The Gang of Five
Hello, everyone!  The month of June is finally here and unlike last month, we admins actually remembered to update the news item for June.  :bestsharptooth This month we have a new character showcase for Doc, which can be found here.  Please feel welcome to say a few words about the sauropod of few words.

For our resident fanfiction writers, there are also active fanfiction prompts for the months of May and June, in additional to several optional prompts that can be completed if you want to work on something different.  Details can be found here. We look forward to seeing what you come up with!  :RubyCurious

Mentors of Yesteryears

The Mr E

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Follow the story on FanFiction at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13516136/1/Mentors-of-Yesteryears

If you've read 'The Battle Before Time', you will recognise part of the first one and a half chapters of this story, but you'll also see some new details. 'Mentors of Yesteryears' begins the expansion of the world we were introduced to in The Battle Before Time, so keep reading and you'll find lots of new content to sink your teeth into. Battle Before Time was good practice, but I introduced alien concepts a bit too abruptly in that one shot. That's why this story lays the groundwork, sort of like a transitional montage between The Land Before Time we all know and love to the war on the horizon. Well ... sort of The Land Before Time we know and love.

I've made minor continuity changes and elaborations.

1) The scale difference between sharpteeth and leafeaters is truer to life, with Littlefoot's species being considerably larger than predators in general. That doesn't mean sharpteeth are not a threat, though – think wolves vs. bison. However, the scale isn't necessarily completely accurate. There are exceptions, such as Sharptooth from the original movie, and Red Claw from the TV series are classified as rogues, who are pretty close to the weight class of an apatosaurus like Littlefoot. There's an explanation for that, as you'll find out soon enough.

2) In the original series, Doc (who is heavily implied to be 'The Lone Dinosaur') had not exhibited too many impressive feats outside of fables. He seems to be a proficient fighter, but I don't recall seeing him launch more than a single attack. I decided to expand on his abilities.

3) Dinosaur lifespans were never specified in the original series ... if memory serves. In this story's continuity, longnecks can get pretty old, and remain surprisingly fit. This would make sense in the original series, since Littlefoot's grandfather and Doc are still capable of fighting sharpteeth. If Doc really is The Lone Dinosaur, that would make him even older than Grandpa Longneck. This is supported by the belief that his species may have had long lifespans in real life.

Enjoy!




Chapter 1

Littlefoot's Mentor



Hi! My name's Littlefoot. If you know anything about my friends and I, you know our childhood was weird ... and wonderful ... and scary. It's all 'Oooh! Aaah!' Then comes the running and the screaming. I mean, I was sure my journey ended with The Great Valley. Turns out, with a touch of bravery, adventures find you no matter what you do, leaving your poor folks unsure of whether they should be proud or petrified enough to keep you in your nest forever. You know, no matter how crazy life got, there are some things I'd think would always stay the same. Earthshakes come, but the world never fully crumbles. You wake up every day to find it beneath you. You look up every night to see the stars too high for a flyer to reach. Fire is hot, ice is cold. Up is up, down is down. Well ... turns out I was wrong. Everything can crumble, and it can crumble in ways you never imagined. The stars can come crashing down on your head. Fire can be cold. The world you thought you knew can turn upside down. You fight it. You hold on together 'till the end. Then the end comes and you look around.

The world as you knew it is gone forever.

Sounds like a sleep story? Yeah ... I know. To be honest, I'm not sure how best to explain the unexplainable. How about I begin with how it started? Yeah, sounds like a plan.

Chomper and Ruby had been living with us in the valley for a while when it all began.




Something reached the edge of Littlefoot's consciousness, rousing him from the realm between wakefulness and slumber.

He raised his head, blinking sleep away as his eyes adjusted to the dim of dawn.

"What was that?" he asked.

His grandparents paused their quiet conversation to leisurely arch their necks down towards him.

"What was what, Littlefoot?" asked Grandma Longneck.

The young longneck squinted in thought. He ... honestly wasn't sure. A smell? A feeling? A sound? ... A sound ... that seemed right. However, he'd been half-asleep - scarcely conscious enough to make it out. He set his eyes on the distant green and hills crested with dark blue firmament; strained his ears against brisk air punctuated by sparse, yawny calls of dinosaurs awakening. Was there anything to see, anything to hear? Perhaps not. For all he knew, it could have been a sleep story.

Then it came: a tremor to twilight's tranquility, rolling across the landscape like distant thunder.

"That!" he exclaimed, springing to his feet. "What is that? Sounds like a sky roar ... but not quite like a sky roar. Don't see any dark puffies up there either."

The elder longnecks slowly turned to meet each other's gazes. A youthful enthusiasm in Grandpa's eyes belied his age. Then the noise repeated itself a third time, in the exact same pattern, like a signature. Now he knew.

"That sound ... just like the stories," Grandpa commented. "Perhaps he really is the legend."

"Who is?" asked an excited Littlefoot.

Grandpa chuckled. "Why don't you go and see for yourself. I heard he'd returned, but I forgot to tell you. I'm quite certain that is not thunder. It's a longneck."

Rapt with wonder, Littlefoot scampered off before he even knew what his legs were doing.

"I'll see you later, Grandma and Grandpa!"

In his hurry, he hardly heard their goodbyes. But where was he going? There was no clear indication of the sound's source.

He listened again ...

*( ( booom ) ) ... ( ( ka-boom ) ) ( ( kraka-doom ) ) ( ( foom ) )*

Like a faraway cacophony of thunder.

He stared at the ground. The feet of a longneck were well attuned to vibrations. It helped them keep track of each other. Even in a dense herd, the footfalls of a loved one could be felt and identified fairly easily. Now, those sensitive feet caught wind of tremors quaking in tandem with the thunder. Definitely footsteps - quick ones, powerful ones. His feet knew the direction.

Should he wake his friends? ... No. Cera wouldn't be too happy to be forced from her nest at this time. She wouldn't be happy if he took the others and left her either. A solo adventure it was!

Through the trees, across dew-dappled meadows, towards the valley's walls Littlefoot ran. The sound grew rapidly as he neared the mouth of a canyon. Whoever was in there had deliberately picked a spot where most of the noise wouldn't disturb the rest of the valley. Nearing the source, the din grew nigh deafening. He rounded the last corner and his breath caught in his chest.

He should have known, he told himself. If anyone could conjure thunder, it was Doc, The Lone Dinosaur.

Littlefoot watched in awe as Doc blazed through his morning routine. Moving with grace and speed defying his size, the giant sauropod skillfully battled nonexistent foes with his tail, sending thunder cracks throughout the canyon as it split the air like a mega-sized whip. Always moving, he bolstered his lashing attacks with shoulder shoves, chest bumps, knee jabs and the occasional headbutt. It seemed any part of his body was a workable weapon. Littlefoot could practically see the imaginary sharpteeth he felled. Before long, the adult's keen eyes spotted the young longneck staring up at him.

"Um ... hi," Littlefoot greeted. "Didn't mean to spy on you like that."

"No harm done, kid," Doc replied in his gravelly voice.

Littlefoot's excitement took over from there.

"Doc, how do you move like that? You're so big!" gawked the youngster, before catching himself. "I- I mean, I'm not saying you shouldn't be able to move like that. You are The Lone Dinosaur, after all!"

Doc tilted his head. "What makes you think I'm 'The Lone Dinosaur'?"

Littlefoot grew slightly sheepish. "Well ... honestly, after all that's happened, you can't not be The Lone Dinosaur. I mean, look at what you were doing just now! I've never seen grownup longnecks move like that without hurting themselves!"

Doc gave a dry chuckle. No point deflecting. The kid had him pegged, not that he planned on openly confirming Littlefoot's belief.

"Been conditioning my bones and muscles since I was young," Doc explained. "Figured that if I kept it up, I'd never lose my agility as a grownup."

Littlefoot's eyes lit up. "Could you teach me?"

Doc shook his head. "No. You might break somethin' if you don't do it right. I did. Several times, actually. Aren't those tail tricks I taught you good enough?"

"They were ... great," Littlefoot slowly stated. "But I wanna learn how to fight: I mean really fight!"

Doc frowned. "You don't want the life of a fighter. The fight will chase you, no matter where you go, like a sharptooth on a trail. Trust me. You've got a better life ahead of you. B'sides, I was just visitin' - be gone a few Bright Circles from now."

Littlefoot sighed and lowered his head in disappointment.

Doc stared at the child and an odd look crossing his face. The youngster had experienced so many harrowing escapades. Too many for a kid his age. It was daunting to think of the number of times he'd left The Great Valley without adult supervision. The Mysterious Beyond was calling to him. Why did he heed its voice? For the thrill of adventure? Oftentimes, perhaps, but more than anything, for friends, for family, even for total strangers. And who were these objects of his concern? Longnecks? Leafeaters? No. They could be anyone. Some of them weren't even 'dinosaurs'. The world was on his shoulders, and it would only get heavier as Littlefoot discovered just how big the world was. It didn't help that the kid was too curious for his own good. Doc had found his place among the legends, immortalised as a hero whether he liked it or not. What would Littlefoot become? Doc didn't know, but he was sure that the youngster would be greater than The Lone Dinosaur had ever been, in part because he would never be alone. Wherever he went, his friends would be there. If none went with him, he would make new friends. However, he had to survive long enough to step into his destiny.

"Guess my stay got extended a few years," Doc mused. "Dara likes it here. We could settle down."

Littlefoot stared at the adult in abject confusion. "Huh? But … you're a wanderer."

"'Was'," Doc corrected, turning to leave. "We'll start tomorrow. Meet me here at daybreak."

He smiled as the youngster's whoops and 'woo hoos' met his ears.



Day 1



To say Littlefoot arrived at 'daybreak' was a bit of an understatement. The child had Doc wondering if he'd slept there, but as the grownup commenced with his morning routine-turned-tutorial, Littlefoot was the one left wondering.

"What in the world are you doing?" asked a thoroughly baffled Littlefoot. "Not to be rude, of course.

For the past minute or so, Doc had been rubbing his scales against the side of a cliff.

"Perfect place for a rock bath," the adult stated before rolling on the stone floor, trying to expose the hard surface to every possible inch of his skin.

"A 'rock bath'?" asked Littlefoot.

"Yeah," Doc answered. "It turns your skin to stone. Makes it hard for sharpteeth to leave a mark."

Littlefoot couldn't help but let his eyes wander to the scar running down Doc's temple and neck.

"Well, most sharpteeth," Doc amended, catching his gaze. "Didn't get this from a sharptooth. I got it from THE Sharptooth."

Littlefoot gasped. Among the predators, there was one who stood above them all. Epitomising the concept of the sharptooth, he was known only by the blanket term that encompassed his kind.

"Funny enough, you could thank Sharptooth for what I'm teachin' you," Doc stated with a note of bitterness in his voice. "He took my sister, my last flesh and blood in this world. I tried to fight him. He was practically invincible. Barely made it out with my life. So, I followed him, tryin' to learn his secrets. One day, I found him rock bathing. Saw him pushing his body beyond the limits of his kind. I adopted his techniques. Took them further. Was determined to be faster and stronger than he had ever been. For years, we fought, neither able to finish the other. Then one day, word came from a flier that a couple o' kids lured Sharptooth into a waterhole, shoved a rock on top of him and that was that."

Littlefoot opened his mouth to state that he and his friends were the 'couple o' kids', but the smile on Doc's face confirmed that he already knew.

"'Journey to Big Water' ,'Land of Mists', 'Stone of Cold Fire': a few of the legends you've lived, and you're bound to live more," Doc stated.

"I wouldn't call them 'legends'," Littlefoot declined.

"I would," Doc declared. "That's why I gotta stay here, to see this through."

Littlefoot stared at the ground. "So ... I'm holding you back?"

Doc laughed - an increasingly common occurrence that Littlefoot was still getting accustomed to.

"Training you has been nothing but a pleasure," Doc admitted.

Littlefoot's eyes lit up as his chest puffed in affirmation.

"Wanna know why I could never get the better of Sharptooth?" asked Doc.

Littlefoot thought for a moment, attempting to figure it out. When he drew a blank, he nodded.

"He had a head start," Doc explained. "Thing is, I didn't learn the rock bathing secret 'til I was half grown. Start from your age and you'll be a force of nature."

Littlefoot immediately threw himself against the cliff and began to rub as though his skin were crawling with tiny biters. After a few seconds, he came to grips with his mistake.

"Oww ..." Littlefoot moaned as he eased off the stone.

"Try to be a bit more careful about it," Doc instructed. "Start by rubbing hard enough to feel the burn without bruising."



Day 12



Pride.

That's what Doc felt as he lay under the morning Sun, watching Littlefoot practicing his teachings on a rock roughly the size of the kid. Such a fast learner. Was this what it felt like to have a son? Maybe he would one day find out. Maybe not. He could neither count on the remarkable longevity of his species' egg-bearing capabilities nor write it off. However, he couldn't complain. Imparting his knowledge to Littlefoot was one of the crowning joys of his life.

"That's it, Littlefoot," he coached. "Quick strikes. Keep him off-balanced."

Littlefoot paused the imaginary battle, panting. "I feel like ... my tail's too short for this."

"It'll grow," Doc assured. "You got distracted. Now he's on your back."

The young longneck dropped in an aggressive roll.

"That did it," stated Doc. "He's down. Now finish him."

Littlefoot placed his foot atop the imaginary sharptooth and growled into its face before snapping his jaws.

Doc blinked. "Littlefoot ... what are you doing?"

"It's sharptooth talk," explained the youngster. "Chomper said it means 'go away and don't bother us again'."

"What's to say the sharptooth'll go away?" asked Doc.

Littlefoot thought for a moment. "Well ... what else am I supposed to do?"

Doc sighed. If not genuinely clueless, his student was simply refusing to consider the obvious.

"Make sure it can't bother anyone again," Doc clarified.

Littlefoot winced.

Doc raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that what you did to the first sharptooth you encountered?"

"Well, yeah, but that was before I met Chomper," argued Littlefoot. "Can't I just chase him away? Or maybe knock him out? Or-?"

"Or grow a backbone, Littlefoot!" came the voice of a grouchy female.

Littlefoot spun around. "Cera?! I-!"

"You were gonna keep coming here, doing whatever it is you do with Doc without telling me for the foreseeable future!" snapped the amber threehorn as she stomped towards him. "Say, what exactly are you doing? Didn't peg Doc for the type to play with imaginary sharpteeth."

Littlefoot hesitated. "I ... um ... Doc's teaching me how to fight."

Cera's eyes popped. "Say what now?"

"I said-"

"I heard you the first time!" she barked. "Since when did you have any serious interest in fighting?" suddenly, Cera began to smile. "Y'know what? I like this Littlefoot!"

Littlefoot tilted his head. "What did you think of me before?"

"You were ... eh, you were alright," she replied. "More tolerable than most. Anyway, move over. I refuse to let some longneck know more about fighting than I do."

"'Some longneck' already does," Littlefoot stated, gesturing Doc with his head.

"He's old. He doesn't count," Cera dismissed.

Doc grunted in mild annoyance.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" asked Cera.

"I'm not training you," Doc stated simply.

"What?!" Cera shrieked. "Listen, Gramps! You can't not train me! I've turned aggression into an art form!"

"That's precisely it," Doc agreed. "When you've been around long as I have, you start to see patterns – things that start out one way and end up another, like the way you and Littlefoot relate to one and other as kids."

"What's that supposed to mean?" spat the triceratops, tapping a foot in irritation.

Doc sighed. "Hopin' I'm wrong. In any event, you're too volatile."

"So you're saying Littlefoot's gonna be the next 'Lone Dinosaur' and I'm stuck being ... me?" argued Cera.

"You could be a legend, just not a good one," Doc declared.

Cera scrunched her eyebrows, attempting to think her way around Doc's stubbornness. "Is this about the 'old dinosaur' comments? Don't take it personally, it's just how I am, especially now. Dad says I'm having 'adolescence' early, or something like that. If you think I was rude to you, you should hear what I told my dad just yesterday! As punishment, he sat on top of me until The Bright Circle was halfway across the sky. Tria was so upset herself that she didn't even bother to calm him down."

"So that's why you're nowhere to be found when he says you're being 'babysat'!" Littlefoot piped in. "You're literally right there, underneath his-"

"Can we not talk about that?!" Cera snapped.

Doc lowered his head beside Littlefoot. "Hop on, kid."

"Where are we going?" asked the youngster, climbing onto the grownup's head.

"Away," Doc answered without answering.

"Then I'm coming with you!" Cera insisted.

The Lone Dinosaur chuckled. "No choice, Missy."

With a sweep of his tail, he tore the dust from the canyon floor, enveloping Cera in a smokescreen.

As much as Littlefoot hated seeing Doc's unique way of rebuffing Cera, he stared in fascination. He'd never seen a tail manipulate wind like that. The gears were turning in his head.

Racked in a fit of coughing, Cera's lungs finally caught a break when the dust cleared. She looked around and not a soul was to be seen.

"I was trying to be NICE, you ungrateful BUMP HEAD!" Cera shouted after them.



Day 12

Mid Morning



Having found a quiet place at the centre of a clearing, Doc sat and closed his eyes in a meditative state.

"Um … what are we doing?" asked Littlefoot.

Doc cracked an eyelid and smirked. "We're imagining. kid."

His smirk grew at the sight of Littlefoot's perplexed expression. A grownup? Imagining? It was like stepping into a weird sleep story.

"I'm imagining situations I could find myself in," Doc explained. "For example, different techniques a sharptooth could use against me. Sometimes, they hunt in packs. They actually plan their combined attacks. That's why I try to plan ahead, imagining solutions to things they might do. When I've thought of a solution that seems to make sense, I practice it. Sometimes, it becomes a new technique."

"Ohhh … wow," Littlefoot commented. "You've probably thought of everything by now."

Doc chuckled. "Not everything. Amazes me how creative a kid can be. I'm sure you'll be imagining things I never considered."

Littlefoot plopped himself against the short grass, straining his brain to live up to that expectation.

"Don't stress about it," Doc encouraged. "Just relax. It's okay to let your mind wander sometimes."

Littlefoot nodded, although he found it hard not to pressure himself to impress his mentor. In time, he began to relax; feel the breeze; hear it whisper in the trees. It really was pleasant out there. As much as he loved his friends, he understood how Doc could find peace in silent solitude.

He twitched as something brushed against his face. Littlefoot opened his eyes and saw the culprit – a flock of leaves swirling in the wind. He'd seen such a thing before, but it always fascinated him. Why would wind decide to move in circles instead of the winding path it usually took? Sometimes, those circles were huge. Vicious. Deadly. He'd seen a few twisters ravaging the landscape – a testament of the unpredictable possibilities of the world he lived in.

Littlefoot's eyes slowly widened as they took on the glint of an epiphany. Doc glanced at the youngster, noticing the change in body language. He smiled. The kid was onto something.

"Let's hear it, Littlefoot," Doc encouraged.

The young longneck shrank in self-consciousness. "It's kind of silly. Probably impossible."

"Won't know until we try it," Doc coaxed.

Littlefoot sheepishly smiled up at him. "Well … remember when we lost Cera in the canyon?"



What is Littlefoot up to? Find out in ... well, not the next chapter that's for sure, but we'll get there. In the meantime, enjoy the journey.

Next: What happens when Cera decides she can't take 'no' for an answer? Find out in the following chapter, redundantly named 'Can't Take No For An Answer'. Don'tcha just love when writers put it all on the table? :D.

Did anyone pick up 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' reference?

Thanks for reading! Review and have a good ... whatever time of day or night it is ... wherever you live.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 07:28:32 PM by The Mr E »


The Mr E

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Chapter 2

Can't Take 'No' for an Answer



Day 12

Night



Littlefoot made his way across a meadow, allowing himself a moment to marvel at the stars peppering the black blanket of firmament. How he wished to go up there, Beyond the Mysterious Beyond, never imagining that the Beyond was coming, and once it came he would give a leg and a tail if it meant placating fate. The longneck's thoughts returned to Earth as a firefly landed on his nose, causing him to go cross-eyed as he admired its radiance. How in the world did it light up like that? Even Mr. Thicknose had never satisfied his curiosity. Apparently deciding that he had been sufficiently dazzled, the firefly took off, joining a host of others that spangled the meadow. He chuckled. Who said all the stars were in the sky? There were plenty of mysteries to be found even in The Great Valley. Still, if only ...

The young longneck's attention was drawn to paws pattering through the grass. Actually, it was more of a 'stomp' than a 'patter'. He didn't even have to look before identifying the stomper.

"Oh, hey Cera," Littlefoot greeted. "I hope you're not still mad about Doc."

"Me?" she chirped with unusual amicability. "No, not at all. I mean, we're friends, aren't we? Friends forgive each other. Friends make each other happy. Friends don't keep good stuff from other friends just 'cause they're stingy flat heads."

Littlefoot sighed before giving a gentle argument. "Look, Cera, Doc's made up his mind. If we're friends, then you'll find a way to be okay with that."

"Ooor ... you can teach me what Doc teaches you," Cera suggested in a chipper manner.

Littlefoot drew back. "Cera-"

"Come on!" she insisted. "You need a partner!"

"A ... partner?" asked Littlefoot.

"I mean, look at Doc," Cera argued. "You think he'd have that scar down his face if there were someone to watch his back?"

Littlefoot opened his mouth to respond.

"Someone besides Dara," Cera added.

The longneck closed his mouth.

"Now, here's the other option," she continued: "You ignore me; I follow you to all your training sessions, hoping to learn a thing or two; Doc gets mad; after a week, he decides you're not worth the trouble; he stops teaching you and then we're both unhappy. Is that what you want, Littlefoot? For us both to be unhappy?"

She ended her ultimatum with a great, big smile of gratingly insincere sweetness.

Littlefoot narrowed his eyes at her before turning and leaving. "Good. Night. Cera."

"So, I'll see you after tomorrow's lesson with Doc, am I right?" she called after him. "Wanna make sure the training's fresh in your memory!"

Littlefoot gave a long, exasperated groan. "Sure, fine, whatever!"

"That better not be sarcasm!" she warned, projecting her voice to reach him as he grew farther.

"When have you ever known me to be sarcastic?" Littlefoot projected back, perhaps a tad too loudly.

That concluded their conversation, and soon Littlefoot had disappeared into the forest.

Cera smiled to herself, quite pleased with her negotiation skills. However, Littlefoot's grumpiness somewhat bothered her. It was uncharacteristic, but understandable considering the way she pushed him. She decided to make it a point to be on her best behaviour when he passed on Doc's training. Maybe she would try to show a little more consideration for his thoughts and ... ugh ... feelings.

"And here 'Ol Bump Head said I wouldn't relate to him," Cera said to herself in self-righteous smug.



Day 25



"Hey! Not so hard, Cera!" Littlefoot warned, diving clear of the threehorn's charge.

So much for 'best behaviour'.

She skidded to a stop, snorting as she readied another attack. "Didn't Doc teach you to 'stone bathe'?"

"'Rock bathing' takes a long time to show results!" Littlefoot argued. "Besides, you break rocks on a regular basis!"

Cera raised her chin in pride. "Be that as it may, we're not gonna learn anything hitting like a pair of hatchlings."

"Doc says you have to learn the technique before going all-out," Littlefoot countered. "Even so, you don't 'go all out' on your friend!"

Cera huffed. "Says the longneck. We threehorns have our own way of doing things."

"If you don't wanna learn how to do it right, suit yourself. Go the wrong way."

Cera perked up upon recognising that last statement. "Ohh, I get it! You're afraid I'll hurt you after our big fight on our way to The Great Valley!"

Littlefoot stiffened slightly before glaring at her. That thought hadn't crossed his mind, but the memory was enough to make him switch mindsets. This wasn't a friendly tussle anymore. Not quite a fight either, but he wanted to teach her a lesson. If he knew Cera, and he did, she was the prehistoric equivalent of a one-trick pony. She charged, she headbutted, and did little more. He could see her in his mind's eye: her stride, her turn rate, her final head jerk, her slightly sluggish response time when it came to moving targets. His thoughts dilated as he focused. The imaginary Cera slowed in his head. He saw her every footstep and how easy it was to interrupt her mid-gallop. How easy it was to bypass her reflexes with the unexpected.

He gave a mild gasp. So, this was Advanced Imagination, First Thought. Wobbly, unrefined, like a hatchling taking its initial steps, but after a couple dozen sessions of practice, it was a start. He doubted he could get so far with Second Thought, or even wrap his mind around much more than Cera. Luckily, she wasn't a particularly complicated opponent.

"I'm not afraid of you," Littlefoot declared. "Never was."

She snorted. "Then prove it."

Littlefoot wordlessly accepted her challenge, lowering himself in a battle stance.

Cera grinned: finally, some real action!

She charged. He responded in kind. What? Was he gonna ram her with that flat skull of his? What a joke! To think she believed that Littlefoot of all dinosaurs had a shot at outfighting her. Maybe threehorns were just better warriors than longnecks, full stop. Maybe there was nothing useful he could teach her! Even so, this would be fu-

...

Literally 2 Seconds Later ...

...

Cera found herself lying on her back, blinking at the blue sky. It all happened so fast, yet she wasn't quite sure what 'it all' entailed. Her mind took a moment to piece together what led her to that position ... before rejecting it in the mental equivalent of throwing up.

Littlefoot broke the blue backdrop as he stood over her, smirking.

She frowned. "You're lucky I tripped on a tree foot!"

He made a show of looking around for a root. "Tree foot? Let's see ... Ah! There it is! The closest foot: about twenty steps away!"

"Yeah? Well ... well a rock then!" she argued.

He simply continued to stare at her. His smug little face was really getting on her nerves.

"Oh, come on!" Cera blurted as she rolled onto her feet. "You expect me to believe you baited me with a false charge, then dodged at the very last heartbeat, bumped me with your hip and swept your tail under my feet at the same time?"

"Uhhh ... yep," Littlefoot answered simply.

"There is no way you're that smart or coordinated!" Cera shot back.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Littlefoot stated, before something caught his attention and he silently stared at the ground.

Cera followed his gaze. "It's called grass, Littlefoot. We're supposed to walk on it, or eat it ... but it's not going anywhere, so you can keep staring if you want."

"Don't you feel that?" asked the longneck.

Cera paused. "A tiny earthshake, maybe?"

"You know how adults in a herd can keep track of each other by feeling their footsteps?" Littlefoot asked. "Some longnecks take that a step farther. It's called 'Earth Whispering'. They use it to send messages through the ground by stomping. Doc's been teaching me what the different stomp patterns mean. Gotta go, bye!"

He turned tail and dashed away.

"Hey!" protested Cera, running after him. "We're not done here!"

"Doc's telling me I'm supposed to meet him in a quarter nap!" answered the longneck.

"As if! You've already had your training for the day! You're just making excuses! Get back here!"

After sprinting for a minute or so, Cera was forced to a panting stop. Littlefoot kept going with no indication that he planned on resting soon. This was unacceptable! 25 days training and already his stamina made her feel like an old thicknose! No. This had to stop.

...

Fifteen minutes later ...

...

"If you can figure out how to win without fighting, it's best you go for it," Doc stated.

He waited for Littlefoot to ask 'how', but the youngster was uncannily lethargic.

"Pardon me?" asked Littlefoot. "Oh, how do I do that? I could try talking to them."

The Lone Dinosaur sighed. "I strongly suggest you don't. You can scare off half the sharpteeth you meet with this."

Doc raised his tail and cracked it like a whip, splitting the air with a thunderclap that made the Earth shudder. He had Littlefoot's full attention now. The youngster had heard him snap his tail before, but not like this. Littlefoot could still feel the shock wave in his bones!

"We can't roar like sharpteeth, but we can make thunder with our tails," Doc went on. "A longneck's power can be judged by his thunder. If your thunder's strong, a sharptooth might think twice about fighting you. Weak thunder will encourage them to attack. You're too young to make thunder, but if you practise now it'll make a big difference. It travels far, so be careful about it. Can you guess why?"

The young longneck thought for a moment. "Because ... all the sharpteeth near enough to hear it will now you're there. They'll also know you're a strong fighter, so they might come in numbers to overpower you."

Doc couldn't help the proud grin that parted his lips. "Exactly."

The kid smiled, pleased with his deduction. He was attentive, but the exhaustion was still in his eyes.

"Littlefoot, you look drained," Doc noted.

"Yeah," admitted Littlefoot. "I ran some of the way."

Doc shook his head. "Not 'tired', 'drained'. You've been drained for the past week or so."

Uh oh.

"Well, my friends and I have been playing pretty hard," Littlefoot explained, telling himself that 'training' and 'playing' were practically the same thing.

Doc lowered his head closer to Littlefoot, studying his scales. "And those bruises: 'playing', huh?"

"Uhh ..."

Doc's eyes flicked to something behind Littlefoot, drawing from years of experience spotting sharpteeth among the greenery. "Come out, Cera."

Littlefoot spun around. 'Cera?'

Where?

After a few seconds, the unseen threehorn answered: "Why? It's a free valley. I kind of like it in here."

"It looks like green food, but you're hiding under an itchy bush," Doc stated. "Then again, you've probably figured that out by now."

A few moments passed as Cera stubbornly refused to leave the bush. Then she burst from the green and rolled across the floor with much angry screaming in an effort to quell the itching.

Littlefoot's reaction was quick. "Uh, over there! There's a water hole! It'll help stop the itching!"

Cera made a beeline for the water hole, managing a "Like, duh!" in spite of her panic. The threehorn plunged beneath the surface and Littlefoot dashed to the edge, followed by a somewhat less concerned Doc.

"She's been under for a little while," Littlefoot noted. "Is she okay?"

Doc stared at the water for a moment. "No. She's drownin'."

He quickly dipped his tail in, drawing out a sputtering Cera who seemed to cough out more water than air. Once he'd set her down, Littlefoot raised his tail to thump her back and help remove liquid from her lungs. He stopped himself upon realising how much she would hate that. He looked away, knowing that staring would only compound her humiliation. Doc gave her no such grace, watching the threehorn with unamused nonchalance.

After coughing out her lungs and then some, Cera breathlessly whirled to face Doc. "What are YOU staring at?"

He only blinked, refusing to give her the dignity of an answer.

"Fine! Whatever!" she snapped.

Cera turned to light into Littlefoot, only to realise that he wasn't staring. The threehorn calmed down somewhat. Seriously? Had she been in his place, she might have outright laughed! What was wrong with him? Cera's mental tirade came to an abrupt stop when she took a good look at her reasoning. Nothing was 'wrong' with him. They were friends, and he was attempting to preserve dignity.

Cera's expression softened. In her moment of sobriety, she flinched upon noticing the bruises she'd inflicted during their 'training'.

"Hey, you okay?" asked Cera.

Littlefoot traced her gaze to his bruises and gave a small smile. "Mm hm. It only hurts when I breathe."

Cera rolled her eyes. "Again with the sarcasm. That is sarcasm, right?"

"You got me," Littlefoot admitted.

"So are you okay or not?" asked a mildly impatient Cera.

"It's not so bad. You can break rocks, but Littlefoot's a different story."

Cera almost gave a good-natured laugh. "Oh, so you think that you can talk about yourself like that just because you may be the next Lone ... Dinosaur ..."

The threehorn trailed off as she noticed Doc studying their interaction in deep thought.

"Okay. Let's begin," he instructed.

"I'm not going anywhere," Cera declared.

Doc nodded. "I know. So, let's see what Littlefoot taught you."

Littlefoot gave Cera a self-conscious glance. She was strangely stoic, but he caught a slight, high-pitched noise escaping her nose. It took him a second to realise that she was repressing an excited squeal.

"How did you know?" asked Littlefoot.

"The scuff marks on her scales," Doc replied. "She's been stone bathing wrong. Too aggressively. Let's hope this doesn't come back to bite us later."

"Hey! 'This' is standing right here!" Cera protested.

Much to their surprise, Doc allowed himself a chuckle.



Thanks for reading! If you're silently enjoying this story, I'm pleased to know it! ... Or imagine it. Of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to review!

As you've seen, within this story's continuity, dinosaurs measure time with 'heartbeats' (the equivalent of seconds) and 'naps' (about an hour). Yes, it's uncannily akin to human time measurement, but there's a reason for that ;). In my head canon, Adults such as Mr. Thicknose teach the children to measure 'heartbeats' and 'naps' with surprising accuracy, although their measurements are never quite perfect. The position of the Sun helps them gauge naps. Curiously, 'seconds', 'minutes' and some other familiar time quantities are still a part of their vocabulary, though they usually use them in a very loose sense. For example: "I'll be there in a minute" means "I'll be there in a while". The cause for that will be explained later. Though they prefer their own analog system for more precise measurements, heartbeats and naps can be used loosely as well, but I'm rambling so I'll shut up now :).

Next, Doc's training is great for strength, speed and reflexes, regardless of species, but there's one problem: it was especially designed for longnecks. Despite her best efforts, Cera can't help but fall behind Littlefoot. In a valley full of peaceful leafeaters, there's no one else to teach her the art of threehorn combat ... or is there? Find out in 'Cera's Teacher'.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2021, 06:40:12 PM by The Mr E »


The Mr E

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Chapter 3

Cera's Teacher



Day 55

Evening

Mr. Thicknose raised his head from a pond to see Cera storming towards it.

"Good evening, Cera," he smiled.

She seemed completely oblivious of his presence as she grumbled to herself. "Stupid longneck training, stupidly made to work best for longnecks 'cause it's stupid!"

Cera dunked her beak beneath the surface, drinking with a vengeance. Mr. Thicknose raised an eyebrow. That was the first time he'd seen a dinosaur chew water. Having satisfied her thirst, she tore her face from the pond. Mr. Thicknose closed his eyes as she gave the water a good stomp, inadvertently sending a big splash into his face. She marched away from the waterside, vigourously unleashing her horn thrusts on thin air.

Mr. Thicknose turned to see what she doing. "Practicing with your horns, I see?"

Cera paused, eyeing the old dinosaur as if noticing him for the first time. Then she rolled her eyes.

"If you can 'see' it, then why are you asking?" Cera sassed.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," the elder remarked.

That familiar statement gave Cera pause. It seemed everything she said fell under the 'better ignored' category.

"So who, or what, is your imaginary victim?"

"Littlefoot," she grunted.

Mr. Thicknose froze. "I was under the impression that you two had a, uh ... relatively healthy friendship."

"Well ... yeah," Cera agreed, catching herself. "We do, but Doc's teaching us how to fight but I can't keep up 'cause he's teaching like a longneck, and I'm not a longneck! Their tails are different and they don't have horns, which means I gotta work extra hard to get nowhere! I'm the 'tough girl', but every time we spar Littlefoot gets the better of me!" She sighed away some of the tension as she glared at the ground. "It's not like I wanna crush him or anything. It's just no fun when I don't even have a chance."

"Hm," grunted the thicknose. "I knew you two were up to something. Fascinating. Perhaps I can be of assistance."

Cera looked him up and down. "How are you gonna make me anything remotely closer to a better fighter? No offence, but you're basically a threehorn minus the 'three horns', the attitude and, well, pretty much everything that makes a threehorn worth being anything."

Apparently putting 'no offence' in front of her statement didn't guarantee a lack of offence, seeing as Mr. Thicknose was giving her the same stare Doc and half the grownups did on a regular basis. Her frequent mental retort of 'What do they know?' was starting to evolve into 'Maybe they're onto something'.

Cera kicked a pebble, kicking herself on the inside. "Forget I said that."

He seemed genuinely surprised. "Is that an apology?"

Did she have to spell it out for him? Cera groaned, wrestling her pride.

"Yeah, I guess so."

Mr. Thicknose smiled. "It would seem someone's growing up! How about a little background before we begin?"

Cera withheld an impatient sigh. He was doing that thing grownups did when they asked a question after making up their minds to go ahead regardless of the answer. This had better not be long or/and boring. Ohh, who was she kidding?

"When I was little, a group of threehorn far walkers passed through the valley," Mr. Thicknose explained. "They bore the markings of warriors who had barely scraped through a recent battle. Those wounds ... I'd never seen anything like it: not from sharpteeth, or leafeaters."

Cera's interest was piqued. This actually sounded interesting! Well, there was a first time for everything.

"Did they ever say who they were fighting?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Regrettably, I was too shy to ask. However, shyness wasn't enough to keep me from watching them. Their fighting style was incredible! It was more than just running head first into opponents. They could swing their horns like a fast biter's claws, parrying blows, splitting boulders. I didn't know a threehorn could move the way they did! On evenings, I would watch their shadows as they practiced, and try to make my shadow do the same things to be sure I was getting it right. Of course, it wasn't much use to me. I'm not a threehorn, but I could imagine. In time their wounds healed. They marched out to face the unknown and never returned."

"Well? What're we waiting for?" Cera blurted, nearly breaking her 'tough girl' M.O. in her excitement.

The thicknose chuckled. "Come with me."

Cera eagerly trotted up to him as he took a few steps that ended with them standing over the pond.

"That was the shortest 'come with me' I've had in my life," Cera commented.

Again, Mr. Thicknose chuckled like a kid pulling a B grade prank. "Pardon my sense of humour."

Cera couldn't stop the 'What sense of humour?' from popping into her head, but at least she kept her mouth closed.

"Okay, so we're staring at our reflections in the water," Cera stated. "Am I missing something?"

Mr. Thicknose swung his head to the side as if wielding horns. "Try to mimic my reflection."

Cera mouthed an 'ohh' of realisation before attempting to copy him.

"Keep your horns perpendicular to the imaginary target, like so," Mr. Thicknose instructed.

She gave it another go.

He smiled. "Better."

Mr. Thicknose proceeded to carry her through a few more basic swings, jabs and parries until the departing sunlight brought the session to a close.



Day 81



"How do you say 'let's be friends' in sharptooth?" asked Littlefoot.

Chomper's answer came in friendly croon.

Littlefoot blinked. "That's it?"

The young sharptooth thought for a moment, trying to find the best way to explain. "You know how 'huh?' means 'what?' in leafeater, or how 'mm hm' means 'yes'? The sharptooth language has lots of little sounds that aren't actual words, but they mean stuff. For example, if you want someone to know you don't like something, you can just growl. It sometimes helps if you point or at least look at the thing to make it clear what you don't like."

"Interesting ..." Littlefoot commented. "So, how do you say 'we don't have to fight'?"

"That's easy!" Chomper replied, before crooning again. "The same sound would work. It's a friendly noise, but if you want a sharptooth to take you even more seriously, you can show them how much you know your stuff." He released a combination of croons, purrs and soft growls that sounded anything but 'easy'. "You can say anything with a growl, a whine or any other noise, as long as you have the pattern right. However, the sound you use lets other sharpteeth know if you're friendly, unfriendly or something else. Using certain sounds for certain parts of what you say adds more emotional meaning and, um ... texture. That's the best way I can put it."

Littlefoot nodded. "Okay, here it goes." He attempted to repeat the complex sound.

Chomper gave him a blank stare before fiddling with his tiny claws. "Um ... you see ... if you say that to any sharptooth of any kind or age, girl or boy, so long as they can speak they will tell their friends, family and acquaintances, who will also tell their friends, family and acquaintances. Then they will all form a pack and hunt you down along with anyone they think is your friend ... or family ... or acquaintance. You can go into hiding, but they'll keep hunting you 'till the day they die."

The longneck's jaw dropped. "Chomper, what did I say?"

The small sharptooth shook his head with eyes squeezed shut. "Probably best you don't know, but I'm gonna have a hard time un-hearing it."

"Sorry," Littlefoot apologised. "You know what? I'm still gonna ask you to teach me everything you can, but maybe we should work together when we're dealing with bad sharpteeth. You can do most of the talking. I prefer not to fight, but chances are we'll have to. You might wanna think about training with Cera and me."

Chomper's face lit up. "You really think Doc'll let me? Aw, that'd be awesome! I really wanna, except Doc gave me nightmares so I'll need a few days to work up the courage."

"That's great. Hold on ... Doc gave you what?"

Littlefoot caught a flash of motion by the side of his eye.

In a blink, his tail had swatted an incoming coniferous seed out of the air. Chomper's eyes went wide at his razor sharp reflexes.

"For a second there I thought you forgot we were playing 'Stop the Seed'," Cera commented with a smile.

Littlefoot snatched up the seed with his tail, tossing it into the air before casually catching it in his mouth. With the exception of Cera, the others exchanged glances. For a four-legged dinosaur, such dexterity was no small feat.

"Sorry, guys," Littlefoot replied, pitching the seed between the two teams. "Got a little distracted."

"Don't worry about it," Cera shrugged.

Chomper and Ruby looked at each other. They expected a sardonic remark. At least a 'hmph!' or an eye-roll. A 'don't worry about it' without a hint of annoyance wasn't part of Cera's repertoire of responses. It would have been less conspicuous if it hadn't been a growing trend lately.

"Are you feeling okay?" asked Ruby, stepping up to Cera and reaching out to test her temperature. "'Cause when you feel okay you're a bit ... different from this."

"I'm fine!" Cera snapped, wincing before tempering her voice. "I, um ..." she seemed to squeeze the next word through her teeth, "appreciate your concern, but I'm okay."

"You haven't been coming to training," Littlefoot added. "That's not like you."

"Who says I haven't been coming to training?" countered the threehorn, raising her head in cryptic pride. "I remember everything Doc taught me about skin, bone and muscle strengthening. I just wanted to get a little space so I could sort something out."

Littlefoot slowly nodded as he examined her. Based on the mild bruises and developing muscles, he already knew that she was still training, but he seldom caught her doing it. Why the secrecy?

"Oh, and Ruby? Do me a favour and stop holding back," Cera requested.

The pink fast runner knit her brow in question.

Cera finally gave that eye-roll. "You're a fast runner, Ruby. It's, uh ... nice, I guess, that you slow down so the other team can keep up, but I want to show you guys a little something, so I expect you to try your best."

"If that's okay with you, it's okay with me," Ruby agreed, looking past Cera. "But ..."

The threehorn followed Ruby's gaze to see Ducky and Spike guarding their team's goal, marked by two rocks on either side. Ducky perked up, noticing the two staring at her brother and her.

She patted the spiketail on whom she sat. "Spike, I think it is time to play!"

His only response was a loud snore. He had slipped into a nap a few minutes prior, and it didn't look like that was going to change anytime soon.

"Spike!" Ducky whined. "We need to guard the goal, we do, we do!"

Cera smiled up at Ruby. "You won't say it, so I will. You have us outnumbered, and my team is at a slight disadvantage."

Ducky might have been mildly disheartened if she could hear Cera over Spike's snoring.

"Like I said, I've got few things to show you, so bring it," Cera coaxed.

"If you say so," Littlefoot conceded. "You ready, team?"

Chomper, Ruby and Petrie voiced their agreement.

"Okay, then," Littlefoot nodded. "Splash!"

"Wait ... wha?" asked Cera.

Team Littlefoot split up while the longneck alone charged for the seed.

"Remember when I suggested we plan our movements as a team?" asked Littlefoot.

Cera exploded towards the seed. "Remember how I ignored you?"

Ever since his training yielded notable results, Littlefoot had grown accustomed to outrunning Cera. This time, she shattered his expectations. She was fast. Strangely enough, she was quicker than he was, but there was one player who was faster.

The longneck lowered his head and Ruby sprang over him, just as they practiced.

The fast runner quickly kicked the seed past Cera and proceeded to leap over the threehorn. "Be careful what you wish fo- W-whAAAah! Oof!"

Cera had reared as high as her legs would carry her, bumping Ruby's foot with her head and sabotaging the fast runner's jump. Brutish? Yes, but over time, Stop the Seed had more or less evolved into American football ... if not slightly rowdier.

The runner landed on her belly, but the seed was already hurtling towards the goal.

"Ducky, Spike! Look alive!" Cera commanded.

Ducky yelped and abandoned ship as Spike jumped awake with a grunt, looking to and fro before the seed landed in his mouth.

"Nice save! ... I think," Cera commended. "Now pass it over!"

Spike blinked down at the seed in his mouth.

"Oh boy," Cera huffed in annoyance.

If anyone knew anything about Spike, it was that when something even remotely edible landed in his mouth, chances were no one was getting it back. This particular seed species qualified.

Ducky pried the seed from her brother's jaws before kicking it towards Cera with all her might. Of course, being mere several inches tall, 'all her might' didn't take it very far, but Cera darted in, bouncing the seed on her nose once and headbuting it under the legs of an incoming Ruby. Startled by the speed of the seed, the fast runner stumbled and ultimately tumbled to the ground once more.

Petrie swooped and blocked the seed with his body, even if it knocked the wind out of him.

Forgetting his place as goalkeeper, eager Chomper rushed to kick it. "I got it! I got it!"

He caught sight of Cera rampaging his way.

"AAAUGH! NEVERMIND! I don't got it! I NEVER got it! I WASN'T EVEN THINKING OF GOTTING IT!"

In spite of his claim, Chomper kicked the seed away more out of self-defense than anything else.

The threehorn headbutted it back, only for Littlefoot to send it hurtling forward with his tail. They bolted for it before it even came to rest. Cera flashed a grin, making as if to dart left. He moved to block her. He was expecting a more direct approach. Ah, there it was. When they reached the seed at the same instant, Cera leaned over it in a headbutt intended to shove Littlefoot out of the way. What Littlefoot did surprised even him as he found his forehead colliding with hers on instinct.

Cera only laughed as she pressed into his throbbing skull. "Still pretending to be a threehorn, huh?"

She jerked her head upwards, tipping Littlefoot's front end into the air. Thinking quickly, he braced his fore paws on her crest, attempting to keep her at bay.

Cera blinked before shoving harder, past the seed. The longneck's feet skinned grass from soil as he was forced backwards. Then he stopped, paws firmly rooted.

"So ... that's your surprise?" grunted the longneck. "You've been training in secret so I wouldn't realise how good you got until you were better than me?"

"Yup," Cera confirmed, before giving a sharp shove to no avail.

"So, who's been training you?" asked Littlefoot.

Cera snorted. "What makes you think I didn't train myself?"

"You were having a hard time adjusting to longneck routines." He stopped to think. "Soo ... did Mr. Thicknose teach you to watch your back?"

She hiccupped. "How did-? Watch my-? NO!"

Glancing back, Cera saw Ruby kicking the seed into her goal, right past Spike who'd made an admirable attempt to dive for it.

Cera's muscles seemed to deflate as she allowed Littlefoot to bring his fore paws to the ground.

"Con-" she choked. "Cong ... grrrr ... gratulations, guys. You weren't supposed to win this one, but you surprised me, especially Petrie."

The flyer blinked in confusion. "M ... me? What me do?"

Cera squinted at him as though it were painfully obvious. "You stopped the seed. In the air. With your body. It was moving really fast and you knew it wouldn't be pretty, but you did it anyway."

The flyer stared at her, along with everyone besides a smirking Littlefoot.

Cera's gaze flit across their faces with an upraised eyebrow. "What?"

"Me not remember last time you complemented me," the flyer stated.

"Maybe you don't remember it because there was no 'it' to remember," Ruby suggested.

Cera huffed. "Yeah? Well ..." She mumbled the last part. "Well, I guess you'll have to get used to it ..."

At that point, Littlefoot was grinning, deeply pleased that Cera was maturing into more of a pal and less of a headache. His grin dimmed as he spotted a small flyer in the trees.

It was watching them.

Shortly after Littlefoot stared back, it diverted its bulging, black eyes elsewhere. Shy but inquisitive creatures, he would feel their eyes glue to the back of his head once he looked away again.

Petrie traced Littlefoot's gaze and shuddered. "Flying nibblers: they give me creeps."

"But they're flyers, just like you," Chomper reasoned.

Petrie shook his head vigourously. "Not like me. They got sharp teeth. Tiny sharp teeth, but they little bigger than me, so me have reason to be scared."

"But they only eat creepy crawlers," argued Chomper. "You're not scared of me, are you?"

"You friend," Petrie countered. "Me can't make friends with nibblers."

"Perhaps if you talk to them, they'll talk back and turn out pretty friendly," Ruby suggested.

Petrie shook his head once more. "They no talk. They only stare. Me no think they can talk. Uncle Pterano say they eat dead things in Mysterious Beyond. Not here though, for some reason."

"Uncle Pterano said a lot of things," Cera reminded. "... Although, Mr. Thicknose told me the same thing, and he's pretty reliable these days."

"I think they're cute," Ruby stated. "Besides, if they weren't around to deal with pesky creepy crawlers, we'd have to deal with more pesky creepy crawlers instead."

"But they so many!" blurted a flustered Petrie. "There never be so many nibblers little while ago! Why more coming here? And creepy crawlers still bite us! Nibblers should do better job!"

As if to prove the point, Littlefoot felt the tiny tickle of a creepy crawler climbing up his leg. He looked to find nothing more than a beetle, and not the biting kind. True to Petrie's complaint, the nibbler ignored it. However, he couldn't blame the creature. It was unable to see the bug at that angle. Littlefoot decided to leave the crawler be as it settled on his side. It wasn't bothering him much, anyway.

Petrie painted a scenario. "What if me bump into one while flying some day, it get angry and bite me? Me not like them!"

Cera shook her head with a sigh. Perhaps this was some kind of flyer-on-flyer prejudice.

"It's not like we can just chase them all out of here," Cera argued.

"Me no care! Me only feel safe when they GONE!" exploded Petrie.

"That's not what the valley is about," Littlefoot reminded. "Unless they cause trouble, they're welcome to stay."

A mild look of betrayal touched Petrie's frustrated face. "You too, Littlefoot? You no think they too creepy?"

Littlefoot hesitated. "Wellll ... okay, I gotta admit they're a little creepy, but it's not like we should judge them for it ... I think ..."

The beetle briefly fluttered, creating the slightest of sounds.

The nibbler snapped to attention. Like a shot, it swooped in.

"LOOK OUT!" Petrie screamed.

Littlefoot ducked. As he did so, the nibbler made a tight loop around his body, diving down his side, zipping under his belly before he finished his crouch and flitting back into the tree. He felt the rush of wind, but it never touched him, not even a tap. However, there was one thing it apparently touched that he had failed to notice.

"Huh ... where'd it get that scrumptious nugget?" asked Chomper.

Littlefoot looked to see the creature nibbling on a beetle identical to the one on his side. When he spun to examine his flank, his jaw dropped.

"No. Way," Littlefoot gaped.

"What?" asked Cera.

"That nibbler snatched the creepy crawler off my side, yet it couldn't even see it!" Littlefoot gushed. "It musta heard the crawler when it flapped its wings, but that thing barely even made a sound!"

"Maybe they have really good hearing," Chomper theorised.

"You SEE? You SEE?" Petrie ranted. "That SCARIEST thing me ever see! NOTHING fly like that, except in terrifying SLEEP STORY!"

The nibbler twittered as it seemed to glance in their direction, at least from Petrie's perspective.

He pointed a claw quivering in outrage at the nibbler. "It LAUGHING at us TOO!"

The others decided to give their winged friend a moment as his little lungs hyperventilated away the agitation. After about half a minute, he calmed down enough to give the nibbler a jealous glower.

"... But me have to admit, me impressed," he stated. "You think Petrie could fly like that?"

"Maybe with training," Cera shrugged, perking up at a thought. "Y'know, it'd be really awesome if we all trained together! Would come in handy if we run into some big, ugly sharptooth ... which we always do."

Chomper gave her a glare and folded his small arms.

"Uh ... no offence?" Cera offered.

"Y'know, just 'cause you say 'no offence' doesn't make what you say any less offensive," Chomper argued.

Cera rolled her eyes upon hearing that past thought put into words. "In that case, I'm sorry. Sharpteeth aren't actually ugly. It was just an insult to the unfriendly ones, so take it or leave it."

Chomper narrowed his eyes at her before shrugging. He supposed a somewhat curt 'I'm sorry' was better than nothing at all.

"But we are not big enough to fight sharpteeth," Ducky countered.

"Unless you plan on staying a kid the rest of your life, we will be," Cera easily parried.

They fell into a brief, thoughtful silence. There was no denying that she had a point, but some of them still had their misgivings.

"Training look hard and painful. Opposite of fun, really," Petrie commented.

"I see where you're coming from, but you know what's really fun?" asked Cera. "Being able to run longer and faster than you ever thought you could! Hitting hard enough to make a stupi- uh, a bad sharptooth think twice about eating leafeater again! Having scales so thick that you can't even feel their teeth! Chomper! Chomp me!"

He hesitated. "Uhh ..."

"Go ahead. I've got stone scales, I can take it!" she insisted.

The sharptooth paused before gingerly nipping her ankle.

"Harder!" Cera commanded.

Startled, Chomper latched his jaws around her leg.

Cera smiled proudly. "See? I can't feel a thi- Okay, that actually hurts. Lemme go. Lemme go!"

He released her, guiltily fiddling with his claws. "Sorry."

"Eh, it's my fault, I guess," Cera admitted. "So maybe my stone scales still have a way to go, but actually this proves my point! What if we needed to survive a bite from an unfriendly sharptooth?"

Petrie shook his head before examining the fragile skin of his wings. "Make no difference for me. Flyers not too tough. Me no think stone scales help us much."

Cera snorted in annoyance as she ran over to Spike, who was on the verge of eating the seed. Hesitation aside, no one could deny that training made her faster than ever. Just before the spiketail could snap up the seed, he found his snack snatched from under his nose as Cera scooped it with her horn. His face fell in disappointment.

The threehorn made her closing statement. "As much as I'd love for you guys to just say 'yes', I won't push you. Just think about it, okay?"

Ruby tapped a claw to her chin. "Hm ... I'll see what I can learn from Doc and Mr. Thicknose, but there's only so much a fast runner can learn from leafeaters who aren't fast runners. My parents are good at this kind of thing, so my best chance at getting good would be learning more of this kind of thing from my parents. I'll have to visit them more often."

Cera smiled. "There we go!"

Littlefoot glanced at the flying nibbler. Once again, it looked away. He hated how they did that. As much as he'd defended their neutrality, their behaviour niggled at his instincts.

"Heads up, Littlefoot!"

The Longneck turned to her. "Huh? YIKES!"

He barely managed to duck in time after she'd headbutted the seed at him with alarming speed. In retrospect, he realised that, having won, his team was supposed to serve the seed first. She was merely being so 'polite' as to give it to him. Nonetheless, he had to ask.

"Cera! WHY?!"

"I thought your reflexes were supposed to be faster than that!" she argued.

"They are! I was distracted!"

"How is that my fault?" the threehorn shrugged.

Littlefoot wanted to yell at her a little more. Instead, he decided to laugh it off. She was coming along, but she was still Cera. He couldn't expect her to mellow overnight. Even so, he had a feeling she'd always be a bit of a fireball.

Cera raised an eyebrow at his laughter. "Are you okay?"

He nodded.

She nodded back with a somewhat impatient smile. "Good. So what are you waiting for? Get the seed! I wanna play!"



Thanks for reading! Review and let me know that you think.

If you wanna know what the 'flying nibblers' are, just google 'anurognathus'. They will melt your heart, chill your spine or both. They may not be around anymore, but you can find a reasonable modern day substitute by googling the 'great potoo'. A look at those birds will probably have the same effect.

Next: The Great Valley is a place of comfort and familiarity ... until Littlefoot discovers a mystery that makes him question the nature of his home. What will he discover? Find out in 'The Cornerstone'.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2021, 06:47:01 PM by The Mr E »


The Mr E

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Chapter 4

The Cornerstone



Littlefoot rolled his eyes at Cera's spunk before scampering off to find the seed. It had gone pretty far, and he found himself sliding down the bank of a riverbed to find it. During The Days of Rising Waters, that river often overflowed onto the plains, but at the moment it was parched to the point where cracks broke the crusty soil between the water-smoothed stones. The boulders nearing the valley's wall stood on stalks whittled away by the water ... with the exception of one.

A 'Cornerstone'.

Everyone dubbed these stones as such because a number of them could be found at the corners of the valley. Roughly the same size each, they didn't look notably remarkable, except they never changed.

Ever.

Yes, rocks weren't particularly subject to change, but Littlefoot would have expected the rushing water to at least eat away at the Cornerstone a little. Albeit a fascinating little mystery, it paled in comparison to the more exciting aspects of his life. Besides, the world was full of unexplainables. The world was an unexplainable. Why waste time pondering the eccentricities of an otherwise unremarkable rock?

Now, where was that seed? Aha! Next to the Cornerstone ... under that boulder that Grandma and Grandpa described as a 'disaster waiting to happen'. After countless years of corrosion, its base was nothing but a tiny stalk supporting the weight of at least one and a half full-grown longnecks. It stood there, waiting, daring someone or something to disturb its balancing act and send it crashing to the ground. However, it had withstood earthquakes and Rising Waters after Rising Waters. Why would that day be any different?

Littlefoot darted to the rock before inching beneath it to reach the seed. He may not have thought that one little longneck would be the last straw for the tiptoeing rock, but it wouldn't hurt to be cautious.

"What's the hold up?" Cera called from the river's bank.

Littlefoot raised his head to glance at her, wincing when he bumped it against the rock. He honestly thought he'd be less clumsy after all that training.

He opened his mouth to respond when a cracking sound made his blood run cold. He'd barely even touched it!

Crawling from beneath the rock, he hoped it would fall in the opposite direction. No such fortune. He could see the shadow leaning towards him! Once he had the room, his crawl turned to a sprint.

*THOOM!*

He dropped and covered his head with his paws as he heard chunks of rock raining around him, felt them sending tremors through the ground, but ... he was still alive.

Littlefoot looked around to see that the boulder had shattered. It must have hit something, but what? Just ahead he got his answer among the rubble.

The longneck gaped. Even when he heard the debris being shoved aside as someone made their way towards him, he continued to stare.

"Littlefoot!" Cera yelled, having removed the last rock in her path. When he ignored her, she headbutted him in a burst of rage. "What were you thinking, tipping over that 'disaster waiting to happen'! You're the luckiest longneck alive! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?!"

The longneck regarded her with distracted eyes before pointing a paw at the Cornerstone. "Do you see that?"

She followed his gaze. "The Cornerstone?"

"It's three times smaller than the boulder that smashed into it, yet it didn't break. Not even a scratch. They look like they're made of the same type of rock, but- Ow!"

She'd headbutted him again, nostrils flaring. "You're worried about that? We've been through countless life-threatening situations, and I will NOT have my best friend crushed for being STUPID!"

That caught Littlefoot's full attention. "Wait a minute, what was that last part?"

The threehorn raised an eyebrow. "'I will not have one of my best friends crushed for being stupid'."

Littlefoot shook his head. "That's not what you said."

"Don't tell me what I said!" Cera snapped before whirling to leave. "C'mon. Now we gotta find another seed, and I have training to do!"

Littlefoot followed her, deciding that it would be easier to pry a tree sweet from Spike's mouth than to bring out Cera's mushy side when she'd decided to disavow its existence. He glanced back at the cornerstone. Maybe he'd have a better chance of getting some answers from that thing.



Day 81

Night



"This is the place," Littlefoot stated.

Doc's tremour-inducing footsteps stopped behind the youngster. "A Cornerstone?"

"Yup."

The older longneck examined the scene, noticing the rubble around the Cornerstone. Knowing of Littlefoot's curious streak, and aware of the infamous boulder that was bound to fall sooner or later, he put two and two together.

"It didn't break," Doc commented.

Littlefoot nodded. "Exactly, even though they appeared to be the same kind of rock."

"So you want me to break it? Find out what's inside?" guessed Doc.

Again, the young longneck nodded.

Doc paused. "They say it's bad luck to trouble the Cornerstones."

Littlefoot's face fell. He'd heard about that, and he supposed he should have been more wary after the Saurus Rock adventure, but ...

"But what if that's what we're supposed to think," Littlefoot queried.

Doc stared at him. Maybe, just maybe, the youngster was onto something, even if he hadn't a clue what that 'something' was.

"What are you getting at?" asked Doc.

Littlefoot exhaled in thought. "Honestly? I'm not really sure. You know what those Rainbow Faces said before they left the valley? 'Keep asking questions, it sharpens the mind'. Then they ..." he hesitated, pawing at a rock in mild uneasiness. "I'm pretty sure I'm not crazy, but then again no one who's crazy thinks they're crazy."

"You never gave me reason to think you were crazy," Doc assured. "A bit impulsive maybe, but not crazy. Why would you wonder 'bout that?"

"Well ... because the Rainbow Faces disappeared into the sky!" Littlefoot blurted. "This light just- just came down! It lifted them into some kind of star and then the star flew off into the night!"

Doc squinted at him. "You sure it wasn't a dream?"

"Dreams can be confusing, but the confusion wears off shortly after you wake up. That wasn't a dream! They spoke like they ... knew things: things none of us have ever known! They spoke like they ... weren't ... us."

"Then what do you think they were?"

Littlefoot shook his head in frustration. "I have no idea, and that bothers me! For all we know, they're the ones who brought The Stone of Cold Fire in the first place."

Brow wrinkled, Doc looked to the rock and back to the kid. "And that has to do with the Cornerstone how?"

"Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't," Littlefoot admitted. "All I know is ... there are things about the world that we don't understand. Big things that we might be better off knowing. The Rainbow Faces are gone and I can't figure out who or what they were, but maybe I can figure out what's up with the Cornerstone ... Will you help me?"

Doc grunted before rearing to his hind legs. "Never believed in luck anyway."

He slammed his heel into the Cornerstone. Perfected over the years, he called it the 'Breaker'. No sharptooth had ever survived it, and for good reason. It shattered boulders much bigger than the Cornerstone in one strike. However, the Cornerstone withstood it without so much as a crack. It didn't even budge. Doc repeated the attack again and again. The Earth shook under his blows, but the boulder remained unscathed.

Littlefoot watched closely for any signs of damage, but in doing so he scarcely noticed a creeping change in the atmosphere. Then he felt it: a tingle that washed over his scales and clustered in his toes, his tail, the tip of his nose. He felt lightheaded. A strange taste was on his tongue. Grandma and Grandpa had warned him of the signs that sky fire was about to strike, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky ... yet it was growing stronger.

"Doc, stop!" Littlefoot cautioned.

The older longneck immediately desisted. "What?"

"The air is getting spiky," noted the youngster.

Doc furrowed his brow before glancing at the sky.

*Klick!* *snap-ap!* *klickedy-klack!* *klackle!*

Littlefoot nearly jumped out of his scales as those foreign sounds met his ears. His gaze flashed to the Cornerstone. The breath froze in his lungs. It had ... opened up! Like a flower ... except it wasn't pretty. With incredibly complex innards that glinted in the moonlight, it didn't even look like a rock anymore! The spiky air crescendoed. It felt almost felt like sharptooth claws attempting to tear him apart!

Jagged bolts much like sky fire leapt across the Cornerstone's gleaming anatomy.

Doc had defensively wrapped his tail around the youngster.

Then it happened.

Even Littlefoot could feel it through Doc's tail. It made no sound, yet he felt it rippling across his nerves like a legion of creepy crawlers. Only for a second. Then he heard another string of clicks and snaps and it was over.

Doc gently unfurled his tail.

Littlefoot scarcely took a breath before he gushed: "What HAPPENED? Are you OKAY?"

The grownup didn't even look at him, his blank stare fixed on no particular thing.

"Doc ...?"

The old longneck began to walk away.

"Doc!" Littlefoot cried out. "Say something!"

Littlefoot rammed the adult's ankle with all his might.

Doc blinked before looking down at him. "Littlefoot? What're you doing up at this hour?"

Littlefoot was shaking. "I- I- I," he gulped, attempting to calm himself. "I- you- the Cornerstone!"

Doc looked concerned. "What about it?"

Littlefoot's eyes darted to the stone. It looked perfectly normal ... but it wasn't. Whatever this was, it had conquered The Lone Dinosaur in one stroke. Who knew what would happen if they pushed their luck?

"C'mon, kid. Talk to me," Doc pressed.

"Ne- nevermind."

Doc turned his attention to the Cornerstone. He stepped towards it with a thoughtful hum. Littlefoot immediately rushed into his path.

"No! Stay away from it! Please!"

Doc reluctantly allowed himself to be herded from the stone. "Fine, but you gotta tell me what's goin' on."

"Nothing!"

"'Nothing's got you shiverin' like The Cold Time," Doc observed.

"I- I'm just cold," Littlefoot lied.

The old longneck gave him one of those stares that were not to be denied.

Littlefoot gave another gulp. "Um ... what's the last thing you remember?"

"The night was pleasant. I decided to take a walk."

Littlefoot couldn't believe what he was hearing. "That- that's not what happened!"

"Okay ... Enlighten me."

"I ... brought you here," Littlefoot struggled to explain. "I asked you to break the Cornerstone to see what's inside. I wanted to know why it's so tough. Then it ... opened up and did something to you! Now you don't remember ..."

Doc stared at the stone with an intensity usually reserved for a sharptooth. Then he raised his foot and looked at the heel long and hard. He could still feel the soreness from his attempts to break the boulder. So, the youngster was telling the truth.

Littlefoot thought Doc would outright attack the Cornerstone, but instead the old longneck started to depart.

"Some things y' just can't fight," Doc explained. "You pick your battles and live to fight another day. Far as we know, the Cornerstones have never caused trouble until someone bothered 'em."

"'Far as we know'," Littlefoot couldn't help but repeat.

Doc gave a dry huff. "Kind of the point. Can't fight what you don't understand. This?" He gestured the stone with his tail. "This is beyond us."

Littlefoot gave a slow nod as he followed the adult.

"Probably best you stay away from those Cornerstones," Doc suggested.

To that, Littlefoot gave a much more fervent nod. He didn't intend to go anywhere near one of those things if his life depended on it.



Any theories as to what the Cornerstone is? If so, do share in the reviews.

Thanks for reading!


The Mr E

  • Chomper
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As I've mentioned, the scale difference between dinosaurs in this story's continuity is closer to real life (though not necessarily perfectly accurate). While a fully grown Littlefoot would be much larger than most sharpteeth, there are some who grow exceptionally large in this story, like Red Claw, The Sharptooth from the original movie and others who were capable of facing adult longnecks one on one throughout the franchise. Why the size fluctuation? We'll get to that in this chapter.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading!




Chapter 5

Think Like a Sharptooth



Year 4

Day 32



"Okay, Chomper. You can let go now," Cera declared.

The young sharptooth's mind was somewhere else, barely grasping her statement.

"Huh?" he asked through his teeth.

"You win. Let. Go." she commanded.

Chomper loosed his jaw from her horn. "Oh! I'm sorry!"

Cera stood up straight and shook her horns, more to fling off the indignity than anything else. She felt like a pretzel ... not that she knew what a pretzel was. Chomper was an easy sparring partner when he was half her size, but now? After hitting a growth spurt, he had the strength to bend her into all sorts of awkward positions from which there was no escape. When he got a good grip, it was usually over. He often went for the horns, her pride and glory. She hated that, though the competitive fighter in her refused to say it. Sure, Cera was nearing the end of The Time of Great Growing herself. In fact, she was certain that she was just a tad heavier than he was. That bothered her most of all. It wasn't just his size or his teeth. He was just ... better than she was. He instinctively knew how to get the upper hand, consistently winning at least two out of every three battles lately. Though less than ideal, that wasn't the worst ratio for her, but considering the fact that they fought over multiple rounds, he invariably won overall. The fact that he was so sheepish about his victories irritated her even more, but the thing that bothered her most this time around?

He hadn't even been paying attention, and he still won!

"Should I stop grabbing your horns?" Chomper suggested for the umpteenth time.

"Chomper, don't you DARE go easy on me!" Cera snapped before smiling smugly. "Besides, the girls can take anything you dish."

Chomper was about to ask who 'the girls' were, until he remembered that Cera referred to her horns as though they were dinosaurs. She'd even named them, though he could never quite recall the names.

The threehorn assumed a combat stance. "Okay, let's go again."

"Hold it," Doc interrupted.

"I think we see what your problem is," added Mr. Thicknose.

The teenagers turned their attention to the adults, who had been watching the battles and comparing notes.

"The problem is he thinks like a sharptooth, and you think like something a sharptooth eats," Doc explained.

Cera frowned. She did not like that conclusion. Chomper seemed to like it even less, glancing at his friend before sighing at the ground.

Doc gave him an empathetic look. "It's a good thing you're here to help her out. What you teach Cera might save her in the future."

Chomper's spirits seemed to lift, even if slightly. "Thanks, Sir."

Cera gave him a critical glance. She just called the guy 'Doc'. Chomper insisted on the polite approach. She got the distinct impression that he was intimidated by The Lone Dinosaur, even after all these years. It was strange, hearing Chomper's meek, friendly voice deepen into a mild growl as he grew older. He would often lighten his tone so as to sound less aggressive, especially around Doc. One of these days, she was going to tell him that it sounded more forced than anything else.

"Why do you think it's so hard to break his grip?" asked Mr. Thicknose.

Cera gave him a look that said 'like, duh'. "I'm just not strong enough, I guess."

"No, you're not smart enough," Doc corrected.

Chomper winced. She would not take this well.

Cera gaped at the indignation. "No! No! With all due respect, I am plenty smart! I mean, at least it's not like I'm dumb, and it's not like Chompers a genius or something ... no offence?"

Chomper shrugged his tiny arms. "Eh, I didn't think I was that smart either."

Cera almost flew at him. "Will you STOP being so MODEST!?"

At the back of her mind, Cera noticed Chomper jerk towards her the moment she raised her voice. Usually he winced away, but it was such a fleeting action that she rapidly dismissed it as unimportant. Besides, she was too annoyed to pay attention to such subtle body language. His flight instinct took over and he shrank from her. Now that was the Chomper she knew.

The sharptooth quickly stepped away from the angry threehorn with a nervous smile. "Okay, it's been fun! I gotta go find lunch, bye!"

He made a break for it. Cera looked as though she might give chase.

"You finished breakfast half a nap ago!" she barked.

"I'm still hungry!" Chomper explained.

"Cera, calm down. You too, Chomper," Doc instructed.

The sharptooth froze in his tracks before retracing his steps. "Yes, Alpha ... I- I mean, Sir!"

Chomper was sure to stand a decent distance from her horns, though.

"You need to think like a sharptooth," Doc instructed Cera. "He's a smart fighter. He's always thinkin'. He knows what works and if it doesn't work he tries somethin' new. You think too, but not as much. You fall back on the same techniques - good techniques, but he knows them too well. When things go wrong, you stop thinkin' altogether and try to muscle your way out."

Cera lightly kicked a pebble. She knew that she needed to hear this, even if she didn't like it.

"So ... how do I start thinking like a sharptooth?" she asked.

"If something doesn't work, try somethin' else," Doc instructed. "Don't just throw your strength and training at him. Be methodical. Look for opportunities, note your weaknesses. You can break his grips with mind and muscle. If he confuses you, ask him why he did what he did, how he did what he did. Oh, and show up more often for our Advanced Imagination sessions."

Mr. Thicknose raised an interested eyebrow. "'Advanced Imagination'? Interesting. I'd like to hear about it. Hmm ..."

"What?" asked Doc.

"Heh, call me puerile, but I found myself wondering which of our students will prove to be more formidable."

"We already know the answer," Doc replied with a small smile. "Littlefoot rivals Chomper's resourcefulness. That in mind, I don't have to tell you how he fares against Cera."

The threehorn was practically steaming.

"Remarkable boy, that one," Mr. Thicknose commented, "but don't write off Cera just yet. Her determination is exceptional, even for a threehorn. I believe all she needs is the occasional push in the right direction."

Doc nodded his acknowledgement. "Time will tell, but either way I think we should collaborate more. Our students can sharpen each other, same way we can as teachers."

Mr. Thicknose smiled with a chuckle. "I'm surprised we didn't think of that before! It would be my pleasure."

"Good," Doc finalised. "Now, I'd like to know where you learnt the training Cera's gettin'. It's familiar ..."

"Excuse me, Sir ... um, Sirs," cut in Chomper. "Mind if I come back later? I really am still hungry."

Doc respected Chomper, but nonetheless he gave the sharptooth a borderline wary look.

"Are you not gettin' enough to eat?" he asked.

A mild awkwardness fell upon the leafeaters.

Chomper fidgeted with his claws. "Well ... it's kind of complicated. I've been eating water breathers. Crawlers too, but it's hard to find the big ones. Don't worry, I will. I've figured out that some of them live in nests. I found one and ... kind of ate all the crawlers in it, but I'm sure they're more nests since I'm still finding that type of crawler around here. I just have to find them, that's all."

"Try close to my nest," Doc suggested. "Been seeing a good number there lately. They've been buggin' Darla and I."

"Thanks, Sir!" Chomper exclaimed.

Having faced a few mild crawler infestations, the valley's residents were coming to see Chomper as a manner of pest control. It tempered the disapproval of those who thought a sharptooth had no business growing up in The Great Valley, and Chomper was eager to earn his keep.

"Meet us in two naps," Doc instructed.

"Thanks, bye!" Chomper called as he ran off to do his duty.

Not far on his way, the sharptooth came upon a nest full of recently hatched swimmers, being tended to by their mother.

He smiled at the endearing sight, before finding himself briefly licking his chops.

The mother soon noticed him. Giving the sharptooth an uncomfortable smile and a small wave, she made an attempt to subtly shield her young from his sight. She failed on the 'subtle' part.

Chomper's smile fell. The biggest blow came when he realised he was beginning to drool.

With heavy feet and an even heavier heart, he trudged away from the scene. This crossed the line. He'd made his decision.


Year 4

Day 247

Morning



Skip jumped awake as his burrow shook.

Finally, some excitement!

Make no mistake, the fuzzy creature enjoyed life in The Great Valley, but after growing up in The Mysterious Beyond, sometimes it got a little ... slow. One of his favourite things to do was watch Littlefoot and his friends training over the years, but this? This sounded like a full-fledged battle! Had a sharptooth invaded the valley? He supposed he shouldn't have been happy about that, but if something was going down, it wouldn't hurt to at least take a peek. Maybe he could help in his own small way. Besides, the burrow was beginning to collapse.

Scampering through the entrance (while there was still an entrance), Skip gawked at the sight before him. It was Littlefoot ... wailing on nothing but the earth beneath him.

"Hey, Littlefoot!" Skip called.

Of course, Littlefoot wasn't quite living up to his name anymore. The Time of Great Growing had done wonders in a few short years. He was already two thirds the size of his grandparents, which sometimes made it difficult for him to hear a creature roughly as big as a small dog, Skip fitting that description. The din he made as he pounded the ground with every ounce of his weight didn't help much.

Skip cleared his throat before giving his best shot. "LITTLEFOOT!"

The longneck paused, panting from the exertion. "Oh, hi Skip. Did I wake you?"

Skip looked back at his burrow. He didn't have the heart to tell Littlefoot that he'd probably destroyed half his home to boot.

"Eh, I oversleep anyways," Skip shrugged.

"Sorry, I'm trying to call Chomper with my Earth Whisper," the longneck explained.

"Ain't nothin' whispery about this," Skip commented. "What's up? Somethin' wrong?"

"Chomper told us he was going with Ruby to see her parents, but it turns out Ruby left before he disappeared! He's been acting weird for a while now, especially the past few days! I can't help but worry ..."

Skip scratched his head. "Hm ... and you haven't seen him since yesterday morning, when he left for The Mysterious Beyond?"

Littlefoot almost choked on his shock. "How do you know for sure he-?"

"I saw him."

"Why didn't you-!?"

"Hey, this isn't the first time you guys have wandered into The Mysterious Beyond," Skip parried. "At this stage I'm more accustomed to covering for you than tattling!"

Littlefoot immediately thundered an Earth Whisper, telling Cera where he would be and when to meet him. Yesterday would be a good time. Unfortunately, his other pals didn't understand Earth Whispers, so he had to find them the old-fashioned way.

Skip yelped as he ducked Littlefoot's sweeping tail (not that it swung low enough to hit him anyway). Shock waves ripped through the soil as the longneck thundered off to find the rest of his friends.

"You're welcome!" Skip called after him.

He had half a mind to follow Littlefoot. Tagging along on some of their adventures was the highlight of his life: a rare treat since they never announced plans for their risky escapades beforehand. He still had his burrow to repair, though. The thought of brushing with death (it was bound to happen) and not having a warm home to return to that night didn't appeal to him. Hold on a second ... since when did he care about the finer things in life! Life in The Great Valley was making him soft!

"Hey! Wait up!" he called as he dashed after the, for want of a better word, rampaging longneck. "You need a guide!"



Midday



Skip took a deep breath, savouring The Mysterious Beyond's ever-changing aromas. In The Great Valley, visitors came and went. Some stayed. The occasional resident departed, but other than that not much changed in recent times. Yes, seasons sculpted the valley like clockwork every year, but that was the problem: the clockwork. Out here, the earthshakes hit harder, pounding the land to suit their chaotically artistic vision. Predators and prey were always on their toes in the ever-changing dance of life. However, there was one thing that remained constant.

Red Claw.

"You still have Chomper's scent?" Petrie asked a little too loudly.

Wincing, Skip answered in a low voice, hoping to lead by example. "Yup, and Red Claw's."

"You say that everywhere we go," Cera quietly remarked.

"'Cause I don't want you to forget it," Skip explained. "Sure, Red Claw's not the only sharptooth around here, but he's definitely the biggest."

"Yeah, big enough to take on a fully grown longneck by himself without much of a problem," Littlefoot agreed in an equally subdued voice: no small feat considering his size. "I've seen unusually big sharpteeth before, but Red Claw's almost as big as the one who stalked us when the five of us first met."

"That's because they're rogues," Skip explained. "Most big sharpteeth hunt by themselves, but they were raised in a family and they can call on each other for a difficult hunt. Not rogues like Red Claw. They grew up all alone, so they had to get even bigger to take care of themselves. They usually don't work with other sharpteeth."

Doc had told Littlefoot more or less the same thing years ago, but the longneck wordlessly nodded anyway. Then his mind wandered to Chomper's seemingly never-ending growth spurt. He'd shot past Cera in the last year, and it didn't seem like he was going to stop soon.

"From the look of things, Chomper's gonna be one of the larger ones," Littlefoot commented, "but he didn't grow up alone, so he can't be a rogue. Then how's he getting so big? Hmm ... maybe it's because we're not sharpteeth, and he had to do all his hunting by himself, so it's like we don't count."

Skip nodded. Littlefoot had answered his own question quite conclusively, so he saw no need to add anything.

"Red Claw works with Screech and Thud, doesn't he?" Ducky chimed in. "He's not exactly alone either."

Skip flinched at her 'outside voice'. "They must have met him when he was fully grown. Oh, and he doesn't 'work with' them. They work for him, and they're very good at it, so try to keep the noise down and stay vigilant."

The fuzzy jumped as several rocks tumbled down a hill to his side. He shot Spike a glare.

Having created a miniature avalanche after tugging at a bush growing from beneath the rocks, Spike gave the Skip a guilty glance ... before proceeding to devour the bush ... loudly.

Skip shook his head as they moved on. It was a wonder they'd survived The Mysterious Beyond without him! He updated his mental record of all the things they'd done to draw attention to themselves, right down to their noisy, indiscriminate footsteps. If there were a dry plant or an unstable rock, he could count on someone to step on it. In all fairness, The Great Valley was a pedicured garden compared to jungle of obstacles that was The Mysterious Beyond. Even the plants and geography had an almost conspicuously tame sense of order, and the residents made it a point to keep their environment tidy. The youngsters weren't used to manoeuvring through such a rowdy setting, especially after their growth spurts. Even so, most leafeaters were like walking dinner bells outside of The Great Valley.

He looked back to check on Littlefoot and Cera.

"What?" asked Cera.

"Oh, nothin'," Skip answered. "Just making sure you're still with us."

That statement felt ... weird. Honestly, he was expecting the most noise from those two. Littlefoot was quite massive and Cera had a tendency to stomp for stomping's sake. Sometimes he wondered if she liked feeling the ground shake beneath her feet as she got bigger, but out here? Littlefoot and Cera were like ghosts. He couldn't hear them. He could hardly feel their footfalls unless they were a few steps away. The way they moved ... the way their eyes subtly hunted their surroundings for threats. They weren't acting like leafeaters.

They were acting like sharpteeth.

Skip shook unsettling nature of that thought from his head. Come to think of it, that only made sense. They were trained to fight sharpteeth. Matching wits with a sharptooth meant thinking like a sharptooth to some degree.

Still ... it was creepy.

Wanting to move on from the thought (and kicking himself for being so easily perturbed), Skip decided to elaborate on the rich history of Red Claw. "The big guy prefers to avoid herds, but half the far walkers who travel alone run into him. Few live to tell the tale. It's like he's everywhere. His territory encircles the entire valley. Not the part at the edge of The Big Water, though. Those tiny arms ain't much good for swimming."

Littlefoot raised an eyebrow. "But the valley's huge."

"He, Screech and Thud patrol around it regularly," Skip went on. "Can't figure out how he always knows where to hunt, though."

Littlefoot looked up at a flying nibbler in the canopy. If he hadn't kept his eyes peeled for sharpteeth, he probably wouldn't have noticed it. Upon leaving the valley, he had spotted two grooming each other. One flew off as they drew near. The other one? He was pretty sure the nibbler above them was the same one. He recognised the white speckles on its dark fur.

The nibbler blinked at him before setting its eyes on a grasshopper. The insect caught wind of its would-be hunter and took flight, chased by the flyer.

Cera followed his gaze and smirked. "First the Cornerstones. Then the flying nibblers? Is there anything you're not scared of these days?"

"I'm not scared of the nibblers ... yet," Littlefoot answered. "Although I wonder why they behave differently outside The Great Valley."

Cera shrugged. "They eat dead dinosaurs instead of bugs out here, but I don't see the big deal. Who knows why critters behave the way they do?"

Littlefoot cast the canopy another glance. "They're not just critters. They're little sharpteeth, and what I do know is that most sharpteeth are as smart as we are. They're even smarter in some ways."

Cera huffed. "Yeah, so I've heard."

"I mean, not in all ways, but you gotta admit they're smart when it comes to hunting and fighting," Littlefoot went on. "Take Chomper for example-"

Cera rolled her eyes. "Don't remind me. When we're training, he just naturally knows how to think on his feet."

"Yeah, and and he's one of the nice ones!" Littlefoot added.

"Try the only nice one," the threehorn corrected.

Though she had no way of confirming that statement, Cera was feeling a tad disagreeable. She still didn't like the idea of a creature having sharper teeth and a sharper mind than she did.

"If they're so smart, why do we even bother training to outwit them?" she pressed.

"We've outsmarted them before. It's not impossible," Littlefoot parried. "My point is we shouldn't underestimate them."

"Eh, I guess you have a point," Cera conceded halfheartedly. "After all, they've got to at least be smart enough to pick their battles and win regularly ... otherwise, they wouldn't eat." She shook her head in disgust before shifting the subject. "But flying nibblers are barely even sharpteeth. Chomper says they can't speak his language. They're just ... tiny things, like buzzers."

Littlefoot checked the canopy one last time. "I dunno. Maybe that's what they want us to ... I dunno."

Cera gave a slow nod as though she were speaking to a conspiracy theorist oozing paranoia.

Littlefoot sighed. "Nevermind. Let's just ..."

She caught him freeze for a nigh imperceptible moment as his eyes flicked to the bushes.

"What?" asked the threehorn.

"Act casual," Littlefoot instructed.

He sounded normal enough, but the subtle quaver in his voice was not lost on her.

"Huddle up, guys," the longneck instructed.

Catching his drift, Cera sauntered to the opposite side of her friends, managing to keep the tension in her muscles at a minimum. They'd practised this.

"Okay ..." agreed Ducky, confused by the way Cera gently herded her closer to the others. "Is something wrong?"

Littlefoot smiled down at her. "Stay calm. Cera and I will-"

A fast biter exploded from the bushes, brandishing teeth and talons.

Screech.

With the exception of Cera and Littlefoot, the leafeaters froze.

*( ( KRA-KOOOM! ) )*



A distance away, Chomper raised his head, recognising the boom and charging towards it with urgency.



Two fast runners proudly smiled down at their daughter, who had been floored by her mother's swing of a tail.

"Good job, my daughter, good job!" her father commended.

"Yes," her mother agreed. "Although you'd be much harder to knock down as quickly if you moved quickly enough to not be knocked down."

Ruby rolled onto her feet. "Yeah. I've lost some speed, living in the valley. It's a good thing you guys are here to help me find it again."

"You're getting faster," her father stated. "And you'll only keep getting faster if we keep this up on your visits. Let's try again."

Suddenly, the thunder crack met their ears.

Ruby squinted in thought. That noise was somewhat familiar, although it was hard to tell with the way it bounced across the cliffs.

"Sounds like someone's facing a sharptooth," Ruby's mother commented.

Her siblings stared at the landscape beneath the ledge of their cave under Hanging Rock. Their parents joined them, following their gaze to spot trees violently shaken as a massive, unseen form barrelled beneath them.

"That 'someone' is not facing Red Claw, but they will face him when he gets there," her father declared.

Her mother turned her eyes to the sky. "And that brave, crazy flyer's heading where Red Claw's heading again. Ruby! Where are you going?"

The pink fast runner didn't even chance stopping as she bolted down the pathway. "I just realised! That thunder sounds familiar, 'cause I'm familiar with the one who makes it!"

Her parents exchanged glances before her father nudged her mother.

"Take care of the children, Cerise," he requested. "I'll be back."

She returned the nudge. "Stay safe, Cerulean, just as I know Ruby will be safe with you."

Parting with a smile, Ruby's father dashed after her.



It was Screech's turn to freeze.

Cera smirked. Most of her friends were stunned by the ear-pounding sound. It was like thunder. They were sure it was thunder. It took a moment for them to spot Littlefoot's tail drawing back after doing its work. Eyes popped. They had heard grownups do it on occasion. They had heard Littlefoot practising it at a distance, but never this close. Never had they thought that Littlefoot's tail could crack the thunder of a longneck twice his size. Since the beginning, training had been Littlefoot and Cera's 'thing'. Sometimes the others felt as though the two were part of an exclusive club. Training seemed to have its place in a vacuum outside their friendship, but when Littlefoot shattered the air with his tail?

Things were starting to get real.

With Littlefoot and Cera guarding them on either side, the leafeaters' spirits found cause for confidence.

"Screech is alone! He is, he is!" Ducky cheered.

"And Cera and Littlefoot are bigger than he is!" added Petrie. "Teach 'im a lesson, guys!"

Meanwhile, Cera frowned. Screech and Thud always hunted as a pair.

Littlefoot scanned the bushes. Screech tugged at his attention with a snarl, but Littlefoot tried not to focus on him alone. Clever boy, trying to keep all eyes on him.

Even as the others were still speaking, Littlefoot gave the ground a light stomp. When Cera stomped back in response, he discretely pattered the soil with his feet. It looked like fidgeting, but she read his Earth Whisper loud and clear.

( ( Thud is here ) )

Cera replied with an Earth Whisper of her own.

( ( I figured ) )

"Eyes peeled, everyone," Littlefoot warned.

Screech tilted his head at the longneck, clicking the gravel with his sickle-shaped claw. He knew these youngsters. They'd slipped through his claws on many occasions. Now that they were bigger and presumably less 'slippery', he was looking forward to using his wits to take down such sizeable prey ... but something wasn't right. Looking into the longneck's intense, intelligent eyes, he saw that they now had something in common.

A mind with sharp teeth.

Littlefoot opened his mouth to speak sharptooth when Screech released a deafening cry.

Skip shuddered. "He's calling Red Claw!"

The fast biter flicked his gaze at the bushes to his right. Littlefoot followed his gaze. Thud was hiding there? Bad move, giving away his partner's position.

"Watch the bushes on your right," Littlefoot cautioned Cera.

Screech chittered a command before charging. It was a trick!

"Your left! Your left!" Littlefoot corrected.

At the side of her eye, Cera saw the blur. She whipped around, startling Thud with her speed. He scarcely managed to dodge the horns before darting past her. She wasn't the target? Then who-?

"LITTLEFOOT!" Cera called.

The longneck spotted the shadow of the fast biter pouncing from behind him. It made perfect sense. His long neck was more fragile than Cera's. Big as he was, he seemed the easiest, most rewarding target of the two.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Littlefoot swiftly swayed into a dodge. Thud's claws glanced off his back. This longneck was fast!

Screech scrambled out of the way as his partner came crashing down.

Thud was quick to his feet, only to find the longneck's powerful tail wrapped around him. He bit and scratched as best he could. Though flexible, a longneck's tail was built for battle, the tip being one of the hardest parts of their bodies. Though that was always the case, something wasn't right. Never had a longneck's tail so thoroughly withstood his teeth and claws.

Not since The Lone Dinosaur.

Littlefoot could practically see the deadly thoughts racing through Screech's mind as the predator tried to hatch a plan. The fast biters' met eyes in a moment of non-verbal agreement. Without warning, Screech released a heartfelt croon of concern for his friend, just loud enough to be heard.

Thud crooned back, assuring Screech that he was fine.

Cera raised an eyebrow. She'd seen those two in danger before. It brought out fear or anger. It never made them release borderline cute sounds designed to tug at the heartstrings. She huffed. Her heartstrings would remain rigid, thank you very much. However, she caught Littlefoot soften a nuance. Oh please! Was he actually falling for this? ... Maybe that was the point.

Littlefoot cleared his throat. Okay, time for the secret weapon. He rumbled and cooed in the sharptooth tongue, assuring Screech that the fast biter didn't need to save his friend. They could all be friends.

Cera almost laughed. She would bet tree sweets that Screech never, in his wildest sleep stories, had expected a leafeater to speak his language. The look on his face was priceless! If he'd let his jaw hang much longer, something would crawl in there an have babies! She didn't like the way his expression morphed into intent, contemplative silence, though. She couldn't tell if he was considering Littlefoot's offer, or simply rethinking his battle plan.

Screech gave an incensed glare as he growled in accusation: If they wanted to be 'friends', why were they trespassing on Red Claw's territory?

The longneck swallowed. This was his first conversation with a sharptooth, notwithstanding Chomper. Exciting as it was, he had to tread carefully.

Littlefoot undulated his response. Red Claw's territory encircled the entire valley, except for the part that touched The Big Water. How were they supposed to come and go without trespassing?

Screech thought for a moment before throbbing that the longneck had a point. Some negotiation was in order.

Littlefoot couldn't believe it! They were making progress!

Screech glanced among the group, briefly scowling at the fuzzy creature who had eluded their jaws even more so than The Gang of Seven. It almost looked like a quick head count. He remarked that the young sharptooth was missing. Were they looking for their friend?

The longneck hesitated. He knew sharpteeth were smart, but seeing Screech make such a rapid deduction was rather unsettling.

Littlefoot grunted an affirmative.

Thud informed him that they had seen a young sharptooth not long ago: a distance off, but in retrospect he was quite sure it was their sharptooth. He'd spoken with that youngster in the past. He was a good kid. Thud knew where he was heading, and agreed to help them find him, as long as the longneck released him.

Littlefoot carefully considered that. He replied that they already had a guide. The fast biters could point them in the right direction, but he would only release Thud when they called off Red Claw.

Screech's gaze hardened. Nonetheless, he lifted his head and released a long-distance roar before demanding they release Thud.

Littlefoot remarked that he understood Screech's first roar. The biter had addressed Red Claw by name, telling him exactly where they were. Littlefoot did not recognise the second call. Had Screech actually called off Red Claw, or just pretended to do so?

The fast biter gave an indignant snarl before explaining that some of their calls were personal, and would not be understood by other sharpteeth. Besides, why would he endanger his best friend with a fake call?

Thud released a sudden cry, claiming that Littlefoot was crushing him. The longneck insisted that he was not. Thud only squealed all the louder, making it harder for Littlefoot to hear his own thoughts, much less voice them. Suddenly, Thud's squealing ceased.

Littlefoot looked back to see Cera with her horn inches from the sharptooth's neck.

She smiled brightly. "Excuse me. Hi, Thud. I'm Cera. Now shut. Up."

No translation necessary.

Screech fumed an accusation: They were LIARS! They cared NOTHING about friendship! If they did, they would stop hurting his best friend and let him GO!

Littlefoot's gaze snapped to his feet. If not for his Earth Whisper training, he might not have noticed the tremors rippling through the ground. They were subtle, but they were unmistakably getting bigger.

Clearly Skip picked up the same thing. "R-Red Claw's coming! He's coming FAST!"

Littlefoot growled at the fast biters: This conversation was was over! Screech hadn't called off Red Claw! He was just buying time!

Screech growled back, arguing that this was Red Claw they were talking about! There was no 'calling him off', but their alpha would have mercy if the leafeaters would just calm down and-!

The longneck cut him off with a snarl. No! They would be leaving now! They would release Thud later, and Screech had better not follow, otherwise Thud was history!

Screech's eyes fluttered. Had that leafeater just snarled at him? Like an actual sharptooth? Growls were one thing, but this was bizarre, unnerving and altogether unacceptable! He began to protest, but Littlefoot chased him off with a swing of his giant tail regardless of its flailing captive, Thud. He had no intention of ending Thud, but he was betting that Screech didn't know that.

"Skip! Lead the way!" Littlefoot commanded. "We're not leaving Chomper out here! How fast can you track?"

"As fast as I need to!" Skip assured, putting his speed to good use as he darted ahead of them.

"Cera! Clear a path behind Skip!" Littlefoot went on.

The threehorn was already charging behind the fuzzy. "Way ahead of you!"

There was nothing quite like watching a full-grown threehorn tearing through the jungle. Cera wasn't fully grown, but she was close enough and already stronger and faster than most of the adults. Ducky, Petrie and Spike were briefly stunned by the sight as Cera expertly uprooted trees, splintered trunks, flattened bushes, knocked aside boulders and smashed those that refused to cooperate.

"Have you ... done this before?" asked Ducky.

"We've practiced," Littlefoot replied. "Petrie, we need eyes in the sky! If you see Chomper or Red Claw, tell us! Everyone, MOVE!"

Jarred by the urgency in his voice, Petrie flapped above the trees. Ducky and Spike rushed after Cera and Littlefoot followed, guarding the rear.

"I think I know where Chomper's headin'!" Skip called back as he hurried to stay ahead of a rampaging Cera. "There's a shortcut we could use to shake Red Claw, but ... uh oh ..."

"I see Red Claw!" Petrie interrupted from above.

"That shortcut: take us there!" Littlefoot urged.

"Ya know the advantage you had when you were little?" asked Skip. "You were little! You could hide and fit places the sharpteeth couldn't! Now, even your scents are bigger! We can't shake 'em!"

Cera smashed through a boulder and they began to rush through a narrow gap between two cliffs.

"Careful! It's unstable!" Skip warned.

Littlefoot looked back and managed to spot Screech among the bushes. Either the fast biter didn't care enough about Thud, simply didn't believe Littlefoot's threat, or both.

The longneck rose to his hind legs as high as he could to survey their surroundings before spotting a small lake. He knew he'd smelled water, and he'd heard fast biters could swim.

"How deep is that water hole?" asked Littlefoot.

Skip briefly looked back, taking account of the direction in which Littlefoot was staring. "Very deep! Why?"

The answer came when Littlefoot tossed a shrieking Thud across the trees, right into the water, not that anyone could hear the splash from there.

Skip laughed, having seen what happened with another backwards glance.

The longneck pointedly locked eyes with Screech. The fast biter's teeth were gnashed, steam practically pouring from his nostrils. Still, he refused to go and check on his 'best friend'.

Littlefoot spoke to Screech in a snarl. He knew their ruse! If they didn't care enough about each other, they definitely didn't care to be friends with leafeaters!

With that, Littlefoot charged between the cliffs. He saw Screech hurrying after him. Not for long. Slamming his shoulder into an incline, he sent a landslide of boulders crashing between the leafeaters and fast biter.

Screech skidded to a stop, roaring after the infuriatingly elusive prey before heeding the call of a much larger sharptooth.

...

Once they'd reached a more spacious region of the canyon, Littlefoot pounded ahead of Ducky and Spike. They'd think the longneck and threehorn had surprised them enough for one adventure, but Littlefoot and Cera found ways to keep their friends in a constant state of 'whoa!' Seeing Littlefoot train for speed was one thing. Having him easily overtake both Spike and Ducky, sprinting at their fastest, was another story.

With several tons of rocks behind them, Littlefoot figured he was more useful at the front than the back, using his height to spot any unwelcome surprises they may run into. Of course, that was Petrie's job, but an extra pair of eyes and a good, strong tail whack would always come in handy.

"Petrie! Where's Red Claw?" asked Littlefoot.

"I don't see him!" the flyer announced. "Not sure where he went!"

That should have been good news, but Littlefoot didn't like it. He would have been more comfortable knowing their enemy's movements.

His eyes popped. He'd spotted a shadow cast from beyond the next turn. It was faint, due to the thin layer of cloud obscuring The Bright Circle at that time. However, he recognised the form, even the jaws spreading in anticipation. If not for his high vantage point, he wouldn't have seen it.

"Everyone, to your right! NOW!" the longneck commanded.

The others scrambled away from the corner.

Sensing that his prey was onto him, the sharptooth charged from his hiding place and lunged towards Ducky. A powerful tail wrapped around his jaws, clamping them shut before shoving him away from the swimmer.

The sharptooth growled, though somewhat surprised to find his opponent a teenage longneck who still had a fair amount of growing to do. This sharptooth had felled longnecks that size. They were bigger than he was, but all it took was a little cunning and a deadly bite. None had ever caught him mid-pounce, though. He was sure it had been an adult, considering the powerful grip.

Littlefoot figured this sharptooth had slipped past Petrie on account of his stone-coloured scales blending into the canyon.

"You're not Red Claw," he thought aloud, before growling a warning not to follow them, or else.

The sharptooth's face contorted from surprise to disgust and fury. Someone had taught this leafeater to speak?! Abominable!

He threw himself at the longneck.

Littlefoot turned as though to run, only to hammer the sharptooth with a blow of his tail. Practically flying back, the predator smashed into the canyon wall and down came another avalanche. The longneck took off, scarcely escaping the the rocks before they buried the sharptooth.

Exiting the canyon, the dinosaurs found themselves in a much more spacious stretch laden with palm trees. No longer needing to clear a path, Cera surged to full speed, nearly trampling Skip and leaving the others in the dust.

"Cera! You're going too fast!" Littlefoot warned, accelerating to catch up with her.

"Sorry!" she apologised, slowing.

The Earth was shaking.

Sure, four running dinosaurs had a tendency to make it do that, but this was different. Something big was behind them. Even before hearing the ear-splitting roar, they all knew.

That was Red Claw.

"I see him! I SEE HIM!" Petrie shrieked.

Littlefoot looked back to witness the giant sharptooth storming towards them, with Screech and a very wet Thud laced with pond scum racing alongside him. Maybe he and Cera could outrun them, but the others? They were tired. Their speed was already dropping.

"Guess it's on me!" Cera declared with a cocky grin. "Skip, get the others out of here! Littlefoot, keep Screech and Thud from following them! I'll take Red Claw!"

Littlefoot almost choked on his shock. "WHAT?!"

"Your tail's long and fast: better for handling fast biters!" Cera quickly explained, lifting her horns with what they interpreted as pride. "I can counter Red Claw's teeth with the girls! Chomper taught me everything I need to know! Besides, you've still got more growing to do than I do!"

"But ... we wanna ... help!" Ducky panted.

"You're exhausted and you can't fight," Cera snapped. "Do not make me tell you again!"

The swimmer winced.

"But he's Red Claw!" Littlefoot argued. "You can't-!"

Cera rolled her eyes. Did she have to spell it out for him?

Littlefoot's argument was cut short when Cera gave him a glimpse of her inner self. Her legs briefly quavered. Her grin flickered. Fear flashed fleetingly in her eyes. She knew her chances. She would fight with everything she had, but she didn't need to 'take down' Red Claw. She only needed to take him on until her friends got to safety.

Cera's confident grin returned with a vengeance. "Tell Daddy I went out like burning mountain!"

The threehorn skidded into a turn, allowing the others to pass before raging towards Red Claw. Littlefoot followed, his attention on the fast biters.

"Come at me, PINK EYE!" Cera taunted.

Of course, her trash talk meant nothing to sharpteeth, but Cera had one trick up her sleeve. She remembered that forbidden combination of sounds Chomper had told Littlefoot never to say to a sharptooth. She didn't know what it meant, but she'd privately practiced it for years, waiting for the perfect moment.

The moment had come.

Littlefoot's jaw went loose as Cera growled the granddaddy of all 'no no'es in the sharptooth language. Having learnt much more more about the sharptooth tongue since he had first heard it, he'd figured out what that particular noise meant ... in every ... revolting ... detail ...

Cera grinned all the more. Doc had once explained why sharpteeth roared. It was a psychological attack. They did it to stun their prey with sheer terror. Red Claw, Screech and Thud didn't look 'scared', but they immediately slowed to a stop as they stared at the threehorn in abject shock - definitely stunned.

She laughed. This was better than a roar!



You may notice that Petrie's grammar has improved. That's simply a matter of age, and it seemed logical to me given that none of the older flyers appear to speak the way he did as a kid.

There's a 'Dinotopia: Quest for The Ruby Sunstone' reference in this chapter, as well as a 'Jurassic Park' one. Think you can identify it?

Thanks again for reading!
« Last Edit: February 14, 2021, 06:51:50 PM by The Mr E »


The Mr E

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Chapter 6

Red Claw, Ready or Not



Year 4

Day 33

Chomper almost yawned. Cera was charging him head-on.

Again.

Doc and Mr. Thicknose's input hadn't done much, apparently. Oh well. He couldn't expect her to reinvent her entire fighting style overnight.

Targeting her horn, his predatory mind quickly calculated the perfect timing, the perfect motion.

*CHOMP!*

He'd missed! How could he miss? It was a flawless bite! No ... He hadn't simply 'missed'. She was coming at him, but then she'd stopped, pulling her head back and leaving him to snap air. He'd scarcely registered that before Cera gave her head a sharp swing, striking his jaw with her horn.

The sharptooth froze, eyes wide as he processed the turn of events.

Cera wondered if she'd broken him. "C'mon! I didn't hit you that hard, did I?"

A big smile lit up the sharptooth's face. "That. Was. AWESOME, Cera!"

She blinked in surprise before raising her chin in pride. "Thanks."

Cera had to admit: Chomper's genuine praise and enthusiasm was a pretty good pick-me-up.

"That might be enough to take down a sharptooth!" Chomper excitedly stated. "Of course, you'll need more tricks than that, and you'll need to hit as hard as you can without losing balance. Sharpteeth try to end a fight as quickly as possible, so you should too."

"Oh, I'll hit harder, alright," Cera assured with a smirk. "If it doesn't work, we've got plenty of time to work on some more tricks."

Chomper slowly nodded. His thoughts seemed to wander after the 'plenty of time' part.

"Uh ... hey, you okay?" asked Cera.

Chomper grinned in a surge of confidence. "Absolutely! When we're done, Red Claw himself will be at your mercy!"



Year 4

Day 247



Cera accelerated as Red Claw stood in a stupor, still stunned by her horrendous insult in the sharptooth tongue. She was almost fully grown, but he was nearly twice her size. Nonetheless, she was ready.

Every day of her training had his name on it!

Red Claw's shock turned to outrage. He didn't roar, didn't growl. He simply gestured Screech and Thud to attack the longneck before awaiting her in silent fury. Did he expect her to just run into his jaws? He had another thing coming!

Cera was at the edge of pouncing range when Red Claw lunged. She stopped abruptly, drawing back. His mighty jaws crashed together like a thunderclap, jarring her ears as they fell just short of her. The threehorn screamed a battle cry as she smashed her horns into the side of his chin. The impact sent a shockwave through her skull. It felt good! Time seemed to slow as Cera etched the moment into her memory, relishing the bafflement rippling across Red Claw's face as his head lurched. She bet no threehorn had downed him in one hit, and she would gladly be the first!

Red Claw seemed to flash her a glare as he continued to reel. Wait ... he wasn't falling. He was no longer reeling either. He was turning. While his head pivoted away with the momentum, his tail blazed towards her. She almost didn't see it. There was no time to dodge. No time to counter. Cera could only crouch low and brace herself.

Half the breath blasted from her lungs as Red Claw's tail met her side. The strike arced upwards, like a golfer's swing, specifically intended to overturn her. Trepidation spiked through the threehorn as she found herself toppling. This wasn't supposed to happen! Once she lowered her centre of gravity, no one knocked her down in one stroke! Not Chomper, not even Littlefoot! Maybe that was the problem. Littlefoot and Chomper sparred with her as friends.

Red Claw fought her as a killer.

Upon hitting the ground, Cera skilfully rolled with the blow and rapidly returned to her feet. She could scarcely stand before Red Claw's teeth latched around her horn.

He was fast.

So was she.

The threehorn hammered his muzzle with her fore paw. The horn slipped free. After knocking his head skywards with a headbutt, she rammed his stomach. He slid back, but didn't drop. Why wouldn't this brute go down?! Then came the realisation. She recognised the feel of the hide against her horns.

Red Claw had stone scales.

Unforgiving jaws clamped her back: easily the most painful, terrifying thing she'd ever felt. If not for her own stone-hardened scales, the battle might have ended there and then. Instead, Red Claw flipped her onto her back with a jerk of the jaws. He went for the underbelly, stumbling away when her hind paws found his face half by practise, half by panic.

She hurried to her feet.

The sharptooth shook off the blow and exploded towards her.

He froze, jaws wide.

Cera had perfectly poised her three-foot horn to meet his mouth in the most damaging way possible. A few inches later and he would have made a grave mistake.

Red Claw backed away, tilting his head as he gave the three horned conundrum a calm, contemplative stare.

"Aww, what's the matter?" Cera asked in her most patronising voice. "Is the big, bad Red Claw scared of me? Booo hooo!"

The sharptooth didn't react. His silence was mildly unnerving. Much to her surprise, his posture seemed to relax as he yawned. It almost looked like he was losing interest!

Cera subconsciously slackened her muscles and she stifled a yawn of her own. Oh, great. It was contagious.

He blinked lazily, giving the sky a semi-wary glance.

She blinked as well.

The moment she opened her eyes, Red Claw was silently, ravenously, surging at her. The moment she snapped to attention, he launched into a confusing zigzag. Instead of colliding, they converged in what looked like an intricate dance. Back and forth, left and right, neither landed a blow as Red Claw strained her reflexes with incessant attempts to get by her horns.

...
Thud leapt before Littlefoot's tail snapped beneath him, the thunder crack jolting his bones and robbing his hearing for a split moment. He wasn't expecting the longneck to sharply raise his tail mid-swing, smacking the fast biter high above the ground.

Screech pounced from behind, only to find himself halted inches from contact when Littlefoot's tail snatched him from the air.

Lifting the nonplussed fast biter so that they were face to face, Littlefoot gave the predator a flat smile.

Thud slumped. Yet again, the longneck had him. He supposed he could see the sardonic humour. This time, he was sure he'd be squished.

To the fast biter's utter confusion, Littlefoot set him down with a pat to the head for good measure. Thud blinked blankly, having no frame of reference for what was happening. The longneck wasn't being friendly. He simply gave a deadpan stare as though waiting for something to happen. Hold on a minute, where was that shadow coming fro-?

Thud was starting to look up when Screech crashed down on top of him.

Littlefoot examined his handiwork. The fast biters seemed down for the count. His job done, he rushed to Cera's aid. Scarcely had he left before Screech cut the act and climbed off of Thud. The fall might not have rendered them unconscious, but they couldn't help but groan from the soreness. Thud quietly snarled after Littlefoot.

Screech chittered, telling Thud that they should go after the others while the longneck still thought they were incapacitated.

Thud argued that he wasn't done with the longneck: not after the smart-talking mound of meat made a fool of him twice!

Screech hissed, insisting that Thud needed no help to make a fool of himself. If they really wanted to spite the longneck, they had to go for his weak spot: his friends! Red Claw could take care of himself.

Thud sneered at their alpha, sure not to be seen. It would be a hollow victory. The longneck wouldn't be alive long enough to see what happened to his friends.

With a malicious purr, Screech assured Thud that the longneck didn't have to see it. They could state the grisly details of their intentions at a distance.

Perking up somewhat, Thud bobbed his head in agreement. After pausing to scan the sky, the two fast biters rushed after the departed dinosaurs.

They would have to act fast, Thud warned, before The Daybreaker found them.



Petrie felt horrible.

Soaring above Ducky, Spike and Skip as they scrambled for their lives, he was in no danger whatsoever. That made him feel all the worse. He could hear the fight from there. Littlefoot and Cera were risking their necks in a battle just short of suicide. What was he doing? Fleeing through the skies like a coward.

Like Uncle Pterano.

"Keep going! I'll be back!" Petrie called down to the others, making a U turn.

Ducky and Spike exchanged uncertain glances.



Cera didn't even see it coming: a blow to the temple that felt as though it went straight to her brain. Her world was spinning. Her thoughts fell to shambles. Her senses muddied as the moment seemed to smudge. When the threehorn's awareness returned in a blur, she felt Red Claw's jaws on her horn, his foot on her side as she lay prone. She could barely move. Pushing with his foot, yanking with his teeth, he was attempting to break her. A shove of the paw did nothing to budge the jaws fixed to her horn. Maybe there wasn't anything she could do.

Maybe this was it.

Cera felt Red Claw's body jolt. At the corner of her eye, she saw a rock shatter against his side. He released her, snarling at a massive shadow raging towards him.

In spite of her precarious position, the threehorn grinned. "Good luck, Pink Eye. You're gonna need it."

Littlefoot spun into a palm tree, tearing it from the soil and smashing it into Red Claw's head in one, whirling motion. Cera guffawed almost goofily. The look on the sharptooth's face!

Being clobbered by a tree? That was a first, but it was a learning experience. Red Claw learnt that he didn't like it.

The longneck took another swing. Red Claw instinctively caught the tree with his jaws, disarming Littlefoot with a yank. The sharptooth made to toss it aside, but it remained fixed between his chops. His teeth were lodged deep, and the muscles responsible for opening his jaws weren't nearly as strong as his bite.

The longneck's blows landed like thunder and lightning. He wasn't quite as big as Red Claw, but large enough to stagger the giant.

Though he tottered and stumbled, Red Claw never lost his footing. He almost seemed to ignore the blows as he furiously attempted to remove the tree from his mouth.

Cera shook off her soreness as she rose to a stand. The way Littlefoot's tail rained pinpoint melee on Red Claw's ankles, knees, neck, skull and any opportune spot that presented itself, she was almost jealous of the longneck. Almost. She wouldn't trade her horns for anything!

Cera charged the sharptooth, ducking a flail of his tail. The tree went flying from the tyrant's jaws when Littlefoot unleashed a titanic blow. Red Claw's head swung high as he stumbled into Cera. She bellowed, throwing up her horns and slamming him in the opposite direction.

He stumbled, wobbled.

Cera smirked. Any moment and he'd go down with a mighty thud. Much to her astonishment, Red Claw steadied himself, shook his head and regarded them with nonchalant annoyance.

He snorted at their surprise. These naive children took the occasional dip into The Mysterious Beyond, and they thought they knew anything about a real fight? He'd been through battles that would haunt their callow little sleep stories 'till the day they died. This was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The leafeaters charged from opposite directions.

Red Claw waited for the perfect moment. Then he whirled, slamming aside the incoming Cera with his tail while launching his jaws at Littlefoot's throat. The longneck felt spittle when the chomp rang in his ears. It fell just short as he deflected Red Claw's bite with a tail to the chin. Littlefoot grunted as Red Claw powered through the raised tail. All those years, all that training, and Littlefoot's strength felt like nothing under Red Claw's might. He drew back from another bite. This time, the jaws glanced off his throat. He looped his tail around Red Claw's neck and redirected the sharptooth's weight. The third bite missed not by much. They were too close. The longneck could barely manoeuvre. He needed space. Littlefoot yelled as he shoved the sharptooth with his shoulder.

Red Claw budged, but barely. He spotted Cera rushing in with a bellow and sneered. The foolish child, giving away her position.

Feeling teeth, a sharp gasp was all Littlefoot could manage before his breath cut short. With savage strength, the sharptooth hurled him into an alarmed Cera.

The leafeaters tumbled in a heap.

Cera scrambled to her feet.

Littlefoot did not stir.

"LITTLEFOOT!" she wailed.

Red Claw purred in satisfaction. The longneck wouldn't get up. Not after that. Now to deal with that odious threehorn. He'd be sure to make her end much slower. To his mild surprise, Littlefoot opened his eyes calmly dragged his feet beneath him. With a blazing glare, the longneck rose to a stand, rumbling a deep purr that escalated to a venomous snarl before accentuating the threat with a crack of his tail.

Cera's eyes grew wide. She'd never heard Littlefoot make a noise like that.

"That sounded ... dark. What'd you say?" she asked.

Littlefoot tilted his head towards her slightly, keeping his intense gaze fixed on Red Claw. "I told him I didn't want to fight. We could all walk away, but if he kept this up, someone wasn't going home today, and the identity of that 'someone' might surprise him."

"Yiiikess!" Cera mouthed.

After their journey to The Great Valley, Cera viewed Littlefoot as family. As he grew into an earth-shaking warrior, she inwardly thought he was the coolest guy she knew, but this? Seeing him in action, threatening Red Claw with a sound straight out of a nightmare? She had to come up with a new category for him.

He was beyond cool!

The balefully gleeful cries of Screech and Thud met their ears.

Dismay tainted Littlefoot's glare. In gruesome detail, the fast biters were announcing what they would do when they found the other leafeaters, and they were too far for Littlefoot and Cera to stop them.

Red Claw's lip curled in delight at the sight of Littlefoot's face. He gave a reassuring croon poisoned with malice, telling Littlefoot not to worry. He promised to keep them just alive enough to see what became of their friends. His sneer grew all the bigger as panic touched the longneck's features. Would the leafeater beg? He welcomed him to do so. It was such little pleasures that Red Claw relished so much.

Littlefoot blinked in stupefaction before asking the simple question:

Why?

Red Claw creased his brow.

When the predator only stared, Littlefoot went on: Why would a sharptooth go out of his way to do that? Needing food was one thing. Enjoying suffering was a whole different story. Even when they were young, barely even a snack, Red Claw would go out of his way to pursue them. Why would he do something like that?

The sharptooth gave a deep, contemplative hum. Now this was interesting. He had half a mind not to answer, but intriguing conversations like this were seldom. This conversation could even prove cathartic. He checked the sky. No trouble in sight. Maybe 'trouble' was otherwise occupied that day. Fine. He would indulge the longneck.

Red Claw stated that, long story short, he hated Littlefoot and his friends.

But why, asked Littlefoot?

The sharptooth tapped his claw. Where to begin? For starters, he posed the question: What if sharpteeth had a neutral opinion of leafeaters? They would empathise with them, even spare them. Foolish sharpteeth had done so before, and even at present such fools existed. What if leafeaters didn't hate sharpteeth? They would reach out to them. Make friends with them, and the so-called 'friendly sharpteeth' would sooner starve than turn on those close to them. If such a thing happened on a massive scale, leafeater numbers would increase to the point where they consumed all the green food and began to starve as well. The Circle of Life would be broken. Hatred was a driving force of life. It was wise to hate.

Littlefoot's jaw loosened. Was that the sharptooth philosophy? It went against everything he believed in ... yet Littlefoot could see the twisted logic.

The longneck acknowledged that he understood Red Claw's point, but hatred ate out the heart from the inside, spoiling the life of its bearers and those around them. He knew what it felt like, and he'd almost missed wonderful friendships because of it. It was wiser to love. He glanced down at Cera and stated that threehorns and longnecks once hated each other, but she was his closest friend. It was only through the wisdom of friendship that they made it to The Great Valley, a herd of leafeaters dissimilar as they came who got over their differences. The loved each other like family, and that love had carried them through countless adventures. A sense of kinship was the only reason why The Great Valley worked, as opposed to descending into turf war when various herds with different needs and desires settled into it. In a strange way, they were all like family. They had even made friends with a sharptooth!

Red Claw growled, stating that he knew the sharptooth, the one who was always with them, until that day. Where was that sharptooth now?

Littlefoot glanced about as though searching for an answer.

Red Claw took a step towards them. Enough of this nonsense, he snapped! The longneck could talk 'till the stars fell and The Great Guardians ruled the Earth, but the fact was simple: The longneck hated the sharptooth, and vice versa.

"'Great Guardians'?" Littlefoot mumbled.

"Huh?" asked Cera.

"Nothing, never mind," Littlefoot dismissed, shaking away the curiosity. He couldn't afford to go off topic.

With a step of his own towards Red Claw, Littlefoot stated that he didn't hate him. He actually thought they could be friends, if they let themselves.

The sharptooth snorted, asking how exactly that would work?

Littlefoot thought for a moment before shaking his head. He admitted that he wasn't sure, but they could figure it out. His friend, Chomper, had figured it out. It was somewhat uncharted territory, but some paths only appeared to those who looked for them. He knew Red Claw grew up without a family. Didn't he get tired of hating? Wasn't there a part of him that yearned for friends and family?

Red Claw's battle-hardened face twitched.

Much to Cera's surprise, he broke away from Littlefoot's imploring gaze. Okay ... She couldn't make heads or tails of most of the conversation, but whatever Littlefoot said, it almost looked like it was working!

The sharptooth's expression snapped back to severity.

Cera frowned. Never mind.

Yes, Red Claw admitted, as he stalked towards the leafeaters. He had considered family, but Littlefoot and his friends had taken that away from him.

"What?" gasped Littlefoot, before asking Red Claw to explain.

With a sadistic grin, Red Claw stated that he might tell the longneck, but only after he'd brought him down. He was on a bit of a schedule.

"LEAVE MY FRIENDS ALONE!" came a squawk from above.

The sharptooth exhaled. Another young one giving away his position before attacking? It wasn't even amusing. How had they ever slipped through his claws in the past? Foolish children.

Petrie darted in. He didn't have to fight. All he had to do was flap around Red Claw's face a bit. Close enough to draw attention, but not too close. That would buy his friends some time, right?

"Ooowff!" he exclaimed as Red Claw's swift tail swatted him out of the air.

"PETRIE!" Littlefoot shouted.

Red Claw purred. They could watch this one go first!

As the sharptooth's shadow fell over the flyer, Petrie opened his mouth to give a warning he had no hope of backing up. Instead of a shaky threat, everyone froze when a piercing screech seemed to come out instead.

Red Claw's eyes snapped to the skies as he roared for an unseen foe to stay away.

"... 'The Daybreaker' ...?" Littlefoot muttered, tilting his head in curiosity.

"What did you say?" asked Cera.

"Red Claw roared at something he called 'the one who interrupts the flow of a sharptooth's day, and literally breaks the light of The Bright Circle': 'The Daybreaker'."

Rapt with wonder, Cera attempted to follow the sharptooth's gaze. "What could do something like that?"

The answer came pouncing from the heavens like sky fire. Everyone squinted at the silhouette framed by The Bright Circle. It was some kind of flyer. They could scarcely make out the details, scarcely even look at him. The Sun was on his heels, straining their eyes. Littlefoot was forced to turn away, noticing that even Red Claw's eyes watered as he forced a glare up at the flyer.

"That ... that flyers' using The Bright Circle as an attack! To blind Red Claw!" Littlefoot exclaimed in amazement.

Petrie's thoughts raced. Another flyer ... was attacking Red Claw? He'd never heard a flyer screech like that. It was honed to the chilling ferocity of a sharptooth's roar, with a touch of rasp that only heightened the effect. However, it sounded vaguely familiar. When the flyer gave another screech, ear-splittingly closer than the first one, it clicked.

No! It couldn't be, but it was!

"U-Uncle Pterano?" Petrie gawked.



Yep, yep, yep, Pterano's been up to some interesting things during his banishment. I really enjoyed reinventing the character as something you'd never expect ... unless of course you did XD.


The Mr E

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Chapter 7

The Gang's all Here



Flyers were weak.

Flyers were fragile.

Flyers didn't even taste good.

A flyer was the last thing Red Claw would accept as the foil of his hunts. The Lone Dinosaur? Now there was an adversary worthy of his time. At least he could enjoy their fights and savour the meal that was sure to come: good, old fashioned brawl of the mighty. He couldn't enjoy his battles with the flyer. Using trickery, speed and agility perfected for facing sharpteeth, the flyer would not even let him touch him. It was never a 'fight'. It was a joke, yet this 'joke' was the thorn in Red Claw's side, the tiny needle of a bone lodged in his gums.

Such was The Daybreaker.

Petrie's beak went loose as his uncle dove towards the sharptooth with horrifying speed, using The Bright Circle's glare to blind the predator.

In the past, Red Claw had tried to avoid looking at the flyer, judging his proximity by his shadow and turning to attack at just the right moment. It never worked. Therefore, he resolved to face him head-on, blinking back the sunlight as best as possible. The Daybreaker's silhouette almost vanished as he dove just above the Sun's rays, allowing it to assault the sharptooth's eyes full force.

Snarling, Red Claw opened his jaws as the collision drew near. One of these days, the flyer would dive straight into them. One of these days, he would break every one of those twigs he called 'bones' in a foolhardy attack.

That day was not today.

Red Claw lunged. His jaws caught air. Not a moment later, that familiar, infuriating weight crashed into his side with more force than any flyer had a right to generate. First came the beak. Then the talons.

Down fell the monster.

Littlefoot's jaw dropped. That did it? That actually did it?

As Pterano launched back into the sky, his voice spurred them with urgency. "FLEE, Children! Make HASTE!"

With quick, little nods, the young leafeaters bolted.

The sharptooth was down, but not out. His eyes filled with white hot fury as he watched the creatures he hated most slipping from his claws for the billionth time. Not. This. Time.

Not.

This.

Time.



Skip, Ducky and Spike dashed along the ledge of a steep, stony incline.

"There's a shortcut just around this corner!" Skip declared, before skidding to a stop upon seeing that 'shortcut'.

The fuzzy scrambled when Spike nearly trampled him upon catching up. The path had been completely buried in rubble, with a smattering of vegetation growing upon the rocks and soil.

"It's been a while," Skip admitted. "Musta been a landslide."

"You think we should go back and help them?" asked Ducky.

Spike didn't seem to hear her. He'd begun to scan the bushes, the shadows, even craning his neck to check his blindside.

A chill went down Ducky's spine. He was spooked, and frankly she was spooked too. Something tickled their senses, whether a twig snap or the slightest scent that touched their noses.

Skip had reacted much the same way, although no one noticed on account of his size. It would seem he had underestimated the youngsters. They had some pretty sharp instincts.

"Yep, we're not alone," he quietly confirmed.

Spike's eyes grew frantic before they seemingly locked onto Ducky. Her alarms blared as she realised he wasn't looking at her, but beyond her.

He opened his mouth. "DUCKY! DUUUCK!"

The swimmer froze. It had been years since she'd heard words take shape from that voice. The last time, it heralded panic. This time was no different. Partly by the shock, partly by the off-balancing similarity of the prompt and her name, Ducky failed to register the command before something crashed into her back and down she went. The fall hurt, but the thing that had latched on from behind?

It hurt much more.

Scarcely had Ducky hit the ground before Spike's tail swept over her, removing the weight from her back with a sharp impact.

Screech tumbled.

The swimmer clambered to her feet before spotting Thud creeping up on Spike.

"BEHIND YOU!" Ducky shrieked.

By the time Spike spun, the fast biter had attached himself to his side. He thrashed. He shook. He had no idea how to get the sharptooth off. Ducky could barely watch what was happening to her brother, but her legs carried her before she even needed to think.

Thud squawked in outrage as the swimmer grabbed him from behind, yanking him off his would-be prey. He writhed frenetically. She was bigger, but his compact muscles were hardened by countless hunts. Her muscles felt piteously squishy by comparison, but she refused to let go.

It didn't take long for Thud to kick free.

Once Ducky collected herself, she lunged at him. He easily darted back from her paws.

Frankly, Screech was surprised the swimmer wanted to grab Thud after the ferocious struggle. Brave or not, she was too slow. Next time she touched him, it would be claws first.

Screech shook off Spike's blow and stalked towards him, easily dodging a swing of the spiked tail.

The fast biters moved to either side of the leafeaters, preparing to attack from both directions.

Ducky and Spike went back to back, trying to keep both sharpteeth in view at all times.

Screech scoffed. They weren't even doing it right!

Relishing the moment, Screech sent Littlefoot a long-distance call, announcing that they'd found his friends, and ohh, the pity that he was not there to see what happened! He taunted the longneck for being such a good fighter, yet his friends clearly knew nothing of combat. Why hadn't he taught them a trick or two? Did he really care about them? So much for friendship. He could regret his failure to prepare them for such times for the rest of his short life ... assuming he was still alive.



Running alongside the longneck, Cera caught Littlefoot choking back a sob.

"What's wrong? What'd they say?" she demanded.

The longneck shook away the tears. "Nevermind! FASTER!"

She frowned. If anything happened to their friends, she would make it her life's mission to repay the sharpteeth.



Well, time to dig in. Screech lowered himself for a pounce and ordered Thud to do the same, though the other fast biter hesitated.

With a snarl, Screech demanded to know why Thud was ignoring his command?

Thud hissed: First off, he had no obligation to follow Screech's command. Second, he wanted to switch targets. Screech could handle the swimmer, while he would deal with the spiketail.

Screech blinked in confusion before asking since when Thud had a preference?

Ducky gulped as she stepped forward. "Thud, you remember me, don't you? Please do not do this to us!"

Screech demanded to know why that leafeater was talking as if she knew Thud?!

Thud snapped that it was nothing! He had no 'preference'! If Screech would just shut his mouth, they could finish the leafeaters once and for all!

The swimmer clasped her paws. "Please, please, please, please, plea-!"

With a splitting roar, Thud demanded that everyone be quiet! The swimmer was deluded if she thought she could bleat her way out of this after all the years upon years of shame the kids had put them through!

Growling, Screech promised that they would talk about this later. For now, they would feast!

At the side of his eye, he glimpsed a pink streak. It shot through the air, colliding with him in a shattering kick. Screech fell, rolled to his feet and charged before he could even identify the threat. All he knew was that it was roughly his size, and his instincts demanded immediate fatal action!

Ducky and Spike gaped in awe as the two, speeding forms clashed in a frenzied display of melee. When tail met jaw and foot met chest in the same instant, fast runner and fast biter parted under the force of their blows.

Ruby dusted herself off, glaring down her opponent.

Screech chirped in recognition. This was the daughter of those two troublesome fast runners! They didn't interfere nearly as much as The Daybreaker, knowing their limits and actively avoiding Red Claw. However, when Screech and Thud were alone, they proved to be formidable rivals from time to time. When they fought, the fast biters never forgot it. When they ran, even Screech and Thud could scarcely keep up, and their offspring was right here! Screech gave a happy croon. They would finally catch those meddlesome kids, and spite the fast runners by taking their daughter!

This was a wonderful day!

He snarled, drawing her attention while Thud crept up behind her. Just as the second fast biter pounced, a blue blur knocked him out of the air in that all-too familiar flying kick made famous by the fast runners.

Ruby glanced back. "Thank you, Father, thank you!"

"No problem, Ruby, no problem at all!" he replied.

Screech rolled his eyes. He may not have understood most of what they said, but he knew redundant repetition when he heard it. Fast runners made it particularly blatant on account of their habit of talking in circles. It annoyed him. A lot. Oh well: at least it was just the male and his half-pint daughter this time.

This was still a good day.

The ground shook. The fast biters darted into a bush. Moments later, Littlefoot, Cera and Petrie came into view, barrelling up the slope.

Okay, things were getting out of claw. If Red Claw would just get up there, maybe they could salvage the day.

"You're alive!" Littlefoot cried out in relief.

"Why are you just standing there?" demanded Cera.

"An old landslide's blocking our shortcut," Skip explained.

"And Screech and Thud are hiding over there!" Ducky quickly informed them with a point.

The threehorn huffed. "Fine! I have no problem giving those sharpteeth another beat down!"

Hunting leafeaters, it was difficult to avoid picking up the meaning of certain words. The fast biters knew what their prey called them, and they knew that 'over there', declared with a sense of urgency, generally meant that their cover was blown.

Before the leafeaters could reach them, the fast biters bolted a little way down the path.

"HA! Look at 'em go!" Cera laughed. "Oh wait, they're stopping and staring at us."

"I think they're just keeping a safe distance until Red Claw gets here," Littlefoot supposed.

Cera snorted, pawing at the ground like a bull. "Let 'im come."

An unfamiliar roar gave everyone pause.

Thud groaned. What now?

Chomper came sliding down an incline too steep to climb. Closer to Littlefoot's size than Cera's, he sent mild tremors through the ground when he reached the bottom.

Screech hissed in annoyance. Oh, COME ON! Was The Lone Dinosaur himself planning to make an entrance?!

Everyone stared. They hadn't heard Chomper roar in years. Their frayed nerves weren't taking it well. He sounded just like a real sharptooth!

Sensing their awkwardness, Chomper's ferocity melted as he fiddled with his fore claws. "Um ... Sorry, guys. Was that a bit loud?"

Littlefoot shook off the startlement. What was he thinking? Chomper was a 'real' sharptooth, but he was also a fantastic friend.

Cera greeted him with a soft headbutt. "Are you kidding? That was awesome!"

Littlefoot slapped a friendly tail over Chomper's shoulder. "Yeah! Great to see you, buddy!"

Chomper brightened. "You too! So, guess I missed all the action?"

Cera gave a wave of the tail. "Nah. Maybe today you'll finally get to 'save The Mysterious Beyond' from Red Claw. He should be catching up shortly."

Chomper eyed her with scrutiny. She'd said that so nonchalantly. Was she messing with him? He was beginning to grin at the joke when he spotted Screech and Thud standing at a short distance.

Then came Red Claw's livid roar.

"You were SERIOUS?" Chomper exclaimed.

Cera laughed. "Yeah! This moment will live forever!"

Pterano shot up the hill, dismay contorting his features as he spotted the youngsters simply standing there.

"Why aren't you FLEEING?!" he demanded.

"Landslide," most of the leafeaters answered in unison.

A displeased Screech scanned the path. At this stage, he honestly was expecting The Lone Dinosaur to show up. All he saw was Red Claw raging up the hillside in one of his foulest moods yet. It was a moderate comfort.

Littlefoot quickly thought up a strategy before turning to the others. "Cera, Chomper, you and I are the first line of attack."

The threehorn pattered the ground in excitement. "It's just like in my sleep stories!"

The longneck turned to Pterano. "Mr. Flyer, I'm not really sure what I can ask of you, since I haven't seen you fight beyond the first dive."

Pterano smiled. "You will see in due time. I shall supplement your efforts on the front line, discombobulating Red Claw when opportunity avails itself."

"Discombobu- What?" asked Littlefoot.

"Pterano, we speak leafeater," Cera reminded with a dry look.

"It means 'confuse'," Pterano clarified. "I'll confuse Red Claw."

Littlefoot nodded before acknowledging the fast runners. "Ruby, Mr. Fast Runner, chances are Screech and Thud will try to attack Ducky and Spike, in order to divide our attention as we face Red Claw. Make sure they don't get past you."

The fast runners nodded.

"Ducky, Spike, try to stay clear. Skip, can you maybe hide somewhere?"

"You know I can!" Skip declared before easily scampering up the slope they had no hope of climbing and watching things play out from a comfy spot beneath a bush.

Cera tilted her head. "Huh ... I guess they're advantages to being a tiny, tickly fuzzy."

Littlefoot nodded. "Petrie, stick to the air. You're in no danger so long as you fly high enough."

The flyer frowned. "But ... I want to help!"

Littlefoot smiled, proud of his friend's courage. "I know, but the best way you can help is by staying safe."

Petrie sighed as he perched on Spike's back. "Okay ..."

"Stay in the air, remember?" stressed Littlefoot.

"Oh, right! My bad!" the flyer replied as he took off.

The conversation concluded when Red Claw's roar drowned out all else.

The tyrant had arrived.

The leafeaters got into position.

Thud squawked, drawing Red Claw's attention.

The giant glowered down at him, not appreciating the interruption.

Gesturing the leafeaters, Thud stated that they were facing a Lone Dinosaur in training, the youngest threehorn to ever survive a one-on-one fight fight with Red Claw, a meddlesome pair of fast runners, a young rogue sharptooth and The Daybreaker himself: Six formidable enemies, not counting the spiketail, swimmer and flyer. They were master hunters, and master hunters always knew when to see the odds for what they were and abort a hunt!

Thud shrank to a crouch as Red Claw's gaze came down on him like a rain of flying rocks. With the most guttural, most menacing tone Thud had ever heard, Red Claw declared that this wasn't a hunt anymore. It was like the longneck said. They wouldn't all be going home that day. The fast biters could leave if they wanted to, but first they had to know this: if they abandoned him, if he survived, he would treat them no differently from these hated enemies. There wouldn't be a nook in The Mysterious Beyond where they could hide from his wrath.

Screech and Thud exchanged glances before affirming their loyalty in stammering croaks.

As the sharpteeth conversed, the leafeaters had a discussion of their own.

"They're hesitating," Littlefoot noted. "This is the perfect time to-"

"Wait, wait, wait, I gotta say something awesome," Cera interrupted before scrunching her brow as she strained her brain for an epic statement.

Littlefoot could not believe her. "Cera! They're not gonna wait for you to-!"

"No,no,no, shh!"she commanded. "Just gimme a sec."

The threehorn thumped her paw in annoyance. Why was it so hard to come up with a ...? Oooh!This was a pretty good one!

"RED CLAW!" the threehorn shouted. "They call you the BIGGEST, the MEANEST sharptooth of them all', yet you stoop down to menace little kids! Return to your nest, or REMEMBER this day! REMEMBER the day The Bright Circle peered from the heavens and watched you CRASH to your KNEES! LOOK at us! We're not 'LITTLE KIDS' anymore! WE are your FALL!"

Everyone stared at her with jaws ajar. Did that actually come out of Cera?

Red Claw gave her a dry look. Had she forgotten that her primitive grunting meant little to him? Silly child.

Cera looked up at Littlefoot. "Be a dear and translate, will ya?"

The longneck shook away the astonishment. "Um, okay."

She smiled as Littlefoot quoted her with a fluctuating roar worthy of her words.

Screech and Thud went silent. Red Claw's eyes widened before they snapped to the threehorn, narrowing. She tilted her head with a big, smug smile. He had to admit: that was a fairly decent burn for intrinsically cretinous walking meat. He appreciated that she was drawing attention to herself. In the heat of battle, it was easy to forget that he wanted to take his time with her.

"Hmph!" Cera snorted. "He seems to have trouble getting what I said through his thick skull. Ooh! Littlefoot, would you care to tell him that?"

The longneck quickly shook his head. "We really shouldn't make him madder than we need to."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine. I think he'll understand this!"

Cera gave a belligerent bellow.

Red Claw's monstrous roar immediately swallowed up her voice, backed by the snarls of Screech and Thud.

Then Littlefoot joined her, compounding the sound with cracks of his tail like peels of thunder. Pterano's screech pierced the clamour. Chomper's roar came booming in. The eccentric cries of the fast runners accentuated the din. Even Spike, Ducky and Petrie, spectators though they were, contributed battle cries of their own.

Red Claw's roar no longer reigned supreme. The cacophonous fervour of nine, united voices raged against him.



"So, basically it's a shouting match?" a younger Littlefoot once asked Doc.

Cera gave an eyeroll. "You say that like a shouting match is such a little thing."

"More than that," The Lone Dinosaur explained. "Sharpteeth roar to mess with your mind: to convince you they're bigger, stronger, scarier. Roar back with unwavering confidence to tell 'em: 'I'm not afraid of you. I don't care how big you are. I don't care how strong, 'cause come what may, I. Stand. Against. You."

"Whoa ... so, more than a shouting match?" asked Cera.

Doc nodded. "A good battle cry reminds you how strong you are, especially together. It can even make a sharptooth feel weaker."




The hillside shook under the uproar.

Cera caught a trace of trepidation in Red Claw's features as he seemed to see the mighty foes before him for the first time. This was the perfect moment.

"CHARGE!" Cera commanded.

Footfalls thundering, wings pounding air, the six behemoths barrelled towards the sharpteeth.

Red Claw caught Screech and Thud stumbling backwards. With a sharp snarl, he spurred them to attack before storming towards the tidal wave of giants. In spite of everything, Screech and Thud wondered if they should have taken their chances and abandoned Red Claw. Maybe his wrath was the least of their worries.

Maybe none of them would survive this.



I don't know about you guys, but that felt like writing the opening to a superhero war ... and 'The War Before Time' hasn't even begun yet! I'm rubbing my hands together, smiling like a big goof just thinking about it!

So, what did you think?

Thanks for reading!