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Author Topic: We Will Hold On Forever  (Read 5666 times)

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Sovereign

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #20 on: September 04, 2017, 09:34:37 AM »
There were some very nice developments here. The ghost phenomenon is spreading fast and the way you build the plot, you are creating many long-term questions which is always good in long stories. Also, I liked the character interactions and the dialogue is first rate as always. The first scene initiated the handling of the ghost issue on a larger scale and the Gang's confession about their encounter with the two was an extremely awkward moment for them and the following reactions to their story really created room for future conflicts.

The whole part with the threehorns was strange in an interesting way. It seems like this ghost phenomenon follows some kind of pattern in the way it forms as Cera and Tria are clearly not involved in the latest incident just yet. However, Topps' reunion with her mate (unless I'm mistaken) brings a lot of questions. The scene itself was a pretty satisfying one as it made Cera's mom realize that her family is in good hands and the overall feeling of the scene was simultaneously awkward and pleasant. However, I have a feeling that soon Tria and Cera will be acting like nothing strange has ever happened. At that point, things will probably get pretty complex.

The latter part of the chapter was mostly fun to read and the Gang's idea of spending a silly afternoon after the morning was a good idea to show how they are coping. However, that part seemed to be a bit too long and I feel some parts of it could have been shortened as Cera's situation was pondered a bit too deeply here (even if her family will be the focus of the next chapter.)

Overall, this was a good chapter that normalized the situation as a whole and allowed the characters to come to terms with the new reality. Aside from a few pacing problems, this chapter flowed nicely and built the scene for the further escalation soon. I'm getting really interested in which direction this story will go from now on! :)

rhombus

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #21 on: September 04, 2017, 02:30:13 PM »
The developments in this chapter certainly appear to be setting the stage for something greater.  The valley now knows of the ghost phenomenon even if many of the residents are skeptical.  Though, as seen with Topps, his skepticism seems to be only for public show as he reconnects with his lost mate.  His concern about what day it is does heavily imply that the ghost situation arises (at least in her case) in a cyclic pattern of some kind.  Perhaps a death anniversary? I would imagine that more details will be revealed on that front as time goes on.

As for the rest of the chapter it appears to be a nice slice of life scene involving the gang - elaborating upon their interactions between the excitement, which is something that is obviously truncated for flow-reasons in the films and most fanfics.  Its length does make the scene drag a bit, but I rather enjoyed it due to it allowing us to see that side of the gang in much more detail than is usually possible.  The only real modification that I would recommend is to keep in mind that Ducky seldom uses contractions, if memory serves me right.  So entries like this:

Quote
“You obviously didn’t mean to.” Ducky said comfortingly.

Should probably be revised to:

Quote
“You obviously did not mean to.” Ducky said comfortingly.

It is a very minor point, but it might be picked up by some of the Ducky purists out there. (peers around the corner to make sure Ducky123 is not spying  :p )

But overall this was a good chapter that certainly gave readers something to ponder over as the phenomenon seems to be spreading.  :)


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

Ducky123

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #22 on: September 08, 2017, 05:13:08 AM »
Whoa, I regret not reading this sooner!

I'm afraid I can't really go much info details with this review because I've been reading chapter 1 in bits and pieces inbetween school lessons. Anyway, I did enjoy this a lot so far! The Gang is on one of their little adventures again (with Littlefoot being more cautious than usual. Dang, at first I thought it'd all evolve around his grandparents passing on, that was some stunt you pulled there with the dream sequence :p), discovering another cave with weird looking stuff in it and of course they get themselves into big trouble.

Icky and Dil are an interesting choice of villain so far and it seems their cooperation is much better and effective by now. I don't think I've seen any writer go that route yet - them entering the valley. You provided some good action so far and it's far from safe to say the Gang is going to make it (that's some evil cliffhanger there, great job :lol)

I shall hope my lessons are particularly boring today so I can get to read some more ^^spike
Note to self: finally create that signature lazy bum! :P

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #23 on: September 10, 2017, 09:49:35 AM »
@Ducky123 Thank you for reading this story and the review. Yes, it begins like one of their usual adventures and you'll see where it goes from there. As for the dream of the grandparents' passing...don't worry, it's not just a stunt. It's the start of a important story thread.

Let's just say I chose Ichy and Dil for villains because of their bickering relationship, even if they're cooperating much better now. I'm glad to hear you like the action, I'm still new to balancing that right and that is a evil cliffhanger. Actually, it wasn't originally a cliffhanger, the first and second chapter were originally one chapter but since it was nearly 60 pages, I thought I'd halve them. As for who has and will make it...that's a complicated question but you'll see.

Don't go endangering your education too much to read my stories. Still, I look forward to your future readings and maybe reviews.

Now for the next reviews. Since those contain spoilers, please avert your eyes Ducky123.

--

...

...

@Sovereign I appreciate the review. There are some long term questions and conflicts I'm setting up but I'm admittedly unsure how long term the question of how they'd handle the ghost phenomenon is. While rereading this and the next chapter, I realized driving off ghosts that are nonthreatening might be insensitive, since this robs people of the chance for reunion and the healing of unresolved conflicts. So I decided to add in the debate and change how the ghosts are handled in the next chapter. I don't know if I'll revisit that question but it might feed into the conflict I have in mind. We'll see.

You're speculation on how the ghosts work is interesting and there will be some answers in the next chapter. I'm glad to hear you liked the interactions between Mr. Threehorn and the mysterious companion. It was supposed to be a balance between awkward and pleasant.

It's good to hear the silly game scene didn't seem like too much filler. I'm setting up some more character stuff in there. But I can see the pacing issues. That is one of my weaknesses, extending a scene when I'm unsure about it. Don't know how quickly I'll resolve that issue.

Thanks again. You'll see how things develop in part 2, which will hopefully be in a few minutes.

@Rhombus Thanks for the review. I find I do like blowing up secrets early, and just letting everyone deal with the consequences. As for your speculation on the ghosts and Topps, it's interesting. I'll answer it in the next chapter.

As much as I do like drama, I find I treasure the slice-of-life scenes where the gang is sweet and can goof off. There is some important character stuff during all of that, so I didn't just put it there for fluff's sake.

Will keep that Ducky dialogue modification in mind. Thanks.

You will still be doing some pondering for some chapters to come but hopefully the next chapter, which will hopefully be posted in a few minutes, will clear some short term questions up. Thanks again.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #24 on: September 10, 2017, 10:33:30 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/5/We-...Hold-On-Forever

--1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 05: Unmentioned Ties Part 2


Earlier that morning, Cera marched through the field in a pleasant state of mind. Normally, it would take sitting in warm mud or accomplishing a life threatening task to get her into this much of a good mood but something special was going to happen today and she couldn’t wait to share it with Tricia. Her sister remained on her back, head flicking around to whatever caught her sparky interest. Occasionally, she waddled about and made coos of curiosity and Cera laughed as those little feet tickled her back.

“Stay in one place, okay? You don’t want to fall and bruise your front leg again, do you?”

Tricia stopped moving and gripped Cera’s frill with her forelegs, instantly becoming a model of propriety. Cera smiled, pleased. It wasn’t always easy having her listen but the memory of having scraped her foreleg was apparently still unpleasant enough that she wasn’t eager to risk a repeat. She was a bit of a handful, but Cera didn’t mind that with Tricia. There was something about her open, innocent nature that put Cera at ease. She could be honest with someone who couldn’t yet be judgmental of her, and Cera valued that. She only hoped the people they were going to meet would also be receptive to Tricia. Cera felt a fumble on top of her neck and realized Tricia was looking back unwaveringly in the direction they came.

“Sorry Tricia, Tria can’t come along.” Cera said. “It won’t be a sisters’ day out if the mother is along, right? Besides, it might be best she stayed behind…”

Tricia looked down and mumbled, noticing Cera’s change in demeanor. Cera averted her gaze nervously as she walked.

“Listen, can you keep a secret?” she asked. “I’m about to introduce you to some very special people. This must be kept from Tria because this could upset her. I know she’s the nice sort who wouldn’t hold anything against them, but seeing them back might still make her sad. Can you do that? I know you like to imitate what other people say but can you try not to do that with the people we’re going to meet?”

Tricia merely continued glancing down from Cera’s frill, bemused. She clearly had trouble comprehending what Cera said. What Tricia could get out of it was that her big sister was behaving very oddly today and she stared at Cera as though asking for clarification. Cera sighed and muttered under her breath.

“Right. Don’t speak for too long.” Cera raised her voice. “Look, just don’t tell this to Tria, okay? It’ll make everyone happier. Agreed?”

Tricia still appeared confused but settled down with a warble of assent. Cera would probably have to remind Tricia again but maybe the next few minutes shall clear her confusion up soon enough. She felt guilty for being secretive around Tria about this but she didn’t want to upset her. After their many cold times together, she was really attached to her stepmother and didn't want to choose any family member above another.

She reached the set of thickly clustered trees that signaled the end of the field. There was enough leaves to cast darkness and Petrie would have thought twice about going there. That area might have made Tricia nervous as well but fortunately the pair didn’t need to enter there. Three figures could be glimpsed standing on the small forest’s edge, details obscured by shadow but their shapes so recognizable to her. Cera’s heart leapt.

“Hey. Hey!”

Cera galloped forward and the three figures noticed her approach. They also moved quickly to meet her. At the middle, they stopped and drank each other in, aglow with delight.

“Took you long enough to show up!” said one of the figures.

“Nice to see you again too.” Cera said. “Man, it’s feels like forever since we’ve been together. How long ago has it been?”

“Since before you made it to the Great Valley.” said the second figure.

“That long? Then it really has been forever! What have you all been up to?”

The four devolved into eager chatter, recounting the amazing or amusing things they have seen or done. Cera was vaguely aware Tricia was staring at the trio but she was so focused on boasting, and teasing, and catching up, it didn’t bother her too much. At length, one of the girls noticed Cera’s passenger staring at them and raised her eyes to look at her.

“So is that Tricia?” she asked. “Wow, she’s tinier than I thought.”

“Hey, she’s still a baby. She was born only, well…” Cera trailed off, frowning. “Anyway, it’s pretty recent. I thought she would like it if she got to meet you guys.”

“Are you sure she won’t blab us to your new mother?” said another girl suspiciously.

“No Holly. She only knows a few words and my name is the one she likes to use the most.” Cera raised her head proudly. “Needless to say, I seem to be her favorite.”

Holly didn’t appear totally convinced but softened a bit as another of the girls got closer to Tricia, bright-eyed and keen.

“She is a cutie.” The second girl said. “I like her.”

Cera rolled her eyes. “Of course she’s cute, Rita. All babies are cute. It seems to be their job. And can you back off? You’re scaring Tricia.”

Reluctantly, Rita stepped back while the final as yet named girl considered Tricia fondly.

“Have you told her who we are yet?” she asked softly. “She must be a bit confused about why we look so much like you. It might be best to tell her now.”

“Yeah Duane, I think it’s time for the surprise to be revealed.” Gently, Cera lowered Tricia from her back. “Tricia, these girls are Holly, Rita, and Duane. They are my sisters – and they are yours too."

Once again, Tricia didn’t appear to know exactly what Cera was saying, but she stirred at the word, “sisters.” She stared from Holly to Rita to Duane with amazement as her young mind put the pieces together. She glanced at Cera and back to the trio, her confusion clearing a bit but not by much. She still appeared baffled by something but Cera shrugged it off. When you were that young, being confused by things was to be expected.

“Don’t worry, they’re harmless.” Cera reassured Tricia. “Well, maybe Holly can be a bit stern and Rita careless but they aren’t so bad. And they’re not from Tria. They’re from my previous mother I mentioned before but that doesn’t make me any less your sister, or them too. Anyway, look on the bright side. We’re around the same age, so it would be like playing with four of me. C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

“I wouldn’t consider playing with four of you fun.” Holly said dryly.

“Quiet, I’m trying to persuade our littlest sister here. So what do you say, Tricia? Want to play with us?”

“Yeah, want to play?” Rita asked.

“We wouldn’t mind you bopping around a rock with us.” Duane said.

Tricia looked uncertainly from one sister to the next, each eager or encouraging. Even Holly managed to work up a friendly expression.

“What games does she like?” Holly asked. “Maybe if we play them, she’ll decide to join in on her own.”

“Let’s see.” Cera frowned. “She likes to run and roll around a lot. She likes to touch and play with people’s horns and feet. There’s not many games she knows the name of, which leaves us with…”

A slow grin came across her face. She locked eyes with Tricia for a moment before gently bobbing her nose to hers.

“Tag, you’re it!” Cera declared. “Come and catch us!”

Laughing, Cera and her other sisters fled from Tricia, making sure not to be too quick and stay within Tricia’s sight. Tricia continued to stare, watching Cera and her sisters weave around each other in silly patterns, working off energy in the silliest of ways. Their faces were alight with delight.

Slowly, Tricia smiled and gave chase, attempting to tag Cera and any of the others she could reach. Cera jumped over Tricia before she could touch her, Duane nearly collided with her and doubled back, Rita hopped around her while giggling teasingly, and Holly ran circles around her until she was dizzy. Catching them was easier said than done, but Tricia didn’t care. She was having as much fun as her sisters and wasn’t interested in ending things any time soon. Tricia couldn’t bring up much thought at her age but at the moment, all she could think of as she ran with the other girls was how amazing Cera was to have sisters like these.

--

Tria stalked around, surveying the forest she walked beside. Tracking down Mr. Threehorn had been somewhat difficult, since anyone who might have seen him wander by didn’t stick around in one location. Still, she was able to find enough people to talk to on the direction Mr. Threehorn took to be able to sniff out his route. Now she observed these closely knit trees for any sign that someone had entered them. Some tracks lasted longer than others and in a Great Valley populated with many large dinosaurs, these signs could blur together and vanish quickly. The grass and earth around here was mostly undisturbed. Apparently, not many were keen to hang around in these woods. So why would Mr. Threehorn be here?

She was so occupied with finding clues she didn’t even notice the rumbling steps of someone approaching until she bumped into him. Grunting, Tria stepped back as she heard a strangled sound of consternation. Mr. Threehorn had just emerged from the trees and was looking at Tria with startled eyes.

“Topsy, there you are.” Tria said. “I’ve been looking all over to find you.”

“T-Tria.” Mr. Threehorn stuttered. “What are you doing here?”

“You were acting so strangely this morning. I’m wondering if you’re alright.” Tria looked over his shoulder. “What are you doing in there?”

Mr. Threehorn averted his gaze. “I’m – I’m just meeting with an old friend. They don’t like to be seen around in public, that’s all.”

“What kind of old friend? Do you mean Verter? He didn’t strike me as the type who avoided attention.”

“I met other people since I last saw you. You would be surprised at the variety I associated with.”

“Then why didn’t you briefly explain who you’re meeting with instead of being vague and running off like that?” Tria demanded. “You’re not telling the whole truth, Topsy. You were never good at fibbing. Please, tell me. I can take the truth. What are you doing?”

“Don’t I have a right to some privacy?” Mr. Threehorn asked. “We might be mates but I don’t interrogate you about your secrets.”

“This isn’t some ordinary secret.” Tria said. “You weren’t acting as though you were about to have a private mud bath or anything like that. It’s as though you had an urgent meeting that you only just remembered and you’re desperate to make sure I don’t find out about it.”

“That’s because you wouldn’t understand.” Mr. Threehorn muttered. “It would only upset you.”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m a little girl!” Tria snapped. She took a deep breath. “You can trust me, Topsy. I’ll listen to your explanation. We are both grownups. We can communicate, can we? I just want to head off any misunderstandings before they get blown out of proportion. Can you do that for me?”

Mr. Threehorn’s defensive defiance turned into indecision. His face reflected the mental battle that followed. Tria waited, impatience starting to cold her chest. At last, something in him seemed to give and he sighed.

“Alright I’ll tell you.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Later, when the bright circle sets. I’m still in the middle of the meeting. But…let me be clear, Tria. I’m loyal to you. I always have been and always will be. Don’t let anything you learn change that.”

“That isn’t very reassuring.” Tria replied. “What’s so bad about telling me now?”

“Because I need time to compose myself.” Mr. Threehorn sighed. “Once this is done, I’ll explain everything. Just wait patiently. I’ll be there for you.”

Tria held his gaze for several moments before she had to look away. “Okay. But you have a lot of explaining to do once this is over.”

Mr. Threehorn nodded solemnly, and continued on his way toward a nearby pond. She glimpsed that several leaves had fallen on his back while he had been in the forest. The sight stirred up the memory of Tricia riding Cera that morning and she found herself talking.

“Are Cera and Tricia there with you?”

Mr. Threehorn turned and glanced at her in surprise. He considered answering her question before shaking her head.

“No. I haven’t seen them since this morning. But I think they might be playing nearby, with – I’ll explain when this is over.”

And then he went over to the pond, had a long drink, and returned to the forest without looking at her. Tria stayed where she was, attempting to puzzle out what just happened.

*What can be so important that it can’t be mentioned now?*

There were many details floating in her mind now. They had appeared distant and disconnected but there was clues in there. Dispassionately, as though her brain was separate from her body, it began to piece things together. She remembered Mr. Threehorn’s sudden morning change in behavior; Cera proclaiming she and Tricia shall be having a “sisters’ day” out; Mr. Threehorn expressing his faithfulness to her; his shot in the dark guess about Cera and Tricia’s whereabouts and who they might be playing with; and a warning, an word of caution as to what to watch out for. Tria hadn’t thought much about last night’s meeting today but it came to the forefront of her mind and all of these separate observations got connected. Cold shot through Tria’s heart and she stepped back.

“Oh, no,” she whispered.

Turning, she ran as fast as she could in search of Grandpa and Grandma Longneck.

--

Cera was out of breath by the time the sisters were too tired to play tag. They had run all over the place, dodging Tricia and teasing her to keep going. Tricia put all the energy she had in catching Cera and the others. She hadn’t cared in the slightest that she had trouble tagging any of them. The youth merely reveled in the thrill of the chase and being in the presence of family that made her laugh. She eventually did tag Cera but then her big sister turned around with a big grin and fulfilled her tagger role with all the exuberance of someone who can indulge in playing the role of villain. The role of tagger switched between Cera and Tricia as the morning turned to afternoon, but Holly, Rita, and Duane were always too quick for them. It had been a good expense of energy and the sisters enjoyed the opportunity to rest.

With the bright circle in the noon position, they laid on their back or stomachs in the open sunshine, soaking in the comforting heat. Exhaustion filled their forms. The only movement of note came from Tricia, who giggled and rolled out of the way as Rita contently attempted to catch her with her forepaws. Holly rolled onto her chest, finally at ease, and lazily flicking a thumb between two blades of grass.

“It’s great to do this again.” Holly admitted. “Playing without you was a lot more boring.”

Cera raised her head, pleased. “I bring in the necessary excitement for a game. I’m sure some of my friends might be surprised by me saying that but…”

“You have friends who are more exciting than you?” Rita said. “I must meet them.”

“Hey, none of them can beat me. They don’t have my wit or brain.”

“I’ve seen only a few with a wit or brain like yours.” Duane observed.

“Well, I wish we can be in the presence of your brain and wit more often.” Holly said. “Too bad things didn’t work out with our folks.”

Cera nodded sadly. “I wish they could have talked it out but Dad is stubborn. He can be a pain in the tail sometimes.”

“Mom is no slouch at stubbornness either.” Rita replied. “If you could hear how she tried to look for you after the earthshake. She was really desperate.”

“She was upset when she could find no way to get to your side.” Duane added. “We all were.”

“And when she said we should go with the mixed herd, Dad got upset and…” Holly sighed. “You know what happened.”

Cera shook her head. “It took forever to get Dad to tell me what happened. He could rant and rave forever about something he doesn’t like but when it came to you guys, barely any word came out of him.”

“That’s our dad.” Rita said. “Not very feelsy is he?”

“Hey, he’s not that bad.” Cera said defensively.

“I’m not saying that’s bad. He’s funny when he tries to be soft.” Rita rolled over.

“I like it when he’s funny.” Duane giggled. “It’s better than when he’s mad.” She stopped smiling. “They both tried to work it out. Really. But it wasn’t enough. Things could have been better but…too late now.”

Cera shifted uncomfortably. Thinking about what could have been, the fun family times that were now not possible, ached deeply in a way no surface pain ever could. Among this pain though was a spark of confusion. She felt a bit fuzzy about the details of her parents’ conflict and how they exactly failed to make up but she didn’t give those questions much focus. Her mind quailed away from the aching feeling, old and oddly intense, and shut it away. There was no use thinking such thoughts. Littlefoot made due with his limited time with Bron and Shorty. She could do the same. The only issue was when and how often Cera would be able to play with her sisters again.

“So, will you visit again?” Cera said casually.

“We’re not sure.” Holly said vaguely. “Mom just decided it was time to check up on you guys. Who knows when she’ll decide it’s the right time again.”

“It depends on what this Tria person thinks too.” Rita remarked. “Sooner or later, you’ll get caught when you’re doing something sneaky. That’s just the way the circle of life works.”

“I’m sure it’ll work out.” Duane said. “From what we hear, Tria seems nice. Even if she might be uncomfortable about Mom, she’ll be okay with us hanging out, right?”

“I’m sure. Still, I didn’t want to cause her any pain by suddenly announcing I’d be meeting up with my other mom and…” Cera trailed off. “Wait, how do you know about Tria and Tricia? Isn’t this our first time talking and – hey, how did we plan this meeting if we never talked before?”

“Uh...” For a second, Holly was blank. “Mom communicated by flyer. Yeah. Different Herds interacting with each other is also becoming the norm in the Mysterious Beyond and she changes with the times too. I can’t believe you forgot that.”

“Oh. Oh, right.” Cera nodded distractedly. “What’s wrong with me? I forgot about our meeting this morning too. I must have been too tired when I got up to remember.”

“You are so like Dad.” Duane said good-naturedly. “Hopefully you will remember next time we meet.”

“I hope Mom and Dad are getting along enough now that there’ll be a next time…” Rita said.

Tricia looked among the sisters, having sensed the mood had gone uncertain and forlorn. Discontent, she got to her feet and babbled, repeating the same sound questioningly.

“Huh?” Cera said. “What is it, Tricia?”

Frowning, she made the sound again, fine tuning it into something a bit more familiar but still unintelligible. When Cera and the others continued to look blank, Tricia tried to say the word again.

“Wha – Wer…Where!” Tricia jumped, delighted by her accomplishment, and repeated the word. “Where? Where?”

“Where what?” Holly asked.

“Where?” She jutted her horn toward Holly, Rita, and Duane. “Where?”

“Oh, I think she’s asking where you live when you’re not with us.” Cera said. “Good question, Tricia. Where have you all been staying, anyway? Why didn’t you just remain in the Great Valley?”

Duane appeared uncomfortable. “Mom said she needed space after the breakup. Even with being in a place as big as the valley, she didn’t want to risk the chance of running into him again. As for where we are…”

“We’re in some place that’s much smaller.” Rita continued uncertainly. “We never caught the name of it but we don’t need to worry about eating and sharpteeth don’t seem to like coming around there.”

“So, is this some mini-valley?” Cera asked.

“It’s kind of hard to describe.” Holly averted her gaze. “But it wasn’t very far from here.”

Cera frowned. True, there were a few green places outside the valley where even a herd can eat comfortably without worrying about going hungry but ones that sharpteeth couldn’t access? She shoved the thought away before she could examine it. Holly might have been referring to a place a bit farther off, one she and her friends hadn’t come across. Oh well. If she and her friends stumble into the Mysterious Beyond yet again, they could visit that place. It would be amusing to picture the sight of their faces. There was nothing unusual about her sisters’ reactions to the question at all.

“Right.” Cera shook herself as she got to her feet. “All of you rested up? I still have much playing I want to do.”

“Been waiting for someone to say that.” Rita said eagerly, jumping up.

“Good thing our parents chose this field as out meeting place instead of any place with not a lot of room like that forest or…anywhere near a cliff.” Duane suppressed a shudder. “We can run and play almost anything we want here.”

“Then we’d better get playing.” Holly followed her sisters’ lead. “Let’s teach Tricia about the many kinds of fun that can be had out there, especially with many sisters.”

“You just read my mind.” Cera smirked. “What do you say, Tricia?”

Tricia hopped into a standing position, tail wagging. Heartened by her eager anticipation, Cera and her fellow sisters plotted how to let her have fun in the way that would delight them all.

--

Littlefoot walked with his friends, having a hard time keeping his attention on the search for Cera. It took a bit longer for them to reunite than expected. After hearing of their involvement with the ghosts, the families wanted to spend more time with their children, claiming it to be for the gang’s benefit but Littlefoot suspected it was also for their own. The gang didn’t have the heart to refuse and some part of them went along with this.

Littlefoot had to admit, he loved being with his grandparents for that length of time, though there were details that meant he wasn’t always happy. It all started on a good note, when he came galloping in and they got a good glimpse of his face.

“Oho, what is that you have in your nose?” Grandpa Longneck laughed, he and Grandma rocking their heads with mirth.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Littlefoot grinned widely, standing tall and turning his face side to side to give them a good view, thrilled by their amusement. “My friends made me try it while we were goofing around and I think I like it. What do you say?”

Grandma Longneck smiled wryly. “I don’t think it’ll start a trend but you certainly wear it well. Is that how you kids entertained yourselves?”


Littlefoot gave them a more detailed account of how he ended up with the nose plugs and the food game Ruby introduced them to, heartened by how his grandparents smiled and chuckled at the silly things his friends said and did. They sat around relaxed for a few hours, playing a few games that sometimes involved his grandparents trying to imitate his nasally voice with varying degrees of success. Littlefoot’s smile barely left his face and for that time, he felt like he was really bringing light into their lives, as they said.

Eventually, his grandparents told him he should remove the leaf plugs and go over to the nearby river to wash his nose.

“We don’t want to risk you getting a nasal infection, now do we?” Grandma Longneck said.

“Definitely not.” Littlefoot replied.


He ran off to the river, throwing the leaves into a small easy-to-overlook hole and cleaning his nasal passages in the water, taking a bit longer than expected but he didn’t mind, warmed by how good-natured and content they were when he left them. When he returned to them, though, their demeanor had changed. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck were far more subdued, troubled, with little flickers of horror in their eyes. Chest twisting with dread, Littlefoot approached them carefully.

“What is it?” he said. “What’s wrong?”

They started, as though surprised about his reappearance. They stared at him, nervous, not knowing what to say. Littlefoot couldn’t help noticing there were recent footmarks in the grass. He turned to them with some dread.

“Did – did someone come around?” he asked. “It’s – it’s it happening again, isn’t? Why else would you have those looks on your faces?”

Grandpa Longneck hesitated but said. “We’re not sure if this is a case. We’re going to check, but it might be nothing. Still…we’ll prepare for the worst.”


Littlefoot gave a soft, upset sigh before he quickly walked up to press against them. He felt them nuzzle him, presumably to assure him by seeking comfort, and whatever good mood was left evaporated. They tried to resume their chat and play but it was still quieter than it used to be. Littlefoot caught them glancing at him every so often. He could surmise why. They didn’t talk about it but they knew the arrangement. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck would deal with the ghost and Littlefoot wouldn’t get involved. Littlefoot could understand, not wishing to go through something that sad and traumatic again. Still, there was something weird about the concern in their eyes as they glanced his way that sent a chill of unease through him. He tried to brush it away, his worry for his grandparents more dominant. It wasn’t a worry that went away by the time he bid them a subdue farewell to reunite with his friends.  

Littlefoot’s eyes were turned to the side in thought as he and his friends walked along. He wondered where his grandparents were right now. Were they breaking the news to someone that a loved one was a ghost all along? Whatever assurances he told himself, Littlefoot’s mind kept lingering on what the fallout would be and how his grandparents were coping with the responsibility.

He forced himself to focus on their search for Cera. There was initially some difficulty in catching her scent. Spike, and especially Chomper, had kept their leaves in their noses a bit too long and they looked like they regretted their decision as their nostrils itched. Eventually, they had to pause to wash their noses under Ruby’s advisement and that caused some delay. Though unhappy to fill their nostrils with water, Chomper and Spike did pick up Cera’s smell.

The pair’s noses took them near the resting place of Cera’s family, through some fields, and around clumps of foliage. Wherever she had been going, she wanted to avoid as many obstacles as she could. That wasn’t out of character, since Tricia was in Cera’s company and she didn’t want her little sister to be stuck or trapped somewhere. They still had little clue of Cera’s destination or what she was doing there until they heard laughter in the distance.

“That Cera!” Petrie said.

“And Tricia.” Ducky said. “They sound like they are having fun, they are.”

Ruby frowned. “I’m hearing other voices. Who are those voices with Cera and Tricia?”

“I don’t know.” Littlefoot said. “They do sound a bit familiar though. Let’s go see…”

They were among a thin line of trees not large enough to be called a forest. In addition to the trail going through here, the treetops provided some relief from the strong sunlight. From their position, they could see a great field and, in the distance, a forest. Close to that forest was Cera and Tricia, laughing breathlessly as they passed a rock between themselves, running as though pursued by invisible competitors. It was easy to locate their laughter but the other laughs were a mystery.

“It’s just the two of them?” Ducky said. “Huh? Those other voices must be watching from somewhere close by.”

“It can’t be that.” Ruby said. “There is only grass where they’re playing and the grass is only high enough to hide Tinysauruses. None of those sound like a Tinysaurus I met.”

“Then who is there?” Petrie wondered.

Littlefoot was quiet for a long moment. His eyes searched the surroundings thoroughly for any signs of life beside Cera and Tricia. His heart sank, cold prickling through him, as he began to get an inkling for why his grandparents looked at him with such concern.

“Chomper,” Littlefoot said at last, “do you smell anyone there?”

Chomper stepped forward and sniffed. “Not anyone in the immediate area. Just Cera and Tricia…” he tensed fearfully. “Wait, you don’t mean this is-”

“If we can’t see anybody and if Chomper can’t smell anybody,” Littlefoot said, “where is that laughter coming from?”

A chill of horror blew past them. Ducky stiffened from her position on Spike.

“You mean Cera and Tricia are playing with ghosts there?” she squeaked.

“They must be people she know, like Hyp.” Petrie said. “Oh no, oh no, this bad. We have to tell her.”

Petrie began to flap ahead but Ducky quickly jumped off Spike to intercept him.

“No wait, we cannot do this,” she said. She fidgeted. “Maybe we should leave them alone. The other voices sound like they are Cera’s age. Maybe they are previous friends or brothers and sisters. If this is the only time they can be together, we should not ruin it, we should not, we should not.”

“We shouldn’t be hasty.” Littlefoot said carefully. “But we still don’t know what effects these ghost have on those they were close to. What if this makes Cera and Tricia sick or damages their emotions in a big way? We definitely can’t check on the state of the bellydragger now and as for Hyp…his father might be willing to talk but Hyp would be with him and he’d likely start chucking stuff at us the second he sees us approach,” he checked the sky. “The bright circle is nearly down. We should get my grandparents. We can find out how to help Cera and Tricia by talking to them.”

And he was already thinking about how to help the sisters. He understood why his grandparents didn’t want him involved in any other ghostly phenomena – they didn’t want him or his friends to go through this sort of personal pain – but this was his best friend. With what she was about to go through, Cera needed the support of her friends. Not to mention if his grandparents were going to deal with children who were tangled up with ghosts, Littlefoot wanted to be there to help and support them…

“Littlefoot is right.” Ruby said. “Grandpa and Grandma Longneck would know the right way to break the news to her.”

“We should probably leave, yeah?” Chomper said. “We don’t want them to notice us.”

“That’s right.” Littlefoot replied. “Let’s sneak back. If we’re quiet, they probably won’t know-”

“Hey, why are those kids watching us?”

The group jumped at the unfamiliar voice. Cera and Tricia had stopped their rock game and were now looking straight at Littlefoot and the others. Littlefoot cringed. While debating about whether to approach Cera or not, he neglected to tell Ducky and Petrie to get back into the tree shadows where they wouldn’t be seen.

“Yeah?” said another voice. “They act as though they haven’t seen threehorns play with each other before.”

“That’s because those are my friends.” Cera said. “They haven’t met you yet. Guys, come on over! I might as well introduce you all to each other.”

Littlefoot and the others stood indecisively for a moment. Littlefoot was tempted to move away quickly but that would only complicate matters. Reluctantly, he led his friends up to where Cera and Tricia were.

“Remember, guys,” Littlefoot whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “when the ghosts speak, stare in the directions of their voices. Try to be positive. This is another meeting with new people.”

“This creepy.” Petrie murmured.

“Ssh!”

As they neared, they saw Cera and Tricia standing in anticipation. Apparently, the two sisters were pleased to have them around. Cera waved them over.

“You came just in time,” she said. “Sorry I haven’t told you guys about this but they were only going to stick around for a day, so I wanted to make the most of the time I have with them. I’m sure you understand.”

“Um, who are you making the most of your time with?” Ruby asked delicately.

“C’mon, shouldn’t it be obvious? We kind of look alike. These are the sisters I hatched with – Holly, Rita, and Duane. You three, these are my friends – Littlefoot, Ducky, Petrie, Spike, Chomper, and Ruby.”

Littlefoot swept his gaze about to cover for his ignorance of the sisters’ locations. “Um, nice to meet you all.”

“The same goes for you,” said a calm voice. From where Cera pointed, it belong to Duane. “We have, erm…heard a lot about you.”

“And we’ve even seen one of you too,” a second sterner voice, Holly, said. “Weren’t you the longneck that tried to charge at Cera as though you were a threehorn?”

“Uh, yeah.” Littlefoot turned to Holly, attempting to be sheepish instead of on edge. “I think I saw you three there too. Funny how some friendships start. But I, um, definitely don’t regret it.”

“Though Dad sometimes does.” Cera said. “Though he’s pretty accepting of them now,” she smirked. “If you get him alone enough in the right mood, he might even say he likes them. Oh, it’s such a hoot.”

As Cera’s sisters chuckled knowingly, Littlefoot attempted to give an amused smile as he mentally plotted what words to use.

“Speaking of your dad Cera, where is he?” he asked.

“Oh, he’s with Mom in there.” Cera said, jerking her head to the forest. “She came to the valley with my sisters for today, and our parents planned it so we could play while they caught up.”

*Another mother. Maybe that’s what my grandparents are going to – oh, Cera.* Littlefoot thought, heart breaking. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his friends struggling to fight the devastation and sympathy from entering their faces. For all he knew, Mr. Threehorn’s previous mate was still alive and was experiencing this haunting too but he doubted that with the mention she came along with Cera’s sisters. Cera rarely mentioned her mother and sisters but the gang seldem had much of as inkling as to why until now.

Despite his efforts, some of his inner turmoil must have showed on his face, for Cera’s glowing expression faltered slightly and she tilted her head at him.

“What’s that look for?” she asked.

Littlefoot started and shook his head. “Nothing. It’s just, we met Tria, and she was worried about why you and your dad were so eager to get away from her.”

“Oh.” Cera said, regret entering in. “I guess we could have done that better but her knowing my mom would be here would only upset her.” With effort, she rallied. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it up to her. After all she does for us, she deserves it.”
   
Holly’s voice hummed, unsettled, while Duane made a subdued sound. In the awkwardness that followed, there was a rumble of steps as though someone stepped closer to examine this strange assortment of kids.

“You have a sharptooth for a friend?” Rita’s voice asked. “Wicked!”

“Um, is that good?” Chomper asked, nervous instead of bemused.

“A talking sharptooth? Wow, you have some interesting pals, Cera!”

“Interesting definitely describes them.” Holly’s voice said neutrally. “I didn’t think you would make these kinds of friends.”

“Me neither.” Cera admitted. “But it seems I like those who are annoying and weird. They ain’t so bad.”

“Well, if Dad’s okay with them…” Holly replied, some doubt present but ease entering her voice.

“I guess around here, herd intermingling is normal.” Rita said. “I’ve been a bit curious about how other herds worked.”

“Well, here’s a great opportunity to learn about that.” Ruby replied. “Actually, you can learn about it in other places as well. Herds made up of different kinds are becoming more common out in the Mysterious Beyond.”

“Really? Huh, don’t remember bumping into that much. Oh, other than that flyer who passed along a message to Dad and Cera.” Rita said. “Though tell us, do other herds have something against eye contact? Because you’re looking all over the place. It’s weird. Is there something on our faces?”

“Not that we can notice.” Ducky said.

“Nothing wrong.” Petrie laughed nervously. “It just too bright to see out here.”

Tricia laughed. She seemed to find something about what Petrie said amusing. Upon attracting everyone’s attention, she hobbled to face them and babbled, attempting to narrow down the words she wanted to say and pointing around. For some reason, Littlefoot felt a flicker of unease the longer Tricia did this but he didn’t know why. Before he could explore the feeling further, Tricia spoke.

“See-through.”

“Come again?” Cera asked.

Tricia giggled. “See-through.”

She waved around again. Puzzled, Cera looked about but didn’t notice anything. She was far from the only one bemused. The gang could practically hear her sisters survey the area in confusion. Littlefoot and the others had a hard time pretending to be confused, some open awareness and fear slipping onto their faces. The threehorn sisters didn’t remain ignorant of this, as the gang felt more than one pair of eyes stare in their direction

“You guys…” Rita said slowly. “What is she calling see-through?”

“Um…” Petrie said.

“Is she talking about water? Like some pond?” Duane asked. “Why do you all look so nervous? Is that water toxic?”

“We are not exactly nervous.” Ducky said weakly. “And there’s no pond nearby, toxic or untoxic.”

“Then what is she talking about?” Cera demanded.

“You lot are still not looking directly at us.” Holly said. “It’s not that bright, not really. We’re not scary to look at. You have a sharptooth friend, for goodness sake. So what’s the big deal with us, huh?”

“The big deal isn’t you precisely.” Ruby said.

“Then what is it?” Rita said curiously. “Just tell us? We don’t bite – much.”

“It’s um...we don’t want – we can’t say.” Chomper said.

“What do you mean?” Duane said, friendly mediating tone holding a bit of nervousness. She shook it off. “Rita’s right, no matter how silly she is about it. We’ve been living outside the valley for a long time, with all that entails. You can be honest with us. Really.”

That cornered Littlefoot and the others. Their eyes slid nervously around but it was clear they had to say something sooner or later. Cera and her sisters looked and sounded so honestly confused but they were expecting answers. Tricia looked between her sisters and the gang, her simple amusement devolving into unsure confusion over what was happening. Hastily, Littlefoot stepped forward, finding it hard to meet Cera’s eye.

“Look, just…go back to your parents,” he said. “Go back to them.”

“Wha?” Rita said, thrown.

“You know where they are, right?” Littlefoot continued. “Just…find them. Be with them.”

“What does this have to do with you not looking at my sisters?” Cera demanded.

“You three haven’t seen your father in a while, right?” Littlefoot asked. “Same with you and your mother, Cera. Don’t you want to see them again? Just – just go to them.”

“I don’t understand.” Duane said. “Are we having two different conversations here?”

"Are you going to explain yourself at all?” Holly asked.

“Go back to your parents.” Littlefoot repeated, pleaded. “Spend what time you can with your family. Just go to them. Go.”

His eyes went in Cera’s direction, who looked a mix of baffled and concerned. As she took in his pleading stare, though, she slowly stilled, gaze becoming blank.

“No,” she said.

“Be with them.” Littlefoot said.

“No, no.” Cera said.

“Huh Cera, what are you saying?” Rita asked, bemused and a bit hurt.

“I know their request is a bit sudden, but we’ve been planning on meeting with our parents anyway, right?” Duane said.

Cera didn’t pay any attention to them. She was looking at her friends with the flickering beginnings of numb anger. Littlefoot and the others suddenly understood her three no’s weren’t about reuniting with her parents. She was cottoning on to what was going on.

“Get out.” Cera said lowly. “Leave.”

“Now what?” Holly said incredulously. “Cera, aren’t these your-”

”I said leave!”

Cera charged at her friends angrily, causing them to jump away with a start and hastily back away. Tricia screamed and staggered back, scared and concerned by Cera’s change in demeanor.

“We’re leaving, we’re all leaving.” Littlefoot said hastily.

“That’s right, go.” Cera said, walking after them to make sure they didn’t stop. “I don’t want you here anymore.”

“We’ll leave you alone, really. Just, find your family, find them.”

“Don’t even think about calling your grandparents! I don’t want to see any hint of you or your family for the rest of the day!”

“Cera, what’s the matter?” Rita asked. “Why are you so mad all of a sudden?”

“Nothing you need to worry about.” Cera replied.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #25 on: September 10, 2017, 10:36:30 AM »
2/2

“But why were your friends so concerned for us to be back with our parents?” Holly said.

“It’s nothing. It’s just stupid. My friends are being stupid.”

“What are they being stupid about?” Duane asked.

“It’s nothing, really nothing!” Cera said, voice going a bit high. “They – just need – to go away!”

She emphasized each pause with a slight pickup in speed, attempting to get her friends away. Littlefoot and the others were scared. They rarely saw this kind of deep fury in Cera before. Tricia’s lip wobbled as she kept her distance, as though fearful that baffling anger might be misdirected to her. Yet in their fear, the gang also felt a sort of sadness, as a desperation tinged her fury, a desperation that the reality she believed, treasured, was real. But her sisters weren’t standing silently as she tried to drive her friends off.

“Is this about them not looking at us?” Duane said. “Is something about that scary?”

“Don’t think about it!” Cera replied desperately. “They just think – they believe – it’s not true! It’s sick, it’s sick!”

“It does have something to do with that, doesn’t it?” Holly said impatiently. “Why won’t you tell us? Dang it, we’re threehorns. Can’t we take anything?”

“We can but – we shouldn’t! You shouldn’t!”

“If this isn’t really true, why not tell us anyway?” Rita said. “What does them not looking at us have to do with their insistence to meet our parents?”

“Can’t you all stop being curious for one second?” Cera demanded. “Just forget about this! Be happy we’re together now!”

“But we can’t be happy when you’re yelling at your friends and hiding stuff from us.” Duane replied. “Mom says you sometimes have to go through pain quick in order to heal a wound. Just tell us quickly and even it’s scary, we can get over it.”

“You can’t get over this. Once you hear this – once it’s said-”

“Dang it Cera, are you really still such a baby?” Holly said angrily. “For all your talk, you haven’t changed much from our hatchling days when you squealed away from sky booms. Just because you’re still a coward doesn’t mean you have a right to keep things from us. Now be brave for once and come out with the truth, because we’re not going to stop asking until you do!”

With stress pushing her to the edge, those were just the words needed to set Cera off.

“Don’t call me a coward!” she snapped. “You want to hear the truth, huh? Why would you want to hear about this freaky and messed up stuff? Are you that desperate to hear that my friends are deluded enough that they can’t see you? That they think you’re ghosts? That you died while trying to get to me after the Great Earthshake?”

Cera panted, her anger and raising her voice forcing her to stop attempting to charge her friends off as she recouped her energy. Everyone stood silently as they took several moments to absorb what she said.

“What do you mean, we died looking for you after the earthshake?” Holly asked nervously.

Cera stiffened, eyes wide with horror. Breathing through her nose, she glared at Littlefoot and took a step as though to confront him but she cried out and collapsed while gripping her head. Tricia let out a sound of distress and went to Cera’s side while other galloping feet signaled her sisters did the same.

“What’s wrong, Cera?” Duane asked.

“I don’t want to – I don’t want…” Cera trailed off as the headache eased and gazed up with much regret. “I remember,” she said, as though in apology.

“What does that mean?” Rita asked. “What were you talking about with them not seeing us and us being ghosts?”

“The meaning from those words is clear.” Cera said miserably. “It means…only Tricia and I can see. Tricia called you see-through because…I don’t know, maybe because she’s young or related, she can see you for who you really are. You’re ghosts. Which means you’re not really here. It means you’re…dead.”

“Now that is ridiculous.” Holly scoffed. “First you say your friends are being sick and deluded, now you agree with them. It’s long stopped being funny. There’s no way we can be dead.”

“If that’s true, should I be able to do this?”

Cera jutted a paw at a spot of what appeared to be empty air. There were screams of shock and flutters of movement.
 
“You put your paw in my chest!” Holly exclaimed. “How – how did you do that? It is…”

“Impossible? You prove that wrong. You really are ghosts.” Cera then said bitterly. “I’ve been playing with ghosts all day.”

“If we’re ghosts, does that mean…” Rita said. “No. This has to be some weird sleep story. This isn’t cool at all. Wake up. Wake up!”

There was several swiping sounds and more shrieks. By then, three forms were distinctively becoming clear. They were adolescent threehorns around Cera’s age, who looked quite similar to her in everything but slight things like eye color or horn shape. Currently, they were surveying each other with horrified fascination. When slapping herself didn’t work, Rita apparently tried to hit her sisters to wake them up and her paw going through them only confirmed their horrible reality. Tricia stayed where she was, fear still present but relaxing as her confusion over the situation became dominate. She only watched as the three sisters shook, mouths open, struggling to accept what had never been considered before.

“Tricia is right.” Duane said faintly. “We are see-through.”

“No wonder you were scared of looking at us.” Rita said to the gang.

“Sorry.” Littlefoot said. “When we could hear but not see you, we were going to get our grandparents and wait until there was time to break the news, but when you saw us, we thought it’d look too suspicious if we ran away.”

“Wait until you can break the – has this happened before?” Holly said quickly. “Do you know where this is coming from? Is there a way to stop this, to reverse it?”

“This – this happened two times in two days.” Ruby said. “We don’t know what the cause is or if it can be reversed, whether that means stopping ghosts from appearing or -” her breath shook. “We’re sorry.”

Glaring at them, Holly started pacing nervously, eyes attempting to be contemplative about this mystery but more and more terror leaked through.

“How – what lead us to this?” Holly asked.

“The last thing I remember is…falling.” Rita said.

“Me too.” Duane said. “And then…nothing.”

“No! No, no!” Holly said desperately. “This isn’t real! You can’t be dead and aware at the same time!”

“We’re too young!” Rita cried. “This isn’t fair! Now we’ll never grow up!”

“This is the end?” Duane said faintly. “I can’t – it’s too soon!”

Holly was looking around desperately, as though to search for some comforting explanation and losing more of her composure when none came. Rita rocked on her hind legs, rubbing her forepaws over her forehead and eyes, her breath coming out in wet bursts. Duane shook in place, trying to calmly take in their reality but it was like a mountain and every part she absorbed was taking in another devastating fact about what they couldn’t accomplish. Picking up on their distress, Tricia hobbled over to each of them, chattering concernedly to get their attention but they were too caught up in their inner turmoil to notice her. Cera was slumped beside them, miserable, eyes shining wetly, but there was mostly bitter resignation that all of her hopes involving the sisters she hatched with were brutally dashed.

The gang wasn’t doing so well either. Tears streamed down Ducky’s face as she looked at the threehorn sisters with a personal empathy. She hugged Spike’s neck and he was crying too, devastated these sisters who were having so much fun before now had to face their mortality so soon. Petrie shook with a bit of fear but his instinctive dread of the supernatural was gradually being overwhelmed by wet-eyed sympathy for these ordinary children cut down by tragedy. Ruby and Chomper held hands as they exchanged helpless glances, not sure how they could help, reminded of precious family who might be claimed by the ruthless Mysterious Beyond at any time. Littlefoot’s vision blurred, shame and sadness making everything sickly and numb. He attempted to do the right thing, spare Cera of the pain Dil and Hyp went through, but his unwatchful eye and clumsy words screwed things up again. Now the first of the best friends he made had to deal with the consequences and there was little he could do to set things right.

“What are we going to do now?” Duane asked, voice cracked.

“I don’t know.” Rita replied. “What do – can ghosts do anything?”

Holly sniffled, looking around again. ”Where’s our parents? Dad – we need to meet Dad. And Mom – I want Mommy!”

“Mom?” Cera said, bitter apathy swiftly replaced by a terrible realization. “That’s right. If you’re here, then that means…we really need get back to them now!”

Cera got up and took off, with her ghostly sisters scrambling after her with the desperation of being told there is a sanctuary in a storm. Upset, Tricia attempted to follow but her little legs weren’t as speedy. As her sisters sprinted ahead, she was covering less and less ground. She warbled desperately as she couldn’t catch up. But then a head bobbed up from under her and she slid down Littlefoot’s neck to find he and his friends running after the threehorn sisters in pursuit.

“Don’t worry, Tricia.” Littlefoot said. “We’ll catch up with them. Just hang on.”

Warbling in worry, Tricia saw little choice but to get a good grip. She trusted Littlefoot and Cera’s other nice friends. Maybe they would be able to do something that would make Cera and the other sisters less upset. With that hope, she and Cera’s friends entered the forest.

--

Tria tried not to glance backwards as she searched the area where Mr. Threehorn came out. She had no guarantees her mate would exit through the same route but she didn’t have much else to go with. She had a sense he would reuse this path, though, and she hoped her instincts were correct. If he emerged from even a bit behind her, everyone’s cover might be blown and she didn’t want to make hay about something that mightn’t be anything at all.

*I hope I’m wrong. I really hope this is nothing. But if this is true...*

There was a rustle in the forest. Behind her, there was the ever-so-slight rumble from particularly large trees but she tried not to pay attention to that. A second later, Mr. Threehorn appeared. He had his eyes on a spot in the air level with him and he chatted genially as though someone was there. Tria’s heart twisted, for more reasons than one. The most dominant feeling was shock, the fear of worst suspicions being confirmed, and what it might mean for him and the family.

But underneath was a faint but uglier, envious bout of pain. She hated that was her reaction, like she was one of those petty love story characters she swore she would never be like, but she couldn’t help it. No matter how she logically put the situation, it still hurt to see Mr. Threehorn having a good time with another woman and that he didn’t trust her enough to inform her of the truth. Even with those emotions churning inside her, she kept a level face as he moved out into the light.

“There you are, Topsy.”

Mr. Threehorn jumped and turned to her, alarmed. “Tria. Don’t sneak up on me like that. Now’s…not the right time.”

“You didn’t say you would be done with your business when the bright circle sets.” Tria replied. “Don’t worry, I’m not too mad. I’m just concerned. What’s going on?”

“Oh. I’m…” Mr. Threehorn looked down and made a waving motion. “As you can see, I’m meeting with my previous mate. I haven’t heard from her in a while and I wanted to catch up on old times.”

“I see. With your other daughters as well.”

“That’s right. Right now, they are playing with Cera and Tricia. Don’t worry, they’ll treat them well. From what she said, they have been quite looking forward to meeting their new sister.”

*Oh, no.* Tria thought. *Is this, is this really....*

“I’m sorry for the secrecy,” the voice of Mr. Threehorn’s previous mate, Mrs. Threehorn, said. It was smooth, no-nonsense, hardened by tough experience. “We didn’t want to upset you. You know the stories. It only takes a bit of misunderstanding for some unfounded love drama to start. We should have solved that by just being clear with you.”

“Well, I’m glad to have someone…with some sense.” Tria said, trying to keep her voice steady. Hearing about ghosts yesterday was one thing, concerning yet distant and hypothetical, but being confronted by the genuine article was an unnerving experience. Her mind raced. *Oh goodness, this is real. She is here. Then Cera’s sisters are really involved with this? Oh, those poor little girls!* Outwardly, she kept herself composed as she continued. “I also apologize for intruding on this family time. I should have been more trusting.”

“You don’t have to worry. Things between us aren’t what they used to be anymore.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “Let’s just say after the earthshake separated us from Cera, it caused some…tensions. It’s when a crises comes around that your relationship is truly tested, isn’t it?”

Tria remembered the conflict about the Tinysauruses. “Yeah, I know.”

“Anyway, we argued about how much risk we should take searching the shaky cliffs for a route to our side, how long we should wait for her to get to us before striking out on our own. We were both desperate to find her but I wanted to keep us safe as well. I thought the newly integrating herd would be the safest place to keep our kids and they weren’t going to wait for us forever. He didn’t agree and thought we should stay until we get her and strike out on our own. I thought he was being too prideful to consider what was best for our girls. I became his mate because of his pride and certainty but then…”

Mr. Threehorn nodded solemnly. “I always liked you for how pragmatic you were but at that time, I thought you didn’t love our daughters enough to get them all back and it was insulting that you thought intermingling with other herds was safer than trusting the threehorn way would keep us alive like always. That, and the stress of finding Cera, it made me angry…”

“Time wasn’t on our side.” Mrs. Threehorn continued. “We really tried to find her but when the herd finally decided to depart, I put my foot down and said we had to go with them. With the stress of leaving Cera behind, not knowing if she was alive or could follow us, and of not being able to agree if this was the right thing to do…” There was a sigh. “Something snapped. We…couldn’t stay together anymore.”

Tria remained silent. Already, her heart was lowering.

“I took our remaining daughters with me to go elsewhere. I was happy to hear Cera returned to the valley but I needed to start over. Fortunately my three daughters and I found a good place to live. It became a home. Still, I began to miss my old mate and Cera, so I contacted him to arrange for a visit.”

“I said some things I didn’t want to say.” Mr. Threehorn said. “I wanted to have at least a chance to make things up. Cera also missed her sisters. She really looked forward to playing with them again when she came to the valley and when she saw only me there…” he shook his head. “I didn’t do a good job of explaining things. She never mentioned them again. Never thinking about the other parts of your family…that isn’t right. At least today the two of us could patch things up and allow our daughters to play and catch up with each other.”

“So I’m not here to take Topps back.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “As much as I care for him, that is over. As he said, I only came back to heal old wounds. I hope that is some comfort to you.”

“It is. Thank you for your concern.” Tria was quiet for a moment. “So the reason your previous mate and Cera’s sisters didn’t make it to the valley is because you separated?”

Mr. Threehorn sighed. “That’s the long and short of it.”

“That must have been a painful experience.”  

“It took both of us this long to gather the nerve to see each other again.” Mrs. Threehorn agreed. “Shame on us. We should have been mature enough to arrange meetings sooner.”

“I see.” Tria took a long, shaky breath, stealing herself. "Can you get Cera and the girls? There is something important I have to tell you.”

“Hmm?” Mrs. Threehorn said warily. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll explain when you get the girls. This is something you all need to hear together.”

“Tria – oh, come on.” Mr. Threehorn protested. “What I did was wrong, I admit it, but was it to the point you’re considering separating from me? Let’s – let’s think this through. We can work this out together. I don’t want to upset you or the girls.”

Tria shook her head. “No, that’s not it Topsy. I am mad you didn’t trust me with the truth but we can work it out. No, what I’m about to say is much bigger than our relationship.”

“Is that so?” Mrs. Threehorn said, wariness still present but confusion increasing. “What is it?”

“I can’t say anything until all of the girls are here. It’s really important that you all be together for this.”

“This doesn’t sound good.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Why can’t you talk to us about it now, and we can tell them later? We don’t want to cut into their playtime with bad news.”

“I can’t explain but it must be done.” Tria said. “You…need all the time you can with your family for this.”

“What? Tria, it sounds like I’m not the only one who has been keeping secrets. What’s so important you can’t tell us separately? Can’t you even give a hint to what you’re going to say?”

“I’m sorry, you two. I said too much already. Just do as I request, and bring Cera and the others here.”

“Oh come off it, Tria.” Mr. Threehorn said impatiently. “I accept that you’re angry with me for what I did but turning around and using the same vague treatment against me isn’t going to solve anything. Come on, out with it.”

“Please Topsy.” Tria pleaded. “If I tell you the truth, and the girls aren’t here, you’re going to regret it,” she turned to the invisible third threehorn. “Can’t you talk some sense into him?”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Topps here.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “I can see from your expression you’re not up to anything truly malicious but I want to make sure what you say is safe for the girls before I bring them around.”

Tria found herself stuck. Mr. Threehorn and the unseen Mrs. Threehorn’s concern was unambiguous but their tone was firm they weren’t going to get Cera and her sisters until they got an explanation. Tria had to do something to that effect but she knew that if she did, there was no going back and precious time would be wasted finding their daughters instead of being with them. Her mind blanked. She couldn’t think of a solution out of this, and she didn’t want to hurt her family in this way. Helplessly, she glanced back at those same large trees, seeking assistance. Mr. Threehorn and his mate were confused but then a voice spoke out.

“Do you really want the explanation now, my friend?”

The large trees behind Tria rustled and Grandpa and Grandma Longneck emerged into view, walking over and sadly surveying the threehorns.

“You two?” Mr. Threehorn said, even more baffled. “What were you doing back here?”

“Were you watching us this whole time?” Mrs. Threehorn said.

“Tria requested our help.” Grandma Longneck then sighed. “And it seems her suspicions have been confirmed.”

“What suspicions?” Mr. Threehorn repeated. “Why would Tria go to you and what does that have to do with an explanation…”

He trailed off, taking in Grandpa and Grandma Longneck’s solemn faces and Tria’s sad expression. Mr. Threehorn stepped back sharply.

“No, I won’t believe it,” he said. “I’m not going along with this charade. I won’t have you ruin this special day with your sick fancy. I won’t!”

“Topsy,” Tria said softly, “please get the girls quick.”

“What is it, Topps?” Mrs. Threehorn said warily. “Why must we get the girls quick?”

“Don’t listen to them!” Mr. Threehorn said, furious. “They’re just winding us up.”

“They look too serious to be winding us up.”

“Does it really matter if they believe their own delusions or not?”

“If they’re just delusions, just tell me what’s going on?” Mrs. Threehorn demanded, concerned.

Mr. Threehorn stared ahead. “Y-You wouldn’t like it. It’s better you don’t know.”

“Don’t patronize me. Why are you keeping information from me, when you were rightly mad at Tria for doing the same seconds ago? Just tell me.”

“Well…” Mr. Threehorn gazed at her, some of that anger faltering into concerned reluctance.

Mrs. Threehorn finally lost all patience. “Damn it Topps, I’m a grown threehorn. Even if it does upset me, I have a right to know!”

“Alright, alright. They think you fell to your death on the way to the Great Valley and believe you’re an invisible ghost,” he said this in a slight rush, shaking his head with disgust. “Do you see how nonsensical and sick this is?”

Mrs. Threehorn was silent for a moment. “Falling to my death. Where did you get that from?”

“No one mentioned anyone falling to their deaths at yesterday’s meeting.” Grandma Longneck said softly.

That stopped Mr. Threehorn in his tracks. His eyes were wide with surprise – and fear.

“You’re all serious...about this ghost thing. You’re taking this so seriously.” Mrs. Threehorn’s calm voice became even more wary. “Can you three see me? Is there someone…next to Topps?”

“All we can see,” Grandpa Longneck said, “is Mr. Threehorn. We can hear your voice beside him but…we can’t see the person who it belongs to. ”

“D-don’t say that.” Mr. Threehorn tried to keep his defiant tone but his voice was faint. He was stunned by the words that fell out of his mouth. There was barely any room for anger. “She’s right next to me. Can’t you see? She’s solid as solid can-”

Mr. Threehorn had been twitching his head toward where Mrs. Threehorn’s voice originated for emphasis but he froze in mid-motion. Tria and the grandparents couldn’t see what was happening but from the sound of Mrs. Threehorn’s intake of breath, they could guess what it was.

“Topps,” Mrs. Threehorn said with a quiet tremor, “your horn is in my horn.”

Mr. Threehorn staggered away but the damage had already been done.

“No!” he exclaimed. “You can’t be dead! I won’t believe it! I – argh!”

Mr. Threehorn collapsed, gripping his head as though a large boulder had smacked him hard. He couldn’t stop the groans from escaping through gritted teeth and he let out measured breaths to make the pain bearable.

“What is it, Topps?” Mrs. Threehorn demanded. “What’s happening to him?”

“He’s starting to remember what really happened.” Grandpa Longneck replied. “We saw this before. I’m afraid this is going to be painful.”

“So I’m really dead. I’m really…” Mrs. Threehorn trailed off.

“We’re so sorry.” Grandma Longneck said. “There’s no good way to break this news. We don’t know how you’re here, we only know that ghosts unwittingly cause memory lapses in those closest to them.”

“Then all that stuff about our separation, it was…”

Mr. Threehorn’s headaches eased. He slowly returned to his feet, stricken. “It never happened. If it was my choice, I would have preferred us being separated to…to this.”

“I…” There was a shaky breath and the faintest start of a threehorn’s outline started appearing. “I’m starting to remember too. What actually happened. Oh, no. It’s so different, painful, I…”

“Rest a bit.” Tria said softly. “If this is too much, you don’t have to think or talk about this if you don’t have to.”

“No, I must. I’ll face this. For something this monumental, I can’t run away.” Mrs. Threehorn’s voice hitched before she continued. “We were looking for a way to get to Cera’s side after the earthshake, going wherever we could along the cliffs. I knew the earth was still unstable and kept calling Holly and the others to not walk ahead but with Cera missing, I wasn’t thinking clearly. We were desperate.”

“We remember.” Grandpa Longneck said. “We heard your desperation after the earthshake, before we went off to help form the herd.”

“We were going to return to ask your family to join but we couldn’t find you and when Mr. Threehorn came back alone, we feared…” Grandma Longneck said.

“Yes.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “If only we knew Cera would make it to the valley, we might have joined. Then we…but hindsight isn’t helpful now. We did actually argue a bit about joining the herd, as detailed before, but we were mostly trying to balance looking for Cera and keeping watch over our other daughters at the same time. There was a lower spot among the cliffs we thought Cera might be able to reach and we went toward it.

“I didn’t know what was happening until it was too late.” With every sentence, Mrs. Threehorn’s voice lost a bit more of its calm quality, a barely controlled wavering becoming prominent. “One second, we were walking on stable ground toward the spot. The next, there was a crackle and the earth broke apart into rocks in front of me. I turned around just in time to get a hold of the new cliff that appeared. My daughters…they dropped out of sight and their screams stopped after I heard a crack. I knew I shouldn’t have looked down but I did and I – I saw what happened. It made me irate. Holly, Rita, and Duane suddenly dying felt like something huge had been ripped from my chest and I was screaming in that horrible way I thought I was too calm to ever do. I couldn’t think in my grief. Topps kept telling me to hang on, to be alive for Cera. I tried to climb back up, for her and him, but I was holding on by my front legs. I couldn’t crawl up and could only hold on for so long before I fell and…I don’t remember anything after that.”

“I was alone.” Mr. Threehorn said, vacant stare an echo of that horrible moment. “You and the girls dead, Cera missing…I thought I lost everything.”

Silence. Mrs. Threehorn became clearer now, a lighter grey mother who didn’t appear unfriendly by any means, but had the air of someone who made serious and practical decisions, genial but reserved. Now that was starting to collapse. She looked down at her ghostly form with barely-restrained shock, her attempts to coolly assess her condition giving way to shaking horror. No matter how she tried to prepare for many scenarios, there was no way to deal with the fact she was a ghost or that her life had long been over. It appeared to take all her strength not to collapse.

Tria watched with both incomprehension and sympathy. Though she was open-minded when it came to the supernatural and trusted Grandpa and Grandma Longneck’s word, the reality of ghosts was more than she could take. It left her a bit tingly and shaken, and her heart twisted in sympathy for Mrs. Threehorn. To begin today believing you were coming here to make amends for family conflict, only to find not only much of that was a lie but you weren’t alive for a long time, must be horrible. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck observed, having prepared for this moment but their eyes were dark with pained empathy. They glanced at one another, as though imagining themselves in Mr. and Mrs. Threehorn’s position and wanting to press their heads together, but thought it inappropriate to assure one another of their physical presence while Cera’s parents could never again take comfort in warm contact.

Mr. Threehorn stared at the earth, most of the anger and emotion hollowed out of him. Now the truth had been revealed, he appeared at a loss for how to cope. Mrs. Threehorn noticed this and, with a flash of sympathy, focused upon him, forcing up a wistful smile as though to distract herself from the pain.  

“So I suppose this is some blessing,” she said. “That we can talk now.”

“I suppose so.” Mr. Threehorn sighed heavily. “Oh, what can I say to you now?”

“I don’t know.” Mrs. Threehorn shook her head helplessly. “No one thinks about those things until it happens. I…suppose I’m glad to hear that we never really broke up, even if our arguments indicated it was a possibility.”

“Yeah.” Mr. Threehorn replied. “At least today we were able to settle a few of those worries and have some last words,” he sighed again. “But I didn’t want any last words. I wanted to correct things, I wanted-”

“I know.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “I feel the same way. I was so looking forward to helping our four girls into adulthood but now-”

“The girls!” Mr. Threehorn cried. “If you are here, then Holly, Rita, and Duane…I said they would be with Cera and Tricia,” he look around desperately, “but I don’t know where they are!”

Mrs. Threehorn briefly looked to Tria with sudden, almost sad understanding. “Now I see why you requested us to be together.” She turned to Mr. Threehorn. “Let’s find them, quick. You said they weren’t far. We just need to shout for them!”  

And the pair took off at a run, calling out their daughters’ names, forcing Tria and Grandpa and Grandma Longneck to scramble after them. Tria’s chest ached with remorse. With so much unknown, she had been told it was best to end this ghost business early before any damage might affect the living, but she couldn’t help feeling she sabotaged a family’s chance to really mend ties again.

--

Cera continued running. There was a rushing sound in her ears not related to the wind blowing past. She could see her sisters keeping up with her out of the corner of her eye and being able to see the foliage and sky through them made her heart wrench. This whole reunion had been a lie. In that delusion, Cera had been hoping reconnecting bonds would mean she would see more of her sisters and mother. She was aware things could never be the same but at least they could spend time together as a family. Littlefoot made it work with Bron and Shorty, so Cera’s family could do it too.

That wasn’t possible in reality. Her mother and her sisters had died senselessly long ago. There was no conflict that split their family apart and there were no more future meetings to look forward to. It had only been some incomprehensible, magical fluke that Cera was able to get to be with them again at all, and it wasn’t going to last past sunset. She felt angry at the world in general but, in her rush, that was now pushed aside. If this was really the only chance in her lifetime, at the very least she could speak with her mother again.

“Do you have any idea of where she is?” Cera asked.

“We’re not sure.” Holly said. “We know where she was going to meet Dad, but they must have wandered around while catching up on old times.”

“Great, just great.” Cera muttered. “Let’s just get to them before any of you girls fade.”

“We’re going to fade?” Rita squeaked.

“I thought being ghosts meant we can stick around?” Duane said.

“I wish that were the case. But if you aren’t going to stick around, wouldn’t it be better to be with Mom and Dad?”

The only response Cera got were unsettled whimpers and her sister caught up to match her urgent running speed. Cera was disturbed. She had expecting that kind of reaction from Rita and Duane but that even Holly couldn’t contain her dread for the end broke Cera’s heart. It only made her more determined to find her parents before her sisters could disappear for good.

“Mom! Daddy!” Cera cried. “Where are you? We need help!”

There were several cries of “Mom!” and “Dad!” from Holly, Rita, and Duane, each higher and more desperate than the last. So far, they have gone through the edge of the forest and got no response but before Cera could lose hope, they turned a corner and they heard voices call out.

“Cera? Girls? Is that you?” Mr. Threehorn called.

“Daddy, we’re here!” Cera said.

“Don’t worry, we’re coming.”

Cera’s heart almost froze. The last time she had heard that voice, it had been across a newly created gorge. She picked up her pace even more as Mr. and Mrs. Threehorn came running around the corner, the desperation in their faces mirroring their daughters’. Cera accepted a nuzzle from her father before turning to accept the same from her mother. Her head went through Mrs. Threehorn’s jaw.

“No!” Cera said. “Why can’t I feel you, this isn’t fair!”

“Unfortunately, this is how it is. Don’t worry, Cera,” Mrs. Threehorn’s breath shuddered for a second, “this will do.”

Reluctantly, Cera continued to push her head into her mother’s transparent face, the temperature drop from contact a poor substitute for a mother’s warmth. Mr. Threehorn lowered his head to accept the ghostly nuzzles of her other daughters, barely able to keep his face from shaking.

“I’m so glad to see you girls again,” he said.

“Are we really going to fade, Daddy?” Rita asked.

“Cera said we would.” Duane said.

Mr. Threehorn couldn’t answer. Holly looked up, face also shaking.

“The last thing I remember,” she said, “was falling. Did we die there? Is it…true?”

Mr. Threehorn stared solemnly. “I’m sorry.”

Something in Holly seemed to break. She pressed against Mr. Threehorn until her head was hidden and sobbed. “Daddy…”

The other girls did the same, Duane unable to keep sharp, wet breaths from escaping and Rita was unnaturally quiet, faint shivering whimpers barely audible. Cera and Mrs. Threehorn went over and joined them, pressing close and nuzzling anyone within reach, making sure no one was alone or forgotten in their last time together.

Even as that was happening, several footsteps announced the arrival of company. Littlefoot and the others carefully slowed as they entered into view, hesitating over intruding on this private moment. Then Littlefoot lowered his head and gently deposited Tricia.

“Go to them,” he said.

Babbling in confusion, Tricia tottered uncertainly to the threehorn family, staring wonderingly at the ghostly Mrs. Threehorn as though unable to know what to make of her. Mr. Threehorn noticed and welled up a smile.

“There you are, Tricia.”

Tricia hopped over and all too happily nuzzled her father. She then noticed no one seemed to share her good spirit, that the scary mood from the field continued, and warbled in concern. Cera turned and nuzzled her, unable to hide the tears starting to leak out.

“Sorry for leaving you behind, Tricia.” Cera said. “When we heard about my mom, I got scared and forgot – sorry.”

Tricia nuzzled back, a bit soothed by Cera’s words but her sadness only confused her further. Mrs. Threehorn watched the pair with sad relief.

“At least Cera wouldn’t really be alone,” she said with soft affection. “Tricia looks precious. I wish we could have gotten to get to know her more.”

“She’s so curious and playful.” Mr. Threehorn said. “She looks up to Cera and likes nearly everyone she meets. I’m sure she’d come to really value you all if you could stick around.”

Another set of footsteps announced more arrivals. Tria and Grandpa and Grandma Longneck came up from behind Mr. and Mrs. Threehorn. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck rose a bit as they glanced at Littlefoot and the others, alarmed they were present at this sad family reunion. Mrs. Threehorn glanced at Tria and smiled sadly at her mate.
 
“At least you aren’t really alone either. It looks like you found a real keeper with her.”

Mr. Threehorn hesitated. “I really value Tria – but she doesn’t replace you. It’s not a slap to her, I’m only trying to say-”

“She’s valuable in an equal but different way to me.” Mrs. Threehorn said patiently. “I know, Topps. If our roles were reversed, I probably would have found myself in a similar situation. After talking with Tria, I could see why…why…”

Mrs. Threehorn trailed off, and nearly collapsed. Holly, Rita, and Duane also dropped, looking momentarily faint in both meanings of the term. They became even more translucent for a second, becoming vague outlines, before their full color came back with a start. Tria hurried closer, concerned.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“It’s hard remaining here.” Mrs. Threehorn said weakly, struggling to push herself to her feet. “We don’t have long. You all were right. After being made aware that we’re ghosts, we’ll fade back to wherever our spirits have been dwelling.”

“No!” Rita staggered to her feet panickedly. “I don’t want to die!”

“I don’t remember where we’ve been.” Duane said, head shaking slightly. “What if…what if there’s nothing?”

“Oh no.” Holly said, covering her eyes. “Oh no, oh no, oh no!”

“You’re not going anywhere!” Cera said sharply. “We can find a way to make you stay, right?”

“That’s right.” Mr. Threehorn said, with a flash of his usual defiant spirit. “What are the rules for this kind of thing anyway? It’s all nonsense. Maybe we can find some special rocks or plants or something else that might keep you here.”

“Even if there was such a thing,” Mrs. Threehorn said softly, resignedly, “is there enough time to find it?”

All the fire went out of Cera and Mr. Threehorn. They already knew the answer. He pressed his head into Mrs. Threehorn’s.

“No,” Mr. Threehorn murmured.

Holly reluctantly uncovered her eyes. “I guess…that’s just the way it is,” she said as though to comfort herself and everyone else but instead she sounded like she swallowed a lemon.

Tricia made a noise of alarm. She was beginning to get the implications of the sadness around her and she ran up to Holly to press against her nose pleadingly only to fall through. Startled, she tried again and got the same result. She went over to nuzzle Rita and her head went through hers. Pressing against Duane’s leg only caused her to fall to her side again. She gazed at them all, upset she couldn’t feel their warmth, and at the fact she couldn’t convince them to leave. She warbled pleadingly, eyes wide. The three glanced at her, guilt and warmth flickering in their faces.

“Sorry, cutie.” Rita said, voice cracking. “We really can’t stay.”

“It was fun being with you. We apologize for leaving you behind.” Duane gave a wavering yet reassuring smile. “Be careful. You should grow old before you become like us.”

“You won’t see us again.” Holly said miserably. “You might not even remember this.”

Tricia didn’t find these answers reassuringly. Whimpers escaping her wobbling lip, she collapsed and cried. Cera went over and nuzzled her, and Tricia accepted her sisterly touch gladly. Cera’s own tears came down more heavily.

“Don’t worry Tricia, I’m here.”  Cera said. “At least we can be sad together.”

Tria looked at Mrs. Threehorn with concern. “Is there any way we can help you?”

“Yeah.” Mr. Threehorn gazed at his former mate desperately. “There must be something, anything. I don’t want to lose you all again.”

Mrs. Threehorn smiled faintly. “It’s okay. This is just where the circle of life turned. We’ll just…have to adapt,” she continued with a bit more strength. “We’re both strong enough that we can deal with this, right? Besides, neither of us is going to be alone.”

“That’s right, Daddy.” Rita said, taking on a bit of that strength. “We have Mom.”

“And she has us.” Holly said, apparently finding some comfort in her statement.

“You have Cera and Tricia.” Duane said quietly. “And…Tria. I don’t know her but she seems nice.”

“See, we’re both doing well with what we have.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “At least we could talk one last time. I’m sure you’ll all do fine together, Topps, just as long as you learn to be okay with being vul...”

Mrs. Threehorn and the girls slumped and faded a bit again. This time, they couldn’t regain their color. Holly, Rita, and Duane hastily stepped closer to their mother, pressing near her and each other as much as they could without phasing through one another. There was still fear but gradual acceptance of their fate as they looked at their living family members.

“We can’t hold it back anymore.” Mrs. Threehorn said. “We’re going back.”

“Why?” Mr. Threehorn murmured. “Why does life have to be like this?”

“Hey, you always said to be tough.” Holly replied. “Now live up to that.”

“Be tough enough not to die too soon.” Rita grinned weakly.  “Live until you’re old and kind of loopy.”

“As sad as it is, this is a reunion to delay for as long as possible.” Duane said.

“How’s that supposed to make us feel better?” Cera said bitterly. “We’ll barely remember you then.”

“At least you will still remember.” Mrs. Threehorn answered. Her tone turned grateful. “I’m glad that you’re all not alone. Goodbye. Thank you…”

Then they faded, their color draining, their outlines becoming less distinct. Soon, there was no one there at all. The others were quiet, the only sound present that of Tricia’s cries and Cera’s sniffles. Even the gang struggled to keep their tears quiet. Cera, Tricia, and Mr. Threehorn stayed where they were, watching the spot where Mrs. Threehorn and the girls had stood for what seemed like forever. Then Mr. Threehorn turned and walked away, all that rough determination gone. Tria stepped forward hesitantly, but decided not to follow. Cera and Tricia were not far behind their father, heads down. Out of the corner of her eye, Cera saw one of her friends stir.

“Cera?” Littlefoot said tentatively.

Cera looked at him. Littlefoot was always so well-intentioned, so empathetic. She knew he had done his best to help, to warn her back to her parents. Yet all Cera could feel now was an ugly, curdling resentment.

“Why couldn’t you have waited until tonight?” she said. “At least then I’d have spent more time with my family and to at least enjoy the thought of seeing more of them again.”  
   
And ignoring Littlefoot’s guilt-ridden expression, Cera continued following Tricia and Mr. Threehorn out of the forest, wanting to forget this falsely hopeful day.

Next time…

An Unwelcome Reunion Part 1


--

Note:  I originated the names for Cera's sisters from the Triceratops' Scientific Name Species epithet: Horridus.

Ducky123

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #26 on: September 11, 2017, 05:28:14 AM »
Review of chapter 2:

Wow, what a chapter! This reminds me a lot of Malte's fanfictions, they too had such well thought of, intense scenes of the Gang struggling with predators in great detail and excitement. I must say I almost thought Ducky was done for there (but I was a little disappointed in the lack of struggle that Littlefoot had with his injury)

The ending was a little weird, I'll admit that. It kinda seemed like a very poor solution but I expect to be proven wrong eventually :p

Dude, this is an excellent start so far. I think I'll catch up with this one first before reading other stories that also still need my attention  :angel

So expect new reviews soon ^^spike

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Edit: adding review of chapter 3 to this post to avoid doubleposting :p

Adding Hyp and his gang was a great surprise! That was a funny prank they pulled however it got Hyp into trouble :p

The gang still seem to be affected by their previous adventure, both physically and mentally. During the game, Ducky and Petrie had a talk. I do not want to exaggerate but... that conversation was just... perfect. I don't really know how to say what I would like to say but... their individual family struggles (which are 100% believable!) and their mutual support for each other... it was just perfect  :smile

At first I thought the addition of Hyp's mother was really great but then the ghost thingy reappeared and, although well written, I couldn't really enjoy it. Supernatural stuff isn't really my thing. But this is really my only plot-related nitpick :p

I have another nitpick though I'm not sure if it's intentional or not...

I find that you are not quite catching Ducky's (and to a lesser extend Petrie's) way of talking. Ducky doesn't use these contractions at all (with quotes like "Don't step on a crack..." being an exception). She would say "I am, do not, will not, might not" etc. but, otherwise, you captured her speech pattern quite well :yes
As for Petrie, his grammar could be worse at times. I didn't notice it as much as with Ducky but he would sometimes use "I" instead of "me" but rarely uses that and his sentences sometimes aren't as broken as they should be :p

rhombus

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #27 on: September 14, 2017, 06:08:48 PM »
Wow.  There was a lot to take in with this chapter.  It seems that the interactions with the ghosts involves some forgetting by both parties, both the dead and the living.  Though it is currently somewhat unclear whether this is willing forgetfulness on the part of the living or a direct cause of the phenomenon itself.  Between Cera chasing off her friends as she remembers, and then relenting when she can no longer hide the truth, one really has to feel for all of the threehorns.  One wonders if they will remember what had transpired here, or rather it is merely a faint echo of spirits who have long since moved on.

Something tells me that everyone involved is going to need some reassurance after this.  The idea of being given a second chance with long lost loved ones and then losing them again is truly a heart-breaking concept.  The idea of having certain details being glossed over in order to make the illusion work is also deeply concerning.  I sense that the creepiness of the story is not ending anytime soon.

I look forward to the next installment.  :)

Ducky123

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« Reply #28 on: September 15, 2017, 10:01:29 AM »
Actually managed to read a full chapter at school today because I got there early :p

Review of chapter 4:

Oohhhh what hilarious choice of the next victim... it's good ol' Topsy :DD I must say the scene of him reconnecting with his old wife is very touching. However, it got me a little confused. At one point, she talks about their other children as if they were still alive (or is she referring to the great beyond?) but then again both seem to be aware of her demise... :unsure:

I must strongly disagree with some objections that have been made concerning the gang's scene. I found the slice of life scene to be a worthy addition to the story, showing in a very funny yet serious way that and how they  are coping with everything (and Mr. Clubtail was a really great camo :p). It also made me notice something about your writing style that I find quite remarkable. Your writing, unlike most of our fellow writers here, seems to build on dialogue much more than, say, rhombus does for example who relies more on narration, thoughts and reflection. Thing is, your dialogue has a really nice flow to it and it concludes logically all the way through so you probably had some plans what directions it should take (while I sometimes make a conversation up as it happens) and that's remarkable because it totally covers up the lack of thoughts and reflection (the crucial things were all mentioned in chat so you didn't need to have the characters think too much, an approach I usually take for dialogues as well unless it's meant to be mostly thinking) :yes

Case in point, I was quite pleased by the scene despite its length and slow pace (plot-wise)

And I almost forgot... you absolutely nailed Littlefoot's grandparents and how they act, speak and think. That scene was as heartwarming and funny as serious and I loved it.

Curious to see what surprises the next chapter holds ;)

******

EDIT: Couldn't wait 'till Monday, here's the review for chapter 5 :p

...which will be awfully short because I am literally stunned into silence right now  :wow Dang, I know something like this was coming for Topsy but Cera too? Well, let's just say I'm finally beginning to stop minding the ghost thingy because it allows for such jaw-dropping chapters to explore. Nice work, mate!  :smile

Now there are only three questions left:
1. How is Cera going to take it?
2. Who's gonna be next? :D
3. How much of a wait until the next chapter?  :sducky

Well, I'll see whenever question 3 is resolved ^^spike

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #29 on: September 19, 2017, 06:25:12 PM »
@rhombus Thank you very much for the review. I didn’t actually plan for the forgetting to be a mystery, since I didn’t think it might be but as for the answer…maybe the next chapter will answer that? ;) The first part will also directly address how the threehorn family is coping. As for if the ghosts are actually the lost loved or echoes…they’re the real deal. How are they being yoinked from the afterlife? It won’t be answered for many chapters but hopefully I can give a good explanation. The ghosts and their loved ones forgetting about the deaths is a important detail to keep track of. The creepiness factor definitely won’t be going away. Oh, the things I wish I could give away but I can’t. I at least hope you’ll have some fun in the next two chapters.

@Ducky123 Thank you so much for the reviews. It really perked me up to receive your thoughts on my work, and that you wanted to catch up with my work. I’m glad to hear the chase and struggle scenes are apparently so well organized. I do plan a bit in my plot outline but for some of it, I was making it up as I went along and then tidying up afterwords. I often write a bracketed summary of what comes next so I’d have a more detailed idea of where I’m going or if I have to stop writing and don’t want to forget anything. I’m always anxious about chase/fight scene length, so it’s good to hear it’s balanced.

Littlefoot’s tail tip injury wasn’t forgotten but had more to do with his relationship to his grandparents, which was addressed in the next two chapters. Hyp and his gang are fun. I’m finding they are popping in more than a few of my stories, though here they’re included for more reasons than my own enjoyment.

I appreciate that Ducky and Petrie’s conversation was so perfect for you. Admittedly, I struggle with grasping their characters, though I think I’m getting better, and I rewrote that scene many times to get the feel of it right. As for Ducky and Petrie’s dialogue, Rhombus pointed the former out to me, and I’ve adjusted for chapter 5. I’ll keep the advice about Petrie in mind, putting in me’s for I’s. I guess I’ll have another canon review of LBT next year, to freshen up on everyone’s speaking tics. I previously wrote fanfics for mostly Japanese shows, where much of the speaking tics were different and translated with subtitles. Dealing with English language tics had been an interesting challenge for the past couple of years.

It’s good Mr. and Mrs. Threehorn’s scene was touching. I was going for affection being there but unresolved issues making things awkward. Hope the next chapter cleared up the confusion about the daughters. ;)

Thanks for the compliments on the slice-of-life scene. Some important stuff is happening there. That’s an interesting point about the dialogue that I haven’t considered before. I don’t know if those qualities are I got from the writers I admire or came up with myself but I do sometimes have an idea of what the conversation’s going to be about. I also plan dialogue in bracketed summaries so I wouldn’t lose my groove in first drafts or rewrites. Those rewrites also attempt to tidy up and make sure there’s a through line in the dialogue. That sometimes make it lengthier, so that’s an issue I deal with.

I’m happy Grandpa and Grandma Longneck apparently ring so true. I love writing them. I try to make sure Grandpa doesn’t dominate conversation too much, and Grandma is a distinct character. They’re sweet, and so is their bond with Littlefoot. That bond is going to be so important, yes it is, it is.

I actually wasn’t planning for Cera’s encounter with ghosts to be that much of a surprise. I thought the reader might cotton on to Mr. Threehorn and Cera’s strange behavior, though maybe I’m being too subtle or not doing that right? Oh well, I’m glad you no longer don’t mind the ghosts and supernatural stuff. I actually like inserting that in stories. It can bring some fun drama and some interesting character moments can come out of it. I do have chaptered stories planned that are more grounded though.

The next chapter will answer the first two questions. As for when the next two chapters come out, I’m aiming for October. I’m halfway editing through chapters 8 and 9, so after a second or third edit through, I’ll go over chapters 6 and 7 one last time before posting them. Sometimes, I find while editing the next chapters I want to change something in the chapters I’m about to post, so I have this arrangement in case that problem comes up. Thanks again for the reviews, and I anticipate your reaction to that events of future chapters.

Sovereign

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« Reply #30 on: October 11, 2017, 03:29:15 PM »
Damn, this chapter was extremely strange and awkward. I enjoy the way you showed Cera's initial feelings about her family's reunion and how you built the situation later on. I really liked the Gang's introduction with Cera's sisters and the ensuing mental confrontation within Cera's mind. This was the most developed ghost incident as of yet and the best one as well due to the more complete emotions and drama in this chapter.

Firstly, the scene where Cera tried to get her friends and the ghosts to get to know each other was extremely well written as it showed the depth of Gang's wish for Cera to be happy, even under these circumstances. Also, the threehorn's mental struggles show that there seems to be much more wrong in the Valley than the mere presence of the dead dinosaurs. I can't help but feel that there's some greater going on here and I wonder if the ghosts pose a threat to the others should the living immerse themselves too deeply within the realm of the dead.

Also, the part where Cera's family realizes their fate was truly depressing and the fact that nobody seems to be to blame makes this a terrible situation for everyone. However, the first thoughts of Cera's sisters when they learn they're dead don't seem as powerful as they could be. They seem somewhat unnatural and sentences like "Now we'll never grow up!" aren't the best ways to show the shock of the moment. Additionally, there is a chance that this phenomenon gets a bit too formulaic if this event repeats many more times.

Still, this chapter established the entire despair of the situation. Dead people return to haunt the living without their own consent only to disappear again while nobody knows if there's any worse things to come in the future. There are many interesting ways how to develop this phenomenon further and I certainly want to see which one you'll take! :)

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #31 on: October 11, 2017, 09:45:59 PM »
Thank you for the review. This time, it’s personal for the gang and I tried my best to get it right. Even in earlier drafts, the gang wanted to extricate themselves from interacting with Cera’s sisters at the earliest opportunity so they wouldn’t give them away. Though there, it didn’t occur to me someone should try to reunite the threehorn family before telling the truth.

I could see that I didn’t play the shock in a natural way. With the feedback about the ghost revelation in the second chapter, I tried to up it in the next ones, especially here with children involved. Maybe I misfired a bit there. I’ll try to keep that in mind. Though as for the risk of this being too formulaic, the next many chapters’ events are going to very different, starting a shift in the story.

In fact, if don’t encounter any major problems, I’ll be posting chapter 6 this Sunday and chapter 7 a week later, so you’ll get a hint of what these shifts are, as well as maybe a few hints and questions as to what is going on with this ghost problem. I’m excited to see the reactions to these sets of chapters. Thanks again.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #32 on: October 15, 2017, 08:31:25 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/6/We-...Hold-On-Forever

--1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 06: An Unwelcome Reunion Part 1


Tria kept her distance as she watched Mr. Threehorn. He was sitting on a small hill. The midmorning sunlight was as clear and beautiful as yesterday but that only seemed to bring down his spirits. His head tilted down mournfully and his eyes didn’t see the forest in front of him. All that determination, all that rough-around-the-edges charm that he brought to everything, was almost absent. What remained was someone who had his emotions ripped raw and didn’t know how to cope.

*What do I say?* Tria wondered.

Mr. Threehorn and Cera had been like this since last evening. They had been almost despondent, eating only when prodded to. They appeared almost grateful when Tria suggested the family take an early lie in. None of them were in any shape to be the subject of gossip at the gathering Grandpa and Grandma Longneck called for at the meeting circle and they all needed rest to recover from the sad experience. Tria had hoped things would get a bit better in the morning. When prompted to eat, though, Cera mentioned she wasn’t hungry and wished to be left alone to think. Tria attempted to engage her mate in conversation as they ate but after receiving one too many monosyllable answers, she gave up. Even she recognized there were times when others should be left to process their grief in peace.

Though Tria knew this intellectually, there was only so many hours she could watch the love of her life be sad without doing something.

Before Tria could think of her next course of action, Tricia padded over to her father, nuzzling his foreleg until she made enough room for herself to wiggle in. She rubbed against him and warbled at him with sad eyes, giving and asking for comfort in that complicated toddler way. A smile was tugged from Mr. Threehorn and he nuzzled her.

“Looks like I’m not the only sad one here, huh?” he murmured.

Tricia nodded and leaned in, closing her eyes happily at the fatherly contact. Some of Mr. Threehorn’s old energy came back and he gave a low laugh as he continued to give Tricia affection.

Tria saw her cue to step forward. “Topsy?”

Mr. Threehorn looked around, some of his clarity returning. “Tria?”

“I hope this is a good time-”

“Don’t worry. I’ve moped enough.”

Mr. Threehorn turned around, gently picked Tricia up with his mouth, and sat down, depositing her on top of his forelegs where she settled down and rested. Tria stepped closer and also sat so she and Mr. Threehorn were face to face. She groped for something to say

“Are you doing alright?” Tria asked weakly.

“Oh, I’ll deal with it.” Mr. Threehorn said. “I already…lost them once. Having it happen again isn’t fun but I’ll still recover.”

“It must be hard, thinking you might see them again.”

“That was just this ghost thing messing with my head. I would have liked to see them again, watch the girls grow up, and be as good a father as I can be. If Littlefoot’s herd leader of a father can manage it, so can I.” he sighed. “But Holly, Rita, and Duane are never going to grow up. I never separated from my previous mate. That was only a made up story, inspired by arguments and misunderstandings that went unresolved when they all …at least I had yesterday. I wish it had been longer and we could have talked more but at least I got the chance to say goodbye.”

Tria’s heart flinched. “Oh Topsy, I’m so sorry. If I really understood what was happening, I should have waited. You should have had more time with them, but because of me…”

Mr. Threehorn shook his head. “Don’t blame yourself. Maybe it was for the best. If you told us that night or today, the parting would have been harder. We could have made so many plans for future reunions and when we found out they couldn’t happen…”

He sighed heavily, as though he had so much weight on his shoulders. Tricia stirred uneasily, looking up with some confusion and melancholy until Mr. Threehorn calmed her with a sad nuzzle. Tria ached at the sight.

“Topsy…”

He looked at her with regret. “I haven’t been fair to you either. Not telling you I was meeting with my previous mate…it only led to more worry. From how you conducted yourself with the two of us, I should have told you everything right from the start. ”

Tria was silent for a moment. “Thank you. I really appreciate you saying that. It hurt that you didn’t tell me the truth. That you didn’t trust me to be able to handle it.” She sighed. “Though it was probably for the best you didn’t tell me. If I got involved right away, I might have accidentally blown the masquerade from the start and you’d barely have spent any time with your previous mate or daughters. I wouldn’t want to do something so painful to you.”

“Still, I didn’t know that. I believed it was true, though in retrospect…I’m happy about your understanding.” Mr. Threehorn gave her a hesitant look. “If it was actually true – if I did separate from them and they were still alive – how would you react to us meeting? Would you be okay with it?”

Tria paused. “I won’t lie, Topsy. I wouldn’t exactly be at ease with such a reunion. It’s usually not comfortable to get the ex involved. Even if you know she is a good person and she doesn’t present any threat to your current relationship, feelings of jealousy are inevitable. Nevertheless, I would have tried my best to accommodate. This would have made you and Cera happy, and it’d have been sweet for Tricia to get to know her other older sisters. If this happened long enough, I could have managed my feelings enough to get along with them.”

“Good.” Mr. Threehorn said with a flicker of a smile. “That would have been good. I’d have liked for Tricia to get to know the other girls. Apparently, they had a lot of fun together yesterday. I would have liked to play with them too and take some weight off my previous mate’s shoulders in child rearing, make her happy so – see, I’m already planning these reunions. I know they aren’t practical but I can’t help it,” he laughed bitterly. “Life really is tough. I was the one who expressed the most doubt about ghosts being real and the very next day, I get haunted by my previous mate and daughters. I don’t know if that’s a reward or punishment, but either way, it showed how strong I really am.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being shaken by what happens.” Tria said. “That’s what everybody goes through. But you’ll get better, Topsy. You just need time to deal with -”

“Life isn’t going to give you time to get better.” Mr. Threehorn interrupted. He squared his shoulders forcefully. “The valley might be safer than most places, but yesterday demonstrated there are still dangers to deal with. I need to be prepared for whatever supernatural nonsense is going to be thrown our way next or I wouldn’t be a threehorn.”

“Topsy, there’s a difference between being cautious and not really addressing your-”

“Besides,” Mr. Threehorn gazed straightly at Tria, “I don’t want to burden you, Cera, or Tricia. You all have enough to deal with and I don’t want to add my whining on top of it. I want the family I have now to be happy and if you’re all happy” he smiled, “then so am I.”

Tria stared reluctantly. She wanted to argue the point but Mr. Threehorn’s last line had been so eloquent and his expression, after hours of despondency, so sincere her heart couldn’t help but melt a little. At length, she sighed.

“Well, if you’re sure,” she said. “Just know that I’m always willing to listen.”
 
“Don’t worry, Tria.” Mr. Threehorn said reassuringly. “It will be fine. In the meantime, though, I’m going to give Tricia more attention. You hear that, Tricia? I’m sorry I haven’t been spending much time with you lately but I’m going to make it up to you now. How do you like that, you little goofball?”

Mr. Threehorn gave Tricia a playful nuzzle, and Tricia giggled eagerly, loving the idea. He slowly stood up, allowed Tricia to slide off his legs with a “whee!” and marched off, moving a bit faster so his youngest daughter could engage him in a game of chase. Tria watched them go with mixed emotions. On the one hand, she was happy her mate was trying to return to his parental duties, but at the same time, she felt his pain hadn’t been properly dealt with and that he still didn’t trust her enough to help him with it. Tria gave another sigh.

“Threehorns,” she muttered, and followed them.

--

Littlefoot hesitated, trying to remain inconspicuous. Cera was curled up on a rock, half-lidded eyes staring at nothing. He and his friends had tracked her down here after making preparations and working up the nerve to search for her. They watched for a few minutes to see if there was an appropriate time to approach. Littlefoot didn’t want to mess this up. He hurt Cera enough yesterday. He didn’t want to twist the knife further. He could still remember the guilt he had the day before and the conversation he and his grandparents had thereafter about the gang’s encounter with Cera, Tricia, and their ghostly sisters.

“Why didn’t you get us when you saw Cera and Tricia were being haunted?” Grandpa Longneck asked.

“We were going too.” Littlefoot replied. “But one of Cera’s sisters spotted us and we couldn’t leave right away without being suspicious. Only they noticed we were nervous and not looking at them, and then…”

Grandma Longneck sighed. “We’re so sorry you had to go through that. Though tell us, if you were able to get us, would you have requested to accompany us as we broke the news to her?”

“…she’s my friend. She would have needed our support. Though I guess we bungled that for her.”

“There’s nothing you can do to change that. However, she will be hurting, and what you can do is help her through the hard times.”


As Cera continued to lay there and not do anything, Grandma Longneck’s words filled Littlefoot with some drive. There was no point in waiting forever. He couldn’t change the past but there could be something he could do to make up for it in the present. Nodding to his friends, they walked forward.

“Cera?”

Slowly, she raised her gaze. Littlefoot and the others stood in front of her, watching her tentatively.

“Are you okay?” Littlefoot continued quietly. “I know this might be a sensitive time.”

“We understand leaving you alone to deal with yesterday,” Ruby said, “but when today came, we wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“We know you might be mad at us,” Petrie said, “so we bring presents.”

Cera looked around and noticed for the first time they were carrying different kinds of green food in their arms or on their backs. One by one, they started laying it at her feet.

“When people are sad, they do not eat much.” Ducky said. “We want to make sure you are healthy, we do, we do.”

“I remember you once said you like yellow flowers.” Chomper said softly. “I hope we picked the right ones.”

Something about that comment made Cera stir. She picked up one of the yellow flowers in question and gave an experimental bite. Some life came back into her eyes as she chewed. By the time Cera finished, she silently surveyed the food laid out before her with tentative but greater interest.

“Go on, eat up.” On a lighter note, Ducky added. “You better do it quickly. It is taking everything Spike has not to eat some of it himself.”

Spike nodded, only looking half serious as he stared mournfully at the green food that wasn’t his. Giving a small laugh, Cera started picking her way through the offerings, becoming more energized the longer she ate. By the time she cleared her way through most of it, she gave a satisfied pat to her stomach and stared appreciatively at her friends.

“Thanks, guys…I – really needed that.”

Those words were an ice breaker for Littlefoot and the others. Relief plain on their faces, they moved closer and sat around Cera.

“How are you really doing?” Littlefoot asked.

Cera shrugged. “It hasn’t been fun. Ever since last night, I can’t work up the energy to do much of anything. Even now, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to put a crack in a small rock, never mind break it. Every time I try to think about something else, they come back into my head. It just keeps occurring to me I’m never going to see them again and my stupid brain keeps coming up with things I should have said to them but will never be able to now.”

Littlefoot’s heart wrenched and he lowered his head. “Cera, I want to apologize. We really should have given you that time to say everything. We were going to walk away but one of your sisters noticed us.”

“That my fault.” Petrie bowed regretfully. “Me thought we should tell you about sisters but when Ducky smartly stopped me, me too stupid to notice we stand under bright circle where we could be seen.”

“Do not call yourself stupid, Petrie.” Ducky said. “I stopped you but I cannot be that smart since I did not notice we could be seen too, oh yes, yes, yes.”

“We couldn’t think of a way to run off that wouldn’t alert you to what’s going on.” Littlefoot continued. “I know that isn’t a good excuse – we managed to talk our way out of worse binds – but –”

“It’s fine, Littlefoot, all of you.” Cera interrupted. She sighed. “Really, it’s hard to be mad at you for long. Either way, everyone would be torn up about this. It couldn’t be helped. Maybe it’s better this way. The goodbyes would have been harder if we became too attached.”

“Cera…”

“I’m sorry for lashing out at you yesterday. I knew that you did the best you could but…I was just so happy to be back with my sisters. I wanted to be with them as long as I could. I was also looking forward to seeing Mom again. Deep down I knew something was off but it had been so long since I saw them and that last time, it was…” resentment entered Cera’s voice. “You know, at least you got to say goodbye to your mother. It might have sucked but at least you got to talk to her and she even stuck around as a spirit. Me, I didn’t have that. One day, I was talking to them across a gorge, the next I’m in the valley and Dad tells me they’re dead. It felt like they walked around a corner and didn’t come back. As I got used to them not being around…it was as though they were never here at all. Even though I know you couldn’t help it, there are times I envy you. What makes you so special your mother could still talk to you after she died, while I get nothing?

“There are also times,” Cera’s voice became watery, “where I wonder if Mom and my sisters are dead because of me. Not only because they were looking for me after the earthshake, but because I insulted your mother, fought with you, and some force decided to punish me by hurting them.”

Heart wrenching, Littlefoot stepped closer. “Cera, no, no, no. It didn’t happen like that.”

“I didn’t always believe in fate and curses and stuff like that, but with these ghosts, I’m starting to wonder...”

“You’re not responsible for this!” Littlefoot said. “It was just an accident. What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense.”

“Yeah,” Petrie nodded, “me not good with times, but me pretty sure they died before you and Littlefoot fought.”

“Unless this fate thing can go back in time, then that is not what happened, no, no, no.” Ducky said.

“And even if what you say did happen,” Littlefoot said fiercely, “then it’s this fate or whatever’s fault, not yours. Having your family dead is something I’d never have wanted.”

“Really?” Cera stared dully at him. “I was such a jerk. With how angry I made you, don’t tell you wouldn’t have been tempted to think those bad thoughts.”
   
Littlefoot faltered, and looked away. “Maybe,” he said. “I do know my mother wouldn’t have wanted this. No matter how mad you probably made her with the way you treated me, she wouldn’t want to have your family hurt and would be angry if this fate did anything about it. But let us assure you, we don’t believe anything magic like that happened.”

“Okay.” Cera’s gaze lowered. “Though I still can’t help thinking that if I didn’t vanish off to chase hoppers that night, they’d still be alive.”

“Yeah, I know that feeling.” Littlefoot said quietly. “But remember Cera, our mothers and your sisters wouldn’t want us to blame ourselves for what happened. They’d say we were kids: we could only have so much responsibility for what happened. I’m sure they’d think we should allow ourselves to be happy.”

Cera raised her head, staring at him. After a moment, she welled up a smile. “I knew there was a reason I became your friend. Thanks, Littlefoot. You’re right. I’m just being stupid. This blame game thing is helping no one. Now I’m really done being mad at you.”

“Cera…” Littlefoot’s chest warmed with relief. “I really am sorry for what happened. We’d have been happy to give you all the time we could’ve with your family.”

“Now you stop blaming yourself. I admit, I’d have liked to talk with Mom more but…you all did the best you could.” Cera sat up straight and stretched, a bit of her old energy returning. “Besides, this is all over with now. They are gone and there’s no use thinking about them all the time. I might as well put this whole mess behind me and move on.”

Littlefoot, whose spirits rose at the signs of Cera’s recovery, winced. “Cera, you don’t have to forget about your mother and sisters to move on.”

“I’m not saying I’ll forget about them.” Cera replied. “There’s no way I’m forgetting yesterday. As time goes on, I’ll just not think as much about them.”

“But…that’s so sad.”

Cera looked at him with annoyance. “C’mon Littlefoot. I know people love to say that they think about their dead or absent loved ones everyday but…be honest. As you get used to those who aren’t around, there are days where you don’t think about them. Can any of you really dispute that?”

The others averted their eyes thoughtfully or anxiously over the question.

“Me don’t always think about Uncle Pterano.” Petrie admitted. “Me still worry about him being safe out there but it hard to think about that all the time. There are even days me don’t think about Papa and he in Great Valley!”

“It’s strange, just waking up every day and not having Mommy and Daddy nearby.” Chomper mumbled. “When I first came here, I thought I’d miss them too much to not think about them. As I got used to living here…I still miss them but there are days where I’m having so much fun, I forget about them,” he almost looked guilty.

“I did think about my family every day at first.” Ruby said. “When I wasn’t worrying about my family, I was worrying about what to do and thought about what they would say to do. Now I think more and more about what I would do, and less about what they would do and what they are now doing,” she rubbed her chin anxiously. “I know they know how to be safe, but I don’t like not thinking about them.”

“It is hard to think about all of my brother and sisters since there are so many.” Ducky said. “Many of them stay with Papa. Since I am with you guys a lot, I do not think about them as much as I do all of you. Though that is not the same as what you guys have, so um…” Fidgeting, she looked at her brother. “Is it the same with Tippy and his mama, Spike?”

Spike frowned and turned the question over in his head as though it were a sour tree sweet. At last, he sighed and nodded reluctantly. Spike missed Tippy and that nice spiketail mother but he hadn’t been thinking about them much. Cera looked at Littlefoot expectantly.

“I do think about my mother a lot.” Littlefoot said defensively. “Maybe not every day but…” he trailed off. “I do sometimes wonder what Dad and Shorty are up to. Since they’re part of a herd and know how to keep safe, I don’t worry about them as much, so I guess I don’t really think about them all the time.”

“See, didn’t I tell you?” Cera asked.

Littlefoot and the others only looked around sadly, mind now on absent loved ones. Cera’s triumphant expression faded.

“Hey, I didn’t want to get you guys depressed,” she said gently. “I just wanted to say that not thinking about them is normal. Thinking about whether they’re okay or not and what you could have said to them won’t accomplish anything. It would only hurt yourself. Since they’re gone, it’s only natural to just move on. And here I am, trying to move on.”

“If you say so.” Littlefoot said dubiously. He gained a smile. “But they aren’t ever really gone, Cera. Those who are dead or away live on in our hearts. I’m sure that’s the same for your mother and sisters.”

“Living on in my heart, huh?” Cera said, doubtful. “I don’t really feel anything there.”

“Maybe they are with some other part of you.” Ducky suggested.

Ruby nodded thoughtfully. “Not all herds believe that the dead live on in your heart. Others believe they live on in your head or stomach or tail.”

“Maybe they live on in Cera’s horn.” Petrie said.

Cera considered the horn on her nose wryly.

“Hey Mom, sorry for ramming my horn into that rock several days back,” she said. “That must have shook you all up. I bet Holly’s head is still rattling. Just tell her it was nothing personal so she won’t start ramming around in there, okay?”

In spite of themselves, the gang laughed. Morbid though it was, the joke was such a breath of fresh air after almost twenty-four hours of sadness and worry, and it really signaled that Cera was back to old form. Littlefoot’s spirits couldn’t help but lift at the sight of Cera beating the rock with a forefoot, chuckling at the reaction to her own joke. He tried to push aside his own misgivings about Cera’s doubt about her mother and sisters living on inside her and her choice to move on by not thinking as much about them. Everyone coped with loss in different ways and now wasn’t the time to press her about the issue. Right now, Littlefoot was content to sit near Cera and laugh with a friend he was back on good terms with.

--

Papa Sharptooth breathed slowly and attempted to walk around the cave. Twinges of pain popped up and down his body, protesting the strain of long disused muscles or still unhealed wounds. He winced but bore the pain out with a bit of a smile. Battling Redclaw had severely damaged both of Chomper’s parents to the point they found themselves tiring after walking or hunting, and the pain could be such that they had to lay down to rest for days at a time in order to recover. That Papa Sharptooth could move around at all without the usual agonies and exhaustion that dogged them for cold times was a significant improvement. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mate also circling to inspect her injuries.

Don’t spin around too much, or you might become dizzy and hurt yourself,” Papa Sharptooth said half seriously.

Quiet, you.” Mama Sharptooth said distractedly. She inspected her tail. “That last kill really helped. Getting big prey is worth the pain if it heals us faster. Soon, I bet we’ll be able to hunt together.

Finally,” he sighed. “It feels like forever since I left this blasted hole. I never felt comfortable with letting you go out alone to get the food.”

Mama Sharptooth walked over and gave him tender nuzzle. “I never minded. I do look forward to the hunts being less boring though.”

A purr rumbled up Papa Sharptooth’s throat and he returned the nuzzle, getting closer to his mate. Mama Sharptooth was tough, yet a softie, and Papa Sharptooth felt delight whenever they got be affectionate. Their heads continued to rub against each other until a tentative cough brought them back to reality. Ruby’s father stood at the cave entrance, watching them politely but with the usual tense guard that came with dealing with sharpteeth.

I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” Papa Fast Runner said.

Papa and Mama Sharptooth gazed at each other before strolling to meet with Papa Fast Runner, all business.

We were just wondering when you were going to come.” Papa Sharptooth said. “Do you have any new information?”

Papa Fast Runner paused to regather his thoughts. “Talking with the bellydragger wasn’t easy but she did confirm what she said when she first came around: she had a sharpbeak friend who died and came back as a ghost. Their attempted hunt in the Great Valley didn’t go well and the secret got revealed in the argument they had. He vanished soon after.”

Mama and Papa Sharptooth winced. They briefly surveyed each other grimly, finding the news unwelcome but not surprising.

It aligns with what I’ve been hearing.” Mama Sharptooth said. “There are many people claiming to have seen ghosts lately, and from what you and your mate say, it doesn’t seem restricted to sharpteeth. I thought it was all nonsense at first, but when more and more started talking about it…”

I kind of hoped the bellydragger’s initial rantings were simply a byproduct of grief.” Papa Fast Runner’s gaze flickered worriedly. “But if she’s seen these ghosts too, like so many others…something big might be going on and I don’t know what it could mean.”

Let’s focus on what we can know then.” Papa Sharptooth stepped closer. “When she first ranted about losing her friend, my mate said she mentioned encountering a sharptooth child in the valley. Did you – did she say anything about what happened to Chomper?”

Papa Fast Runner smiled reassuringly. “Not to worry. The bellydragger and her ghostly friend were unable to really harm any of our children. From what little she did say about Chomper, his friends did a good job of looking after him. They were the ones that got the bellydragger and sharpbeak to argue in the first place.”

"Chomper has a good taste in friends. At least they are able to keep him safe.” Papa Sharptooth muttered.

Mama Sharptooth sent him a stern look. “Dear, don’t start.”  

Why not? It’s one more strike in their favor.”

This isn’t a competition. Letting your mind down that path will only have you eating at yourself and that isn’t going to accomplish anything. Just concentrate on the fact our boy’s safe and he’s with those who love him. That’s all that matters.”

Papa Sharptooth held his mate’s gaze until he sighed and looked away.

I know,” he said. “I know those thoughts aren’t helping. But those leaf eaters – our food – are doing a better job of protecting Chomper than us. Heck, not only are they keeping our son safe from Redclaw. They are making him a laughingstock! It’s hard not to think about what we’ve been doing.”

There was a moody silence. Papa Sharptooth lowered his eyes. Being frequently laid up by their injuries had left Chomper’s parents a lot of time to think, to go over what they had accomplished. One pattern they couldn’t ignore was their mistakes in protecting Chomper. Only through luck or the intervention of those leaf eater youths was he saved. Sometimes, it was the parents’ mistakes that ended up endangering Chomper in the first place. Papa and Mama Sharptooth had been trying to put those thoughts out of their mind, that all parents made mistakes, but with their son’s absence, they were hard to ignore.

Gaze flicking down briefly, Papa Fast Runner coughed. “If it’s any comfort, when Ruby briefly visited with some of the children, Chomper took time to ask how you two were doing. He seemed happy to be with his friends but I got the sense he misses you two terribly. Don’t think too badly about yourselves. Whatever mistakes you’ve made, he still adores you two.”

Papa Sharptooth welled up a smile. “You’re right. He’s not making a big deal out of this like I am. Sorry. I’m being more immature than my-”

There was a faint rumble. Chomper’s parents and Ruby’s father immediately turned to the sound’s direction, wondering if they had imagined it. But another rumble soon followed, a bit closer. Then another and another, the rhythmic beat of a large dinosaur walking on two feet. The three tensed as the sound neared. These were the footsteps of another sharptooth.

Hide.” Mama Sharptooth whispered.

Papa Fast Runner nodded and the three backed away quietly into the cave. They stood in the shadows, listening warily as those footsteps grew loud with proximity. Encountering another sharptooth would have made them cautious enough. Not many of them were a sociable lot. But these footsteps were the drumbeat of someone consumed by a mission and it was dangerous to stand in the way of those sharpteeth. Papa Sharptooth, Mama Sharptooth, and Papa Fast Runner held their breaths as the footsteps became their loudest yet.

Then a figure appeared, his features made clear in the sunshine. Mama Sharptooth breathed in sharply.

No, that’s can’t be him,” she said. “That’s impossible!”

--

“So, what was last night’s meeting like?” Cera asked. “Do I even want to know?”

Littlefoot rolled over to look at Cera. “Don’t worry, barely anyone said anything about you. Everyone was mostly concerned about the ghost thing happening for a third time.”

“More than a few were shocked that we encountered ghosts for a second, or in Littlefoot’s case, third time.” Ruby said. “I can still hear that flyer Don saying ëagain?’ after Grandpa and Grandma Longneck explained what happened. Littlefoot’s grandparents tried to keep us from being the focus but we were still noticed.”

“Well, we do tend to get into the middle of weirdness.” Cera admitted. “Still, it is surprising that we’re now getting into the middle of ghost weirdness.”

“Mr. Thicknose talked about trying to find a clue about the ghosts.” Ducky explained. “There was an argument about how, since where would you begin? There wouldd be a lot of looking around and few would know what they would be looking for, no, no, no.”

“So Grandpa Longneck said to stop and talk about it later.” Petrie said. “They right. It big problem, so it need lots of talking to solve. Many grownups worried though. They want to find answers, especially since word by flyer is that a herd’s coming tomorrow. But while they talk, will ghosts continue appearing?”

“That might be likely.” Ruby said. “Maybe it’s a good idea to think about who might come back next before the next person who comes back surprises us. Does anyone have any ideas?”

“Maybe our grandparents?” Littlefoot said reluctantly. “Of course, I still have mine, but I think my dad’s have passed on. Are any of your grandparents still alive?”

There was a unified shaking of heads.

“I never really knew them.” Cera admitted. “Dad mentions them sometimes but he doesn’t talk too much about them.”

“My parents barely mentioned them at all.” Chomper said.

There were nods of agreement to those statements.

“Either our parents miss them in ways that we miss, or they have moved on from their deaths.” Ruby said.  

“What about Spike’s original parents?” Ducky said. “Well, Spike? Erm, have you had any strange thoughts about them being alive lately?”

Spike’s forehead creased in thought and he shook his head. He never knew them and was quite content being part of Ducky’s family, his family. The most he ever felt about his birth parents was a distant wistfulness. Cera gazed keenly at Littlefoot.

“What about you, Littlefoot?” she asked. “Maybe something will happen involving your mother. It would be nice to see her again, right?”

Littlefoot’s eyes turned skyward. The thought of hearing his mother’s voice again, to feel even the ghost of her comforting touch, stirred a longing ache in his chest. For a moment, he allowed hope to surge through him…

But then the illusion broke and Littlefoot’s long neck bent with the weight of reality.

“No,” he said quietly. “No, I don’t think she’ll come back.”

“Uh…how do you know?” Petrie asked tentatively.

“I don’t know.” Littlefoot rubbed his chest vaguely. “It just doesn’t feel like it’ll happen. Maybe it’s because…she was content in the end. She wouldn’t be part of this.”

The others gazed at him sympathetically. Coughing, Littlefoot saw to detract attention from himself.

“So any other ideas?” he asked.

“What about others in valley?” Petrie said. “They might have dead family and friends that might come back. It happen with Hyp. Maybe we find out where it happen next?”

“Are you suggesting we walk up to every person in the valley and ask if they know someone who’s dead?” Cera said dryly. “Nah, I’m not catching that heat.”

“Well, it an idea.” Petrie said defensively.

“How about the sharpteeth you fought?” Chomper suggested. When the others looked at him, he said. “What? From your stories, you dealt with a lot of sharpteeth. There could be more than one that didn’t make it.”

“Hmm.” Cera rubbed her chin. “That’s an interesting idea. Sharpteeth do seem to hold grudges.  But I can’t think of any we fought lately that died.”

“We fought a lot of them, we did.” Ducky said. “It is hard to remember all of them, it is, it is.”

“We better remember, though.” Petrie said nervously. “What if one of them come back to try to hurt us. That very bad.”

Ruby nodded. “Chomper brought up a very good point. Not only could the ghosts of our loved ones come back, but the ghosts of our enemies might also return. Even if it might not happen today, it’s better to prepare before that today comes. Do you think any of the sharpteeth you fought have died – well, besides the obvious?”

Ruby and Chomper watched as Littlefoot and the others creased their foreheads, briefly with confusion, then in thought. Littlefoot went through his many memories of fighting sharpteeth, which was admittedly more extensive than any child his age should be. Upon being confronted by danger, he and his friends became pragmatic. If a certain action could save their lives from a sharptooth, they were going to pursue it even if it might kill the predator. There was little time to consider the moral implications of what they did. It was an unpleasant necessity Littlefoot tried not to consider too closely.

Now he ran through his memories of his last sights of their defeated sharpteeth. So far, all the mental images that came to his attention showed sharpteeth that were still from grogginess or unconsciousness but showed little signs of being dead. Even when they were completely buried by rocks, Littlefoot had a hard time thinking that had killed them. Littlefoot frowned and delved deeper into his memories, feeling like he was missing something.

Cera, Ducky, Petrie, and Spike had identical looks of concentration as they went through their own memories. When the silence went on for too long, Ruby spoke up.

“Well?” she asked. “Any ideas?”

“Hmm, no. Still can’t think of anyone.” Cera said. “I mean, all the sharpteeth we deal with always seem to get back up. Like those fast biters who got swept up after we unblocked the Thundering Falls. They managed to swim their way out.”

Petrie nodded. “Me remember that. Me also remember Littlefoot’s grandpa and Doc burying sharpteeth in rocks but they appear just knocked out. We didn’t linger to check.”

“There was also that sharptooth that fell into the big water.” Ducky said. “You were there for that, Chomper. Sharpteeth do not seem like good swimmers. But from where he was being swept away to, he could have got to land and climbed out.”

“Yeah, that’s also likely.” Chomper said. “But are you sure there’s not a few sharpteeth that didn’t survive? With how many you ran across, there are bound to be some who you hit in the wrong way or made to fall head first off a cliff. There must be a few who hold a grudge.”

“It’s not like we had time to learn their personal details while they tried to eat us.” Cera said.

“For all we know, all of them hold grudges.” Petrie said.

“From your stories, there is one that did hold a particular grudge.” Ruby said, with a bit of pointedness.

For a second, there was some blankness. Then everyone cottoned on.

“Right, the first sharptooth we dealt with. The one who took…Mother’s life.” Littlefoot said, with effort. When the others glanced at him sympathetically, Littlefoot hurried on. “He was pretty persistent. He seemed to stalk us all the way to the Great Valley before we took care of him.”

“Oh, that guy.” Ducky said. “It was so scary having to hide in the water to get away from him.”

Petrie shuddered. “If me didn’t learn how to fly then, not all of us would have made it.”

“And if I didn’t come in time, he probably would’ve eaten you all.” Cera raised her head proudly. “At least we didn’t have to deal with him again. After that boulder into the pond, I think he took the hint.”

“That was a pretty big hint you dropped on him.” Ruby said. “Maybe he got how big it was as he was drowning.”

Littlefoot stirred of confusion. “Drowning…what are you talking about?”

“Yeah,” Cera said, “he got out of the water and ran like a scaredy-egg.”

Ruby suddenly stilled. “You…heard about him surviving?”

Petrie tilted his head ponderingly. “Well…we kind of saw it.”

“We did not see much.” Ducky added. “We did not stick around after what we did, oh no, no, no.”

Chomper and Ruby watched Littlefoot and the others with a nervous bewilderment that chilled Littlefoot’s tummy. The pair exchanged looks before Chomper spoke up.

“But…you told us how you defeated that sharptooth so many times. None of you said anything about him getting out of the water.”

“I swear we did bring it up, right Spike?” Ducky said.

Spike began to nod but froze. Looking uncertain, he placed a paw on his head, like he was having the beginnings of a headache. Noticing Ruby and Chomper’s expressions, Cera stood sharply.

“Stop confusing us,” she said. “He ran away.”

“Is this really happening?” Ruby looked disquieted. “Tales do change with every telling, but you always told us he never came back.”

“You must not remember right.” Petrie said.

“But we do remember.” Chomper insisted shakily. “Oh, no. You know what this means, right?”

“What does what mean? Is this a game?” Ducky rubbed her hands nervously. “You can stop now. You are freaking me out.”

“You’re freaking us out.” Ruby said. “In the end, he drowned. You always told us he drowned.”

Littlefoot shook his head, the movement a bit harder with fear. “I don’t know where you’re getting this. We always said he lived-”

“No!” Chomper said desperately. “None of you ever said that. No matter how many times you told the story, you always said he was dead!”

Everyone stared at Chomper. Then Cera seemed to be struck by the same headache as Spike, gripping her head and groaning. She went rigid.

“They’re telling the truth.” Cera said slowly. “This headache…I had one just like this yesterday when I realized my mother and sisters weren’t…alive. Which means…if we felt this for that sharptooth…”

Silence descended. Abruptly, Ducky gripped her head and whimpered. Petrie shuddered and dragged his fingers across his temples. Littlefoot trembled as throbbing rocked his forehead, beating like a heart, each thrum a bit less painful than the last but leaving behind a terrible iron cold in the veins. Dawning fear came across each face present. They all knew the implications of this memory lapse.

Watching their surroundings closely, Ruby and Chomper edged closer to the group. Spike collapsed and shaded his eyes as though the bright circle was too brilliant. Ducky hugged her brother, her breaths shuddering. Petrie gripped Cera’s foot, shivering. Cera didn’t notice. She stared, her skin ashen. Reluctant, dreading, Littlefoot stood.

“No,” he said. “No. It can’t be.”

A bellow cut through the silence. Littlefoot and the others jumped. The blood-curdling scream passed as a shockwave, reaching one end of the Great Valley to the other. It vibrated the air, the earth, and reached into the core of every living being until not even Littlefoot and the others could deny the full truth, the horrible truth. The sound seemed to go on forever, coming from a deep, molten fury that no sky water could quench. When the last of those awful echoes gave way to quiet, Littlefoot swung his head about, desperate to locate the source, but so full of fear, not wanting to see what he would lay eyes upon.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #33 on: October 15, 2017, 08:42:03 AM »
2/2

Then he saw it. They all saw it. A shape, so distant, standing on top of a Great Wall mountain, frozen, as if a rock formation. It was so far away yet that distinct countenance made Littlefoot and the others feel vulnerable, like it was standing right in front of them. Chomper stepped forward, eyes on the sharptooth silhouette, understanding and just as scared.

”’Vengeance,’” he whispered.  

--

The sharptooth surveyed the valley before him. He had chosen a high place to announce his presence but he could still see the tiny shapes starting to mill about, their voices occasionally becoming audible in panic. He sniffed and stared with longing. Before, when he had been near that pond, he had caught the scent of so many leaf eaters and could only guess why such a variety were grouped nearby. To think that such a wonderful place existed, with plentiful green food to make the leaf eaters plump and ready to be feasted on by sharpteeth clever enough to penetrate it defenses…

“…sharptooth is here!”

“Oh, no!”

“…do we run?”

The sharptooth paused in confusion. Amid the panicking leaf eater babble, did some of it become…understandable for him?

Well, no matter. The sharptooth put that and his appetite out of his mind. He came for something more than filling his belly. Those damned seven – seven? No – five kids were there: the longneck, the threehorn, the big-mouthed swimmer, the flyer, and the spiketail. Only the longneck and threehorn had humiliated him by injuring his eye and deigning to make him a ramming toy respectively but the others have racked up offences during that boulder stunt that have made them also worthy of death. Even if those three kids had done nothing to the sharptooth, their mere association with the longneck and threehorn made them guilty.

He breathed in nasally and was only slightly gratified to smell fear mixed in with their scents. The sharptooth wouldn’t be content until the children’s flight or fight instincts were tested, exhausted to the brink. Until they were taken hold by the despair of being at death’s door, alternating between begging for mercy or wishing for him to eat them so the torment would be over with. Whatever they wished for, the sharptooth would do the opposite and he would milk all the retribution he could out of them.

For it had been a great crime for those leaf eater youths to stand against him. Not only did they run away from him. That was the annoying but natural risk one had to accept when your primary food source was capable of independent locomotion. No, these children thought they could fight back, outwit him and be the perpetrators of his own demise. By all rights, they should have died but before the sharptooth knew what was happening, they sent him falling into the pond, weighed by an enormous boulder. As water filled his lungs and he struggled against its weight, fury and humiliation ran through him. They had done more than bruise his ego. They damaged his pride more than even any rival sharptooth had and that wouldn’t go unpunished. They would suffer. Even if it was the last thing he ever did, the sharptooth would make sure to end their miserable lives, even if he had to take down every valley denizen that stood in his way.

Bloodlust dominating his mind, the sharptooth moved down from his perch and entered the valley.

--

Littlefoot and the others ran. Around them, people moved quickly in all directions, lost in fear, searching for shelter, making a desperate beeline for loved ones. Several crashed bodily into each other or dithered on the spot, not knowing where to go. But the seven found it easy to sail around and under the maze of swift and clumsy limbs, never slowing, never distracted, all focused on the one objective they were so desperate to reach.

“Grandma!” Littlefoot shouted. “Grandpa!”

“Daddy!” Cera yelled. “Tria! Tricia!”

“Mama, where are you!” Petrie cried.

“Mama!” Ducky hollered.

Spike opened his mouth and called out with all of his lung power. Chomper and Ruby, with no family in the Great Valley, could only watch stricken when their friends’ calls received no answer.

“Oh, where are they?” Littlefoot panted. “What do we do?”

“I am sure they are looking for us as much as we are looking for them.” Ducky said.

“I’m sure I can hurry that up.” Chomper said. “My sniffer can find them.”

“Then get sniffing before that sharptooth sniffs us out!” Petrie said.  

Chomper got to the front and led the group, still dodging panicked valley denizens. He paused every now and then to get a better catch of the scent but the more seconds passed, the more confident he became.

“Are they together or apart?” Cera asked anxiously. “Because if they’re apart, then we’re more screwed then we already are.”

“Don’t worry, they’re together.” Chomper said. “All their smells are close. C’mon!”

Relief flooding them, they continued running. Eventually they came across an eye of calm amidst the storm of panic. Their parents stood in a great clearing shouting for others to slow down, directing them to evacuation routes, and clarifying the danger with the information they had. As Littlefoot and the others got closer, they could tell their parents were strained trying to induce some measure of composure back into people desperate to find shelter.

“We don’t know how the sharptooth got in.” Grandpa Longneck was saying. “Now please, follow Mr. Thicknose to the caves in the right Great Wall.”

“For the last time, calm yourself!” Mr. Threehorn said impatiently. “You won’t survive any better by losing your head.”

“Yes, I believe you’ll be safe up there.” Mama Swimmer said. “I’m sure because you can fly!”

“I know you’re scared.” Mama Flyer said. “But we beg you to pass along this hideout information to anyone you can find.”

“Do we know where everyone is?” Tria glanced around anxiously. “Cera? Where’s Cera?”

“And Littlefoot and his friends.” Grandma Longneck raised her neck to look at the Great Valley wall. “Oh, I hope they aren’t right in the thick of danger again.”

“We’re alright!” Littlefoot shouted. “We’re here!”

Fear drained from each parent’s face as they and the gang rushed to meet up with one another.

“Good, you’re all where you should be.” Mr. Threehorn said. “I’d better not hear you were inches away from that sharptooth.”

“We weren’t, for once!” Cera said.

“But we’ve been that close before.” Littlefoot stepped forward. “Grandma, Grandpa, it’s that sharptooth, the one who killed Mother.”

There was a hitch in breath from the parents.

“That sharptooth?” Grandpa Longneck said sharply. “How do you know?”

“You told us you drowned him.” Grandma Longneck said.

“That is the reason why he is back.” Ducky said. “He is angry at us for killing him and that roar was about him wanting revenge. Chomper said so.”

“He’s a ghost.” Cera said. “Remember what happened yesterday when we found out Mom and my sisters were dead? Five of us believed he was alive and we had headaches when Ruby and Chomper told us he wasn’t. He’s going to come after us.”

“He is?” Mr. Threehorn asked.

The gang’s parents stared at them. The concept of their children’s attempted murderer coming back to terrorize the seven filled most of their faces with open fear. All of the parents, even Tria, remember the stories the gang told of the sharptooth’s ruthless pursuit of them and what they were forced to do to survive. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck looked almost petrified. From their personal loss, they knew what the sharptooth going after their grandson meant. Even Mr. Threehorn showed the faintest ripples of fear across his face. Oddly, life then surged back into him.

“If he is, then he’s going to have to go through us, literally,” he continued. “If the past ghosts are any indication, he won’t be so tough.”

“Be careful what you say.” Petrie said nervously. “He really mad. That could make him strong.”

“But Mr. Threehorn might be right.” Mama Flyer said firmly. “Since you kids realized he’s dead, then the illusion will be broken for him and he won’t be around for long. In the meantime, you kids need to get underground as soon as possible.”

“Underground? What do you mean?” Ducky said. “Wait, where are our brothers and sisters?”

“We’ve left them in the care of Big Daddy and the Tinysauruses.” Mama Swimmer said. “As long as they stay away from any holes, the sharptooth shouldn’t be able to notice or get to them.”

“Guido was sent along as an extra pair of eyes.” Tria said. “He’ll keep Tricia calm. Between him and Big Daddy, the kids should be safe.”

“You all should join them.” Grandma Longneck said. “See that bush? There’s a hole hidden there. Hop in, and look for Big Daddy. If Spike and Chomper use their noses, you should be able to find him. In the meantime, we’ll work together to take care of this sharptooth.”

“What? Don’t!” Littlefoot said, panicked.

“Didn’t you hear the part where he killed Littlefoot’s mother?” Cera said. “He’s not like the other sharpteeth we’ve dealt with!”

“And you can’t kill someone who’s already dead!” Petrie said.

“But we can deter him until he goes away.” Grandpa Longneck said. “As Petrie’s mother said, previous ghosts haven’t been around for long when the truth comes out. Hopefully the pattern holds and we can distract him until he leaves. Are all of you ready for this?” he asked the other parents.

“Of course.” Grandma Longneck said. “I’m not letting you do this alone.”

“Fighting a ghost does sound unnerving.” Mama Swimmer shook herself. “But I want to make sure he doesn’t torment the children again. Besides, he can’t really touch us, right?”

“From what I hear, the worst he can do is make us cold.” Mama Flyer said unsurely. “But we should be prepared for anything. I’m ready.”

“I’m already ready.” Mr. Threehorn said firmly. He glanced at Tria with concern. “You don’t have to do this, Tria. This might be a ghost, but a sharptooth can be very intimidating, so -”

“I’m helping you.” Tria said stubbornly. “What’s the use of learning how to use my horns if I’m not going to use them? Besides, this guy will need numbers to drive him off and every volunteer counts.”

Mr. Threehorn nodded, though he still appeared reluctant. Before he could reply, a distant boom shook the earth. Another roar split the air, angry, commanding. Whatever dinosaurs were still nearby hastily ran for it. Chomper turned to them terrified.

“He’s demanding to know where Littlefoot and the others are,” he said.

“Littlefoot, take your friends and stay underground.” Grandma Longneck said.

Despite knowing the sharptooth was a ghost, Littlefoot and the others were scared. Most of them remembered how the sharptooth nearly robbed them of so much, of what he already robbed, and their minds couldn’t help coming up with ways the sharptooth could harm their families. The gang’s instincts were screaming that something was wrong. Pleading, five of them approached their parents.

Littlefoot shook his head. “No, please don’t do this.”

“Stay away from the holes as long as you can.” Mama Flyer said. “Don’t attract any attention to yourself.”

“Don’t fight him, Mama.” Petrie pleaded.

“If you must get food, do so quietly and don’t move quickly unless you need to run.” Mama Swimmer said.

“Mama, let’s run.” Ducky said. “Let’s just run!”

Spike put his paws on Mama Swimmer’s leg, nodding desperately. But Mama Swimmer pushed him and Ducky away.

“Cera, look after Tricia.” Mr. Threehorn said.

Tria took a deep breath. “Be a good sister to her. Hopefully, we won’t be long with this.”

“Then stop talking like you won’t be here!” Cera said.

Littlefoot looked between his grandparents, looked at his friends’ parents. The rumbling steps grew closer, closer. A sense of unreality came over him. He watched his grandparents raise their heads, Mr. Threehorn and Tria lower their horns, Mama Swimmer straighten and bear her fists, and Mama Flyer perch on the highest tree to flare her wings. Whether they were scared or not, all of them were ready to fight what could and had killed before. Even with being dead, could the sharptooth kill again? The concept of any of them not being alive by the sunset was just too much for Littlefoot.

*What do I do? This is my responsibility. How do I stop this?*

The rumbling steps became louder, punctuated by a roar that sought blood. Even as the others started backing away and Ruby pushed him to go with them, Littlefoot remained rooted beside his grandparents, desperate to make the seriousness of the situation clear.

“Listen, you can’t do this.” Littlefoot said. “Anything might happen. If he gets you – if you’re not here, I’ll-“

Then the rumbling got to its loudest yet and everyone was distracted completely when the sharptooth came into view.

Littlefoot’s breath was stolen. It was as though he had been transported back to before the boulder dropped. The sharptooth’s hide was the same dark, earthy green Littlefoot remembered, rippling with muscle. Those enormous, pointed teeth hadn’t changed – they had easily rend flesh from his defiant mother. Worst of all were the eyes. One was bruised and veined from an unfortunate encounter with thorns but both were a livid red that drew no quarter when seeking what they wanted. Those eyes focused on the grownups in front of him and a rumble bubbled from deep within his throat, incensed this group even dreamed of blocking his path.

That red gaze flickered to the young dinosaurs. Chomper stepped back as the sharptooth froze on him, taking in the young predator’s presence among leaf eaters, before noting a cringing Ruby, the straggler between the worlds of plant eating and meat eating. Gradually, he zoomed in on Cera, Petrie, Ducky, Spike, who were completely frozen, wanting but unable to look away. At last, he focused on the still Littlefoot. The sharptooth drank the longneck child in longingly, absorbing every detail. Littlefoot was terrified when the sharptooth nasally breathed in, watching him with eyes that knew him as certainly as Littlefoot knew the sharptooth.

The sharptooth’s muscles quivered as those eyes narrowed – found you.  

A snarl twisted the sharptooth’s mouth, and he charged. Several booms followed as the parents took a unified step forward, answering with bellowing roars that made the sharptooth skid to a halt. That didn’t discourage the sharptooth for long, as he soon gave another challenging roar, but it bought enough time for Grandpa Longneck to quickly turn to Littlefoot and the others.

“Go, Littlefoot!” Grandpa Longneck cried. “All of you, go!”

That snapped the gang out of their terror-stricken shock. Ruby and Cera zipped over, grabbed Littlefoot, and dragged him to the hole under the bushes. With the leaves and branches pushed out of the way, the others hopped in one at a time. As Ruby jumped into the hole, Littlefoot looked back in time to see the sharptooth make another go only for the parents to loudly remind him with another set of screams and bellows who stood in his way. He saw the sharptooth’s murderous anger focus on his grandparents.

“Grandma!” Littlefoot yelled. “Grandpa!”

“Littlefoot, come on!” Cera said.

Growling, Cera shoved him into the hole. Littlefoot flailed as he tumbled and struck the tunnel floor hard. Dazed, Littlefoot blinked up and scrambled out of the way as Cera hopped down and landed on the spot he laid in a second ago. The others had backed away when Littlefoot came down and now Ruby and Spike helped Littlefoot to his feet as yet another roar broke the air.

“Hurry!” Petrie said. “Sharptooth might push his head through at any moment.”

“Chomper, can you sniff out where Big Daddy and our brothers and sisters are?” Ducky asked.

Chomper took a whiff and nodded. “I think I have them. Let’s go.”

Littlefoot looked up at the hole, hearing bellows and the slightest whooshes and whips of an exchange of blows. He wanted to peak up, to make sure his grandparents and the other parents were alright. But Cera nudged him again and he reluctantly joined the rest of his friends walking down the tunnel.

The sounds of fighting gave way somewhat to the booms of heavy feet. Every time there was a consecutive series of booms or a moment of quiet, Littlefoot imagination went wild. Do those noises mean their parents had gotten the upper hand and they were driving the sharptooth into a corner? Or was he hearing the sounds of struggle? Were their parents moving quickly to avoid a dangerous blow? Was the quiet a signal they were trying to regroup? Littlefoot could see his friends’ gazes nervously rove the top of the tunnels, those same questions plaguing them.

The sharptooth’s roars maintained their angry edge but as the murmurs of battle proceeded on, the parents’ calls started to gain a note of confusion and desperation. No matter how much Littlefoot reminded himself of the sharptooth’s current ghostly nature, he couldn’t remain calm. There were no agonized screams that indicated the infliction of a serious injury but the more the fight above continued, the tenser Littlefoot became. At last, he stopped and closed his eyes.

“Oh, I just can’t stand it.” Littlefoot said. “Our parents are fighting the sharptooth and all we’re doing is staying down here hoping they’ll win.”

“Well, what do you expect us to do?” Cera asked. “We barely took him down when he was just a regular sharptooth. How do we even hurt him now he doesn’t have a body?”

“Maybe he needs to be reminded he’s a ghost.” Ducky suggested. “When that sharpbeak found out he was dead, he and that bellydragger got so upset they ran away, they did.”

“That might work with those two but this the sharptooth.” Petrie said. “He scarier than everyone else that try to eat us put together.”

“But he’s still a ghost, yes?” Ruby said. “The sharpbeak wasn’t able to pick up Ducky and that was before he even knew he was a ghost. He won’t think he’s not a ghost if your parents go through him. So maybe the sharptooth won’t be able to do as much harm as we fear.”

“I don’t know.” Chomper said. “He still looked pretty solid for a ghost and that was after we knew he was one.”

Littlefoot was quiet for a second. “That’s right. He was pretty solid. I couldn’t see through him at all. None of the other ghosts we met looked very solid after we found out what they were, right?”

The others became silent. They had been too panicked by the sharptooth’s appearance to notice but now that they looked back, he was indeed as solid as though he was alive. Spike made a noise of agreement – his expression revealed he thought the sharptooth was concernedly lifelike and the others couldn’t help concurring. Littlefoot only found himself more distressed.

“That’s only more reason why I want to make sure the grownups are doing alright,” he continued. “We barely know how these ghosts work and what we do know, the sharptooth doesn’t seem to be following as much. Please, you all don’t have to get involved. I’ll just poke my head out and watch to make sure nothing bad’s happening.”

Cera gazed hard. “And if something bad is happening, then what?”

Littlefoot breathed deeply. “I – I don’t know. But I don’t think any of us would be comfortable with something going wrong with our folks while we’re not there, right?”

The others fidgeted and glanced amongst themselves in uncomfortable agreement. Face faltering with pained anxiety, an echo of yesterday’s events, Cera glanced away before forcing herself to look at Chomper.

“Where’s the nearest hole to all that drama?” she asked.

Chomper managed to sniff out one such hole and led them to it. They soon approached afternoon light shining down from an opening. The hubbub of conflict echoed loudly. Fortunately, there was a ledge underneath the opening. Littlefoot climbed on and used his long neck to cautiously peak out. Fortunately, a nearby tree blocked the hole from view, so he could observe the distant battle without fear of being spotted.

What Littlefoot saw made his heart jump up his throat.

Currently, the sharptooth was surrounded by the parents, roaring defiantly as it searched for a way out. The fact no one had visible injuries provided Littlefoot with some relief but there was the fact the parents possessed an edge of exhaustion. The flaps of Mama Flyer’s wings were a bit quicker. Mama Swimmer’s shoulders heaved as she drew in breath. Topsy and Tria’s guarded stances weren’t as strong. But Littlefoot noticed this most in his grandparents. They were slightly breathless and they moved not with the swiftness they had in previous sharpteeth battles. Littlefoot winced when the sharptooth lunged at Grandma Longneck and she barely dodged to snap her tail at him.

Or at least, that was her intention. Her tail went right through the sharptooth as though he was nothing more than a mirage. The sharptooth backed off briefly, annoyed but none the worse for wear. Grandma Longneck noticed, and she began to appear frustrated.

“This is a stalemate,” she said. “I appreciate we aren’t getting hurt but we aren’t exactly discouraging him either.”

Growling, the sharptooth stood on his soles and snapped at Mama Flyer. The flyer hastily ascended out of reach and then circled down to thrust at his chest. Mama Flyer ended up passing through and out of the sharptooth’s back. The sharptooth screeched in frustration while Mama Flyer shivered as though having passed through a cold breeze.

“That isn’t something I ever want to get used to.” Mama Flyer muttered.

Mr. Threehorn looked irritated. “Why are you dodging when he can’t hit you?”

Mama Swimmer swung her fist and it went through the sharptooth’s arm. She leapt back when his claws swung back at her. “I’d like to see you try to throw away a lifetime of survival instinct,” she retorted. “It’s hard to ignore when he looks as solid as any living sharptooth.”

“Isn’t it strange?” Grandpa Longneck said. “Our hits keep going through him yet he’s barely reacting. Does he even notice?”

“Perhaps it’s his anger.” Grandma Longneck said. “When you’re really furious about something, it can blind you to details even if they’re staring you right in the face.”

“Hmpth, I can fix that.” Mr. Threehorn stepped forward. “Step aside. I’ll make sure he goes away faster.”

“Topsy, be careful.” Tria warned.

“Yes, we can’t be rash with what we don’t understand.” Grandpa Longneck said.

“But we can’t afford to be too cautious when our children are at risk.” Mr. Threehorn said.

Before anyone could reply, he made a ramming charge. His horns went through the sharptooth’s chest. The sharptooth backed away in annoyance but Mr. Threehorn wasn’t content. He rammed at the stomach this time, making the sharptooth retreat some more. With a father’s determination, Mr. Threehorn thrust his horns toward the sharptooth again and again, making the latter slowly back up.

Somewhat encouraged, the other parents followed Mr. Threehorn’s lead. Tria thrust her horns alongside her husband, Mama Flyer made swooping stabs with her beak and feet, and Mama Swimmer threw out her fists. Even Littlefoot’s grandparents joined in despite their clear misgivings, defending the others by whipping their tails. Together, as a united front they were making the sharptooth walk back the way he came. Littlefoot felt a flicker of hope. The sharptooth was still reacting with his usual anger and irritation but perhaps Grandma Longneck was right. If nothing else, the gang did know the sharptooth for his intense fury and focus, so he likely wasn’t aware of his state. Maybe the grownups could rectify that. Maybe the sharptooth could disappear without much violence after all.

Mr. Threehorn scoffed as he rammed once more. “Hmpth, some sharptooth you are. You might be ugly but you’re not scary.”

Even as he was compelled to step back again, the sharptooth showed a flicker of odd confusion before that was swiftly overcome by an incensed growl. It appeared he grasped the gist of what Mr. Threehorn was saying. Grandpa Longneck glanced around warningly.

“Mr. Threehorn, don’t provoke him,” he said.

“What’s he going to do, walk through us? He can’t understand us anyway.” Mr. Threehorn said. “You won’t be able to get what you came for, sharptooth – we’ll make sure of that. So go back, back to where you came from. Go!”

The sharptooth hissed and abruptly swung his tail at them. The parents jerked back but it merely went through them. Mr. Threehorn only snorted and charged again. The sharptooth staggered away. Bent down slightly, sides heaving, he raised his head to stare at them with an almighty, growing resentment. The others were getting nervous.

“He seems to be understanding you pretty well to me.” Mama Flyer said.

“Ha, he can just understand my tone.” Mr. Threehorn returned his attention to the sharptooth. “That didn’t do anything. Face it, you’re yesterday’s news. You’re just vainly trying to reclaim former glory and from where I’m standing, it’s pathetic.”

The sharptooth opened his jaws wide and screamed. Manically, he swiped his claws through Mr. Threehorn’s muzzle, horns, and frill until he was breathless. From how Mr. Threehorn stared coldly at his opponent, they were as effective as a cold draft.

“Are you done yet?” Mr. Threehorn rocked his horns defiantly. “Stop terrifying our children! You might have been the most dangerous meat eater around but those glory days are over. Here we see you for what you really are – a smelly, dumb old sharptooth who doesn’t have a clear head on his shoulders, whose pride is as useful as pile of pebbles-”

“Topsy, watch what you’re saying!” Tria warned.

“- and who has nothing that makes a sharptooth a sharptooth – you can’t hit, you can’t hurt, you can’t kill. Face it, you’re a tiny crawler who thinks his bark is his bite and that makes you nothing more than a flailing punk who everyone laughs at!”

The sharptooth’s irises contracted. He swept an arm back, snapped his claws out, and swung those two lethal digits toward Mr. Threehorn’s indifferent face. They veered closer, closer…

And closed firmly, solidly, around Mr. Threehorn’s left horn. Mr. Threehorn’s expression faltered.

“W-what?”

The sharptooth’s spare hand grabbed the right horn, and pulled. Mr. Threehorn’s feet left the ground as the sharptooth swung hard and let him go. Mr. Threehorn cried out as he was sent flying. He crashed into the forest line and slumped, several trees groaning before toppling on him like dominos. Mr. Threehorn only stirred a bit and moaned.

The parents stared, shocked. They were interrupted when the sharptooth slowly turned to them, growling ominously.

“Oh dear.” Grandpa Longneck said.

The sharptooth screamed, and rushed in. He turned and his tail struck at Mama Swimmer. She gasped, all the oxygen leaving her. Panicked, Mama Flyer attempted to zip up but the sharptooth grabbed her wing and slammed her into the ground once, twice, three times. Before anyone could react, he threw Mama Flyer into Mama Swimmer, toppling the latter off her feet and leaving the pair in a daze. Tria hollered and charged. To her shock, her horns still phased through but the sharptooth head-butted her and slashed her flank with his claws. Tria yelled, and her legs buckled. Grandma and Grandpa Longneck stepped around her, angry.

“Now you see here-” Grandma Longneck began.

The sharptooth’s strong tail whammed into her chest before she could get another word in. Her eyes widened and she struggled to get air back in her lungs. Grandpa Longneck rammed his head down only to be head-butted by the sharptooth’s stronger and faster cranium. Grandpa Longneck rose up, dazed, and the sharptooth took the opportunity to body slam the elderly couple. Littlefoot’s grandparents staggered off, not looking as solid on their feet as dinosaurs of their size should be. The sharptooth prowled toward them but there was a cry out from the side and Mr. Threehorn stormed in, making the sharptooth jump away.

“I’m not out yet!” Mr. Threehorn declared.

Grandpa Longneck panted. “How’s he doing that? How’s he physically hurting us?”

“How did he understand leaf eater?” Grandma Longneck said. “That was more than understanding tone. You can’t learn a language that quickly.”

“I don’t think we have time to get answers for these questions.” Mama Flyer said urgently.

For the sharptooth still stood in front of them, only another brief look of odd confusion interrupting his powerful and confident countenance. The others picked themselves up and gathered back together, a little punch drunk, unnerved, but still ready to continue fighting. The sharptooth growled, and initiated the next round.

Littlefoot watched, transfixed, as they exchanged blows. Soon, it became clear that this was an unfair battle. Whenever the parents tried to hurt the sharptooth, whether with horns, tails, or other offensive body parts, the attack passed through him like mist. In response, the sharptooth used his own variety of physical strikes and nearly each one landed painfully and agonizingly. While the struck parent struggled to recover, the sharptooth moved in to do more damage or turned his sights on the next vulnerable target. The others tried their best to intervene but the most they could do was annoy and provide a distraction. Each blow zapped the parents of their strength. Meanwhile, the sharptooth’s actions gained only more energy, more drive, more life.

“Littlefoot, what’s going on?”

Littlefoot started, only realizing now he stepped fully out of the hole. The others were currently following him out one by one, with Ruby the last to pull herself up. Cera stood next to Littlefoot, breath hitching as she too observed the battle.

“He’s hitting them?” Cera continued. “How’s he hitting them?”

“That can’t happen.” Petrie gasped. “He supposed to be ghost.”

“I don’t know.” Littlefoot said. “He couldn’t before but then he somehow understood Cera’s dad was insulting him and now he can hit others but they can’t hit back.”

“He can understand leaf eater?” Cera squeaked. “He never gave an indication of doing that before!”

Chomper sniffed and winced fearfully. “Guys…I can smell him. None of the previous ghosts had any scents but this one does. That’s not good, is it?”

There was a chill from all present.

“He has smell now?” Petrie said. “Oh, when things going to start making sense?”

“Some say you never feel more alive than when you’re angry.” Ruby said. “But what if that sharptooth’s anger is making him more alive and giving him the power to fight back?”

Ducky covered her mouth. “And if there is someone with a lot of anger, it is that sharptooth, oh yes, yes, yes. If that’s making him more alive, then our parents-”

Spike inhaled sharply and whimpered worriedly. Then his gaze flickered to the battle and he almost screamed. The others turned just in time to see the sharptooth slam his muzzle against Mama Swimmer and swing her into the air. She went sailing before landing hard on the grass. Battered and exhausted, Mama Swimmer groaned as she tried to push herself up. The sharptooth coldly approached and turned to slap her with his tail. Mama Swimmer twitched and groaned but her body soon gave out.

“Oh no, Mama!” Ducky cried.

“How dare you!”

Mama Flyer swooped in low, throwing branches she swept up from the damaged trees. The sharptooth observed the sticks fall toward his eyes and pass through them, clinking on the earth. He growled at the implications of that attack. Before Mama Flyer realized what was coming, the sharptooth bowed and his tail struck her back. Stunned, she fell. Mama Flyer feebly flapped her wings, only for the sharptooth to close in and head-butt her hard. When Mama Flyer landed, she didn’t even twitch or attempt to get up.

“Mama!” Petrie shrieked. “Don’t hurt her, don’t hurt her…”

The sharptooth hovered over Mama Flyer ominously, teeth prominent. Before he could strike, Mr. Threehorn and Tria rammed his legs from either side. Their horns nearly got tangled when they went through the sharptooth but that got the latter’s attention. He kneed both of them on the forehead, making them stumble. Dazed, the couple backed away as he abandoned Mama Flyer in favor of slinking toward them. With their throbbing heads, the pair struggled to maintain their concentration. After several seconds of consideration, the sharptooth’s red eyes snapped toward Tria and he moved to her as fast as sky fire, mouth opening.

“No!”

Face alighting with a familiar terror, Mr. Threehorn intercepted the sharptooth’s attack. The sharptooth stopped opening his jaws in surprise and they slammed into Mr. Threehorn’s frill and neck. Mr. Threehorn toppled against Tria from the impact, sharp teeth scraps clear against his skin, unconscious. Tria gasped, eyes slightly unfocused from her head taking much of the force of her mate falling against her, and she struggled to return to her feet.

“Topsy…” Tria glared at the sharptooth. “I’ll…you won’t get to them…”

Annoyed, the sharptooth walked by and struck her neck hard. Her head shivered and she tried to stay focused, but soon she collapsed like her husband. Cera staggered forward a few steps, the others barely stopping her from getting into view. She stared at her parents fixedly, unable to suppress a whimper.

“Daddy,” she said. “Tria. Please be alright.”

Now bereft of any other obstacles, the sharptooth shifted his attention to the two elder longnecks. They had been standing to the side, breathing hard, exhausted. The sharptooth narrowed his gaze. Out of all of the parents, he seemed to hate these two most of all. The sharptooth approached, and Grandpa and Grandma Longneck whipped their tails defensively. They went through him without garnering a reaction. He whipped his own tail against their chests, drawing terrible out cries of pain that made Littlefoot flinch.

“Grandma,” he said. “Grandpa. No.”

His grandparents weren’t the type who gave up easily but the sharptooth didn’t show mercy either. For every failed strike at the sharptooth, he replied with a head-butt, a punch, a kick, and even a tail whip. He didn’t hesitate to scratch with his claws, relishing every sound of physical distress he could force out of them. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck got up every time but each blow made their movements and retaliatory attacks feebler. It was clear to Littlefoot who the winner of this brutal battle was going to be and what the victor shall do to his fallen adversaries.

*Again.* Littlefoot thought faintly *Not again…*

Unbidden, unwanted, each exchange of blows brought back a terrible memory. A tail slap struck Grandma Longneck in the side, making her topple. She saw Grandpa Longneck engage the sharptooth and scrambled desperately to her feet – scramble like she did when trying to get out of a gorge, after the tree Littlefoot brazenly climbed across cracked in a sudden earthshake.

Even as his wife came to his assistance, Grandpa Longneck gasped when the sharptooth hit his chest with his head. Grandpa Longneck stepped away, struggling to draw in breath, so tired – almost as breathless and tired as when struck by that fatal ailment, whose only cure was so far away and Littlefoot thought he might never get it in time.

The sharptooth slammed into Littlefoot’s grandparents a second time and their legs gave out. They tried to get back up but exhaustion pinned them down – pinned down like Bron’s leg had been pinned by a giant rock and he could only watch fearfully as molten rock slid around him like a river, his son and his friends almost too small and helpless to save him.

The sharptooth dug his feet into the earth and took his turn kicking both of Littlefoot’s grandparents, cutting across skin, drawing blood. They struggled but soon they could only jerk at their immobile legs, wincing in exhaustion and agony as the sharptooth continued kicking. He only ceased when the grandparents could only keep their lengthy necks raised a bit off the ground. The sharptooth shifted to examine his handiwork. A rumble came up his throat and he pulled back his teeth. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck watched him, so drained they could only muster a bit of fear – so drained like that terrible night, that horrible stormy night when he watched the life leave his mother, and he had been unable to help her in anyway except to follow her word and get used to a life with her absence.

The sharptooth snarled and reared up high. In slow motion, the sharptooth swooped down. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck curled near each other, shutting their eyes. Drool seemed to fly from those merciless teeth as they rapidly neared those lengthy necks, coming closer, closer, seconds from terminating these two lives…

“Stop!”

The sharptooth’s jaws ceased inches from those necks. He turned his head in shock to see Littlefoot standing in plain view on the distant hill. Littlefoot shook, eyes wet, teeth gritted in anger.

“It’s me you want!” he shouted. “It’s me who hurt you! They have nothing to do with what I did to you – nothing! Leave them alone...”

Silence. The sharptooth stepped away from the elder longnecks, attention focused solely on Littlefoot. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck also watched Littlefoot, terrified, their worst fears playing out before them. They shook their heads pleadingly but Littlefoot didn’t meet their gaze. He took a deep breath.

“If you want your revenge,” he said, “then follow me.”

Without looking back, Littlefoot turned and ran. Despite the exhaustion from earlier, he found the energy to move quickly. When those heavy footsteps started to follow, Littlefoot didn’t slow down for a second. He mentally charted a route through and out of the valley, dodging around trees and between undergrowth, hoping to slow down his pursuer, to delay whatever fate awaited him until he had the sharptooth right where it might make some sort of difference.

Then he became aware of six forms appearing on either side of him, keeping up with his pace as easily as though it was second nature to them. That was because they were his friends. Littlefoot gawked.

“What are you guys doing?” he demanded. “You’ve got to-“

“Don’t you dare!” Cera glared. “Don’t even finish that sentence!”

“Me so scared.” Petrie whimpered, but his flying was steady. “But me scared of losing Littlefoot even more.”

“He probably wants all of us anyway.” Ducky said reasonably. “But we will find a way out. We always have when we are together.”

Spike grunted and nodded, giving Littlefoot an uncharacteristically piercing, determined stare. Littlefoot’s chest clenched and he had to breathe before he replied.

“Okay. But Chomper, Ruby, he doesn’t have anything against you. Get away while you still can.”

“I won’t abandon a friend in need!” Chomper said fiercely. “I can speak sharptooth and my sniffer can warn when he’s coming. You need me!”

Ruby nodded. “If me and Chomper were in your situation, you five would help us as we would help you. You are all as much my family as my family is my family. Of course we wouldn’t leave you.”

Littlefoot closed his eyes, but tears leaked out. “Thank you…”

Whatever shall happen, whatever awaited them, the seven dinosaur youths continued running into the perilous unknown, determined to face it, together.

Next time…

An Unwelcome Reunion Part 2

rhombus

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« Reply #34 on: October 15, 2017, 10:08:01 PM »
There is so much to talk about it your latest installment that I fear that I will miss some of the important developments in my review.  But first of all let me say that this is by far one of the most emotionally wrenching chapters thus far.  Yes Cera had to deal with losing her mother and sisters again in the previous chapter, but here we truly get to see the impact.  In many ways her restraint truly shows the force of what has happened.

Quote
“You know, at least you got to say goodbye to your mother. It might have sucked but at least you got to talk to her and she even stuck around as a spirit. Me, I didn’t have that. One day, I was talking to them across a gorge, the next I’m in the valley and Dad tells me they’re dead. It felt like they walked around a corner and didn’t come back. As I got used to them not being around…it was as though they were never here at all. Even though I know you couldn’t help it, there are times I envy you. What makes you so special your mother could still talk to you after she died, while I get nothing?

“There are also times,” Cera’s voice became watery, “where I wonder if Mom and my sisters are dead because of me. Not only because they were looking for me after the earthshake, but because I insulted your mother, fought with you, and some force decided to punish me by hurting them.”

These paragraphs really capture the force of the moment.  Cera has never before been shown with some honesty about her feelings of loss and guilt, but here she admits them without restraint or hesitation.  The soothing words of her friends and their acknowledgement of being racked with similar feelings was heart-wrenching and beautiful.  When the rock of the gang was at her breaking point they save her by allowing her to see them break a little as well.  Her observation about having one's thoughts move on to other things and feeling guilt over that is also spot on.  This is simultaneously part of the healing process and something that many do not want to do, lest they fear that they have betrayed the ones who are now only memories.  Ending the beautiful scene with a bit of humor from Cera was the perfect way to show that the wounds so recently reopened have begun to heal.

Unfortunately for them it seems that new wounds are about to be reopened...

The growing realization in both the reader and the characters that the Sharptooth has again arrived in the world of the living is played perfectly with the proper pacing.  The parents taking a proactive stance in delaying the ghost is very in character as was the horror as both Ruby and Chomper realize that the gang's memories have been corrupted, indicating that Sharptooth has arrived again.  Littlefoot's brave act of directing Sharptooth away from the adults, and his friends following, is also the perfect way to conclude the chapter.  Sharptooth is now again in corporal form and they must kill him yet again.

Nicely done!  :) I sense that the gang will have their hands quite full in the chapters to come.

Sovereign

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« Reply #35 on: October 16, 2017, 07:40:42 AM »
This certainly was a nice chapter! The threehorns' handling of their loss was written well and I especially liked Cera's conflicted words here. They seemed genuine and fit the character well but the scene I found the most powerful in this chapter was the scene where the Gang realizes who's the next ghost. Also, the last part creates some serious thrills and the cliffhanger established here is really intriguing.

The first scenes worked nicely and they concluded the last chapter's events n a satisfactory way. The ghost phenomenon is clearly going to take real toll on everyone's mental health, at this point most of all on the threehorns' after their new loss. However, it is the part where Petrie and Cera told about the sharptooth surviving that is the real gem of this chapter. The argument following the twisted story was seriously startling and haunting: it truly set the stage for what is going to happen! I could feel Ruby and Chomper's disbelief and their booming horror at the development. Excellent job with that scene. :exactly

Also, the Gang's thoughts about the sharptooth's arrival and the resulting fight were really intense. Topps' taunts to the beast and the result as well as the comparisons between Grandpa and Littlefoot's mother raised the stakes to the extreme and the looming endgame between the sharptooth and the Gang is truly intriguing. But I wonder if you exaggerated the villain's power a bit too much. He shouldn't be able to take on a full herd by himself but that is nothing serious.

I second Rhombus in saying that this is likely the best chapter thus far in this story! Even if the start of the chapter was still a bit slow, the majority of this installment flowed really well. There were small hints about the cause of all this but, as I said last time, I'm sure there's more to this than troubled souls of the passed. Great job with this chapter!  :yes

DaveTheAnalyzer

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« Reply #36 on: October 19, 2017, 09:26:09 PM »
@rhombus Thank you very much for the review. Glad to hear it was emotionally wrenching. Cera’s speech you quoted wasn’t originally in earlier drafts but something like it appeared in my head later, complete with the dialogue tags. I might have been unsure of including it but now I see it does serve the story. I do like writing the gang supporting each other. You observations on how Cera decides to move on is interesting. Hopefully I’m handling that properly with what I have planned for her.

I’m glad to hear the sharptooth reveal apparently has good pacing. Actually I wrote the segments from “Hmm, still can’t think of anyone” to “found you” first because they grabbed me so much that I had to type it down and I don’t think I altered them too radically. I do like playing up the horror of it all. When I came to realize dividing chapters into parts 1 and 2 would become a thing, the gang joining Littlefoot in leading the sharptooth away seemed like the perfect spot, and that last paragraph a nice conclusion that popped into my mind when that realization happened.

@Sovereign Thanks for the review. Yeah, all this ghost drama is wearing people out, and though the last chapter’s events have been wrapped up, you won’t see the last of the threehorn family’s struggles.

I loved writing the palpable terror of the gang as they deal with the sharptooth. Writing a lot of the latter half of the chapter was pretty natural. I loved the comparisons between the injured grandparents and the four times a guardian in Littlefoot’s life was endangered. The flashback thing there was a bit experimental but I liked how it came out and it’s good to hear it goes over well.

As for the sharptooth being able to take on six grown dinosaurs by himself stretching credibility…that didn’t occur to me. I could see that but the sharptooth’s ghostly form does give him the unfair advantage of not sustaining damage and not tiring at much. Granted, that might have meant dragging the fight out even longer but I’m unsure if that might benefit the story. Still, that’ll be something I try to keep in mind.

As for the small hints…if you’re talking about the scene I think you’re talking about, I originally struggled with its purpose. I knew there was supposed to be a scene between two others, but that inserted scene didn’t like it had much of a point. Then those small hints came to mind, and I rewrote that scene with them in mind. I hope it was executed well and intrigued you.

Again, thanks. I really like this and the next chapter, so it’s encouraging to hear part one has your good reception. Barring any major errors I spot in a last minute look-through, part two would be posted on Sunday morning.

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #37 on: October 22, 2017, 10:22:21 AM »
Fanfiction.net Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/7/We-...Hold-On-Forever

--1/2

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 07: An Unwelcome Reunion Part 2


They never slowed, those heavy, rhythmic footsteps keeping up with each step. Littlefoot hoped his memory was accurate. He had only traveled this route once, long ago, and no one could afford having to double back from a wrong turn. If a route was blocked off by one of the innumerable earthshakes that have occurred since that journey, then they were so screwed and it would be Littlefoot’s fault he drew them into this.

To Littlefoot’s relief, beside a waterfall, he spotted a path rising up the Great Wall, covered in grass, leading into a cave. He led his friends up that path as the sharptooth kept pace, his formerly easy gait speeding up as he lost patience with the chase. Littlefoot and the others hastily picked up speed as they briefly passed into darkness and down a hill, Littlefoot directing his friends through the cliff side path on instinct alone. Ducky looked around with a dawning expression.

“Wait,” she said. “I think I know this route. I do, I do.”

“Oh,” Petrie said, “Me think me do too.”

“Where are you leading us, Littlefoot?” Cera asked.

“To a very familiar place.” Littlefoot said. “Hopefully one that’ll be familiar to the sharptooth as well.”

After a second, Spike gasped in realization and the unspoken knowledge spread to the rest, even those who weren’t present during that fateful day. Four others soon joined Littlefoot in confidence with where they were going, falling into a single file to fit on the narrow path with a long drop on either side. Despite having to now literally put one foot in front of the other, the sharptooth didn’t lose his stride. He gave an impatient roar that implied he wanted this hunting game to end and for the main course to really begin. Littlefoot’s heart leapt when he saw a very familiar cliff coming up and below that a pitch black pond.

They had returned to where they killed the first sharptooth.

“Slide down here!” Littlefoot said urgently. “We need to get him by the water.”

They found a slope level enough they wouldn’t have to fear falling. They let gravity take control as they slid down, wincing as bits of rock struck and scraped across their toes and soles. At last, they skidded to a halt right near the water and scrambled out of the way as the sharptooth followed them down. He skid to a stop with a quiet ease quite unlike his usual direct and brutal nature. He lowered his head as a growl of grim satisfaction vibrated that great throat. Littlefoot and the others backed off until they hit another rock wall but didn’t flee. Littlefoot tried to steal himself. He had been caught up in emotion earlier but having that red gaze aimed so unwaveringly at him after so long was nerve-wracking.

“We’re – we’re here.” Littlefoot gulped. “This is where we last saw each other. Don’t you remember?”

The sharptooth continued staring, not giving any sign he heard or understood. That made them stir nervously.

“I thought you said he could understand leaf eater?” Cera said, voice high.

“I – that’s what our parents thought happened.” Littlefoot said. “But maybe – he was just mad at your dad’s tone after all. Uh…”

After a moment, Chomper nervously stepped forward, growling as he began translating Littlefoot’s message. The sharptooth zeroed in on Chomper, who blanched and shivered. The sharptooth growled, questioning, and Chomper answered, tone mediating. They went back and forth, the sharptooth occasionally becoming aggressive and Chomper’s growls rising an octave as he tried to bring the conversation back to calmer territory. Amid his fear, Chomper at times sounded defensive. At last, Chomper repeated his first set of growls. The sharptooth’s indifferent gaze didn’t look at the pond, growls short and gruff.

“What are you two saying?” Cera asked tepidly.

“I said what Littlefoot said but he wanted to know why I was with leaf eaters.” Chomper said. “I gave a short version of how I became friends with you guys and he doesn’t like it.” He fidgeted. “He thinks I’ve dirtied my pride as a sharptooth, that I’ve gone soft. He hates all of you more now because of me.”

Petrie shook like a leaf on top of Spike but he managed to pry his beak open. “But what he say about what Littlefoot say?”

“He said, ëwhy should it be of importance to him?’” Chomper answered.

Littlefoot felt confusion and apprehension flood in. “This is – this is where the five of us drowned you. We pushed that boulder on you and you fell to the bottom of the pond. You never came back up. I’m sorry – but you’re dead. We killed you.”

Chomper translated for Littlefoot. Before Chomper could reach the end, a snort interrupted him mid-growl. The corners of the sharptooth’s lips quirked up ever-so-slightly in amusement and that expression was nearly as terrifying as his fury. Still not so much as glancing at the pond, the sharptooth growled back and with each second, Chomper looked more terrified. Even after the sharptooth finished speaking, Chomper remained silent, so still with fright he couldn’t speak.

“Chomper.” Ruby said. “What’s wrong?”

“Why is he not scared to learn he is dead?” Ducky asked.

Chomper turned his shaking head to them. “He – he already knows. He knew he was a ghost the entire time. He knew things could pass through him and he could pass through them if he wanted to. With his anger, he can stay in this world, and hurt and kill anyone he wants now.”

“Then…when he said why this place should be of importance to him, he meant…” Littlefoot felt horror brush through him.

The sharptooth spoke again, the growling filled with more of that horrible amusement. Chomper was as white as a sheet.

“It’s no longer of any importance to him because…because he’ll soon have what he wants – us.” Chomper’s voice became high-pitched on the last word.

The sharptooth lowered his head further to examine them, licking his lips longingly. Littlefoot’s stomach curled sickly with shame. He had been so stupid. He and their parents thought the sharptooth had been so driven by anger and vengeance he didn’t notice others could phase through him. It was possible. Apparently, Ichy didn’t notice his claws phased through Ducky the half dozen times he attempted to kill her. But with the many phased through blows exchanged throughout the sunny day, there was no way he couldn’t notice.

In fact, Littlefoot remembered the sharptooth had expressed annoyance when the parents’ attacks phased through him and anger when his own strikes initially went through them…but no shock. He had all the body language of someone who found being a ghost a frustrating inconvenience, not an existential crises. That was why he now refused to look at the pond with such a lack of concern. Littlefoot should have noticed these clues immediately but he had been too worried about the wellbeing of their parents to think of anything else and now his friends were going to pay for that fatal oversight.

“It’s my fault.” Littlefoot whispered. “It should have been obvious he knew but I thought…scatter. Hide.”

“We’re not leaving you.” Cera said

“Yes, there must be something I can think up.” Ruby said.

“Me should think of something too.” Petrie said.

“I do not want you to get hurted!” Ducky said, with Spike nodding desperately.

“I’ll help you somehow.” Chomper said. “I’ll-”

“He can’t get us all at once if we’re not together.” Littlefoot looked at them beseechingly. “I’ll be hiding too. Maybe one of us can come up with a better idea while he tries to look for us. Please…I don’t want to lose any of you too.”

No one replied but he could see the others’ eyes darting about, looking for escape routes and hiding places. The sharptooth took a single step, red eyes focused on his prizes. Littlefoot looked down between the sharptooth’s legs and the former’s heartrate doubled. He had to time this right. Be too early and the sharptooth would foresee their plan and strike at one of them. Be too late and they would be his lunch. At just the right second, they would get out of the way and he would slam into or phase through the rock wall (either would be advantageous) and his confusion would buy them time to run in all directions. The sharptooth slinked closer, so confident, probably believing Littlefoot and the others had no escape plan and were resigning themselves to their fate. Littlefoot felt his friends gaze at him subtly, desperate, pleading for his signal.

“When?” Cera whispered.

“Not yet.” Littlefoot muttered. “Not…”

The sharptooth’s growl converted into a roar as he walked to them with increasing speed, closing the distance to rapidly narrowing feet-

“Now.”

Though quiet, Littlefoot’s voice came through clearly. Just as the sharptooth jaws opened toward them, they scattered. Ducky, Spike, and Cera went left toward the water, Ruby and Chomper went right further inland, Petrie flew straight into the sky, and Littlefoot ducked under the jaws as he ran through the gap between the sharptooth’s legs. The sharptooth’s head went through the rock wall and he stopped before rocking his upper body and thrusting back, screaming his fury to the skies.

By then, Petrie was out of sight in the mountain cave, Ducky had dived into the water, Spike was swimming across the pond for a nook in the ground surrounded by rocks, and Cera had jumped into a hole beneath a scraggly bush. Chomper and Ruby, meanwhile, were still running, separating in opposite directions. Littlefoot aimed himself for a crack in the opposite rock wall, throwing himself onto his hind legs as he shimmed into it, wincing as some needle-thin points cut into him but ignoring the pain. Currently, Littlefoot was only glad he and the others were growing slow enough they could still use hiding places even adults couldn’t dream of squeezing into.

He glanced back. The sharptooth was looking around furiously, trying to find where his prey vanished off to. With a jolt, Littlefoot saw the sharptooth’s muzzle casually phase through the rock wall the gang had been backed into a minute ago and suddenly remembered that no hidey hole was safe if he knew where any of them were. He could go through and become solid enough to bite, and it would all be over. Littlefoot remained as still as possible as the sharptooth rose to his full height, sniffing and attempting to catch sight of any of his quarry. He scanned the surface of the pond and its surroundings, seeming to catch a whiff of something but unable to pinpoint its exact location. He turned to the rock wall where Littlefoot hid and almost focused on the crack. Littlefoot strangled down his breath from audibility.

Fortunately, the sharptooth instead looked skyward, expression becoming distasteful. He apparently knew where Petrie was but didn’t know how to quickly climb the mountain. The sharptooth was displeased Petrie could evade him with his flight advantage. Littlefoot prayed with all his soul the sharptooth didn’t learn how to fly. Some stories did report that ghosts could float and Ichy had been able to stand on thin air with no effort. Then the sharptooth looked in the direction of the inlands and narrowed his eyes before taking off. Littlefoot’s eyes widened, suspecting who might have been spotted in that sparse area with little cover, and he struggled, wedged in his hiding place. Panicked, he lost all sense and yelled out at the top of his lungs.

“No! Not them! Not any of my friends, but especially not them! They had nothing to do with you, leave them alone!”

But the sharptooth never heard him.

Meanwhile, Chomper pumped his legs for as long as possible. There was no hiding place in sight on his side. Ruby had already disappeared. She had lived up to her kind’s fast runner name and had probably concealed herself somewhere among the gnarly bushes and trees on the other side. Chomper felt tempted to seek a hiding spot there but he didn’t want to lead the sharptooth to her. He hated that all he could do was flee and not bring attention to his friends, the sharptooth’s words calling him soft and weak echoing in his mind, but he shunted those thoughts aside. There must be someplace where he could be out of view, even if he had to dig it out himself. He was used to tasting dirt when searching for underground crawlies and his life was on the line, so he could use his mouth to build himself a hole if necessary.

A roar behind Chomper made him look around and he screamed when he found the sharptooth in full pursuit. Chomper ran at full gamut but with nary a place to duck behind within sight, he didn’t know where to go. He continued running hoping to at the very least stumble over or fall in something useful but nothing came up.

There was a loud cracking sound. A patch of kicked up rocks and earth sailed over and smashed in front of him, making him slid and stumble to a stop. The sharptooth closed the distance and loomed over him, grateful to have found some prey.

Chomper looked around desperately and found no escape route. Losing his head completely, Chomper yelled and charged forward to bite at the sharptooth’s feet. His teeth clanged painfully against each other as he went right through those toes. He felt an unnatural chill surround him and hastily backed off. In response, the sharptooth casually flicked a toe at him but it had the strength of Ruby’s kick and more. Chomper’s breath was taken away as he was sent flying, the world turning upside down around him before he landed hard on the ground. Reeling, Chomper got up and hugged himself, cornered. That enormous muzzle descended ominously.

“Get away.” Chomper pleaded in sharptooth. “Don’t hurt me. Just…Leave my friends alone. Please.”

The sharptooth sneered. “Pathetic. You don’t even have a sharptooth’s strength to protect those friends, misfit. Your screams will only draw them to me in the end.”

Chomper jerked as though struck by an arrow. He recalled Dil and Ichy’s jeers, the taunts of Hyp’s posse, and the sharptooth’s earlier words. He tried not to concentrate on those thoughts but now at death’s door, he couldn’t help them. He was a failure as a sharptooth – he couldn’t be scary when it mattered, he couldn’t fight anyone that threatened his friends, and when he attempted to shield them, he was tossed aside as though he was nothing. If anything, he only burdened his friends, since they had to go rescue him. He only bothered his parents with his weirdness and he wasn’t able to do anything when that got them hurt by Redclaw. The concept of how powerless he was, how it burdened those he loved, overwhelmed him and he curled up in a ball, and wept. He kept his muzzle shut tight as the sharptooth’s jaws descended. Chomper hoped he won’t make a sound that might attract his friends when those enormous teeth pierced the life out of him.

“Wait!”

Ruby pelted toward Chomper and the sharptooth, waving her arms wildly. She had hid behind a tree, squeezing down among the gnarly roots to keep out of sight. There had been enough room to even press herself beneath the tree but with the sharptooth being a ghost, that didn’t provide much maneuverability if he found her and could just phase through to maul her. She planned to sit tight and try to think up a plan to get rid of the sharptooth when she heard Chomper’s scream. Upon peeking out, she saw him eventually get cornered, so small, so out of his depth. He became so sad, so resigned to his fate, that Ruby was moved to action. Chomper was as much her younger sibling as her actual younger siblings and she wasn’t going to stand by and let him get killed while she had some measure of mind power to prevent it.

“Wait!” Ruby repeated breathlessly. “Waiting means time to think, and time to think means taking the correct action!”

The sharptooth and Chomper stopped what they were doing to look at her. Chomper wasn’t relieved. If anything, he looked even more stricken.

“No, Ruby!” Chomper cried. “Stay away!”

Ruby ignored him. She stood in front of Chomper and gave her best level glare at the sharptooth, ignoring how much her instincts were screaming in revolt. This sharptooth was far from the only intimidating one Ruby engaged with but the ruthless killing intent in those red eyes was great enough to leave Redclaw in the dust. Gulping, Ruby remembered to use words.

“Sharpteeth shouldn’t eat sharpteeth,” she said. “That’s cannibalism, and even the most desperate sharptooth who have no other choices find it distasteful. It makes you feel like raving monsters. No matter how much you fight, if you have other choices, you guys never stoop to that level. You have those choices, you don’t need to eat as a ghost. So spare Chomper, and you’ll be spared of that shame. Tell him, Chomper.”

Chomper quickly growled to the sharptooth, tumbling and having to backtrack as he watched Ruby fearfully. She knew enough of the sharptooth language to know Chomper tried to repeat all she said, even adding her plea for him to translate without thinking. The sharptooth stared at the two and then a rumble like a chuckle shook through him. He replied to Chomper and even before the latter translated, Ruby found her stomach sinking.

“He – he doesn’t care. He doesn’t need to eat but he needs revenge. He was only going to bite me in half but,” Chomper shook hard, “after what you said, he’s considering slowly chomping me up and swallowing the bits before he eats you. My screams’ll get our friends’ attention then. He – he says you don’t know as much about the divide among sharpteeth over that issue as you think. Oh Ruby, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I can’t help. Please, run. Save yourself!”

Ruby stood numb with shock. Her attempt to reason with the sharptooth had only dug Chomper and her friends into a deeper hole they mightn’t be able to climb out of. She hadn’t known the full extent of her facts and he exploited that. The sharptooth sought vengeance to such an extent he would break any taboos to satisfy his quest and even spite his prey in the meantime. Ruby should have considered all of this, should have drawn up taboos and norms that would give the sharptooth more pause but instead Ruby pulled at the first thing that came to mind and her best friend was going to pay for it. Ruby saw the sharptooth descending again and narrowed her eyes before throwing her arms out.

“No Chomper, I won’t abandon you,” she said. “Let’s run together, I’m sure we can find a place where he can’t-“

Faster than she could react, the sharptooth threw his foot at her and she was thrown off her legs. She landed hard. The kick hasn’t been strong enough to cause any severe damage but the kick was still from a sharptooth and pain pulsed from her stomach as she struggled to draw in oxygen. Her vision blurred as the sharptooth resumed his approach of Chomper, saliva-dabbed teeth closing in. Ruby tried to think of something, anything that would pry her beloved friends out of this crises but her brain remained frustratingly blank as Chomper lowered his head and braced himself…

A pebble flitted through the air and through the sharptooth before clicking and wobbling to stop at Chomper’s feet. The sharptooth turned his attention behind him where Petrie flew in place, defiant.

“Leave them out of this!” Petrie said. “Don’t you want me?”

The sharptooth turned fully to Petrie. Faster than Petrie expected, the sharptooth leapt and snapped. Fortunately for Petrie, he had many cold times of practice flying and evading sharpteeth, so he flitted higher in the sky and went back, flapping his wings tauntingly.

“Ha!” he said. “Flyers really are greatest after all!”

Making a noise of consternation, the sharptooth made another leap for the tiny flyer. Petrie evaded again, drawing the sharptooth slowly in the direction of the pond. Quietly, Ruby stumbled to her feet and carried Chomper off to the other side of the plain where the plants could hide them. Petrie had to keep the focus on him. His outer cockiness was starting to crack. A slight tremor came across his beak. That was nothing compared to what was happening inside, though, as he had been mentally shrieking at the top of his lungs for the past couple minute.

*What am me even doing?*

Petrie already knew the answer to the question. As he implied earlier with Littlefoot, the world was filled with so many dangers – so many horrific ways to get hurt, so many ways to die. Petrie was scared of all of them and even dreaded others that remained unfounded hypotheticals in his mind. Yet the concept he dreaded most, that struck him with the greatest fear in his sleep stories, was him living while his friends died and not doing everything he could to stop it. Not seeing Littlefoot or the others again filled Petrie’s chest with such agony that he would brave any challenge that could kill him many times over in order to keep them safe. That was why when he saw Chomper and Ruby get threatened, he had to take action, no matter how much the consequences filled him with dread.

Petrie dodged yet another snap, always being sure to be just a few inches beyond reach, the sharptooth’s attention only on him. It wasn’t that difficult, but Petrie’s fear was making his movements stiff and the sharptooth would only be entertained by this game for so long before he became aggressive enough to lunge suddenly and finally get Petrie. Petrie shoved that thought out of his mind but like all his fears, it moved right back in and made itself at home. There must be another method to distract the sharptooth while someone, anyone, put a plan together.

An idea sparked within Petrie’s head, something pretty risky…but oh, it was worth trying. If this had any chance of success, it would be quite a coup. Petrie almost didn’t believe it was possible but as he learned from his friends on their adventures, it was that sharpteeth and other meat eaters had more complicated inner lives then most leaf eaters thought. His memory of the distraught Ichy was particularly at the forefront. Petrie stopped flying backwards but remained out of the grabbing range of the sharptooth.

“Um Mr. Sharptooth, can we talk please?” Petrie asked. “Me sure we can resolve this without-”

The sharptooth made another lunge and Petrie hastily ascended out of reach.

“Without doing that!” Petrie squeaked. “Come on, you must not be all bad. Everyone have a little good inside. Like Uncle Pterano. You must have liked someone.”

The sharptooth didn’t appear to be listening. As far as he was concerned, all of Petrie’s talk was just incomprehensible waffling. The sharptooth crouched and jumped, snapping those teeth too close for Petrie's liking.

Then Petrie felt like smacking himself. It probably sounded like incomprehensible waffling because it was, at least to sharptooth ears. Littlefoot did say he thought the sharptooth could understand Mr. Threehorn’s insults at one point but it was now unclear if that happened or not. Petrie probably needed a translator for this but Chomper was obviously in no shape to step into the role. So Petrie would have to do the best he could with what he had. He briefly pressed a hand to his chest.

“Me know we talk differently but please listen through heart.” Petrie pleaded. “Me sure we can fix this without anyone getting hurt. Do you not like us because you were so hungry? Well, we hungry then too. That made us do mean stuff. But we got over it and became friends. Me know it too late with you being dead but maybe we can help with your issues so you can finally rest in peace. What you say to that, huh?”

The sharptooth had stopped snapping at him and closely observed the flyer as though listening, bemused. Petrie thought he saw some softening in those red eyes and hope flared in his heart. Maybe Petrie’s words had got through to the sharptooth after all. Even the meanest meat eater might be able to turn around.

The sharptooth’s head twitched rhythmically and Petrie realized with a jolt that the softening in that red gaze was actually anger being subsumed by amusement – the sharptooth somehow understood but instead of softening, he only found Petrie’s heartfelt words funny.

Petrie felt a chill tingle through him. A sickly embarrassment settled in his gut. He was foolish to think his speech could get the sharptooth to calm down and talk. Judging by the sharptooth’s cruel amusement, he wasn’t interested in talking out his feelings. He just wanted to have his vengeance, just as he always did. Petrie had been naÔve to try this. The sharpbeak hadn’t become soft to the gang while grieving over his state, so why would the sharptooth? The blunder mortified Petrie so much, he didn’t notice the tail swinging toward him until it smacked into him. Crying out, he dropped like a stone, barely able to feel the pain of impact and he lay on the cracked earth, stunned.

*Ow. Me shouldn’t have done that.*

The sharptooth’s focus was on Petrie in a manner different from the frustration of earlier and it was much scarier. A shadow fell over Petrie as the sharptooth raised an enormous, powerful foot.

*If he have any good, then he won’t show it toward us.* Petrie thought. *How he even understand me? Oh, why me try to think about it, me so stupid. Now not only will me get crushed, he’ll go after my friends. Me should have stuck with previous strategy. At least me could fly away but it too late now.*

Just as the sharptooth’s foot started its rapid descent, Petrie shut his eyes and prepared himself for the end.

Then a familiar bossy voice proved to be his salvation.

“Stop right there!”  

That foot paused and Petrie opened his eyes in the voice’s direction. Cera stood openly in the distance, head raised defiantly. Petrie used that opportunity to scramble out from under the foot while the sharptooth was distracted, finding the energy to take to the air. Cera was doing such a good job commanding the sharptooth’s attention that Petrie could have flown off doing loop-the-loops and he wouldn’t have been noticed. She gave the sharptooth a look of disdain.

“Leave my friends alone.” Cera continued. “They aren’t worth the effort. Why don’t you go after someone who’s truly challenging, like a threehorn? I was the one who gave that final push to the boulder that put you in that pond, after all.”

The sharptooth hissed through his nostrils. He couldn’t understand leaf eater again, but he clearly remembered her well and his hate for her was almost as strong as his hate for Littlefoot. Cera did her best not to let her cocky expression show its strain as she stepped back.

“If you want that challenge, you’re going to have to find me!”

Cera turned and moved as fast as her legs could carry her. Only then did she allow herself to visibly express the panic shaking through every pore in her body, the emotion accentuated when she heard those giant footsteps.

“Oh no,” she whispered. “Why, why, why, why-”

Cera made it back to her hidey hole beneath the bush before the sharptooth could make out where she was going. She hopped in and the foliage shook from her passage. She hastily reached up to still it quicker but she only made things worse as the shivers of her body transferred up her forelegs to the plant. Cera disengaged contact and curled up into a ball so as little of her as possible touched the plant. She breathed to calm the shivering but that only seemed to make it all worse.

*Dang it all.* Cera thought. *Why can’t I do anything without becoming the worst scaredy egg?*

When Cera heard her friends were in trouble, trying desperately to avoid becoming the sharptooth’s lunch, her instinct and pride kicked in. She did the first thing that came to mind to save those who, no matter how much they might drive her to fits, meant so much to her, as she always did. She refused to face a future without them.

But now the sharptooth had moved to thinking to have her for lunch, another instinct moved to the forefront – fear. She tried to think of another plan, the next step to surviving the sharptooth, but the fear overwhelmed all other thought until she couldn’t think of anything except going back to her hiding place and hoping he would go away. As a threehorn, it made her sick with shame.

*Be brave.* Cera told herself. *Just think logically. You can’t survive this if you can’t think.*

An ominous stomp distracted Cera from her thoughts and she dared to gaze up, still shivering. That step sounded close. She hoped the bush above her moved because of that footstep and not because she couldn’t keep still for one freaking second. She heard the sway of that enormous head and the sniff of those great nostrils. The sharptooth probably knew she was very close by and since Cera chose the same hiding spot as before, he was more likely to track her scent down. Cera found breathing quietly a monumental challenge.

*What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?*

Those thoughts became a mantra with nothing to follow as the sharptooth rumbled nearer. In other dangerous situations, Cera had managed to think even if the fear didn’t go away but it was nearly impossible with this sharptooth, who had attempted to kill them so viscously, and she couldn’t pull her attention away from how he sniffed harder, looming a shadow over what little light slipped into her hiding spot. For a moment, Cera thought she was a goner and braced herself for whatever pain might come.

Then the shadow disappeared and the heavy footsteps became quieter. Cera relaxed, her breaths calming.

*Maybe he’ll look for me somewhere else. Hopefully he won’t find my-*

Then the light overhead disappeared with a rush of air. The roots of the bushes above Cera suddenly strained. She was horrified when the bush and a descent chunk of earth was ripped out, light fully spilling in. The sharptooth swung his head high, the foliage swinging in his teeth, and he threw it aside. Cera screamed, screamed with all the terror flowing through her. Death was staring at her in the face, mocking her with those gleaming teeth. She couldn’t face it head on like she couldn’t face much of anything head on and there was no distraction, no denial, just one vile fact stripped of anything that could comfort her. The sharptooth took a moment to appreciate Cera’s fear of her own mortality before roaring and lunging down.

“Cera, get out!”

Cera felt some flat teeth take hold of her shoulder and she was pulled out of what remained of the hole just before the sharptooth bit through the ground. The sharptooth came back up spitting dirt and gravel as Littlefoot dragged Cera into the water, Cera barely able to scramble her feet under herself.

“C’mon Cera, we have to move!” Littlefoot said.

“There’s no escape, he can reach us anywhere.” Cera said.

“There must be a way to get rid of him.”

Cera gave Littlefoot a deadened, incredulous look but found the strength to start treading water all the same. Littlefoot looked so scared, so desperate, but when he stared straight at the possibility of all of their lives coming to an end, he took action. Unlike her, at least he was useful in a pinch. Cera felt tears of frustration prick and she shut her eyes.

*I hate this.* Cera thought. *I just want to do something. But what can I do?*

For now, the only thing she could do was follow Littlefoot across the pond, kicking up water as their run turned into a hurried swim. The sharptooth recovered from tasting dirt and began catching up to them, snapping at their tails. The sharptooth’s attention was so focused on the two he loathed most that he almost missed another of the children hiding not far off. Cera and Littlefoot continued swimming desperately across the pond until they heard the splashes of those giant feet quiet and Littlefoot look around to see what the fuss was about.

“Oh no, Spike!”

Spike had been busy trying to be inconspicuous in his ground nook and whimpering whenever he heard his friends were in danger. He really very much wanted to help, but he didn’t know what to do. He glimpsed Littlefoot and Cera try to flee from the sharptooth, heart breaking at how his normally playful and cheeky friends sounded so terrified and desperate for hope. Spike didn’t notice the sharptooth had switched his attention elsewhere until Littlefoot called his name. Spike found the sharptooth staring squarely in his direction, standing at an angle where the rocks piled in front didn’t obscure the nook, and his stomach dropped.

Spike hesitated, not sure whether to flee or remain where he was in case the sharptooth couldn’t or wouldn’t reach him. He remembered those terrifying scarlet eyes from his early days, how the two times the sharptooth appeared he put fear and conflict on the tender bonds that had been forming between the five. He saw that gaze waver back to Littlefoot and Cera, who didn’t appear to know whether the sharptooth attacking them or Spike terrified them more. The sharptooth stepped toward him and something in Spike seemed to snap.

He jumped out of his nook, and started punting rocks from the pile at the sharptooth with his tail. Desperation and fear and anger accompanied each grunt labored out from the assault. The rocks just went through the sharptooth as before, but Spike didn’t stop. He was tired of this, tired of all the danger. He liked exploring the world’s wonders like the rest of his friends, but the fear and uncertainty and sadness that came when threats inevitably arrived...it was just too much. He enjoyed the relaxed lifestyle of the valley that gave him and his friends the opportunity to play, eat, and hang out to their hearts’ content. How dare the sharptooth once again threaten and bring unhappiness to the people who were not only his best friends, but were the only family he knew in the first few weeks of his life before reaching the valley. The sharptooth should just go away, back to where bad spirits like him dwelled. He just wanted this all to stop!

Of course, none of the rocks did anything to deter the sharptooth’s approach. Panic overcoming the anger, Spike jumped away as the sharptooth lunged for him, running around the pond, eyes darting for another hiding place, realizing he didn’t have an escape plan. The sharptooth had rebalanced to follow, another snap for his tail and rear feet forcing him to jump into the water for cover. He hastily attempted to swim away but the sharptooth caught up with only a few steps and was rearing his head back for a third lunge.

A rock flitted by and passed through the sharptooth’s head, getting his attention. He turned to Littlefoot and Cera standing on the other side of the pond.

“You have a grudge against…us.” Cera’s voice wavered. “Leave Spike alone!”

The sharptooth looked from Littlefoot and Cera to Spike, and back again. Spike thought he saw some temptation to be spiteful when those red eyes looked at him at an odd angle but faster than he could react, the sharptooth swung his tail high and smashed it toward him. There was an almighty splash and Spike view’s became nothing but bubbling water…

Littlefoot and Cera ducked as droplets rained down on them, giving the area a brief drizzle. When it dissipated, the pair shook the water out of their eyes and looked at the pond. Where Spike had been swimming desperately, there was only the clearing white foam of water. Panicked, their eyes searched the pond.

“Where’s Spike?” Cera said. “Where is he?”

Littlefoot’s gaze stilled. “Cera…”

“I can’t see him, he…nothing had better happen to him!”

“Cera, we need to move now!”

Cera realized the sharptooth was turning back to them. She and Littlefoot hastily made tracks a bit into another set of inlands, the wet stomping of feet starting to become more prominent. Cera was still glancing back at the pond.

“But what about Spike?” she asked. “What happened to him, that tail could have-”

“He’s fine.” Littlefoot said quietly. “I saw him swimming away for a second, with a shape that I think was Ducky. I don’t think the sharptooth noticed. He’ll be fine, with his sister beside him.”

Cera relaxed. “Yeah. Good. That means we only have to worry about…”

There was a snap at their heels, and Littlefoot and Cera screamed as they quickened their pace to put some more distance from the sharptooth.

“Him!” Cera exclaimed. “Help! Someone get this guy off our tails.”

Meanwhile, Ducky nearly drew in breath underwater when she observed the sharptooth chase two of her friends as they lead him around a small mountain. The sharptooth paused and turned around to snarl. Littlefoot and Cera nearly ran right into his mouth. They doubled back but the sharptooth hopped onto the small mountain and onto the other side, causing a set of screams audible through the water that fortunately weren’t cut short.

Ducky hesitated, wanting to help, but with no immediate ideas, she briefly peaked her mouth into the air and took a deep breath before diving back down. She swam quickly to a hole obscured by waving water grass only a foot or so below the surface, not slowing until she entered and saw the heavy shape of a juvenile spiketail. She rose up to a rippling flatness in the hole and gasped out as she surfaced in an air pocket, Spike turning to her. After Spike darted underwater to avoid the sharptooth’s tail strike, Ducky helped him into this hiding place. Now he bayed at her with concern.

“Littlefoot and Cera are still alright.” Ducky said. “Well, the sharptooth is still chasing them but they are alive the last I checked.”

Spike appeared only slightly reassured, his gaze wavering about as he worried about how long the pair would remain alive. After several seconds, Spike sloshed forward but Ducky panicked and moved to stop him.

“Wait! What are you doing?” she asked.

Spike bayed and gesticulated to outside. He wanted to help save Littlefoot and Cera. They needed to find a hiding place; they couldn’t flee from the sharptooth forever. He made a gesture to the hole the siblings were in, indicating he could guide Littlefoot and Cera into here. As Ducky absorbed the gist of this, something in her grew upset and she shook in her head.

“No!” she said. “I do not want you to go out there.”

Spike stared at her, confused and incredulous. Ducky fidgeted awkwardly.

“That was a close call with the tail, it was, it was. It – it really scared me. If you go help the others, you might actually get hurted by the sharptooth, or worse. And I do not think Littlefoot and Cera going in here is a good idea. There is not enough room for it and we might run out of air if there are too many people here.”

Spike gazed at her helplessly, at a loss. He made a few forefoot gestures that asked if he was just supposed to stay here, that they should leave their friends out there at the sharptooth’s mercies. Ducky shook her head again.

“No, we will not abandon the others. We just…” Ducky touched her chin in thought. “There must be other holes like this one in the pond. I will look for them and I can tell the others when they come by so they could hide in them. I do not think that will fix anything…but at least it is somewhere to hide. Now you stay here for me, okay Spike?”

Spike swiveled his head uncertainly but upon meeting Ducky’s eyes, he sighed with resigned acceptance. Relieved, Ducky went over and gave him sisterly peck on the cheek before diving down and out of the hole, briefly surveying the pond before descending down.

Even as she attempted to focus on her mission, her mind couldn’t help lingering on the image of Spike in that hole, sick with worry about his friends yet forbidden to go out by his sister. A trill of guilt went through Ducky. She knew he could have joined her in helping their friends. Whatever his mistakes, Spike had proven as useful in their adventures as the rest of them. She had been fine with him accompanying them in potentially dangerous adventures before. But with this sharptooth, the one who took Littlefoot’s mother and nearly took all of their lives more than once, she couldn’t stand risking Spike being endangered by him. What if the sharptooth actually killed him? The concept was unthinkable. Ducky wouldn’t let it happen.

In the process of securing Spike’s safety, though, he was trapped and distressed in a cramped place.  Not only that, the rest of the gang were at more of a risk of having their lives cut short without Spike to assist them or Ducky allowing at least one of them to share his shelter. She didn’t like the thought she was making Spike’s unhappy and endangering her friends, all to ensure her ease of mind. Ducky didn’t want to hurt them in anyway and it only reminded her of what Cera said that she cheered others up so she wouldn’t have to deal with their unhappiness.

Even if others’ distress did make the cheery-tempered Ducky uncomfortable, she thought she only did this because she selflessly wanted others to be happy. But when danger was afoot, as seen with Spike and the others’ current situation, it seemed Ducky was willing to sacrifice others’ happiness and maybe more to assure her own mental contentment. Whatever her words, Ducky appeared to be more self-interested then she thought and she didn’t like what that might say about her as a person.

Ducky pushed those thoughts aside. She could worry about them later. The actual selfless task she could do right now was finding hiding places for her friends in this pond. She investigated her underwater surroundings. Even with the daylight, the darkness was still quite pronounced and Ducky had to squint to make out much of anything. There was just barely enough room to dodge the sharptooth in here, with a few water grasses and other plants dotted about as convenient little shelters for her. She stroked past a few of those plants to note if any holes were present, finding only a few with little to no air pockets in them.

Trying not to be discouraged, she swam down further, the pressure a bit uncomfortable but something she could handle. There was a boulder at the bottom. Great, Ducky thought, maybe she and her friends could use that as a temporary hiding place in case the sharptooth decided to peak through or search the pond for them. She started the process of examining for more holes in the hopes they could be hiding places or even escape routes to the surface when another glimpse of that boulder gave her pause.

Ducky didn’t have much of a fascination with giant rocks, but this one was familiar, so familiar. Granted, there wasn’t anything particularly notable about the boulder and it had been worn down by the passage of time. Yet it tickled something in her mind. Ducky descended to see some more details but noticed there was something pinned under the boulder, a shape that became more distinct and made her stomach curl the closer she got.

Then she recognized what was under the boulder and almost screamed.

In the meantime, Littlefoot and Cera had finally managed to give the sharptooth the slip. After being chased all around the area while reaching the very limits of exhaustion, Petrie zipped by when the pair briefly got out of the sharptooth’s sight and pointed out a little tunnel they could slip into. Once they went underground, they walked quietly as the sound of the sharptooth sniffing in confusion and scraping at rocks and holes echoed above.

“Thanks Petrie.” Littlefoot whispered.

“Me at least know useful tunnel when me see one.” Petrie muttered.

“Now what?” Cera asked. “He saw us go underground in the valley. He’s bound to look for holes.”

“Right.” Littlefoot said. “It was because I froze up that the sharptooth knows about that.”

“Blaming yourself isn’t going to help.” Cera said impatiently. “How long can we keep this up?”

“I don’t know. I had us all scatter so he would remain busy while someone could come up with an idea but nothing’s coming to me. This is preventing all of you from being eaten but I’ve been so worried trying to keep track of everyone that-” Littlefoot shook his head, upset.

“Maybe someone else did come up with idea?” Petrie said weakly.

“What can we do to get rid of a ghost?” Cera asked. “He’s breaking the patterns we do know and they weren’t very solid to begin with. Besides, do we even have time to try out each idea while he’s chasing us all over the place? He’ll eat us before anything comes close to working.”

Cera lowered her head, glaring at the earth as she walked with them. Littlefoot was at a loss for what to say. He tried to think of something reassuring, that they have got out of tight scrapes before and someone shall come up with an idea to save them now, but Littlefoot had difficulty believing it himself. Normally, he had some clear head in these situations and could find a solution. Currently, though, Littlefoot hardly thought an answer was going to conveniently drop down on them while they were at their lowest.

There was a rustle of movement ahead and Littlefoot, Cera, and Petrie froze. They saw shapes coming into focus, around their size. Soon they saw they had no reason to be wary, as the shapes resolved into Ducky, Spike, Ruby, and Chomper. Both groups rushed to each other in relief.

“Thank goodness you’re all safe.” Littlefoot said.

“What are you doing here?” Cera said. “Not that I’m not glad to see you, but he can get us all now.”

“But Ducky has an idea to get rid of him.” Chomper said.

“Really?” Petrie perked up. “What is it?”

DaveTheAnalyzer

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #38 on: October 22, 2017, 10:24:43 AM »
2/2

Ducky shifted uncomfortably. “I was swimming in the pond, trying to look for hiding places for you guys, when I came across the boulder we used to drown him. And beneath that boulder…he is still there, he is, he is.”

“His body is still there, basically.” Ruby said. “Knowing he’s dead didn’t work but maybe if he sees that he’s dead, then that might do something to him.”

“So lure him in pond to see himself and he go away?” Petrie asked. “That sound like good plan.”

“How is this a good plan?” Cera said. “You’re all making some big guesses here. What proof do you have this would work?”

The others’ expressions faltered. After a few moments, Littlefoot slowly raised his head.

“Hang on, they might be on to something,” he said slowly. “The sharptooth didn’t look at the pond when we told him he died there. I thought he was just so confident, he didn’t feel the need to look…but what if he couldn’t? Maybe some part of him feared if he looked into the water too closely, he would see his body and be forced to really face he was dead as Ruby said.”

“But he looked at the pond plenty of times when he was chasing us and Spike around it.” Cera pointed out. “Him not looking the first time might not mean anything.”

“Did you notice, though? When he was chasing us, he was looking at the pond very oddly, liking he was only trying to look at us. It was only a little thing, yeah…but I never saw that look on him before. Maybe he’s not aware of it and he’s just focused on us. But I don’t think it’s natural. This plan could really work.”

Cera still appeared doubtful. “But what you’re saying is still guessing. Good guessing, but… If he sees himself and doesn’t care, what then? What do we do?”

There was silence as they contemplated the implications of failure. Littlefoot raised his gaze.

“I still think it’s worth a shot,” he said. “Since he’s after me most of all, I can lure him down there. This is a risky plan, you guys don’t have to get involved -”

“But you need someone to show you where the body is.” Ducky interrupted. She shuddered. “It is scary but I will do it for you, I will, I will.”

Spike nodded and nudged against her. He too wanted to swim down with Ducky and Littlefoot. That seemed to steel the resolve of everyone else.

“If Spike going, me going too.” Petrie said, resigned but set.

“I’m not leaving you to face this alone.” Chomper said fiercely.

Cera sighed. “Better put Ducky’s swimming lessons to good use.”

“If he wants all of us, then going as all of us will make it more likely he follows.” Ruby said.

“Not again.” Littlefoot sighed. “You have done enough, you don’t have to risk yourselves-”

“Littlefoot, really.” Cera said dryly. “Does it look like anyone is going to listen to you here?”

Littlefoot scanned the faces around him and, though there was fear and uncertainty, no one backed down. For a second, anger swirled in him. Didn’t they see he wanted to keep them safe? Then Littlefoot sighed and looked down.

“I wish you would.” Littlefoot muttered. “But okay. We must move quickly and quietly.”

They moved to the other side of the tunnel and hefted out, noting with relief they came out near the pond. Fortunately, the sharptooth was still a fair distance away, his attention now on the hole Littlefoot, Cera, and Petrie hopped in. They kept their steps silent as they neared the pond, glancing back often to make sure the sharptooth remained ignorant of their location. They sloshed through the water until they reached the deep, dark end. They all stared at the depths, including Petrie, who moved to stand in the water to prepare himself for the plunge.

“Okay.” Ducky said. “Does everyone remember our swimming lessons?”

There were nods. Sometime after Tricia and Cera learned how to navigate the water, an incident forced every member of the gang, even Petrie, to learn how to swim. They had all struggled and nearly drowned in rivers, lakes, or the big water before and they took these lessons to minimize future water dangers. Now they were going to see how well those lessons really stuck. Ducky glanced around at them worriedly.

“Do you remember how to dive deep? How to conserve your breath? The position to use to float up quickly?”

Each question was answered with a nod, with increasingly nervous glances back to the sharptooth. Ducky found these answers acceptable and her gaze shifted to Littlefoot, who surveyed his friends carefully before his eyes moved to the sharptooth’s direction.

“Okay, if everyone’s ready to be noticed, let’s do this.”

Once again, there were nods of agreement. Breathing deeply, Littlefoot raised his head.

“Hey sharptooth, you’re looking in the wrong place!”

The sharptooth, who nosed at the hole and was attempting to trace where it went, immediately stood to his full height. He observed his youthful targets standing defiantly in the water and his eyes widened. Littlefoot surmised the sharptooth thought they were going to drown themselves and rob him of the chance of finally exacting his vengeance. As grim as it was, Littlefoot believed it would be too advantageous to dissuade the sharptooth from that notion.

“We’re over here. If you want to catch us before we do anything drastic, you’re going to have to take a dip!”

The sharptooth exhaled through his nostrils sharply. He started stomping toward them, the booms becoming closer and more hurried. With that sound growing louder, Littlefoot and the others glanced nervously at one another and took the second to grab each other’s hands and forepaws, seeking comfort in each other’s touch, each other’s connection, and whatever might happen, at least they were together. Some struggled to keep their breathing measured as the moment of physical unity seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Then a shadow started to loom and they disconnected, tensing their legs.

“Dive!” Littlefoot yelled.

Taking deep breaths, Littlefoot and the others leapt straight into the water. Ears were flooded and their hearing was soon filled with the distant, muffled sounds of the underwater world. Littlefoot only took a second to adjust before stroking down. Ducky came level with Littlefoot and a glance back showed the others following with various proficiency. Not all of them were elegant but they kept up with Littlefoot and that was what mattered.

They got a quarter of the way down when Littlefoot looked up and found the sharptooth sliding into the water with not even a ripple, his ghostly state allowing him to follow without all the disadvantages of moving underwater. He growled without unleashing a torrent of bubbles and he clawed the water like he was climbing a mountain in reverse. The sight was terrifying and made Littlefoot and the others descend faster. They past the halfway point and began seeing the bottom, a familiar boulder becoming more prominent.

He heard a muffled squeal and turned his head back. The sharptooth had apparently lost any and all patience at the cat and mouse game the children had been playing and was snapping wildly, getting closer to some of the kicking feet of his prey. It had been Petrie who squealed at the sound of gnashing teeth and closed his wings even tighter to make his swimming faster. Petrie’s tiny toes escaped getting clamped on in a nightmarish repeat of what happened last time.

Chomper waved his limbs swiftly, his small arms not projecting as much strength compared to his legs but he still kept out of reach of the sharptooth. He would be panting from the exertion if he wasn’t so busy holding his breath. Spike was doing well, as expected from Ducky’s brother, but his body shape meant he could only go so fast. He fell behind as the sharptooth started snapping dangerously close and had to redouble his efforts to keep up with his friends. Cera and Ruby kept out of reach the best, the former because of her swimming experience and the latter because her narrow body made cutting through the water easier.

Littlefoot kept up with Ducky at the head of the group. Ducky moved the fastest and Littlefoot couldn’t help feeling she was slowing down to not leave them behind. He could feel his lungs burning as his oxygen supply dwindled but the sounds of the sharptooth’s teeth chomping sometimes inches from his friends kept him going. Within a few more strokes, the pair neared the bottom of the pond and what was beneath that boulder became clear to all.

A great skeleton lay in the rocks and sand, with barely any flesh to remind observers it had once been a living being. The chest cavity had crumbled in on itself, the weight of the boulder and the deterioration of muscle robbing away anything that might have kept the skeleton together. The tiny arms lay stuck between the back bones like forgotten stones. The tail bones had drifted apart and some fell in a pile where they would have connected to the rest of the body. The only sign of its former life was the skull titled to the side, jaws wide as though still baying for air forever out of reach. It was a horrifying sight, the last gasps of a dying beast, and a nauseating spike snaked through Littlefoot’s stomach. He and Ducky at last made contact with the boulder and gazed up.

Cera and the others were desperately descending with the sharptooth on their heels. They moved for the skeleton as though it were their salvation, becoming scattered in their panic. The sharptooth was solely focused on getting at least one of his prey, not yet noticing what was before him. He gunned for Cera, who squirted down like a startled finned swimmer. He snarled at Ruby, who evaded and caught up with Cera. He made to cleave Spike in half with those great teeth but Spike’s moved his legs with wide eyes and that desperation for survival moved him quickly out of range. The sharptooth then veered in on Chomper, snorting out air. Chomper flicked down, grabbed Spike’s tail, and was soon out of reach. At last, the sharptooth made a growl of outrage and torpedoed for Petrie. For a heart stopping moment, Littlefoot thought their luck had at last run out and Petrie would be taken from them. But Petrie, though panicked, swooshed down suddenly as though the water was air. He brought up the rear as the rest of his friends reached Littlefoot and Ducky.

Cera, Chomper, Petrie, and Spike pressed themselves against the boulder’s side, nearly out of breath, squinting or closing their eyes to brace for the worst. Ruby joined Littlefoot and Ducky a bit closer to the top, the three watching with trepidation as the sharptooth got closer. He was driven by so much anger, so much vengeance, that Littlefoot and Ducky feared he would never see his own corpse, never mind react in a significant way. They were either all going to drown or get eaten, and there was nothing the pair could do about it. A huge weight of guilt appeared in their chests.

*I should have just let him eat me.* Littlefoot thought.

*Why did I suggest this idea?* Ducky thought. *It is not going to work, I should have asked the others’ ideas, I should have. Oh no, no, no-*

It seemed to happen in slow motion. The sharptooth was seconds away from the gang. The sharptooth opened his jaws wide, roaring his loudest yet, the sound clear and not bound by the muffling water. They braced themselves for the pain of penetrating teeth. In the motion of attempting to fit them all in one chomp, his gaze fell on the skeleton.

He stopped. There was no deceleration. One blink, he was moving like sky fire and the next, he was as still as the boulder Littlefoot and the others clung to. The sharptooth didn’t appear to know what to make of seeing his own remains. His red eyes roved from the skull all the way down to the tail and back again. The sharptooth became increasingly stiff, emotions unreadable. Littlefoot didn’t dare feel anything. He just waited for the next, likely negative, twist to drop.

Then suddenly, the sharptooth convulsed. He screamed and gagged, like water was just now filling his lungs, and he ascended quickly. He grew more distant, still struggling, and surfaced, showing not the slightest signs of coming back down.

Glancing at a shocked Ducky and Ruby, Littlefoot waved for them to descend slightly to Cera and the others, who had looked up upon hearing the sharptooth’s struggles and now turned their widened, uncertain gazes to the three. Littlefoot pointed sharply upward. They understand his meaning instantly. Quickly, they swam back up, their chests an agony of carbon dioxide, darkness clawing at the edge of their vision, but the light peering through the surface gave them strength. As they swam, they positioned their bodies to float up the remaining distance, the ascent seeming to speed by even as every second was like an eternity…

They broke above water and gasped in the air, not caring how it seared their throats. More gulps of air were taken and coughs came in, getting rid of the leaked in water and putrid carbon dioxide. After several seconds of labored respiration, Littlefoot became aware of a loud thrashing. He turned to see the sharptooth staggering from one place to another, gripping his jaws, phasing through a cliff face on one side and rocking to the other side only to smash debris out of that cliff face. He seemed to be in agony and didn’t notice the children’s presence at all.

“What’s the matter with him?” Cera said faintly.

“He look like he have worst headache ever.” Petrie said.

“I think this might be much worse than a headache.” Ruby said.

“Yeah – yeah, yeah.” Ducky said. “Maybe it really worked.”

The sharptooth stopped staggering and breathed hard, stilling long enough to open his eyes and spot Littlefoot and the others. The sharptooth’s expression turned into a strange mix of fury and desperation, and he strained to growl at them.

“Ducky’s right.” Chomper said, dawning. “Seeing his own body…it affected him. He’s demanding to know what we did since he can barely control himself now.”

The sharptooth growled harder and suddenly lunged. The gang screamed and dipped back into the pond, zooming underwater to reach the shallower end within a second. When they resurfaced, the sharptooth hadn’t gotten far, bending his head in pain, but he still watched them fixedly.

“He might be effected but he’s still dangerous.” Littlefoot said. “Stay on your toes.”

As one, they began to cautiously back away, not turning away from the sharptooth. Suddenly, he stomped to them, but lost his balance as he reached the water. He cringed inward and threw his head up, groaning in pain. At first, he stepped on top of the water like it was ice, and then he slipped through up to his chest. Just as abruptly, he was standing on top of the water again, a bit too close for Littlefoot and the others’ liking. They hastily backed off as the sharptooth couldn’t control his legs and fell forward, crashing spectacularly through the water – and his lower jaw faded a bit through the ground. Even with how dazed the sharptooth appeared, the gang still kept a safe distance.

Chomper took a whiff of the air. “His smell’s going in and out. I don’t think he’ll be able to stay around.”

“Don’t get too close.” Littlefoot said. “Even if we have to split up, let’s at least stay in twos or threes. It’s best if we can look out for each other.”

There wasn’t much arguing with that logic. Despite the exhaustion, despite the fear still trilling through their veins, they were ready when the sharptooth got back up enough to try and slam his chin down on them. Littlefoot and the others jumped away, rocks and dirt being thrown up. They padded backwards calmly but hurriedly, always watching the sharptooth. They split up into three groups – Ducky and Spike; Cera and Petrie; and Littlefoot, Ruby, and Chomper. They went in three different directions and the sharptooth followed them with his gaze, determination to get them outstripping his energy to do so.

When he saw Cera and Petrie move up the hill where that boulder had been dropped so long ago, he snarled and went into pursuit. He reached out with his mouth but Cera and Petrie just screamed and jumped back, teeth closing on thin air. He made another snap, but the pair just hopped out of range. Cera and Petrie continued to keep themselves out of his reach, observing for signs of briefly regained energy before they moved. When they got to the top, the pair were backed onto the cliff, the sharptooth surveying them hungrily before another headache made him wince and close his eyes.

“I hate being backed into corners like this.” Cera muttered.

“We should run between his legs now.” Petrie said.

“Wait. I have an idea.”

Even as Cera’s knees trembled, she stayed where she was as the sharptooth overcame the pain pulsing through his skull. Shaking his head, the sharptooth focused on the pair and leapt for them. At first, Cera was so terrified her legs refused to work. At the last second she sprinted, avoiding those teeth, her head dodging those mighty jaw by inches. With Petrie crouching behind her frill, she passed between the sharptooth’s massive legs, getting glanced by his wildly whipping tail but her run barely slowed down. Even as the sharptooth realized his prey evaded him, he couldn’t overcome the momentum he built up and roared as he plunged over the edge. Cera and Petrie heard a huge boom. They returned to the cliff and found the sharptooth laying on the ground to the left of the pond, dazed.

“Woah, that too close.” Petrie wiped his brow. “Still…great plan, Cera!”

“Yeah.” Cera nodded faintly. “Yeah…I did plan that.”

In the meantime, the dust cleared and Ducky and Spike watched the sharptooth’s still form from the safety of a little cave. The sharptooth didn’t disappear and the siblings didn’t dare come out to investigate. The sharptooth stirred, opened his eyes, and strained to get back up. As he did so, his gaze fell on Ducky and Spike’s hiding place.

“Oh no.” Ducky said. “I think we have been foundeded.”

Spike yelped and sprinted out of the cave before the sharptooth thought about phasing through and chomping them. The sharptooth began his pursuit, rumbling step after clumsy rumbling step keeping up with Ducky and Spike. Carrying her sister, Spike looked around quickly and made a break for the narrow strip of land around the pond. The sharptooth trailed after, and seemed to have an aversion to the water. He did his best to put one foot in front of the other in that small space.

However, pain made him wince again, unsteadying his movements, so he couldn’t stop a foot from landing in the pond. The sharptooth screamed as though he stepped in molten rock. He ignored Ducky and Spike entirely in favor of getting out of the water. The siblings yelped when the sharptooth stepped in front of them, Spike crashing into the foot and the momentum flinging Ducky against it. Collecting themselves, Ducky and Spike dodged around and kept going, the sharptooth groaning as he rocked from side to side.

“I do not think he can stand even being in the water he died in anymore.” Ducky said. “I did not know that was going to happen, oh no, oh no.”

Spike shook his head in agreement. He just went here on instinct and hoped that, with their swimming experience, the water might give them an advantage. It felt good to discover there was more of an advantage than either of them thought, and his heart swelled when Ducky gave him a look of sisterly pride.

Littlefoot, Chomper, and Ruby stood in the open near the inlands, watching the sharptooth scream as he tried to clear the pond only to have both feet get in the water. He jumped out and stamped his feet on the ground as though attempting to put out a fire. He noticed the trio in the process and a desperate anger gripped him. Chomper flinched, and Littlefoot briefly laid a tail on the former’s shoulder.

“It’s okay.” Littlefoot said. “We can manage this.”

Chomper nodded, and gulped. The sharptooth yelled and stepped forward. Ruby waved for the trio to jog backwards. The more the sharptooth approached, the more space Littlefoot and the others put between themselves and their enemy. They were backing into the inlands Chomper and Ruby fled to, so they had plenty of room to retreat.

They jogged at too relaxed of a pace, for the sharptooth suddenly jumped and the trio had to turn tail and run. The trio didn’t go far and returned to their backwards retreat.

Cera, Petrie, Ducky and Spike came in, providing distractions to the sharptooth’s left and right flanks. They followed Littlefoot, Chomper, and Ruby’s example and jogged backwards. The sharptooth didn’t seem to know where to turn. He would go for Cera and Petrie one moment, attempt to attack Ducky and Spike the next, and then fail a tail swing toward Littlefoot’s center group without any rhyme or reason. The sharptooth snarled in frustration, becoming more uncoordinated the longer this went on.

“He wants to get one of us, any of us.” Chomper panted. “Even on his last breath.”

“It’s going to be over.” Ruby said. “Please, let this over be soon.”

The sharptooth swayed on his feet. He chomped toward Ducky and Spike but didn’t get down far enough to reach them. The sharptooth growled ominously at Cera and Petrie but the pair shuffled off before he could snap at them. At last, the sharptooth returned his focus to the origin of all his hate. He advanced that enormous leg slowly, straining to move through sheer vengeful will, and allowed gravity to takeover. He fell opening his jaws wide, covering much more distance than expected. Chomper and Ruby jumped away. Littlefoot was slower, not watching where he was going, and found himself slipping. He hadn’t noticed the crater where the sharptooth kicked up debris earlier to corner Chomper. Littlefoot slid into the depression and he scrambled to get out as the sharptooth’s shadow fell over him.

“Littlefoot!” Petrie yelled.

“No, no, no!” Ducky screamed.

The others ran to him but the sharptooth was descending too quickly and Littlefoot was rooted to the spot. He looked up with terror but that was overwhelmed by a strange calm as those sharp teeth got closer, and closer…

There was an almighty boom. A great plum of dust rushed outward, forcing everyone to stop in their tracks. Cera and the others closed or covered their eyes as sand and dirt blew past them. They hoped for the plum to dissipate soon so they could check on Littlefoot yet at the same time they wanted it to go on for a while longer, dreading what they might find.

At last the air cleared, and they reluctantly uncovered their eyes. The sharptooth lay on the ground, almost inert. Littlefoot stood right next to those teeth, unmoving. His neck seemed to terminate right at those teeth. A thrill of horror went through them and Cera’s breath hitched.

“It can’t be. It can’t – what?”

Cera’s confused tone made them turn back to the sight. They gave a double-take. Littlefoot’s neck didn’t terminate at the sharptooth’s teeth.

It phased through the teeth.

Littlefoot stepped back and his head came into view, whole and unharmed. Backing away a bit, he stared up at the sharptooth exhaling laboriously through his teeth. The sharptooth thrust himself up, fell down, and tried again. However, he couldn’t move more than a few inches. The sharptooth couldn’t get up. He wasn’t going to get up.

“It’s done.” Littlefoot said softly. “He’s done, guys.”

Cautiously, Cera and the others quietly patted over and stood next to Littlefoot. Upon closer inspection, they found the sharptooth had become a bit translucent. Littlefoot had noticed in the sharptooth lost his solid coloring in his fall, and the longneck allowed hope to surge through him before the impact. The sharptooth rumbled, expressing the dull aches that reverberated through every part of his form. He opened his eyes, exhaustion dulling the anger toward the seven children standing alive before him. The sharptooth growled, barely above a whisper, yet his voice vibrated their chests.

“I assume he’s not happy with us, huh?” Cera said faintly.

“He resents us.” Chomper said. “He’s cursing our luck. Despite all he did, the experience and notoriety he built, some kids who barely knew what they were doing drowned him in a pond and he ceased to matter. The world moved on and forgot about him while you guys survived and continued to survive. He…he thought if he killed us, he might get his pride back and accept being dead, but he couldn’t even manage that.”

“So…what? Were we just supposed to volunteer ourselves to be chewed to bits? We didn’t do that then and we weren’t going to do that now, especially since he threatened Ruby and Chomper too.”

“I suppose he thinks any friend of you five is not a friend of his.” Ruby said. “Especially if those friends are a fast runner and sharptooth. Being friends with leaf eaters has only made us his enemy even more.”

“Then he really unlucky.” Petrie crossed his arms. “He should have got message when we kept running away from him and leave us alone.”

Ducky nodded. “We would not have had to drown him if he just gave up and did something else, that is true, that is.”

Spike murmured his agreement, yet he didn’t appear victorious they survived once again. No one did. The sharptooth continued to struggle breathing, clinging desperately to his phantom body even as energy continued to leave him. Littlefoot stepped closer.

“I don’t regret making sure me and my friends survived,” he said. “You tried to kill us and we did what was necessary to live. You lost. However…I’m sorry we live in a world where you had to die so we could live. If life wasn’t so unfair, maybe things could’ve been different. Maybe we could have both been happy.”

Glancing at Littlefoot while he spoke, Chomper began translating, taking his time even as Littlefoot fell silent to make the longneck’s point clear. The sharptooth’s gaze stayed on Littlefoot as he heard this, emotions unreadable. When Chomper finally finished, there was no reaction for several seconds. Then those red eyes narrowed and his next growls shook.

Chomper gulped. “He hates us even more now. To be given sympathy by his killers makes him feel like nothing. He – oh goodness, um – let’s just say he wouldn’t mind if something super terrible happens to us.”

The sharptooth waited for his point to be made clear. Then his demeanor…changed. That narrowed eyed resentment seemed to melt away as his lips turned up and he gave an amused snort. He growled ominously, tone mocking. Chomper looked confused and nervous.

“He says – uh, what’s he talking about? – um, ah, he’s saying, ’you think you’re so smart. You think you’re clever enough to survive all of the fears of the world. But even you haven’t noticed the greatest terror – the one that has been staring at you in the face this entire time.’”

A chill went through Littlefoot’s stomach. “What – what do you mean?”

“Does this have something to do with the ghosts?” Cera said quickly. “What is it? Tell us!”

Chomper repeated their questions in sharptooth and from how his growls stumbled, he added his own as well. The sharptooth’s amused, threatening expression faded, leaving behind uncertainty. He growled, confused and a bit worried.

“He – he doesn’t know?” Chomper was baffled. “The words – he didn’t know where they came from, they just fell out of his mouth. He doesn’t know what’s happening.”

“Is he serious?” Cera said. “Maybe he’s messing with us.”

“Me don’t know.” Petrie said. “He does look really confused.”

Ducky nodded. “It does not seem fake. Maybe he is telling the truth.”

“Then what were those words about?” Ruby murmured. “Things are becoming more confusing as I think about them.”

The sharptooth’s confusion was shifting to anger and when he spoke, it was with rumbling resentment.

“He’s blaming us.” Chomper said faintly. “He thinks being a ghost and us fighting back is messing with his head. He curses us. First we shame him with sympathy and then we give him delusions. He really hates us. We…really do ruin everything.”

Amid his confusion and apprehension, Littlefoot’s heart sank. He still hated and feared the sharptooth, for what he took and what he nearly did, but somewhere in that, he began to feel empathy toward him. Whatever kind of person the sharptooth was, his bitterness toward his cut-short life was genuine and his ghostly predicament was one no person should be in. With his tiredness of death, Littlefoot tried to reach out, to make the sharptooth feel at least a bit better in his final moments. But Littlefoot’s attempt at comfort was slapped away, the sharptooth’s pride and grudge too important for him to react in any other way than with further bitterness.

The sharptooth became much less solid looking. Gradually, the gang could see through him to the imprint he made in the ground, and the land beyond. In the distance, they could still make out the cliff where they dropped that fateful boulder and the pond where the sharptooth’s body now lay. Soon, he was more like a faint wisp of fog given shape and color. All the while, the sharptooth continued watching Littlefoot and the others, the resentment in his red eyes never wavering.

The breathing softened, the sound continuing to echo as the sharptooth became fainter, fainter. Between one blink and the next, he and his resentful gaze faded, and his last powerful breaths were stolen by a rolling gust of wind. There was nothing left of the sharptooth other than the land and mountain damage, the giant footprints, and the impression in the earth feet from the gang where he lived out his last moments of his facsimile of a life.

Littlefoot’s legs gave out from under him. He continued staring at the sharptooth’s impression, relief and guilt and indistinguishable emotions swirling inside him. Cera collapsed against his left side, seeking comfort in their contact. On Littlefoot’s right, Spike leaned in, nuzzling the former in relief. Ducky slid onto her stomach and closed her eyes, hugging Spike’s neck and reaching out a hand to touch Littlefoot. Petrie fluttered down and settled between Littlefoot and Cera’s feet. Chomper rested on Cera’s flank, rubbing his head against her and, by proxy, all those she was connected to. Ruby completed the connection, sitting down next to Spike and reaching out with one long hand to stroke Spike, Ducky, and Littlefoot. For those she couldn’t reach, she sent a grateful look they were still there.

For a long while, Littlefoot and the others remained pressed close to one another, tired and hollowed out, relieved that every one of their number was so physically present. That entire ordeal had been very taxing. Littlefoot didn’t know if he would ever have the energy to stand up again. No one seemed to have the will to return to their feet. The temptation to be lulled to rest by the warmth of each other’s presence was great and, for a second, they felt they might do just that, to escape what they went through, what it revealed.

Finally though, one by one, they stood and began the slow walk home.

By the time they reentered the Great Valley, the bright circle was nearing the horizon. Many residents were out in the open, eating or standing around nervously, still feeling the tense atmosphere of that sharptooth’s intrusion and not knowing if the threat was gone. Some flyers flew at various heights, on the alert. More than a few of the flying and land walker residents stared at Littlefoot and the others, who walked so lifelessly, and whispers spread wherever they passed.

“Are you kids okay?” Mr. Clubtail asked.

”We’re still standing.” Cera said. “The sharptooth isn’t.”

“So you got rid of him?” Don said sharply.

“It’s the reason we made it back at all.” Littlefoot replied.

Don and several others stared in shock but Littlefoot and the others paid them little mind. They had other people they really wanted to reunite with. Eventually, they heard a familiar set of heavy footsteps and found their parents moving in their direction, wet, their injuries showing signs of recent treatment. Their steps were wincing and uneven, but they gazed about with a desperate energy, hope slipping away with every second of their search. Then they saw their children and gasped softly, picking up their pace. Littlefoot and the others started jogging forward, not stopping until their parents closed in and swallowed them in their embrace.

Mr. Threehorn and Tria pinned Cera between their muzzles as they nuzzled her, eyes closed, faces slightly hollow from guilt and relief.

“Cera, Cera.” Mr. Threehorn whispered. “I’m sorry. My stupidity forced you to be a hero again.”

“We couldn’t do anything, we were so useless.” Tria said.

“Fine.” Cera said wetly. “It’s fine. We got through it. He’s gone now.”

Ducky and Spike’s mother had scooped up the pair and held them to her chest. Despite the tight grip, they bore it stolidly and hugged her back. Their mother shivered at the contact.

“Do not be sad, Mama.” Ducky sniffed. “We really did get rid of him. I helped make him see himself in the pond, and he disappeared.”

Spike nodded and made an insistent noise, thrusting his head proudly toward his sister. Their mother only shivered harder and her grip became protective.

“My brave, selfless children,” she choked. “I’m always scared your luck will run out at some point.”

Petrie nestled near his mother’s neck, eyes closed as she stroked his back gently. She seemed the most composed but he could feel her fingers weren’t as steady as they should be.

“Sorry we always worry you, Mama.” Petrie said. “Are everyone’s brothers and sisters still underground?”

“We’ve been in contact with Guido and Big Daddy but we left them in their care while we were looking for you.” Mama Flyer said. “We’ll pick them up on the way home…and we can finally get some rest.”

Ruby and Chomper stood awkwardly to the side, watching this reunion between child and parent. Ruby felt a swell of emotion. She knew her family was safe, she knew they were happy she made the Great Valley a home and gained good friends here. Still, their absence ached and she watched her friends wistfully. Then she felt someone take her hand and she looked down to find Chomper leaning against her.

“I miss my folks too,” he murmured. “I know I’m not that much help but I’m here for you.”

Ruby smiled. “You’re also part of my folks and I hope you don’t mind a hug after the mistake I made.”

Ruby lowered and embraced him, glad she had a friend like Chomper and that her idea this time was achieving a positive result – giving him a smile that mirrored her own.

Grandpa and Grandma Longneck lowered their heads, nuzzling Littlefoot’s head. He could feel them trembling.

“Oh Littlefoot.” Grandpa Longneck said. “You’re safe.”

“Thank goodness.” Grandma Longneck murmured. “Thank goodness…”

For that moment, Littlefoot was content to nuzzle his grandparents, so glad to feel their love and touch and life. He didn’t want it to end. But then they pulled away and sternness entered their gaze.

“Don’t ever do that again.” Grandpa Longneck said.

“We were so worried when we saw you vanish off with that sharptooth in pursuit.” Grandma Longneck said. “We thought when too much time passed that…promise us you will stop risking your life like that.”

“Um, well…” Littlefoot stammered, searching for something soothing to say. He could only look away. “I can’t really promise you that.”

“Please Littlefoot, you have to understand.” Grandma Longneck pleaded. “You have so much life ahead of you, so much left to do. We beg you to consider yourself first before you endanger yourself and cut all of your wonderful opportunities short.”

“We consider your survival one of our greatest duties.” Grandpa Longneck said firmly. “If you sacrificed yourself for us…we wouldn’t know how to live with ourselves.”

Littlefoot’s heart squelched. They looked greatly distressed, desperate to make their point clear. Littlefoot understood their concern but the thought of what would have happened if he hadn’t shouted out on time, the crunch of flesh, the dropping of lifeless necks, swirled inside him. His grandparents’ every disapproving word seemed to tell him he should have went for inaction, should have let two more gaping holes be opened in his heart. The pain and fear he got a taste of in that horrible sleep story got magnified more and more by that unthinkable what-if until he couldn’t stand there silently anymore.

“But how could I live with myself without helping you!” Littlefoot shouted.

Everyone else’s reunion faltered and they stared at him. Even his grandparents were caught off guard.

“Littlefoot?” Cera said. “What’s gotten into you?”

Littlefoot ignored her, shaking. “No. No. I wasn’t going to watch him take you down like he took …you’re my family, I wasn’t going to let it happen again. You still have so much to do too – don’t sell yourselves short like that. I – I want to do so much with you. If you were gone before we could do any of that, before I could learn and laugh all I can from you, I…I…”

Littlefoot’s couldn’t get any more words out. He lowered his head and closed his eyes but he couldn’t stop the tears from flowing, sobbing as his greatest terrors came down on him like a heavy weight. He hated how pathetic he sounded, like a hatchling throwing a tantrum. Everyone mustn’t think highly of him now. He tried to stop crying, to sniffle it to a halt but it was futile. The tears just kept coming.

Then he felt a gentle touch on both sides of his face and his grandparents were offering comfort again, making sure he wasn’t alone in this tumult of emotions.

“Oh, Littlefoot.” Grandpa Longneck whispered. “Dear Littlefoot.”

“Shh.” Grandma Longneck said gently. “It’s okay. Shh.”

“Sorry.” Littlefoot gulped to calm himself, but it was just as ineffective. “Sorry.”

It took a bit but Littlefoot was able to breath in enough air to steady himself, if not his eyes. He was relieved to find his friends’ expressions only communicated concern. His grandparents drew back, looking at him with guilt and sympathy.

“There, there.” Grandpa Longneck said. “It seems today has been hard on all of us.”

Littlefoot laughed shakily. “Yeah…it has been kind of rocky.”

Grandma Longneck frowned. “Though I sense this rockiness isn’t restricted to today. I can’t help but notice you’ve been treating us a bit more gently lately. A few days back, you said you had a bad sleep story but felt, ëbetter now that you’re here.’ You used similar wording when pleading with us not to fight the sharptooth. I hope I’m not being intrusive but…did you feel better seeing us because we were involved in that bad sleep story?”

Littlefoot froze. Cera and the others looked amongst themselves, confused. A bad sleep story? Littlefoot never mentioned that. He gazed up uncertainly at his grandparents, not knowing what decision to make, and they immediately noticed his distress.

“Never mind.” Grandpa Longneck shook his head. “You’ve had enough stress for today.”

“Yes, let’s get some rest.” Grandma Longneck said. “I’m sorry I put you on the spot like that.”

“No, it’s okay.” Littlefoot took a deep breath. “I probably should’ve told you earlier but I didn’t want to worry you. But I guess that backfired and it’s still bothering me, so I might as well tell.”

Grandma Longneck nodded unsurely. “Very well. If you’re prepared for it.”

Tria glanced around and coughed. “Come, everyone. Let’s get to sleep. It has been a long day for our children.”

“Isn’t it still kind of early?” Cera asked, confused.

“As Tria said, it’s been a long day.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Let’s retrieve Tricia and the other kids, and have an early night.”

“But should we go home when you all are still hurted?” Ducky asked

“We had our injuries treated after some flyers found us.” Mama Swimmer said. “It’s…what delayed us in looking for you. Things aren’t going to be fun for the next few days but we’re healed enough we can go rest at the nest without worrying too much.”

“I am tired.” Ducky failed to bit back a yawn. “But I do not want to leave Littlefoot, I do not.”

Spike vocalized his agreement, gazing at Littlefoot with concern. Mama Swimmer hesitated but softened.

“I’m sure we can arrange for you to see him tomorrow,” she said.

Petrie yawned widely and looked at Littlefoot with half-lidded eyes. “Okay. Goodnight, Littlefoot. Me don’t know about bad sleep story but me hope you have good sleep.”

Mama Flyer smiled. “We all hope for that. Goodnight, you three.”

Everyone nodded and voiced their “goodnights” to Littlefoot and his grandparents before setting out into the night. Mama Flyer gave an unreadable glance at Ruby and Chomper but she and Petrie left with the rest of the families. Ruby and Chomper lingered long enough to add a wave.

“We know this is for your privacy, Littlefoot.” Ruby said. “If you want to talk about the bad sleep story tomorrow, you can do so. If you don’t, don’t. Whatever makes you happy.”

“We all have things we don’t talk about.” Chomper smiled weakly. “If you don’t want to talk, we’ll still be your friends.”

Littlefoot smiled as they waved once more and vanished into the darkness of the trees. He appreciated the grownups and some of his friends didn’t want to discomfort him by giving him an audience. His grandparents still appeared ready to call this off but he steadily met their gaze. Now he decided to be honest, he wanted to go all the way. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, keep this quiet any longer. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck recognized this resolve, and relaxed.

“Continuing on, then.” Grandma Longneck said wryly. “What did happen in your sleep story, Littlefoot?”

Littlefoot took another breath, readying himself for the plunge. “It all – it all started when I woke up and I saw it was a perfect day. I was ready to have fun. Then I saw you two hadn’t gotten up…”

Next time…

New Arrivals Part 1


--

Note:  And that's the end of arc one out of...five, I think, for this story. Tune in next month for the two opening chapters for arc two!

rhombus

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We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #39 on: October 23, 2017, 02:28:15 AM »
Goodness... if the initial rise of the ghosts and the fighting of Sharptooth is only one story arc out of five then our favorite characters are going to have quite the time ahead of them. And, considering the content of Littlefoot's dream, I have an inkling of what might lie ahead.  But regardless of what lies ahead I hope that the gang has the fortitude to withstand the coming struggle.

I look forward to seeing what happens in the next arc of the story.  :)