can’t keep track of everyone.”

Dil turned this over in her mind. Those were good points. The pair’s smaller size might actually benefit them for once. It was hard to chase after intruders in a tunnel if you were larger than the tunnel. As long as they were quiet, they would be set for a while. Nevertheless…

“That still leaves us with even more big critters to be mad at us,” she pointed out. “We won’t have mists to keep us hidden. If we get caught too far from a cave, we’re screwed.”

“Ah, but without the mist we won’t get lost.” Ichy said. “I can scout the area and pick out potential targets. All we have to do is stay quiet and out of sight. This’ll work, you’ll see.”

Dil sighed. Some part of her remained wary when Ichy had that scheming tone in his voice but the possibility of having enough prey to not go hungry for a while…it was too hard to resist. She was tired of going with an empty stomach for longer than was comfortable and worrying about danger all the time. At least in the valley, she could lower her guard a bit. Not to mention Ichy schemes didn’t always go wrong. As much as he could drive her up the wall, she needed him for his eyes and brain. There was only one answer she could give him at the moment.

“If it gets us food, I’m not complaining,” she grumbled. “I just hope no one recognizes our tracks.”

Ichy waved dismissively. “I doubt they will. I’ve heard Great Valley born residents don’t wander out and those that migrate there tend to stay put. They probably haven’t encountered anyone like us. If anyone has, well…what are the odds we’ll run into them? Let’s just focus on the prospect of having a filling meal,” he rubbed his wings together, a sharp glint in his eyes. “Yes…I can already feel my full stomach now.”

--

Littlefoot yawned, working the stiffness out of his neck. He didn’t get any sleep stories but he had a fine rest all the same. In his often adventurous life, having an uninterrupted and full sleep was a treasure, and he appreciated any time he could have it. As he looked around, he saw his grandparents seemed to feel the same way. They lay near Littlefoot as always, eyes closed and expansive forms curled near each other. Littlefoot smiled. It was sweet to see how close they were to one another, and to him. Also, he was pleased to wake up first this time.

“Grandpa, Grandma, get up!” Littlefoot called. “Time to rise and shine. It’s a beautiful day.”

They didn’t stir. Littlefoot frowned. Well, hearing did fade a bit with age. Littlefoot sometimes had to raise his voice more than once to get their attention. He took a deep breath.

“C’mon, Grandpa, Grandma! You said you wanted the first taste of the water greens in the lake. You don’t want to back out now!”

At this point, they normally would have groaned and grumbled affectionately that if Littlefoot wanted them to be punctual, they might as well get up. But not so much as a peep. Frowning further, Littlefoot wandered over.

“Grandpa? Grandma? Are you alright?”

As Littlefoot got mere feet from his grandparents, he noticed their massive sides weren’t moving. Strange, everyone breathed in their sleep and it was especially noticeable in big dinosaurs like them. And even at their quietist, his grandparents made some noise. Yet he heard nothing.

That was when the smell hit his nostrils. Littlefoot twitched back at the sweet stench, which he couldn’t immediately identity but made his stomach curl. He encountered this smell before, and not within a particularly good context. After a reluctant moment, his mind went back to the time of that encounter, when the sky water dampened the intensity but it was still something he couldn’t ignore as he watched fruitlessly for life to come back to….

Littlefoot’s breath hitched. “No. No, no, no.”

Littlefoot raced forward, thrusted onto his hind legs to push on Grandpa’s face, and ran to Grandma to do the same thing.

“Get up, please get up. Get up!”

He pressed his head against their noses, trying by some miracle to move their heads and stir consciousness back into them. There, Littlefoot noticed his ears hadn’t been lying – he couldn’t feel their breaths, the air that should be breezing in and out of their mouths and nostrils, that which made all life healthy and able to move on. Littlefoot continued to push and shove, the exertion forcing him to inhale more of that sweet, putrid stench he attempted desperately to ignore.

“Not you two.” Littlefoot panted. “Oh, not you too!”

Littlefoot didn’t stop trying to wake his grandparents even when it was clear he would get no response, not a startled snort, an abrupt expanse of lungs, or even the twitch of a tail. Wet pricked his eyes, and his heart pumped from more than the exhaustion that started to settle in his legs. Only when he didn’t have any more energy to push and the stench became so unbearable did he stagger away and collapse. Littlefoot looked between Grandpa and Grandma helplessly, vision blurred, no longer able to stop himself from crying.

“Please, don’t leave me now,” he said “There’s so much I want to do with you. You’re the little family I have left. Grandpa! Grandma!”

“Littlefoot? Littlefoot!”

Littlefoot felt a nudge at his side, and his vision was blurring from more than tears. Blinking, he found himself right back in his sleeping spot and turned his head to see Grandpa and Grandma Longneck gazing at him with concern. They loomed over, his worried guardians, and very much alive.

“Are you okay?” Grandpa Longneck asked. “You’ve been making a lot of noise.”

“You look like you’ve been crying.” Grandma Longneck peered closer. “Did you have a bad sleep story?”

Littlefoot raised a paw and found wetness around one eye. He turned his head and rubbed the tears off.

“I’m fine.” Littlefoot said hastily, voice also wet. He cleared his throat and looked up, smiling warmly. “I did have a bad sleep story, but I feel better now that you’re here.”

His grandparents smiled, touched. Littlefoot was being truthful – seeing his grandpa and grandma here made all the terror of the sleep story distant and blurry. But he didn’t want to go into detail about it.

“We’re glad to hear that.” Grandpa Longneck replied. “But are you sure you’re alright? Grandma and I are always open to discussing whatever might be upsetting you.”

“As you’re probably reminded once in a while,” Grandma Longneck said wryly, “we’ve been around for a long time and seen a lot. We’ve even gone through struggles that might be similar to what you’re facing now. If there’s any way we can use our experience to help you, we wouldn’t mind giving out advice.”

Littlefoot hesitated, but shook his head. “I’m okay now. Maybe I’ll tell you about it later if it really bothers me.”

His grandparents nodded, ready to deal with such a response. Grandma Longneck looked at her husband.

“I believe there’s still time to get the water greens in the lake,” she said.

Grandpa Longneck nodded, chuckling. “There is. Come, no need to dawdle when we have bellies to fill.”

The pair turned and began walking, and Littlefoot scrambled out of his sleeping nook to follow. He kept up, swinging his head around curiously, happy to be up and drinking in the sights of his beautiful home. If his grandparents watched him out of the corner of their eye, they would be reassured whatever troubled him had passed and focus on how they could entertain themselves for the day.

For Littlefoot, that trouble hadn’t passed completely. Every once in a while that morning, he couldn’t help surreptitiously watching his grandparents’ gait, the way they drew in breath, how they got from point a to point b. Adult longnecks weren’t known for their swift movement and his grandparents’ pace wasn’t that much different, he mused. Their breathing sounded fine. They got to the lake and located the green food in the water with little trouble, so their sense of direction was as good as Littlefoot remembered. They were in great health, and it appeared they could go on for a while yet.

*But how long will that last?* Littlefoot thought.

He struggled with the question. Littlefoot had always known his grandparents would pass, sooner or later. He suspected other children knew this with their guardians but that was something they could wait to deal with until they were grownups. But Grandpa and Grandma Longneck were older. They might die before Littlefoot became an adult. He didn’t know what he would do if the signs came that their end was coming. Littlefoot jumped into action when Grandpa Longneck fell ill and risked his life to get him better. Littlefoot would do all he could to recuperate them but if there really was no delaying their demise, Littlefoot would be crushed.

*We’ve been with each other for so long but there’s still so much I want to do with them. I haven’t heard all of their stories. We haven’t played much, though at their age they can’t help that. At the very least, they can see me grow. I want them to be happy with who I’ll become – that I can take care of myself and have a good life. I just hope they live long enough to see that.*

“Hey, Littlefoot!”

Littlefoot raised his head from the water greens his grandparents fished out of the lake to see Cera standing expectantly on a hill, twitching her head back.

“You finished eating yet? The others are waiting, c’mon.”

“I’ll be done in a minute!” Littlefoot thrust down and began finishing off the last of the green food but paused and looked up to his grandparents. “Will you be okay, Grandpa, Grandma? I can stay if you want some company.”

Grandpa Longneck chuckled. “That’s very considerate of you, Littlefoot, but play with your friends. We’ll be fine.”

“Your grandfather is right.” Grandma Longneck said. “At your age, you should be enjoying your youth to the fullest. Trust us, we can find our own way of entertaining ourselves.”

“Um, okay.” With slight reluctance, Littlefoot returned to his green food. With a slurp, he swallowed the last of it and nodded to his grandparents. “See you later.”

Littlefoot scampered over to where Cera waited. She led him to the meeting spot with some impatience.

“You took your time eating.” Cera said.

“Sorry,” Littlefoot said, “I was busy thinking.”

“You can eat and think at the same time.”

“Let’s just say it was pretty hard thinking.”

Cera gave him a curious look but didn’t pursue the subject. They continued their jog until they found the rest of the gang near the cave Chomper and Ruby rested. Petrie was rocking from his perch on a rock, eyes lowered in oddly wistful thought but he perked up when Littlefoot and Cera arrived.

“Morning, Littlefoot,” he waved. “You came in time. Chomper was about to tell us what he found in cave.”

“Do they involve sky-colored stones?” Cera said. “I hope it won’t go like last time.”

The others looked at Ducky, who clasped her hands most innocently. “Oh don’t worry, I’ve learned my lesson. Oh, I have. I’ll be on my best behavior with whatever we find.”

“I don’t believe what he found would interest you in that…interesting way.” Ruby chuckled. “Chomper found a cave system with a river that has interesting plants.”

“Interesting plants?” Cera asked. “What kind of interesting?”

“These plants grow on rocks.” Chomper replied. “I kind of saw them on the island me and my parents stayed on but these are…different. I think you’ll like them. There are also cool water swimmers, they can jump like they’re flying and everything!”

“Water swimmers can be flyers?” Petrie shook his head. “Me even more confused now than ever.”

“There is much we haven’t seen.” Ruby said. “Our job growing up is to see a lot and learn a lot.”

“Will it be the kind of growing and seeing that involves tasting these plants?” Cera asked. “Because the last time any part of my family tried that, me and Daddy had to look after Dinah and Dana because my big sister’s mate got sick eating a funny plant…”

“Don’t worry Cera.” Ducky said. “If anything’s wrong with the plants, I’m sure Spike will warn us. Right, Spike?”

Spike nodded proudly, and sniffed around, making a series of humming sounds that gave him joy. The others couldn’t resist smiling.

“Well, I heard spiketails have hardier stomachs.” Cera said wryly. “What might be delicious to Spike could make the rest of us hurl, so let’s not be too eager for a nibble.”

Spike gave her a bemused look but chuckled and shook his head. He wasn’t going to deny Cera’s assessment if it showed him in a positive light. Petrie meanwhile gave a shudder.

“Me hope there some light down there.” He then added quickly. “Me do find it interesting but…if there anything dangerous in caves, me prefer to see it…even if it scare me even more.”

Chomper smiled wisely. “Don’t worry. Let’s just say the lights will come from an interesting place. So, are you all up for it?”

There were nods and murmurs of assent. What Chomper hinted at tantalized their imaginations enough that they were willing to see it for themselves. Since this cavern was in another part of the valley, they began their trek, humming about adventuring and bantering like usual. Littlefoot became more cheerful. Nothing like a trek of exploration with friends to lift one’s spirits. The disturbing dreams were the furthest thing from his mind. He was more interested in Ducky’s amusing anecdote about two of her siblings switching places to stay with their father. The gang was so caught up with that, they barely noticed the local residents they passed, at least until one talked to them.

“Morning kids. Where are you off to?”

It was Mr. Clubtail, casually chewing some treestars that had luckily fallen from a tall tree. He spoke to Littlefoot and the others with a bit less of his characteristic gruffness but there was a keen gleam in his eyes that made the seven stop.

“Um morning, Mr. Clubtail.” Littlefoot said. “We’re just exploring some caves.”

“Just going to gawk at some weird plants and water swimmers.” Cera said. “Nothing unusual.”

“Nothing unusual, huh?” Mr. Clubtail said wryly. “That’s how it always starts.”

“We’ll be fine.” Ducky said. “There are days when nothing bad happens. There are, there are.”

Mr. Clubtail snorted. “That’s what you say in the morning but by the afternoon, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come back with tall tales about how you kids nearly got killed this time.”

Littlefoot winced as he felt a dull thud in the pit of his stomach, the dream rising back unbidden in his mind. Fortunately, no one noticed this unusual reaction. A few laughed and sighed in exasperation.

“Oh, you’re so dramatic.” Chomper chuckled.

“Just for that, if anything does happen, you won’t be told what happened.” Ruby teased. “After all, there are adventures we haven’t told everyone about.”

“Though we tell you if we need rescue from anything.” Petrie said nervously. “Just follow the screams. We make sure to be loud.”

Mr. Clubtail sighed. “Either way, I can’t help but think I’ll hear something about you lot. Try to actually be safe. Some rare sweet bubbles are becoming just the right amount of ripe today, and it’d be annoying having to abandon them to save your hides again.”

Cera rolled her eyes but Littlefoot stepped forward.

“We’ll stay out of trouble, Mr. Clubtail,” he said sincerely. “Enjoy your sweet bubbles.”

Mr. Clubtail gave them a look of amused skepticism, but returned Littlefoot’s nod of farewell all the same, and the gang moved on. Cera grumbled under her breath.

“It’s not like we ask for help that often from that lazy tail,” she said.

“He cares.” Ruby said. “He doesn’t want us to get hurt. He just shows his caring through grumpiness.”

“Why doesn’t he just show his caring straight out?”

“You don’t always show your caring straight out.” Ducky pointed out.

Cera opened her mouth to reply but no sound came out, so she resorted to glaring. Petrie landed on her frill, barely holding back a smile.

“Don’t worry Cera,” he said. “We find that your charm point.”

Cera sniffed and shook Petrie off her head. “Well, that concern might be true, but he could have put it in a better way.”

“He mightn’t have put it in the nicest way,” Littlefoot said reluctantly, “but caves can be dangerous. It wouldn’t be the first time we got in trouble in one of them. Let’s actually try to stay safe, okay?”

The others turned to stare at him for several seconds at the suddenly cautious tone in his voice.

“Okay?” Cera widened an eye quizzically. “It’s not like we’re planning to do anything else. We don’t exactly search for danger. Don’t think too much about it. Mr. Clubtail might be worried about us but I’m sure he also doesn’t want one of his gorge fests interrupted.”

Chomper nodded thoughtfully. “It is annoying when you’re in the middle of eating some delicious flaily crawlies and something distracts you before you can swallow them.”

Spike swished his head up and down in agreement, giving his friends a fond but exasperated expression. Littlefoot smiled at his friends’ antics as he and Chomper led the gang to another part of the Great Wall, trying to ignore the uneasy prickling still in his tummy.

* I’ll keep a better eye out for trouble.* Littlefoot thought. *Cera’s right, I shouldn’t think about this too much but…better safe than sorry. I might get a better view of what Chomper’s going to show us.*

He wouldn’t raise the issue again. It was clear from his friends’ reaction to what he blurted that they thought it was odd and that he was being paranoid. Littlefoot had to admit, they would be right. He was letting the dream get to him more he wanted to. He didn’t wish to bring down the mood when they were beginning a morning of fun and exploration. Time to just enjoy his day with his friends, as his grandparents told him to, and he wasn’t going to turn down good advice from them.

They quieted as they approached the cave opening. A sleeping spiketail lay against a nearby tree, her snores quiet but nasally, and they slinked past not wanting incur the annoyance of an adult by interrupting her rest. They entered the cave opening, only tall enough for Ruby’s head fin to brush the ceiling. The cave curved down, with the occasional sharp and narrow bends that were difficult to navigate in the lowering light level. Fortunately, the wider among them like Spike were able to squeeze through without much trouble and they soon heard the familiar sound of running water echoing off of cavern walls.

Chomper smiled. “We’re close. Be careful where you stare, guys.”

That vague comment left everyone bemused but Spike inhaled through his nostrils and he let out an intrigued bay. The others also worked their noses and identified an odd, not unpleasant wet plant smell. Interest tugged, they picked up their pace until they came out into a wider tunnel where their eyes were dazzled.

“Wow.” Littlefoot said, and then squinted. “Ow.”

Chomper chuckled. “Yeah, I said something like that when I first saw it too.”

For covering the tunnel walls was a moss that emitted a glow. It was dim, no brighter than the buzzers whose rear ends could glow, but the greenish-gold was wondrous. It was everywhere, most of the lights barely shining out as small pinpricks but a few were clumped together enough that they actually pricked at their vision if they stared too directly at it. A few holes from above glinted morning light into the tunnel, providing the moss with the source to glow. It was like watching the bright circle shine through the green of leaves, only stranger and more beautiful. Littlefoot and the others took a moment to admire this surprise of nature.

“You were right, Chomper.” Ducky said. “It is interesting. It is, it is.”

“These are far from the only glowy plants we’ve seen.” Cera said. “Still, they’re fun to look at.”

Petrie flapped up to examine the less bright moss. He didn’t get too close, as though suspecting it might bite, but the wariness was mixed in with growing, sincere interest.

“It spooky.” Petrie said. “But…it pretty too. I don’t think it so bad.”

“Maybe not so bad to look at.” Ruby said. “But is it bad to taste? What do you say, Spike?”

Spike approached a nearby wall of moss, sniffing speculatively. After getting his muzzle near one spot, he nasally drank it in and considered what he got. Spike stepped back and shook his head, making a “nu-uh” sound.  Everyone else laughed.

“If Spike’s not going to touch it, then I’m not going to either.” Littlefoot giggled. He smiled warmly. “Thanks for showing us this, Chomper.”

“Hey, why see something amazing and not share it with your friends?” Chomper said modestly. He suddenly grinned. “And I’m not done sharing. There’s the water swimmers I told you about.”

He pointed at the river cleaving the tunnel ground into narrow paths. Narrowly shaped fish had just leapt out of the water, sailing through the air with translucent fins before diving out of sight. The others gasped and laughed with delight. Ducky jumped closer to the river.

“I can swim like that, I can, I can. Oh, I’m sure my brothers and sisters would love this. They like imitating water swimmers,” she turned to the others. “Does anyone want to see me try it?”

“Sure!” Littlefoot said. “Maybe we can start practicing it.”

“I don’t think everyone’s bodies is built for that.” Cera said.

“You did fine with Ducky’s swimming lessons,” Ruby pointed out. “And we did fine with her swimming lessons. So why can’t you do fine with this?”

Caught off guard, she bore everyone’s looks before leaning toward the water and wiggling with her tongue stuck out determinedly.

“Alright, you asked for it! I’m going to master that swimming technique.”

“Me too, me too!” Petrie said excitedly. “Swimming is like flying underwater, and me should be able to do the flying part.”

“I don’t want to be left out of this either.” Chomper said.

“Alright, you guys!” Ducky made a beckoning motion. “Follow my lead!”

So saying, the seven stood near the river edge, and leapt in. They stroked underwater and noted the short distance to the bottom before surfacing and swimming after the flying fish, who sailed more quickly ahead, unnerved by these strange new pursuers. Ducky built up speed and imitated the fish’s leaps with near perfection. The others were much less graceful. Petrie twirled in the air but fell on his back, Spike only achieved a few inches before falling with a great splash, Cera returned to the water in a belly flop, Ruby and Chomper only slid through the water faster, and Littlefoot unbalanced and rolled onto his side. They stumbled and bumped into each other, sending waves splashing in all directions. They were a jumbled mess. It would take a while to get the swimming move perfected.

Littlefoot resisted choking on water as he laughed. He kept an eye out for anyone who might get hurt from the chaos but that didn’t mitigate his enjoyment of this silly game. They were chasing odd fish, in a cave with glowing plants. As far as Littlefoot was concerned, his spirits couldn’t be higher. Being with those he considered as precious as family, exploring what was out there and playing to their heart’s content was what living should be. He treasured such days and hoped there were innumerable more to come. He was so cheerful that even this morning’s troubling sleep stories were far from his mind…

Meanwhile, farther back in the tunnel, Dil swam with Ichy as her passenger. It took a bit of a climb to get in here but Ichy swung his gaze about smugly. At last, they were in the fabled Great Valley and the whole population was theirs for the taking. So far, the only noise he heard was the rushing of water, the movements of the fish, and the activity of the valley from the holes above. From what he could overhear, the valley residents were oblivious to the threat passing beneath them. Yes, Ichy thought. As long as that ignorance remained, the pair wouldn’t have to be hungry for a long time to come.

Which was why he was disconcerted to hear the laughter of children up ahead. Ichy hopped closer to Dil’s ear.

“Do you hear that?” he whispered. “I didn’t know kids played here.”

Dil slowed to listen, and frowned. “Maybe some swimmers or underground types like to hang around here?”

“No, it doesn’t smell like this place has regular visitors other than water swimmers. These kids have the scent of being the usual dinosaurs I hear live the valley. They don’t seem like the type to hang around here.”

Dil hummed. “They do sound kind of familiar. Should we make them our first main course?”

“Let’s make sure no one knows where they are. If someone does know and we attack...that spells trouble for us.”

“Good call.” Dil replied. “I was going to tell you to get off anyway, your feet are still a bit too cold for my liking. Can’t you get that fixed?”

“My feet are fine. You cold-blooded animals are just too sensitive.” Ichy shook his head. “Never mind that. Let’s see if we can warm ourselves with these kids’ flesh.”

Grumbling, Dill nevertheless went low into the water, her nostrils peaking out. Rolling his eyes, Ichy flew close to the ceiling so the annoying moss lights wouldn’t give him away. As he neared the sound of laughing children, it became clear Ichy’s sense of smell was correct. These youths were mostly land dwelling types and from their splashing in the river, they were exploring. Ichy flew even closer to the kids, seven in all, attempting to eavesdrop.

“How much farther can we swim anyway?” The threehorn said breathlessly. “If we topple over a waterfall, I’m going to be mad at you.”

“Don’t worry.” A flyer did the backstroke. “Me could fly ahead and make sure nothing dangerous there.”

“And we have Spike and Chomper to sniff out anything like that.” A big mouth swimmer briefly jumped above the water, leading this group. “Besides, the water speed would change if a waterfall is coming.”

“Even if there’s no danger, we should go back at some point.” The longneck said reluctantly. “We didn’t exactly tell Mr. Clubtail where we were going, so if we get lost, our folks might have difficulty finding us.”

There were murmurs of agreement from the rest of the group, including the spiketail and two other kids but Ichy barely paid any attention to the latter pair. His eyes were wide. Dil’s sense of smell was correct about these kids being familiar. The flyer flipped clumsily in his swimming and for a moment, his eyes were gazing in Ichy’s direction. Ichy flinched but kept still and silent. The flyer looked away and continues his swim without any particular reaction. No one else looked up. Thankful they were wrapped up in their fun, he carefully zipped back to Dill.

“They’re free pickings.” Ichy said. “Oh, this is a reunion I can’t wait to have.”

“Reunion?” Dil repeated. “So we did meet them before. Did they see you?”

“One of them did look up but I don’t think any of them noticed me.”

“Stealthy, again.” Dil’s expression turned teasing. “You know, I’m kind of glad I almost ate you. It seemed to have scared you into becoming much better at skulking around for food.”

Ichy huffed. “I’ve always been stealthy. Not many noticed me before and I always want to improve. It’s just that I have had a great learning curve lately. Don’t think too highly of your contributions.”

“Yeah, well…all I care about is that your more useful now anyway.” Dil said. “Anyway, who are these kids we met before?”

“Well...” Ichy smiled. “You might recognize them if you get close enough and have a taste.”

Littlefoot, in the meantime, found his good cheer giving way to concern. Their splashing slowed, their attempts to imitate the leaps of their query (some of which were starting to succeed) draining their energy. They had long lost sight of the flying fish. This game wasn’t going to last for much longer. Littlefoot examined his surroundings keenly. There wasn’t as much of that glowing moss here and the even dimmer light level gave his earlier voiced worries more weight.

“I think we went far enough.” Littlefoot said. “Want to head out?”

“Definitely.” Ruby said. “My arms are definitely swimmed out.”

Petrie nodded.  “Me swimmed out too.”

“Yeah.” Ducky said. “Besides, it’s getting too dark to swim.”

Cera wasn’t pleased but said, “Well, if Ducky’s says so, maybe we should trek back.”

“I’ll use my sniffer.” Chomper said. “I admit, I haven’t gone this far out before. But I’ll try to retrace our steps.” He sniffed, and his brow furrowed. “Hmm, I didn’t smell this before.”

“What haven’t you smelled before, Chomper?” Littlefoot asked.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2017, 06:24:22 AM »
P2/2

“I’m pretty familiar with the water swimmers but there’s something new here.” Chomper frowned. “We’ve encountered this smell before…and I don’t like it.”

Littlefoot’s neck prickled. “Should we get out of the water?”

“Maybe?” Chomper sniffed again, frowning harder. “When I smelled this smell, it was on land. I was scared when I caught it…there was a lot of running, even though they couldn’t go very fast…” He trailed off, and panic twisted his muzzle. “Oh no! We really need to get out now!”

“What?” Petrie yelped, gazing about. “What in water?”

A growl rumbled behind them. Slowly, they turned to find a giant, vaguely triangular head rapidly approach, the rest of its long body surfacing, scarlet eyes fixed on them.

“Bellydragger, bellydragger!” Chomper exclaimed. “Out!”

They swam to shore with double the speed, kicking up waves to get away. Ducky was the first to reach shore and she beckoned quickly as Cera scrambled out after her. Spike nudged Petrie on his nose and heaved himself onto land. Ruby leapt out, swung her tail to a struggling Chomper, and fished him back to terra firma. Littlefoot slowed to give his friends space to surface. Reassured they were all safe on dry land, he desperately pawed at the shore. He could hear the bellydragger getting closer, closer, that rumbling growl rising as he was seconds away from becoming a meal. The others gripped his forelegs quickly and pulled hard. Littlefoot was grateful when he got hauled out just in time, the bellydragger snapping its mouth inches from his flailing rear legs and tail.

Littlefoot and the others pressed their backs to the far less mossy wall and cautiously crawled back to put more space between themselves and the immediate threat. The bellydragger followed them with a slightly unfocused gaze, an annoyed curl on its muzzle.

“Those screams really sound familiar,” the bellydragger said. “Are these the kids I think they are?”

“Yep, Dil,” a voice called out. “The same ones that were obsessed with those glowy flowers.”

Shock and dread shook through Littlefoot and the others. They recognized these two predators.

“It’s you guys!” Cera said. “The bellydragger and sharpbeak!”

“Me didn’t want to see them again.” Petrie gulped.

“What are you doing here?” Littlefoot demanded. “Shouldn’t you be back in the Land of Mists?”

“Oh, we would like to.” Dil growled, hatred in her tone. “But you guys are cursed. No sooner did you make your last minute escape that some new residents moved in and took all the food. Eventually, they drove us out!”

“So now we’re here finding a new food source.” Ichy said. “And what do you know, our old prey happens to live here,” he then purred. “This is oh so convenient on all sorts of fronts.”

“Oh, where is that sharpbeak?” Ducky scanned the tunnel ceiling anxiously, remembering all too well the terror of being snatched into the skies. “I can’t see him. You’d better not eat us! Our folks – they know where we are, they do, they do!”

Ichy chuckled. “Nice try, big mouth. I’ve already overheard you lot say you didn’t mention where you were going. If you end up disappearing, Dil and I will have some leeway while your parents desperately search everywhere for you. It seems dinner will be sweet indeed.”

“You overheard us?” Petrie squeaked. “Did you notice a sharpbeak smell, Chomper?”

“No, I didn’t!” Chomper said, distressed. “Water can dampen my sniffer but if he was above us, I should have caught something.”

Chomper’s statement caused Dil and the elusive Ichy to turn their attention to him and Ruby. There was a strangled pause from Ichy.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Ichy said at last.

“Hey Ichy,” Dil squinted, “is it just me or are there two new kids with them?”

“There are. They replaced the longneck girl with a fast runner. Goodness knows why, I thought they would be leery of anyone who can’t decide between eating plants or meat. But that isn’t the most shocking part. They replaced their fuzzy pet with – I can’t believe this – a baby sharptooth!”

“A baby sharptooth?” Dil repeated. “You’ve pulling my leg!”

“I’m having a hard time believing it myself but my eyes aren’t lying.” Ichy protested. “A baby sharptooth is standing with them. It’s bizarre.”

“I’m not a baby.” Chomper stepped forward defiantly. “And it’s not bizarre to be with your friends.”

Ichy and Dill gave a small double-take, mouths gaping as they goggled in Chomper’s direction.

“Did – was that the sharptooth that just spoke in leaf eater?” Dil asked.

“Yeah.” Ichy said, dazed. “His mouth moved and formed the same sounds as those green guzzlers. We’re really encountering some high class weirdos here. And he said they’re his friends. Did this little freak learn that language just for that?”

Chomper bristled at the insult. ”To make a long story short, yes!” he snapped. “Save your comments on my taste in friends. We’ve heard them all.”

“And I’d be careful at who you’re calling freaks.” Ruby said. “A bellydragger and sharpbeak speaking leaf eaters is pretty freaky too.”

“Freaky? Pah!” Ichy scoffed. “It’s a strategic advantage. When we encounter our food, we can know how they plan to fight back or escape, and cut them off. It’s left us with some full bullies and you guys say some amusing things before you get eaten. I’m surprised more meat eaters haven’t taken up such a great skill.”

“Though I can understand why they don’t.” Dil said. “The gossip I hear from you leaf eaters while hiding or waiting to pounce can rot the brain. I almost lashed out too early several times to make the agony go away. There are times when I wish I didn’t understand your stupid language.”

Ichy sighed. “And as usual, your ignorance is annoying in any language. Stop missing the forests for the trees. Don’t you understand you’re sounding as stupid as this little biter who learned a language for something barf-worthy like friendship?”

“I’m not little!” Chomper said, stepping forward angrily.

Ichy chuckled. “Oh, I think we’ve hit a sore spot for him. He isn’t going to be much of a threat. Dil?”

The bellydragger surged forward slowly, the flaps of Ichy not far behind, her mouth rising to land. Hurriedly, Chomper went over and stepped up.

“Don’t you get any closer!” he said.

Dil and he stopped, caught off guard for a second, staring at Chomper as though unable to process what he was doing. Gradually, though, they began to laugh, their voices rising in volume until that mocking, hysterical sound reverberated around Littlefoot and the others. Chomper tensed.

“Are you…” Dil took a moment to catch her breath. “Are you seriously thinking your puny self can do anything to shield those leaf eater brats?”

“Oh, this is too rich.” Ichy guffawed. “If we weren’t so hungry, I’d suggest we’d keep him as a pet. Whose a stupid, mushy baby? He is, he is! Whose going to fail in protecting his friends because he’s a weak sap? Why, the one over there! Oh, this’ll be fun!”

“Be quiet! Nothing will happen to them!” Chomper said desperately. “If you touch them, I, I-”

He faltered, unable to think of a good enough threat. Ichy and Dill continued laughing, voices higher than ever. Chomper’s shook his head to fruitlessly block out the sound, breathing becoming unsteady. He glared angrily even as a drop of fear entered those red eyes. Littlefoot stepped near him protectively.

“Chomper, don’t let them get to you.” Littlefoot said. “They’re just trying to make sure we can’t get out of here.”

Dil sneered. “Some sharptooth. They are usually tough and scary but this one needs his leaf eater friends to defend him!”

“Yeah, a few jokes and he’s already hyperventilating!” Ichy jeered. “He won’t be any danger. He’ll end up in our stomachs like the rest of his friends.”

Chomper shook his head desperately. “No! I have a pretty powerful bite, it’ll hurt and –”

Dil and Ichy only responded with more cruel laughter. Chomper slumped, gaze shaking helplessly. Littlefoot wanted to wrap his neck around Chomper comfortingly but now wasn’t the time. From the predators’ mirth, they were winding down the conversation and were about to go for another attack. Littlefoot examined the tunnel ceiling desperately for any sign of Ichy. On that Land of Mists adventure, the sharpbeak proved to be a nuisance that tripped the gang up while they tried to flee Dil, and he was a downright menace to Ducky and Petrie. They needed to know where he was so he wouldn’t sneak up on them or rat out their location. Yet wherever Littlefoot looked, he couldn’t spot Ichy, and panic rose. This part of the tunnel was dark yet not that dark. Did Ichy suddenly become even more experienced at hiding himself?

Dil chuckled lowly. “I’m getting bored of messing with these kids, Ichy. Let’s have lunch.”

“Yes.” Ichy purred. “It’s almost the afternoon. Now would be an appropriate time to fill our stomachs. Be sure to leave some for me, Dil.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t swallow all of them whole, so you’ll have some pieces.”

Dil resumed her approach and all of them became very aware that bellydraggers got their name because they could move on land. Fear gripped Littlefoot and the others but it was Ichy’s cackle overhead that made them lose it.

“Run!” Littlefoot shouted.

Screaming, the seven took off as Dil’s jaws snapped around the place they stood a second ago. They raced down the way they came, Dil keeping up easily in the water. Whenever one of them got too close to the shore, she snapped at their feet or tails, and they leapt out of range and quickened their pace. All the while, Ichy’s voice was never far behind, shouting directions and orders. Only with sheer speed did they avoid getting a limb torn off but Littlefoot didn’t know how long that will last.

“I hope you picked up our scent of where we went, Chomper!” Cera panted.

Chomper sniffed desperately. “I – think I got something but we’ve been in the water for awhile, so we’re going to have to keep going until I can be sure.”

“I don’t know how long we can run after that swim.” Ducky said.

“We’re going to have to know by continuing to run.” Ruby said. “And hopefully we won’t lead them into the valley in the meantime.”

“That’s right!” Littlefoot exclaimed. “The bellydragger might go up the river to the surface and the sharpbeak can fly after us. We can’t have them hanging around the valley.”

“Maybe the grownups can take care of them.” Petrie said nervously.

“Maybe with the bellydragger but the sharpbeak’s small, he can evade detection. We need to do something so neither would be –”

The water next to the fleeing gang exploded, and Dil shot out, her jaws descending upon them. Littlefoot and the others scattered and Dil’s head landed with a crash. In the chaos, Littlefoot was pinned against the wall as she snapped her mouth at them, several of those snaps only missing him by a hair’s breadth. Dil flailed her head too wildly for Littlefoot to move. He waited, terrified, for those teeth to make contact, but a voice rose out in defiance.

“Leave Littlefoot alone!”

Chomper charged in angrily, head lowered. Dil whipped to his voice and the force of the head movement knocked Chomper off his feet. He fell hard, whimpering and gripping his head. Dil continued thrashing to bite Littlefoot, who remained just as trapped. He didn’t know how he was going to escape until Dil focused her attention on Ducky, Spike, and Petrie on one side. A slender arm grabbed his foreleg and snatched him out of Dil’s reach.

“There you go, Littlefoot.” Ruby said.

“Thanks, Ruby.” Littlefoot panted.

Cera’s teeth grabbed the scruff of Chomper’s neck and she dragged him off, annoyed.

“You’re not a threehorn, don’t act like one,” she growled.

“I’m sorry for getting in the way.” Chomper muttered.

“Never mind that now.” Littlefoot said. “She cut us off, where do we go?”

“Into our stomachs!” Ichy jeered. “Get them, Dil!”

Dil advanced eagerly on Ducky, Spike, and Petrie, apparently holding a particular grudge against the trio for thwarting her and Ichy last time. Littlefoot jerked his head about for some sort of way out. In the low light, he couldn’t see much of anything and he automatically leaned against the nearest wall to keep his distance from Dil, only to find there wasn’t any wall at all. Littlefoot stumbled, rebalanced himself, and turned to find a smaller tunnel whose destination vanished around a bend. Hope leapt up his throat.

“Guys, an escape route!” Littlefoot said. “The bellydragger can’t follow us here!”

The others did a double take and visible relief came on their faces.

“This is good news.” Ruby’s brows creased. “But Ducky, Spike, and Petrie can’t reach this good news!”

Littlefoot turned to where the trio backed away from Dil and shouted, “Guys, look for a tunnel and escape down it! There are ones around here!”

The trio were only slightly reassured by this suggestion.

“But how?” Petrie yelled. “It dark!”

“Press against the wall!” Cera replied. “You’ll be bound to fall down one!”

Realizing her prey found a route to escape, Dil angrily turned on Littlefoot, Cera, Chomper, and Ruby but the four yelped and went down their little tunnel. Dil was consternated to find her shoulders slam against the walls on either side of the tunnel and she couldn’t go any further.

“Dang it, they’re getting away!” Dil growled.

Ichy fluttered above her head. “Then get the other ones Dil!”

Disgruntled, Dil turned and followed the sounds of the trio slamming themselves against the wall in search of an escape route. Ducky, Petrie, and Spike backed away when they saw her advance, keeping their sides hugged to the wall in hopes of running into something that wasn’t wall.

“Spike, sniff for a tunnel!” Ducky exclaimed.

Spike flared his nostrils, looking forward where Dil blocked the path Littlefoot and the others took and backward where their ultimate escape route was so far away. Spike didn’t know what he was smelling for. Ichy and Dil approached, the former watching in anticipation as Dil’s opening mouth closed the distance with the helpless trio…

With Ducky and Petrie on his neck, Spike slid back and the three yelped as he fell into a small hole that barely accommodated his size. Scrambling, Spike’s tail vanished down the tunnel and Dil’s mouth closed around only air. She snarled.

“Did they escape, Ichy? Dang it all, I nearly had them!”

“I’ll search for a route to get them, Dil.” Ichy replied. “I’m definitely getting better at this stealth thing. Their expert nose sharptooth couldn’t even find my scent. The benefits of my new bathing plan, I guess,” he added, preening. “Wait around here and I’ll get back to you.”

Ichy looked between the two holes and decided to go after Littlefoot’s little party. The annoying longneck appeared to be the leader of this odd herd and it was likely the remaining three would go for his group. Best to see how they plotted against the pair and find a dastardly way to circumvent them.

Meanwhile, Littlefoot and the others were desperately navigating the small tunnel complex in hopes of reuniting with Ducky, Petrie, and Spike. Chomper still nursed a headache, so he wasn’t in any shape to help. Littlefoot hoped charting a route in the direction the trio were last seen would lead to a reunion. He silently flagellated himself as seconds of nothing ticked by.

*If I said no to this trip…* Littlefoot thought. *If there really are no holes further down-*

Cera cried out when someone ran into her. Littlefoot whirled to find Spike collided with Cera in the low light, Ducky and Petrie atop him. Relief came across everyone and Spike ran forward to lick the four.

“Ack. Okay. Stop.” Cera sighed fondly. “A nuzzle would have sufficed you know.”

Spike chuckled and abided with a gentle head bump, Cera no longer protesting. They settled down to business once Spike calmed down.

“Alright, we really in trouble.” Petrie said. “How do we stop them from going into valley?”

“Me and Chomper aren’t familiar with these caves but those two plan to be familiar with them so they could slip in and out, and eat anyone they can get their mouths on.” Ruby said.

“And we’re distracting them from their plan. If they do get us…” Ducky covered her mouth. “Oh no, oh no…”

“So while we distract them, let’s ruin their plan.” Cera said grimly. “We bury the river entrance and anywhere else that could get them out on top. Making sure they’re distracted while we do this might be a problem though…”

“So we split up.” Littlefoot sighed. “If we must…” He examined his friends carefully. “Cera, you go with Chomper, Petrie, and Ducky. Hopefully Chomper might sniff out the entrance. Be sure to keep Ducky and Petrie close by. Spike, you’re coming with me since you have a good nose as well. Ruby, hopefully we can put our heads together and keep the pair distracted long enough that we can come up with something better. Is that clear?”

There were nods, some more reluctant than others. Not everyone was pleased by this arrangement.

“So me and Ducky are with Cera just to be protected?” Petrie said miserably.

“You can at least fly or swim out into the valley to survey how big the river entrance is.” Littlefoot said. “That would help in bringing it down.”

“But you spoke like being protected is the only important thing.” Ducky said.

“It is important. The sharpbeak is a danger to you. I have to have you protected.”

The pair weren’t exactly convinced but Spike stepped closer with a beseeching expression, pained that he couldn’t be their protector. He sent an uncertain look toward Littlefoot, who briefly had second thoughts. He glanced at Chomper. Should Littlefoot have Spike and Chomper switch places, so Ducky and Petrie would be more assured with another protector? No, Chomper’s nose was stronger and that needed to be used with disposing of the river entrance.

“No, the groups stay as they are.” Littlefoot said. “You all play a role, I assure you.”

“But not with the bellydragger.” Chomper said surly.

“Chomper, let’s not get into this. Any second, any second, the sharpbeak will-”

 “You were thinking that when you looked at me, weren’t you?”

“For goodness sake, keep your personal drama for later.” Cera said impatiently. “Right now-”

A familiar and unwelcome cackle intruded upon them. Jumping, they turned to the little passageway where the sound echoed from, the widest of this little network. There was enough space for someone much bigger than them to come in and sure enough a pair of red eyes were emerging from the darkness. The echo of flapping wings were prominent above the bellydragger.

“Now, don’t mind us.” Ichy said. “Argue some more. It makes it easier for my friend to find you.”

Littlefoot turned to the others. “Go! You know what to do!”

There was no argument. They separated into two groups, Littlefoot’s group racing down a tunnel wide enough to accommodate the three walking side to side while Cera’s pack went through a passageway with barely the sufficient amount of space for Cera to move without scraping one of her sides. Dil went after Littlefoot’s group without any hesitation but paused when she noticed Ichy lingering at the intersection of tunnels.

“What’s the holdup?” she asked.

“I overheard a bit of their plan when scouting ahead.” Ichy replied. “Maybe we should split up to sabotage their…sabotage.”

“Not right away. I can’t see much without you.”

Ichy rubbed the bottom of his beak thoughtfully. “Alright, we’ll have some fun with the longneck, spiketail, and fast runner. They grouped the small ones around the threehorn and sharptooth because they’re afraid of what I’d do to them. So it’d be fun if the three stop hearing my voice while you corner them somewhere and puts two and two together that I’m getting myself a snack.”

Dil grumbled with pleasure. “Fear does add a certain spice to the meal. Alright, let’s see what you can spook up.”

--

Littlefoot kept checking behind him as he, Spike, and Ruby continued their jog. They slowed down when they noticed their pursuing query wasn’t fulfilling the pursuing part of the bargain.

“Have they gone after Cera’s group?” Littlefoot wondered. “If they have…”

Ruby placed a soothing hand on Littlefoot’s shoulder. “You’re plan will work, Littlefoot. Cera and the others have went down the narrower tunnel as planned. Not to mention us bigger dinosaurs are here to get the sharpbeak and bellydragger’s attention, correct?”

Spike’s eyes widened on confusion for a moment. Then something clicked and he glanced at Littlefoot with narrowed eyes. Littlefoot couldn’t meet his gaze.

“I did think the bellydragger would follow our group if the larger of us were here.” Littlefoot said sheepishly. “But the reasons I said to the others are true too. Don’t worry, we’ll be with each other every step of the way. You might even get an opportunity to get another whack at that sharpbeak, Spike.”

Spike was only somewhat mollified. The slap-click of a massive low-lying body moving in their direction put to rest any further discussion as Dil’s silhouette became clear behind them.  

“There they are, Ichy.” Dil’s voice echoed. “Having another one of their chats.”

In spite of their better judgement, the trio lingered so Dil could close some distance before fleeing at a light jog. Littlefoot was only slightly reassured to hear the flap of feathered wings. That meant Ichy also couldn’t resist the lure of larger prey. Cera and the others could now do their work unmolested.

The trio came across an intersection, featuring more of the variety passageways, one of whom ascended up in a spiral. Littlefoot ignored that feature, scanning the ones wide enough for Dil carefully.

“Are we trying to get them lost?” Ruby whispered. “How do we not get lost with them?”

“Can you still remember the scent of that glowy greens, Spike?” Littlefoot asked. “We might need to rely on your nose to get out.”

Spike took a whiff of the air, and nodded quietly. Hearing that slap-click becoming faster, Littlefoot pointed toward the widest of the tunnels to the left and they picked up their pace. Dil could be heard still closing the distance, unleashing another of her hungry rumbles loud enough to vibrate their chest cavities.

“You’re getting close Dil!” Ichy said gleefully. “So close! Closer, closer, closer -”

The repeated word filled Littlefoot with panic, as intended. They couldn’t run forever. Their games had taken a lot of energy. Sooner or later this latest bout of running would drain the last of their stores and they would be at the mercy of Ichy and Dil. Littlefoot, Spike, and Ruby felt air get displaced from Dil’s bites near their tails, and Littlefoot quickly looked for a place to retreat to. He spotted a narrow opening that led to a cave and pond, complete with an even smaller opening on the other side. His heart leapt.

“Over there!”

Littlefoot dived through the hole, Ruby not far behind him. There was a thunk and Spike was wedged in the hole. Littlefoot and Ruby’s heart froze but Spike only had to do a bit of pulling and he popped out. It was just in time, as Dil’s jaw rammed through and got wedged in place. She cried out, red eyes darting about in consternation.

“What, what?” Dil said. “Dang you kids!”

The others took several steps back at her anger, struggling to catch their breath.

“I – I think that’ll hold her off for now.” Ruby panted.

“Maybe.” Littlefoot lowered his voice to a whisper and drew close. “We might have to make it hide and seek to recharge until the others could finish their mission.”

“We’ll have to vary things up so they wouldn’t become suspicious.”

Littlefoot nodded. He was glad to have Ruby around. As the oldest and having spent most of her life surviving in the Mysterious Beyond, her insights with hiding from predators were valuable. The trio hugged against the other wall, stepping a bit into the pond. Spike stumbled, the depth further than he thought. With the bellydragger’s sight problem, maybe they could evade her when they squeezed out the other exit. Dil tried to shove her head further through with no success.

“I’m going to get you, somehow!” Dil shouted. “You can’t stay in there forever, and when you leave-“

Dil shoved back out and in, unable to handle the tightness pressing onto her muzzle. In response, cracks snaked outward and several pieces parted from the edge to tumble upon the ground. Dil froze. She repeated the action, the hole cracking a bit wider, allowing her jaws a few more inches in. A slow grin crossed her face.

“You know what?” Dil said. “Stay in there for as long as you want. I’ll be coming to you.”

Dil backed out and shoved in again, more pieces tumbling down. Littlefoot and the others found themselves hugging against the wall as Ichy’s laugh loudly bounced off the walls.

“You got her to use her brains,” he hissed. “Now you’re really in trouble.”

“You just got to use my triumph as an insult, don’t you Ichy?” Dil growled.

“That was a compliment, don’t act like a stinging buzzer.”

Littlefoot’s eyes flitted to the other, smaller exit, mentally calculating how many seconds squeezing through the hole would take. It would be close but they had few other options. With a head flick, Littlefoot beckoned the others to follow. He smooshed through and met resistance but a quick shove from Ruby and Spike got him out. Ruby had more luck, bending down and squeezing her limbs against herself tightly before popping out. She and Littlefoot turned with forelimbs at the ready as Spike came through. As they feared, he got wedged halfway through and they grabbed his forelegs and pulled hard, the scrape of his rear feet desperately kicking on the other side prominent even through the wall.

“Come on, Spike.” Ruby said. “Suck in your stomach. Go in and out as the bellydragger did.”

Spike sucked in breath and thrust himself back and forward, causing a few cracks to come in. He got through a few more inches but the roar of a collapse in that cave was deafening and time ticked away.

“Spike, move!” Littlefoot shouted. “We need to-”

The wall around Spike cracked harder and exploded. The three were sent back, pelted by debris. Littlefoot’s knocked against the opposite wall, and stars burst in his eyes. Spike landed upside down, a circle of rocks clinging to his middle. Ruby shook her head and already stood alertly. The dust cleared, Dil marched through the wider opening she made for herself, and she shook her head.

“You didn’t need to make that much of a dramatic entrance!” Ichy said, coughing.

“Hey, I didn’t expect the walls to be so thin.” Dil replied. “You should have caught that.”

Ruby stirred. “The walls are thin here…”

No one heard her. Dil gave a hiss and advanced until only several feet separated the trio from certain death. Awakening with a head shake, Littlefoot sprung up.

“C’mon, let’s go!”

Littlefoot ran and he could hear the patter of Ruby keeping up but soon became aware another set of footsteps weren’t beside them. The pair turned to find Spike had just upright himself against the wall, the ring of rocks still clinging to him. He was cornered by Dil and shook with terror. There was still plenty of space for Spike to flee but he seemed rooted to the spot, eyes not wavering from the bellydragger.

“Spike, get out of there!” Littlefoot shouted.

Spike didn’t dare move. Frustration welled up in Littlefoot but then he saw how Dil swept her head back and forth in Spike’s direction, occasionally squinting. Dil was blind, and especially had a hard time seeing still figures. If Spike moved, he likely feared he might get spotted and pounced on. That was an understandable worry dealing with a large bellydragger but Littlefoot knew that Dil would sooner or later spot him or that Ichy might guide her to him. He had to take a chance very soon, or he might have no chance at all.

Quickly looking around, Littlefoot spotted the pebble-like remains of the wall Dil broke through and an idea occurred to him. Remembering what Shorty taught him, Littlefoot came back and flicked several rocks at Dil with his tail. They crackled on her forehead and she snarled at them, giving Spike an opening.

 “You have to move, Spike! Move, move!”

Spike stirred, and stared at Littlefoot. For a second, his mind seemed to blank, as though not sure what to do. But then Spike saw Dil swing her head about, realizing prey was nearby through Littlefoot’s call, and was shocked into action. To Littlefoot’s relief, Spike began to gallop past Dil, but the remains of the wall around his middle started breaking apart. Spike slipped and slid, stumbling over the wall pebbles from his middle just as he had passed Dil’s head. Dil turned and snapped at him. Spike continued to stumble and slip, terror on his face as he barely dodge those rapidly closing bites…

Next time…

From the Mists Part 2

Sovereign

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2017, 03:35:38 AM »
It's great to see you start a longer story! This was a nice way to start it as it created some serious potential for larger developments later on. First of all, you made more justice for Ichy and Dil than the film did. Here, they seem threatening and it seems more like they know what they are doing. All the while, they kept their characteristics and the dialogue between them was truly impressive in depth and content. They were funny and malevolent at the same time.

As for Littlefoot, I'm glad that his grandparents' death was only a dream but I understand that it still bugs him somewhat. This most likely suggests at further developments between the longnecks in the future and I'm looking forward to seeing what they will be. The latter part of the chapter was really intense and it was a joy to read. The ending, however, is one thing that wasn't as consistent. Using a cliffhanger on Spike's possible death in chapter 1 seems premature but it didn't bother me too greatly.

The premise of Ichy and Dil coming to the Valley is a good one and it'll be interesting to see where the plot develops. If (as is probable) the Gang escapes, they'll have a hard time trying to ambush other dinosaurs. There were plenty of new possibilities for the future in this chapter and it'll be interesting to see whatever you have in mind! :)

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2017, 09:39:30 AM »
Thank you for the review. I admit, I didn’t think much about making Ichy and Dil more menacing than the film, but now that you mention it, I could see it. I was focused on other priorities. I’m pleased to hear I remained faithful to their characters while showing some depth at least through their dialogue, which was one of my priorities.

The bond between Littlefoot and his grandparents will be a major focus of the story. I always wanted to explore the relationship more closely, and this won’t be the only story where that’s done. Writing action scenes can be a challenge, so glad to hear those shown in this chapter were fun to read.

Yeah, the abrupt cliffhanger was a bit awkward. It was a challenge finding a natural cutoff point at the halfway point of my original 52 page chapter one and Spike being endangered seemed to be the closest fit. There is another point I could have chose a bit later, now I consider it but oh well. I’ll see if I can improve on that with the next long chapters I deal with.

I’m nervous and excited about showing readers like you what I have in mind in this story.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2017, 06:01:55 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/2/We-...Hold-On-Forever

--P1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

The Analyzer

Chapter 02: From The Mists Part 2


Littlefoot watched in horror. He didn’t even consider the wall remains attached to Spike; it didn’t enter his mind for how to rescue his friend. If he had, it wouldn’t occur to him that it breaking apart might prove an obstacle. Littlefoot should have thought more, but it was too late now and Spike might pay the price for this oversight…
 
At last no more pebbles were falling and Spike’s tail at last snagged out of Dil’s reach as he ran over to his friends. Dil attempted to follow but was thwarted when she stepped on those pebbles and kept slipping. Spike caught up to Littlefoot and Ruby, and the trio fled before Dil could catch up.

“Are you okay, Spike?” Littlefoot asked. “I’m sorry, you nearly got bitten because I didn’t think about those rocks.”

Glancing at Littlefoot in confusion, Spike nudged his shoulder and gave a reassuring smile, indicating he didn’t blame Littlefoot for what happened. Instead, he thrust his head back to their pursuers and made a sound of exasperation and distress. Littlefoot nodded sadly, understanding.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said. “I’m tired of getting into these life-or death adventures too. We get into so many of them. Hopefully, after we get out of this one, we’ll get a reprieve.”

Ruby waved for their attention.

“I believe I have an idea that might distract the bellydragger and give us a reprieve,” she said.

“What do you mean? Distract them by making her and the sharpbeak fight?” Littlefoot asked. “How would that help? They practically argue all the time.”

“I don’t mean that kind of distraction. Though that’s an interesting kind of idea.” Ruby considered it before resuming. “I think we’re near walls of glowing greens, and the walls are brittle around here, right? So what if we had the bellydragger snap at the walls and bite into the green stuff that even Spike wouldn’t sample? If it tastes bad enough, she’ll be distracted trying to wash that taste out of her mouth and we won’t be distracted while we rest up and think of what to do next.”

Littlefoot beamed. “Brilliant, Ruby! Spike, are the glowy greens close?”

As though apologizing for briefly freezing up, Spike sniffed determinedly. After several seconds, he nodded eagerly. Ruby and Littlefoot’s spirits rose higher. They had a plan. They could hold their enemies back in a more active fashion, and keep the valley safe. The quicker the three implemented the plan, the more likely that hope became a reality.

“Spike, lead us to a cave where the other side of the wall is glowy plants.” Littlefoot said. “Someone’s going to taste that green stuff for you.”

In the meantime, Dil followed quickly in the wake of the sound of those little footsteps. Those pebbles hadn’t delayed her too much, only given the trio enough time to keep a good distance ahead of her. They still made enough noise for even an unobservant creature to follow and Dil could work herself up to a fast pace when she wanted to. The trouble was, she couldn’t move quickly forever and she began becoming slightly breathless.

“Where do these kids get all the energy?” Dil huffed.

“They’re kids.” Ichy answered. “Growing up packs them with energy. They don’t yet have to worry about lugging around so much weight.”

“Watch what you’re implying,” she growled.

“I wasn’t talking about your weight.” Ichy said impatiently. “I’m just saying I’m not as swift and nimble as I was when I was a hatchling. It takes a while to adapt to moving around as an adult.”

Dil grunted. “I hope you stealth adaptation hasn’t lost its touch then, because I want you to see where those kids are going so we can actually corner them. I have my doubts about your ability to stay out of sight lasting long.”

“Hey, have more faith in me.” Ichy replied. “If even they’re sniffers couldn’t find me, I doubt they’ll see me anytime soon.”

Ichy accelerated ahead, following the sounds of Littlefoot, Spike, and Ruby. They quickened their pace enough that they disappeared from view. Through the twist of passageways, he eventually found them in yet another cave, this one with a hole big enough for Spike. They had tucked themselves under an overhang, where the shadows nearly hid them from sight. The three were pressed close together, for mutual comfort, their heads rising uncertainly.

“Are you sure we’ll be safe here?” Littlefoot was asking.

“Positive.” Ruby said. “This cave is quite out of the way and she can’t see very well anyway. If we keep quiet, she might walk past us and never hear we’re here.”

“What about that sharpbeak?”

“If he comes through that hole, we’re bound to notice and hear him. This’ll hold up until we come up with our next course of action.”

Ichy smiled deviously, hovering above the ledge. Oh, how wrong they were. He and Dil would play along but just when they let their guard down, Dil shall pounce. The mental image of their reaction was delicious. Ichy silently swung in place and was about to return to Dil when a shape to his right made him stop. He glided closer, eyes adjusting to the low light as he comprehended what was in front of him.

His smile, if possible, became even more devious.

Dil heard the familiar flap of Ichy returning to her.

“We have them where we want them,” he whispered. “Allow me to show the way.”

With Ichy’s quietly spoken directions, Dil took a series of left turns at a few intersections before she found herself nosing yet another narrow hole. Like the one before, this entrance had thin enough walls that Dil could break through without much hassle. However, Ichy hissed into her ear and urged her onward. She made clearly audible steps as her side brushed against the wall, wondering what Ichy was thinking. The brats were clearly in that cave. She should just barge in and take them down.

Then she tripped slightly as she found a part of her was leaning against nothing at all. Dil backtracked and squinted at this absence of wall. There was a swoosh around her from Ichy that made her take a step in and she realized what he had been actually leading to this whole time.

A wider, darker entrance where she wouldn’t be seen. Dil smiled.

*No wonder he was trying to keep in his chuckles* she thought approvingly. *Even with all his squawking, there is a reason I keep him around.*

Quietly, she padded into the cave, scanning what she could and taking a few experimental sniffs. Her nose wasn’t up to the leagues of some sharpteeth but it had proven more reliable than her sight and it told her the general direction of where to go. She made airs of examining areas of the cave to the right, almost sensing Littlefoot, Spike, and Ruby hearing but unable to visually track her whereabouts. Let the three think she was too blind to notice them. There were some advantageous to being underestimated.

“I don’t see them, Ichy.” Dil said to thin air. “Are you sure you saw them go in – wait, what is that?”

On those last four words, Dil delighted at the thrill of movement to her left that indicated a series of startled jumps. Slowly, she turned her head and found three forms trying to phase through the walls. She gave Littlefoot, Spike, and Ruby her best crocodilian smile.

“Ah, there you are. I was wondering where you ran off to. You need to stop doing that.”

“Please, leave us alone!” Littlefoot said, pleading. “We hate these dark tunnels. We just want to get out.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out.” Dil purred. “You’ll be perfectly safe – digesting in my belly.”

“No!” Ruby gasped. “That isn’t the way we want to get out at all!”

“Tough!” Dil snapped. “I want a lot of things but I had to compromise with not always catching prey, never being full enough! Being a poor-sighted predator sucks, and when I can find food that can fill my stomach, I sure as muck am not going to compromise!”

Spike whimpered, cringing down in fright. Dil turned her attention to him, licking her chops longingly.

“Ah, that’s right. You’re the one who robbed me of a meal back in the Land of Mists because you stopped giving everyone the silent treatment. You always looked the plumpest amongst these brats. I might as well have my revenge and a satisfying first bite at the same time!”

Dil snapped forward, making to bite for Spike. Faster than she expected, Spike rolled away and her snout slammed into rock. Dil grunted in pain, and before she could do anything else, Ruby hopped onto her snout and followed Spike. Littlefoot was next, his forefeet landing hard in his rush and his hind feet joining in before he leapt off. That allowed Dil to finally emit a sound.

“Ow! You’re going to pay for that!”

Dil swung, snapping at the trio and nearly getting their feet. They jumped back and Dil advanced, her throat rumbling in consternation. Littlefoot, Ruby, and Spike were unabashed.

“We’re not going to enter your stomach without a fight!” Littlefoot declared.

“You can’t catch us!” Ruby said.

Dil growled. “I hate cheeky food!”

Dil made one more grab at them, and they squealed and scampered back. Dil was undeterred. The three didn’t have anywhere to go. Their retreat would lead them to be pressed against another wall and if they dared to flee around her, the spaces were narrow enough that they wouldn’t escape the reach of her snaps. She had only time to kill as she snapped at them again and again, occasionally brushing close to their legs but also nearly getting startled heads and clumsy tails. They weren’t exactly graceful and their coordination would probably improve if they stopped urgently glancing at the wall. Dil surmised they were mentally counting down to their deaths, which only endangered their chances of delaying the inevitable.

“Almost…almost…” Ruby was muttering.

Dil laughed and made a strike for her ankles. “Yeah, yeah, it’s almost time for you to die. Whatever makes it easier to deal with. I once had a fuzzy who sang annoyingly as one last curse to his fate. There are days where I switch between liking or hating Ichy for making me learn leaf eater.”

“We know some songs that will drive you around the bend.” Littlefoot said.

“Then start singing. As long as I can gulp something down, I don’t care how annoying you are.”

Soon, the trio were up against the cave wall. They looked amongst themselves, breath bated. Dil scanned the whole lot, finding her preferences shifting.

“Alright, new order.” Dil said. “The longneck first. You’re the leader of this annoying merry band and it would be a great relief if their lucky charm is taken care of for good.”

“Oh no.” Littlefoot panted. “Sorry guys. Sorry.”

“That’s right.” Dil chuckled, surging closer. “You should be sorry for ever crossing us…”

“Now!” Ruby shouted.

 Dil was caught off guard but had enough sense to snarl for her prize. Littlefoot zipped to the side, missing her by inches. That wasn’t enough to keep him safe, as she snapped for him once more. He dodged again, oddly keeping close to the wall. He spun to face her and in that moment her eyes were drawn to the flutter of movement that was his tail. A third bite attempt followed, and Littlefoot dodged, fast and swift as always.

This time, though, not fast enough.

Littlefoot yowled at the top of his lungs as Dil’s teeth closed around the tip of his tail. It wasn’t much, nothing more than a few inches but Dil’s grip was hard and it was enough to keep him from going anywhere.

“She’s got me!” Littlefoot yelled.

Ruby and Spike charged in and grabbed Littlefoot’s tail, pulling with all their might. Littlefoot yelled from the strain but his tail didn’t so much as budge. Dil pulled from her end in turn.

“Oh no, you don’t.” Dil said, muffled. “You won’t escape.”

 She opened her mouth slightly and gobbled up another inch of Littlefoot’s tail. The pair tugged back, not willing to give any more ground to the bellydragger, Ruby’s movements quick and panicked. Littlefoot moaned, the agony clear in his voice and yet no matter how much they attempted to get away from Dil, her jaw power was as strong as ever.

“Something,” Ruby said, “there must be something that’ll make her let go!”

“Ruby, Spike, don’t risk yourselves!” Littlefoot then moaned. “Oh, I can’t take much more of this.”

Ruby looked around anxiously, desperately. “I can’t – what should I do? There’s nothing on the tip of my tongue-”

“The only thing on the tip of my tongue is this longneck’s tail.” Dil said. “Shall I bite it off? It tastes good enough already.”

“We’ll stop – wait. Biting is above the tongue. Maybe – maybe the answer is above too!”

Abruptly, Ruby abandoned Littlefoot and rapidly approached Dil, swinging out a foot for an almighty kick. It connected with a blaring amount of pain. Dil made a muffled “ow” but didn’t let go. Ruby didn’t give up though, and gave a second kick with her other foot, followed by a third kick. As a fast runner, Ruby’s legs had a lot of strength, so Dil’s snout was nearly numb from the assault when she brought one foot up and crashed it down atop the bellydragger’s nose. Littlefoot cried out as more pressure pressed down on his tail tip but it was only momentary as Dil opened her jaws to yell out in pain and released Littlefoot from her grip. Hastily, the trio staggered away.

“Are you okay, Littlefoot?” Ruby asked.

Littlefoot flicked his tail experimentally and winced. “I think I’m not going to move my tail much the next couple of days. Now what do we do? That was supposed to be the determinate dodge!”

“We should…” Ruby rubbed her hands together anxiously. “I can’t ask you or Spike to do that again…”

“Urgh.” Dil blinked and twitched her snout, scowling at the trio. “Just because you have a fast and hard kick doesn’t mean you can hold me off forever.”

“Fast? That’s it.” Ruby relaxed and smiled. “Oh, you think so. Have you ever tried to catch a fast runner before?”

“First time for everything. Even fast prey can’t do much in a narrow space like this.”

“Do you want to bet?”

Dil’s long face pinched in consternation and she snapped. Quickly, Ruby zoomed to the side, nudging the base of Dil’s jaw. That only earned her another bite attempt but Ruby easily dodged around to the bellydragger’s other side to give a light kick to the nose. Ruby evaded Dil once more and continued on this reckless pattern, touching some part of Dil’s head to get her attention and then avoiding Dil’s biting snarls, leading her closer to the cave wall. Littlefoot and Spike watched her, having some idea of her plan and being very concerned.

“Isn’t she being a bit reckless?” Littlefoot whispered.

Spike gazed helplessly at Littlefoot and could only bay his confused agreement as Ruby continued her reckless plan until she was backed to that wall. Littlefoot and Spike stepped forward but she caught their eye and subtly shook her head for them to stand back. Her confident expression didn’t waver as Dil’s muzzle came within inches of her feet.

“I never tasted fast runner before.” Dil said. “I heard the legs are delicious. They’ll be the first to go.”

Dil reared a few feet on her hind legs. She gave a growl of anticipation and dived straight for Ruby’s feet faster than expected of someone her size, hunger and a longing to catch one of the hated children, even one she wasn’t familiar with, giving her the energy to be swift.

Ruby was still faster. At the very last second, she ran to the side, leaving Dil’s wide open jaws to crunch onto the wall and break it into bits. Dil landed back down with a thud, much of those wall pieces in her mouth, many of which showed glimpses of glowy green.

“What the…“ Dil said, muffled. She stopped, eyes widening. “Oh my goodness, what’s this gross taste? Get it out, get it – ack!”

Speaking only rubbed her tongue further against the mossy rocks and pushed a few down her throat. She made a gagging sound and charged forward, going through the hole in the wall she created and splashing into the tunnel river, coughing out the mossy wall bits and lapping up water when she cleared her mouth. She pawed at her tongue, alternating between saying “yuck” variations of, “Dang it, Ichy!” She paid no attention to Littlefoot, Spike, and Ruby whatsoever as they tentatively came over to watch the display. Littlefoot winced as his tail tip gave a twinge but he ignored that to turn appreciatively tow Ruby.

“That was smart thinking, Ruby,” he said. “For a second, I was worried you were being too rash for your plan to work out but you managed to get it to work.”

“Yes.” Ruby murmured. “That plan did plan itself out…I’m glad it did.” She shook her head. “Well, just like we’ve planned, it seems like clearing out that disgusting green fuzz would keep her occupied for a while.”

Littlefoot nodded. “The sharpbeak must be very mad at the bellydragger right now.”

Ruby frowned. “Yes, but I’m not hearing any lecturing from him. Strange. Even from what I’ve briefly heard, they like to argue a lot. Why aren’t they arguing now? I haven’t heard the sharpbeak in a while…”

Spike sniffed, and also frowned. He sniffed again, turning around and even padding over to the entrance Dil emerged from to pick up a scent. He worked those nostrils hard and by the time he returned to Littlefoot and Ruby, he wore a worried look on his face. The others stared nervously.

“What is it, Spike?” Littlefoot asked. “Can you – can you smell the sharpbeak?”

Distressed, Spike swished his head side to side. Ruby put a hand to her mouth.

“If we haven’t heard him in a while, that might mean he hasn’t been here in a while.”

Their stomachs sank in horror. Despite the trio’s best efforts, Ichy gamed them and was going after Cera and the others.

--

Cera kept a close watch of the river as she and her chosen companions for this mission journeyed passed it. After they parted from Littlefoot’s team, they went as far as possible through those passageways before they spiraled off in other directions and they were forced to return to the river tunnel. As of yet, they saw no signs that a bellydragger was going to emerge from the river but the group didn’t like taking those chances and were on the lookout for any other passageway entrances they could use. At least in the passageways, the bellydragger wouldn’t be able to catch up with them as quickly on land as in water. They had been moving in silence for a while now and though outwardly they seemed mostly calm, inside their minds kept going back to what might be happening to their remaining friends.

“Are we getting any closer to getting out of here?” Cera asked finally.

Chomper took a scent of the air. “I think so. Something like the outside’s in the air but it’s very faint.”

Cera sighed. “Still a long ways to go then.”

“Me could fly ahead and check.” Petrie said reluctantly. “But with sharpbeak around, that not safe.” He sighed. “Flying so useful with walking sharpteeth but not with flying ones.”

“You aren’t the only one grounded.” Ducky said, in an attempt at being reassuring. “Being a swimmer means you can escape from some sharpteeth in water but when they’re swimmers too, it isn’t much help, it isn’t, it isn’t.”

“Once we get rid of those two, we can go back to screaming away from sharpteeth the old fashion way.” Cera said. “The others will keep them occupied.”

“Yeah, but for how long?” Petrie asked.

“As long as necessary. They have brains too, they can outthink those dummies. Now let’s use our brains to dummy up this place for good.”

The others fell silent, only somewhat reassured by Cera’s words. Cera stared onward as she led them, attempting not to show how nervous she was. She hated when the group split up like this. There was often no method for knowing how the others were coping until they regrouped. Ichy and Dil didn’t seem that bright but they sniffed out a potential way to get into the valley and almost sneaked up on them. To survive this long, the predators must have some cleverness. They were certainly dangerous. It would be horrible if Cera’s team came back and discovered Littlefoot’s team had been fatally outwitted by those scary predators. Losing loved ones while away was painful enough that first time; for that to happen a second time with those she considered as precious as family was…

*No, no, don’t even think about that!* Cera subtly shook her head. *They’ll make it. With Littlefoot and Ruby’s brains, they’re bound to survive and Spike’s no slouch either. They’ll do their job. We shouldn’t let them down by not doing ours.*

Still, even if Littlefoot and the others manage to survive, she couldn’t shake the dangers her own group might face. What if Dil and Ichy give the three the slip and go after them? The mental image of the bellydragger and sharpbeak emerging from the darkness, ready to menace Cera and the others before their grisly demise, made Cera’s ribcage vibrate with fear. She would do her best to protect her friends, to get them away from danger, but a traitorous thought reminded her there was only so much she could do as an adolescent threehorn. Cera took quiet calming breaths but it was hard to dispel the image and grim thoughts.

Instead, Cera tried to focus on the victorious feeling that would come about when they blocked the major entrance for Dil and Ichy. It wouldn’t be too difficult. There was bound to be a weak rock somewhere that could cause the mouth of the river entrance to crumble down. Cera was good at breaking rocks, especially ones that led to a chain reaction. It was that skill that played a major part in rescuing Bron from the lava after all. Cera simply needed to not lose her cool, remember there was always a way out of danger, and work hard to find that way. She would feel quite satisfied when the task was accomplished. Though it wouldn’t spare them from Dil and Ichy’s wrath when they found out…

“Cera, are you okay?”

Cera started, realizing that she had been walking tensely with a look of barely strangled down worry. Ducky had made to walk closer, blue eyes aimed at her with concern.

“I’m – I’m fine.” Cera said, staring ahead. “I’m just thinking.”

“Oh.” Ducky paused, as though thinking through her next words. ”Are there bad thoughts in that thinking? Because if there are, don’t worry. I’m sure we will get through this.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Cera said distractedly.

“We will.” Ducky insisted. “You can smash any rocks with your head and that will be useful in blocking the river or getting away from the sharpbeak and bellydragger. The rest of us will help too, as we always do.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Cera said, still staring ahead, mind elsewhere.

“I mean, we do this sort of dangerous stuff all the time.” Ducky paused. “Well, only once or a few times a cold time, but we’re good at it. We’ll survive, we will, we will.”

“I know.” Cera said, with a trace of annoyance. “Got the message.”

“So everything will be okay, you’ll see. We just need to stick together and do our thing, and then-”

“Alright, we got it, enough already.” Cera snapped. “You know, it’s okay if some of us aren’t happy once in a while. You don’t need to march up to us every time because us not smiling brings down your mood. Just let us be, we can get better on our own.”

Ducky reeled back, as if slapped. After several seconds, her eyes fluttered around and a guilty look entered her face.

“Oh, I didn’t mean-” she sighed. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I did bothers everyone, I didn’t, I didn’t.”

She looked so contrite that regret burned in Cera’s stomach. Ducky was so cheerful and good-natured lashing out at her could feel like kicking an infant. She was hardier than she appeared, but Cera didn’t feel right for snapping. Awkwardly, she shuffled a foot in the dirt.

“Well, maybe I should have told you some other way.” Cera said. “I meant nothing serious from it.”

Ducky smiled softly and padded Cera comfortingly at the implied apology before she looked down. “This is a stressful situation, and I don’t know how we’re going to solve this. I’m only…worried about how everyone else might get out of this.”

“Like Spike?” Cera asked softly.

Ducky nodded. “Yeah, a little. He can be clumsy and distracted, even if he’s no slouch as you said. But I’m also worried about my many brothers and sisters. We’re all in danger from that bellydragger and sharpbeak. It’d be pretty sad if we can’t swim and splash around again.”

“That not going to happen.” Petrie said, flying closer. “Sharpbeak mean me brothers and sisters can’t fly around either, so that means we make sure to stop them. Don’t worry, we’ll do it. And I like how you make me smile.”

“Me too.” Chomper nodded. “You always look after us, and that makes me feel better. We wouldn’t have you any other way.”

They moved over and touched Ducky’s shoulder in support, Ducky perking up and giving the pair a warm smile. Eventually, Chomper and Petrie moved away and the four continued walking, mood slightly uplifted. Cera was slightly encouraged by this. She might bicker and moan but she didn’t like really hurting her friends as much as anyone else. In some ways, she was glad to have these three here. They had some useful skills. With Chomper’s nose, Ducky’s swimming skills, and Petrie’s ability to whoosh anywhere, they were guaranteed to locate and seal off the river entrance before Dil and Ichy could go through.

Cera was distracted by those pleasant thoughts by the sound of actual but distant whooshing coming from behind them.

“Petrie, are you still with us?” Cera said slowly.

“Me right here.” Petrie hovered lower near Cera’s head in puzzlement. “Why you ask?”

Cera glanced at him, her ears on alert. “If you’re here,” she said slowly, heart trilling warily, “then what’s making that sound?”

The others looked back, where the whooshing got closer and became distinctly, horribly familiar. Ducky’s breaths quickened.

“Oh no, no, no. Littlefoot and the others should have kept them occupied.”

There was an eerie laugh. “They’re keeping Dil occupied. Have you forgotten who’s the brains of this operation here?”

The whooshing had become feathery flapping. Cera and the others glanced up desperately to track Ichy down but there was no more glowing moss in this part of the tunnel and the ceiling was obscured by darkness.

“How did you find us?” Cera demanded, hoping anger limited how her voice wavered.

“Oh, through the method of eavesdropping.” Ichy replied. “Voices carry in these tunnels and you lot do like to argue. It was child’s play to get an inkling of your plan and work around it.”

“Yes, well, so much for that.” Cera said. “You’re still smaller than me and Chomper. If it comes to a fair fight, we will win.”

“I’m not interested in a fair fight. I have the darkness on my side. I could simply sneak up on you and snatch up your smaller friends before you know where they went. You also forget this sharpbeak has some experience in taking down larger prey. All I need to do is apply a bite in the right part of the neck and voila – the ground is died red and the swimmer and flyer no longer have protectors and I can eat enough to make my belly burst.”

“I will make something burst.” Chomper said angrily. “I have much bigger teeth than you – even if you get me, I’ll have you in pieces!”

Ichy laughed. “Am I supposed to believe the cute sharptooth who pals around with leaf eaters has the will and skill to take me down? Softie. Not like the sharpteeth that really sent chills down my spine.”

“Look, just go away.” Petrie said nervously. “Look at river! It has lots of water swimmers. Just eat them and be on your way.”

“They might make a satisfying snack for me but not for Dil.” Ichy said. “Besides, this is about more than eating. This is about vengeance. You have robbed us of our home and dignity. We can’t get our home back but at least we can regain our dignity and pride by picking our teeth with your bones!”

“We can swim!” Ducky said desperately. “Your bellydragger friend is not around, so we can escape you in the water!”

“And when you can’t hold your breath any longer and go back to the surface for air, I can just grab you with my feet. It’s kind of hard to swim and lookout for enemies above at the same time. Face it hatchlings, I can come at you any when, anywhere. Like close to where you breathe.”

A whish went past Cera’s throat. She yelped and staggered away.

“Around where you fly.”

A blur circled Petrie’s wings, making him scream and topple out of the air.

“Under where you keep balance.”

A whoosh of air went under Chomper’s tail and between his legs. Chomper shrieked and jumped as though dancing on hot coals.

“I can even be behind where you speak.”

An arrow of wind whipped up Ducky’s back and inches from her forehead. She screamed and flailed her hands to swat it away but Ichy was already gone, his laughter echoing off the walls.

“Yes, continue screaming. You are all cowards, idiots, wusses, brats. Luck might have saved you last time but now it’s over. All you can do now is entertain me while I work up my appetite. Might as well get out the last of your yelling. You never know when any of these passes might be your last!”

Cera jerked away as a whoosh went past her side. She saw a whish kick up dirt beside Petrie’s feet, a great wind nearly knock down Ducky, a blur dart around inches from Chomper’s neck. Ichy swooped in and around them faster than any of them could see, making them scream and be uncertain where to step. Wherever they turned, he darted past mockingly and when they watched where they last saw him, they felt a presence swoop past the back of their heads. They just didn’t know where to go and the constant near misses and mocking laughter was cracking their resolve.

“What we do?” Petrie said, panicked. “Oh, we can’t – we can’t stay here! We must move!”

“We stick together!” Cera said, with an attempt at authority. “Ducky, Petrie, stay close to us!”

“I don’t want you guys to get hurt!” Ducky said.

“He’s just winding us up!” Cera said, half convincing herself. “Don’t listen to him!”

“I’ll protect you…” Chomper panted. “I’ll protect you guys!”

“Let keep moving this way.” Petrie said. “If we do that, maybe we can break the-”

“Do you want to escort him into the valley?” Cera said angrily. “Let’s try losing him for now. Stay close, and he won’t be able to get close unless he wants to get gored by my-”

Something touched Cera’s neck, light but cold, close to the jugular. It was only for a second but Cera, already scared and keyed up, saw her mortality and lost her head completely. She screamed, circling to get away and she inadvertently knocked Ducky off her feet. Chomper reached out for Ducky but a swoop caused him to shriek and stumble away. Petrie tried to take off into the air but a blur kicked him and he tumbled, latching onto Cera’s tail. They scattered, making a beeline for any passageway entrance they could find, too panicked to know what they were doing or where they were going other than to get away.

Ducky found herself tripping and staggering down a tall passageway, pants echoing loudly. She looked about for signs – of where Ichy was, of her location, of her friends’ whereabouts. So far, Ducky saw nothing and every second alone caused her panic to ratchet up to new heights.

“Where are you?” Ducky whispered. “Petrie, Cera, Chomper.”

She sighed. She hated when she got separated from the others. Even if just one friend was with her, she would have been okay but stranded alone, she felt like a target was painted on her back. Ducky might have an advantage with finding escape routes and refuges with her small size but when a predator set its sights on her, even the smallest meat eater could still make a meal out of her. Not only did she not want to die, the loneliness only accentuated the terror of the danger. She only hoped she could find the others soon before she encountered any dangers that would give her a lonely end.

When she found a three way intersection in the passageway, she brightened and picked up her pace. Maybe there was a route to get her reunited with her friends there. She turned to the left passageway, the direction where she last saw the others. There was a call of recognition from the right passageway, from the last voice she wanted to hear.

“Aha, there you are!” Ichy said. “Just the swimmer I was looking for.”

Ducky shrieked and pelted forward. She moved with all the energy in her but Ichy’s awful flapping quickly caught up with her. No matter how fast she ran, he rarely strayed from above her. All the movement was draining. She didn’t know how long she could keep this up but fear drove her onward. As exhaustion made her footing clumsy, she called desperately into the air.

“Petrie! Cera! Chomper! Help! Help!”

“You’re not getting any help.” Ichy said. “No last minute rescues for you. This time you’re going to be eaten and nothing will stop me!”

“I don’t want to be eaten, no, no, no! Someone, please, help me!”

“You were the last of our prey to evade us. I think it’s kind of fitting you’ll be my first meal. After all the insult you gave us, finally we’ll have our dignity back. Just think, your family will forever wonder what happened to you. I wish I could watch. They’ll never know you died alone, not doing some heroic sacrifice but trying to save your own hide. It’s guaranteed to be delicious. Not that you’ll ever know. You’ll die anonymously, the object of ignorance and ignorant of how others react to you.”

Ducky whimpered, tripping again and barely able to stay on her feet. “Spike…Spike! I need you!”

“You’re weirdo brother isn’t going to help you.” Ichy jeered. “I don’t understand why you would decide to be a sister to lazy creatures like spiketails, since you swimmers like to have so many children, but never mind. It’s nearly lunchtime.”

Ducky attempted to double her speed but she had little energy to double on. Her sore muscles made her stiff and clumsy and she got a stitch in her chest. She pressed against the problem area to stifle the pain but doing that distracted her and her foot caught on a jut. She fell with a smack. Groaning, she weakly pushed on the ground but could do no more than rise a few inches before collapsing back down. The flapping was loud and stationary.

“And so it ends.” Ichy said. “It was nice knowing you, swimmer, but it’s time to fill my stomach. Don’t worry, I’ll make this painless. It can be annoying when the food struggles down your throat.”

There was a final flap and Ducky heard Ichy dive bomb for her. She curled up into a ball and closed her eyes, hoping that if she shut out the world, she wouldn’t notice when she everything went black. The several seconds Ichy took to get closer stretched on for an eternity. Ducky thought about her friends, Spike, and the rest of her family, the many brothers and sisters she wished she got to know better but now never would…

Several seconds passed before she realized nothing had happened. She should have been struck down by now but all she had felt was a brief brush of cold across her back. The flapping was now ahead of her, Ichy making a noise of confusion.

“What? How did I – I’ll get you!”

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2017, 06:03:39 AM »
P2/2

Once again, there was the sound of Ichy diving for Ducky. She cringed again, the sound closing in, right on top of her…and then zooming past her with another brush of cold. Ichy’s voice was strangled.

“I can’t be missing – why? Again!”

For a third time, Ichy attempted to snatch Ducky and once more, Ducky heard him miss, that mysterious cold coming across her back again. Ichy was beside himself.

“Oh, not now. Not now! This is the worst time for me to lose my touch!”

Ichy swooped down for a fourth, fifth, and sixth time. Each time, she felt no pain, no contact, only the cool disturbance of air as Ichy kept somehow missing his target. Ducky opened her eyes and uncurled herself as she came to realize something was going very wrong for her would-be killer.

“What am I doing wrong?” Ichy groused. “I’ve done this dozens of times before! She’s not even moving, I should have gutted her. At the very least I should have scratched her! What’s going on?”

While he raged, Ducky tentatively got to her feet. She still couldn’t see Ichy in the darkness, but he didn’t appear to be paying attention to her. When his ranting about his feet reached another octave, Ducky took the opportunity to jog quickly up the passageway. She was still exhausted but the confusion had reinvigorated her with hope, which rose as Ichy’s voice didn’t follow her. Eventually, she stopped hearing him altogether and continued her journey.

The passageway was curving back to the tunnel by the time Ducky heard voices again, much more welcome than Ichy’s. She picked up her pace and found Cera, Petrie, and Chomper standing anxiously at a passageway intersection.
 
“What happened to her?” Cera was saying. “Oh, how can I face the others if Ducky was taken by that sharpbeak?”

“You don’t need to worry about that, because the sharpbeak couldn’t take me.” Ducky said, stepping into view.

The three jumped. After a second or two of staring, they rushed to her with relief.

“Ducky, you alright!” Petrie beamed, briefly embracing her. “We so worried.”

“When you were gone too long, we thought…” Chomper trailed off. “Wait, ësharpbeak couldn’t take me?’ You ran into him?”

“How did you escape?” Cera asked.

“I don’t know.” Ducky answered, brushing her chin in puzzlement. “I really thought I was a goner, but for some reason, I only felt cold wind as he kept missing me. That was confusing, since he caught me with his feet just fine in the Last of Mists. But I’m glad that confusing thing happened, I am.”

“You’re far from the only one.” Cera said, relieved. “Sorry I tripped you up like that. I tried not to listen but he seemed to know how to get into our heads and twist our brains and-”

“Hey do you smell that?” Chomper interrupted, frowning.

“You have best sniffer, so we probably don’t.” Petrie replied.

“But sometimes you can pick up what I smell too.” Chomper sniffed experimentally. “It’s kind of muffled by the water but I smell something like…flowers and grass and treestars. Those aren’t in caves, are they?”

Cera blinked, and her expression dawned. “Of course not. But if you’re smelling them, that means we must be near-”

“The river entrance!”

Hearts soaring, they followed Chomper through the passageways until they got back to the tunnel, where they walked a short distance. At last, they were back on track and they were going to fulfill the mission Littlefoot gave them. There was nothing that was going to stop them now.

Then they came across a thick, sturdy wall. The surface was rough and uneven, as though some rocks and boulders had been melted into the dark rock. Ducky and the others stopped before it in consternation, glancing at where the river lapped tepidly at the stone.

“What is this?” Cera said. “Did we take a wrong turn?”

“No.” Chomper said. “I’m sure we went the right way.”

“But river end here.” Petrie said. “That strange.”

“It is, it is.” Ducky agreed. “If water keeps flowing here, this should be flooded. Let me see what’s going on.”

Ducky moved to the edge and dived, briefly acclimating before she swam forward. A few fish moved past her and she blinked as they didn’t slow but lowered to the river floor, approached the wall, and wriggled right under it. Following their example, she descended until her stomach brushed sand and rock. From her low vantage point, she was able to see a shimmer of light shining below the entire wall, low but distinct. She surfaced near the others.

“There’s an opening near the bottom here.” Ducky said. “The water swimmers swam through it and I can see some light.”

“Of course.” Chomper said. “I thought the plant smell was kind of wet.”

“You mean to tell me we came all this way only to learn the bellydragger and sharpbeak can’t come through here anyway?” Cera said, outraged. “What a rip-off!”

“On bright side,” Petrie said, “bellydragger and sharpbeak can’t come through here. They just don’t know.”

“Maybe if they did know, that might discourage them from trying to take the valley.” Chomper said.

“Who says they won’t use these tunnels or another river to get into the valley?” Cera retorted. “We might still have to cause cave-ins, but we don’t know where. Oh, it’ll take forever to get rid of them.”

“Maybe Littlefoot and the others might have some idea about that.” Ducky suggested. “There must be a way to get rid of them, there must.”

“Not to mention that it would be a long walk for the bellydragger if she decided to enter from another river.” Chomper pointed out. “And not all the tunnels can fit her. If we can confuse the two enough, maybe we can get them lost.”

“If we don’t get lost first.” Petrie said.

“Let’s find Littlefoot and the others before we think about getting lost.” Cera said. “Chomper, use that sniffer. We need to get to them before the bellydragger gets them.”

--

Littlefoot’s lungs were searing. He, Ruby, and Spike had been all over the passageway network for an hour, leading Dil on a wild goose chase. They wedged her in tight passageways, trapped her in caves, and even collapsed rocks to pin her underwater. Each time, she used her strength to break or crack the stones enough to free herself and the chase was on again. Still, it bought the trio time to brainstorm solutions for their friends’ predicament and they used every second available to them.

Not that it led anywhere.

“We can’t split up.” Ruby said. “One of us will have to be alone, so splitting up is dangerous.”

“Cera and the others are in danger right now.” Littlefoot said heatedly. “We have to do something!”

“As I said before, if we go rescue our friends, the bellydragger will go with us and rescue her friend too.” Ruby replied evenly. “Even if we trap her somewhere good and leave, she might eventually free herself and go up the river to trap us or our friends.  Face it, there is little we can do with the plan we have. We’re going to have to trust they’ll know what to do. We know that trust hasn’t been broken in the past, right? Let’s focus on keeping the bellydragger unfocused until they get back.”

Littlefoot glared, but Ruby stood her ground. Spike looked between them, baying in confusion. Apparently, he could see Ruby’s point but wanted to make sure his sister and the others were unharmed too. After a moment, suppressing a flinch from another tail twinge, Littlefoot breathed out slowly.

“I know you’re right,” he murmured, “but I hate just not knowing what’s going on with them.”

Ruby laid a hand on Littlefoot’s shoulder, eyes distancing. “Yeah, I hate that kind of not knowing too.”

There was a groan. The trio looked down at the pit to find Dil shaking off broken rocks, dazed and tired. A few minutes earlier, the trio had almost stumbled into the shallow pit in this cave while fleeing from the bellydragger and quickly drafted up a plan. Ruby lured her in, her slender limbs and sharp fingers allowing her to climb back out while Dil slid and toppled into the pit. After seeing how her descent shook several stalactites from the ceiling, Littlefoot, Ruby, and Spike lobbed rocks until they all came crashing down, burying Dil in the remains of the stone teeth. That had knocked Dil out for a few minutes, allowing the trio time to try hashing out a plan. Now Dil examined them mutinously.

“You three are really going to pay for that,” she growled. “I was thinking of drawing out your suffering but since you made me so tired and hungry, I’ll eat you so fast you wouldn’t know what happened.”

“That’s if you can climb up first.” Littlefoot retorted.

Seething, Dil muttered in what she thought was an inaudible timber. “Ichy, I hope leaving me to flail in the dark was worth it.”

Littlefoot ignored her. “Spike, can you guide us back to the river.”

Spike sniffed and nodded agreeably. Littlefoot was really glad to have drafted Spike to the team. If it wasn’t for his nose, they would have gotten lost in all these passageways a long time ago. Ruby glanced back nervously.

“Not to hurry you up,” she said, “but the bellydragger found a way to hurry out of the pit, so we’d better get ready to hurry off again.”

Littlefoot and Spike followed her gaze, noting Dil found purchase on several protrusions on the curvature of the pit and was already halfway up. When she got back to solid footing on a passageway on the other side, the trio ran, the slap-dash of her footsteps a constant encouragement to keep going. Through a twist of passageways, they ended up back in the tunnel, quickly looking around to regain their bearings.

“Where now?” Ruby said.

“I don’t know.” Littlefoot replied. “I’m running out of ideas. How many ways can you bury a bellydragger before it actually has an effect?”

“We’ll come up with something on the run, like always. And speaking of running, I think we should come up with another tunnel before she comes back to the water.”

Glancing about, Littlefoot saw no passageway entrances in the immediate vicinity, so he picked a direction and led them in a jog. He just so happened to pick the direction where Cera and the others had last been seen but he didn’t expect to bump into the four while on the run. They were either busy sealing up the entrance up ahead or evading Ichy. Littlefoot hoped for the former but feared the latter, so he was quite surprised when he saw shapes running toward them in the distance, calling his name.

“Over here, Littlefoot!”

“Littlefoot, we’re back!”

“It’s the others!” Littlefoot said.

“One, two, three, four.” Ruby smiled. “Four out of four, all safe.”

Spike keyed joyfully and bounded forward. Littlefoot and Ruby didn’t hesitate to follow. The seven reunited, Spike almost pinning his sister to the ground as he nuzzled and licked her, their laughter food for the soul.

“Thank goodness you’re all alright.” Littlefoot said. “I thought the sharpbeak might have got you.”

“He did almost get us.” Ducky said. “But for some reason, he couldn’t.”

“He what?” Ruby shook her head. “You can tell us about that later. Can you tell us if you were able to seal up the tunnel?”

“We didn’t need to.” Chomper said. “There already was a wall there.”

“It pretty thick.” Petrie said. “Ducky said only itty bity space for water swimmers to swim through.”

Littlefoot was stunned. “Are you serious? Those two really can’t go through there?”

“Not unless they shrank.” Cera huffed. “Seriously, all that hassle to find that out. What a waste.”

“Maybe it’s not so wastey after all.” Ducky said slowly. “The sharpbeak did boast a lot while he was scaring us and we all know he and the bellydragger like to fight a lot. Why don’t we make them fight?”

“That is a good plan.” Ruby beamed. “From what we heard while running, the bellydragger doesn’t always like the suggestions and plans the sharpbeak gives her.”

“We just need to tell them the truth.” Littlefoot said. “At least enough of the truth they would be at each other’s throats. The trouble is how do we get them to listen to us?”

There was a snarl and the swirl of disturbed water. Dil had caught up at last, having followed the voices to track them down. She leered in their approximate direction.

“Give it up, kids.” Dil said. “You’re weak and divided.”

“Does it sound like we’re divided?” Cera said.

Dil stopped, stunned. “You four are back? Ichy should have taken care of you lot!”

“Shows what he know.” Petrie said. “He couldn’t even get Ducky.”

“He isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, oh no, no, no.” Ducky wagged a finger. “You can’t enter the Great Valley here. We found a great big thick wall that we couldn’t get through. There is only enough space for water and small water swimmers to get into the valley, which means you can’t get through.”

“What are you talking about?” Dil demanded. “Are you screwing with my head?”

“We’re telling the truth here.” Chomper said. “I smelled the other side of that wall and the Great Valley is out there. Your Ichy didn’t think to check first to make sure this route wasn’t blocked off.”

Dil’s anger drained into confusion and even distress. Her eyes darted about as she mentally digested this.

“No way, this can’t be true,” she muttered. “Ichy sounded so sure about his strategy. You’ve got to be pulling my leg.”

“If anyone’s doing the leg pulling, it’s your sharpbeak friend.” Littlefoot said. “Don’t tell me he hasn’t led you astray before. He couldn’t get us in the Land of Mists and he couldn’t get us now, so his plans aren’t foolproof.”

“His plans aren’t foolproof.” Dil repeated, lip curling. “Yes, I know. Why, if he really did mess up… if he can’t keep track of you brats-”

“Dil! Dil! There you are!”

There was a series of flaps and Ichy’s breathless voice became apparent.

“Have you managed to eat those brats? Mine somehow slipped off and it would do me good if you somehow gave a blow to their…there they are!” he exclaimed disbelievingly. “Yours managed to give you the slip too? Come on Dil, it shouldn’t have been that hard to get them! They’re smaller than you, swallowing them should’ve been a snap!”

“Easy for you to say!” Dil snarled. “They’ve been burying me in rocks left, right, and center ever since we started this chasing game. Did you forget I was blind or something when you went dallying off to play with those children?”

There was a slight gasp, as though Ichy hadn’t expected Dil to lash out quite like that. He replied frostily. “Well, I didn’t exactly hear any disagreement from you. Besides, grumping at me isn’t going to fill your stomach. What are you just floating there for? Attack them!”

“Have you actually checked that river exit thing?”

“What, river exit – we’re trying to eat these kids!”

“But what about eating other members of this stinking valley? Because I was just told we can’t get in through this tunnel!”

Ichy’s next pause held a bit of surprise. “We can’t?” Then, angrily, “They lie! They just want to make sure we can’t get out!”

“They seem pretty ticked they ran all that way to seal it up only to find it was block up anyway.” Dil retorted. “Have you actually checked to make sure there wasn’t a wall there or the kids caused a rockslide to stem us?”

“Well, um…” Littlefoot and the others could practically hear Ichy glance away. “I was busy making sure the kids didn’t actually get to the entrance by following them around. When they came back here, I thought we could team up to make sure they didn’t separate again and…”

Dil’s eyes narrowed. “Liar! You lost them and didn’t even think to check. You’re just covering your tail feathers! I should have known you’d screw this up!”

“I’d screw this up?” Ichy repeated incredulously. “You were the one who couldn’t even eat a slow spiketail!”

“And you couldn’t even catch a whimpering swimmer!”   

“It was dark, I couldn’t – wait, how do you know that?” Ichy then growled. “You mouthy tattle-tale!”

Ducky clasped her hands innocently. “You did try to catch me, like, six times. I thought it might be worth bringing up, I did, I did!”

“So it is true!” Dil hissed. “Your harebrained schemes have lost us food again!”

“Me! You couldn’t even catch those kids and there’s not a lot of ways to get lost in those tunnels!”

“You think? This place is a maze! If you hadn’t left me alone, I might have caught some of them!”
 
“You would have caught them if you paused and used that thing you call a brain!” Ichy snapped. “Then you wouldn’t be always falling into their traps every time like you say…”

The pair proceeded to argue, tones growing louder and bouncing off the walls. They totally forgot about Littlefoot and the others. If they noticed the seven at all, it was as a springboard to air out more grievances against the other. Littlefoot and the others just watched, bemused.

“There’s not much love lost between the two.” Ruby muttered to Ducky.

“Yeah, they did a lot of arguing in the Land of Mists too.” Ducky whispered.

“Now what do we do, Littlefoot?” Cera said.

“I don’t think there’s time to check every tunnel and make sure they don’t lead to the valley.” Littlefoot said. “But if we egg them on, maybe they’ll leave and not want to have anything to do with each other again.”

“But what about sharpbeak?” Petrie asked. “Bellydragger mightn’t come back but sharpbeak can fly. He can eat some of us small hatchlings like me and Ducky.”

Littlefoot winced. That was indeed a quandary. He looked back up to where Ichy’s voice emanated, mentally running through all the plans in his mind, even the ones that trembled his stomach. He had to make some hard choices in the past, but will he have do them again?

“It’s going to take forever to find another path!” Dil was ranting. “Do I look like the type that can walk long distances? A sharpteeth might make me its snack before we get to another river!”

“There must be another way to get in through these tunnels.” Ichy said. “We just need to learn them!”

“And by then, we’ll get lost and starve. These little water swimmers aren’t going to fill me up any good, Ichy! I should have known this plan of yours was dodgy.”

“Dodgy? I’ll tell you what’s dodgy? That I hang around with a blind musclehead who can’t strategize her way out of a tangle of seaweed! I should have contented myself with the fuzzy tree dwellers and runaway hatchlings! Ever since I met you, you’ve been nothing but a liability!”

“Right back at you!” Dil said. “Every time you tell me what to do, you give me a headache. And it isn’t even helpful! You said that learning leaf eater will be easy, that it’d give us the advantage, but instead it allowed the prey to know everything we’re doing. We’d have been better off not understanding them at all. Other predators get by just fine! All of your plans go up in flames this way, and you never own up to your mistakes. Honestly, I’d be better off just sitting in a bog on my own and waiting for idiot water swimmers to swim into my mouth. It’d mightn’t be a complex plan but unlike your plans, at least it’ll get the job done.”

Ichy’s teeth ground together. “Don’t pin all the blame on me! I’m sick of you having to rely on me for every obstacle you bump against when you could use your brain instead. Why should I bother giving better directions, you suck at following them and lose your temper as though that’s my fault. Dammit woman, if you ever thought of using that cranium of yours, I wouldn’t have ended up getting swallowed hole by you in the first place!”

His voice echoed out among the tunnel. A quiet followed like a sudden, cold draft.

“…what are you talking about, Ichy?” Dil’s voice held a different catch. Oddly, she winced as though a rock thudded her cranium. “Ow, now I really have a headache. C’mon Ichy, stop giving me the silent treatment.”

“I…I don’t know.” Ichy said uncertainly. “Those words…they just, they suddenly fell out of my mouth…”

“Now what are they complaining about?” Cera said. “I’m confused.”

“They seemed just as confused as we are.” Ducky said. “Oh yes, oh yes.”

“I still haven’t been able to see or smell this sharpbeak.” Chomper said, taking another vain draft of the air. “If he’s been flying around all over the place, he should be sweating enough for my sniffer to pick him up.”

“Me think me see him.” Petrie said, trembling.

“Where Petrie?” Littlefood scanned the high ceiling. “I can’t see anything.”

“He over there, halfway above her head but…me must be seeing things.”

Puzzled, Littlefoot and the others focused above Dil’s head, raising their gaze further and further until…they almost missed the flicker of a shape hovering there. He was easy to miss, like a whisp of smoke held in place, the caves so dark he was almost invisible. The five who went to the Land of Mists remembered well how Ichy blended into the fog and darkness, wings silent until he was almost upon their smaller brethren. But this form of stealth was different, impossible…

“Guys.” Ruby said. “Sharpbeaks can’t be see-through, can they?”

Ichy started and glanced down at himself. Behind the flyer’s black, grey, and white plumage was the tunnel wall, blurred like in a weak fog. Ichy’s breath clambered up a few notches even as he took in no air, his chest hitching in spreading fear.

“This can’t be possible,” he said. “Why can I see through myself? Dil, explain yourself. Dil, say something!”

“Why are you blaming me for your delusions?” Dil said, confused and slightly panicked. “The lack of food is messing with your head. Just eat one of the kids and everything will clear up.”

“I’m not delusional! I’m transparent and even those brats can see it. Look!”

Ichy darted down and landed on Dil’s snout, close to her eyes. His feet sunk down as though in mud and he gave a panicked flap to get them back on firm reptilian skin. Dil’s nose twitched in consternation.

“Hey Ichy, your feet are cold. Don’t I tell you not to stay on for long? I can see you fine now, you look great and healthy…and I can see right through you to my nose.”

Dil shrieked and slushed water as she backed away. Ichy remained where he was, feet standing on thin air. He didn’t need to flap his wings to stay in place. That only further horrified him.

“I don’t understand!” he said. “I’m so confused. Did I – was I…no, no!”

“Does anyone have an explanation for what’s going on?” Cera demanded.

“Maybe…maybe she did eat him.” Petrie gulped. “He said that because it true but he didn’t want to think about it until he too angry to ignore it.”

“So he’s a ghost who didn’t know he’s a ghost.” Ruby said softly.

“I’m a ghost?” Ichy squeaked. “If I’m a ghost, then I’m…that can’t be true, it can’t be!”

“And that means I – ” Dil’s voice became strangled. “No, no. I spat him out, I spat him out! I almost ate him, but I realized my mistake before it was too late and threw him up. That’s the only thing that makes sense. I should remember this. But why – why can’t I remember spitting him out.”

“Maybe you’re right and we’re both delusional.” Ichy said eagerly. “Yeah, hunger is messing with our brains, it’s making us see things. There’s no such thing as ghosts. You damn kids are just screwing with our heads. All we need to do is just gobble you up and this will all go away.”

“But if you haven’t eaten, how were you able to chase us all over the place?” Ducky said. “Doing that is very draining. You should have dropped, you should have, you should have.”

“Shut up!” Ichy snapped. “I’m just running on fumes, that’s all! All that workout should be making me famished. Any second now, I’ll be so hungry I can eat all of you without feeling full. That’s right, it all makes sense. I just need to wait and everything’ll be back to normal. You’ll see! You’ll be the ones who die!”

“And then you’ll be solid again?” Littlefoot shook his head, almost sad. “I’m sorry. You really are see-through and standing on thin air. You’re…dead.”

That gave Ichy no comfort. He rubbed at his neck and chest feathers, looking around desperately, searching for a way out. His breathing became more and more panicked until he let out a wrenching scream.

“I don’t want this, I don’t want this!” he shouted. “I don’t want to die! I had so many plans, I had so much to do! It can’t end like this, all because of a stupid mistake, all because of –”

Ichy’s eyes landed on Dil. Fury shook through him, and he jabbed an accusing finger toward her.

“This is all your fault!” he said, causing her to jump. “I should have left you to bumble around in that forest. But no, I had the bright idea you might be useful, that we could benefit each other. I can be the eyes and you could be the teeth. What an idiot I was! You never had good impulse control, I should have saw it coming!”

“I-it was an accident, Ichy.” Dil stuttered, sloshing away from him. Her face broke out in self-directed horror. “Oh goodness, this is actually happening. That means I really did –” She then shouted at him, at herself. “I didn’t know it was you, I didn’t know it was you! I’m telling the truth!”

“Oh really?” Ichy flapped closer, teeth barred. “Did the feathers not feel familiar, did the shape not remind you of a certain someone? How many times did I have to tell you to look before you leap, look and then leap! You didn’t stop to think about what you swallowed, did you? You were just satisfied you got a full stomach for once.”

“I didn’t want to fill my stomach with you!” Dil said desperately. “No matter how much you drove me up the wall, I never wanted to eat you.”

“Fat lot of good that does me!” he snapped. “You at least got your fill. I’ll never be able to eat again! I’m dead, and I hold you responsible! And you know what, bellydragger…I’m out of here!”

Ichy turned and flew away, back where he and Dil came from. Dil swam after him, so stricken.

“Ichy, wait! Please, let’s just talk this out! I didn’t want any of this to happen. I’m sorry!”

“Stop, stop!” Ichy whirled around. “I can’t stand to be with you. After killing me, I shouldn’t care about you anymore but when you speak to me and look at me like that…” his voice broke. “I’m dead, so why do you make my chest hurt?”

With that, Ichy opened his wings and flew off as though fleeing a truth he couldn’t stand. Scrambling, a devastated Dil went after him.

“Ichy, come back! I’m sure we can work this out! Ichy…Ichy!”

Soon, she too was gone. Littlefoot and the others stood there, stunned, having difficulty comprehending what they just witnessed.

“Ch-Chomper.” Littlefoot found his voice. “Can you sniff our way back to the entrance?”

Chomper nodded faintly. “Yes, yeah…I can do that.”

Numb, they began the long walk out. They were alive and had drove off the latest threat to the valley but there was no feeling of victory in what they did.

Their spirits only lifted slightly when they came across more and more of the glowing moss. They soon encountered the opening that curved up and led to the surface world. The gang would have immediately ran up to get out of this tunnel, but Littlefoot stopped them and began looking for loose rocks and long vines.

“But they aren’t coming back!” Cera protested.

“Even if they don’t, what if someone else does?” Littlefoot said. “We need to seal off this cave. For the good of the valley.”

Cera blew out a breath, but she and the others did as Littlefoot said. They also searched the river tunnel exit until they found a vine. They waited until they moved into the exit passage before they started pulling the vine, pawing and toppling loose rocks around the plant. It was slow work but there was a collapse and the dust cleared to reveal a pile of stones with nary a gap to glimpse the river or glowing moss. They traveled up the passage, Littlefoot looking around anxiously. He wasn’t content with one collapse. At about the halfway point, they found another vine and collapsed the passage there. It was as slow as last time and the rocks that burst down from the ceiling nearly led to more than one bruise but Littlefoot was willing to take the risks so he wouldn’t have to see what he just witnessed again…so no one in the valley would go through the agony and heartbreak of what those two predators experienced…

With a bit of pushing, there was a rumble and they backed away as the entrance to that whole nightmare was collapsed for good. They panted and fell onto the grass, reveling at the feeling of the warmth of the earth, the gentle glimmer of sunlight, of being on the surface at long last.

“What was that?” Cera said.

“I never saw anything like that before.” Littlefoot looked at the others. “You’re all here. Thank goodness. If anything happened to you…”

The others turned their heads to him, startled by Littlefoot’s statement, their faces for a moment communicating confusion and concern over his heightened protectiveness of the last several hours. But they put that aside for now and gave exhausted, reassuring smiles that filled him with such warmth he returned the expression. Even his tail tip getting another faint thrum of pain didn’t bother him much. Before they could bask in the moment, there was a distracted snort.

“Ugh, what was all that racket? Did you kids cause it?”

Littlefoot and the others scrambled to their feet. The sleeping spiketail had awakened, glaring through half-lidded eyes.

“Uh, we bumped into some rocks and they fell.” Littlefoot said sheepishly. “Sorry for disturbing you. We’ll be on our way.”

With that, they nodded in farewell and hastily marched off, retreating from the spiketail and the memories of the supernatural life and death peril they had just experienced.

--

Dil was finding breathing hard. Even in the water, she barely kept up with Ichy. When light came into her vision, she knew she finally escaped the confines of those caves, but that brought her no comfort. She couldn’t escape what had been discovered there, the guilt and horror of what she did. She had thought more than once jokingly or with annoyance that she should just eat him just to shut him up but for that to actually happen…chest hurting from more than exertion, she called out again.

“Ichy, are you still there? Come on, I can’t keep up this chase if I don’t know where you are.”

“That’s kind of the point.” Ichy’s voice said. “For someone said they were better off sitting in a bog on their own, you stick around like a leech.”

“I did think I’d better off in a bog without you but if you really go, what am I going to do?” Dil said. “We’ve been together for so long. I’m really sorry. Just stick around so we can do things as we always do them – I don’t care that you’re dead!”

“Don’t say that.” Ichy said, panicked. “I’ve been reminded too many times of what I am already, if this happens one more time, I’ll start to – to…”

The sound of the flapping slowed and Dil caught up enough to see the faint figure of Ichy hover quietly.

“Too late.” Then he murmured. “So this is what our meals felt. I never thought about it, but…”

“What are you on about?” Dil asked nervously.

“I hate being sappy.” Ichy said. “You were the last person I ever expected to be here for this, Dil. You always pissed me off but now…you’re the only one who will give a damn in the end.”

“Don’t say that.” Dil got closer. “Alright, I admit, it’s my fault. I own up to it, I should use my brain more often. Just…bring out your stubbornness, and do something.”

“I’m dead, Dil. No one can out-stubborn that. I just haven’t left yet. And I’m not mad about what you did. Not anymore. You were only obeying your hunger. If our sizes were reversed, I might have done the same thing. If I survived being eaten, I might have considered it a sign our partnership was doomed from the start and cut off ties with you. Except now…” Ichy laughed. “It’s funny. I thought I’d be glad of any way to be rid of you but the thought of going on without you…it burns. Now I know what ëcan’t live with them, can’t live without them’ really means.”

“I know now too.” Dil said, voice catching. “What would life be without your annoying squawk?”

“Oh, you’ll find some other voice to nag you. You got by without me before, and you’ll do the same again. At least we both know now that this alliance of ours actually had some meaning.”

Ichy was hovering away, becoming faint. Dil splashed hastily to follow.

“No. Wait. Don’t go!”

“It’s already started. Goodbye, Dil. My mind might have sucked at coming up with plans but at least it is good enough to remember all the times we had together.”

He was getting farther, fainter. Dil tried to keep up, swam with all her might but soon all her limited vision could see was blurry blue sky. Her eyes became blurrier, and she blinked hard.

“Ichy, come back. I take back every bad thing I said. Alright, I don’t, but I don’t care about that anymore, just be here with me. I don’t want to be alone. Are you still there, Ichy? Ichy?”

All that greeted her was a vacant wind that carried no trace of flapping feathers.

Next time…

Forgotten Lessons


--

Note: I'm aiming to post the next chapter within two weeks but that's not quite fixed. At any rate, I can be sure it'll be up sometime in July.

rhombus

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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2017, 03:37:13 PM »
Ah, now this is quite a wonderful beginning to the tale.  Of particular interest to me is how two very underutilized antagonists in the series (Ichy and Dil) begin to reconsider their options and make a rather logical (if obviously conflict-inducing in the future) move to greener pastures.  The sudden realization of Littlefoot that his grandparents are dead... and then him finding out that was a dream... hints at something more in the future.  It was no coincidence that the quiet he felt in the dream echoed the sense of loss when he lost his mother.  Something tells me that this story will soon see him being forced to confront the past even as the gang confronts the future.

The only real caution that I would recommend here is that it often is jumping the gun to have a life-or-death situation in the first chapter of a story.  There are exceptions, of course, where it works; but in my experience it is often better to save the high drama for later chapters and to have the first chapter merely set the tone for the early story arc.

In any case I look forward to seeing what happens next.  On to chapter 2...


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

ADFan185

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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2017, 03:51:04 PM »
Awesome chapter it's amazing and fantastic great work

Sovereign

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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2017, 10:25:04 AM »
Uhh... alright. The ending certainly created a lot of questions about what is going on. I must say that it came as a surprise even if Ichy's inability to catch Ducky made me wonder a bit. I'm not sure at all what to think but, judging by your story description, this won't be an isolated case. Whether this phenomenon repeats itself with Littlefoot's Grandparents or the Gang, I hope we'll see an explanation sooner or later.

The rest of the chapter was really intense and the two chases were handled very nicely. Maybe the whole Ichy/Dil chase in the two chapters was as a whole a bit long but the way you described the action made up for it. I like Dil's antics and threats in this chapter (especially those to Ducky) as I could imagine him actually being a deadly threat in a dark cave. Also, the Gang's planning was done very nicely and the way you built this whole chapter was very nice and combined the Gang's wit and the villains' true abilities.

As for the ending, the Gang's reactions seemed a bit toned down. For example, "you really are see-through and walking on thin air. You're...dead" wouldn't be the first thing I'd say if I saw a ghost before me. As a whole, I'm not sure at all what to think about the ending. The whole situation was extra weird as was the dialogue. I can appreciate a good ghost story so there is a lot of great potential here for the continuation. This chapter was crafted excellently but the ending... I don't know what to think about it just yet.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2017, 01:42:06 PM »
@rhombus Thank you for the chapter 1 review. Ichy and Dil were fun to write, and their dynamic is why I chose them for the role they'll play. Littlefoot and and the death quiet in his dream wasn't something I considered but that is interesting. His relationship with his grandparents will be important and there will be confrontations about past and futures.

I didn't consider the action beginning on the first chapters might be surprising to some, but the way I plotted the story necessitated it for story and character development. And/or that's the way the domino's fell as I began to write the chapters. I'll see if that works out. There will be less action-packed chapters inter-spaced with the drama-llama's to come.

@ADRFan125 Thank you for the chapter 1 or 2 (or both?) review. I worked really hard on them.

- For those who haven't read chapter 2, don't look under the line if you fear even vague spoilers.
--

@Sovereign Thanks for the chapter 2 review. I'm glad to hear I seem to have handled the chapter well. Transferring the pace of the TV show/movie medium to literature is a challenge, so I'm often unsure if it's too short or drawn out. Which is part of the reason why these two chapters (Which were originally one) are so long. I tend to overextend things and try to give every character their due. Ichy (I think you meant him, with the reference to Ducky and the use of male pronouns) was fun, since he so enjoys playing the Heel with his supposedly self-taught stealth abilities. I'm also glad to hear I've got the gang's cleverness on point.

I've been eagerly awaiting for the reaction to the twist at the end. There was a bit of cackling and steepling of fingers in the week long wait. I hope I foreshadowed that well. I can see how the gang's reaction was a bit toned down. Maybe I could have upped their shock a bit. There'll be answers to the phenomena but not for awhile. Hopefully, I can explain them well.

rhombus

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« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2017, 11:52:56 PM »
Wow.  I must say that I did not see the revelations in the second chapter coming.  The existence of the supernatural has been hinted at previously in the LBT mythos, but the existence of ghosts now makes me wonder who else could be affected by this... after all, the gang is responsible (both directly and indirectly) for the deaths of countless sharpteeth and other antagonists.  And with Littlefoot being lead to the valley by what he interpreted as his mother's ghost... I bet his mind is a very interesting place right now.  This quite possibly explains his somewhat subdued and creeped out reaction.

This was a great chapter.  :) My apologies for the delay in finally reviewing it, but I look forward to seeing where the story develops.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2017, 02:31:48 PM »
Thank you for the review, Rhombus. I hope in retrospect the ghost twist has been foreshadowed well. As I said to the other reviewers, I had been eagerly anticipating the reaction to it. I love playing with the supernatural and fantastic elements. As for where this ghost thing will lead...hopefully the third chapter might answer some questions, in addition to making new ones. I plan to post that chapter within the next couple weeks or so, hopefully before August. Been trying to keep to a better sleep schedule, so the slight tiredness of not completing 8 hours of rest is slowing me down with editing chapters 4 and 5 (Originally one chapter). Hopefully I can get things set and put out more work than at once or twice a month.

I wasn't bothered by the review delay. Read and review when you can.

Hypno

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« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2017, 03:11:45 PM »
Quote from: rhombus,Jul 19 2017 on  10:52 PM
Wow.  I must say that I did not see the revelations in the second chapter coming.  The existence of the supernatural has been hinted at previously in the LBT mythos, but the existence of ghosts now makes me wonder who else could be affected by this... after all, the gang is responsible (both directly and indirectly) for the deaths of countless sharpteeth and other antagonists.  And with Littlefoot being lead to the valley by what he interpreted as his mother's ghost... I bet his mind is a very interesting place right now.  This quite possibly explains his somewhat subdued and creeped out reaction.

This was a great chapter.  :) My apologies for the delay in finally reviewing it, but I look forward to seeing where the story develops.
Some people actually believe that the sharptooth from LBT 6 that appeared near the end of the film is actually the ghost of the Biggest, Meanest, Most Ferocious Sharptooth Ever, summoned by the bad luck.
Formally known as Hypnobrai until Nov 11, 2017.

I'm a big LBT fan and have seen all movies and TV series episodes. I'm currently working on a modern analysis of the deleted scenes in The Land Before Time, as new discoveries have been made in the last few years.
I love sharpteeth, especially the Horned Sharptooth, the Plated Sharptooth/Plates and the original Sharptooth.
I'm an admin on The Land Before Time Wiki, particularly the "Sharptooth admin" I suppose you could say.

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DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2017, 09:30:04 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/3/We-...Hold-On-Forever

Notes:  This one's longer, at under 40 pages. The next two chapters will be posted sometime in August hopefully. Yeah, this'll be monthly. I'll see if that changes in anyway.

--1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

The Analyzer

Chapter 03: Forgotten Lessons


Chomper tried to stand tall. He and his friends were in a cave, being menaced by a bellydragger the size of a sharptooth. He didn’t know how or why they got there, he only knew he had to protect his friends. Despite his fear, he gave a mighty roar and charged in, only for the bellydragger to smack him into a wall. Dazed, Chomper could only watch in horror as the monstrous bellydragger bore down on Littlefoot and the others with its mighty jaws…

He shot up from his sleeping spot, eyes wide, breathing hard. Ruby walked from where she slept, rubbing her eyes.

“Bad sleep story?” she said gently.

Chomper nodded, rubbing at his eyes. “Sorry I woke you.”

“Hey, you didn’t wake me.” Ruby put a supportive hand on his shoulder. “I had some bad sleep stories too. Let’s eat together so we can banish those bad sleep stories together.”

He smiled thankfully at her. Even if he wasn’t having a good morning, at least he had some company.

Chomper and Ruby had breakfast while they walked to meet with Littlefoot and the others. The bright circle was in its early morning shine, bringing out the best of the grub. While Ruby occasionally paused to pluck berries and sweet bubbles, Chomper nosed around for bugs. He snapped up a couple of crawlies, chomped on buzzers before they could ascend too high, and even slurped up a few worms hidden beneath the dirt. The effort required much of his concentration, and was almost fun. He didn’t have much brain space to think about yesterday’s scary adventure. By the time his stomach felt full, Chomper patted it proudly.

“Ah, that was good. Are you full, Ruby?”

“I sure am.” Ruby eyed some of the remaining sweet bubbles speculatively, also in higher sprits. “I sure want to save some of these for lunch, though. They would go well with snapping shells.”

Chomper chuckled. “I wish I can save for lunch too, but my food likes to crawl off.”

“Then we have something sticky that might be helpful for you!”

The pair looked up but several small purple fruits were already sailing toward them, splatting upon their faces. The fruits left behind gooey globs connecting their heads to their arms and shoulders, like thick, colorful versions of spider threads. Chomper and Ruby uttered cries of dismay.

“Hyp, what do you think you’re doing?” Chomper said indignantly.

Hyp, along with his cronies Nod and Mutt, emerged from a set of bushes a bit far off, guffawing.

“Just demonstrating how to use those Tree Sweets.” Hyp said. “You don’t need to look so indignant. You can wrestle out of that goop, can’t you?”

Chomper glared, and wrenched his arms out. That stretched the goop into thin poles but they didn’t break. Some of the fruity remains had got into his mouth and he spat hard, almost gagging from a taste not fit for carnivores.

“Come on, Chomper.” Ruby said. “Let’s find somewhere to wash up.”

Hyp snickered. “Oh, need your nanny to save you? Wimp.”

“Yeah, wimp.” Nod laughed. “He’s not so tough.”

“Who knew there were sharpteeth who could be such little weenies?” Mutt chuckled.

Chomper gave a wounded look. “How can you say that, Mutt? I thought we were friends.”

“Friends?” Mutt repeated. He blinked with confusion. “Uh, when did that happen?”

Ruby smoothly stepped in front of Chomper.

“What are you three trying to accomplish?” she said calmly.

“He’s going to become big and try to eat us someday.” Hyp shrugged innocently. “We must teach him to know his place while we can.”

“Hyp, if he’s going to become as dangerous as you claim, why do you want to give him an excuse to go after you first when he does become big?”

Hyp and his friends’ amused, cocky expressions faltered. There was a long pause in which they appeared unsure and wary of the wisdom of their actions. Then Nod scowled.

“Don’t think you’re smarter than us just because you’re from the Mysterious Beyond,” he said.

Ruby blinked, thrown. “Huh?”

“Yeah,” Hyp said, “just because you have some special knowledge from there doesn’t mean you’re right all the time. Your plans must be imperfect if you still don't know how to deal with that Redclaw yet.”

Ruby winced. “That – that’s not the point. The point is…” But words escaped her as she remembered the close calls of her plan against Dil when Littlefoot’s tail got bitten and the slow underbelly of guilt that she spent many cold times within the Great Valley’s safe walls without finding the secret in this community to taking down Redclaw.

Hyp and his friends’ ugly laughter filled the air.

“See?” Hyp smirked. “You’re knowledge isn’t so special after all, so stop trying to act better than us.”

“Oh, she doesn’t need any special knowledge to be better than you.”

To Chomper and Ruby’s relief, Cera led the rest of the gang through a set of bushes to stand in front of the pair, glaring at Hyp and his posse. The five had apparently grown bored of waiting and went to see what kept up their friends.

“Move along, Hyp.” Cera said. “Isn’t there a rock you should be having a quiz with? Guess not, since the rock would win.”

“Watch it, hatchling.” Hyp growled. “You’re not starting on the right foot with us.”

“You rarely on right foot to begin with.” Petrie said, crossing his arms from his perch on Cera. “You bullies.”

“And we should take you seriously because you’re so well spoken.” Hyp said sarcastically.

“It’s not about speaking, it’s about not being mean.” Ducky said. “And right now, you’re being very mean to Ruby and Chomper, you are.”

“We don’t even meet you guys much, Hyp.” Littlefoot asked. “Why are you so fixed on bothering us?”

Hyp rolled his eyes. “Geez, do we have to go through this again? We’re bigger, we’re smarter, so we have the right to order others around and show them their place. Duh. Isn’t that the natural thing to do?”

“It sounds pointless to me.” Cera said. “Why don’t you go back to kicking around big rocks and other weird games? When you’re doing that, at least you’re stupidly likable.”

Hyp bared his fists. “You’re really asking for a pounding now, threehorn. Are you ready for it?”

“I’m ready if you’re ready for a jab from my horn.” Cera scraped a foot in the grass. “Do you want to risk the scars? I’ve broken many boulders with my horn, so you won’t come out unscathed.”

Hyp rolled his eyes. “Stop bragging. I doubt someone like you can slice me up. Geez, with how much you threehorns bang on about hating sharpteeth, you do like to brag about doing stuff those meat eaters usually do.”

Nod and Mutt laughed, but a few members of the gang couldn’t stop themselves from making a few amused breaths and squeaks. Littlefoot felt guilty that he had to resist the temptation to smile, but he couldn’t deny that Hyp’s observation wasn’t that far off the mark. Glaring at her friends, Cera lowered her head and gave the grass another scrape.

“Well, one thing we threehorns can brag about that we have ourselves is that we have hardy heads,” she said. “I can hit that small noggin of yours pretty hard. Do you want to risk the headache?”

“Oh, I’ll give you a headache.” Hyp said, incensed by the ësmall’ remark. He swung an arm demonstratively. “With a good right hook!”

“You think you can do that much damage?”

 “Yeah, you’ll not be able to think for days!”

“Bring it on, I can’t wait to hear you whimper and cry after I fill your hand with-”

“What is all this racket?”

The children squealed and ducked as several rocks were thrown at them, narrowly missing their heads and arms. A few nicked Hyp’s cheek and arms, causing him to grunt in pain.

“Hey, are you okay Hyp?” Nod asked.

“Don’t baby me.” Hyp said impatiently. “This is far from the worst scratches I – hey!”

A few more rocks came flying in, forcing them to dodge again. An elderly flyer was perched on a tall rock formation not that far off, still holding a handful of stones and glaring angrily with all the years he wore.

“You kids have no respect for the rest your elders need!” The elderly flyer shouted. “For Wing Father’s sake, when it’s morning, you keep your voices down. If you can’t even do that simple courtesy, you’ll face our wrath!”

“Pop it, old man!” Hyp snapped. “What flyer uses the phrase ëWing Father’ anyway? Why should anyone respect such a weirdo?”

“Oh, giving me lip will have consequences, boy!” The elderly flyer said. “I hear you’re scared of flying rocks. Well, here come some more of them!”

The elderly flyer lobbed several more stones at the youths, unconcerned about whether they hit Hyp or not. The children yelped and cried out in dismay as they dodged. Hyp tripped and fell flat on his face while scrambling away. Mutt grabbed his hand to attempt to pull him up but Hyp wrenched his arm out with annoyance.

“Hey, I can get myself up,” he said.

Hyp indeed got himself back on his feet but in the rain of stones, it was hard to stay balanced and uninjured for long. Eventually, they scattered from the area to get out of the line of fire.  Hyp lingered long enough to point angrily at elderly flyer.

“Ah, who cares about a crazy coot anyway? Let’s get out of here, gang!”

Littlefoot and the others eventually regrouped nearby a small pond, panting and sweaty. Littlefoot’s tail tip twitched. Since yesterday, a bit of visible bruising had come in from its encounter with Dil’s jaws. He now examined the tail tip with concern that it got additional damage from the elderly flyer’s onslaught. But he shrugged with relief as he saw no new cuts or bruises. In the chaos, Chomper had almost forgotten how messy he was, but now he looked over himself and grimaced. In addition to the goopy strands being more spread around after running, some pebbles and small rocks have attached themselves to him.

“How am I going to get this stuff off me now?” Chomper muttered.

“We have some water to help wash it off, Chomper.” Ruby said. “Here, let me help.”

Ruby reached out, but Chomper stepped away to dab himself with water.

“I can do some of it myself,” he muttered.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t.” Ruby replied, wilting a bit. She sighed. “I know my suggestions aren’t always good but we are both goopy, so I was suggesting we could become clean together.”

Chomper stopped and gazed at Ruby’s face, wincing guiltily before gently touching her hand. “Sorry.”

Ruby smiled appreciatively. While the pair stood and helped wipe the goop off each other, Littlefoot sat down with the others and sighed.

“What’s with them lately? I thought they really got better this time.”

“Wait, you mean they went back to being mean before?” Chomper asked.
 
“Remember that story about when the Thundering Falls got blocked up?” Littlefoot asked. “Hyp and his gang were bothering us during that time but they became nicer after we unblocked the water and we did our first Time of Great Giving. I thought they learned their lesson but at some point they just went back to their old ways. It’s confusing.”

“It is.” Petrie nodded. “Me thought they really changed after they help us with fast biter eggs, but it not stick either. Me thought when you grow up, you become better person, but it not happening for them.”

“That is strange.” Ruby murmured. “Then again, it isn’t so strange for people to slide back as they grow up.”

“That’s kind of sad.” Ducky said. “I mean, I kind of like them when they aren’t being mean. Right, Spike?”

Spike nodded, looking morose Hyp and his friends couldn’t just kick back and enjoy life in a manner that didn’t hurt anyone but made others happy as well. Chomper also appeared faintly sad, as though letdown that his fledgling friendship with the trio, especially Mutt, didn’t live up to its potential. Cera’s surveyed the depressed reactions from the others and scowled.

“Look, maybe they will change for good, maybe they won’t. I have my bets on won’t. But being moody about it isn’t going to make them turn over a new leaf any faster. Let’s just have some fun today, okay?”

“That right.” Petrie said. “This is job for their parents.”

“And as we learned from Chomper, we’re too young to be parents.” Ducky chuckled. “So what do we play now?”

Chomper and Ruby cleaned up the last of the goop and walked over from the pond, a bit wet but otherwise clean. Chomper actually smiled at Ducky’s silly comment while Ruby considered the question.

“How about something relaxing, like hide and seek?” Ruby said. “Okay, the seeker might not do much relaxing and the hider mightn’t find hiding a relaxing thing to do but after all the running we did yesterday, I think we deserve the break.”

“That sounds good to me.” Cera said.

“Me second it.” Petrie said.

“Eh, eh.” Spike nodded, obviously eager for a game with the thrill of adventure minus all of the dangers that were usually packaged with it.

“I don’t want to be the seeker, here.” Chomper said. “I’m still tired. So who else should play?”

They considered the problem for a second. As one, everyone slowly turned toward Littlefoot with knowing smiles. Littlefoot stepped back.

“You want me to be seeker?” he asked. “But I’m tired too.”

“You’re the one with the clever brain though.” Cera said. “If you’re the seeker, hiding will be a lot more challenging.”

Despite knowing he was being flattered, Littlefoot couldn’t help perking up. “Oh…really.”

“You help us outwit sharpteeth and all sorts of bad guys.” Petrie said. “If you seeker, it be more fun. Scary…but fun.”

“We’d have to find really good hiding places for you to find us.” Ruby said.

“You would have fun too, Littlefoot.” Ducky said. “C’mon, please? Please?”

“Please, please, please?” Chomper said.

The others walked toward him with wide pleading eyes. Littlefoot’s resolve held until Spike gave his shoulder a few expansive licks, and he laughed.

“Alright, alright, I give up,” he chuckled. “You sure know how to flatter. Now I know what Ducky felt when we asked her to lure that sharptooth into the pond.”

“That’s exactly where we got the idea to persuade you.” Ducky teased. “Now go and start counting.”

Littlefoot shook his head but smiled as he turned to press his nose against a tree.

“One treestar, two treestar, three treestar – I don’t hear you running! – four treestar, five treestar…”

He heard the others hastily scramble away, the sound of their footsteps disappearing with the rustle of shrubbery and tumble of pebbles. He was surrounded by nothing but silence in the last ten treestars he counted down yet when he turned around, he was nothing but high spirits.

“Ready or not,” he said with playful menace, “I’m going to find you!”

--

Ducky wasn’t that far away when she heard Littlefoot’s declaration. She stifled her giggles as she patted through bushes, attempting to find an opportune earthy nook or tree cubby to squeeze herself into. She loved the image of Littlefoot walking unsuspectingly by and getting startled by a “boo!” That would be a good laugh for everyone. She was so distracted by her mission, she didn’t notice one of her sisters walking in from the perpendicular direction until she nearly bumped into her.

“Oh, hello.” Ducky said, stepping back. “Nice to see you here. What are you doing?”

“Trying to find berries.” Ducky’s sister replied. Ducky recalled her name was Bitty. “They’re going to be used to teach the younger set how to swim. I can’t wait to be done with this.”

“I know that feeling. Teaching others to swim is fun, but not as much fun as swimming with them without worrying if they flipped in the water or made funny faces because it was fun or because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

There were giggles of agreement and Ducky found her spirits rising. She gave Bitty a considering look. Now that she thought about it, she remembered Bitty was a sibling from the second batch, particularly from her favored speckled egg that got taken by egg stealers and ultimately led them to hatching and becoming friends with Chomper. Ducky had enjoyed being with Bitty and her other new brothers and sisters but at some point she fell out of close contact with them in her many adventures with her friends. For most of the time, Ducky hadn’t thought enough about it to be bothered by this arrangement with her family, simply enjoying the time she had with them. But her memory of her close brush of death with Ichy yesterday and her sad thoughts about the siblings she didn’t get close too rose to prominence in her mind. Suppressing a wince, Ducky shook her head and forced a smile at Bitty.

“Hey, speaking of fun, maybe you can join me and my friends in hide and seek,” she said eagerly. “Littlefoot is the seeker and we look enough alike that we can confuse him. Spike is also playing. It would be fun, it would.”

Some of the energy left Bitty. “Uh, that does sound fun. But…” She hesitated, gazing around, suddenly unable to meet Ducky’s eye. “As I said, we need to teach the younger ones how to swim and that’ll take a while. Not to mention Cen promised to teach me to whistle another funny tune today and I don’t want to break his promise. Sorry.”

In spite of herself, Ducky deflated. “Oh.” A brief second of awkward silence. Then, with an effort of cheer, she added. “Well, it’s okay. Promises are important, so you should keep them with your brothers and sisters, you should, you should. Say hi to them for me. Maybe we can play some other time. You’ll at least have excitement, oh you will.”

Bitty perked up, buoyed by Ducky’s encouragement. “Um…just as long as the only sharptooth that comes around to bring excitement is Chomper,” she said with a giggle. “He’s cute. Anyway, see you!”

Waving, she cheerily bounded off. Ducky watched her leave, feeling an unpleasant stinging in her stomach. It was understandable, she told herself. Bitty and her siblings had their own social lives, of course they wouldn’t be available right off the bat and that didn’t change how they still loved each other. Nevertheless, Bitty’s hesitant reaction when Ducky brought the suggestion up hovered in her mind…

Ducky threw her concentration back to finding a hiding place. She poked around prospective plants, holes, and rocks in the area until she eventually chose a narrow tree with plenty of branches to get a good grip on. That would be a good place to scare Littlefoot, get the jump on him or go “boo,” an undistracted part of her mind thought. She scaled the tree easily, almost like a lizard. It was a good workout, and she was making much progress. She was a swimmer by heart, but spending time with her friends had taught her how to climb with nearly as much skill.

But not perfect skill. She missed her next grab of a branch and shrieked as her balance on a lower tree limb wobbled. Before she could fall, a three-fingered hand grabbed her. With a great amount of effort, Petrie helped tug her up to the branch he was perched on.

“There you go,” he gasped. “That close one. You should be more careful.”
   
“Thank you Petrie.” Ducky said.

She settled beside him. Normally, she would find something to say, especially since she really liked Petrie, but all she could think to do was kick the air distractedly. As the silence stretched on, Petrie glanced at her and fidgeted.

“You know, you not have to climb far. You could sit in leaves on branch above Littlefoot’s head and he won’t see you. Great place to give him a good scare. Me would find it funny.”

“I know,” she said mournfully. “I just kept climbing and before I knew it, I was high up. I wouldn’t think to jump on him now, oh no, no, no.”

Petrie hesitated, facing forward as his eyes darted to her. “Did – did something happen that make you want to be quite high?”

“I met one of my sisters.” Ducky said. “I invited her to join the game, but she was busy.”

“Ah, okay. That too bad but why it make you sad?”

“Because it’s another sign my brothers and sisters don’t seem willing to play with me when I’m with you guys.”

“She say that?” Petrie said, surprised.

“She didn’t say anything,” Ducky sighed, “but she had the same expression my other brothers and sisters get when they do say something about it.”

“Strange.” Petrie murmured. “You all seem to get along. They don’t look like they hate us.”

“It’s not that they hate you guys.” Ducky said quickly. “They admire what we do, they do, they do. And they love being with me and Spike. We talk and play a lot when we’re together. They find Spike so much fun to be with. It’s just… they don’t want to risk joining us just before we get involved in dangers.”

“What? But we don’t get involved in danger that often.” Petrie protested. On further consideration, he sheepishly added. “Well, it sometime feel like we get in danger often…”

Ducky giggled. “Yeah, I feel like that sometimes too,” she sobered up a bit. “But, well, all of that…the caves, the Mysterious Beyond, the sharpteeth…they don’t think they could put up with that stuff. It’s too scary and weird. So to avoid that, they don’t hang out with us.”

“Huh.” Petrie scratched his head. He then admitted. “It is really scary to go on adventures with us. But me brothers and sisters like to talk about adventury things they do with friends after they get back to nest. That not like our adventures but…maybe your brothers and sisters only like to have adventures with friends. ”

“That’s just it.” Ducky waved helplessly. “Many of them have friends but they don’t wander far from home. It’s always me and Spike that run off to be with you guys wherever you go. They don’t always understand why we get involved in weird and dangerous things. Since it can be hard to talk about,” she blew out a breath, “sometimes it feels like my family is only me, Spike, and Mama. I like all of them but I wish they can be closer to us, I do, I do.”

“Oh.” Petrie said. “Me never knew about this. It didn’t seem to bother you before.”

“It actually didn’t.” Ducky admitted. “I thought their refusal to join us was kind of funny at first and it was just silly preferences. But after that sharpbeak nearly got me yesterday, it made me think I really didn’t get to know them.”

“That is sad.” Petrie said comfortingly. “You no need to stay with us all the time. You can have family time too.”

Ducky welled up a smile. “Thank you, Petrie, but…when you have a lot of siblings, you need a lot of time to get to know them and that might mean me and Spike mightn’t be with guys as much. We want to be with both our family and friends, but there isn’t enough time and I don’t want to have to ignore you guys, oh no, no, no.”

“I see.” Petrie said. He considered a thought. “How does Spike feel about this?”

Ducky shrugged, with flickers of fondness. “Oh, you know Spike. It does bother him a bit but he doesn’t linger on his worries, oh no. He uses the time we have our brothers and sisters to play with them to the fullest. He doesn’t much like the dangers we get into either, but he likes adventuring so long as it doesn’t worry Mama too much.”

“Me don’t want to worry Mama much either.” Petrie giggled a bit. Then he calmed and looked down sadly. “And about that ignoring thing. Well…uh…me do not want you or Spike to be away either.”

“Exactly.” Ducky gave another sigh. “Though it might be tough to get closer to them if I do spend more time with them anyway. Not all of them stay with Mama. Many of them stay with Papa. Mama seems sometimes sad that all of us aren’t together but she also seems happy when only a few of my siblings are around. It’s pretty rare when all of my brothers and sisters are together in one place. And whenever the two of us bring up our adventures with you guys, talking can become awkward. I know they all love me and Spike, and we love them, but that they aren’t always interested in what we do…sometimes, family can be confusing. It is, it is.”

“Yeah, it can be.” Petrie then sighed. “Sorry.”

Ducky blinked. “For what?”

“You having hard time with this brothers and sister issue, and me not know what to say to help. Me not doing good job at being friend.”

“Oh, don’t say that Petrie.” Ducky said quickly, putting a companionable arm around him. “You’re being a very good friend, you are. These issues are hard. I don’t expect them to be fixed quickly. Just having someone to talk to about it helps a lot.”

“Oh. Okay, then.” Petrie said. “Me wish me can help you make it right so it won’t make you sad.”

“Don’t worry,” she patted his back. “It’s sad but I can deal with it. I’m sure we’ll find a solution at some point. It just takes time. I can still have fun before it’s solved. I still have a lot of fun with my brothers and sisters and some of the best fun I have is with my friends, yep, yep, yep.”

Petrie cautiously smiled. “Okay. If you sure.”

Ducky leaned against Petrie, already feeling in higher spirits. She hadn’t been lying to Petrie when she said merely talking about the problem made her feel better. As she learned from her tiff with Spike that terrible cold time, just being angry and not directly talking about the problem only made it worse. As she settled, though, she noticed he wasn’t so at ease in ways that couldn’t be attributed to his usual nervous nature.

“Uh Petrie, is something bothering you? Do you want to talk about it. Uh-” Remembering how Cera snapped at her when prodded too many times, Ducky hastened to add. “Not that you need to talk about it, you don’t, but I’ll try to help you like you tried to help me.”  

“It nothing.” Petrie said hastily. He looked down. “Me was just thinking…at least you see them more often.”
   
Ducky glanced at him curiously. “What do you mean? You see your brother and sisters a lot too. Do they still bother you?”

“No, they don’t,” he waved his hands with emphasis. “They not nearly as bad as they used to be. No, this more about-”

Just then a crested flyer sailed by high above, making a beeline for one of the distant Great Wall mountains. He was too far way for Ducky to glimpse particular details but Petrie seemed to recognize him. He jerked and quickly averted his eyes from the sky as the adult flyer disappeared out of sight.

“It about him.” Petrie continued lowly. “Me Papa and Mama.”

“That was your Papa?” Ducky asked, surprised. She eyed the sky, thoughtful. “Huh, I never really heard you talk much about him or even seen him before.”

“That because he isn’t around much.” Petrie sighed. “Well, flyer fathers aren’t around much but...”
   
“They aren’t?” Ducky said, confused. “Wait, I don’t think I’ve seen many flyer mamas and papas together before. What is up with that?”

“From what Mama says, many papa flyers think their only duty is to help make eggs and not get in way of the mamas. They don’t see their duty is to be papa. Some nice about it and some don’t care. Uncle Pterano didn’t like that. He thought papas should be closer to the kids, and help the mamas.” Petrie gave a bit of laugh. “It one of few things he actually wise about. Anyway, Papa not that bad. Me brothers and sisters can visit him a lot and he visits the nest to talk with Mama. He can be nice. But problem he not couple with Mama anymore. They…separated.”

“Separated?” Ducky repeated. “You mean, not together, like Cera’s Dad and Tria or like Littlefoot’s grandparents are together? That separated?”

“Me know, it confusing.” Petrie nodded. “Me can understand a new parent like with Cera, or a missing parent like with Littlefoot but a parent who don’t want to be with other parent...” he shook his head. “They together before we got to valley. He liked us. But Papa and Mama argued a lot, about everything. He wanted me to practice flying more but Mama said some flyers struggle and need another approach, and Papa said it too dangerous to wait for that approach and…you get idea. By time we get to valley, Papa and Mama said they can’t be together no more.”

“I see.” Ducky said. “I don’t know how that feels but my parents aren’t together much, even if they’re still together, and that sometimes makes me sad. That must mean you’re even sadder, but it didn’t sound like it bothered you much before.”

“It didn’t.” Petrie admitted. “Me was a bit sad but shrugged it off, as I had you as good friends. Sometimes brothers and sisters stay with him, or visit, but Mama so nice, me happy to just be with her. But few days ago, Papa stayed with us for long time, laughing and having fun. There some arguing but it still fun. By the time he left, me was sad. When me asked why he can’t stay, she said it wouldn’t be good for anyone.”

“Why wouldn’t it be good for anyone?” Ducky asked curiously. “If it’d make everyone happy, they could try it again, they could.”

“That what me say, but she say there would only be fighting. She try to explain that some couples can’t make up and remain couples but they still seem to get along. Me, you, and our friends fight and make up all the time, so why can’t they? Me wonder what problem that cause them to split, if it have to do with me going missing but-” he waved in frustration.

“What would you going missing have to do with them…?” Ducky trailed off and then covered her mouth, “Oh, Petrie! Do you think it’s your fault?”

Petrie shook his head. “Mama say me going missing only made them realize they can’t work. Even Papa say not to blame myself. But that only more confusing. And all that confusion only remind me...me don’t understand so many things. Me get scared and confused so easily. While on adventures me panic, you guys think of way out of dangers or show they aren’t dangers at all. At home, if something weird or scary happen, me get scared while Mama keeps good head. She make mistakes like other parents but she make lots of smart decisions too, which helps me calm down so much. Me wish not to bother her with my stupid fears and be more like her, but me have hard time, especially with Papa issue. They seem more like bickering friends than couple, and with all of this being too sad and confusing…” he sighed. “This happen two days ago. Me thought that scary ghost thing would make me forget about it, but it won’t go away.”

Ducky stared at him thoughtfully. “Is that why you were so into exploring those caves yesterday? You seemed very interested in it – and tried to give ideas to escape when that sharpbeak found us.”

“Yeah. Me was trying to not think about those problems and show me can have good ideas. It only made things worse though. It might have been better to not say anything at all. Me wish me can be smart and understand things like Mama and everyone does but sometimes I’m scared that’ll never happen.”

“Oh, Petrie, it will.” Ducky said, patting him assuredly. “Don’t put yourself down like that. You had a hard time learning to fly, but you fly so well now. You still get very scared but now you don’t let that stop you from doing very brave things, including save me so many times. You’ll get smarter too. We all will. We’re smarter than we were when we first met, yep, yep, yep, and I’m sure we’ll be smarterer when we grow up. I don’t think you bother your parents as much as you think, but I’m sure one day you’ll understand them and make them happy. Count on it.”

Petrie welled up a smiled. “Thanks, Ducky. Me still not sure but…maybe we can both figure out our family issues.”

“No problem.” Ducky said. “If there’s a way I can help a friend, I’m going to do it, I am, I am. I hope we can find a way to understand our families so we can have them understand our thoughts.”

The pair remained silent for a moment, a bit higher in spirits but wondering how to resolve their problems involving families they so dearly valued. Then there was the distant sound of bushes being rustled and Littlefoot’s voice called out.

“Are you there, Petrie? I know you’re somewhere high, but I’ll find you eventually.”

Petrie gasped but quickly grabbed his beak. Ducky also covered her mouth. They stayed that away until the distant rustling quieted and uncovered their mouths with quiet giggles.

“Me forget we play hide and seek.” Petrie said.

“We better be quiet or we would be founded, yes we will.” Ducky then smiled. “Thanks for listening, Petrie. I do feel much better now, I do, I do.”

“Me too. Talking to someone about problems can make you feel better. Anyway, let remember to play the game.”

With that, Ducky and Petrie waited for Littlefoot to track them down, keeping a close watch of the ground or looking around at the skies, content to be in each other’s presence and enjoy the nice day.

--

“No Spike there. Okay, then. Let’s look for a bush with his teeth marks…”

Littlefoot swept his gaze around speculatively, attempting to see any green that was slightly off from the rest of his surroundings. By some unspoken agreement, the group usually only went so far before finding a hiding place. Not only would it be unfair for the seeker to have to trawl the whole valley for six of their friends, but having to run that far was a bother for the hiders too. Littlefoot had some confidence he could track them down. He vaguely heard the directions their feet disappeared off to and he was sure Spike went this way. Littlefoot’s eyes settled on a big clearing in the distance.

“Maybe he’s somewhere around there.” Littlefoot said.

Littlefoot slinked there, keeping his ears peeled for any telltale chomping of a hungry spiketail. He already decided he didn’t want to be out in the open where Spike could see him, so he searched around the clearing’s edges. He was so focused on his query that he didn’t realize there were people in the clearing until a stern voice came out.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to harass others, Hyp? Do you have any idea how this is making us look?”

Littlefoot froze for a moment and darted behind a particularly thick tree. He had no doubt what the argument was about and he had no intention of inflaming the matter any further by getting spotted by Hyp and his family.

“What – what are you talking about?” Hyp said with a bit of a tremor, intimidated by his father’s tone.

“Don’t play dumb with me!” Hyp’s father snapped. “I heard about it all from that elder flyer Don. He was raving about it even before he landed to tell your mother and I. Bullying children…have you no shame?”

“Why should you believe him?” Hyp said hastily. “He’s old, you know, he might be going senile. Not to mention he likes to say ëWing Father’ all the time. Can you really trust someone weird like that?”

“I don’t care how weird he is.” Hyp’s father retorted. “He might be so curmudgeon he would only speak to us from a distance, but he was put together enough to tell an accurate tale about what you might be up to. Judging by your reaction now, he’s right on the mark. You can’t lie yourself out of trouble, Hyp. Why are you doing this to Littlefoot and those other kids? They have gone through enough without you adding more pain to their lives.”

“I was just having fun.” There was the surly sound of a pebble being kicked. “We only threw goopy Tree Sweets at them. Me and my friends do that sort of stupid stuff all the time. If we really wanted to mess with him, I’d pretend to be a sharptooth and snort up bones in front of him, that squirt really loves sniffing all the time.”

There were a few snorts and intakes of breath, followed by a strangled pause.

“That – that’s not the point.” Hyp’s father replied, voice wavering as though trying not to laugh. He forced anger back into his tone. “What you do with your friends is different from what you do to those kids. They don’t want your pranks. They don’t want your taunts. Yes, Don mentioned the taunts. What you three said to that Chomper child is cruel. I’m disappointed in you, Hyp. Why can’t you be good like the other children?”

“Why do I have to be like the others?” Hyp muttered. “I thought growing up means becoming more of your own boss, but I’m still being bossed around like a baby.”

“Because you’re still acting like a baby.” Hyp’s father growled. “One day, you’ll learn there’s more to being an adult than being your own boss. I – we’re tired of the complaints from the other parents. We didn’t raise you to be this way and if you don’t start changing your tune soon…”
   
The crack of something long and narrow hitting the ground followed, causing Hyp to yelp.

“Don’t make me return to the tail.” Hyp’s father said quietly. “It doesn’t fit this peaceful valley.”

There was a tense, resentful silence. A third person in the clearing gave a worried, soft gasp and Hyp grunted with the quivering tone of someone unexpectedly massaging his back.  

“Listen,” said a strained, concerned voice that must be Hyp’s mother. “We aren’t asking you to change completely. You have positive qualities, ones we love – ones we see your friends adore about you…”

“Sometimes a bit too much.” Hyp grumbled. “They’re been starting to baby me too, asking if I’m okay or trying to help me up.”

“Now that sounds like they want to be better friends to you. They’re growing to care about you.”

“They’re so weird and embarrassed about it, it doesn’t help much. It gets kind of suffocating.”

“Still, isn’t it nice that you’re friends care enough to risk embarrassing themselves to try making you feel better? They could try to, erm, give you more room to breathe,” The voice of Hyp’s mother briefly wavered on the last word, “but at least they don’t sound like they’ll abandon you in distress.

Hyp reluctantly grunted, as though conceding and even finding some solace in her points. Hyp’s mother decided to plow on

“Anyway, you have great positive qualities. Your wit, your energy…even that heart we occasionally get a peak of. We see how it brings joy to you and your friends. Just…leave the kids alone. They don’t bother you, so you don’t have to bother them. Please, consider our words. I don’t know how much more of this we can take.”

Hyp was quiet for a moment. “You’re saying there are parts of me that are bad.”

“Even the best of us have parts of ourselves that are less than favorable.” Hyp’s mother said hastily. “They only need to be tweaked…fixed. Something like that.”

“Fix? Why do I need fixing?” Hyp stamped a foot angrily. “I’m never good enough. There is always something you want tweaked or fixed about me. Why don’t you ask for a different son while you’re at it, for all you’re trying to change me?”

“Asking for you to change doesn’t mean we’re asking for a different son.” Hyp’s father said impatiently. “Don’t try to twist her words, Hyp. You understand exactly what we’re asking and you’re being petulant about a reasonable request.”

“You’re always piling ëreasonable requests’ on me.” Hyp retorted. “When are you going to stop controlling me? It’s like you want me to depend on you two for the rest of your lives. You’re still my parents, but I’m not a hatchling to be ordered around anymore. If you refuse to understand that, then you’re the petulant ones!”

“But you’re not a grownup yet, either.” Hyp’s mother said. “Even then, you have to compromise and-”

“So what? You never have to compromise with me.” After some hesitant silence, there was the grassy rustle of a foot. “Oh, not going to elaborate again? Coward.”

“Watch your mouth.” Hyp’s father growled. “Don’t take another step-”

“What, I can’t even move without your permission? Fine, I’ll be somewhere where you can’t see me move!”

There was the stamping of feet in a westerly direction and Hyp left the clearing, his father’s voice calling after him.
   
“Hyp, where are you going? Come back here this second, I mean it!”

“Oh, give it a rest dear.” Hyp’s mother sighed. “This is just leading to the same ineffective result.”

“It used to lead to the effective result of keeping him in line.” Hyp’s father retorted. Quietly, he added. “Granted, he’s still scared, but he didn’t talk back like that before. He’s getting used to the treatment. I don’t want to be get harder on him but if he continues to bully these kids…”

“We shouldn’t be going harder and harder in the first place.” Hyp’s mother said. “You don’t mean to, dear, but…he interprets your strict concern as domineering, and since that’s most of what he knows, he thinks he should relate to others by dominating them. He – he needs a different approach.”

Hyp’s father grunted. “What approach? I’m not denying a point is there, but if we go the nice route, he’ll only take advantage of us. It’s hard to trust him.”

“I’m not saying we only do the nice route. I’m only…oh, I don’t know. We need some way to teach him where the lessons will stick. I know the current way of doing things is a problem.” There was a sound of frustration. “Oh, but I can’t think of a solution. Just like always.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find a way.” Hyp’s father’s tone turned gentle. “In the meantime, we have to be certain about some things when raising a child. Here, I try to follow my instincts. They tell me where I need to go, and now they say our son needs strict boundaries”

“But instincts can be wrong.” Hyp’s mother said softly. “You can be so certain you’re doing the right thing, and then…I mean, Hyp seems certain about his actions. People have got hurt or worse by thinking they are right. I should know, my instincts nearly made me…” There was a shaky pause, and she rushed on as though to suppress an unpleasant memory. “How do we learn to know what to do so he’ll learn to know what to do?”

Hyp’s father grunted. “If we doubt our certainty too much, we won’t get anywhere. It’s because most of us migrating dinosaurs were so certain as a group that we made it to the Great Valley at all. Those who weren’t…well, they followed Pterano. Anyway, let’s go after Hyp. The lesson mightn’t stick this time, but if we’re consistent with him, then maybe someday he’ll look back on what we did with understanding.”

“I hope we’re consistent on the right things. Oh, parenting is such a challenge…”

With a strained yet concurring sigh, Hyp’s father led his mate out of the clearing. Littlefoot stayed where he was, listening to their footsteps vanish in the same direction as their son’s, absorbing everything he had overheard with a heavy heart.

*I thought Hyp and his parents were getting along better.* Littlefoot thought. *Why are they fighting again?*

With this family conflict on his mind, his enthusiasm for hide and seek waned. He continued searching for his friends but it became little more than rudimentary. He wandered around a collection of boulders and wasn’t watching where he was putting his feet. One foot caught on the edge of an oddly shaped large rock, and he stumbled. The rock yelped.

“Ow! Watch where you’re going?”

Littlefoot swiveled his head and blinked. “Cera?”

“Littlefoot – oh, I was…”

A brown form rose up on legs and turned around, blinking green eyes at him. Cera stood there, slicked from head to toe with mud, agog that Littlefoot had discovered her. He examined her, confused himself.

“Why are you covered in mud?” he asked.

“Um, only because…” Cera averted her gaze. “Tria told me how she disguised herself as a rock with mud during our trips to the mud pool, so I got the idea to try it out myself with a nearby mud pit. I thought it’d be a good way to trick you and…” she looked up. “What are you smiling for?”

“Oh, nothing.” Littlefoot looked away, but his soft smile remained. “I just think it’s nice you’re so close to Tria now. From how you first reacted to her, I wouldn’t have ever thought you’d take up ideas from her.”

“She can have her good ideas.” Cera said defensively. “She says she almost never got found. You have to admit, the idea was impressive. But…” she trailed off, grumbly.

Littlefoot grinned slowly. “But I still found you.”

“What a victory.” Cera rolled her eyes. “The great Littlefoot, clever enough to drown a sharptooth, found me by accident because he didn’t look where he was going. I’d hold back from bragging if I were you.”

Littlefoot laughed. “Alright, you got me there. Let’s go find the others. And while we’re doing that, I’ll tell you what I overheard…”

After Cera washed off the mud, Littlefoot informed her about Hyp’s argument with his parents while they searched for their friends. He began to repeat himself when he found Spike but Cera put her foot down and said she refused to have the tale regurgitated five times in a row, so he was compelled to put the story on hold until he found everyone. That forced Littlefoot to work a bit harder on the game, and he began to track down the rest of the others. It took a few hours, but he at last found Ruby hiding among some vines of sweet bubbles, having already helped herself to some of them. The sight of their normally whimsical but insightful friend tangled in vines and with sweet bubble juice around her beak caused a gale of good-natured laughter. After looking confused a bit, Ruby cottoned on and joined in. After that levity, the gang settled in tired but attentive as they listened to Littlefoot’s story.

By the time Littlefoot had finished, there was a range of reactions, from fascination to confusion to boredom. Littlefoot rolled over and contemplated how to amend his tale.

“I feel kind of sorry for them.” he said. “I mean, they do love each other, but all they seem do is fight, fight, fight. It’d be sad if they’ll always be like that.”

“Come on Littlefoot, we’ve been over this.” Cera replied. “Some people take forever to change and some never do. We don’t need to be everyone’s hero.”

“Besides, I’m sure Hyp’s parents will try to work something out, they will.” Ducky said. “We just need to let them.”

“Not to mention that people can change in strange ways during the Time of Great Growing.” Ruby said. “They don’t always want to go with the ways of their parents and that can make relations to those parents difficult. I’m sure Hyp’s relations with his family will work out before or just as he becomes a grownup, just as it often happens with other people and their parents.”

Littlefoot suppressed a wince. His friends were fortunate. If his grandparents could live on long enough to his first few years of adulthood, it would be a miracle. Even if they did last that long Littlefoot didn’t much like the thought of spending their last years clashing with them over this or that disagreement, making them unhappy and potentially spoiling their bond with him. Quickly, he shoved that thought aside.

“I know. I know all of that. It’s just…” Littlefoot sighed. “It makes me wonder...if Mother was still around, would I fight with her as much. She just accepted everyone stayed with their own kind. If I hung out with you, maybe she wouldn’t like it.”

There was an awkward silence.

“I mean, she can’t be that bad.” Cera said. “She went out of her way to save me. I’m sure she would have been fine with us.”

“She also visit you as ghost.” Petrie said. “If she have problem, she would have said something.”

“Besides, I’m sure you two could have patched things up like me and Spike did during that white sparkly cold time.” Ducky said. “We love each other very much and fixed our problems, we did, we did. You and your mother love each other too, so the same thing would have happened.”

Spike nodded and bayed at Littlefoot, normally laidback eyes filled with the reassurance that came with that difficult experience. Littlefoot smiled, his chest warmly soothed by his friends’ words.

Ruby rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Your grandparents parent you. Don’t you sometimes fight with them?”

“A bit,” Littlefoot admitted, “but they’re so patient it takes the fight out of you. They really try to help me when I have a problem. Even when they’re wrong, I can’t stay mad at them for long. They’re nice and gentle…sometimes even fun,” he smiled softly. “I’m really glad to have them.”

“Good for you.” Cera said. “Some of us have to deal with parents who aren’t so serene.”

“Ooh, that really true for your dad.” Petrie said.

“Budge off! He’s the dad I have,” she sobered up. “You’re also the friends I chose to have. Me and Dad fought about that a lot after we came to the valley. He thought you guys were a bad influence but I didn’t want to stick with only threehorns. You should have heard us shout. But I could out-stubborn him. Eventually, he stopped arguing with me and just accepted I wasn’t going to leave you guys anytime soon.”

“I did notice he went from being interested in protecting you to protecting all of us.” Ducky said.

“He will even protect me.” Chomper said. “And we all know what he thinks of me.”

“Tria doesn’t seem like the arguing type,” Ruby said, “but now I say it, you will say you do argue with her.”

“Not by much.” Cera replied. “We got into tiffs when she tried to help me with my problems in the beginning but that didn’t last long. She really wants to fit in,” she smirked. “She asked for ramming lessons from Dad since she wanted to better protect us. Dad objected but Tria said, ësince I’m going to be part of this family, I might as well prepare for this family’s unique challenges,’ or something like that.”

“She’s got a point, she does.” Ducky said. “We do find ourselves in danger a lot, right Spike.”

Spike nodded, not looking at all pleased that was the case but resigned to that fact. Ducky fidgeted.

“Yep, yep, yep, our mama doesn’t like the danger we get into either,” she said. “She didn’t stop us from going to you guys as much but she always asked about where we got up to and if it was safe. It kind of got annoying, but we understood. It’s stressful enough to look after all our brothers and sisters, without having to worry about some of us getting into extra danger. She still worries but likes we have such good friends.”

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2017, 09:32:53 AM »
2/2

“Uh-huh.” Spike concurred, smiling softly at the thought of Mama Swimmer’s acceptance of their friendship with Littlefoot and the others. He had looked troubled when Ducky explained how their mother worried and that emotion receded but didn’t totally disappear from his eyes.

“Same with my mama.” Petrie said. “She don’t really yell much but she explain how she worry about danger we get up to. She sometime ask me to take break from you guys but me refuse. If you guys get in trouble…but she no do that much anymore. She proud of me and say me blossom when me with you guys. She now argue if me eating right or flying right or other stuff instead. ”

“I don’t know what I’d talk about now with my mommy and daddy,” Chomper chuckled. “I’m sure they’d be very worried if they knew what I got up to with you guys. When I was with them, they sometimes scolded me when I wandered off or did something weird like speak leaf eater with what was supposed to be our food. I think some of my weirdness did bother them. But they were more bothered that my weirdness may get me into trouble someday and they were scared that if I did get into trouble, they might not be able to do anything to protect me…” he trailed off, sad and concerned. “I love them but I hope they know I’m doing okay.”

“Parents do like to argue because they worry.” Ruby said. “I guess arguing is part of being a parent. Most of my arguments with my parents was arguing about where I should or shouldn’t go. I sometimes talk back to them with what I know but they usually talk back with what they know, and since they know more than I know, I usually give in to them. All of this is done out of love, even if it’s an annoying kind of love. I’m sure Hyp’s parents are annoying him because they love him in the same way.”

“Yeah, but even Cera doesn’t argue with her parents that much.” Littlefoot said. “We do get along a lot of the time. Hyp and his parents seem to be arguing a lot of the time. I’m sure they love each other but if there are no positive moments, well…how terrible would it be if one of them died and the last thing they did was argue.”

There was nervous shifting. Many of them imagined the arguments they got into with their guardians and how they would feel if the guardians had dropped dead the next day. Some worried about dying themselves and how their guardians would cope if the last conversation was all negativity. Spike shuddered and gave an upset groan, either concept the worst that could happen to his mother, who already had enough to deal with. Cera shook her head as though throwing off a shiver and sighed expansively.

“Look, he’s a creep but we won’t let him die if we can help it, and neither would his parents. It’s as Ruby said, they’ll manage to get along with him at some point. I mean, my dad and your grandpa get along better now and they used to be at each other’s throats. It’s not going be all doom and gloom as you imply it to be.”

“I know.” Littlefoot admitted. “Still, I know not everyone ends happily…”

“Hey,” Cera nudged closer and met his eyes encouragingly, “even after everything we’ve went through, you’re happy now right?”

Littlefoot thought about it, and slowly smiled. “You’re right. I hope things will work out.”

“They will, they will, you’ll see.” Ducky said. She looked up at the sky, noting the sun’s early afternoon position. “Anyway, it looks like it’s time for our trip home now. It’s been a bit sad, with this Hyp talk and other stuff but,” she smiled, “we had a lot of fun today, we did, we did. Let’s remember that so our parents don’t see us coming back depressed, okay?”

“Even if depressing thing is something worrying like ghosts?” Petrie asked.

They all faltered, eyes lowering to rove the grass. After escaping that cave, the gang didn’t know what to make of the impossible adventure they had been a part of. As they ate to restore much spent energy, they decided with only a few mumbled words to not talk about it and resume (albeit far more sedate) playing for the rest of the day. There had been so much fear and sadness during those claustrophobic-filled hours, they had to occupy themselves with joy and silliness to balance it out. They even didn’t want to tackle it today, after the nightmares and disturbed rest originating from that experience. However, what happened in those caves were too monumental for them to ignore and it was clear they had to discuss it.

“Should we tell them about it?” Littlefoot asked. “The ghost. I mean, that’s a big thing.”

“Of course not.” Cera said. “I mean, who really believes ghosts exist? They’ll just think we’re having a laugh.”

“They might want to know about the bellydragger and sharpbeak that nearly got into the valley.” Ducky said. “The bellydragger might come back, she might.”

“And sharpbeak might make up with bellydragger and help her or any other meat eater.” Petrie said nervously. “He ghost, he could stick around. He can no hurt anyone now but he can help people that hurt us. Should we talk about that?”

“Maybe.” Ruby said dubiously. “But who says a ghost can stick around? From how the sharpbeak talked, he thought this was the end for him. That could be because there are things you can’t do as a ghost you can do in a body but it might be because he knew in some way he’ll fade away. He was still a ghost when only the bellydragger could, erm, technically see him and he believed he was still alive. Maybe you and your friend thinking you’re alive keeps you there, but when you and your friend find out you’re not alive, that leaves you no choice but to fade away.”

Chomper nodded. “That makes sense. Uh, as much as ghosts can make sense. If you’re a ghost and can stick around, why do you need to be invisible and think you’re not dead?”

“I think the bellydragger could still return.” Ducky said. “We just shouldn’t mention the ghost part, oh no, no, no. Uh, we might need to mention the bellydragger’s blind as a way to stop her, so we can’t leave the sharpbeak out entirely…”

“We could say we couldn’t see the sharpbeak because the caves were dark and his attempt to get us killed him, causing the bellydragger to leave.” Littlefoot said slowly. “But then they’d worry about us for some other reason. Besides, without the sharpbeak…I don’t think the bellydragger is coming back. I don’t believe she wants to return to the place where she learned she killed her friend. Even if she did, she is too blind to find her way back and navigate those tunnels. We blocked the only known route to the surface, so she’d starve before she’d find a way out.”

“So that’s one problem likely down.” Ruby said. “But there is still the problem of what the appearance of a ghost likely means.”

“How do we know it means anything?” Cera said impatiently. “For all we know, it could be some kind of fluke. Random, weird things happen in the world all the time. It doesn’t mean there’s a pattern to worry about.”

“Littlefoot’s mother did appear to him as a spirit.” Chomper said thoughtfully. “It wasn’t random, but I never heard about it happening before.”

“That is true.” Littlefoot said reluctantly. “Still…”

“Hey, if we insist that we saw ghosts, our parents will think something’s wrong with our brains.” Cera said. “That’ll give them something else to worry about, and we’d probably won’t be allowed to go anywhere until they’re sure we’re alright,” she gave them a sharp look. “They’re not going to believe us unless they see a ghost personally, so we shouldn’t even bother. You know there’s a reason why we didn’t bring up Chomper to our parents until we were forced to when he and Ruby appeared.”

“If we did bring it up, it might have been easier for them to settle here.” Littlefoot then sighed. ”But I guess you’re right. We have only our word, and we don’t know what the ghost appearance means. It might be best not to bring it up so we don’t worry our folks. Not to mention they won’t be happy that we got ourselves into danger again.”

“That’s an understatement.” Cera snorted. “They won’t even be happy we drove those two predators off.”

“Yeah, they say they would have starved in caves anyway.” Petrie said. “Well, they might have but…”

“It might be best not to get in trouble at all.” Ducky said. “Besides, I’d prefer our folks only worry about ordinary stuff rather than freaky stuff, I do, I do.”

Spike nodded, becoming pensive at the thought of what their parents might be like if they knew what they were up to.

“So we all seem to be in agreement, then. We won’t tell our folks about this.” Littlefoot said. Then he sighed. “That is for the best, I guess. Hopefully, we can hide this well, and they won’t then worry we’re up to something.”

“Chomper and my folks aren’t here to be worried,” Ruby said. “So we don’t have to worry about worrying them, until we are with them at least.”

“Yeah.” Chomper said. “I can imagine how much my parents would freak if they found out what happened.”

“Probably not as much as Tria and especially Dad would.” Cera said wryly.

“I don’t know, Cera.” Chomper replied, with a flicker of a grin. “After being around your parents for this long, I can say my parents would join your dad in scolding us. They can be pretty harsh.”

Cera rolled her eyes. “Now you’re sounding like Hyp,” she then snorted, amused. “Still, that’s a good one. My dad, teaming up with your parents. I almost want to tell him that, to see how he reacts to being told he has things in common with sharpteeth.”

The others laughed. The mental image of Mr. Threehorn sputtering in baffled annoyance at the comparison was very amusing. It was the welcome levity they needed. With laughter and good spirits back in place, Littlefoot and the others began their journey home. They didn’t get far, though. A set of bushes rustled ahead and Nod and Mutt walked out, glancing around anxiously. Both groups stopped dead upon setting eyes on each other.
 
“Oh. It’s you guys.” Mutt said.

“Going to start something about it?” Cera said.

The two groups glared, body language tense. After several seconds, Nod was the first to break eye contact.

“Not now. We’re kind of busy.”

“We’re looking for Hyp.” Mutt elaborated.

“Oh, I heard him arguing with his parents in that clearing a bit far back.” Littlefoot said. “He ran off in the direction where the bright circle sets, though I don’t know where he is now exactly.”

For some reason, Nod widened an eye quizzically at Littlefoot’s answer, but only grumbled. “Well, that ain’t much help.”

“He’s arguing with his dad again?” Mutt mumbled. “I hope he’s okay.”

“You hope?” Littlefoot repeated, tilting his head to the pair. His eyes became both sad and relieved. “So, at least you two care about Hyp.”

Nod squirmed uncomfortably. “Hey, care mightn’t be the right word…”

“Ooh.” Cera slowly smirked. “Do you two just so happen to love Hyp?”

“They love Hyp, they love Hyp!” Petrie sing-songed.

Ducky giggled. “I think that’s very cute, I do, I do.”

Littlefoot and the others laughed teasingly at Mutt and Nod, who were trying to force down their blushes and not look mortified. Nod shook his head.

“Oh, come on Mutt,” he said. “We aren’t going to find out what happened with Hyp by standing here, that’s for sure.”

And the pair walked passed, resolutely ignoring Littlefoot and the others. Calming down from the laughter, Littlefoot thought to shake his head and move on when a voice called out.

“Why are you guys such jerks again?”

The pair turned back at Cera’s question. She stared at them seriously.

“Seriously, you were alright after the first Time of Great Giving and in that fast biter egg adventure Littlefoot told me about. You seemed on your way to becoming better people. I don’t care that much that didn’t pan out but my friends are saps and it really upsets them. So tell us – why go back?”

The gang surveyed Cera, in turn surprised and touched. Mutt and Nod stared at Cera with blank bemusement, as though she grew a second head.

“What are you on about?” Nod said. “I don’t remember us being chummy during those times.”

Mutt nodded rapidly. “And if we were, it was probably because it would get us out of dying. You seem to be experts in that.”

“I don’t believe it.” Chomper said fiercely. “You were really nice and friendly to us after that egg adventure, all of you. There was nothing fake about it.”

“And there nothing fake about how you acted after you helped us free the Thundering Falls.” Petrie said. “Me start to actually like you guys.”

“We don’t remember anything about becoming softies to you lot.” Nod said shortly. “Stop confusing us.”

“Yeah, if I want mind teases, Hyp would come up with one.” Mutt said.

“Why are you guys friends with Hyp anyway?” Ruby said. “He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would be friendly to you.”

Nod and Mutt glanced at one another as they considered this inquiry.

“Well, he’s exciting.” Mutt shrugged. “I never know what we’re going to do next with him. We might kick around a rock or mess with you guys in funny ways. It might hurt sometimes, but I don’t care. He also makes me laugh.”

“Me too.” Nod agreed. “We share the same rough sense of humor. It’s great.”

Mutt nodded distantly. “He makes the funnier jokes, though.”

“Yeah…wait, no!” Nod then glared. “I make great jokes too.”

“Well, they’re okay.” Mutt said distractedly. “They’re just not the Hyp kind of okay.”

Nod grounded his teeth. “Well, you’re no better. You barely keep up with agreeing with us.”

Mutt stiffened. “At least I don’t say whatever he says like a talkback.”

“You want to make a fight about it?”

“Yeah, maybe I will!”

The pair brought their heads close together and growled under their breath. Littlefoot and the others decided Nod and Mutt were no longer in the mood to talk further and slinked off before they became the victims of misdirected anger.

“I don’t know about you, but I have had enough drama for one day.” Cera muttered.

“Agreed.” Chomper paused. “Thanks, Cera.”

“For what?” Cera asked.

“For standing up for us, and asking what happened.” Chomper said.

“Yeah.” Littlefoot said. “We know you don’t care that much about them, so we appreciate it.”

“Hmpth.” Cera looked away, a bit pleased. “Well, they had it coming. I don’t like people messing with my friends,” she smirked, “not least because the only person who can mess with you guys is me.”

The others laughed, and Chomper shook his head fondly.

“And I have a lot of experience with that,” he said.

Ducky giggled. “We all do, yep, yep, yep.”

“It is what make you you. Sometimes, you make it fun.” Petrie chuckled. He spread his wings out. “Anyway, see you later. Hopefully, we have more fun then.”
   
“Yeah, I’ll try not to bring up anything too depressing.” Littlefoot said. “Bye!”

They bade farewell to each other and went their separate ways to their homes. Littlefoot walked slowly, mind going back to Hyp and his posse’s reversion. Something didn’t settle right about Hyp’s family argument and that recent talk with Nod and Mutt. They clearly remembered going through freeing the Thundering Falls and moving the fast biter eggs from the valley. It would be one thing if they dismissed the lessons they learned from those adventures but to have no recollection of those lessons just didn’t seem to fit with any sort of backsliding…

The topic receded from his thoughts somewhat when he finally came upon his grandparents eating from a tall tree. His spirits lifted to see they appeared to be enjoying their meal and that their postures were relaxed as they easily ripped treestars from the branches. Good, he thought. They were as healthy as always.

“Hello, Littlefoot. Have you had a fun with your friends?” Grandpa Longneck said. “I hope that tail injury didn’t get in the way.”

Littlefoot rolled his eyes fondly. “I told you, it was fine. The rocks from the Great Wall didn’t hit the tip that hard.” He waved his tail about for illustration. “See? It still moves like normal. I barely feel any pain now and that’ll be gone by tomorrow. Nothing to worry about.”

“Alright, alright.” Grandpa Longneck chuckled. “Still, you can’t blame us for being concerned about every scrape and bruise you get. It’s a parent thing. So, what games did you play?”

“Oh, hide and seek.” Littlefoot replied. “It was tiring, but finding out the silly ways my friends hid make it all worth it in the end.”

“That sounds very entertaining.” Grandma Longneck said. “I wish we could have joined in but when you grow to a certain size, it’s kind of hard to find a hiding place where some part of you isn’t sticking out.”

Grandpa Longneck smiled. “Oh I don’t know, Grandma. I managed to hide just fine from a sharptooth during that Bron rescue escapade. We still have it in us, we just need to try more. It certainly would be useful in evading Mr. Threehorn when he’s in one of his moods.”

In spite of himself, Littlefoot laughed. Grandma Longneck tried to look disapproving but her lips twitched and she too was soon chuckling. Grandpa Longneck’s gentle laughter joined in.

“If the opportunity presents itself, let’s not make it too obvious.” Grandma Longneck said when she calmed down. “That would only drive up his temper even more.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep that in mind.” Grandpa Longneck replied. He smiled at Littlefoot. “Perhaps we might join you in one of these games after all. It’s not too excruciating to hide.”

“It is excruciating to find people.” Littlefoot then said eagerly. “I’d love for you two to join though. It sounds like fun! I’ll bring it up to the others later. I’m sure they won’t mind, but they might find it a bit weird. Not all parents are willing to do that…”

Littlefoot fell into a sad silence. His grandparents looked at each other and brought their heads closer to him.

“Did something happen today?” Grandma Longneck asked.

“I overheard Hyp arguing with his parents.” His grandparents stirred at the last word, but Littlefoot continued. “They were angry at him for bullying us again. When they tried to press him to change, Hyp ran away,” he sighed. “They don’t seem like a happy family.”

“Many families try to be.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Hyp is a difficult child. It can be hard to know what to do as a parent, so arguments can be frequent. I’m sure there is love but they might find it hard to communicate. They will probably settle it sooner or later…it just needs time.”

“I know. It’s just…what if Mother and I were always arguing like that? If the last thing we said to each other before she died was something terrible, I would feel horrible forever.”

“Oh, Littlefoot.” Grandma Longneck sighed. “If that happened, we hope you would learn to forgive yourself. Your mother wouldn’t want you to carry that pain for the rest of your life. It’s sweet you sympathize with Hyp despite what he does but you have to trust things will get better.”

“In our first several interactions with Mr. Threehorn, you probably thought we would never get along.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Now…we still argue, but we cooperate much better. The same will happen with Hyp. You have seen the potential he and his friends have. It will stick someday.”

“If you say so.” Littlefoot said. He smiled wryly. “I bet that’s what his mother and father say to themselves every day when dealing with him. Being a parent sounds hard.”

His grandpa and grandma gained odd, confused expressions.

“Did you just say…his mother and father?” Grandma Longneck said slowly.

“Um, yeah.” Littlefoot replied, bemused. “That’s why I said parents earlier, as in more than one. His father wanted to be strict with him and his mother wanted to take another route. It sounded like they argued about that a lot.”

“That can’t be.” Grandpa Longneck murmured. “She – she really has come back?”

“Hyp’s mother?” Littlefoot was bemused. “I didn’t know she ever left.”

His grandparents began to look uncomfortable.

“It’s as you say, parenting can be hard.” Grandma Longneck said. “Many never know of the challenges until they face them. While we journeyed to the Great Valley, Hyp’s mother was one of the greater examples of this. Whenever we heard from that family, there was always shouting, always a disagreement. Hyp’s father would discipline him – occasionally in ways we didn’t approve of but we didn’t feel it appropriate to intrude – and Hyp’s mother would object, and try to think of another way to parent Hyp.”

“But he didn’t always listen to her either.” Grandpa Longneck sighed.  “She could see a problem but had trouble coming up with a solution, especially when under pressure. The stress of arguing with her mate and son was straining for her. Still, she tried to remain faithful. She loved them and tried to stick by them. In the end, though, she found the stress too much. After one argument too many, she walked away from them and left the herd.”

“Wait, you mean she left her mate and Hyp?” Littlefoot said, eyes wide. “She left being a parent? I mean, I hear that can happen but – really?”

“Unfortunately.” Grandpa Longneck replied. “In a better world, she would get the support she needed and learn how to adapt to the stresses of relationships and motherhood. But they didn’t want much help. She was quite lost and wanted a way out. Hyp and his father seemed saddened and guilty over what happened but Hyp’s father put on a stiff upper lip and Hyp covered up his feelings by resenting her.”

“She wanted to start over.” Grandma Longneck said. “We advised her against separating from the herd. There was plenty of room in the Great Valley to give herself space. But she felt even living in the same place as Hyp and her mate would remind all of them too much of the pain of her failures. She thought if she could cut off all contact, she could really think clearly, figure out who she was and what to do next. If she’s become comfortable enough with herself to come back, that is good news indeed except…”

“What?” Littlefoot asked. “What’s so bad about her coming back?”

“It’s nothing bad, just peculiar…” Grandpa Longneck frowned. “An unsettling rumor floated about for a while that someone resembling her had washed up from a river. When they shook her, she never woke up.”

“You mean she’s dead? No, that can’t be true, I definitely heard her voice and I – I …”

Littlefoot trailed off and his grandparents glanced at him, confused. Color slowly drained from his face as his mind made two connections: one, Hyp’s mother’s mention of what her instincts nearly made her do and the news she left her family; two, her nervousness around the mention of breathing and the rumor of her drowning. Littlefoot remembered how Nod also reacted oddly when the former brought up Hyp’s parents in the plural sense. And there was one other detail, previously unnoticed but now very important…

“I only heard her voice,” he said quietly.

“Is something the matter, Littlefoot?” Grandpa Longneck asked.

“Nothing. It’s nothing,” Littlefoot said, as though his voice belonged to someone else. He staggered back slowly.  “I just…need to go…right now. I won’t be long.”

Littlefoot turned and ran, not hearing his grandparents call his name. There was a rushing sound in his ears. This can’t be real, Littlefoot thought. There must be some mistake, some misunderstanding. But even if there was some chance this might be true...he had to find out. He charted a course to the west, the direction he heard Hyp and his parents went, hoping they didn’t radically change course and that he could run across them before anything significant happened.

He slowed in an open area dotted with trees and bushes where several dinosaurs were eating and relaxing. Panting, he swept his gaze about, on the lookout for anyone who was grey and bipedal.

“Where. Where are they?”

As he moved at an urgent pat, a few voices to his left started becoming tangible.

“…maybe I went too far with that ëcoward’ remark.” Hyp’s voice mumbled, reluctantly but some genuine regret escaping through. “I…apologize.”

“That’s okay, Hyp.” Hyp’s mother replied comfortingly. “We remember how trying being your age was. That’s normal. The thing to do is to improve from your mistakes, and I’m glad you just tried to do that.”

Littlefoot swiveled his head to see a small clump of bushes not far off, a bit packed together but not enough that he didn’t see the wave of a grey tail. Littlefoot moved quickly, sliding through the bushes quietly enough that he got a second’s glimpse of Hyp hesitantly smiling with tentative warmth to his left. Then Hyp looked around when Littlefoot came in, and the former’s expression crumpled.

“Oh, it’s you.” Hyp said miserably. “What do you want?”

“Don’t be rude, Hyp.” Hyp’s father said sternly. “Don’t you have something to say to Littlefoot?”

Hyp glared behind himself before he reluctantly straightened from where he slumped next his parents and walked over to Littlefoot. Hyp struggled to keep eye contact.

“Sorry…about this morning,” he muttered.

“There Hyp. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

There was a patting sound and Hyp flinched, grunting with the quivering tone Littlefoot now recognized as coming from an unexpected cold tough. Nevertheless, he relaxed like under the comforting contact of his mother, much of his resentment draining away. Nervously, Littlefoot’s eyes flicked over Hyp’s shoulder. On one side, Hyp’s father stood, arms crossed, expression grimly satisfied. The voice of Hyp’s mother came from the other side and Littlefoot carefully looked in that direction.

There was no one there.

“We’re sorry for the trouble our son caused.” The voice of Hyp’s mother continued. “We had been talking to him about that when he ran off.”

“But he has run off enough times that we know how to track him down.” Hyp’s father said. “We’ll try to make sure he doesn’t harass you children again.”

Littlefoot didn’t respond. He simply stared at the empty spot where Hyp’s mother was speaking, attempting to align what his ears were picking up with what his eyes were seeing. The silence caused Hyp to fidget.

“So what did you come here for?” Hyp said. “Were you going to squeal on me, or something?”

Hyp’s father gave him a warning look but as the silence stretched on, even he was becoming concerned. He glanced at where Hyp’s mother stood and back to Littlefoot.

“Is something the matter, Littlefoot?” Hyp’s father asked.

Littlefoot stirred. He took in Hyp, who had relaxed from his mother’s touch. Littlefoot saw how comfortable Hyp’s father was next to his mate. Unbidden, a memory rose of the horrified, heartbroken screams of two predators as they learned of an irreversible, awful truth.

“No. Nothing’s wrong.” Littlefoot found himself saying. “I was just worried about Hyp and wanted to make sure he was alright.”

Hyp gave him a confused, suspicious look. Littlefoot tried not to react. There was an appreciative sound.  

“That’s sweet of you, Littlefoot.” Hyp’s mother’s said. “Fortunately, we have reached an understanding here.”

“We have everything under control.” Hyp’s father said. “Thank you for your concern. Is there anything else you want to say?”

“Nothing.” Littlefoot said. “Only…you’re fortunate to have each other. I’ll be on my way.”

Littlefoot turned to leave before they had a chance to react. It was better this way, he thought. This was a second chance for them. With her back in the picture, maybe the three could work through their issues. Hyp’s mother could become a parent who had a better idea of what to do. Hyp’s father could learn to be gentler with those he loves. And Hyp could let go of his resentments and become the happy, cheeky person Littlefoot had caught glimpses of. So what if one of their own was a ghost? If it meant that they would become a happy family, Littlefoot would keep their secret forever if he had to…

Littlefoot didn’t take more than a few steps when he looked up and, with a thrill of shock, jerked to a stop. His grandparents were in front of him, surveying him and Hyp’s family with great concern.

“Hello there, Grandpa and Grandma Longneck.” Hyp’s father greeted. “What brings you here?”

“Littlefoot suddenly ran off after expressing some concern for your family.” Grandpa Longneck replied. “It was very odd, so we decided to follow to make sure he was okay.”

*Oh, no.* Littlefoot thought. In his panic over the revelation Hyp’s mother could be a ghost, he hadn’t considered how concerning his visible shock and abrupt departure would be to his grandparents. Finding them here in front of Hyp’s family was the last thing he expected, or needed in this delicate situation.

“And I’m okay.” Littlefoot said quickly. “Anyway, we shouldn’t bother them. Let’s go home, Grandpa, Grandma.”

Littlefoot made the air of walking away but Grandpa and Grandma Longneck stayed where they were, their eyes searching the small enclosure Hyp’s family was in.

“I hope we aren’t being intrusive but we thought we heard wonderful news for your family.” Grandma Longneck said delicately. “Has…Hyp’s mother really returned?”

“Returned?” Hyp’s father repeated. “She has been here for a long time.”

“Oh, so we missed her reappearance.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Perfectly understandable. Where is she now, though? If she is willing, we want to become reacquainted with her. It’s been a while since we talked.”

Hyp and his father stared at Grandpa and Grandma Longneck in confusion. The voice of Hyp’s mother hesitantly spoke.

“Um, I don’t believe it has been that long since we talked.”

 Littlefoot’s grandparents gazed in the voice’s direction and only found empty air. Their gazes searched the nearby foliage.

“Oh, is that you?” Grandma Longneck asked. “Well, it has been a long time from our point of view.”

“Where are you?” Grandpa Longneck said. “May you come out where we can see you?”

Feeling a bit panicked, wanting to rectify this terrible mistake he made, Littlefoot walked over and nudged his grandfather’s leg urgently.

“Let’s go!” he said. “The bright circle will be down any time now.”

“Why are you in such a hurry to leave, Littlefoot?” Grandma Longneck said distractedly. “Grandpa’s right. Come, now. You don’t need to hide from us.”

“But…I’m not hiding.” Hyp’s mother said. “I’m standing over here.”

“If you’re not hiding, I’d hate to see you actually be stealthy.” Grandma Longneck replied. “Seriously, you can come out now.”

“Is your sight going or something?” Hyp demanded. “She’s standing right over there, next to Dad!”

He gesticulated to a spot of grass not that far from his father, appearing stunned he had to point this out. For several seconds, Littlefoot guiltily hoped that his grandparents might think their sight really was going or that Hyp’s mother was still hiding for some reason and take themselves elsewhere. But Grandpa and Grandma Longneck surveyed the spot Hyp indicated with increasingly baffled expression before they shook their heads.

“I’m sorry.” Grandpa Longneck said. “I don’t know what you’re seeing but…no one’s there.”

Hyp and his parents were quiet for several moments.

“This isn’t very funny.” Hyp’s mother said, confused and nervous. ”Stop this joke. It’s cruel.”

“I thought you two wouldn’t lower yourselves to such humor.” Hyp’s father growled. “Pretending someone isn’t there – for shame!”

“We’re not being funny.” Grandma Longneck insisted. “She isn’t where you say she is.”

“If she isn’t, why can you hear her voice from there?” Hyp asked.

“I don’t know.” Grandpa Longneck replied. “This is quite peculiar. Littlefoot, can you see her?”

“I…” Littlefoot couldn’t say another word. He very much wanted to lie, for Hyp and his family’s sake, but he felt sick at the thought of making his grandparents question their reality to accomplish this. He settled for shaking his head helplessly. “Don’t make me say anything. Please.”

“Why aren’t you giving a straight answer?” Hyp snapped. “You’re upsetting Mom! Look!”

He went over and made as though to throw a supportive arm around someone’s back but he overbalanced and fell down. There was a shriek.

“Son! You – you went through me! How-”

Hyp’s father stared. “That can’t be possible. Unless – it can’t be. It – argh!”

Hyp and his father gasped, and gripped their heads. They groaned, pressing their temples hard but it didn’t appear to ease the pain that was going through them. There was the sound of hasty footsteps.

“My goodness, are you alright? Please, hang on. I’m sure you’ll be able to get over-”

The headaches for Hyp and his father seemed to ease and they gradually straightened, eyes wide with a strange emotion. Hyp’s mother abruptly quieted.

“I remember.” Hyp’s father said slowly. “Oh no, I remember. You were…you were never here, dear. As much as it pains me, you left us before we reached the valley.”

“Wh-what are you talking about?” Hyp’s mother said tremulously. “I was here, I was always here. No. Don’t do this to me too.”

“But it’s true.” Hyp said, with an increasing mix of confusion and resentment. “You abandoned us. It’s just been me and Dad in the valley for the longest time. We never knew what happened to you. But if I could go through you, that means you’re a-”

Hyp jerked away and toppled off his feet, crawling backwards in fright. There were gasps from above and Littlefoot’s grandparents’ stepped back in shock.

“I see her now.” Grandpa Longneck breathed. “Only – this shouldn’t be possible.”

Littlefoot turned and his heart sank as he saw the same thing. Hyp’s mother was present, stress having stretched an otherwise gentle face. Littlefoot could see some of Hyp’s traits in her eyes and the way she moved. Currently, she appeared a pitiable mix of lost and cornered. She met some of their shocked and confused gazes and looked down on herself. She screamed out. She was transparent and the bushes and trees behind her could be seen as though through thin mist.

“I’m see-through.” Hyp’s mother said. “That means – not that! No, no, no!”

Losing herself in her grief, she staggered out of the small clearing as though she could deny the truth by running away. That wasn’t going to work. Her heart-wrenched sobs attracted the attention of everyone nearby and several gave a double-take at the transparent figure moving before their eyes.

“Are – are my eyes playing tricks on me?” Mr. Clubtail exclaimed. “That’s – that’s a ghost!”

“No, it can’t be,” said a female spiketail, stepping back.

“That’s impossible,” said a duckbill. “What’s going on here?”

The calls of dismay attracted more attention, and those who walked over to see what the fuss was about also gasped and gawked, loud expressions of shock filling the air. Littlefoot watched all of this with shame and horror. This was the worst possible conclusion that could happen. He didn’t want Hyp’s mother exposed but not only had the truth got out but she has become the object of horrified curiosity. Could this situation get any worse?

A second later, he cursed himself for even thinking that question.

“Hey, I see Hyp in those bushes!”

Nod and Mutt were advancing into view from the same direction Littlefoot had arrived. They have been walking around uncertainly, searching for their friend before Nod glanced to the left and spotted Hyp. Mutt looked around, lost for several seconds, before following Nod’s eye line and seeing him.

“Oh right, there he is.” Mutt said. “Hey, Hyp! What are you doing in the bushes? Me and Nod were looking for you and – what is that?!”

The pair jerked to a stop, catching sight of the transparent figure of Hyp’s mother. Several figures had gathered closer to watch, but not enough that Nod and Mutt couldn’t see what was going on.

“That – that’s a ghost.” Mutt stuttered. He rubbed his eyes. “I must be seeing things – but I’m still seeing a ghost standing over there.”

“That’s Hyp’s mom.” Nod said faintly. “I thought she ran away from the herd on her way to the valley. If she’s see-through…then that must mean – oh no, this is super messed up.”

Automatically, they glanced over at Hyp, understanding what this must mean for their friend. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck were unwaveringly watching Hyp’s mother with incomprehension and horror – horror at the unthinkable situation they were witnessing but there was another kind of horror dawning in their eyes, the terrible realization of what they started. They looked sharply at Littlefoot, who didn’t meet their eyes, head lowered in defeat and shame.  A crowd had gathered around Hyp’s mother, who surveyed them with a matching terror, her arms around her head as though she might dissuade others from watching by simply concealing her identity.

“Leave me alone!” Hyp’s mother said. “Stop staring at me!”

“You heard her! She’s not some shiny rock. Get back!”

Hyp’s father sprinted in and stood in front of her protectively, glaring at anyone who got too close. He turned to put a comforting hand on her shoulder only for it to phase through. He froze and something in him seemed to crack but he when he spoke, it was with a clear voice.

“I should have known something was amiss when you weren’t active in the memories I had.” Hyp’s father said. “You usually make your disapproval known at least with an expression. I don’t know how this happened but…”

“I don’t know either.” Hyp’s mother said. “The last thing I remember, I…got ambushed by fast biters. They chased me and the only thing I could think of to get away was to jump into a river. Except it was fast water and I never was good at swimming. I tried to stay afloat but I slipped down and swallowed more and more water until – nothing. The next thing I know, it was like I was always here,” she looked at him plaintively. “Why’s that not true? I shouldn’t have left, I should have tried to make up for my weakness in the valley but now I see that never happened.”

“Don’t put all the blame on yourself.” Hyp’s father replied. “I shouldn’t have argued with you so much. A part of me could see your points that being harsh to Hyp only went so far but since you couldn’t think of other solutions, I thought it was better to stay with the best strategy we had. Out there on that harsh journey to the valley, I felt if the only choices were between hurt feelings and being dead, then I’d choose the first the whole way. I didn’t consider the emotional toll our arguing was having on you important. If I did, if I listened and worked with you to parent in a better way, then I wouldn’t have drove you -” he sighed. “What’s done is done. At – at least we can talk now.”

Hyp’s mother touched his arm, phantom fingers tracing through the skin with both guilt and silent appreciation.

“I really don’t know how any of this is happening,” she admitted. “I’m just here. This isn’t natural.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re here, and I’m so glad to have this day,” his voice wavered. “I’m sorry we really can’t have many more days to fix us.”

Silence followed. The onlookers were still reeling, but even among their heavy shock, a solemnity came in. Recognizing a private moment, no one dared say anything. The eyes of Hyp’s mother glimmered with the beginning of tears but she sniffled and looked around.

“Hyp, can you come here? I know this is scary but…I really want to see you.”

Hyp had been peering out from the bushes, wide-eyed, attempting to remain inconspicuous. He flinched when his name was called and didn’t look like he wanted to obey the request. But he slowly slinked out into the open toward his parents. Panickedly, Mutt called out.

“W-wait, Hyp!” he said. “Don’t do it! That’s a ghost who might, um, will-”
 
Hyp glared. “Hey, she’s my mom! What is she going to do, give me a cold?”

And he marched over defiantly until he stood in front of his mother. His defiance melted into reluctance as he had difficulty staring his mother in the eye. She expressed no such hesitation in drinking him in, smiling fondly.

“Thanks for defending me.” Hyp’s mother said softly. “Still witty and rambunctious as always but I can’t hate that. I wish I can be around to see you grow.”

“Then why didn’t you stay?” Hyp asked bitterly. “You say you love us but you ran away. Is that really a mother thing?”

“But I do love you.” Hyp’s mother protested. “I really wanted to stay, I did. But all the fighting, the arguing…it was just too much. I needed some space. It should have been in the valley, I know, there’s clearly more than enough room here to do that. But…back then, I was so confused about whether separating from you two was the right decision, I felt like I had to get far away to be able to think clearly. If I was somewhere completely new, I thought, maybe I could think about how to get over my weaknesses, even come back and be a better mother. Before any of that could happen…I died. I’m sorry I was too weak to stay and be a good mother. If only I could think more clearly then.”

She lowered her head. Unable to take her shame, Hyp’s resentment faltered and he awkwardly looked away.

“Uh, forget about that,” he muttered. “Stay now. You’re a ghost, right? You can make things up now you can exist forever.”

Hyp’s mother shook her head. “I don’t know how to explain it but…when we realized that I’m a ghost, it uprooted me. I’m going to fade, I can feel it right now. This is really going to be goodbye.”

Hyp twitched. “Don’t you dare.”

“Hyp, she can’t help this.” Hyp’s father muttered.

“This isn’t fair! This should be her chance to make up for her screw up and now it’s been blown! We won’t ever see her again. Will she actually be good at being a mother? Will I like her? Now we’ll never really know. Doesn’t that make you mad?”

“It does but what can we do?” Hyp’s father closed his eyes. “The circle of life…has already begun its turn.”

Hyp glared at his father, eyes shining wetly. Abruptly, he rounded angrily on Littlefoot.

“This is all your fault!” Hyp shouted. “If you just minded your own business, this wouldn’t have happened!”

Littlefoot jumped, feeling like an arrow pierced his heart. “I’m sorry! I really wanted to leave you guys alone but after I put it all together, I became concerned and-”

“Shut up! Your excuses don’t change anything!”

“I just wanted to make sure you were all okay! I mean, I know how you feel, I also lost my-”

“Save us the sob story!” Hyp snapped, “Everyone’s heard about it. That doesn’t change that you’re meddling just ruined my life! You’re always do this, you always stick your nose where it doesn’t belong and break-”

“That’s enough!” Grandpa Longneck said sharply. “Leave Littlefoot be. It’s us you should be angry with. If Grandma and I hadn’t come, none of this would have happened. Littlefoot would have left you alone.”

“Normally, we leave Littlefoot be even if he occasionally acts strangely.” Grandma Longneck said. “But today, he acted so strangely, suddenly running off in fear…we felt we had to investigate. We apologize.”

Grandpa and Grandma Longneck bowed their heads regretfully. Hyp only stared resentfully.

“Yeah, you should be sorry,” he said.

“Hyp, please leave them alone.” Hyp’s mother said tiredly. “It can’t be helped. I would have been found out eventually,” she welled up a smile. “In fact, if it had been put off any longer, I wouldn’t be surprised if you got mad that you were allowed to talk to thin air in front of the whole valley. At least you’re pride will be safe. And you won’t have the pain of getting to know me only for me to be ripped away again.”

Hyp glared at her before some of the anger and defiance crumpled out of him. “This is not fair,” he said with a crack in his voice. “It’s not…”

“Oh, Hyp…” Mutt said softly.

He and Nod hesitantly crossed the distance. Mutt experimentally tried to put a supportive hand on Hyp’s shoulder but Hyp shrugged it off.

“Go away.” Hyp said. “I can deal with this myself.”

“Sorry.” Mutt said hastily. “I just wanted to help.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help.” Hyp whirled on the pair, appearing desperate and almost glad to have targets to force out anger on. “Do I look like someone who needs to be patted and carried around? Buzz off, this isn’t your business.”

“Hey man, we’re your friends.” Nod protested. “We’re just worried about you.”

“I’m not someone weak enough to be worried about. Go. You’re only making it worse.”

Mutt and Nod stepped back, unsure and looking hurt.

“Hyp, you don’t need to bear this all by yourself.” Hyp’s mother said. “Needing help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a normal fact of life even when you’re old. Even for someone as hardened as you, this event will be difficult for you to deal with alone. Your friends want to be there for you. I know they might be clumsy about it but that they came close to offer comfort despite their fear of me says something.”

“Please listen to her, son.” Hyp’s father said. “She’s right. If I actually considered allowing us to help each other, instead of going it alone, I might have been a happier and less stern father and your mother wouldn’t be in the position she is in now.”

Hyp didn’t say anything but he relaxed and he gave Mutt and Nod a tentative look that showed, even if he wasn’t ready to receive comfort right away, he didn’t hold their attempt against them. Mutt and Nod gave hesitant smiles, not knowing what they were doing but grateful they were still on good footing with their friend. Hyp’s mother looked between her mate and son.

“I hope you can be kinder to each other,” she said. “I know you both have your edge and pride but you’ll need one another. Life can be so tough, so I want you to be ultimately-”

She staggered, and her mate and son drew close as her form became fainter.

“I’m feeling it.” Hyp’s mother whispered. “I’m going back. I can’t put it off for much longer.”

“I still have so much to say.” Hyp’s father said, trembling. “Please…”

Hyp closed his eyes hard, but some tears still escaped. “Screw this. Just screw everything!”

“I’m sorry.” Hyp’s mother said sadly. “I didn’t want to disappoint you two again but…I’m glad we had this day. At least we got to say some of what we wanted to say. I do love both of you. Good – goodbye…”

She became fainter and fainter, until Hyp and his father were kneeling over nothing but empty air. The pair remained in position, as though absorbing what happened or hoping she might come back. But they returned to their feet and slowly walked off, father’s arm around son, eyes closed in grief. Mutt and Nod trailed after them uncertainly, at a loss for what to do other than be an assuring presence. His own vision blurred with tears, Littlefoot stepped forward, to offer some measure of comfort, but Hyp turned away from him. Littlefoot watched them go with guilt racking his chest.

*What’s more terrible?* Littlefoot wondered. *Never knowing what happened to your mother or learning about it only for her to be ripped away from you again?*

And as the onlookers broke off into whispers, another question with worrying unknowns came to mind. What did it mean that he encountered another ghost a day after the first?

Next time…

Unmentioned Ties Part 1

rhombus

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #15 on: July 30, 2017, 07:54:21 PM »
Wow.  There is so much to review that I am afraid I would miss something if I attempted to give a through blow-by-blow review, but with the growing chasm (or the recognition of the chasm) between Ducky and her siblings due to their friends' antics, the unique situation with Petrie's parents entering into a familiar territory for me - the territory of divorce, and Hyp dealing with a cruel separation from beyond the grave... each of the gang seems to be dealing with their own confrontations of loss.  Both physical and in term of relations.  

But now with the appearance of two ghosts prior to their reentry into the Mysterious Beyond one has to wonder who will next turn out to be an apparition?  And what if both the dead and the living don't realize that someone has passed on?  Very disturbing questions - and I suspect we will eventually get some answers to these questions.

This was an excellent chapter as always.  :)

Sovereign

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« Reply #16 on: July 31, 2017, 04:04:16 PM »
I must say, I'm actually starting to love this premise after my confusion after the last chapter! The idea of ghosts among the living is actually a rather great one and I'm really getting interested in what's happening. The introduction and character building on Hyp's mother was well done and it actually made me feel sorry for Hyp in the end (even if I hate his character). The amount of thought-provoking themes here is truly astonishing.

Even then, the length of these chapters is quite enormous and it would perhaps be a good idea to cut them into shorter parts. Also, the amount of different dialogues in the first part of the chapter was perhaps a bit excessive, particularly during the Gang's games. The pacing is a bit slow but the way you did the ending reveal justified it to a great degree.

That being said, I think you did a better job here in building the ending than in the previous chapter. The character development of Hyp's family was done in a great way and the Grandparents' reaction to his mother's reappearance brought an excellent if a truly haunting flavor to this story. I cannot wait to see how things develop from here!

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #17 on: August 05, 2017, 10:55:38 PM »
@rhombus Thanks for the review. I can understand why you wouldn’t do a blow-by-blow review of a chapter – those things are draining to do – but if you ever feel inclined to do so, I certainly won’t complain. Yeah, I am going hard with that family conflict theme. Admittedly, I didn’t think about loss, but now I can see what you mean. I am blanking out on the physical part…you mean like death? And/or in physical separation as with Ruby and Chomper?

The “Prior to their entry to the Mysterious Beyond” bit also bemuses me. As for who will be a ghost and the answers to then…you’ll have to wait and see, especially for the latter.

@Sovereign I’m glad that you’re warming up to the ghost concept. It is one of the important things for this, I’m also happy I built up Hyp’s mother well and got you to have a feel for Hyp himself even if you aren’t a fan of him. One great accomplishment is getting readers to care for characters they are indifferent to or dislike.

Yeah, the length for chapters and chattering can be a problem. I’m considering just cutting most of my chapters into two parts from now on to deal with the pacing (Though that still leaves 20-30+ chapters to deal with). I’m usually trying to explain matters clearly. For the dialogue, I’m attempting to make it seem like the characters earn their expressed feelings and intentions. I know of the issue, but it admittedly might take a while to deal with. But many of the conversations the characters have are important for setting things up.

I’m happy that the buildup and pacing apparently payoff for the ending. I enjoyed developing Hyp’s family and I loved having the grandparents bumble into the plot. Though I’m a bit ignorant of the exact “haunting” flavor of their role, it’s good to hear that impression. And I look forward to you seeing the things that will happen, both in the short and long term. I appreciate the review.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2017, 09:41:58 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/4/We-...Hold-On-Forever

Note:  Sorry I couldn't make a August posting. I was tired and exhausted, and editing became difficult, so I took most of a week off. It got me back on track, so the part 2 will hopefully be posted nest Sunday.

--1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

The Analyzer

Chapter 04: Unmentioned Ties Part 1


The bright circle was sinking to the west when the gathering at the meeting circle took place. The apparent appearance of a ghost in public was the talk of the valley and with so much rumor being swapped about, many wanted to have their facts cleared up on what actually happened. Littlefoot sat near his grandparents as they and other witnesses explained what occurred and clarified any misconceptions. It had been mentioned Littlefoot was present during the incident but his grandparents did their best to skim over any details involving him. His friends were present with their families and they sent him looks of sympathy throughout the meeting. Hyp and his father were conspicuous by their absence. The last anyone heard, they wished to be left alone.

When the eyewitnesses finished talking, there was a lull in the shocked and confused murmuring as everyone digested this information. Then Mr. Threehorn stepped forward.

“So, this is actually true?”

Grandpa Longneck sighed. “I’m having a hard time believing it myself. I can confirm though that my eyes and ears weren’t playing tricks.”

Mr. Clubtail nodded, face drawn. “Many of us here saw the ghost. She talked and acted just like a real person, except that you could see the other side of the clearing through her.”

“And the way she disappeared....” Grandma Longneck trailed off. “Her poor mate and son. They never knew if the rumors about her death were true and for them to be tricked into thinking she was here the whole time…it’s horrific.”

“How does that happen anyway?” Guido swung his tail nervously. “Ghosts I can get and am scared of. Ghosts that can scramble your brains…I’m going to have even more nightmares!”

“I’m not sure.” Grandpa Longneck said. “As long as no one recognized or commented that she was a ghost, not even she appeared to notice. It was only when we said we couldn’t see her and poor Hyp went through her that the truth came out.”

“Has this happened before?” Mama Swimmer asked. “I haven’t heard of anything like this.”

“Me neither and word by flyer can get pretty far.” Mama Flyer said.

“Maybe this is a one time thing.” Tria said comfortingly. “Hopefully it won’t happen again.”

Littlefoot twitched. It was so tempting to remain silent here and not reveal what he and his friends had been up to. Who knew how the grownups would react? But if there was something more to these incidents, it would be better if everyone had all the cards. He gazed at Cera and the others, who stirred warily, knowing what he was thinking. He pleaded with his eyes, emphasizing how important this might be. After a moment, they reluctantly nodded to his silent request. Littlefoot stole himself.

“No. This wasn’t one time. It has happened before.”

All attention snapped to Littlefoot, caught off guard by his sudden contribution. His grandparents stared, appearing to have an inkling of what was on his mind.

“Littlefoot,” Grandma Longneck said slowly, “is there something you want to tell us.”

Littlefoot nodded. “Something happened yesterday. Something very strange. Me and my friends thought we wouldn’t have to talk about it but after what happened today…let me start over. It all started when we decided to see some interesting plants…”

He gave an abridged version of their encounter with Ichy and Dil, the horrible chase up and down those maze of tunnels, and the eventual revelation that the sharpbeak was a ghost and the emotional fallout between the predators. When Littlefoot finished, the grownups shifted, many uneasily, some skeptically.

“It was dark.” Mr. Threehorn said. “You could have been seeing things.”

“Darkness makes things blurry, not see through.” Ruby said. “And we could see right through the sharpbeak.”

“He not move around much, so we had long time to make sure he was ghost.” Petrie said.

“I could smell the bellydragger but no matter how close he sounded, I never picked up a whiff of the sharpbeak.” Chomper said.

“He tried to catch me, but he couldn’t do it.” Ducky said. “He really didn’t like me and he could see me, so there shouldn’t have been a mistake. But each time, he missed. I could hear him being confused and I was able to get away while he became even more confuseded.”

“This is something we can’t forget.” Littlefoot said quietly. “We might misremember some details but we’re all very sure of what we saw.”

Spike nodded rapidly. Mr. Threehorn was discomforted by the seriousness of the children. He struggled for words.

“I mean, c’mon, ghosts!” he blurted. “You know how ridiculous it sounds. You can’t seriously ask me to watch out for spooks from now on? They don’t exist. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know it sounds strange, Topsy.” Tria said. “But if both the grownups and kids swear up and down they saw ghosts, maybe we should consider it.”

“Daddy, do you really think I’m the type to run around and babble about ghosts?” Cera said wryly.

“Oh course not, dear.” Mr. Threehorn said quickly. “It’s just – you know. You can’t just ask me to believe this nonsense all at once!”

“Whatever our feelings, these events have happened.” Grandma Longneck said. “If what you said is true…you poor children.”

“You all got in danger again.” Mama Swimmer looked at her children with a mix of sadness and reproach. “Oh, when are you two going to play games that are actually safe?”

Ducky cringed. “Sorry, Mama.”

Spike also lowered his head, giving a mournful, contrite moan. Their brothers and sisters stared at them with bafflement and concern, glancing and muttering amongst themselves that two of their number had gotten themselves in the middle of such a fantastic event. Petrie glanced away as Mama Flyer watched him with concern.

“Why didn’t you fly out and ask us for help when you gave those predators the slip?” she asked. “I’d have gladly followed you in there to give assistance. Our beaks are sharper and stronger than they look, I could have helped distract the bellydragger while you all escaped.”

“Me didn’t think of that.” Petrie admitted. “We just think that if we leave, sharpbeak might follow us into valley where it harder to catch him and he could hurt smaller dinosaurs like my brothers and sisters or Ducky and Spike’s brothers and sisters. He sneak up on us lots, so it could happen,” he sheepishly added. “We just didn’t know he was ghost, so he couldn’t hurt anyone.”

“It seems you kids didn’t know a lot of things.” Mr. Threehorn said disapprovingly. “Be thankful that you knew enough. If you didn’t…” he shook his head. ”I won’t go through those thoughts again. Just promise us you’ll try to get our help if you get in trouble.”

“Unless you have the power to shrink, that might be a hard promise to keep, since we often get in trouble in places smaller than you.” Cera said.

“Cera, please, be serious.” Tria said. “We just can’t stand the thought of losing you without at least trying to do something.”

Cera looked at a bit exasperated but upon taking in her stepmother’s expression, that changed into something like regret and understanding. Awkwardly, she looked at her father and tentatively shrugged at his stated request. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck examined Littlefoot, noting the bruise on his tail tip with enlightened, concerned gazes. Littlefoot averted his gaze guiltily but they only returned their attention to the rest of the meeting circle attendants.

“We mightn’t be happy about what these children got into, but they present important information.” Grandpa Longneck said. “This is a new, more personal danger for all of us. Any of us could wake up tomorrow and believe long gone enemies or loved ones still walk among the living. These ghosts might not want to hurt us, but if and when one of us finds out they have been dead all along, it would be emotionally devastating. These encounters aren’t good for our mental health. I hope Hyp and his father will be able to recover from this but…from now on, I advise caution from everyone. Most if not all of us have loses that have impacted us deeply. It’s not something many have the privilege to not worry about.”

Some people around the meeting circle looked at each other nervously. The concept that any of them might be haunted by the mind warping spirit of a lost loved one was deeply unsettling. Bad enough to lose someone. But to have them come back and be made to believe they had always been alive only for them to disappear again was too horrible for some to contemplate. Others shifted their gaze between the ghost eyewitnesses and the rest of the crowd with a strange unidentifiable kind of unnerved perplexment. Mr. Threehorn surveyed everyone’s expressions and sighed.

“And I thought your role was to keep calm even during great danger, longneck,” he said. “Aren’t you two always accusing me of spreading unnecessary panic?”

“We don’t want anyone panicked.” Grandpa Longneck replied. “To be clear, no one should be snooping around in other people’s personal lives and drilling them about what they remember. That will only spread paranoia. Lead on your lives as you always do. However, if you spot anything out of the ordinary, report it to us as quietly as possible. If there’s no issue present, we don’t want to cause any embarrassment. If there is, well…we want a delicate approach here, one that would resolve the ghost issue as quickly and painlessly as is possible.”

“But would quickly be the most painless and correct approach to this problem?” Mr. Thicknose frowned. “Surely, if the ghost is someone meaning to do harm, they should be swiftly dealt with. But if they are a lost loved one like with Hyp’s family, perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty.”

“But we don’t yet know of the emotional or other effects of being in a ghost’s presence.” Grandma Longneck said. “We shouldn’t experiment freely. These are people’s lives we are dealing with.”

“I agree with Mr. Thicknose.” Big Daddy stepped forward. “I’m sure he’s aware of your points. And…” he shifted uncomfortably. “Look, if this ghost thing really happened as you say – and putting aside that my brain is having a hard time taking it in – the fact is many have experienced loss where matters and feelings have been left unresolved. If their loved one comes back and this is the only chance to speak to them while we’re alive – wouldn’t it be better to give the living and dead time to clean up these relationship issues before telling them the truth?” Glancing at his charges, he quietly added. “If I see them talking to thin air and I hear the words ëMommy’ and ëDaddy’…it would be so hard to not walk away and give them as many days together as they need. Not to mention there are people I want to make apologies to. I have sometimes said things I shouldn’t have.”
“Yes.” Mr. Thicknose said, mind elsewhere. “I haven’t always been a perfect or kind teacher. It’d be very tempting to ignore the signs something isn’t right in order to make amends.”

“I can understand both of your sentiments.” Grandpa Longneck said, a troubled wistfulness entering his eyes. He shook it off. “But we mustn’t let our feelings get in the way of what might be dangerous. If we know this is going on somewhere, we can’t stand back too long before interceding.”

“Fair point.” Mr. Thicknose said, reluctantly pulling his mind back to the present. “Then what do you suggest? For the first few incidents, should we wait a full day once it is known a ghost incident is happening before we intercede?”

Grandpa and Grandma Longneck gazed at each other, the sentiment to make sure people were safe fighting with the desire to make people at least emotionally happy. At length, Grandma Longneck sighed.

“Those are the best conditions we can have with the little we know,” she said. “No matter what we do, this is going to be tough for them.”

“Yes, one wrongly-placed word might make this weird situation worse for ghost and nonghosts alike.” Big Daddy said, concern holding a bit of dryness.

Mr. Thicknose nodded. “This needs a delicate approach, as Grandpa said. Who would be willing to volunteer to break the news to them? I know this is an unenviable task, but this has to be done.”

There were several whispers and several stepped back, looking apprehensive about such a duty either because they had to deal with supernatural spirits or the emotional repercussion they might incur if they made a misstep. Some were openly staring at Mr. Thicknose’s request, while others awkwardly avoided eye contact with anyone. After many seconds of silence, Mr. Thicknose sighed, looking disappointed but not surprised. He resolutely opened his mouth but Grandpa and Grandma Longneck nodded to each other firmly and stepped forward.

“Very well.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Grandma and I volunteer for the role.”

The whispers started up again. Littlefoot glanced at his grandparents with concern. Their expressions were a bit sad but resolute. Mr. Thicknose also looked worried.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “This will be a difficult task. You might become dreaded by many you approach even innocently. Even with all the good you do during difficult times for this valley, this might be too much. I can take it, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been seen on less than favorable terms.”

“Please don’t underestimate us.” Grandma Longneck said. “We have lived most of our cold times outside the valley and often had to make tough decisions with many groups. This would be far from the first time we’ve been looked on unfavorably or dealt with those coping with loss. Don’t worry, we can take it.”

“We aren’t perfect with social matters by any means,” Grandpa Longneck added, “but at our age we’re used to dealing with all kinds of people. Hopefully with that experience, we can minimize any pain this situation will bring. Not to mention,” he said quietly, “it might be necessary but we want as few as possible to take on this painful duty our bumbling made necessary. You still have much knowledge and wisdom to contribute, Mr. Thicknose. We don’t want anyone to be afraid of you every time you fulfill your teaching duties. We hope that’s okay with you.”

Mr. Thicknose nodded reluctantly. “I can understand. It’d be hard to teach what I know if people are scared of me. Not to mention, since I’m still not a people person, I’m probably ill-suited for the role. I’ve improved a lot there, but my manner can still rub others the wrong way and the last thing we need is to upset people further. Nevertheless, I don’t like just standing back and letting you do all the work about the ghosts…” he shook his head. “Listen to me, talking about ghosts as if they’re normal.”

“Yeah.” Big Daddy said wonderingly. “I’d be willing to help too with this, erm, condition, but, really…what’s this world coming too?”

“I don’t know. Hopefully with our efforts, we can find out.” But Grandma Longneck smiled gratefully. “And don’t worry. If we need help, we won’t hesitate to ask you two…or anyone else who is willing to offer assistance.” She raised her head to address the general crowd. “If you have any proof that someone has a ghost with them, be sure to report it to us so we might investigate. As far as we can tell, the signs of a ghost involve someone believing a loved one or enemy is back, talking to thin air, feeling coldness at their touch, and not acknowledging they have ever been gone or maybe having an excuse for their absence. Don’t approach on your own without permission.”

“Remember, we want to cause as little emotional damage as possible.” Grandpa Longneck said. “If you press them too hard on the inconsistencies of their version of events, they or the ghost might blurt out the truth, or a loved one might accidentally fall through the ghost. We don’t want you or them to have to deal with the fallout without some sort of assistance. Now, if that’s clear, I believe all of us can move on for the day.”

The crowd nodded and murmured in ascent before they began to break apart into smaller whispering groups. Some went home or back to their other activities huddled together, as though fearing ghosts would wander toward them from the dark (“I mean, I lost my memories.” Guido said. “So if someone I knew during that blank time died, that means they can’t haunt me, right?”) Others left individually or in far calmer, confused groups (“Do you believe what they say, Daddy?” Lizzie asked. “…let me think about it.” Big Daddy said.). Whatever their mood, sleep wasn’t going to be easy for many that night. While the meeting wrapped up, Cera and the others approached Littlefoot with some concern.

“Hey, you feeling alright there?” Cera asked.

“It not sound fun, discovering someone’s mom is a ghost.” Petrie said.

“I’m okay.” Littlefoot lowered his head a bit. “It’s just…I feel like I ruined Hyp’s family by nosing in like that.”

“You obviously didn’t mean to.” Ducky said comfortingly. “You were just worried about them. You didn’t know your grandparents were going to follow.”

“When something happens, it happens.” Ruby said philosophically. “Thinking about what you could have done is okay, but thinking about what you will do now is also important.”

“We could help you with that, if you want.” Chomper suggested. “I know if we had been there, it might have been worse but…”

Spike walked over and gave Littlefoot’s leg his best supportive nuzzle, smiling reassuringly. The corners of Littlefoot’s lips curved upward.

“Thanks, guys,” he said. “I’ll consider what you say.”

“Hey, you might have to.” Petrie replied. “If more ghosts show up.”

“Are more really going to show up?” Cera asked doubtfully.

“It’s a coincidence now.” Ducky said. “Mama talked all about how to know if a pattern’s happening. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three is a pattern.” She counted them off with her fingers before looking puzzled. “She didn’t say what four or more would mean, but if it happens again, it’s going to be a pattern, it is, it is.”

“If it does happen again, I hope it won’t be as sad as those last two times.” Chomper said.

“It’s as Ruby said, Chomper.” Littlefoot replied. “When something happens, it happens. I don’t like it but…if it’s going to happen again, we might as well prepare and I’m already thinking about that…”

Littlefoot looked at his grandparents. They were finishing up conversations with Mr. Thicknose and a few other lingerers before turning to leave, glancing back at him curiously. Littlefoot hesitated, and his friends noticed.

“You want to go with them, don’t you?” Cera said.

Littlefoot turned to them regretfully. “Sorry. I want to play with you guys, but after what we experienced, I can’t leave them.”

“Hey, it’s no big deal.” Cera shrugged. “Our afternoon was pretty much screwed the second that ghost showed up anyway.”

“After that, me doubt our parents would want us to be too far away either.” Petrie said.

“It’s only natural you wish to be with your grandparents after what you all went through, it is, it is.” Ducky said. “Go with them. We can always play tomorrow, right?”

Spike, Chomper, and Ruby nodded, eyes alight with understanding. Littlefoot found himself smiling, filled with such warm it momentarily overwhelmed the guilt and fear drifting inside him.

“Thanks. I appreciate your understanding, really.” Littlefoot glanced behind him and started walking back. “Anyway, I’ve got to go. We’ll definitely catch up tomorrow, okay?”

There were nods and vocal reassurances. Littlefoot couldn’t help but notice Cera gave a little sigh as he said goodbye and observed her join her family, Mr. Threehorn disgruntled and exasperated. She clearly didn’t share her father’s skepticism of ghosts but she had her doubts about more showing up on the horizon. For one of the few times in his young life, Littlefoot wished she would be right. Maybe these were freak incidents and nothing more would come of them than stories that would be passed on to other places and future generations.

Attempting to wrestle down the doubt in response to that possibility, Littlefoot accompanied his grandparents home. He tried to turn his mind to much more pleasant matters, like the fun he and his friends had today and the pleasant weather the valley had been having lately. Anything that would stave off the nightmares that would surely come from these experiences. Littlefoot was so preoccupied with these thoughts he didn’t realize his grandparents’ silence was anything unusual until they broke it.

“Littlefoot, we would like to apologize.” Grandpa Longneck said.

Littlefoot blinked. “Wait, what?”

“It’s about that matter with Hyp and his family. We’re…sorry for having decided to follow you.”

“We’ve heard you say many odd things before.” Grandma Longneck added. “But you acted so scared about the rumor of Hyp’s mother being dead, that you suddenly ran off, and it concerned us. We wanted to make sure you were safe.”

“And when you were trying to patch up the situation with that family, we blundered in and made everything worse.” Grandpa Longneck closed his eyes. “To have to say goodbye like that, watched like some scandalous story…we should have trusted you more. We should have stayed away.”

“No, don’t blame yourselves.” Littlefoot said quickly, chest aching. “I shouldn’t have approached them in the first place. This all got started because I got nosy. I know I should leave others to their own business but when I hear they’re in trouble…”

“It’s understandable, Littlefoot.” Grandma Longneck said. “Don’t be ashamed of that part of yourself. It has helped so many people. Even if you often don’t bring attention to it, we notice and are quite proud.”

“Though there are other things you don’t bring attention to that we don’t notice.” Grandpa Longneck said, eyes flicking to Littlefoot’s tail. “You didn’t tell us where that tail bruise really came from, or mention the ghost incident. Why?”

Littlefoot lowered his gaze. “I – we just didn’t think anyone would believe us. I mean – ghosts, right? You would think we were just making it up, or that there was something wrong with us. We had no idea what any of it meant, so we decided to not tell you about it so you wouldn’t be worried.”

“So you didn’t trust anyone enough to tell the truth.” Grandma Longneck said. She sighed. “Sad to say, your concerns were well-founded. I likely wouldn’t have believed in your ghost claims if I didn’t see them for myself. I wish we would have. I wish we could be trusted enough to be told.”

“Though we appreciate you told us now.” Grandpa Longneck added. “You knew there was important information connected to today’s incident and bravely spoke in front of everyone. It was a commendable decision.”

“An experience that huge must have been hard to carry for the last day.” Grandma Longneck said. “I know you children have your secrets, and that’s okay, but I’m glad you and your friends no longer have to carry something so upsetting alone.”

“Yeah…” Littlefoot replied, the memory of yesterday’s dream, of his grandparents’ unresponsive forms, rising prominently in his mind. He attempted to shake it off. “Well, maybe it would have been better if I told you and you didn’t believe me. If you held me back, Hyp mightn’t have had to lose his mother all over again.”

“Now we don’t know that for sure.” Grandpa Longneck said. “That kind of illusion might survive for a whole day but it can only be kept up for so long before someone noticed and called it out. Hyp or his father might have accidentally fell through her in their attempt to offer physical comfort or if they saw her walking through any bushes…they would have to be quite lucky to avoid any of that for many days at a time. Still, to have had to say goodbye like that…” he shook his head. “That’s another reason why we picked this duty. We want to make up for the mistakes we made involving Hyp’s family. We don’t know what physical effects these ghosts might have on the living, but we don’t want to hurt people. For now, we wish to control the damage that comes with the truth being revealed until we can find out what’s going on and either stop it or-” He sighed. “This isn’t going to be pleasant. This will be a long several days.”

“I’m sorry.” Littlefoot said. “I wish you didn’t have to do this.”

“Don’t apologize. We’re just doing what is necessary.” Grandma Longneck turned to her husband. “Tonight and in the morning, let’s discuss how to approach those with ghostly experiences with the truth.”

“I agree.” Grandpa Longneck nodded. “We should prepare carefully before doing anything. We might still have to learn with experience but better to limit the damage from mortal error.”

“I’ll help too.” Littlefoot said eagerly. “I can accompany you on those missions, help the victims, and-”

Grandma Longneck frowned. “That is very considerate of you, Littlefoot, but you let us handle this situation. It might be best if you stay away.”

“We don’t wish you to go through that kind of emotional turmoil again.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Even after all you went through, you’re still a child. We don’t want you to see you go through further hard experiences that are unhealthy for someone your age.”

“But this will be hard on you too.” Littlefoot protested. “Even if you have experience dealing with death, taking on this duty over and over won’t be healthy for you, especially since strength fades when you’re old and um er, dah-”

He verbally stumbled as he realized too late the rudeness of what he was saying. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck gazed at him, a bit startled for several moments, and Littlefoot cringed guiltily. Then they laughed, voices light with gentle mirth that went on for a bit. Littlefoot watched them with some confusion, not knowing what to think or say. Once they calmed down, they smiled at him.

“Thank you, Littlefoot.” Grandpa Longneck said, with a bit of a chuckle still in his voice. “After all the worries of today, we needed that moment of levity. There are times where a child’s honesty is the cure we need.”

“Don’t worry so much.” Grandma Longneck said. “We might not be as spry as we used to be, but we are hardier than we look. Our new duty will be tough but we’ll survive through it. Have more faith in us.”
   
“Oh, alright.” Littlefoot said sheepishly. “Sorry. It’s just – I worry.”

“We know, and appreciate your concern.” Grandma Longneck said, before she and her husband exchanged suddenly twinkling glances. “It’s just that sometimes we think that you need reminding that…”

Littlefoot picked up his pace to be closer to their heads, curious. Then he laughed out of surprise as she and Grandpa Longneck suddenly took turns ticklishly poking his sides with their tails

“You – are – not – the – parent – around – here.” Grandma Longneck continued, she and Grandpa emphasizing each word with a poke.  
 
Littlefoot squirmed, giggling helplessly as his grandparents gave him some extra pokes to make their point. When they finally relented, he unbalanced and nearly toppled off his feet, his spirits lighter. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck looked at him good-naturedly, smiling.

“I hope we didn’t go overboard with that.” Grandpa Longneck chuckled. “Just concentrate on being a kid for now. Have fun with your friends and get up to a bit of silliness. It’s good for you health. Let us handle this matter.”

“Okay.” Littlefoot said unsurely. “But it doesn’t seem like I’m helping much.”

“On the contrary,” Grandma Longneck said, “seeing you when we come back, happy and played out, would be a shining light in these strange and terrifying days. Engaging you in games and teasing you will also lift our spirits. It might not seem big to you, but to people as old as us, it’s one of the greatest gifts in life.”

“If you wish to help us, that would be one way.” Grandpa Longneck said. “In a way, you’ll be there for us with the emotional aftermath. We would very much appreciate it. Do you understand?”

“Al – alright.” Littlefoot then put on a determined face. “I’ll do my best to do that then.”

His grandparents chuckled, and Littlefoot felt a smile alight his face as they continued their journey home. He was encouraged by their words. If he remained himself, then his grandparents would be all the better for it. He had seen how much he and his friends acting their age drew smiles from their parents, even from the gruff Mr. Threehorn. Coming home to his grandparents smiling from a good day of fun, and possibly engaging them in play as well, made Littlefoot feel warm inside. If that was the most his grandparents wanted from him, that which would make them happy, he supposed he could do that. He loved the joy that came with being a kid and spreading it to even the most senior people he knew.

He tried to ignore the curdling of doubt that even with Littlefoot’s support and the strength of his grandparents, dealing with death like this would still put a large amount of stress on them, the kind of stress which could shave years off of their remaining lifespans and make what time they did have left difficult. He also didn’t think about how those worries were connected to the dream he didn’t tell them about. Grandma was right, it was okay to have secrets, Littlefoot told himself. No one told everything to everyone. His grandparents didn’t need to know about this. They had enough worries on their minds. With that in mind, Littlefoot caught up with his parents and attempted to cheer himself up with the thought of making the most of their peaceful evening together before the morning came.

--

Tria woke up with a bit less sleep blinking than usual. The bright circle had risen to the point where many valley denizens usually awakened and, after a moment of adjusting to consciousness, she joined them in yawning and stretching. She felt somewhat pleased. She had anticipated the challenges of being a parent but ever since Tricia was born, her sleep schedule had been on a rollercoaster. A lot of times, she felt tired in some capacity and some days she had to get by with no rest at all. But she had been feeling less and less tired as time went on. Even after the disturbances of yesterday, Tria nevertheless felt quite well rested.

*I think I might be getting the hang of this mother thing after all.* she thought. *I don’t care as much about the annoyances – they make it all worth it.*

Tria smiled fondly toward where Cera and Tricia slept next to one another. They weren’t as close as they used to be but the pair appeared to take a note to be near each other when they rested. They were so sweet to each other and to Tria. Even when Cera was grumbly toward Tria, it wasn’t that much different then when she was grumbly to her father and she could be nice and considerate to her stepmother. Tria was glad she could call them her daughters. She looked up and realized her mate was up as well. Ever since she became another pair of eyes to watch their daughters, Mr. Threehorn allowed himself to sleep in a bit more but he had been an early riser for too long to shake it completely. He stared grumpily up at the Great Wall.

“Morning, Topsy.” Tria said. “Did you not get a good rest?”

“Oh, what?” Mr. Threehorn said distractedly. “Morning Tria. I slept fine. It’s just…this ghost business. They were all taking it so seriously last night. I can’t help but think how it’s going to have everyone jumping at shadows. This nonsense is going to make the next few days unbearable.”

“I wouldn’t call it nonsense.” Tria replied. “It’s not like Grandpa and Grandma Longneck are known for inventing wild tales.”

“That’s the problem. They are honest to a fault, and ghosts are so…ludicrous.” Mr. Threehorn sighed. “It doesn’t make any sense in my brain. How can it be true?”

“Unless you see it for yourself, it is pretty hard to believe.” Tria admitted, tone wavering momentarily with her own confusion and doubt. “But until I see otherwise, I’ll believe them. Don’t worry, Topsy. I’ll make sure we all find some happiness in these barmy days.”

That got a smile out of Mr. Threehorn, and Tria was happy. Whenever she could get her mate out of his grumpy demeanor, it felt like a victory. Then his expression became oddly faraway as he muttered to himself.

“See it for…see you at…” he frowned, as though attempting to call something to memory. “Wait, is it today?”

Tria didn’t notice anything unusual. “Cera’s probably going to be with her friends as usual and Dinah and Dana’s mother has graciously said she and her mate wouldn’t mind looking after Tricia for a bit. I was thinking, since that would leave some time for ourselves, we might go somewhere special and-”

“I’m afraid I have something to do.” Mr. Threehorn interrupted. “I have to check up on a thing and I only just now remembered it.”

“Huh?” Tria blinked. “What do you need to check on?”

“It’s something important.” Mr. Threehorn looked uncomfortable. “I don’t have time to explain. I need to be there quickly. Say morning to Cera and Tricia for me.”

And just like that, he got up and moved quickly, disappearing in the distance and leaving Tria bemused. What was that all about? It wasn’t unusual for her mate to walk off in various moods and about to accomplish vaguely worded missions but this was so abrupt she was left rooted to the spot.

She was distracted from her worries with several yawns. Cera and Tricia were waking up, stretching and blinking as they took stock of their surroundings.

“Morning, Tria.” Cera said. “Where did Dad go?”

“I don’t know.” Tria replied. “He didn’t stick around to explain.”

“You mean he left before you woke up?”

“No, he said he had to check up on a thing quick. I couldn’t get more than a sentence in before he dashed off.”

Cera widened an eye quizzically. “Really? That’s strange. What could be the rush this early in the morning?”

“Don’t ask me.” Tria looked thoughtful. “Though come think of it, he was muttering about if something was today or not. I thought it was only early morning grogginess.”

“Today, huh? What’s so special about today…”

Cera trailed off. She was suddenly wide awake, glancing at the bright circle as though startled by its existence. She turned to Tria.

“Hey Tria,” Cera said carefully, “would it be alright if me and Tricia went out together for the day?”

“Why, of course not.” Tria said, taken aback. “But what’s this all of a sudden?”

“Well, it’s been a while since the two of us hung out. You know how I stick with my friends like tar – sometimes literally…” Cera shook her head. “Anyway, I was thinking we could have a sisters day out to make up for it. Hey Tricia, would you mind spending the day with me?”

Tricia had been biting experimentally on a tiny bush and it took a moment for her young mind to process Cera’s question. Then she brightened and all but bounded to Cera, climbing onto her sister’s back and attempting to make herself at home there. Cera winced.

“Ouch! Watch where you’re stepping. I think you’ve been hanging around Dinah and Dana too much.” Cera returned her attention to Tria. “Is this alright with you?”

Tria looked at the two smiling, expectant faces, and all her confusion was overcome by warmth. “Why, of course. I was thinking you two should spend more family time together. Go on. Just steer clear of some of the things you and your friends get into.”

“Don’t worry.” Cera rolled her eyes slightly but was clearly thrilled by the permission. “Not every day out is a life or death battle. Anyway, see you later!”

Cera trooped off, with Tricia balancing on her sister’s frill to give her mother a little wave of farewell. Tria waved back, smiling until they were gone and she was alone. She sighed, more than a little confused.

“Why is everyone in a hurry to get away at the last minute?” Tria wondered to the world in general.

--

Mr. Threehorn strolled through the thick trees trying to be discreet and casual. This was difficult to accomplish but he wished to avoid attracting attention and if someone did notice him, he didn’t want them to think he was doing anything out of the ordinary. He did feel guilty for having left Tria so abruptly like that, but he didn’t have the time to explain and felt the truth of this meeting might upset her. He hoped no one watched him and passed any implicating words to her. Fortunately, the treetops grew close together and he blended with the dim morning light. So far, he didn’t come across anyone here. That had been the plan. This forest in the Great Valley wasn’t visited often and was the perfect place to meet someone out of public view.

He went to the assigned meeting place, three trees that grew so closely together only a youth like Cera would be able to squeeze between them. There was nobody there but he waited, shifting from one foot to the other and looking about for signs of movement. Was he on time? Could something be holding her up? He attempted to dismiss these worries but it had been so long since they last saw each other and if anything went wrong…

“You’re here, Topps. Am I late?”

Mr. Threehorn raised his head and his breath was taken away. Walking toward him was a familiar face, one he hadn’t seen or thought about in so long. She appeared to have rushed here to be present on time but she was only slightly breathless.

“Hey, I thought I was the late one.” Mr. Threehorn said, averting his gaze. “I only just remembered this morning we were going to meet. So, um…shall we go for a walk?”

His companion agreed to this proposition. Together, the two walked side-by-side through the forest, careful not to get too close to the edge where people might be. There was an awkward silence, a silence for where to start.

“So, how are things going?” The companion asked.

“Things are pretty peaceful.” Mr. Threehorn replied. “Once in a while, people get into hysterics over something but, erm, we usually get over it. All things considered, we’re pretty happy here.”

“This is a good place to raise a family.” There was a pause. “How is…Cera coping?”

“She still gets grumbly with me but we always make up. She gets into trouble with those friends of hers but…she’s happy.”

“I meant how is Cera dealing with a certain absence.”

Mr. Threehorn hesitated. “She doesn’t talk about it. I can count on one paw how many times she brought you up.”

“Does she not talk about it, or do you not bring it up?” she asked, with a touch of resentment.

Mr. Threehorn glanced away. His companion sighed, more directed at herself than at him.

“Okay, that was unfair. This topic is difficult to discuss. Sometimes, the only way to deal with it is to put it off. But it’s also difficult…to hear how I’m something that keeps getting put off.”

“I do want to mention you.” Mr. Threehorn said quickly. “But there seems to be no right time for it. When there is…well, it’s hard to find the right words.”

His companion paused before she asked. “Do you find the right words with Tria?”

“Tria?” Mr. Threehorn looked momentarily confused before shaking it off. “We, um…I can get quite tongue-tied with her as well, either because of her teasing or…she is very nice and that can make it hard to talk with her about difficult matters or decisions I think we should make. I try to talk more with her but…”

“It seems I’m not only one who is suffering from that,” she said fondly, and with traces of relief. “I hope she is treating Cera well.”

“She has been good to her. Occasionally, she annoys Cera when she pushes her to try new things but Cera has quite taken with her. They take to bathing in mud pools together every now and then.”

“I see.” His companion said, with the slightest envy. “She has always been close to you. It’s good to hear she has taken to the mother figure this time.”

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2017, 10:10:17 AM »
2/2

“Cera always favored both of us.” Mr. Threehorn replied, aware of his companion’s feelings. “There was a bit of difference but it wasn’t much. Not to mention, Cera could be closer to Tria but for the past few cold times, Tria has her paws full taking care of Tricia.”

“Tricia. Cera’s new sister. So,” she blew out a breath, “you really got close to this Tria.”

“Uh, yes.” Mr. Threehorn glanced away. “Since the two of us are now…you know…I thought that would be okay.”

His companion took a moment to regain her control before closing her eyes and nodding. “No, you’re right. Finding new mates is normal after people find themselves single again. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’d have done the same thing except I was, um occupied. Do Cera and Tricia at least get along?”

“Very well.” Mr. Threehorn answered. “Cera didn’t take to Tricia at first but she’s been a very good to her. Tricia is so sweet and curious. They make each other happy.”

“Good,” she sighed. “At least Cera has some company. It must have been quite a while since she had sisters to play with. Speaking of, have you or her talked about – well, since I’m not being brought up…”

Mr. Threehorn shook his head regretfully. “It’s hard to find the right words there too. I know that isn’t an excuse but...”

“It’s an explanation.” There was another sigh. “I know, in a way. I try to be reasonable but even I’m having a hard time not feeling jealous about the new family you made. I thought we would get better at this feelings thing.”

“Me too. Every time you think it gets easier, you end up right at the beginning.”

There was a thoughtful silence. Mr. Threehorn glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. He wanted to shake his head. This was a rare time where they could reconnect and it shouldn’t be taken up by problems and grievances. There must be happy anecdotes both parties could report on. Maybe later, they could discuss problems, but for now…

Mr. Threehorn forced a smile. “Let’s leave all that aside for the moment. How have you been doing? Anything funny you or the girls have been up to?”

His companion gave him a look, knowing exactly what tactic he was using. Still, she returned the smile. “Oh, like you wouldn’t believe. Would you like to hear about how we missed the path to here and almost climbed a mountain? The girls and I weren’t fans of that...”

Mr. Threehorn nodded, chuckling and relaxing as they started a long day of exchanging funny and heartwarming personal stories.

--

“Which shell is the berry under now, Petrie?” Ruby asked.

Petrie scanned the line of snapping shells Ruby arranged before him critically, as though attempting to pinpoint the correct one with the slightest differences in its surface patterns. After a few seconds, he fidgeted nervously.

“Oh, me don’t know.” Petrie said. “Maybe…that one?”

Ruby obligingly flipped over the shell Petrie indicated to, revealing a green beetle wiggling on its back. Petrie flinched in disgust. Ruby smiled.

“Is this something you want to eat?” she teased.

Petrie picked up the insect for inspection. He turned and presented it to Chomper.

“Me think this for you.” Petrie said.

“Oh boy!” Chomper plucked the beetle from Petrie and tossed it into his mouth, chewing enthusiastically. “Thanks, Petrie. This is delicious.”

Petrie shakily laughed. “No problem. Me already thought that if me found a bug, it’d be yours.”

“I thought that too.” Ducky agreed. “You’re the only one of us who finds them tasty, you are, you are.”

“Looks like you get all the bugs, Chomper.” Ruby teased.

Chomper raised his head, grinning. “That’s right. I get all the bugs!”

The nasally proclamation elicited good-natured laughter from the others. With the ghostly happenings of the last two days, the gang was determined to make today as light and fun as possible. They were sitting near a pond, Ruby having arranged a line of snapping shells where she hid several foods. The others had to guess the correct food and they were allowed to eat whatever was underneath. Since Chomper and Spike had good noses that might detect what was underneath, it was decided their nostrils should be stuffed with small leaves to level the playing field. The pair not only didn’t mind but seemed to find it highly amusing. As their friends laughed, Chomper and Spike caught each other’s eye and burst into yet another series of nasally giggles, rocking from side to side with mirth.

Littlefoot spirits lifted at the silliness of his friends, but he had been rather quiet the several hours they had been together. He wasn’t exactly depressed but his eyes were lowered in thought and an occasional melancholic tinge entered his gaze. Ducky rolled into Littlefoot’s side, giggling up a storm.

“Hey Littlefoot, cheer up,” she said. “Don’t you find all this very funny?”

“I do.” Littlefoot replied, giving her an appreciative look. “I just can’t stop thinking about what Grandpa and Grandma might be doing right now. I know they said not to worry about the ghosts but how can I just go off and have fun when my grandparents, who should be enjoying a relaxing day, could be dealing with a ghost right now?”

Ducky patted him sympathetically. “You helped them as best as you could. We told everyone about what happened in the caves, which gave everyone a better idea of what’s going on. We did good, we did, we did.”

“I know.” Littlefoot sighed. “But they were whispering so seriously this morning when I said goodbye to them. Normally, they are relaxed and smiling when I go to meet you guys but to see them so worried, before anything happened…it makes me feel bad.”

Ducky tapped her cheek anxiously, silent for a few moments. “Well, being sad is going to give them one more thing to worry about. I know you can’t help being worried, but maybe trying to have some fun will ease it up. It might help. It would make everyone happy, but it’d make you happy too, it would, it would.”

“She’s right, Littlefoot.” Chomper said, leaning closer to him. “Sometimes there’s only so much you can do. I really couldn’t save my mommy and daddy from getting hurt by Redclaw.” He looked melancholy for a moment. “It still hurts. I wish there was some way I could have helped them more.” He perked up. “But playing and hanging out with you guys cheers me up so much. My parents said they would rest easy knowing I’m taking care of myself in that way and I’m sure it would be the same with your grandparents.”

“Eh, eh.” Spike agreed, leaning against Littlefoot’s other side, his head gesturing to the shell game and the friends around them and smiling up at him. Ducky picked up on his meaning.

“I think Spike’s trying to say that playing around with your friends is important too,” she said. “Especially since we’re not in danger of being eaten or squished or getting hurted in anyway right now. He really likes those times, and I do too. Not only does it mean we’re happy, but us being happy can make our parents happy too.”

Spike was nodding along to Ducky’s words. He looked a little sad Grandpa and Grandma Longneck were taking on such a heavy duty but he nudged Littlefoot encouragingly and smiled for him to enjoy this moment, just like his grandparents wanted. With Chomper, Ducky, and Spike leaning against him supportively, Littlefoot couldn’t stop the warm smile crossing his face.

“Okay, okay, I’ll try not to be too frowny today. Though that might be hard.”

“Hey, with my and Spike’s noses stuffed today, it’ll be hard to remain frowny, right?” Chomper asked. “Even more so if Cera were here to see.”

Littlefoot chuckled. “You two look so silly, she wouldn’t be able to resist making some funny comments. I wish we could’ve found her.” He was troubled for a moment, before shaking it off. ”Still, with you two like that, it’ll be hard to be in a really sad mood for long.”

“I know. Me and Spike can’t stop smiling and laughing in this state.” Chomper said, cheerful nature only momentarily wavering at the mention of Cera. Then he became oddly thoughtful. “You know, I suddenly have an idea of how to really make your sad mood go away…”

Littlefoot suddenly found his friends’ comforting contact pressing against him with a bit more strength. He squirmed but found it hard to move as Chomper, Ducky, and Spike grinned up at him with all too much teeth.

Littlefoot laughed. “Oh, no!”

Ruby and Petrie watched with fond grins as Littlefoot was pounced upon, Ducky dashing off to get suitable nose-stuffing plant matter while Spike and Chomper pinned themselves on top of Littlefoot’s stomach. As the three wrestled and laughed happily, Ruby turned slightly and pulled the shell that hid the beetle out of view, where she secretly put in another food item.

“Don’t feel too bad.” Ruby reassured. “Even I don’t guess what’s underneath right from time to time. It’s a game for guessing.”

Petrie lowered his head slightly. “But you guess much better.”

“I’ve been doing this with my parents since I’ve been young. My parents did this with me not only because it was fun, but to help me notice small details that might help me in surviving in the Mysterious Beyond. It has helped me a lot in noticing details, which has helped me a lot with planning.” Ruby paused, fiddling with the shell and the food item. “But I don’t notice all the details, so my plans don’t always go right. I’ve been in the valley for a while and I still notice details I haven’t noticed before. That does make exploring and learning fun, but since part of my reason for coming to the valley is to notice enough details to come up with a plan, that can be a problem…”
 
“You mean helping with Redclaw?” Petrie asked. At her nod, he continued. “Me sure you definitely come up with plan! You smart, it can happen. Sometime it take time. It took me while to be able to fly. My parents, Uncle Pterano, and brothers and sisters kept showing me ways wings flap to help but me couldn’t take it in and was too scared until me with Littlefoot and others. Erm, me think it not take you as long to find plan as for me to fly,” he added sheepishly, “but me sure you find plan soon.”

“But how soon is soon?” Ruby murmured. “What might be soon for me might be ëtoo long’ for my family and the Mysterious Beyond. My family and others are tough and can survive the Mysterious Beyond, but one of the reasons they sent me and Chomper here was to make sure the Mysterious Beyond wasn’t any tougher than can be helped. I need to learn more and learn to strategize so they wouldn’t need to live with Redclaw anymore than they already do.”

“No worry, you will.” Petrie said. “But it kind of like what Ducky and others say. If you have fun, me think that not only make your family more happy but it easier to think than when you worry all the time.”

“There's truth to that,” Ruby said, “but there’s also truth that I have been having a lot of fun in the Great Valley for many cold times and a firm plan still hasn’t come to me. Pressure can make you come up with bad plans, but we came up with good plans under pressure too.” She looked anxious for a moment before shaking her head and turning to put the shell with the hidden food item down and started quickly rearranging shells.

Petrie felt moved to speak. “Don’t worry Ruby, you can do it. You great thinker, at least better than me. You can improve. Me sure you’ll come up with something.”

“Yeah.” Ruby smiled appreciatively. “Thanks, Petrie. But don’t go knocking your thinking abilities. For how scared you can be, you make some great decisions when danger is at its scariest. You can improve too. You just need to work at it like everyone works at it, and that’s how I’ll work at it too.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Petrie curled a bit bashfully, looking still unsure but pleased by the support. “Anyway, let’s continue game. Today our fun day, right?”

“Right.” Ruby replied. “I shouldn’t allow my sad mood bring down the mood of my friends. I want to help make up for the past two downer days by bringing up the mood, especially with Cera not around to make her funny comments,” she became a bit wistful. “I wish we knew what she and her family are up to so we can know if she’s in an upbeat mood too.” Then she shook off the wistfulness and finished rearranging the shells before looking up wryly. “Though it looks like I don’t need to help much to bring up the mood.”

She and Petrie watched as Spike and Chomper continued to roughhouse with Littlefoot to keep him down. A mischievous grin crossed Petrie’s beak.

“Me might actually have idea to fix that worthy of Cera.” Then he called out. “Hey Spike, you having turn or not? Me will eat tasty green food Ruby has for game if me only one playing!”

Spike stopped struggling, staring at Petrie and Ruby with some facsimile of horror. Chomper and Littlefoot laughed, and the latter opportunistically struggled out of their hold, almost coming free. Then all of that progress was lost when Ducky came prancing in with small leaves in her hands and the silly sight of her own nostrils stuffed with the same plant matter caused them all to laugh uproarishly, distracting him from his struggle completely. This allowed Spike and Chomper to get an unshakeable grip on him that left him with little hope of escaping as Ducky finally closed the distance. The sight of Littlefoot lowering his head with giggling obedience to get his nose stuffed caused them all to laugh, a most joyful and carefree sound that traveled wide and they found hard to stop.

“Well, at least there’s some cheerfulness around here.”

The gang turned to find Mr. Clubtail had paused in the middle of walking by, looking slightly awed at their positive attitude. He caught sight of four of them with their stuffed noses and his lips twisted with involuntary amusement.

“You four look ridiculous.” Mr. Clubtail said.

“That’s the idea.” Littlefoot replied, his own nasally voice causing him to grin widely. “Nothing more fun than having something silly in your face. Do you want a turn at it?” he added teasingly.

“I pass.” Mr. Clubtail smirked briefly. “I must admit, I’m a bit amazed you children can be so cheerful after what you all went through the past two days. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“You mean the ghost thing? Yeah.” Chomper admitted. “But that’s why we’re being so silly now. We can only take so much weird and scary stuff before we need to have lots of fun. Besides, it’s what their folks want them to do.” He became thoughtful for a moment. “And it’s what my and Ruby’s folks would probably want us to do if they knew what was happening.”

“Huh. I can understand that. After what happened yesterday, I’ve been trying to find a place to relax where I wouldn’t have to think about it.” Mr. Clubtail surveyed the group for a moment. “Though where’s the final one of your number, Cera? I kind of expected her to be with you lot, snarking about the nose antics you’re getting up to.”

The gang lost a bit of their energy, glancing at one another unsurely, before returning their gaze to Mr. Clubtail.

“We noticed she didn’t meet with us when we met up.” Ruby said. “We went to where her family is, since we usually tell each other the reason we can’t show up if there’s a reason not all of us can, but we found nobody home. We tried to find them at their usual hangout spots, but we couldn’t find them there either.”

“We did try to look for them at other places,” Littlefoot said, “but at some point, we thought Cera and her family might be doing something important and we didn’t want to annoy them by barging in asking why she didn’t come. Instead, we tried to have fun as normal. We didn’t want to waste the day by running around worrying over what’s probably nothing. We’re still worried about her. Her not saying anything is quite strange.”

“Very strange.” Mr. Clubtail murmured. He stared at them keenly. “Why do you think she didn’t come unannounced?”

“Maybe Cera wanted to have some family time.” Ducky suggested. “Cera has said a few times she hasn’t been spending as much time with Tricia as she should, she has, she has.”

“But why she not tell us about it?” Petrie asked. “We would understand, and say we see her later or tomorrow.”

“That’s the question.” Mr. Clubtail said. “Maybe she’s not with you today because her parents don’t want her being with kids who claim to see ghosts.”

Littlefoot and the others stared at him with surprise.

“You mean Mr. Threehorn and Tria don’t believe us?” Littlefoot asked. “But…we were telling the truth! We all saw the sharpbeak ghost in the caves. Lots of people saw Hyp’s mother yesterday, you saw her!”

“But not everyone saw her.” Mr. Clubtail replied. “Only a small segment of the valley was there yesterday and not everyone believes the claims we made. You were at the meeting, you saw how uncomfortable people were about all the ghost talk. Some might be inclined to believe because trustworthy folks like your grandparents made the claim but that would only further confuse folks who trust them but can’t believe in ghosts. They just don’t know what to think. Others just believe we ate or drank something funny. With all of that, it’s why I haven’t found a good place to relax yet. It’s hard to kick back and forget yesterday’s troubles when people stare at you wherever you go for what you said yesterday.”

Littlefoot and the others glanced at each other with concern. Now that they thought about it, they remembered the doubtful and uncomfortable expressions of many of the meeting circle attendants. And that wasn’t to mention the stares they attracted while moving about the valley. Littlefoot had vaguely assumed they were amazed his group had gotten themselves involved in ghosts two times in a row and they found that kind of attention uncomfortable. It was part of the reason they based themselves by this pond where not many people passed. To hear those stares likely originated from doubt of their story and even mental capacity only made them even more reluctant to move around in public view.

Mr. Clubtail continued. “Anyway, whatever Tria says, Mr. Threehorn seems to fall under that skepticism camp. Since his daughter is talking about ghosts too, he might want to keep her with the family and wait to see if she gets her ësenses’ back.” He shrugged. “It’s a theory, anyway. Who knows with Mr. Threehorn’s mood?”

The others took time to muse worriedly about this possibility. They had little choice with speaking the truth, it was necessary with what happened yesterday, but the concept that it might prevent Cera from hanging out with them was troubling. However prickly she could be, her wit and mischief was a lot of fun and they didn’t want to lose that.

“Mr. Threehorn can be harsh and protective,” Ruby said, “but from what I know, he isn’t that harsh and protective. Is he?”

“He was earlier in our friendship,” Petrie said, “but me thought he not like that anymore.”

“But it’s as Mr. Clubtail said, it depends on his mood.” Littlefoot said reluctantly. “One day, he can be grumbly but easygoing, the next, he can be as harsh as the early days we knew him. I don’t want to think he’d go so far as to break us up, or that Cera and Tria would let him but he’s always been skeptical of amazing things and with this ghost thing going around…”

The gang began to gain such a worried and sad air about them that Mr. Clubtail looked around with some distress.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to bring you all down with my blather,” he sighed. “I guess I should have kept my mouth shut. I was only curious about what was happening and since Mr. Threehorn has annoyed me before, my jaws started working before my brain and…”

“It’s okay, Mr. Clubtail.” Chomper said sincerely. “We all make mistakes.”

“Some of these thoughts have been worrying us anyway.” Littlefoot said. “You only just gave voice to them.”

“I guess this ghost business means we try to distract ourselves by talking about other things that are also not fun.” Ruby said.

“That might be right.” Mr. Clubtail admitted. “Engaging with you kids might be just one way I’m trying to cope with what I saw yesterday. Being around normal death and grief is not fun either, but to have ghosts involved…I came to this valley to live a quiet life, away from that kind of heartache. I knew it can’t be avoided forever but I thought if anyone died around here, it’d by old age or sickness, or…” he shook his head. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Nowhere is immune from the Circle of Life’s hand.”

Mr. Clubtail’s statement made Littlefoot remember the sad, resigned words of Hyp’s father about the Circle of Life. Something in his stomach curled. Before, mentions of the Circle of Life brought some comfort to Littlefoot when dealing with potential or actual loss. Now, though…Chomper shook himself from the grim mood.

“That offer to stuff your nose still stands.” Chomper grinned. “I think hearing your voice going all funny with that might actually cheer you up.”

“As weirdly tempting as that offer might actually be,” Mr. Clubtail said, causing the gang to laugh heartedly, “I’m not keen on others thinking there’s something really wrong with me after claiming I saw ghosts. Right now, I’m just in the mood to kick back, eat some treestars, and let the bright circle rays bake my worries away.”

“Have fun doing that.” Ruby said. “As I know from the mud pool visits, relaxing can be quite fun in and of itself.”

“You should try that sometime, having a quiet life. No wait, quiet is too much to expect from children.” Mr. Clubtail smirked briefly. “Ordinary. Yes, I meant an ordinary life. It’s actually pretty great.”

Littlefoot laughed. “We try. We love ordinary life. It’s just that people sometimes gets in danger or there’s something fascinating nearby, so-”

“I know.” Mr. Clubtail rolled his eyes, but there was a bit of fondness there as he began to leave. “See you around, kids.”

The gang waved back as Mr. Clubtail vanished through a set of trees. They fell silent as they turned their conversation with him over in their heads.

Petrie sighed. “You think what he say true? Cera’s dad is keeping her from us?”

Littlefoot shook his head. ”I don’t know. This ghost thing is new for everyone. They could be away for all sorts of reasons.”

“Maybe the reason they are away really is for family time.” Ruby suggested.

Chomper nodded. “Maybe her dad said she was having family time with them, and that’s final. But I don’t know…Tria is nice, she would say Cera should be allowed to explain it to us.”

“Well, why don’t we ask Tria?” Ducky asked.

“We can’t.” Petrie said. “She part of family, so she would be having family time wherever they are.”

“But she can’t be with them right now, because she’s standing over there. Look.”

Ducky pointed and the group followed her finger to find Tria munching on a bush. Littlefoot and the others stared. This only added a further complication to the mystery. Bemused, they abandoned their shell game to approach her. She chewed slowly and her eyes were far away with thought, so she didn’t notice the kids until one of them spoke up.

“Excuse us Tria,” Chomper said, “is something wrong?”

Tria roused. “Oh? Hi kids. No, not exactly. It’s just –” She turned as she talked and stared. “What do you kids have on your faces?”

Ducky giggled and tapped his nose leaf. “Oh, just some small leaves. Funny, isn’t it? We just felt like being silly today.”

Tria smiled. “Yeah, you kids deserve that, after what you’ve been through. As for the question...” she sighed. “There’s nothing wrong exactly, just…things have been weird.”

“Where’s Cera?” Ducky asked.  

“She and Tricia went off for a sisters’ day out. She kind of sprung it up out of nowhere but I couldn’t say no.”

“So, sisters’ day out instead of family day out.” Ruby said. “We weren’t far off.”

“It’s still strange she hasn’t said anything.” Littlefoot said.

Ducky, meanwhile, was looking around. “Hey, where’s Mr. Threehorn? Aren’t you two usually together?”

“He seemed to decide he also needed a day out.” Tria replied. “He wanted to check on something important and didn’t give any more details before he all but ran away from the nest. I knew when I joined this family I would encounter some strange things but…” she shook her head. “Sometimes I forget how strange it can be.”

“If it’s any help, this sounds pretty strange to us too.” Littlefoot said. “If they had some special family thing they wanted to do, I thought they’d tell you about it.”

“I don’t know if what Topsy’s doing is a family thing but...” Tria frowned. “You’re right. At least Cera would have mentioned something to you. Sometimes they do other stuff without me though…”

“Me do not always see you around Cera and her dad.” Petrie said.

“I need to look after Tricia. She’s precious but a handful. Topsy is a doting father but there are times when he wants to take a break or give a problem his undivided attention. He does his best to spend time with her and give me a break from parenting but at the end of the day…” Tria sighed. “Sometimes it’s hard to stay close.”

The group exchanged unsure looks.

“Um, Tria…are you and Mr. Threehorn doing okay?” Ducky asked tentatively.

“Why, we’re doing fine.” Tria said quickly. “This is far from the first time I’ve been in a relationship – well, it is in terms of having a child and becoming a mother. However, I’ve been through enough relationships to know when things might be going downhill. This isn’t it.”

“You can have more than one relationship?” Chomper said curiously.

“It’s part of the learning process of finding a mate. You learn how to get along and talk with each other. It doesn’t always work out your first, second, or even third time, so you keep trying until you succeed. When you find the right mate you’ll spend the rest of your life with, nothing can be more rewarding,” she sighed contently.

“But,” Petrie said, “not all mates stay mates.”

Petrie appeared to be talking more to himself the others but his words had an effect. Tria became oddly still, as though being drawn to a troubling thought. The others glared at Petrie.
   
“Why did you have to say that?” Littlefoot hissed.

“What did me say?” Petrie said blankly.

“She thinks you might be talking about Mr. Threehorn.” Ducky said.

“Huh?” Petrie’s momentary confusion gave way to horrified clarify. “Oh! Me take back what me said.”

The others sighed. Ruby approached with her arms waved out in a placating manner.

“Is today your hatch day or some special day for you?” Ruby said. “Maybe he has a surprise waiting that will make today even more special to you. I’m sure it’s nothing like a bad surprise, right?”

”Today’s not special but…” Tria shook herself firmly. “Maybe you’re right. I’m clearing this up before anyone jumps to any conclusions. I’ll find Topsy and make him explain himself. These suspicions aren’t going to rule me.”

“How are you going to find him?” Chomper asked. “Maybe we can help.”

“Oh, don’t let me disturb you all with my wild fancy.” Tria smiled reassuringly. “Just go back to you’re fun and I’ll take care of this. I’m going to follow the direction he took. Tracks can disappear fast around here but maybe I can ask around so I can track him down. Enjoy your afternoon, kids.”

Looking much more confident, Tria turned and walked away. Littlefoot and the others watched in confusion.

“What do you think is going on?” Littlefoot asked.

“Maybe they got into a fight she didn’t know about.” Ducky said. “Though I hope not. That would be sad, it would, it would.”

Ruby brushed her chin. “My parents say fighting is a normal part of relationships. They sometimes fought about where it was safe for me or my siblings to stay that would be safe for the whole family to stay. They said that a good relationship finds a way to work out the fighting.”

“That explains my mommy and daddy.” Chomper said. “Sometimes they get so angry they look ready to fight each other but the next thing I know, they are nuzzling and forgiving each other. It’s weird.”

“What do your parents fight about anyway?” Petrie asked.

Chomper shrugged. “Whose fault it is when prey gets away. If I’m eating the right meat. That sort of stuff.”

“Oh.” Petrie said, slightly nonplussed. “Me should have expected that answer.”

“It still doesn’t answer what’s going on with Tria and Mr. Threehorn.” Littlefoot said. “They may or may not be fighting. We don’t seem to have a way of knowing.”

There was a thoughtful pause. Chomper raised a hand.
 
“Why don’t we ask Cera?”

“That good point.” Petrie agreed. “If anyone know, she know. She might explain things to us.”

“I think we can track her down easily enough.” Littlefoot said. “We didn’t exactly use Chomper and Spike during our earlier search. With those two, I’m sure we can find her soon.”

“But I don’t think we can do it now.” Ducky said, glancing at the sky. “The bright circle’s moved past the middle point. Which means that any moment now, we’re going to be called by-”

“Littlefoot…Littlefoot!”

“Ducky, Spike, it’s lunchtime!”

“Petrie, return to the nest!”

Littlefoot and the others cringed at their parents’ voices. In their shenanigans and worries, they had lost track of time.

“Guess we can’t find Cera now.” Littlefoot sighed.

“We’ll find them when we come back again later.” Ruby said reasonably. “That won’t be too long, and finding them won’t take too long either.”

“But should we not take too long to find them?” Ducky said hesitantly. “I mean, this – this is Cera and Tricia’s sister time, remember? Should we interrupt it?”

There was a guilty silence. Ruby nodded sadly.

“Cera has spent a lot of time with us, so it’s fair she should spend a lot of time with her sister. Maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to find them. I mean, I wouldn’t be really mad if you guys came to me during my family time, but I’d be sad that my time with my family got taken up by other stuff.”

There was a trill of guilt in Littlefoot’s chest. He somewhat knew how she felt. He could only see Bron and Shorty for a few days every cold time and whenever that was interrupted, he felt regret they couldn’t spend more time together. Of course, Cera’s situation with her family was nothing like Littlefoot’s or Ruby’s. Nevertheless, Littlefoot couldn’t help feeling he and the others should stay out of this. Everyone had enough to worry about without having a wild goose chase over whether Cera’s parents were even arguing in the first place. It would only upset Cera and Tricia. Sometimes, it was better to leave well enough alone.

Even as he thought this, Littlefoot’s instincts resisted. If there really was a problem, he wanted to check on Cera and Tricia to make sure they were okay and offer help if needed. Better to be cautious, just in case, he thought. But how to do that without interrupting the sisters’ day? He was stumped. Before he could think too deeply, Petrie brightened.

“Maybe we can find them but not speak to them.” Petrie said.

“What do you mean?” Ducky asked.

“I mean, when we back together later, we can find them but we don’t have to talk to them, not right away. We just let them have their sister day until they’re done and then we talk to them.”

“That’s a good idea.” Ruby said. “We don’t have to worry them until they have time to be worried and then we can talk about their worries.”

“It does solve a lot of problems,” Littlefoot frowned, “but I don’t like the thought of just stalking them. They should have some privacy.”

“Maybe once we find them, we can just listen but not look until they’re done.” Ducky suggested. “If they’re sister time goes on too long, we can go away and find them again later with Spike and Chomper’s help. That would give them some privacy, right?”

“That does sound reasonable.” Littlefoot said, still looking uneasy. “Still...”

“Littlefoot!”

Littlefoot and the others jumped as his grandparents called again with increased insistence. He shook his head.

“Alright, we’ll go that route.” Littlefoot continued. “We’ll meet up later and sniff for Cera. I hope you and Spike would be ready for this, Chomper.”

“Sure we will, Littlefoot.” Chomper said, eager to help. Tracking down people and things with his nose was one of his favorite activities. He gave a bit of a chuckle as he glanced at Spike. “A sniffer’s work is never done, huh Spike?”

“Eeh.” Spike said agreeably, amused by this fact.

Shaking his head fondly, Littlefoot said. “Anyway, I’ll see you all this afternoon.”

“Yeah, see you.” Petrie said.

Everyone was in the process of bidding farewell and separating into different directions when Ruby noticed something amiss.

“Wait,” she said. “Aren’t any of you going to pull those leaves out of your noses?”

They all stopped. Littlefoot, Ducky, Spike, and Chomper looked and felt at their stuffed nostrils before they aimed silly smiles at one another.

“Nah.” Littlefoot said. “My grandparents said seeing me come home after having a good day of fun would lift their spirits and nothing will lift their spirits more than seeing me like this.”

“Yep, yep, yep.” Ducky giggled. “Looking at us with our noses stuffeded is sure to make Mama and our brothers and sister laugh, and make them less worried, right Spike?”

Spike closed his eyes and nodded eagerly. “Eh-heh, eh-heh.”

“I just think this is funny.” Chomper chuckled. “I want to be like this for a while longer.”

Ruby smiled wryly. “Though maybe not for too much of a while longer. I can’t see it being fun or comfortable having your sniffer stuffed all the way up until it’s time for you to sniff for Cera.”

“Hey, I can take it.” Chomper insisted. “Besides, it’ll be fun to hang out and look for food with a weak sniffer like most of you leaf eaters for a change.”

This caused most of the others to laugh, sticking their tongues out or rolling their eyes in mock-reproach. Giggling and with much improved spirits for the day, they finally went off in different directions, Ruby and Chomper to sate their appetites and enjoy one another’s company, the others to spend good, hopefully ghost-free, time with family.  

Next time…

Unmentioned Ties Part 2