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DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #100 on: April 07, 2019, 12:03:43 pm »
Note: Sorry for the late post. I kept getting distracted. I'll try to focus more for the next set of chapters.

FF.net Link:  https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/17/We-Will-Hold-On-Forever

--

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 17: The Anchors Part 1

“If the killer’s still out there, we need to remain on our guard.” Grandma Longneck said. “We can’t let this tragedy distract us from the threat still among us.”

Whispers went around the meeting circle. As evening fell, a meeting had been called. The news of Verter’s death had shocked the Great Valley and many came along to sort out what had happened. The gang stood next to Cera and her family, crowding around her and Chomper to protect them from the stares and murmurs sent their way. Mr. Threehorn and Tria stood beside them, Tria believing their presence to be important. Mr. Threehorn’s head was lowered, not appearing to be aware of his surroundings, Tricia pressed against his forefoot and babbled up to him occasionally with toddlerish concern. There had been some hope that Verter’s death meant the danger was over but that wasn’t the case.

“Verter wasn’t the killer?” A domehead repeated. “Then who is it?”

“I’m afraid we don’t know.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Sadly, there appears to be more than one selfish person in the valley.”

There was silence as this was taken in. Nervous looks were sent around.

“But that doesn’t make any sense.” Don said. He perched on the tallest rock spire, frowning. “For Wing Father’s sake, he too smoothly took advantage of the Mr. Clubtail death situation. Others saw it too, I heard them talk about it.”

“If you have lived in the Great Valley long enough, you should know rumors don’t always represent the truth.” Grandma Longneck replied. Don huffed and crossed his wings. “Unfortunately, extremism exists in every kind. But Tria and Mr. Threehorn knew him well enough that they could tell he was telling the truth.”
 
“So they say.” The spikethumb leader said. She was furious. She hadn’t reacted well to finding out one of her own was dead. She glared around, as though trying to suss out the truth by who caught her eye-line wrong. “How do we know this isn’t a dispute gone wrong that led to a cover up?”

The meeting turned tense. Patty caught Littlefoot’s eye and shook her head in exasperation. The spikethumb leader noticed this and frowned, sending her a look of warning. Several eyes started going for Cera and Chomper among their circle of friends. Tricia became nervous and stepped back to hobble next to her sister. Mr. Threehorn stirred, raising his head to glare

“What are you trying to say?” he demanded.

“Topsy, you don’t need to -” Tria began.

“I can fight my own battles.” He stepped forward and glared. “Just come out and say it: you think this is a murder.”

The spikethumb leader didn’t deny it. “I’m merely trying to get to the bottom of what happened to one of my herd members. You have to admit, it is suspicious.”

“Hah, a likely story. You want to stir things up, that’s what. He was my friend. People don’t tend to kill their friends if they get annoyed with each other.”

“I have seen others kill for little better. The best friendships have collapsed into the worst grudges in my time. It can turn especially deadly if pride is valued and-”

“You think it was something that petty?” Mr. Threehorn demanded. “We threehorns might fight, but we don’t all kill each other based on whims, or we wouldn’t survive as a kind. Growing up with someone doesn’t make it easy to kill them, you know. He was my friend. Even – even if he wasn’t honest about his reputation. Even if he tricked us about training Cera and Chomper.” His voice cracked. “Even if he was going to take them away.”

“Topsy…” Tria stepped closer.

“I’m fine, I’m fine!” he said loudly. “I can handle this. Tomorrow’s going to be another day. I’ll just move on like I always – stop looking at me like that!”

For everyone were staring at him. Mr. Threehorn staggered, trying to glare but his breaths shuddered. Tria pressed against him. Grandpa Longneck looked at the spikethumb leader.

“Are you convinced now?” he asked. Awkward, the spikethumb leader bowed her head. “Whatever our feelings about the Verter matter, the killer is still around. We must remain on our guard. Grandma and I, along with Mr. Thicknose and his volunteers, will continue our search for clues. If anyone has any suspicions, report them to us. If there’s nothing else to say, the meeting is adjourned.”

The crowd broke off, some leaving but others standing together in whispering groups. Still pressing against her mate supportively, Tria looked at the gang.

“I’m afraid we have to go, kids,” she said. “Topsy…we all need rest.”

“That’s fine.” Littlefoot said. He looked at Cera. “Maybe we can hang out tomorrow?”

Cera was looking away but sighed. “Might as well.”

She joining her parents in walking into the night, Tricia walking alongside her and cooing worriedly.

“Poor Cera’s dad.” Ducky said, watching them go. “It must be so hard, having to hurt his best friend.”

“I think it’s hurting everyone.” Littlefoot sighed. “Tria knew him too. Will we see you tomorrow Chomper? You need the company.”

“Mmm.” Chomper said, looking down.

The others stared at him with concern. Spike gave a coo and nudged Chomper, who didn’t appear to notice. Mama Flyer’s voice called out.

“Kids, are you ready to go yet?” she said. “You too, Ruby and Chomper. I need to get you to your cave.”

“Huh? Oh, yes!” Ruby put a hand around Chomper. “Let’s go, Chomper.”

Petrie gave a wave before joining them with his mother and siblings. Soon Mama Swimmer came by with her entourage of children, and Ducky and Spike had to go as well. Littlefoot turned to his grandparents, who stood nearby, talking with Mr. Thicknose.

“Not that we have had much luck in finding anything so far.” Mr. Thicknose sighed, keeping his voice low. “We have barely scrounged up anything since we started.”

“We shouldn’t give up.” Grandma Longneck said. “These things take time. We can’t expect a result right away.”

“I’m sure we will find the killer eventually.” Grandpa Longneck sighed. “The problem is what he might do before we track him down.”

Littlefoot looked at them, crestfallen. His grandparents noticed and sent him apologetic looks. It appeared he would be away from his grandparents for some time yet. He had had some good days with Patty and looked forward to them but he wanted things to be back to the way they were. His heart became heavy. How long was this crises going to last?

--

Ruby sat outside of the Secret Cavern. She slid a rock under her hand and her right foot kicked the dirt. In the rising bright circle, she glimpsed the shapes of other valley residents move between the trees, the rumbles of feet and mutters of conversation somewhat subdued. Verter’s actions and his death had rattled everyone. It was another shocking thing to happen to the Great Valley. At the pace of things, no one knew when they woke up today if all the valley residents might still be alive tomorrow. All this only added to the unease that settled in her stomach.

“Ruby!”

She looked up as Petrie flew in, managing a smile as he landed beside her.

“Morning, Petrie,” she said. “How is the morning going?”

“Um, okay.” Petrie settled down beside her. “Rest of family on way again.”

She nodded, staring ahead. He fidgeted in his lap, stealing looks of her expression.

“Erm…are you okay?” he asked. “You seem bothered.”

She traced a line in the rock. “Maybe. Just -” she sighed. “I was wrong. I didn’t realize Verter was a threat. There were all those hints he wasn’t nonthreatening but I didn’t put them together. I just wanted to trust Cera and Chomper, but that trust got them hurt and…”

“Hey, it okay.” Petrie said, going over and patted Ruby’s hand. “None of us thought a friend of Cera’s parents would be bad. It normal not to notice.”

“You noticed.” Ruby’s down gaze slide to him. “I didn’t believe until the crises forced me to believe.”

“Well…” he squirmed. A pleased smile came across his beak. “Me am happy me get something right. Did you see me put clues together? Me never do something so fast. You will be able to do that again.”

“But I’m supposed to be the smart one,” she said. She closed her eyes. “I’m here to help learn how to stop Red Claw. I went with Don to help make my thinking better. I could have figured it out earlier and got Cera and Chomper away from Verter. That I didn’t notice or believe meant that Chomper and Cera nearly-”

Ruby became quiet. The thought of failing Chomper, nearly losing her best friend and the one she swore to protect, was more than she could take. She felt Petrie touch her hand.

“Cera and Chomper still here,” he said quietly. “Bad things happen but they got away. If me know anything from not being very good at thinking is that friends help each other. If one can’t think of anything, someone else does. Besides, we try better next time. We can always do more lessons when Don come back again.”

She turned to him, staring, as though not knowing how to take his words. Then she smiled.

“Thanks, Petrie. You must be smart, if you can make me feel better.”

“Uh, no problem.” Petrie laughed. His expression was proud. He took in the moment before hesitating. “Um, me scared to know, but how Chomper doing?”

Sighing, Ruby got up and waved for him to follow. They entered the Secret Caverns, Petrie flapping after her through the few twist and turns until they came upon Chomper, back curled to them.

“He has been like this since we went asleep,” she whispered to Petrie. “I don’t know if he has done any sleeping.”
 
He winced. “Oh. But he better be up soon. Mama and brothers and sisters are coming.”

She nodded. Ruby patted forward, trying to keep footsteps delicate. 

“Chomper?”

The young sharptooth didn’t move.

“Are you up? It’s morning. I don’t mean to bother you but it’s time to get up.”

There was some silence. Chomper twitched and curled inward.

“I don’t want to get up,” he mumbled. “I’m tired.”

“But getting up at the proper time is important.” Ruby protested. “Besides, we can’t stay here.”

“My family nearly here.” Petrie said. “They escort us to friends. You want to be with friends, right?”

“Petrie?” Chomper looked up briefly, He placed his head down. “Just leave me here. I’m not worth it.”

“Of course you’re worth it.  You’re our friend.” Ruby said.

“Is – is this about you biting Verter to help Cera?” Petrie said tentatively. “That not make you want to eat dinosaurs, right?”

“No. I barely noticed. I’ve been too sad to feel anything about it.” Chomper stirred. “Heh, that just fits. I can’t even become a threat.”

“Don’t talk about yourself like that.” Ruby said. “It’s not safe to be alone. Can’t we at least be sad around other people?”

“Just so I can be protected?” he sighed. “Like always.”

“We kids. We need protecting.” Petrie said. “It not fun but there no help in that.”

“But I’m supposed to be better than that!”

Ruby and Petrie jumped. Chomper turned around, eyes morose.

“I should be able to protect you guys,” he continued. “I thought this training could let me help you the next time dangers come around. But it was for nothing. It was just so Verter could use me.”

“That’s Verter’s fault, not your fault.” Ruby said. “Come on Chomper, let’s go see our friends. They miss us. They want us to be together again.”

“What would be the point?” Chomper rolled back to show his back again. “I’ll just bother everyone because I can’t take care of myself. When danger comes, I’ll just get rescued again. I’m useless. I can’t do anything!”

Ruby and Petrie watched, at a loss. Neither of them had seen Chomper this despondent. Sure, he could get down when he felt he didn’t fit in but he always bounced back. Ruby clenched her fist. For a moment, she wanted to attack Verter, to make him suffer for what he did to her wonderful friend.

“You’re wrong Chomper,” she said. “You have helped us out so many times. You’re understanding of the sharptooth language has got out of many scrapes and your understanding of how sharpteeth think made sure we got out of even more scrapes. And I haven’t got to your sniffer yet, how it helps find enemies and friends and …”

She fell silent. Petrie glance at her in confusion, but Ruby was staring into the middle distance, eyes wide.

“Of course. Sniffer…sniffing…why didn’t I think of this before?” she murmured.

“You think what before?” Petrie asked.

“Chomper’s sniffer!” she exclaimed. “He have been able track down so many people and locations. Maybe he can track down the killer.”

“What?” Chomper looked up, confused.

“No, just think! The grownups are having a hard time finding the killer. Maybe we can use Chomper’s nose to find a trail to where Mr. Clubtail fell.”

“R-really?” Petrie struggled a bit to keep up, a sliver of anxiety showing through. “Oh, now me think, it sound like good idea.”

“It’s an important idea. If we can sniff down what happened to Mr. Clubtail, we can stop the killer. And the valley can be at peace again. Everyone can finally relax.” Ruby stood taller, putting her hands on her hips. “You’re not useless Chomper. And I’m going to prove it.”

Before anyone could reply, Ruby snatched Chomper’s hand and he yelped as she pulled him to his feet, pulling him out of the cave as a confused Petrie followed.

“There you three are!” Mama Flyer said, flapping with her other children as she descended toward them. ”Why are you walking so fast? I know we must be cautious but there’s no need to rush-”

“Now’s the time for rushing.” Ruby panted. “We need to find Grandpa and Grandma Longneck now.”

They rushed past as they entered the forest, Chomper staggering and eyes wide as he struggled to keep up. Petrie’s wings were flapping in a blur, trying not to be left behind. Mama Flyer and her other children stared before they hastily flapped to catch up.

“Wait, slow down Ruby,” she said. “Why do you need to talk with Grandpa and Grandma Longneck? Is it important?”

“Very important.” Ruby said. “I have an important idea and I need to tell them before-”

“Before what, Ruby?”

Ruby and Chomper tripped and nearly fell over each other. Petrie yelped and had to flap his wings forward to stop himself from smacking into Ruby’s neck. They all looked around before raising their heads, finding an elderly flyer standing on a branch not far up, leaning against the tree and watching them.

“Don, there you are!” Petrie said.

“Sorry we didn’t talk to you much after Verter yesterday.” Ruby said. “After Cera and Chomper got rescued, we wanted to be with them.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine.” Don said. “Perfectly understandable.” He jumped, flapping to slow his descent and land on the ground. “Is Chomper well?”

“I’m – I’m fine, sir.” Chomper mumbled, looking down.

“Good. Good.” Don said. He looked…thoughtful, as though he didn’t know what to make of a recent event and wasn’t sure he liked it. Still, this was the least severe any of them had ever seen him. “I’m quite proud of what you two accomplished. It is because of your ingenuity that you saved your friends.”

“Really?” Petrie perked up. He smiled proudly. “We did do good, didn’t we?”

Ruby looked down. “But I didn’t think it was possible that Verter would be the killer.”

“No big deal. You at least had the intelligence to be persuaded and help make sure that threehorn wouldn’t be a further threat.” Don said. “Any further issues can be worked over in our future talks.” He looked around. “Where are you off to anyway?”

“We off to Littlefoot’s grandparents because Ruby have idea on how to find killer.” Petrie said.

Don paused. “She has?”

Ruby nodded. “I just remembered Chomper has a good sense of smell. If he could smell where Mr. Clubtail was before he fell, then we can find the killer’s smell.”

“What?” Mama Flyer said. “Oh, so that’s why you were in such a rush.”

“That does sound like a good idea.” One of Petrie’s sisters said.

“Chomper is a sharptooth.” One of Petrie’s brothers added. “They’re very good at smelling things.”

The other siblings chimed in their agreement, bursting with energy at the idea. Don pressed his beak together.

“Yes, yes,” he said. “With that logic, it’s…natural why you see it has value.”

Ruby smiled, nodding. “With Chomper’s nose, we will be able to find out what happened. Then we can take care of the killer. All our worries will soon be gone.”

“You shouldn’t do it.”

Ruby and the others glanced up in shock. Don stood there, fists on hips, gazing sternly.

“What?” Ruby said. “But Chomper’s sniffer is very good. He finds Mr. Clubtail’s scent, and we find the killer. It is a good idea.”

“Really?” Don asked “This is too obvious to be effective.” He leaned closer. “For Wing Father’s sake, this idea hasn’t been thoroughly thought over.”

“We rushed to the conclusion Verter was the killer and you supported it,” she replied. “I’m just applying what I already know, since I know his nose for as long as I’ve known Chomper.”

“What you already know can have holes. Firsthand knowledge can’t always be trusted. I’m the elder here, I know what I’m talking about.”

There was silence as they glared at each other. Chomper and the flyer family watched them, not sure what to say.

“Wow, this sure got tense.” One of Petrie’s brother murmured.

“L-look,” Mama Flyer said, flying closer “why not have Ruby talk to Grandpa and Grandma Longneck about it. They’re wise. If there is problem with the idea, they’ll bring it up.”

“Good idea, Mama.” Petrie brightened. “They very smart. They know what to do.”

“Not all elders are wise.” Don said, not looking at him. “Those longnecks have been fooled before. They cannot be trusted to take the proper action.”

“You say elders should be respected, yet when we bring up elders we can to talk to, you dismiss them.” Ruby’s eyes narrowed. “You just want to be the only one listened to. You don’t like us listening to someone who’s not you.”

Don’s eyes flashed. “Don’t talk to me like that.”

“You need to hear it. I admit, I’m disappointed. I thought you were more willing to listen to others’ opinions but you still have a ways to go.” She turned away. “Talking can be useful but we can’t talk forever. I need to do something to help the valley now.”

Don grabbed Ruby’s arm. There were gasps and Ruby stepped back in shock.

“Don.” Mama Flyer said. “Let her go.”

He ignored her, staring into Ruby’s eyes. “Do not do this,” he said lowly. “For Wing Father’s sake. You won’t like what might happen.”
 
Ruby stared, flinching as a stinging cool came to her chest. But her mouth became grim and she wrenched his hand off. “Whatever happens, the consequences of this killer’s actions have already happened. They need to be taken care of.”

She turned and stalked off, dragging a confused Chomper with her. Mama Flyer and her children followed, glaring at Don as they passed. Only Petrie remained, hesitating, before facing him.

“Sorry,” he said. “Me sure she not hate you. Maybe we can talk about it at a meeting later.”

“Yes.” Don intoned. “Yes, of course.”

Turning, Petrie flew off, though he strangely winced a bit. For a while, Don stood there, staring at where Petrie’s figure disappeared with the others. The buzz of insects was in the air. Closing his eyes, he sighed.

“I’m sorry, children,” he said.

--

Tria lay with Mr. Threehorn near their nest. The laughter of children and the crackle of a moving rock echoed not far off. Cera sat with Littlefoot, Ducky, and Spike in a circle, rolling a rock between them. Tricia ran after the rock, giggling as she tried to catch it and nearly turning herself dizzy as the others each pushed it in a different direction. The others occasionally smiled and laughed at Tricia’s antics. Tria smiled. After Cera’s whole ordeal, she deserved to have her friends with her. It heartened Tria to hear their enjoyment.

“They are really going at it,” she said.

“Mmm.” Mr. Threehorn said.

“It’s nice to have a break from all the training. We needed this.”

“Yeah.”

Glancing at him, Tria tried to keep her smile. “And look at Tricia playing with them. It’s nice to see her engaging with other children. I hope she can manage to make friends of her own soon.”

Mr. Threehorn gazed focused. After a few seconds watching the kids, lips twitching. “I hope she doesn’t get friends like Littlefoot and the others.”

“Oh, come on.” Tria laughed.

“I mean it, that would be trouble. Do we want two daughters who get themselves in dangerous adventures every other cold time?”

“You just want her to goo-goo, gaa-gaa with you all the time,” she teased.

“Well,” he averted his gaze, “you got me there.”

They laughed. Tria looked to him and smiled, affection clear.

“I’m happy you could still laugh, Topsy,” she said.

“Of course I can laugh. I do have a sense of humor.” Mr. Threehorn said. “Do you think I would have got through the struggles I did if I didn’t find some things funny?”

“I’m glad. We need to find the small joys in life. It what makes living worth it.” Tria paused. “In light of that, I’m wondering if we can talk.”

“Oh?”

“About…what happened yesterday.”

His smile dropped. “Right.”

She waited for him to speak but his lips remained pressed together.

“That was really traumatic,” Tria said at length. “I was wondering how…you were doing.”

“Fine,” he said. He looked away. “It’s not the first loss I’ve had to deal with.”

“Are you sure? He was…you know. That must really hurt.”

“Verter…” his voice caught and he shook his head. “He made the nest he laid in.”

“That doesn’t stop someone from feeling bad.” Tria said.

“Don’t worry. It’ll go away. It all-” His voice became harsh. “Why are we talking about this now?”

“I’m worried about you.” Tria said. “I’m not unaffected by what happened either. I was thinking we can help each other.”

“Our focus should be having a family time with our daughters.” Mr. Threehorn turned his head away. “It is what they need.”

“I know but we should take care of ourselves too. We can’t take care of them if we’re bothered by tragedies in the past.”

 “I’m not bothered by it.” Mr. Threehorn said. “There are other ways to take care of ourselves. Lingering over the past won’t help that.”

“Topsy, please-”

“I said I’m not-!” he said loudly. He closed his eyes, inhaling. “It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. What matters is making our daughters happy. This is not the time for it.”

“R-right.” Tria said. “It has been only a day. Sorry. But maybe when things to settle down, we can discuss it then.”

“I appreciate your concern,” Mr. Threehorn said, “but that’s never going to be needed. I’m fine. I just need to keep going. You shouldn’t worry about me.”

She wanted to say more but she found herself settling down. “Y-yes. If you say so.”

Tria fell silent. They lay together, bodies still close, but she felt further away from him than ever.

*Why?* she thought. *Why won’t you let me help you, Topsy? Why can’t I do anything to reach you?*

Meanwhile, Cera and the others continued to roll the rock between them, ignorant of the tension that flared some distance behind them. Tricia was breathless as she ran after the rock, nearing Littlefoot when he caught it and redirecting when he pushed it to Ducky, their spirits rising as they watched her go.

“It’s great to be together again.” Littlefoot said.

“You could say that again.” Cera said.  “It’s a relief not to be moving around so much for once. I don’t think that’ll change for me anytime soon.”

“Oh, that is okay.” Ducky said. “After being apart for so long, playing like this is fine, it is, it is.”

Spike grunted with agreement, catching the rock and punting it to Tricia, who squealed with delight.

“It’s only been three days.” Cera said. “It’s not like we haven’t done our own thing before.”

“But those three days felt like forever.” Ducky said.

“With this ghost stuff, these days have felt really long.” Cera admitted. “Though really, we’ve been together more times than we’ve been not.”

Littlefoot nodded. “I can’t believe we’ve been together longer than it took for us to go to the valley. That feels so far away now.”

“Time sure goes slow when you’re not having fun,” she said. The others laughed. “I don’t want to grow up yet. I still want to have time to play. I think Tria said that when you’re a kid, it feels like forever but when it feels done, it’s like no time at all.”

There were nods, some of them gazing up as they remembered their many adventures as friends. It was amazing what could be packed within the short span of childhood. With this, they forgot the rock, which was being tugged back and forth by Spike and Tricia as the two giggled along. Glancing around, Littlefoot hesitated but decided to speak.

“Speaking of time, um…how are you been doing?”

“Fine.” Cera frowned. “After so much time moving, I got to sleep in for once. It’s been good.”

“I mean…is there anything bothering you?” he said.

“I don’t know.” She glared at them. “Why aren’t you bothered about not being with Patty and Tega? Where are they anyway?”

“Patty came around but said she couldn’t look after me because she was busy.” Littlefoot explained. “She didn’t say with what but maybe that grouchy spikethumb leader has the herd in a meeting.”

“We barely saw Tega.” Ducky said. “She did not show up this morning.” Spike made a thoughtful sound as she continued. “Me and Spike are worried but maybe she wants to give us space.”

“Weird for her to leave someone in the lurch.” Cera said wryly. “Then again, it’s very bright today. Maybe she wants to keep to the shade so she won’t get hot. Petrie, Ruby, and Chomper aren’t here either.”

“Petrie’s mother is going over to escort them to us.” Littlefoot said. “Things are still dangerous. Chomper might also need some rest.”

“Yeah.” Cera softened a bit. “Hope that little guy can enjoy himself.”

“Mmm.” Littlefoot nodded, a smile flitting in. He looked at her again, hesitating, but his concern made him press on. “I don’t mean to keep pressing but are you okay? You went through a lot.”

“I’m fine.” Cera crossed her forelegs, looking away. “Mr. Thicknose and a few others helped treat me and Chomper’s injuries. We’ll be alright.”

“Are you sure?” Ducky asked. “Yesterday sounded really scary. If you want to talk about it, we will listen.”

“No thanks. I have been through it and it’s done.” Cera said. “I just want to move on.”

“But is that good?” Littlefoot asked. “Just ignoring something doesn’t always make it go away. Sometimes talking it out helps. When I talk with my grandparents about things, it can make me feel better.”

“Do you talk with your grandparents about everything?” she retorted. “You aren’t scarred for life if you just keep some things to yourself. You are still happy.”

“But I think that is for small things.” Ducky said. “This is a scary thing. When me and Spike talk about a problem scary or small, it helps us better understand it.” Spike nodded, and she smiled. “See? You do not have to do it right now but if we can talk about it, you will feel better even more.”

Littlefoot nodded. “It is a bit soon, so you’re probably not in the mood, but we’re always willing to listen.”

“You will be waiting for a long time, then, because that is never going to happen.” Cera flopped her head onto her forelegs. “I understand what happened. I got tricked into doing a load of hard work and then someone up and died. I don’t want a talk to tell me something that obvious.”

“But this Verter situation sounded bigger than that.” Ducky protested. “It would be good to-”

“Stop bothering me about it!” Cera snapped. The others jumped, Tricia yelping and staring at her in surprise. “You always try to butt in whenever I look the least a bit sad. You and Ducky are particularly bad about this, Littlefoot. What, am I bothering the feel-good mood of our get togethers by not being happy all the time?”

“Hey, don’t be like that!” Littlefoot said. “We’re just worried about you. We want to make sure you’re okay.”

“Well, you’re not doing a good job at it. Leave me alone. Some people just want to deal with things on their own. Can’t you think about that instead of how you would do it for once? That especially goes for you, Ducky. You always try to fix things how you would fix things, trying to make everyone smiley and perky, and I’m getting sick of it. Can’t you stop babying everyone for once, it’s annoying, you’re annoying, sometimes you should just-”

“Cera, Cera!” Ducky said, waving her arms. “Stop!”       

Cera stopped. Ducky had stepped back in shock. Spike and Littlefoot glared at her, a little hurt in Littlefoot’s eyes. Tricia started crying, head raised as tears streamed down her cheeks. Spike tried to nuzzle her but it was no use. Cera stared, a sinking in her stomach. Verter had said something about her turning against her friends in the future because of her selfishness. Was this a hint of things to come?

In the silence that followed, there was a rumble of feet. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck approached, expressions troubled.

“We didn’t expect to see you again so soon.” Tria said.

“After your experience yesterday, we thought we should check on you.” Grandpa Longneck answered. He turned to survey Littlefoot and the others. “Petrie, Ruby, and Chomper aren’t here yet.”

“Don’t worry.” Mr. Threehorn said. “I’m – I’m sure Petrie’s mother is bringing them here now.” He tried to focus on the grandparents. “Have you found anything?”

Grandma Longneck sighed. “No. It’s like we’re going in circles. It’s really starting to feel like something killed Mr. Clubtail and disappeared off the land.”

“So the killer might be a ghost.” Mr. Threehorn muttered. “Great.”

“Unless this ghost is like the sharptooth, I don’t think it’s that situation.” Grandpa Longneck frowned. ”Though…it is strange. Grandma and I have been keeping an ear out for any sign people might be dealing with ghosts and nothing. No one has been behaving odd at all.”

“Do you think it’s over?” Tria asked hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” he replied. “It doesn’t seem like it would end that easily. It’s likely happening more elsewhere. We must be on our guard. It could surge back any time.”

She shuddered. “That would be the last thing we need, for…him to come back as a ghost.” Mr. Threehorn looked away.

“We should be cautious but not get too ahead of ourselves.” Grandma Longneck said. “We still need to protect ourselves from this killer. We need to find a way to track him down.” She sighed. “I only hope we can find a lead that can actually do that…”

“Grandpa and Grandma Longneck! Mr. Threehorn! Tria!”

The grownups started. Littlefoot and the others raised their heads. Ruby and Chomper approached at top speed, Chomper stumbling and huffing as Ruby pulled him along. Petrie and his mother and siblings trailed after in the air, only slightly less breathless. She stopped in front of the grownups and panted, eyes urgent and alive.

“What’s the matter, Ruby?” Grandpa Longneck asked.

“You aren’t going to claim another friend is a bad person, are you?” Tria said warily.

“No.” Ruby said, righting herself. “At least, I hope this idea won’t lead to that. But I have an idea on how to track down the killer.”

This got Littlefoot and the others’ attention. They got up, going over to stand next to them. Even Tricia, walking over to sniffle next to her mother’s foreleg, looked up to see what all the excitement was.

“Really?” Littlefoot asked. “You have an idea?”

“The definite one.” Ruby said. “It was so important when I thought about it, I had to find you guys.”

“We appreciate your duty. But did you have to drag Chomper halfway across the valley to tell us?” Grandma Longneck asked. Chomper stood bowed, looking about ready to fall over. “He has went through a lot. He needs rest.”

“But Chomper is part of the idea! I was thinking of using his sniffer to track down what happened to Mr. Clubtail.”

Many eyes widened. Mr. Threehorn, who looked tired, stirred with surprise.

“What?” he said.

“Chomper has the best nose of anyone I know.” Ruby said. “And I don’t know of anyone with a nose like his. It has helped us so much in knowing where good people and bad people are. I’m sure he could sniff us to whoever hurt Mr. Clubtail.”

“Oh yes.” Ducky said. “Chomper’s nose would help very much, it would, it would.”

Spike bayed with a smile at the idea. Tria turned to the sharptooth youth.

“So you are suggesting…Chomper should be part of this investigation?” she said.

“Yes.” Ruby said. “He can help us find the spot where what happened to Mr. Clubtail happened. He can sniff the spot and find the killer’s scent. It was so obvious. I’m almost mad I didn’t think about it in the first place.”

“Good job, Ruby!” Littlefoot said.

“We always knew you could think of a solution!” Cera said, smile a bit forced. “No wonder you rushed over here to tell us.”

“I’m not sure.” Mr. Threehorn turned to Chomper, eyes narrowed. “How can we trust he won’t lead us into a trap for his sharptooth friends?”

Chomper flinched. Everyone turned and stared at him.

“What are you talking about, Topsy?” Tria asked. “Just yesterday, you said you supported Chomper. You worked hard to save him. What have you changed your mind all of a sudden?”

“Huh?” Mr. Threehorn flinched. He stared, blank-eyed for a moment, then shook his head. “Oh. You – you’re right. I remember. I just – I don’t know what came over me.”

The others stared at him. Cera stepped toward him, eyes shining with great worry.

“Uh, anyway, this sounds like a good idea.” Littlefoot said.

“We can always count on Ruby to come up with a plan, yep, yep, yep.” Ducky said.

“She always come up with good ideas.” Petrie managed a smile. “Now all we need to do is put it into action. Then valley can be safe.”
 
“Hang on.” Grandpa Longneck interrupted. He shifted. “We don’t feel very comfortable about this.”

“You and Chomper went through a lot yesterday, Ruby.” Grandma Longneck said. “As your parents aren’t here, we are obligated to watch over you. We don’t feel right pushing you into adult responsibilities.”

“But this might be the only way to find out what happened to Mr. Clubtail!” Ruby protested. “From what I have been hearing, you haven’t found any clues. This can find clues faster. With the killer about, shouldn’t we find him as soon as possible?”

“Well…” Mama Flyer hesitated. “I don’t mean to intrude but there is merit to that idea.”

“You can trust Ruby and Chomper.” Petrie said. “Me see her think a lot with Don’s lessons. She very grownup. They can do this.”

“You can also trust Chomper’s sniffer.” Littlefoot said. “Are there any other good sniffers around? If you give them a chance, I’m sure they’ll help you here too. Come on. What have you got to lose?”

Spike nodded, thrusting his head to Chomper and giving a “eh” filled with passion. Petrie’s brothers and sisters also nodded, having become fond of Ruby and Chomper in their few escorts. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck glanced at each other. They appeared uncomfortable as they had a mental debate in their mind. Grandpa Longneck looked to the sharptooth youth.

“What do you think, Chomper?” he asked. “What is your position on this?”

Chomper appeared caught off guard. Glancing around, he sighed. “I guess it can’t hurt.”

That wasn’t the vote of confidence Ruby and the gang were searching for. But it seemed to do the trick. The grandparents hesitated. Reluctantly, they looked at Mama Flyer, Tria, and Mr. Threehorn. Mama Flyer was concerned but looked thoughtful. Tria only looked worried. Mr. Threehorn was mostly distracted, too disturbed by his sudden regression in attitude to think one way or the other. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck sent concerned glances at Ruby and Chomper, weighing the benefits of resolving the killer issue quickly versus the ethics of employing children. The gang waited with baited breath.

Grandpa Longneck sighed. “Very well. Since you volunteered.”

The gang brightened and there were happy cries. Ruby pumped a fist up.

“Yes!” she said. “You’ll be a big help Chomper, you’ll see.”

“But it will only be the two of you.” Grandpa Longneck continued. “The rest of you are staying behind.”

“What?” Littlefoot said. Everyone else’s cheers died down

“You heard us.” Grandma Longneck said. “We won’t be endangering any more children than we have to. This is already a hard decision.”

“But Ruby and Chomper friends!” Petrie protested. “We can’t leave them behind.”

“That is sweet Petrie, but think.” Mama Flyer said. “As hard as it is to hear, what can you contribute? Chomper will be offering his nose and Ruby her support. The rest of you aren’t needed.”

“We can also support them.” Ducky said, Spike nodding. “It will help them to have their friends with them.”

“They will have Grandpa and Grandma Longneck with them.” Tria said. “They are very kind. They can offer all the support Ruby and Chomper need. I’m not happy about this but I trust they will be safely looked after. We don’t want any of you kids hurt.”

“You’re underestimating us.” Cera growled. “You really think we don’t have much to offer?”

”This is not negotiable.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Our decision is final. You all are children. You have been through more than enough. Enjoy the day, and you will hear back from us later.”

“This is so unfair.” Cera muttered. “We did all the hard work to get them listened to and we’re getting left behind.”

The grandparents ignored her. They turned to Ruby and Chomper.

”We are taking your request but reluctantly.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Ordinarily, we wouldn’t do this but with the lack of progress, we have little choice. Stay close to us and obey our instructions. If there is danger and we tell you to run, run and don’t look back. If we find the killer’s scent and where he is, please listen to our request and leave with a trusted grownup.”

“I’m coming too.” Mr. Threehorn said, stepping forward.

“Topsy, are you sure?” Tria asked.

“I’m tired of just sitting around doing nothing,” he said. “If there’s a chance you’ll find this killer, you’ll need protection. I can offer that.”

Grandpa Longneck hesitated. “Are you sure? After what just happened, maybe you should rest.”

“I’m fine!” Mr. Threehorn said, a bit forcefully. “That was – nothing. Just let me help here.”

Grandpa Longneck still looked reluctant but at Mr. Threehorn’s level gaze, he sighed. “Then your help will be welcome.” He turned to his mate. “What should we do with Mr. Thicknose and his volunteers?”

“I think we could at least notify them.” Grandma Longneck said. “How should we begin the search? I was thinking we-”

The pair continued talking, Mr. Threehorn occasionally chipping in, impatient to get going. Chomper didn’t show much excitement, resigned he was going to play this role. Ruby was relieved as she listened, but she was almost guilty as she glanced at Littlefoot and the others, who stood there with a mix of worry and resentment. As the grandparents and Mr. Threehorn continued to talk, Patty walked in on the scene.

“Patty, perfect timing.” Grandpa Longneck said, noticing her. “We have hit upon a potentially good idea to find the killer. Can you watch over Littlefoot for us?”

“Really?” Patty raised her head with slight surprise at the news. At length, she nodded. “Of course. You need space to do this important work. Littlefoot, come on.”

“Huh?” Littlefoot said. “But-” He glanced at his friends. He sighed. “Sorry guys.”
   
He departed from his friends, joining Patty. His head was lowered as they walked off.

“It looks like they are quite busy.” Patty said.

“Yeah.” Littlefoot sighed. “Ruby and Chomper are going to help. But I’m worried. I wish there was something I can do.”

“Hmm,” she said, thoughtful. “Well, I think there’s one way we can help.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Follow me. I’ll show you where we need to go.”

Patty hurried her pace. In spite of himself, Littlefoot became curious, and moved after her.
Back with Cera and the others, they watched the grandparents and Mr. Threehorn wrap up their discussion. They stepped apart, nodding.

“So that’s the plan.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Ruby? Chomper? Time to go.”

“Okay.” Ruby put an arm on Chomper’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Chomper. This will work out.”

With that, they turned and walked away with their backs to the kids.

“Come on Cera, kids, it’s time to go.” Tria said.

“We have to go too, Petrie.” Mama Flyer said.

“Yeah, come on.” One of Petrie’s brothers said. “We’re going to meet Dad today.”

“Um, okay.” Petrie said. He traded uncertain looks with the others and followed his family into the sky.

The flyers ascended, the land below dropping down a bit as they flew above the trees, making a beeline for their nest. They flew in a reverse-V formation with their mother in the lead, Petrie flying at the back left end.

“You know Petrie, your father and I are proud of you,” Mama Flyer said, eyes ahead. “Even if your killer prediction wasn’t accurate, it still saved your friends and…”

Petrie spotted a particularly high tree coming up. He hesitated. Glancing around to note his siblings were all staring ahead, he circled and ducked behind the tree as his family passed, laying low among the leaves as his mother spoke.

“…what we expected, we are happy for you and want you to know…Petrie? Petrie!”

Petrie sighed. “Sorry Mama. Me have to do this.”

Meanwhile, Tria led Cera, Ducky and Spike through a forested path. Tricia hopped along near her mother’s forefoot, cheering herself up by dancing between the shadows of the trees. Cera, Ducky, and Spike kept up near Tria’s rear left foot, Cera glaring at the grass.

“If you want to, Ducky and Spike, you can stay with us.” Tria said. “I always enjoy the company of Cera’s friends. After these horrible few days, I think what we all need is a relaxing dip in the mud pool.”

Cera caught Ducky and Spike’s eye and flicked her gaze to the right. The siblings looked blank but at her glare, they caught on and nodded, starting to edge to the left line of bushes.

“I know you aren’t a fan of the mud Ducky but it’s really good.” Tria was saying. “You didn’t mind when we all tried it the first time. You just need to sink in and…” She paused and looked around. “Cera? Ducky, Spike? Oh, come on. Are we really going to do this?”

Cera, Ducky, and Spike galloped and hid behind a tree, Cera’s eyes lowered in determination.

“No, I’m not going to be sent off while the grownups do the important work,” she muttered. “We’re going to find out what’s happening.”

Ducky nodded. “Though are you okay? Don’t you feel bad about Tria and Tricia?”

Cera cringed and looked around as Tria continued to call for them.

“I’ll make it up to them.” Cera said. “Besides, I’m worried about Daddy. Come on. Let’s not hang around.”

Ducky and Spike nodded. With one last backward glance, they started running in the opposite direction. The three dodged around tree trunks and bushes, careful not to trip over or hit anything.

“How do we make sure they do not catch us?” Ducky asked.

“By moving fast.” Cera said. “Let’s not be seen. The important thing is to catch up with Chomper and Ruby and-”

She yelped when what she presumed was an odd green branch up ahead abruptly turned out of view and was replaced by a face. Cera skidded to a halt, finding herself inches from the baleful eyes of a spiketail.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” The spiketail asked.

“I-” Cera stammered. “That is, I-”

“Relax Cera, it is only Tega.” Ducky said. 

Cera turned, and looked at the spiketail. “Wait, you’re Tega?”

Tega stepped forward, out from the obscuring foliage as she chewed a piece of grass. Cera stepped out of the way as Ducky and Spike approached, smiling at the spiketail.

“We haven’t seen you in a while Tega.” Ducky said. “Where have you been?”

“I just wanted to give you space.” Tega said. “Your friends were through a lot.”

“Oh, I knew it.” Ducky clicked her fingers, chuckling. “That is very nice of you. We have been very worried about our friends. We wanted to spend time with them. In fact, we are so worried, we are following Ruby and Chomper right now as they help find a way to find the killer.”

“Ducky.” Cera hissed.

“What?” Ducky said innocently. “She is our friend. She will not tell on us.”

Tega’s lips twitched into a smile. “You’re stalking your friends, huh? I’m amazed you would go that far.”

“They are doing scary work.” Ducky said. “We are happy they are brave, but we want to make sure they are okay.”

“Is that really necessary?” Tega said. “I have seen them go by. With two elder longnecks and a threehorn with them, they have all the help and protection their self-interest could ask for. Not that anyone would hurt them. With their connections to the Mysterious Beyond, who would dare do in such important children?”

Cera frowned, glancing suspiciously at Tega. Spike made a questioning face and exchanged looks with his sister, whose cheer drained slightly as she considered Tega.

“Um, what are you trying to say?” Ducky asked.

“How will Ruby and Chomper benefit?” Tega asked. “It will only lead to embarrassment when what you did is revealed. Did Ruby and Chomper protest much when you weren’t allowed to go?”

“No. I – I do not remember them saying anything about it.”

“That indicates how much benefit they see in you coming along. It will be very inconvenient and-”

“Hey, guys.” Petrie’s voice said. His small flapping figure came up from the trees and descended down. “Sorry to be late. Me was trying to-” He stopped when he spotted Tega. “Oh hey, Tega. Uh, what happening?”

“I think Tega is saying we should not follow Ruby and Chomper.” Ducky said.

Petrie’s head darted between them. “Wait, what?”

“I’m happy you actually put the clues together.” Tega said.

“But why?” Ducky asked. “Why do you not want us to go?”

“Think about it. Is this something that is really in your interest? Not only might you be going into potential danger but you will get in trouble when you return to your parents. You kids get in enough trouble. Is this worth the risk?”

“It is. We will be following Ruby and Chomper and-” Petrie paused and looked to the others. “Um, what will we be doing?”

“We will be supporting them from a distance.” Ducky said defensively. “We will help them if they need it, with whatever might hurt them and whatever they find.”

“Right.” Petrie nodded. “That!”

“Hmm, funny.” Tega said. “From that last part, it sounds like you’re more interested in fulfilling you’re self-interested curiosity.”

“Hey!” Cera said indignantly.

“It not like that!” Petrie protested.

“That seems to be your primary interest.” Tega said. “You were spurned by your parents not allowing you first dibs on the killer news and so you left your families at the first opportunity to get that. Pretty natural for children your age, thinking about your immediate interests while not considering your longer term ones.”

“Please Tega, can we not have this talk now?” Ducky pleaded. “We might be a bit curious but we are worried for our friends, we are. We just want to help them.”

“You won’t accomplish much.” Tega frowned. “All you would be doing is making your lives more complicated for something you will find out later anyway.”

“Tega-“

“Did your parents not notice you go?” Tega interrupted. The gang froze. “I bet they did. You’re going to get in trouble and the longer you’re away, the more trouble you’ll be in. They might do something drastic to make sure you don’t do this again, like keep you away from your friends. With you kids being apart for so many days, is that what you want? That would be an inconvenience for me. All this, just so you could learn what you’d find out later anyway. This is the time to decide between your immediate self-interest and your longer term one. Are you really going to risk so much for such a minor issue?”

Ducky and the others hesitated, eyes wavering down. Ducky pressed a hand to her chest. That issue didn’t occur to them. If – when – they were found by their families, they would be in so much trouble. With their track record, they really might have their time with their friends taken away. Mama Swimmer might go for something that would hurt to make sure Ducky and Spike wouldn’t step out of line again. Ducky cringed at the thought of being separated from her beloved friends for many days, especially after they have been away for so long. Then she thought about Ruby and Chomper and how they were doing this dangerous duty away from their friends after everything they had been through. Ducky became firm.

“For the last time, we are doing this because we care. Can we talk about this later? We are following them.”

The others also hardened and nodded. They began to walk passed Tega to their destination when a spiked tail was put in their way.

“I insist,” Tega said. “I prefer you two to still be around. I would not like the two of you to be in trouble.”

This gave some pause. Ducky softened a bit but shook her head.

“I am sorry but we what do not like more is not being with our friends now. We will see you later.”

Ducky moved around the tail and walked off, wincing and rubbing her chest. The three followed behind her as Tega became distant.

“Are you just going to go along with them Spike?” Tega called. “I thought you were done being ordered around.”

Spike stopped. His eyes were wide.

“You might be going into potential danger,” she continued. “You’ll be in trouble, all because you follow your friends around as expected. Is that what you really want?”

He stayed in place. Ducky, Cera, and Petrie turned around, expressions uncertain.

“Spike?” Ducky said.

Spike’s eyes searched the ground, pressing a foreleg to his chest. It was true he wanted to live an ordinary life. He didn’t like getting in trouble. But there was also something he wanted just as much. His eyes hardened and he glared at Tega, making clear he wanted to look after Ruby and Chomper as well. Wincing a bit, he galloped past his friends, making them cheer.

“Alright!” Cera said.

“Way to go, Spike!” Petrie cheered.

Tega watched the four disappear into the distance. For a while, she chewed silently, eyes still on the spot where she last saw them. Then she spat out her grass.

“Well, it was fun while it lasted,” she said.

--

Ruby and Chomper stood near the sweet bubble glen, the grandparents and Mr. Threehorn beside them. They had arrived back at the spot where Mr. Clubtail’s body had been found. It looked like an ordinary glen. The leaves waved in the low wind and the sweet bubbles shown in the late morning light. Even a few dinosaurs were grazing nearby. Only the slight indentation in the grass indicated the horror that was discovered a few days ago. Mr. Thicknose and his volunteers had been notified of the plan with Chomper and they would unite with them later if they had a suspect that was to be confronted.

“You could pick up Mr. Clubtail’s scent here.” Grandpa Longneck said. “This is the most direct way to do this short of…this is more appropriate for you two.”

Ruby nodded. They waited for Chomper to start whiffing the grass but he merely stood in front of the spot, eyes lowered.

“Well?” Mr. Threehorn said gruffly. “Are you going to sniff the spot or what?”

“Oh.” Chomper said. “Right.”

Chomper went over to the depression and sniffed. Ruby and the grownups watched as he meandered around, smelling it. Mr. Threehorn already looked like he was regretting this. It appeared he thought he would be into something more involved and energetic than this. It took a bit, as Chomper moved around the depression sluggishly. At last, he stopped. They wondered from his stillness if he didn’t find anything. Then they heard sniffles and realized he was crying.

“I miss him,” he said. “I miss him. I…”

Softening, Ruby closed the distance and embraced him. Chomper’s breaths shuddered, and he pressed his head onto her stomach, some falling tears glimpsed by the grownups. Mr. Threehorn shuffled and looked away.

“Take – take your time,” he said. “There is no rush.”

For a bit, Ruby stroked Chomper’s back, his occasional sniffles the only sound around. At last, he broke from her.

“I – I have the scent,” he said. “Let’s go.”

“You sure?” Grandpa Longneck said.

“Yeah.” Chomper wiped his eyes and gave a last sniffle. “Might as well see where this goes.”

Clearing his throat, he put his nose to the ground. Giving a few experimental sniffs, he began walking. Looking guilty for her suggestion, Ruby followed, and the uncertain grownups brought up the rear.

A few longneck lengths back, Cera and the others stalked after them from a distance. They darted between foliage and giant rocks, keeping an eye on what was happening.

“He seems to have the scent.” Ducky whispered. “Good job, Chomper. Maybe this will help him feel better.”

Spike gave a “eh” and nodded, frowning in concern for his fellow sniffer.

“Me hope killer not watching.” Petrie said, looking around nervously. “If he sees they get too close, he might do something.”

“And that’s why we’re following.” Cera said. Her eyes focused on Mr. Threehorn in particular. “We’ll make sure nothing happens to any of them. See, that’s useful. Us, being selfish. Where does she get off calling us that?”

“I think Tega was worried about us.” Ducky said. “She just has a funny way of showing it, through that selfishness talk and stuff like that.”

“I don’t know.” Cera muttered. “There is something weird about that spiketail.”

“Tega would not do anything bad.” Ducky gave her a glare “She is nice, really, really.”

Cera opened her mouth to retort but remembering how she snapped at Ducky and the others earlier, she shook her head. “Forget it.”

As the gang broke off from their bush to jog forward and hide behind a thick tree, Chomper and his group found themselves walking close to the base of the Great Wall. The mountains that surrounded the Great Valley loomed large but the bright circle wasn’t yet in the position where the mountains would cast a shadow over the two groups. There were giant tracks indicating where the grownups have searched this way. The grandparents looked around, encouraged yet disquieted.

“So, we were on the right track.” Grandpa Longneck whispered. “Mr. Clubtail was pulled along this place.”

“Hopefully, it won’t lead to the same dead end.” Grandma Longneck said. “It’s a wonder the killer could have moved the body a great distance. That would be exhausting work.”

“Wouldn’t someone who worked that hard leave their scent on the body?” Mr. Threehorn said. More loudly, he asked. “Hey Chomper, did you smell any other scents with Mr. Clubtail’s?”

Chomper paused, head raised in thought. “Uh…maybe? I think there are a few scents tangled with his.”

The grownups slowed, eyes widening.

“Did you say…a few?” Grandpa Longneck asked.

“Yeah, there is more than one. It’s weird.” He sniffed harder and frowned. “I can’t identity them. For some reason, my sniffer won’t let me.” He scratched his chest. “Some do smell familiar though. Like I met them before.”

The grandparents and Mr. Threehorn exchanged uneasy looks.

“That would be bad, if some valley residents did this.” Grandma Longneck said. “This could lead to an uproar.”

“It would be worth it.” Mr. Threehorn said. “It doesn’t matter how long they lived here, they need to be punished for what they did.”

They continued to follow Chomper as he sniffed down the scent trail, the grass and tracks becoming sparse. They were going beyond the search territory. For a while, they walked, moving through bare earth, with slight depressions and rocks and boulders dotted about. Chomper paused or raised his head often as he sniffed, sometimes making their hearts skip a beat and Ruby look worried, but he always found the scent again and continued onward. Their legs were becoming sore as the bright circle moved into the middle position in the sky. Then Chomper stopped and sniffed around, putting his nose into the ground at the base of another depression before he stood up. The others watched nervously.

“Have you lost the scent?” Ruby asked.

“No, it stops.” Chomper said.

“How is that different?” Mr. Threehorn asked.

“It doesn’t go any further. Mr. Clubtail didn’t go beyond here. I know it sounds strange but the smells goes…up.” Chomper looked up, sniffing. “I think this is where Mr. Clubtail fell.”

“Really?” Grandpa Longneck said.

They crowded closer. Mr. Threehorn brought his head to the ground as they looked at the slight depression, clear of the debris from elsewhere but slightly larger and more ovular than the rest.

“Now that I’m looking for it, I think this is a crater where someone fell.” Mr. Threehorn noted. “Someone did a good job of clearing it up. I can barely tell it apart from the others boulder craters.”

“The killer, probably.” Grandma Longneck said. “It is disturbing he appears to have help. Was this their plan, or did his friends decide to clean up after a mistake he made?”

“I don’t know.” Grandpa Longneck looked up at a distant protrusion along the mountain above them that indicated a path. “I have the feeling the answer will be somewhere up there.”

Chomper looked down. “Sorry I couldn’t get the answer right away.”

“What are you talking about?” Grandpa Longneck smiled. “We have a place to look for further clues.”

Grandma Longneck nodded. “We would have been stuck if it wasn’t for you and Ruby’s help.”

“Yeah.” Mr. Threehorn said, with a flicker of a smile. “I’ve got to admit, you kids are resourceful. Now we might finally get to the bottom of this.”

Chomper stared at the grownups. He turned to Ruby, who smiled and nodded, a satisfied tilt to her beak. She had put him up to this to show what he was capable of. Even if they didn’t find penultimate clue right away, they got somewhere substantial, which could help the Great Valley deal with this killer. Slowly, a tentative smile formed on Chomper’s lips. Maybe he could be of use to his friends after all.

Meanwhile, Cera and the others watched from the safety of a stray boulder as Chomper and the others stood on the bare ground near the Great Wall. They were too far to hear what the others were saying but the grownups and Chomper and Ruby were bunched up together. The gang peered around their hiding spot, straining not to fall over.

“What happening?” Petrie asked. “Ooh, they find clue?”

“It seems so.” Cera agreed. “They are looking very closely at that one spot on the ground. What could it be?”

“Maybe me can fly over sneakily and hear what they are talking about,” he suggested.

“If you do that, one of them might look up and see you,” she said.

Petrie huffed. “Hey, why you no listen? My idea could be useful.”

Ducky leaned forward from her position on Spike. “There must be some way to hear them. It would be bad if we got into this much trouble and could not hear-” She stopped, rising. “Wait, what is that?”

“What is what?” Cera asked.

“That sound. Did you not hear it? It sounded like crackling rocks.”

They fell silent, not sure what they were trying to hear. It was Spike who first caught onto it, raising his head with an “Hmm?” Then the rest heard it. A distant creaking, the sound of rocks somewhere high being disturbed. 

“Me hear it.” Petrie said. “It must be coming from Great Wall. What is it?”

A crackle mixed in with the creaking, the volume louder. It caused the four to shuffle uneasily.

“Where it coming from?” Ducky looked around. “Follow the sound. Follow...”

The crackle became deep, creaky. They looked about, the sound too echoey with distance, but Petrie cast his eyes up and gave a soft cry. A huge pile of rocks and boulders was lined on top of the Great Wall mountain looming over them. The pile was higher than a longneck and it pushed forward and back, creaking, like a sharptooth ready to pounce. What really put their hearts in their throats was when they traced their eyes down and saw the line of the rock piles aligned perfectly with the group they were watching.

“Oh no, no, no.” Ducky whispered.

“That aimed for Littlefoot’s grandparents and Cera’s dad.” Petrie said. “But why? Oh, this bad. Is – this killer?”

Spike whimpered with worry. The crackle became louder yet. The large rock and boulder pile shifted forward and a few already began cracking down. Ruby and Chomper and the grownups continued conversing, oblivious.

“They’re too busy talking to know what’s coming.” Cera’s breaths quickened. “We need to warn them, we need to -”

“There you children are!”

The four jumped. Tria stood behind them, looking furious.

“Do you understand the kind of trouble you’re in?” she continued. “Why, I have a half a mind to-”

Crack. The pile of rocks and boulders shook, creaking with the sound of something on the point of no return. Mr. Threehorn, the grandparents, and Ruby and Chomper started upon hearing Tria’s voice and craned their heads to look back, still in the danger zone.

Abandoning all pretense, Cera jumped into view. “Daddy, everyone, look out! Rock slide coming! There’s a rock slide coming!”

The grandparents, Mr. Threehorn, Ruby, and Chomper stared, uncomprehending. They looked up just in time to see the rock pile far above creak and frozen in place. They started moving-

Bang! Bang! Bang! The rocks and boulders burst out with explosive force. They rolled down the mountain, gathering up loose rocks and other debris, becoming a narrow but thick wave. Some rocks and boulders were projected far enough by the force to fall straight down, a few crashing onto the Great Wall path but most fell past. Standing at the edge of the danger zone, Ruby and Chomper cried out and scrambled ahead. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck and Mr. Threehorn made to follow but several boulders crashed down and formed an obstacle ahead of them. Looking up with mouths open, the three backed away but the wave of earth was too fast and Cera and the others could only watch in horror as it converged upon them…

--

Littlefoot followed Patty through the valley, the sound of footsteps and the conversations of valley residents fading in and out around them. He couldn’t help looking back every now and again but his attention kept getting drawn back to Patty, and her promise of action.

“Sorry for being absent,” she said. “After all the chaos Verter caused, the herd leader was rather reluctant to let us go.”

“That’s okay.” Littlefoot replied. “This Verter thing has messed everything up. At least I got to spend some time with my friends.” He paused. “Um, where are we going?”

“A very important place.” Patty said, staring ahead. “To tell you the truth, after all the drama Verter caused, I felt I had to do something. This valley had suffered enough: the ghosts, Verter’s scheming…no one should live like this. So I sneaked off from the herd and started looking around to find the cause of all this negativity. And today, I found something.”

“You mean you found what is causing the ghosts?” he said quickly.

“I found a way to fix things.” She turned and smiled at him. “Soon, the ghost drama and all the struggles related to it will be over.”

“Really? It’s here? In the Great Valley?”

“That’s where we are going now. We are going to put an end to this.”

Littlefoot sighed, smiling. “Thank goodness. Everything has been so tense since those ghosts showed up. Everyone will be glad when it’s over.”

“It’s an imperfect phenomena.” Patty agreed. “People see their loved ones again but if they remember they’re dead, they go back. It would be better if that was fixed. To really be honest, I have been searching for a solution since I got to the Great Valley. I’ve been exploring, becoming familiar with its routes.”

“Really? Wow.” Littlefoot said. He hung his head. “But you have been wasting your time playing with me.”

“Don’t say that.” She smiled at him. “Helping one person is as important as helping entire herds. Sometimes, I need reminding of that. Ah, there’s the tunnel.”

They had been walking in a rightly direction, making a beeline for one side of the Great Wall. They came across a cave, tall and wide, large enough for someone of Patty’s size to fit comfortably. They entered, the sound of their footsteps and breaths bouncing off the walls of a long tunnel that curved upward, like some of the mountain paths on the Great Wall. Littlefoot looked around, amazed. He never realized this kind of place was here before.

“I also came to you because you’re important for this.” Patty continued. “I needed someone familiar with adventure to help put an end to the ghosts.”

“Me?” Littlefoot said, surprised. “But I’m just a kid. You have been adventuring much longer, couldn’t you do it?”

“As much as I’m willing to, I can’t do this on my own.” She smiled sadly. “I need someone with a much greater wanderlust than I have, some experience in fending off sharpteeth and helping others. I have a feeling you would make a wise decision, Littlefoot.”

“O-okay,” he said, looking down. “I’m…honored you trust me like this. But what does this ghost stopping thing require?”

“I’m afraid I can’t go into detail. There is a limited time where we can do this.”

“What, if we don’t get there in time, the ghosts will keeping coming forever?” he said quickly.

“I just don’t want to people to deal with this any more than they have to.” Patty said. More quietly, she continued. “I just hope this works.”

She hurried her pace, and Littlefoot followed, mind a whirlwind. This was moving so quickly, his brain was having a hard time catching up. Still, it made sense if she didn’t want people to continue suffering from the ghosts any more than they have to. He was being trusted with an important responsibility. He wondered what he was supposed to do. Was there a magic rock they were supposed to make a wish on? Were they supposed to call down the stars to help block a hole where ghosts were leaking? Or were they supposed to say a fancy phrase or song? He had a hard time conceptualizing what might happen. He only had his grandfather’s stories and the Stone of Cold Fire to go back to but they weren’t real. Whatever it was, he had to be ready or the ghosts might be here forever. He had to get some semblance of his old valley life back. How were his friends and grandparents going to react? They would be proud, no doubt about that, if amused or annoyed he was in the middle of something so important again. But a part of him couldn’t help wondering what Patty would do after that, when her duty would be over…

Littlefoot was distracted from his thoughts by a distant crash. Feeling a pit in his stomach, he galloped to an opening the size of a pebbleback in the tunnel ahead and saw debris ranging from rocks to boulders falling from the Great Wall on the opposite side, material that should be still and solid falling unnaturally like water. It was a narrow band compared to some of the other rockslides he saw but it made up for it with its intensity. He just had enough time to glimpse a couple of familiar tiny figures rapidly backing away before they were obscured by dust blooming in from the rockslide. The sound of debris surging down gradually quieted to a rumble and a great brown plume was spreading out. Littlefoot was unable to see what happened to the dinosaurs below. Patty stood ahead of him, frozen, before gazing back in alarm.

“What happened?” she asked.

“All the rocks fell on the other side.” Littlefoot replied. “I saw Grandpa, Grandma, and Mr. Threehorn near the Great Wall there and everything’s cloudy.” He stared, panting. “They might have gotten buried. We have to help them!”

Patty’s brow creased in worry. “If we keep going, we can use the path on the other side to help them from there.”

“Get to the other side? We can’t do anything up here. We need to get back to the ground and dig them out.”

“The rockslide could be top heavy. Relieving the pressure from above would make it easier for them to climb out.”

Littlefoot looked outside uncertainly. She had a point. If the rock pile was large, then they would need a high place to help clear it away. Yet as the dust cleared a bit, he saw it wouldn’t help.

“No, look.” He stepped aside to give Patty room to peer through. “All the rocks are near the ground. Turning around and helping on the ground will be faster.”

She looked through the opening, thinking. “Okay. There must be a path on the other side that could get us back to the ground quicker. We can go there.”

“Why are you so insistent we take a path ahead?” Littlefoot said. “Time is of the essence! Please, Grandpa and Grandma are there. I can’t lose them!”

Patty began to look uncomfortable. Littlefoot supposed this was reminding her of the loss of her mother. A drop of guilt came into his chest but there were more urgent matters now.

“There must be a way out from the other side,” she said. “I’m sure we could find it.”

Littlefoot gave her a disbelieving stare. “Didn’t you say you were familiar with the paths around here? Why do you suddenly not know now? ”

“I’m still new to the valley.” Patty looked back and forth, desperate. “I haven’t memorized everything. Don’t leave. We still need to stop the ghosts, remember?”

That gave Littlefoot some pause, a cool of reason coming to his chest. It would be really bad if they had the opportunity to stop it and didn’t take it. Then he thought of his grandparents, and his desperation hardened his resolve.

“No, my grandparents could reallynbe hurt. You didn’t say there was a narrow time we can do this. We could just go back later.”

”I – I did hint that.” Though Patty looked like she regretted it. “But, it’s just –” She looked ahead. “There must be a way through the tunnels. If we could…”

“Stop delaying! My grandparents need help now! If there’s no path and we have to go back, that’s time where their situation could get even worse.” Littlefoot took a deep breath and turned. “We need to go the quicker route back.”

“Littlefoot, please-”

“No!” Littlefoot said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I’m not staying around. If you want to waste time looking for another path down, fine. I’m going the quicker way.”

With that, Littlefoot turned around and began running, his chest searing. He knew he might have hurt Patty’s feelings but they could make up about it later. Right now, he had to move as quickly as he could and-

Wham! Something long and thin snatched his tail. He fell to the ground, yowling in pain. Patty held onto him with his tail, her grip tight, her expression a sign of desperation.

“Patty, what are you doing?” Littlefoot demanded. “Let go!”

“Littlefoot, I promise that if you come with me, your grandparents and everyone you love will be safe.” Patty said. “You only need to spend some time with me.”

“You’re not making any sense! What does this ghost stopping thing have to do with it?”

“Everything!” she said. “This solution will help them more than anything. Once you’re done, you can be with them – forever.”

“What are you talking about?” Littlefoot asked. “If something happens to them, then I can’t be with them. If we do this, I – I can’t even see them as ghosts.” His voice broke and for a second, he gazed down with pain. Then he glared up. “Let me go, Patty. Let – me – go!”

“Please, listen!” Patty said, a little anger coming in. “What can you do? Other dinosaurs are probably going to the scene now. Even they would struggle carrying them out, so how would you fair? I’ve helped many large dinosaurs out there, I know! I have carried longnecks, threehorns, and their weight is overwhelming, and that’s leaving aside the clubtail-”

She stopped. She looked down at Littlefoot, eyes wide, like she hadn’t meant to say that. He stopped struggling. He looked up, a cool of unease in his stomach.

“Clubtail,” he said. “Why did you say clubtail?”

“I – I helped clubtails.” Patty said. “There are a lot out there.” She chuckled nervously. “Why, I helped so many, I’m sure I helped some who like seeing the night circle as a sweet bubble too.”

“How do you know about that?” Littlefoot asked. “Mr. Clubtail only told my friends and our families that.”

She jerked. “Y-your grandparents told the others. I overheard it at some point. It was his secret but since his death, they naturally told everyone so they could guess where he and the killer were.”

“If you only overheard it, why do you look guilty about it?”

She opened her mouth but no sound came out. Littlefoot slowly stood up.

“Patty, what happened? You’ve been acting strange. D-do you have a suspicion? Did you see what happened?”

Patty remained silent. He shifted uncomfortably.

“Why aren’t you saying anything? You – you didn’t do anything, right? Just – tell me what happened. Please, say something. Patty!”

Patty watched Littlefoot for a long moment. She didn’t appear to know what to say. Then she lowered her head and sighed.

“You see too much sometimes,” she said.

Next time…

Part 2

Sovereign

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #101 on: April 07, 2019, 03:20:27 pm »
Umm… this was a really strange and even disturbing chapter. There were so many odd moments from the beginning that it was tangible that something was more than a little wrong. The first such scene was Topsy’s sudden remark about Chomper that was noticed by the other characters as well but as I soon learned, that was only the beginning. In many ways, this chapter was one of my favorites in a long while and that’s saying a lot.

The various out-of-character moments seemed to only pile on each other throughout this installment which I simply couldn’t ignore. Topsy’s comment was the first one but there was also the parents’ sudden decisiveness about preventing the rest of the Gang from accompanying them during the search and Chomper’s tracking process also raised countless questions that will most likely be answered soon enough. It was rather ingenious to have such long conversations where the really important sequences are hidden.

However, I’d say the ending was easily the most important scene. Patty’s words and behavior were almost scary to read and it seems like at least some mysteries have finally been answered even if far more questions were raised. So, Patty was part of the group who slaughtered the clubtail in order to help him somehow. It’s clear that she’s a psychopath or some sort of cult member but it also seems like she has some deeper motives here as well and at last, it seems like at least some aspects of the ghost mystery will be answered soon enough.

Even then, you managed to make this most intriguing of fics even more mysterious and it’s clear that there will most likely be some dark stuff in the heart of everything that has happened in this story. I’ll look forward to seeing what Patty has to say but that plot twist was absolutely masterfully executed! Amazing job, once again! :)littlefoot

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #102 on: April 14, 2019, 11:49:18 am »
FF.net Link:  https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12535668/18/We-Will-Hold-On-Forever

--

We Will Hold On Forever

by

DaveTheAnalyzer

Chapter 18: The Anchors Part 2

The roar of the rockslide went on forever. The rocks and boulders surged down the mountain, loosening and carrying along other material, making an earthy wave. Cera and the others remained ducked behind their boulder, Tria having rushed forward and pressed her head over them. Brown dust bloomed outward, like the mist from a waterfall, and they coughed as it entered their lungs. All the while the crash continued to fill their ears, a surge that stretched the many second out into eternity. 

Then at last, the rumble quieted. The crackles and crashes became spaced apart and silence reigned, the silence following a disaster. Tentatively, they opened their eyes and peered up. The brown dust was still around them, obscuring their view of everything. Cera raised her head, trying to keep her breaths even but finding that difficult as she looked around.

“Daddy,” she said. “Daddy!”

“Cera, don’t move yet!” Tria said. “It might still be dangerous.” Tentatively, she stepped back, glancing down. “Are you all alright?”

“We – we think we are.” Ducky answered, getting up from Spike’s neck. “But what about the others?”

“I don’t know.” Tria said. She stared into the brown fog ahead. “Oh no. Topsy…”

The brown plum continued to be around them. They looked around but there was silence and they appeared to be the only ones around.

“Ruby! Chomper!” Ducky shouted, cupping her mouth. “Where are you? Please be alright. Oh, please…”

Spike echoed her, calling with urgency and concern. The silence was worrying. They wondered if their friends could hear them or something worse happened. Then a distant voice called out.

“…alright!” Ruby said. “Chomper is alright too. We got ahead of it quickly.”

There were sighs of relief. It was good to know their friends were still safe. The tentative tap of footsteps came behind them, and they realized they weren’t alone.

“Ducky? Spike? Is that you?” Mama Swimmer’s voice called out. “My goodness, I was marching over expecting to punish you for getting into trouble, only to find you in another kind of trouble.”

“The trouble did not happen to us.” Ducky said. “It happened for Ruby, Chomper, Grandma and Grandpa Longneck, and Cera’s dad. Ruby and Chomper are fine but they are on the far side of the rockslide.”

“I’ll go get them.” Mama Flyer’s voice said, close to Mama Swimmer’s. “I’ll make sure they don’t get in the way of any remaining falling rocks.”

There were the flap as Mama Flyer flew away. The dust cleared a bit, and they could see some of the trees behind them. A tall shape was approaching in that direction, resolving into a distressed Mama Swimmer. A few other dinosaurs were moving in behind her, the first bystanders that usually came after a disaster struck, examining their surroundings. They could begin to see the outline of the pile of rocks and boulders looming over, some of the round shapes of individual debris becoming clear. They saw a flying shape go by, making a beeline for two distant youthful figures moving tentatively into view from around the pile. Cera looked around with increasing distress.

“Daddy!” she said. “Daddy, where are you?”

“Grandpa Longneck! Grandma!” Petrie said. “You safe, right? Me sure you safe.” More quietly, he said. “Please say you safe.”

There was silence. People got closer, a few glancing among themselves and whispering as they got together who was in trouble. The dust continued to hover, leading to many blind spots around them. A dark grey female threehorn bit her lip with worry. There was the feeling of everyone holding a breath. Then, a voice.

“It – it’s alright.” Grandpa Longneck’s voice panted. “We’re alive!”
 
There were sighs of relief and cheers. Three figures appeared to the left of the Great Wall, dark shapes in the dust. Grandpa and Grandma Longneck resolved into view, a bit dirty and scratched up, but unharmed. Mr. Threehorn brought up the rear, eyes wide and panting from the aftermath of a hard run.

“Daddy!” Cera cried.

Tria broke her hold and allowed Cera to run forward, nudging against Mr. Threehorn’s lowered head and nuzzling him.

“I’m sorry for worrying you. Both of you,” he added, as Tria came in for a nuzzle. “That was a close one there.”

“Oh.” Tria said, pressing into him. “You got to stop scaring me like this.”

More dinosaurs were arriving. They were squinting through the dust, mouths open at the damage they could glimpse. Mr. Thicknose had come in along with his volunteers, taking in the scene before him with wide eyes. They were able to hear Grandpa Longneck announce their status, and Mr. Thicknose approached him and Grandma Longneck.

“When I heard you were trying a new angle, I didn’t realize you were risking your life for it,” he said dryly.

“Neither were we.” Grandma Longneck replied. “The rockslide surprised us. We nearly got buried there.”

“And those kids got into danger again.” Mr. Thicknose sighed, glancing at the gang. “I wish they would stop risking themselves like this.” 

“We aren’t happy about it,” Grandpa Longneck said, “but it was because they followed and gave their warning that we had enough time to get away.”

They smiled as Mama Flyer escorted Ruby and Chomper to Cera and the others, and the kids embraced. The grandparents and other grownups turned and looked up. The dust had finally cleared. A pile of rocks and boulders reached up high before them, nearly twice the height of a longneck and covering an area wider than the Thundering Falls. The lower part of the pile sloped a bit forward but enough rocks had gathered that it stabilized and there was no risk of it rolling down. 

“What caused this?” Grandpa Longneck said.

“It’s too much of a coincidence that rockslide came in at the exact spot where we found where Mr. Clubtail fell.” Grandma Longneck said.

“It isn’t.” Cera said. “There was a giant pile of rocks on top of the mountain. Someone was trying to push them on you.”

“Someone did not want us to live to put the clues together.” Grandpa Longneck said. “They were very desperate. They must have kept close track of what we were doing. But who...?”

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me! They got away?”

Everyone looked up at the voice. It was distant and echoed, but it projected from the top of the Great Wall mountain. They could just make out two heads looking down at them. The long, narrow head flinched but the other just stood there, gazing down without shame. They were a familiar brown and green.

“Wait.” Petrie said. “That is-”

A four legged dinosaur jumped down the Great Wall. There were gasps but she slid down an angled path of the Great Wall, maneuvering her feet to avoid protrusions and landing on the mountain path. She gazed down at the assembled dinosaurs, chewing her piece of grass.

“Bet you didn’t think I could do that, huh?” The spiketail said.

Everyone stared. There was a distant growl of frustration. The flyer figure opened his wings and flapped out, flying down to the spiketail.

“Did you really have to go down and expose us?” he demanded.

“You exposed us by talking too loudly,” she replied. “No use hiding after that.”

A whoosh came through Cera and the others. They looked up along with everyone else, seeing but unable to believe.

“I am confused.” Ducky said. “I am so confused! What are Tega and Don doing there?”

Don and Tega stood together on the mountain path, looking down on everyone.

“You!” Grandpa Longneck said. “You were the ones who tried to kill us?”

Don hesitated but his gaze hardened.

“I did warn this plan shouldn’t be implemented,” he said. “Now you suffer the consequences.”

There were intakes of breath. Those that were gathered exchanged glances, disbelieving, not knowing what to do with this. Mr. Thicknose’s eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly, before sending a concerned glance at the gang. A few other dinosaurs were walking in, looking about with confusion at what the fuss was about. There was a shout.

“No!” Ruby said. “This has got to be a misunderstanding! Please say this is a misunderstanding, right?”

Don flinched and looked way. Tega continued to chew her grass, no guilt in her eyes.

“You were getting too close to the truth,” she said. “We couldn’t have you bumbling in and ruining everything we had been working for.”

“Ruin everything you work for?” Grandpa Longneck said. “That must mean…you were the ones who murdered Mr. Clubtail!”

There were shocked murmurs. Mama Flyer stepped back near the children.

“You mean…I’ve been allowing a murderer near my family?” she asked.

“We weren’t the ones who killed Mr. Clubtail.” Don said. “It was…an associate of ours. A rash action. It caused us much trouble.”

“Not that makes us feel any better.” Mama Swimmer snapped. “Why were you associating with our children? What did you want with them?”

“We thought we might as well make the best of the situation.” Tega said. “Your children are very important. It could solve many problems at once.”

“You didn’t answer the question.” Mr. Threehorn growled.

Don sighed. “Let’s go through the reasons. First, we couldn’t help but notice Cera and Chomper were getting caught in the company of a dubious character, Verter.” He grimaced, eyes rolling up in distaste. “We were concerned about what the threehorn would do to the pair. So we associated with your children to have them doubt Verter and get them to separate Cera and Chomper from him.”

“What?” Grandpa Longneck said.

“What is going on?” said a voice. The spikethumb leader marched in, eyes sweeping around. “What is everyone gathering near a dangerous rockslide pile for?”

“Ah, here she is.” Tega said. “What convenient timing.”

The spikethumb leader looked up and narrowed her gaze at Tega and Don on the path. “Who are you people?”

“These dinosaurs tried to kill us while we tracked down the killer, who they are associated with.” Grandpa Longneck answered. “They also had some hand in arranging Verter’s death.”

“They have?” The spikethumb leader turned, gaze boring into the pair. “So you are the ones who murdered one of my herd members.”

“Something like that.” Tega smirked. “He was a bad, bad boy.”

“Is that supposed to be funny? How do you justify yourselves?” The spikethumb leader retorted, furious.

“Haven’t you noticed the troublemaker in your herd? Someone has been sneaking out of your herd at night.” Don said. “He was going to take Cera and Chomper away. We couldn’t have our associate caught. With those two concerns, we framed him for the murder.”

The spikethumb leader frowned, looking strangely disconcerted about what he said.

“Wait.” Mama Flyer said slowly. “So the whole reason you bonded with Petrie and the others was to blame Verter for the murder?”

“Not on the whole.” Tega said. “But it was a very important part.”

Silence fell. Petrie, Ruby, Ducky, and Spike looked down, shock mixed with grief. It had been only a few short days, but they had gotten along well with Don and Tega. They thought the pair had gotten closer because of genuine interest. The concept they bonded with the kids for duplicitous reasons was a betrayal they struggled to comprehend.

“T-tell us,” Ruby’s voice cracked. “Was – was everything a lie. Did you really care about us?”

Don flinched. He closed his eyes, pain mixing in as he sighed.
 
“I do like you two,” he said finally. “But I had to do it. I had to lead you to the right conclusions so our mission wouldn’t be for naught.”

“So we weren’t being smart?” Petrie said, voice trembling. “We were being lead to what you want to think?”

“You followed the clues I laid out well, Petrie.” Don said. “You put them together at the right moment. We suspected Verter was up to something, but not kidnapping. You helped urge action just when we needed it most.”

“But me did not do that because me smart.” Petrie stepped back. “You…you tricked Petrie. You made me feel smart so you could make me go where you want.”

“I don’t mean to be blunt but…it fits your temperament.” Don replied. “You’ll need far more time to get where I am.”

Petrie staggered, unable to stop a whimper from escaping his beak. Mama Flyer pressed a hand to his back, glaring upwards. 

“If someone is tricked, that means someone has to be the trickster!” Ruby said. Her eyes were wet but they burned with anger “How dare you hurt us like this.”

“Ruby, I’m not happy about this-” Don began.

“If you weren’t happy about it, you should have stopped!” she snapped. “A good person would stop and apologize. Just feeling regretful while still doing bad things isn’t good enough.”

“You don’t understand!” Don shouted. “Oh, of course you don’t understand. I have to survive, my wisdom has to survive! For Wing Father’s sake, I can’t allow the world to forsake me again.” He almost appeared to glow with fury. “Hurting two children’s feelings isn’t great but there are more important things out there. I can’t expect someone from your generation to understand!”

“Calm down, Donny boy.” Tega said. “You don’t want to reveal things too soon, do you?”

Don stopped and closed his eyes as he attempted to calm down. Ruby glared, a tear going down.

“Ah, there’s the old Don,” she said. “Was that in you this whole time?”

Don started. Regret flickered in before he shook himself and glared down coolly. Ducky looked up with Spike with hesitation.

“What about you, Tega?” she asked. “Did – did you not feel anything for us?”

Tega stared down while chewing her grass.

“You were amusing,” she said at last. “That’s the most positive thing I could say about you two.”

Spike started, his eyes wide. Ducky stepped back.

“That – that is all?” she asked.

“You shouldn’t be surprised, with my self-interest talk.” Tega continued. “You have such a naïve view of the world, I had to stop myself from smiling more than once. You two weren’t much help though. You didn’t pick up my hints that Verter was a danger at all.”

“But I liked you.” Ducky protested. “Me and Spike did. Even if you were kind of snippy, I thought you were our friend.”

“Friend? Pah.” Tega laughed. “You were just a means to an end. I was such a jerk to you two but your wishy-washy compassion made you give me chances again and again.” She sighed and looked down “Ah, the beginning story of so many battered mates.”

Ducky flinched. In spite of herself, she started sniffling and Spike whimpered. Mama Swimmer embraced them.

“You’re heartless, Tega,” she snapped.

Tega yawned. “Did you practice that in your sleep? How natural for the mother of unimaginary cretins.”

Expressions grief-stricken, Petrie, Ruby, Ducky, and Spike pressed together while Cera and Chomper, watching sadly, joined them, already knowing the sting of betrayal. Cera glared up at them, furious on her friends’ behalf. Those two were monsters, for hurting them, for nearly taking away her dad…but how were an old flyer and lazy spiketail able to push so much rocks? She was too confused and sad and angry to pursue that thought, assuming it wasn’t actually that strange since the gang have caused rockslides themselves a few times. More than one dinosaur was glaring up at Don and Tega after that exchange.

“You didn’t need to put the kids through all this hardship.” Mr. Thicknose said. “There was already concern about Verter. Rumors were being spread about what he might be up to.”

“That was because I was spreading those rumors.” Don replied. “No one was taking swift enough action. Cera and Chomper could be under threat. So I passed the word on to a couple of gossipy female flyers and spread it wide. I thought this would press the valley to take the kids from Verter. Unfortunately, no one took the rumors seriously enough.”

“You do realize the reputation rumors have around here.” Tega said.
 
“I did what I had to do.” Don said. “It is everyone else’s problem they didn’t act.”

“But if you realized how these things were received, you would have come up with something better. Not very smart, eh?”

Don growled but he didn’t object. Grandpa Longneck stared up, anger over the treatment of the gang making him press his lips together.

“So what was the other reason you associated with the children?” he demanded.

“It was because of their connection to a certain someone.” Don said. “A little impertinent longneck known as Littlefoot.”

“Littlefoot?”

There were whispers. Dinosaurs turned and exchanged glances. Guido landed on a branch beside Swooper, who turned and gave a summary of what he was hearing from the conversation.

“That’s right.” Tega said. “Wing Father is really interested in him. And as his Anchors, it’s our duty to seek what he wants.”

“Anchors?” Mr. Threehorn said. “What are you doing, throwing around made up words?”

“It’s not a made up word. Let’s just say it’s going to become popular in a future that’s not going to happen.” 

Grandpa Longneck frowned. “And who’s Wing Father?”

“That’s just a saying Don likes to say when he’s frustrated.” Ruby said. “At least, that’s what he says…right?”

She turned to Don, uncertain. Don shuffled and gazed down.

“It was a saying I made up to cover for when I was muttering his name,” he said. “As experienced as I am, I can’t help but talk to myself at times and it would have been suspicious if I started saying a stranger’s name.”

“But who is Wing Father?” Grandpa Longneck said. “And what does he want with Littlefoot?”

“Oh, it’s a name you’ll become familiar with very soon.” Tega said. “He is going to make some changes around here. Things that should have been reality a long time ago. As for Littlefoot, he is the chosen one, he is where it starts.” She rolled her eyes. “Typical, right? That longneck is going to play a very important role in putting Wing Father in charge.”

“You won’t get him!” Grandpa Longneck said, stepping forward. “We refuse to let you touch him!”

Don sighed. “This is why we have been so secretive. People tend to act rash with what they don’t understand. For Wing Father’s sake, that is why we tried to kill you when you were getting close to the truth.”

“So that was why Mr. Clubtail was killed?” Mama Flyer asked. “Because he found out about Wing Father?”

“Found out a place related to him.” Tega replied. “Caused our associate who found him to panic and kill him.”

“And you are okay with this murder?” Grandpa Longneck asked. “Is this Wing Father?”

“Wing Father is beyond normal morals.” Don said. “Whatever our actions, they are worth it for the greater world we pursue.”

“No one is above morals.” Grandma Longneck said. “You’re not making a good argument for your leader. The killer. Who it is?”

“Oh, it should have been obvious. It would be the troublemaker in the spikethumb’s herd. The one who sneaks off for much of the night.”

“You already agree that Verter wasn’t the killer.” Tria said. “So why are you-”

“Verter wasn’t the one sneaking off for much of the night.” The spikethumb leader interrupted. She looked troubled.

“W-what?” Tria blinked. “But – he sneaked to Topsy the night you arrived. How could you-”

“He might have done so, but he was present all other nights. I checked myself. ”

“Oh. Then I’m confused.” Tria replied “Who else could have sneaked off? I only know him and he was clever, maybe he slinked off to find new training spots or -”

“It wasn’t him, it was Patty!” The spikethumb leader said.

Silence fell. It was almost greater than the silence that followed the rockslide.

“I have sneaked in looks of the body when no one was looking,” Don said. “Didn’t you wonder what those thin marks under the injuries from his fall were?”

The silence remained. Don leaned down, gripping the edge of the path.

“Whips marks.” he said. “Young, longneck whip marks. Do you see?”

They all stared. Slowly, Grandpa and Grandma Longneck started looked around, head movements becoming quicker with desperation.

“Littlefoot.” Grandpa Longneck said, breaths becoming harsh. “W-where’s Littlefoot?!”

Tega laughed creakily. Don snorted.

“Don’t you worry,” he said. “He is on his way to Wing Father now.”

--

Silence reigned in the tunnel. Littlefoot was staring at Patty, barely aware of her tail wrapped around his. Her eyes were lowered. Her sad, resigned tone was so unlike how she usually behaved he didn’t know what to make of it.

“See too much?” he repeated. “What do you mean? Are you saying that – no. Oh no.”

“I wish I had been more careful with my words.” Patty said. She sighed. “But I can’t take them back now.”

Littlefoot gulped. He tried to deny, to spin all this as a practical joke, but he couldn’t wave off the evidence in front of him.

“You killed Mr. Clubtail,” he whispered.

She didn’t say anything. A cold spread through Littlefoot, settling in his stomach and tingling beneath his skin. He couldn’t believe, still couldn’t. Patty, the teenage longneck who had a loss like his own, so nice yet so sad, who accepted an offer of friendship from a youth like him. How could the Patty he came to know do something like this?

“W-why?” his voice cracked.

She sighed. “I acted rashly. When I heard Mr. Clubtail planned to look at the night circle on the Great Wall, I got paranoid. I knew I might be overthinking the risks but-”

“How did you know about that?” Littlefoot interrupted. “Mr. Clubtail only told us.”

“I hung behind to listen in on you.” Patty said. “I was so happy to meet you, Littlefoot. I couldn’t resist hiding behind the trees and hearing more about you. When I heard what Mr. Clubtail was going to do, I thought I should be sure. So that night I followed him along the Great Wall path, watching him look at the Night Circle. I thought nothing was going to happen other than watching someone with odd tastes be silly. Then he – came across the cave, the place where we’re going. He had looked so scared. I thought if he told the others about what he saw, they might misunderstand and collapse the cave so we couldn’t change the world. I – I couldn’t let that happen. So I...”

She fell silent, not needing to elaborate. Littlefoot lay there, trying to comprehend, eyes wavering to Patty, the ground, and back again.

“You – you killed him because he got scared,” he said. He sniffled. “Why – why couldn’t you have just explained things to him?”

“He would have been scared to have me suddenly appear there. He would have run.” Patty hesitated and said. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, you know. So I ha-”

There was a ringing Littlefoot’s ears. Something hot burned in him, making him shake.

“Don’t,” his voice came out harsh. “Don’t you dare. Mr. Clubtail was in no way a threat to anyone, how dare you say that.”

“I –” Patty said hastily. “It was to prevent suffering in the world. I just couldn’t-”

Littlefoot’s head snapped up, eyes full of fury.

“Don’t you say you had to kill him!” he shouted. “If this is to stop the ghosts, you could have explained that to him! You said what you’re doing is supposed end suffering, but with Mr. Clubtail’s death, you caused more! All the fear and sadness here is because of you!”

“I – I didn’t want to do this,” she stammered. “This is very important. You didn’t know him that well anyway. He – he didn’t have any mate or kids.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he snapped. “Just because he had no family doesn’t mean his life is worth any less. Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth?”

“I’m sorry, that was insensitive of me. I’ll try to make up for it.” She stepped forward. “Now can we please continue on to our mission?”

“No!” Littlefoot stepped away. “Why are you doing this Patty? You said you just found a solution to the ghosts but what you said about Mr. Clubtail says you knew sooner than that. Why couldn’t you have just told everyone you found the solution? After all we’ve been through, we would have gladly jumped at the opportunity to end the ghosts. Does this really solve that?”

“It does, but-”

“But what? What else happens if we do this thing? Why won’t you tell me?” He saw her step back, looking scared, the type of fear Littlefoot had seen in his adventures when one got too close to the truth. Something in him broke. “I thought you were my friend. I thought you considered life important. Yet you killed Mr. Clubtail, you killed him without a second thought. Do – do you care about anyone?” He closed his eyes. “Murderer!”

Patty flinched. She reared her head, anger coming in.

“This hasn’t been easy for me either, you know,” she said. “I’ve had to carry the weight of this death every day, along with the death of Mom. Do you think I want this? Do you think I want to hurt others? I did all this so I could end the world’s pain. It’s all I have left. If it goes wrong, what reason would I have to exist?”

“You could have found friends, other family.” Littlefoot said. “I struggled after Mother died but I found new people to be with. Struggling after a parent’s death is hard…but you could have lived for something else.”

“That is the thing, Littlefoot!” Patty shut her eyes. “I didn’t survive!”

All the anger inside him got blown away by confusion. “What?”

Patty started. It appeared as though she hadn’t meant to say that. Her eyes wandered around before she sighed.

“After Mom’s death…I just fell apart,” she said. “I switched between wandering around and staying in one place for days at a time. I didn’t notice I was hungry for a long time, and by the time I did, I just didn’t care. It got tiring to move around. And then…”

Littlefoot blinked. Then the full implications of her words hit, and he found himself scrambling back.

“You’re…you’re dead?” he asked.

“I accepted its embrace,” she said. “I was so sad, so angry. I didn’t want to deal with living anymore. I cursed the circle of life Mom told me about for taking her away, glad I was no longer under its whim. But as the darkness came around…he came.”

A beatific smile slid across Patty’s face. Littlefoot felt his chest cool and he listened.

“Wing Father. He was someone beyond this world, never touched by the Circle of Life. He had been watching us for a long time. He thought it was unfair. Those who you love should never leave you. You shouldn’t suffer for want or hunger. He wanted to change things. He offered me a role in putting him in charge so he could make it a reality. That is why I’m walking the land again…because of this opportunity he gave me.”

Littlefoot shook his head. “You really have lost your mind. You can’t be dead. Wing Father is just Don’s saying. You must be delirious.”

“Come Littlefoot, is that really what you’re going to say when ghosts exist?” Patty asked. “If I’m the killer, does it occur you why I didn’t appear tired when you met me after Mr. Clubtail’s body was discovered? When I spent much the night following him and dragging his body to the sweet bubble glen? I should have been exhausted. That was Wing Father’s power. With him, I don’t need to sleep or eat. I can walk for days and still have enough energy to keep going.”

“But that’s impossible!” he protested. “I saw you eat, I saw you bite at the leaves in the trees.”

“That was only acting. Did you ever notice I always seem to ‘eat’ on the other side of the tree or when you’re doing something else? I don’t want to waste food. Of course, this means it has been long since I ate or slept. And being back in my body…I can’t grow up. I haven’t for a long time.”

Littlefoot stared. This was all so impossible. But there was an unwavering look to her eyes. Mouth dry, he spoke up.

“How long?”

She hesitated. “Twenty cold times. I had to move from herd to herd so people wouldn’t notice my odd eating and sleeping habits. I couldn’t have them know my secrets. So I had to be alone, waiting until the time was right to change the world. But someone alive needs to be part of it, someone who embodies one of the many qualities of the living. Littlefoot, that’s you.”

Littlefoot stepped back. “M-me?”

Patty nodded. “Wing Father told me about you. I was so looking forward to meeting you. Imagine my surprise when you were the one who approached me. He needs those like me who could link him to this world. But he needs the help of the living to get him in power. Someone like you helping change the world, you should be honored. I know all of this is confusing. I’m sure Wing Father can clear this up. He has a way of explaining things that makes them make sense. He’ll set everything right.”

She turned and dragged him up the tunnel. Littlefoot staggered, attempting to process everything. Patty, the person he thought had been a friend, had died, and a power beyond his imagination had brought her back for vague plans to influence the world. It was so important, a person had to be murdered to keep it going. It was so unbelievable. A few weeks back, Littlefoot would have thought her mad. But after meeting his mother’s spirit and encountering ghosts that unleashed heartbreak and terror, he couldn’t ignore the supernatural was real. All the pieces she pointed to fit together. He never saw her truly eat, she rarely if ever tired from playing with him, and she had continuous youth. And she was going to have him meet the person whose influence made her do those terrible things.

He found his feet scraping against the ground, ignoring the stinging in his chest, almighty panic gripping him. Patty stopped, glancing behind him.

“Littlefoot, what’s the matter?” she asked.

“I don’t want to be part of this cause!” he cried. “Let me go!”

“Littlefoot, it’s okay,” she soothed. “You don’t need to worry. Wing Father might be intimidating but he’s a nice person. He’ll make things clear.”

“No, I don’t want to meet him! I don’t want anything to do with this! Please, let me go!” 

“It’s going to be alright. We’re not going to hurt you. We will be helping.”

“How can I trust something that would allow you to do something so bad?” Littlefoot said.

“That was more my fault. Please, Littlefoot.” Patty pleaded. “There are more important things now. Aren’t you sick of death and all the circle of life does to us? This might be our only chance to change the world for the better. We can’t let this pass by.”

“Is this what he really wants?” He sent a brief glare up. “Did he disapprove of what you did? Or did he support it?”

“You don’t understand,” she said, anger coming into her voice. “We need this. Don’t ruin this for everyone.” 

“I don’t want to be part of this!” he cried.

She pulled at his tail, walking faster. “You’re going to meet the savior. He will have you calm down. You will cooperate.”

“No, I won’t!”

Littlefoot spotted a thorny wooden vine snaking across a section of tunnel ground. He grabbed onto it with his teeth and held on for dear life, ignoring how it pricked his mouth. He wedged his feet between several protruding rocks. He felt Patty stop and her grip briefly slacken, and Littlefoot saw a flicker of opportunity. If he could pull himself free and book it down the tunnel, maybe his quickness would surprise her enough she would be slow to pursue…

But then there was a wrench and Littlefoot cried out as his tail muscles flared in agony. The pain was such his hold weakened and Patty jerked him from the vine and dragged him on, giving his tail a few hard tugs.

“Patty,” Littlefoot whimpered, “you’re hurting me.”

“Then don’t make me do something so horrible.” Patty hissed. Her eyes burned. “I don’t want to do this Littlefoot but if you make me truly angry, I will do what is necessary. I’ve waited too long for this moment. If you extend this world’s suffering any longer, you won’t like what actions I will take!” 

As her voice rose, a green glow flared. Littlefoot staggered back as light shone out from every part of Patty, and for the first time, he could truly see her. She was emaciated: her legs were thin tree trunks and middle measly and narrow. The skin of her neck was pressed into the muscle and there were hollows in all the wrong places. Patty’s gaunt eyes literally shone with a deep fury Littlefoot only saw in the likes of the first sharptooth and it was just as terrifying. This overt display of power few mortals ever glimpsed was just too much for him. He threw himself in the opposite direction, scrambling his feet fruitlessly against the hard rock.

“Help!” Littlefoot screamed. “Someone help!”

The glow faded and Patty’s appearance returned but Littlefoot didn’t forget.

“I’m in this tunnel! I’m being kidnapped! Someone help!”

“No one can hear you.” Patty said. “You’re high up from the ground and your voice won’t carry here.”

He didn’t bother replying. “Help me! I don’t want to be here! I’m being taken against my will!”

She shook her head. “This is all my comrades’ fault. If they just waited a bit longer with the rockslide, then you wouldn’t be like this.”

His terror was briefly subsumed by anger. “You mean my grandparents and Mr. Threehorn getting buried by a rockslide was on purpose? Everything I learn about you keeps getting worse and worse. I won’t cooperate with you!”

“Whatever happened to them, Wing Father will explain everything. Goodness, stop making me repeat myself.”

Her callous dismissiveness of the potential death of those he loved drove his anger to greater heights. “If you hate repeating yourself so much, I might have a solution for that!”

Littlefoot wheeled around, and bit with all his strength on Patty’s tail. She yelped, more started than hurt but that tail around Littlefoot’s slackened enough that he leapt out of reach and bolted down the tunnel. Only a few seconds followed before Patty’s booming footsteps came after him. He weaved around rocks and stray plant matter, the strong stinging in his chest only making him briefly stumble, avoiding anything that might slow his speed. He could hear her rapidly catching up but didn’t look back. He had evaded pursuers larger than her but this straight tunnel had no branching pathways or hiding spots. But there had to be a way out, he refused to give up. The opening where he witnessed the rockslide came into view. He thought quickly and turned his steps in that direction.

“If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking,” Patty shouted, “don’t you dare!”

But Littlefoot dared. He hopped onto the edge of the opening and glanced around, spotting a workable ledge a foot below that ran far off a scraggly but stable line to the right. Littlefoot slid down rear legs first, and his grip on the opening slipped. He yelped as he briefly fell, but his forefeet caught the ledge. Gaining a firmer grip, he began shimmying, feeling the late-morning breeze brush coolly on his side. The sound of Patty’s footsteps slowed. She poked her head out and saw him moving away at a careful but consistent pace. She briefly vanished and her tail snaked out, whipping around to reach for him. He flinched as he felt the force of it whip nearby but fortunately he had shimmied far enough that Patty’s tail tip whipped for him a few feet out of reach. Patty head came back out.

“Please Littlefoot,” she said. “I know you’re upset but it’s dangerous. Come back. There’s no advantage in hanging on a ledge all day.”

“At least I’m not stuck in there with you.” Littlefoot shot back. “Plus, now I’m outside, I stand a better chance of someone hearing this – help! Somebody help!”

Patty started. His screams carried out much farther at this height in the Great Valley. He continued yelling at the top of his lungs. Littlefoot glimpsed her reach out with her tail again but it was fruitless for her. The greater concern was how long his strength would allow him to cling to the Great Wall. Adjusting his grip so he would be able to hang on more comfortably, he continued screaming for help, hoping someone would eventually hear him.

Meanwhile, shaken by Don’s revelations, Chomper and Spike immediately went sniffing about to find their friend’s scent while under the watchful eye of the parents and other grownups. Chomper and Spike changed their nose’s directions quickly, faces anxious. Trying to track someone down while standing in place was difficult but with their friend in danger, they were doing the best they could.

“Found anything?” Grandpa Longneck asked.

“I think he went somewhere to the Great Wall there.” Chomper nodded in that direction. “I don’t know exactly where, but his smell is mixed with Patty’s.”
 
Spike bayed in agreement, his normally relaxed demeanor replaced by great worry as his eyes searched those distant mountains on the other side of the valley. Don chuckled humorlessly.

“You won’t be able to get to him where they’re traveling. They’ll already be at their destination by the time you find where they went.”

“I swear, if anything happens to Littlefoot-” Grandpa Longneck began.

Tega snorted. “We’re not going to give him the Mr. Clubtail treatment, if that’s what you’re thinking. That would just complicate things. No, Littlefoot has a very special role waiting for him.”

“That doesn’t bring us any consolation.” Grandma Longneck glared. “Dear, we should get going. We can’t waste time here while Littlefoot is in danger.”

“I wouldn’t advise that.” Don said. “Do you think we would allow you to leave? For Wing Father’s sake, we won’t hesitate to hurt you again if it comes to it.”

“Quiet.” Grandpa Longneck said. “We aren’t going to argue with the insensible.”

“And you’re the heights of sensible yourselves?” Tega asked. “You have been handing over your grandson to a complete stranger for four days without considering if she’s trustworthy. That doesn’t indicate much smarts about you.”

“That’s-” Grandpa Longneck began, but guilt wracked his face. He shook his head. “We can’t be entertaining your mind games. We have a grandson to save.”

“Don’t worry.” Don said. “You will see Littlefoot again. We don’t plan to keep him forever. In fact, this will go a lot faster if you also-”

He was cut off by someone calling out. Spike was thrusting his nose at something on the opposite Great Wall, glancing at everyone and making urgent head motions. The crowd’s attention fixed on that location. At first, no one knew what Spike spotted but then Petrie fluttered down on Spike’s neck beside Ducky and squinted before he gasped.

“Look, someone hanging near that hole over there!”

With that scrap of information, they spotted it. There was an opening halfway up the Great Wall and a bit far from that was a tiny gray dot. From this distance they wouldn’t have noticed anything unless they were looking for it. With a jolt, they realized it was Littlefoot, hanging on for dear life on a thin ledge, the thin waving line of Patty’s tail vainly trying to reach him from the opening. They thought they could ever-so-faintly pick up what might be his screams for help.

“Littlefoot!” Grandpa Longneck shouted. “Oh, clever Littlefoot…”

Don and Tega also noticed. They appeared caught off-guard by this but Don’s superior sneer returned.

“Of course,” he said. “He’s as difficult as common word says.”

“What are we going to do?” Grandma Longneck asked. “That’s a very long drop. We can’t reach him from the ground and we can’t use the tunnel if Patty is nearby.”

“We better think of something quick.” Cera said. “It’s hard to hang onto cliffs for long. We have been on enough to know.”

Petrie brightened. “Then he need help of someone who can fly. Mama can help!”

“Yes.” Ruby nodded. “She can avoid Patty while also avoiding climbing. It would be the fastest way to help.”

Grandpa Longneck turned to Mama Flyer. “I understand this is a huge responsibility to take on…”

Mama Flyer shook her head, smiling. “You don’t need to say any more. Leave your grandson to me.”

Grandpa and Grandma Longneck smiled with relief. Sweeping her wings out, Mama Flyer took off and made a straight beeline for the opposite Great Wall. Barely a second passed before Don flew after her.

“Oh no you don’t!” he said sharply. “You won’t interfere in-”

Just as Don closed in, two shapes intercepted. Guido closed his mouth hard around Don’s left wing, causing the elderly flyer to cry out. This delayed him enough for Swooper to come in and slap him. Don was thrown back, slightly dazed, but recovered and examined the pair who flew in place, blocking his path.

“Oh goodness, I didn’t think I could really bite anyone like that.” Guido said. “I mean, I might have done so before I lost my memories but…” Taking deep breath, he opened his eyes to stare grimly.  “Stay where you are.”

“Was that a threat?” Don said. “You’re going to have to be better than that. And what are you doing, Swooper? You’re too blind and delicate to be using those wings.”

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in the Great Valley, it’s that you can adapt to anything.” Swooper said. “I thought a self-proclaimed wise guy like you would know that.”

Don scowled and swooped in fast. Guido and Swooper dodged but the former took another bite at Don’s wing as he passed and Swooper slapped a wing at Don. Don flapped back but then went after Swooper, who circled out of the way.

“You have adapted.” Don said. “But there’s only so much you can do if your enemy has a great power by his side.”

Don tucked in his wings, and fell toward the pair. Guido and Swooper started but braced themselves with grim determination. Don wasn’t bothered. Once he crashed into them, they would fall from the sky and maybe not rise again. It was what they deserved for getting in the way of his mission. Before Don could make contact, an almighty tail swung in. He gasped and rolled out of the way, only for another tail to come in. He ducked under and was forced to retreat as Grandpa and Grandma Longneck stood in the way.

“You will not get our grandson!” Grandpa Longneck thundered.

Don pressed his beak together in frustration but then others stood alongside them and his way to Mama Flyer was blocked.

In the meantime, Littlefoot could feel some exhaustion digging into his forelegs. He had moved a lot today and the more he hung there, the more energy left his limbs. But he ignored this, continuing to call for help. His voice was becoming a bit hoarse but he didn’t care. At some point, someone must see or hear him. A bit of the talkback from this height was amplifying his voice. It was only a matter of time, that was what he told himself.

All the while, Patty alternated between pleading for him to come back and trying to reach out with her tail. Her tail tip could only scrape a few feet away from him, so he elected to only give her marginal attention while yelling for assistance. She made so much noise in her shouts and tail smacks against the rock he almost didn’t notice a second voice call out to him.

“Littlefoot, I’m coming!”

He looked back and his heart leapt when he saw Mama Flyer fly in, ascending past and flapping over him.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” she soothed.

“Are my grandparents – is anyone…”

“They’re fine. They and Mr. Threehorn are a bit bumped up but they survived.”

Littlefoot beamed. Such relief flooded him that, for a moment, he nearly forgot he was hanging from a high drop. He had a look over of Mama Flyer, and his mood dampened.

“Are you going to carry me? I’m too big. We’ll fall.”

“Don’t worry.” Mama Flyer assured. “It’ll be a controlled fall. I’ll carry you as far as I can. Once we land, run, and I’ll guard you from above.”

That still sounded risky but she sounded confident in her plan, so he nodded. He stilled as she hovered above him, feeling wind be blown past him as she grabbed him by the middle. She continued to flap her wings as she firmed her grip on him.

“Alright, when I say ‘let go,’ let go,” she said. “Don’t struggle while we fly. Remain calm and trust what I’m doing.”

The back of Littlefoot’s head nodded to her. He glanced at the opening and found Patty glaring at them, her mind trying to work out how to prevent their escape. He felt the air beats get faster as Mama Flyer flapped herself into a steady pattern, waiting for the signal.

“I’m ready,” she said. “Let go.”

He relaxed his forefeet from the ledge and yelped as it dropped past. Mama Flyer flapped her wings faster, turning around as she flew from the Great Wall. She soon got used to the weight and, though they still fell, it was slower. Fields and trees passed below him, a great Big Water of light and dark greens, rivers and watering holes intermingled among them, little lines and dots among the landscape. The dinosaurs looked like bugs from this height. A few looked up and stared as Mama Flyer and Littlefoot passed. In their controlled descent, they covered a great distance. If this were any other situation, Littlefoot would be enjoying this. He looked back at the Great Wall opening.

“I can’t see Patty,” he said. “She killed Mr. Clubtail, she might go after us!”

“We know.” Mama Flyer said. “Stay still. I’ll be with you until we get to your grandparents and the others.”

They were a quarter across the Great Valley. His feet were nearly scraping the higher leaves on the tops of trees. Mama Flyer flapped with quick and careful precision, the ground passing below at a steady, closer rate. He raised his gaze to see her panting, his weight getting to her but she persevered. Eventually, though, even her strength couldn’t last forever. She did some last wing beats before she closed the distance, gently depositing him on a plane of grass. She crouched down beside him, panting to catch her breath. Littlefoot watched with concern.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I tried to be as still as I could.”

“Don’t worry.” Mama Flyer gave a brief smile. “You’re doing wonderfully. Now, run! I’ll follow you.”

He decided to trust her word and the thought of hearing Patty’s thundering footsteps overrode any desire to stay in one place. Littlefoot started running, ignoring the exhaustion in his forelegs. It felt like a lifetime ago when Patty first took him from his grandparents and she gave her mysterious proposal. Now he was going to see if his grandparents were truly alright. He covered some distance, passing long grass and trees, and valley denizens eating and relaxing, some of whom raised their head to look at him in puzzlement as he rushed by. Mama Flyer’s assuring shadow soon came over him but he didn’t stop.

He thought it would take forever to get to the other side of the valley and his breaths were heaving but within a few minutes, his heart rose as he glimpsed a crowd coming up, standing in front of a massive pile of rocks and boulders. They were scattered about, some appearing unsure while others were standing guard. A few appeared to be fighting something. His grandparents were among that few, standing at the edge of the crowd and batting at something with their tails, but looking very much alive. Beneath the tangle of grownup legs, he could see his friends bunched together. When Cera and the others’ looked at him, they brightened and he felt a surging joy. Littlefoot found the will to run faster.

“Grandpa! Grandma!” he called. “Guys!”

Grandpa Longneck glanced down from the act of whipping his tail and panicked. “Littlefoot, look out!”

Littlefoot was puzzled but then Don swung around Grandpa Longneck’s tail, folded his wings in, and fell straight for Littlefoot, eyes focused on him with fury. Panicked, shocked by this unexpected enemy, Littlefoot found himself rooted to the spot…

Mama Flyer zoomed in and rammed Don hard. Don was thrown back, flapping wildly. Before he could recover, Swooper and Guido flew in and threw their bodies against him. By the time Don reoriented himself, Littlefoot had resumed moving and was among a circle of grownup feet, which stood protectively.

“You’re not touching him!” Grandma Longneck declared.

Littlefoot turned to see his friends a few feet away, and they rushed each other in a group hug.

“Thank goodness you are okay, oh yes, yes, yes.” Ducky murmured.

“I should say the same for all of us.” Littlefoot said, with some tears in his eyes. “When I saw those rocks coming down on my grandparents and Cera’s dad, I thought some of us were about to lose family.”

“Dad and the others told us to stay put but we didn’t listen.” Cera said, with a flicker of pride. “We warned them out of the way of that rockslide just in time.”

Petrie shuddered atop Littlefoot’s head. “Me didn’t think Don and Tega would be the ones to cause rockslide. Me thought they nice but they trick us.”

Littlefoot’s heart sank. “Wait…Tega is with them too?”

The others looked up and Littlefoot trailed after their gaze, seeing Tega laying on the path above, chewing a piece of grass, her usual look of indifference mixed with a slight amusement too calm for the situation. He felt a whoosh. He looked at his friends, seeing the pain he experienced in their eyes. He hadn’t been the only one betrayed. All of them have been used by people who approached them with the false pretense of friendship. It disheartened him. Were there any new people they could trust? 

A bunch of slowing footsteps became audible and Littlefoot stilled. Slowly, he turned to find Patty emerging from the trees, not looking pleased to see the party in front of her.

“Couldn’t you have taken out at least one of them?” she demanded.

“They had forewarning.” Don moved to fly beside her, frustrated. “Those kids live up to their reputation as trouble. I might have made more progress if that spiketail stopped chewing her grass and did something.”

The dinosaurs around the forefront of the crowd pressed close together, glaring at her.

“Patty!” It was the spikethumb leader, stepping forward. “Is it true? You’re complicit in the clubtail’s murder and part of this deranged group?”

Patty looked her up and down, before lowering her head. “Sorry to disappoint you, leader. There are some things that must be done. Needless to say, I can’t be with your herd anymore.”

The spikethumb leader’s eyes widened. Her mouth thinned. “I’m not pleased to realize two I’ve given refuge are complicit in crimes.”

“I’m not like the threehorn. Right now, be grateful I didn’t hurt anyone in your herd.”

The spikethumb leader frowned, glaring with displeasure. The grandparents stepped forward.

“Patty.” Grandpa Longneck said. “We’re disappointed. We’ve been fond of you. How could you be part of this?”

Patty flinched. Her eyes lowered for a moment but then she met their gaze. “I’m sorry Grandpa and Grandma Longneck. I didn’t mean to deceive you or hurt Littlefoot. But I have to do this. I can’t let my emotions get in the way of making difficult decisions.”

“You are just making excuses.” Grandma Longneck said. “Do you really believe what you’re saying?”

Patty fell silent, as though there was nothing else she could say. The crowd stood warily, facing two self-proclaimed Anchors from the forest and watching the one lying on the Great Wall path, waiting for their next move.

“So,” Grandpa Longneck said, “what are you going to do? You are outnumbered here. You can’t fight all of us.”

“No,” Patty said, “but we’ll find a way. Littlefoot will join us.”

“Don’t make us do something we’ll regret.” Mama Swimmer said. “After manipulating our children, we aren’t in a merciful mood.”
   
“You can’t discourage us.” Don said. “Only Wing Father has power over us.”

“Then we have words for this Wing Father of yours.” Mama Flyer asked.

Patty smiled grimly. “They will have as much effect as death has on us. Wing Father is a force like the wind. You can’t stop him.”

“Wait, death?” Grandpa Longneck said. “What does death have to do with what you’re doing?”

“Patty is dead, Grandpa.” Littlefoot said. “She told me she died after her mother did and this Wing Father brought her back to life. She glowed when she got angry and she looked starved. I saw it.”

“What is this?” Mr. Threehorn scoffed. “The dead, coming back to life? You were probably seeing things.”

“You said the same thing the first time we told you about the ghosts me and my friends saw. I never saw her really eat. She killed Mr. Clubtail and when I met her that day, she didn’t look tired and she was never tired when she played with me. Wing Father is making her strong. If Don and Tega are working with him, they must be dead too.”

“Nonsense.” Mr. Threehorn said. “You can’t just believe whatever you hear. Why, this is most ludicrous thing I’ve ever-”

“No, he’s telling the truth.” Don said.

“We all died.” Tega said.

Everyone became quiet. People turned from staring at Tega to Don and Patty, wondering if this was some joke but their expressions were serious.

“What?” Petrie said. “You dead? But – when that happen?”

“It was my encounter with the sailback sharptooth.” Don replied. “Remember? I gave you and Ruby the details two days ago. Except I didn’t escape. The sharptooth bit me in half.” He lowered his head. “I was so bitter about being left behind. I wished the world didn’t change so I wouldn’t be disregarded. When Wing Father came, I was in awe. He offered me a chance to change the world so my knowledge would never become out of date. After being abandoned by a flock member and falling behind on knowledge, it was too good of an opportunity to pass.”

There was silence. Ducky turned to Tega.

“Is – it the same for you, Tega?” Ducky asked tentatively. “Did you not escape the Thundering Falls fire?”

“Yeah.” Tega’s eyes lowered. “I tried to get away but there was so much fire...no matter where I turned, I started getting burned. It wasn’t a fun way to go. I was so distraught. I thought I could survive alone but the world rejected my kind. It was unfair. That was when Wing Father appeared. It was a bit freaky at first but when he made his offer to change the world so loners could survive, I saw this was someone I could work with.”

“Oh, that must have been so hard…”

Tega looked at Ducky and laughed. “What, sympathy again? After all I did? You’re so easy to play with.”

Ducky stepped back and Spike growled, their friends glaring up with him. Strangely, Patty was also glaring at Tega but she pursed her lips. Looking uncomfortable, Don spoke.

“You must have noticed, haven’t you?” he said. “We never ate in the company of others. The spiketail likes chewing her grass but she rarely swallows or else has to hack it back up. Unlike her, I don’t put myself to such unpleasantness. My solitude fortunately means that few notice my lack of diet, and no need to sleep. It has left me free reign to check on the body and other matters without suspicion. It is a gift that Wing Father has given all of us.”

“You still haven’t specified who this Wing Father is.” Mama Flyer said. “What kind of dinosaur he is, where does he comes from? It’s understandable why we have doubts about this. It’s not possible for one person to control the world.”

“Then you have a narrow view of what things can be.” Patty said. “Wing Father isn’t a dinosaur or any kind of creature. He is a power beyond our world and only deigns to visit us.”

Littlefoot felt a prickle of unease, a certain pair of rainbowfaces coming to mind. “You mean he is from the stars?”

“I didn’t say that.” Patty said, giving him a confused look. “He is beyond life and death. He exists in what comes next. How else could he give us the power to come back to life? But he has limited influence on the living world. To fix that, he has to choose four people who died with regret, Anchors, who he could bring back and help him establish influence. We obey his will so he could take power and make the world better.”
 
There were whispers. Dinosaurs among the crowd looked at each other and the three Anchors, discomforted. Mama Swimmer stepped in front of the gang, eying Patty warily. Littlefoot’s mind was buzzing. This talk about a power beyond life and death was beyond anyone. Many hoped and believed that there might be something after death but this talk of a being who technically never lived was hard to wrap their minds around. Still, they couldn’t help but notice the Anchors rarely appeared to eat or tire. Maybe there was some truth to those words. Mr. Threehorn looked around and frowned.

“Come on, are we really going to believe this?” he asked. “These three are all delusional. People coming back to life, not eating or sleeping, some creature that has never lived or died – it’s all nonsense. There’s no way any of this could be true.”

“You say that, during a time when ghosts roam among us.” Don said. “Have you just forgotten the rockslide we caused? That needed great strength.”

“The ghosts have been seen. And there are small ways to start a rockslide even with just one person. All we have right now is just your word and it’s clear you’ve jumped off the deep end. You’re just mad at how the world is and lashing out. I don’t know if this Wing Father is real or not but he is feeding your issues.”

“The world is broken.” Patty said. “Death and suffering are everywhere. We have to change it.”

“We’re going to swap this world for a better one.” Tega said. “Wing Father is the answer. He’ll make a world where it’s every dinosaur for themselves.”

Mr. Threehorn snorted. “Instead of facing the facts of life, you throw yourself at someone with grand promises you delude yourselves into believing. If I could, I’d pity you. Cowards, the lot of you.”

“That’s rich, coming from you, Topps old pal!” called a voice.

The color drained from Mr. Threehorn’s face. Silence fell as everyone gazed to the top of the Great Wall to see a green threehorn step into view. Cera and Chomper stepped back, shaking.
 
“Oh no.” Cera whispered. “Oh no, oh no, oh no!”

“Not him, not him!” Chomper said.

The threehorn jumped and slid down the mountain, confident as he navigated around the rocks and steeper drops. He slowed and landed on the path. There was a collective intake of breath. Verter stood beside Tega, blue eyes surveying the assembled dinosaurs with nary a scratch or blemish, a smirk playing across his muzzle.

Mr. Threehorn opened and closed his mouth. “You’re – you’re dead. We saw you die. How – how did this happen?”

“Wing Father happened, friend.” Verter’s lip curled. “I didn’t expect to come back either but I didn’t expect to die. When Wing Father came around, I was quite happy to take his offer.”
   
The spikethumb leader stared up, mouth open. “You – this must be a mistake. You can’t possibly be dead.”

“Really, dear leader?” Verter said. “After believing everything you heard about the ghosts, you doubt now? Well, let me make things clear. I did try to take Cera and the sharptooth kid. Topps and Tria did kill me in trying to stop me. I did meet Wing Father. He gave me a second chance to better the traditions of threehorns but you wouldn’t understand the details anyway. Threehorn matters are beyond other kinds. But if you can’t understand that, imagine the trouble you’ll have trying to comprehend a power beyond most living beings that can bring the dead back to life.”

The spikethumb leader stepped back, a hint of terror in her eyes. Verter switched his attention elsewhere.

“Anyway, enough with that herd. I was never really interested in them anyway. I have greater priorities now. Oh, how I can’t wait to make examples out of all of you.”

His eyes bore onto Mr. Threehorn, Tria, and the children. Though he smiled, there was a hard look in his blue eyes and a green glow came from him, faint but clear. There were gasps and screams. The breath was taken from Grandpa and Grandma Longneck. Mama Swimmer cried out and clapped her hand to her mouth. The spikethumb leader was just stunned. Petrie yelped and Littlefoot heard more a few gasps from his friends, feeling the pit drop in his stomach at seeing this a second time. Everyone stared, unable to believe what they were seeing. Cera and Chomper screamed and ducked among their friends, trying not to be seen. Though scared, Littlefoot and the others quickly grouped around the pair to block them from view. Verter was too far up to see the scars of his death but the glow was enough to shock everyone even after it at last faded. Patty glared at Verter but before she could say anything, Tria shook herself and took a shaking step forward.

“You – you will not harm Cera and Chomper,” she declared.

“That – that’s right.” Mr. Threehorn said, finding his voice. “If – if we have to kill you again, we will. You have proven yourself a danger to the children. We won’t allow you near them, especially now you’ve chosen to align with these Great Valley menaces.”

Verter threw head back and laughed. It went on for a bit too long. Some shifted uneasily. For some reason, Don avoided looking at him.

“Why do you find that funny?” Tria demanded.

Verter quieted and bared his teeth. “Because it was you two’s effort to put me down that led me to Wing Father. He had been searching for the fourth and final Anchor for a long time now, someone who would qualify for his requirements. If you hadn’t killed me, he would have had to search even longer to put his plans in motion. Thanks to you, that doesn’t need to happen.”

Mr. Threehorn tensed. “Hang on, I didn’t cause this, you forced our hand-”

“Of course you say that.” Verter said. “You always leap before you look and when it goes bad, you lay the blame somewhere else. If you weren’t so focused on making sure no one took more water than they ‘deserved,’ you might have figured out what caused the Thundering Falls to dry up, correct? Then there would have been no fire and you wouldn’t have endangered your daughter by leading her where she could have been burned alive.”

“I was foolish back then. I’m much better now.”

“It didn’t sound like that when the valley herds got driven out by the swarming leaf gobblers and you suggested the herds break apart. Because of that, your daughter and her friends ran away and nearly died many times to make sure you stayed together.”

“That was-” Mr. Threehorn shook his head. “I’m not heartless, I was just thinking what I thought was best to survive.”

“Is that what you meant with the Tinysaurs? You were planning to kill them for the simple crime of eating from the Tree Sweet Tree. You didn’t consider they mightn’t have known about its importance. Because of that, fast biters were led into the valley and your girl and her friends were nearly killed again. Does that sound like someone who takes the right actions?” 

“I…” Mr. Threehorn stuttered. “That is, I-”

Verter smiled. He stepped forward.

“But hey, it’s not all bad,” he said. “Because you killed me, I got to meet Wing Father. He now has the four Anchors needed to begin his next step to being in charge of the world. I can have a paradise I always wanted. For all that you did for us, I just want to say, thank you very much.”

Verter gave a mocking bow. Mr. Threehorn stepped back, breaths fast, eyes becoming wide as he grasped the implications of his actions. There were murmurs and some dinosaurs began looking around with fear, Tega watching with amusement. Littlefoot took this in, stomach sinking. If someone dead like Verter was standing before them and could glow, that meant Patty and the others were telling the truth about also dying. And if that was real, then this Wing Father might be real as well. This realization caused dread to form and a few even started glaring at Mr. Threehorn for this danger he unwittingly unleashed. Grandpa Longneck looked around and frowned.

“Really, are we going to listen to criticisms from those who wish to harm us?” he asked. “Whatever Mr. Threehorn’s flaws, he was right to defend Cera and Chomper from Verter. Right now, we have two killers and their accomplices who plan to do our children harm and we should make it clear they aren’t welcome here.”

That caused a stir. Becoming more determined, the grownups gathered closer around the children, hiding them from view, and the space became so tight Littlefoot had press closely into his friends so as not to be wedged against Mama Swimmer’s foot. None of the Anchors were impressed.

“This won’t stop a thing.” Patty said.

“Are you really prepared for what we can accomplish?” Don said.

“I still haven’t tested everything I can do.” Verter cricked his neck. “Please, fight back. That will only make it more fun.”

There were snarls and bellows. Several of the grownups snapped teeth and stamped the grass, furious eyes conveying the consequences of a fight. Patty stood her ground. Don flapped beside her, showing the sharp counters of his wings. Verter loomed over the cliff, smirking down. It was a tense moment, and Littlefoot worried about what was going to happen. Some shifted and tried to hide their nervousness, apparently dreading whatever powers the four might have that could harm them. Mama Flyer took a deep breath, to look determined. Then Tega leaned down and twirled her grass to one corner of her mouth before sighing.

“Well, we are certainly outnumbered. Why don’t we call it a day?”

Don jerked his head up. “What?!”

“It would be annoying to round up so many people.” Tega smiled at Don’s outrage, waving at the crowd below. “We should consult Wing Father about a more useful strategy.”

Patty looked at the crowd with pain. “We’ve waited so long though…”

 “We can wait a bit longer.” Tega surveyed the crowd with an eerily intelligent gaze. “Besides, we need time to plan what to do next. We need to make things easier…and more fun.”

Verter’s irritated look melted away. “Yes.” His eyes glittered as he looked down. “We have already given them a taste of what’s to come.”

Don looked unsatisfied. “Next time, they will have forewarning. For Wing Father’s sake, that will make attaining our goals difficult, spiketail.”

“And yet there are advantages to regrouping.” Patty said, thoughtful. “We should do that.”

Don didn’t look pleased but there was a thoughtful gleam in Patty’s eyes that made him back down with a sigh. She surveyed the crowd in front of her.

“We shall return,” she continued. “Our cause is one that won’t be delayed.”

“You won’t know what our next actions will be.” Don said. “The minds employed here are beyond your comprehension. Though be comforted, you will be happy.”

“You aren’t comforting anyone.” Grandpa Longneck said. “Why should we believe your cause is just if its methods lead to such heartbreak?”

“Because once Wing Father has control, everyone won’t have anything to worry about again.” Patty walked off, stopping to look back. “Make no mistake – the circle of life will be ended. Death and all its heartbreak will be stopped.”

With that, she turned and marched off. Don flew after her, disappearing into the trees. Tega and Verter exchanged looks before Tega got up and they moved up the path, disappearing around a bend on the mountain. For a moment, the crowd turned their heads from the cliff to the trees, making sure the four had vanished. Mr. Thicknose stared, unable to fathom what just happened. Guido tried to stop shaking, Swooper patting his back. The gang stood reeling, a few absently rubbing their chests. Mama Swimmer stood close to Ducky and Spike, her fear and confusion a mirror of everyone else’s.

“So… wh-what now?” Mr. Threehorn said, trying to sound casual.

“First, we need to treat our injuries.” Grandpa Longneck sighed, looking at the adults around them. “Then, we need to talk.”

Next time…

Take Your Time

--

Note: And that is the end two. I hope to post the beginning chapters of arc three around June or July (I hope to make it this time, sorry for the delay with these ones.).
« Last Edit: April 14, 2019, 11:52:39 am by DaveTheAnalyzer »

Sovereign

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #103 on: April 16, 2019, 02:48:53 pm »
Now we’re really talking. It was clear for a long time that there was something seriously wrong with the Valley but this was something I hadn’t dared to expect. The previous talk of Wing Father was mysterious but to think we have some this mysteries, even eldritch being behind all of this… You have my undivided attention with this story. :wow

To think of it, we should have guessed from the beginning that all of the new characters have been conspiring all along but for some reason, that never crossed my mind to a significant degree. However, that only made their revelation more interesting and that entire scene was very well written. The present Gang members’ reactions to all that happened worked amazingly but that was only foreshadowing for what would happen next.

The entire scene with Littlefoot and Patty was quite masterful in its ability to only get weirder and weirder and when we finally hear some more details of the Wing Father, I must say that I’m really happy to see you take this road as I love stories incorporating eldritch beings into them. Verter’s resurrection proved the others’ tales to be true and also that this mysterious being’s power is very real. However, it’s almost certain all of the returned dinosaurs’ minds have been twisted beyond recognition in death which makes their fates even more harrowing.

However, I must also say that certain moments weren’t completely perfect. Especially some of Patty and company’s lines sounded a bit too generic and the talk of Littlefoot being some chosen one was cliché. Also, with Wing Father’s further integration into the story, I hope you have a good plan to keep a being this powerful and interesting being from ending up as a disappointment as you certainly created a lot of questions and hype about him in this chapter. But considering how excellent this story has been thus far, I’m sure the rest of this fic won’t disappoint in the least. I, for one, yearn to hear more about the Wing Father and his twisted cult. :^^spike

rhombus

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #104 on: April 19, 2019, 03:43:45 am »
Chapter 17, Part 1:
The valley meeting is tense as to be expected.  Not only do the residents have to come to terms with what happened to Verter, but they must also deal with the fact that the killer remains at large.  The hesitation from Chomper does feel me with concern, however.  I sense that the fall of Verter has caused more mental damage than a mere visual inspection can identify.

...and my suspicions were correct. Chomper does not want to feel like a burden that others must protect, but Ruby's suggestion of using his sniffer does present an opening to soothe his feelings of inadequacy. I just worry what he might find... and then Don's words add to my concern.  ...and then Tega's words as well.  Hmmm...

Overall I think the general feeling exuded in this installment is a feeling of dread as a charade comes to an end. We now have all of the gang's new friends showing a side of themselves that was unseen before until the children began to investigate in a way they did not approve.  I suspect that the next installment will further present this new reality as it becomes apparent to the children.

Chapter 17, Part 2:

Whoa... normally an information dump through dialogue is a bad idea in a story, but in this case it was done quite masterfully - both presenting a lot of clarifying information to the readers while not revealing the entire plot.  Additionally, with Don's hints at a future that will not be and using the word Anchor, this opens up the possibilities quite extensively as to what these characters could be involved with.  All the while the gang gets to feel the toxic sting of betrayal.  It is ironic that between them all it was Don who showed the most regret.  Tega... not so much.

And then there is Patty's conversation about the Wing Father.  The more and more we hear the more obvious it becomes that either this "wing father" is the cause of the ghosts or, perhaps, one who is trying to capitalize on dealing with the ghosts.  The mannerisms of Patty more so than the others is cult-like in its absolutism. Don might be reluctant in his methods and Tega might be a psychopath of some kind, but Patty appears to be a clear fanatic to the cause.  But the acknowledgement that they all died and were brought back by the Wing Father explains their loyalty to him.  That is, of course, unless this is another manipulation on their part.

...and then Verter came back.  Yep, not a manipulation this time.

All in all this second part of the chapter is when things truly came together.  The clear suspicion that the newcomers have been in cahoots or parts of differing groups has been around for awhile in my mind, but now the situation is quite clear.  They are dealing with some being, some Wing Father, who is beyond their comprehension and who can manipulate life and death itself.  And now he and his four Anchors are ready to implement their plan to end the cycle of life and death, and for that they need Littlefoot.  All of this makes me quite curious about what more we will find out about the Wing Father and his cult.  The gang certainly has its work ahead of it in the chapters to come.

This chapter was masterfully done and brilliantly moved the plot ahead in a way that rewarded the chapters of mystery and intrigue that came previously.  Though there were minor issues (I felt that Topps was somewhat out of character at a few points in the dialogue) they were insignificant when compared to the strengths of this chapter.  I will eagerly await the next chapter, and I look forward to seeing what happens next. :)


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

DaveTheAnalyzer

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Re: We Will Hold On Forever
« Reply #105 on: April 23, 2019, 09:47:44 am »
@Sovereign Thank you for the reviews. There are some odd moments you saw I planned there, and they will be explained. I’m glad you liked the final scene. It was one of the first I wrote for this story and I wrote and rewrote it to get it exactly right. It’s good those efforts paid off.

As for the next chapter, I’m glad the Wing Father plotline has your attention. That was a lot of work to seed in. I’m also glad the new characters’ allegiance with him is a surprise and how those kinds of revelatory scenes played out agreed with you. Yeah, I can kind of see the criticism with some of the cliché lines. I did think about some of them near the end might have needed work, but the flow felt good enough and I was on the lookout for other issues. Though I did think Tega’s “chosen one” was alleviated by her eyeroll and dry sarcasm. As for Wing Father, let’s say I know his motivations and a lot of how he’s doing things. That will be explained. Hopefully it will stand up to expectations. I look forward to your feedback in the next chapter.

@rhombus Thanks for the reviews. I’m glad you liked the buildup before the reveals. I worked hard to try to get them right. Yeah, information dump through dialogue can be tricky but I remember reading them being done well in Harry Potter and I must have taken cues from them. I know who Wing Father is, and everything will become clear about him. Tega is a piece of work but I would hesitate using the word “psychopath.” That word gives me the impression it indicates someone was bad from birth but she wasn’t. She was a loner who chose to be more distant with others until she disconnected from people. The Anchors are ordinary people who in other circumstances might be decent or harmless but through their choices and circumstances, choose to do very horrible things.

From your reaction to Verter coming back, I so wanted to be the fly on the wall when you and other readers came across that moment. It’s one of those wham moments I enjoy making. I’m glad the buildup I have been going up to all this time was worth it for you. Mr. Threehorn’s characterization seems to still be an issue? I’ve been trying to show how this situation has been slowly cracking through his usual demeanor and how that demeanor isn’t healthy with coping with this situation. I’ll see how I handle this in future chapters.