For the month of October we have a new character showcase.  Please warmly welcome the infamous trio as they finally make their debut on the forum! :thudstonk  :RedclawTerrified  The character showcase topic for this month can be found here.

We are also in the final stretch of the forum awards, with the appreciated member voting now in progress.  Feel free to cast your votes here.

Also keep in mind that the forum fanfiction awards will be opening up after the appreciated member voting has been completed.  If you are interested in participating then please submit the stories of yours you would like to nominate to me by PM.  Details can be found here.

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Messages - The Mr E

Pages: 1 2
1
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 18, 2020, 06:48:46 PM »
WOW!! :Mo This is such a unique and well done character design--I hardly ever see Amargasaurus get any attention, but they're such a cool species! I really hope we'll see more art from you in the future!

Thanks so much!! :D  I intend to release more art at some point, roping in The Gang of Five and designs for the Far Beyonders (beings from Beyond the Mysterious Beyond).  Might submit a comic featuring Dagara in the near future.  In the meantime, I'd appreciate your take on her story.  Though she ultimately meets the gang in future instalments, I'd like to know if the OC-driven tale is effective.  You can find it at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13556382/1/Because-You-re-a-Sharpneck-A-War-Before-Time-Oneshot

2
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 12, 2020, 02:20:35 AM »
Very cool Mr E! I'm not much into OCs personally but this one is really unique. I like the flowing pattern on the back!

Thank you  :)!  Some of her secondary colour distribution was initially more like Littlefoot's, but I decided to spice it up a bit.  I'd love to see people use the amargasaurus species more in fiction.  Her dynamic with Littlefoot will hopefully be interesting.

3
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 12, 2020, 02:06:35 AM »
Ah, there we go. Looks great. :D

Wonderful, and thanks!

4
I mentioned in the thread for the "useless sharptooth" that I've spent 70% of my time - probably more now that I think about it - in the TLBT fandom with my head buried in the sharptooth aspect in the series. Of that 70%, I would wager that up to 20% of that time has been spent mocking "the biggest and meanest sharptooth of them all".

Yeah, I'm not gonna beat around the bush, I think Red Claw stinks; for as much as they try to build him up - I've already mentioned Chomper's description of him but there's also the fact that the reason Chomper and Ruby are in the Great Valley in the first place is because their parents want them to be safe from him - he doesn't really do anything more than roar, try to look intimidating and miserably fail to catch a few little kids six times over (his last appearance isn't even him threatening anyone, it's just him out for a stroll in the vicinity of Hanging Rock). His minions don't fare a lot better; Screech and (usually) Thud are no more interesting than any of the other bland post-art shift sharpteeth are outside of 'Escape from the Mysterious Beyond', which gives spotlight to Thud and is actually sort of interesting.

1.) Because the TV series doesn't elaborate on the sharpteeth's personalities too much past that welcome glimpse at Thud, I'm going to veer into headcanon territory here: I don't think Screech shares his honor and I'm certain that, if they ever tried to pull anything like what happened in that episode and Red Claw found out, the tyrannosaur would have their heads in a heartbeat.

2.) I see their failures as a blend of both... mostly incompetence, though  :bestsharptooth



I actually have a little something for this (I say "little"); something I started in May that was/is still intended as the opener for a larger story about what happened to Red Claw after the events of 'The Hidden Canyon'. Unlike the other unfinished story I've shared here, I think this works on its own as a silly, short one-shot; have you ever wanted to read 833-word description of what was going through Red Claw's mind when Topps launched that one treesweet down his windpipe?





Red Claw could only handle so much.

"He-hey, that looks like fun! Toss me a piece," an unintelligible voice had grunted before this moment.

There were a slew of words that could have been used to describe the sensations that ran through Red Claw on that fateful day. Anger, frustration, humiliation, bewilderment...

None embodied what was surging through him quite as well as "disgust".

Treesweets, especially of this kind, were never meant to be be eaten by sharpteeth. They were tuned to entice leaf-eaters to eat them, digest them and pass along their seeds after all was said and done - these fruits in particular were loaded with sugars and acids and had a smooth, creamy texture that greatly appealed to herbivores, bolstered by an intensely powerful, pleasant aroma.

Sharpteeth were different beasts, with dramatically different tastes from their flat-toothed cousins and ways of taking in senses such as smell and taste. To the carnivores, the smell of the treesweets alone was enough to deter them from wherever they grew - what the leaf-eaters regarded as a delectable precursor to a heavenly meal registered as unbearably sweet to the carnivores, so strong that it could make even a young one's nostrils feel as if they were burning if they were present in great enough numbers. Just the Great Valley's luck that there so happened to be an entire grove of these aromatic fruits' trees growing in the adjacent Hidden Canyon, and just Red Claw, Screech and Thud's luck that the valley's resident seven children had stripped the canyon of the majority of its deterrents.

That "luck" had ultimately led to this point. A rain of treesweets upon Screech and Thud and, in Red Claw's case, a once-in-a-lifetime sample of one of the accursed things.

The taste of the treesweet was difficult for Red Claw to comprehend. In fact, it had taken a moment for his mind to register that the big threehorn had launched one down his gullet in the first place. For the ever-brief period of time that its taste was the only thing that struck him, he, having only ever consumed the flesh and body parts of other animals and having spent a good portion of his early life fighting for scraps of varying quality, could best liken the texture to that of an eyeball - unpleasantly soft with a vague gelatinous feel - and the taste itself to the stomach of a yellowbelly - too sweet for even the most hyperactive fastbiter chick.

If the taste were not repulsive enough, the following sensation of the treesweet's scent filling his mouth, overloading his nostrils and sabotaging his hyper-sensitive olfactory bulb would have been enough to send a smaller sharptooth into a coma. His split-second decision to swallow the thing only sealed his fate.

Tears streamed down the tyrannosaur's cheeks as his face began to pale and his lower jaw trembled. He could barely even curse inwardly at himself, his tiny brain too wracked by the agony wrought by the fruit. Before he had the chance to collapse by himself out of sheer shock, the longneck that accompanied the threehorn in his fight against he and his fastbiters - all but forgotten in his moment of weakness - lashed his thick tail at the sharptooth's ankle, sending him tumbling to the canyon floor with a resounding crash.

Lying on his side, Red Claw had a chance to recuperate slightly. His face was slathered in vivid, pink, pulpy juice from the treesweets, products of the barrage that had preceded the incident that had fried his brain and forced his fastbiter subordinates to retreat, but the feeling in his head was starting to fade, albeit barely. Though his vision was typically quite acute for a sharptooth with impaired binocular vision, at the moment, it was difficult for him to make out much more than vague shapes and tiny, floating "stars". A horrid, indescribable aftertaste lingered inside his his mouth. Tucking his scarred arm under his multi-ton bulk and not raising his head from the ground, he opened his eyes and made an effort to look out in front of himself.

Oh, treestars, what did I just...?

Even with his vision blurred, he could make out blobs of yellow soaring towards him from the direction of the longneck and the threehorn, and even in his dazed state, the sight was enough to make his heart drop into his stomach.

With all of the strength he could muster, Red Claw rolled himself onto his belly and pushed his huge body off of the ground with all four of his limbs, turning to face his attackers one last time.

This won't be the last you see of me! I swear it! he bellowed, before lumbering off in the opposite direction, his words falling upon all of the victors of the battle but one as a meaningless roar. Many yards ahead, Screech and Thud bolted towards the canyon leading back the Mysterious Beyond. He growled to himself and picked up his pace to keep up.


That.  Was.  HILARIOUS!  Thought I was in for a treat when you asked "have you ever wanted to read 833-word description of what was going through Red Claw's mind when Topps launched that one treesweet down his windpipe?"  To think you got so much quality mileage out of such a short scene!

I have to agree on your initial points concerning Red Claw, Screech and Thud.  They really don't live up to the hype, and seem to spend the vast majority of their time flexing intimidation.  Akin to your head canon, I ended up portraying Thud as the more honourable of the two in my writing, not that he makes it very obvious most of the time.  I also attempted to paint Red Claw as something truly formidable, with a few twists that set him up as more than a mere predator who 'randomly' bumps into the Gang of Seven.  There's nothing 'random' about him.  He's actually ... well, I won't spoil it.  Here's a clip of my own, if you want an idea:



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 standing there in silent fury. Did he expect her to 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 taken him down in one hit! 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 had 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, ending up back on 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 forepaw. 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 wrong?" 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 as though he were losing interest!

Cera subconsciously slackened her muscles as 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 beginning 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.



Check out more of the story at: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13516136/1/War-Before-Time-Part-1-Mentors-of-Yesteryears

5
LBT Fanart / Re: Sneak's bushes
« on: October 11, 2020, 02:01:55 AM »
Thank you, Stardisk!

---------

Now, it's Petrie's turn. His menacing emotion.





Whoaa!  Pretty intense emoticon!  It's fascinating to glimpse this side of panicky Petrie: something I'd like to expand on a bit in my writing.

6
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 10, 2020, 03:10:46 PM »
Thank you!   :chompysmile

7
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 09, 2020, 10:04:31 PM »
Sorry everyone.   I'm pretty sure that was my fault as opposed to ArtStation's.  I did a lot of scatter-brained stuff to try and get the picture at just the right size on this site  :rhett_smile.  Is it working now?  Furthermore, does anyone know how to scale images, or does it purely depend on the size of the source image?

Yes, it is working now.
To change the size of image, add width or height parameter in pixels to the IMG tag.
For example:
Code: [Select]
[img width=1000]https://cdna.artstation.com/p/assets/images/images/031/004/068/large/ethan-alleyne-dagara-small.jpg?1602284106[/img]Or:
[/code]
I wouldn't recommend you to put both parameters at the same time because it can ruin the aspect ratio of the image.

Thank you so much!  I plan to do some more artwork of her, but for now here's a profile.

[/code]

8
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 09, 2020, 08:53:39 PM »
Sorry everyone.   I'm pretty sure that was my fault as opposed to ArtStation's.  I did a lot of scatter-brained stuff to try and get the picture at just the right size on this site  :rhett_smile.  Is it working now?  Furthermore, does anyone know how to scale images, or does it purely depend on the size of the source image?

9
LBT Projects / Re: Internet Before Time [Updated 2020/09/29]
« on: October 06, 2020, 04:23:16 AM »
I couldn't quite picture the concept of 'Internet Before Time' before scrolling down, and boy oh boy, it didn't disappoint!  70% of the time I was snickering uncontrollably!!  There are so many Easter eggs in these pseudo posts  :lol:!

The YouTube video by far my personal favourite.  Everyone's perfectly in character, even within this anachronistic scenario!  Trust Cera to edit it to 'You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)'.  Poor Ducky tried so hard to reel her in, only for Mr. Threehorn to give her the Father's Seal of Approval.  Funny how you can see that Littlefoot's the one watching the video.  Can't see his reaction, but it goes without saying that he was irked on behalf of longneck kind.  Wait a minute ... Littlefoot's 'A Little Creepy Crawlie Scares Cera' video got 1.4M VIEWS?!?  I'm starting to feel less sympathetic for Littlefoot.  The other video suggestions are a hoot!  'Crazy Stone Eater', 'Cera and Flathead are Dating!?!?', 'Ducky Plans for Great Valley Domination', 'Chomper Caught Eggnapping', 'Local Mud Brother Exposed'!  I'm still snickering  :lol: :lol: :lol:!

10
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 05, 2020, 11:25:22 PM »
Thank you!  I might answer that question with an image at some point, but for now I'll say she'll grow even spikier: an interesting balance between sharptooth-level intimidation and swan-like elegance ... but don't ever tell her that last part.  She hates the idea of being 'elegant'.

11
LBT Fanart / Re: War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 05, 2020, 02:41:00 AM »
Thanks, ha ha!  'Spikenecks'?  Is that what some people call them?  In my case, I call them 'sharpnecks' as a subtle nod to ... well, check out the story to find out.  Let's just say her spikes aren't the only sharp thing about her  ;)Cera.

12
LBT Fanart / War Before Time - Concept Art
« on: October 05, 2020, 12:22:13 AM »
Introducing Dagara the Sharpneck!

Hidden Valley's only amargasaurus, Dagara is the last of her kind (so far as we know).  This endling is the protagonist of 'Because You're a Sharpneck'.  It occurred to me that many may be unfamiliar with her kind, which might just be my favourite dinosaur species after I recently found out about them.  Thus, I decided to create a visual representation that nobody asked for!

Check out her story on The Gang of Five forum at: https://www.gangoffive.net/index.php?topic=16913.0
or on FanFiction at: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13556382/1/Because-You-re-a-Sharpneck-A-War-Before-Time-Oneshot
This short, comedic oneshot about Dagara and her adoptive threehorn dad will give you a quick taste of her crazy life: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13557155/1/Babysitting-a-Sharpneck-A-War-Before-Time-Oneshot




13
LBT Fanfiction / The Battle Before Time
« on: September 13, 2020, 04:15:03 PM »
SUMMARY: Trained by The Lone Dinosaur, Littlefoot has grown into a legend-worthy warrior. Peek into the epic battles of a young adult Littlefoot, interspersed with childhood training, as he fights his way through The Mysterious Beyond on an equally mysterious quest to save The Land Before Time. Rated K plus for being slightly more violent than most of The Land Before Time series ... except perhaps the original movie.



See the story on FanFiction here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13404463/1/The-Battle-Before-Time

PLEASE NOTE: I've made a few smallish changes to the continuity in this story, as you'll see below:

1 - The scale difference between sharpteeth and leafeaters is truer to life, with Littlefoot's species being much 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. In addition, rogue sharpteeth have a tendency to grow larger than their somewhat more social counterparts. The size difference isn't always conspicuous, but some, including Sharptooth from the original movie, and Red Claw from the TV series, can get pretty close to the weight class of an apatosaurus like Littlefoot.

2 - In reality, Littlefoot's species is thought to have used their tails like a whip, capable of breaking the sonic barrier at the tip. The result? They could pretty much create thunderclaps. Apparently, such tails may have been better for scaring off enemies than actual fights, but I decided to cherry pick the best of both worlds :).

3 - In the original series, Doc, 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.

4 - This isn't a 'change' so much as an elaboration, since dinosaur lifespans were never specified in the original series ... if memory serves. In this story, longnecks can get pretty old, and even at an advanced age they can be surprisingly active. 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 fact that his species may have had long lifespans in real life. Threehorn lifespans are a little more modest here, since Mr. Threehorn's age took a toll on him while Grandma and Grandpa were still in fairly good shape.

5 - Understandably, the main characters' personalities (and grammar) have evolved a bit over the years, although they're still the same prehistoric pals we know and love at heart.

Are you still reading the bold text? If so, colour me impressed! Now do a few stretches, stay hydrated, pace yourself and you'll have over a 30% chance of avoiding Readers' Cramp.

Enjoy!




The Battle Before Time



The sandy landscape quaked beneath Littlefoot's feet as he thundered forward. How many this time? Two? Three? Three, tops. Either way, it didn't matter. He saw clouds of dust beyond the dune, agitated by the commotion; heard the shrieks devoured by roars of the creatures that would likewise devour the shrieker, unless he had something to say about it.

The would-be victim scrambled into sight over the dune. He wasn't expecting it to be a juvenile fast biter, and the utahraptor wasn't expecting to see a longneck raging towards him. The small predator froze, chest swelling and shrinking in rapid, ragged breaths as he stared at the behemoth whose head eclipsed the Sun.

Littlefoot slowed to a sudden stop, sending a wave of sand lunging towards the youngster. Even as it rained upon the fast biter, the raptor didn't move, petrified. The creature's head and elbow elbows snapped flat against his body in an instinctive effort to look smaller and less threatening.

Longneck and fast biter locked eyes in silent communication. Littlefoot lowered his head so as to close the gap between their gazes, stopping just out of pouncing range. He'd never seen this species before. The creature smelled funny, as though doused in some kind of stink weed. How many times had Littlefoot fled similar creatures? More than he could count, but that was a long time ago. Now, he was big even by the standards of his species. He could flatten a fast biter with a single step, and he had no doubt that this raptor was thinking the same thing. The fierce resolution in the longneck's eyes did little to console the fast biter, but there was also a warmth within them. There was even a lingering childlike innocence that years of fighting through the Mysterious Beyond would never fully stamp out.

Glancing between the longneck and the unseen threat behind him, the fast biter decided to take his chances with the herbivore. He darted behind the giant's leg and all but collapsed in exhaustion, warily peeking past the pillar of an ankle while casting concerned glances at the feet that could so easily stomp him.

Littlefoot's gaze hardened as the predators stormed over the dune: not two, not three, but four sharpteeth - apex hunters, all of them. Littlefoot raised an eyebrow (or lack thereof). How interesting. One of them belonged to the T. rex species. He was big, but practically a runt compared to the others. Two sizeable gigantosauruses put him to shame, but the largest of the group? Littlefoot had hadn't seen one of those in ages, and this one was massive enough to make the others look like adolescents. With a sail standing proud on his back, there was no doubt about its status as alpha. In another world, this nightmare would be known as a spinosaurus.

The sharpteeth halted, silenced by the sight before them: a fast biter taking refuge in the shadow of a longneck. They exchanged glances and thoughtful grunts in their guttural tongue. Littlefoot picked up snatches of information based on what Chomper had taught him about the sharptooth language. If he heard right, the gigantosauruses were inquiring about their alpha's next commands. Hardly acknowledging his subordinates, the spinosaurus tilted his head, claws contemplatively flexing as he eyed the enigma of a longneck. It seemed he felt no obligation to share his thoughts with the pack until he was good and ready. The name they addressed him by translated as the talon of a creature larger and more terrible than any dinosaur. The talon of a titan.

Titan's Talon shot the longneck a bloodcurdling roar, silencing his comrades.

The young fast biter flinched.

Littlefoot stood firm as the mountain that he was, exuding intensity in a gaze piercing as any claw.

The sharpteeth sneered, flustered and slightly unnerved by Littlefoot's stubbornness. What was wrong with this longneck? Why wouldn't he cower? Didn't he know his fate as a walking hunk of meat? This brazen attitude was like water on the flames of their predatory instincts. Their advantage was their numbers. His was his size. If something that big had a secret game changer to bolster his confidence, it would do them good to know about it before attacking.

Titan's Talon pushed forward the T. rex. The smaller dinosaur protested with a startled yelp, but it died in his throat when he caught the look in the alpha's eyes. The spinosaurus wouldn't so much as argue with him. If need be, his teeth would do the talking. Choking back a whimper, the rex looked up at the longneck, only to find an unblinking glare nearly as menacing as that of his alpha. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The T. rex inched forward. Littlefoot lowered himself in a battle stance more akin to a sharptooth than a leafeater. It looked as if he were ready to pounce! The poor predator didn't stand a chance, and they both knew it. The longneck's eyes softened a touch, surprising the rex. With an undulating growl leaning towards a purr, Littlefoot asked a single question.

'Friends?'

The sharptooth gagged on his shock.

Littlefoot repeated himself. Friends?

That childlike innocence burned bright in his penetrating eyes, promising that this wasn't a trick. In his eyes, the sharptooth glimpsed a world where predators and herbivores could live in harmony, in spite of what they were and what they ate. Littlefoot throbbed that the old way of life was dying, but they could figure out how to build a better world. They could figure it out together.

A rumbling growl shook the T. rex from his fleeting connection with Littlefoot. He and the longneck looked to see Titan's Talon flexing his claws in impatience. The alpha's expression said it all: he could see what was happening, and he was a breath away from finishing the smaller sharptooth himself.

The rex reestablished eye contact with the longneck. Littlefoot's firm yet imploring gaze spoke as clearly as any tongue. Please. There was still a choice.

In a flash, the sharptooth's hesitance vanished. He had made his choice. Thundering a roar, he charged, swerving to flank the herbivore a few metres from pouncing distance. It did him no good.

*KRAACK!*

The sharptooth spiraled through the air before landing in a motionless heap at the feet of the spinosaurus. The gigantosauruses were visibly shaken. They had never seen a longneck swing his tail like that. The freaky part? They had scarcely seen it move in the first place! The attack was almost too fast for the eye to track.

Titan's Talon stared at his fallen ally unperturbed – slightly irked, if anything.

Littlefoot's anger flared at the shameless disregard for life. He bellowed in outrage, accentuating the sound with a whip of the tail that sent a thunderclap of a crack sweeping across the desert. The sharpteeth responded with cacophonous roars of their own.

Eyes winced shut, the fast biter pressed his paws against his ears as the clashing sounds tore through the air for miles around. He felt the longneck's shadow depart as the giant's feet swept past him, shaking the Earth. Fearful as he was, he couldn't help but crack an eyelid to watch. This could be a battle for the ages. His life was depending on it.



Years Prior ...



A young Littlefoot watched in awe as Doc went through what was apparently his morning routine. Moving with grace and speed belying 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," the adult 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. I mean, you are The Lone Dinosaur, after all! It's just that I've never seen grownup longnecks do it without hurting themselves!"

Doc gave a dry chuckle. "Been conditioning my bones and muscles since I was young. 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. "If you know how to fight, 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 visiting - be gone by the next time The Bright Circle's high."

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 scary 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 call of adventure? Sometimes, perhaps, but more than anything, for friends, for family, even for total strangers. And who were these dinosaurs? 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, whether he liked it or not. He had become 'The Lone Dinosaur', immortalised as a hero. 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.




Back in the Present ...



Longneck and sharpteeth accelerated as their collision grew nigh. Littlefoot noticed how the Titan's Talon slowed to let his underlings to move ahead of him. The coward!

At the last second, Littlefoot turned as though to retreat, baffling the predators. What was this crazy longneck up to? The answer came when he, perfectly positioned, swept a sandy tsunami into the air with his tail. Startled, the predators paused as their prey vanished behind the wall of dust. First to gather his wits, the gigantosaurus male dashed around the cloud, never expecting the longneck to dash with him. The predator flinched to as top as he found himself face to face with the giant. Impossible! No lumbering longneck could move that fast! His staggered thoughts jarred to a stop as Littlefoot's rapidly raised foreleg found his gut. The sharptooth crumpled, breath battered from his lungs.

Littlefoot's eyes snapped backwards as he felt the hot breath of another attacker on his tail. He shifted clear of a pair of jaws before treating their owner to a swift hip bump. The gigantosaurus stumbled right into a tail whack followed by a headbutt in quick succession. Dazed, she saw no option but to collapse.

Now for big one.

Charging in, Titan's Talon was metres away. The predator ducked, feeling the waft of the longneck's tail swinging over his head and sail. Dodging did little to slow the sharptooth. Surely this was it! Surely lightning couldn't strike thrice! The leafeater had exhausted his moves. The alpha would have him in his jaws!

Fat chance.

Littlefoot felt the muzzle of those massive jaws brush against his scales, but that was all. He had already moved out of harm's way. Even as physics demanded that he take a moment to recover from the rapid dodge, he was was primed for a counter attack.



"As a grownup, your weight is your best friend and your worst enemy," Doc stated. "Know what you're doing. Follow through with it. It's too easy to stumble on your momentum if you bail on a movement choice. You can't afford to do that. Every move counts. Even with training, your speed won't be enough. It pays to be tricky: to prep your attacks so your opponents can't figure out what you're doing. Get into position, smoothly, non-threateningly, then strike. They won't know what hit 'em. It'll also serve you well to make them think you're doing one thing when you're doing somethin' else."

"So that's not the same as doing something and then bailing on it?" asked Littlefoot.

Doc smiled. His student was always thinking.

"Don't actually do it. Just make it look like you're doing it without over-committing to the action," Doc clarified. "Sometimes, however, you'll have to break the rules and transform one action into another."

"You're confusing me," Littlefoot groaned.

Doc chuckled. So he was.

"You'll learn to strike a balance and use your judgement," Doc stated. "Don't forget to keep thinkin' on your feet. Shouldn't be hard for you."




Bit by bit, the gigantosauruses were coming to. The T. rex was a few steps ahead in picking himself back up, but he decided to wait until all his comrades had fully recovered. He didn't want to get between the alpha and his newfound playmate without backup.

This spino was fast. Focused. Even with the longneck's tail cracking past his ears, he'd managed to dodge three rapid fire attacks. Titan's Talon jumped back, gaining some breathing space. Littlefoot surged forward, closing the distance before the sharptooth could draw a breath. Two snappy tail strikes to the temple and Titan's Talon tottered, but didn't fall. Tough fella.

Incensed, the sharptooth launched himself at the longneck, only to collide with an upraised foot. That was far enough. Littlefoot was mildly surprised when Titan's Talon shoved away his massive foot. Jaws open, the predator made for his neck. At the last second, he spotted Littlefoot's head arcing down at him. He ducked, lessening the impact of what could have been a devastating headbutt. Scarcely had the sharptooth risen to a stand before he was lashing out with his claws. Something was wrong. Half the time, his claws seemed to bounce off the giant's scales. The other half, they got little further than a bruise.

What in the world was this longneck made of?



"What in the world are you doing?" asked a thoroughly baffled young Littlefoot.  "Sorry, not to be rude."

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 stopped.

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





Titan's Talon had had enough! No prey had the right to be this stubborn! He threw his jaws around the base of the sauropod's thick neck, determined to wrestle the behemoth to the ground. It was then when Littlefoot reminded him of the obvious: that he was fighting a behemoth.

Feet leaving the ground, Titan's Talon found himself dangling as the longneck reared like 25-ton horse. Littlefoot clasped his feet around the sharptooth's shoulders, pushed down and gave a mighty twist, wrenching the predator's jaws from around him. Titan's Talon hit the ground hard, sinking shin deep under the tremendous weight of the longneck's feet. His legs buckled. Muscles screamed. Bones groaned, begging for reprieve. His subordinates held their breath. In the next moment, this leafeater would crush him. However, that moment never came.

The sharptooth looked up at the longneck. Never had he felt this pathetic, and he couldn't bear another second of it while waiting for an end that was sure to come. He half-snarled, half-whimpered a demand. Well? Get on with it!

Instead of putting his full weight on the sharptooth, Littlefoot locked eyes with him and growled a command before snapping his jaws to punctuate it. The sharptooth was to go on his way and leave the fast biter in peace!



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 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 version of you!"

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?" asked 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.




The Titan's Talon blinked in bafflement. This longneck had rescued a fast biter, and now he was letting the spinosaurus off with a warning? Unthinkable as it was, this mighty warrior was trying to be nice! However, in the sharptooth's head, the most befitting synonyms for 'nice' were 'soft', 'vulnerable', 'mentally retarded' and 'deserving to be taken advantage of or devoured'. That changed everything. This longneck did not merit his fear!

Titan's Talon released a cry that roughly translated: 'The beast is weak! The beast is weak! Bring it down!'

Not a moment later, both gigantosauruses slammed into Littlefoot's side, knocking him off of their leader. He began to fall. The gigantoes advanced to end this while he was down, but they were forced to jump back as he hit the ground with a sideways roll. In the next moment, he was back on his feet.

The alpha barked a quick command, still submerged in the sand calf-deep.

Littlefoot raised an eyebrow. This time, he had no idea what Titan's Talon was saying. However, it seemed the gigantosauruses understood. Like a shot, they split up, attempting to attack from both sides. First come, first serve. Littlefoot launched his jaws around the nearest giganto's scruff and flung him into the female. Instead of attempting a dodge, she braced herself and halted his fall with her flank. Briefly stumbling, pushing him back onto his feet and fluidly prepared for another attack. They had practiced this, that much was certain.

Snarling in frustration, Titan's Talon attempted to pull his feet free of the ground in which Littlefoot had imprisoned them. The T. rex moved to help him. The thanks he got was a near miss snap from scissors-like jaws. The situation had the alpha so riled up that he was lashing out on any viable victim. Withdrawing, the rex lowered his head and turned, exposing his side in a show of submission. A frightened shriek leaped from his lungs as Titan's Talon locked his teeth around his tail. Instinctively fleeing, the rex yanked the attached alpha from the sand – just as the spinosaurus had intended. Without a second's rest, the smaller sharptooth was practically hurled back into battle by his alpha's callous jaws.

Again, a command was barked.

Again, Littlefoot hadn't a clue what it meant.

The gigantosauruses pulled back, roaring and brandishing their teeth with no action behind their threats. Were they ... distracting him?

A sharp pain informed Littlefoot that the T. rex's teeth had latched onto his leg. All at once, Titan's Talon and the gigantosauruses closed in on every side.

Littlefoot ignored the T. rex. Rapidly raising a front foot, he smacked Titan's Talon under the jaw before bringing it down on the spino's head. A swift shift to the left and he'd eluded the jaws of a gigantosurus while slamming his hip into the other one. With a tremendous stomp, he jarred his foot free of the T. rex's mouth. Dodged but not daunted, the first gigantosaurus to reach him pounced onto his back. He leaned forward and felt its jaws snap just short of his neck. That was close.

The gigantosaurus yelped as his footing betrayed him. The longneck had broken into a crocodilian death roll, barrelling right over the one stunned by his hip bump. The gigantosaurus on top of him whined upon seeing his comrade nearly squished, but nonetheless he kept his head on and trotted atop the longneck as if playing The Great Log-Running game Littlefoot and his friends enjoyed in yesteryears. This couldn't be a stroke of luck. The gigantosaurus was acting on training. However, mid-roll, the giganto was on top of Littlefoot's (hopefully) vulnerable belly. This was either the best or worst thing to happen to the sharptooth. Then his eyes popped as he saw the longneck's legs bend into position. Definitely the 'worst thing'. A titanic kick sent the sharptooth flying before Littlefoot finished the roll.

In the next instant, everyone was back on their feet – everyone, except the female gigantosaurus Littlefoot had rolled over.

The male's eyes filled with concern as he whimpered her name. She was dubbed after something smaller than Titan's Talon, but a terror nonetheless, filled with the destructive power of fire. It was a befitting name for the colours blazing across her scales. In Littlefoot's mind, he consolidated her name as Terror's Fire, but at that moment she looked like anything but a terror. When she failed to respond, completely limp, the male called her name again, this time dropping the first half as his heart leaked into his voice: Fire?

She took a deep breath as consciousness returned to her. The first thing she did was call his name: Tempest, an apt description of the jagged white dashed across his scales like a stormy sky broken by lightning.

The male gave an elated cry as he stepped towards her, stopped by the voice of his alpha. What was Terror's Tempest doing, snarled the lead sharptooth, emphasising the 'Terror' part of his subordinates name? They were in the middle of a battle! She could pick herself back up! He had to focus on bringing down the longneck, or this leafeater would surely crush them all!

No, Littlefoot replied in their language, taking the sharpteeth off guard. No, he would not 'surely' crush them, he went on. If they continued to fight him, he would do what he had to do, but didn't they couldn't they see what was happening here? Didn't they realise that he was holding back? He wasn't trying to take their lives! He hated fighting them! Why were they doing this? Why did anyone need to get hurt? Was it worth the lives of their loved ones? Then Littlefoot addressed the gigantosauruses individually, minus the first part of their titles. By this time, he understood that 'Titan' and 'Terror' weren't part of their names at all. They were ranks of status. Under pressure, they would forget the formality and call themselves by their true names. So, he called them by those names, telling Fire and Tempest that it was plain to see that they cared deeply for each other. If they ceased their attack, he would respond in kind. Why should they lose each other that day?

Titan's Talon stared in incredulity. Was this leafeater actually trying to appeal to his subordinates? A cursory glance yanked his eyes to the gigantoes and fixed them there. The way they stared at the longneck in contemplative silence ... were they actually considering what he said?

Without warning, the spinosaurus threw back his head and released an ear-splitting roar into the heavens.

Littlefoot knit his brow. What was the lead sharptooth up to now? Based on the consternation creasing the countenance of the other sharpteeth, it was bad, even by their standards. If only he could understand their strange, shorthand commands.

The alpha saw the longneck's confusion and his subordinates' concern. The sight of them brought throbbing grunts from his throat which sounded much like a chuckle, and for good reason. That's exactly what they were.

Just then, another cry identical to the alpha's reached their ears.

With a sardonic sneer, Titan's Talon addressed his followers. Look at them. Just look at them: cajoled by a mountain of meat. Had they already forgotten about The Great Famine? How hunger hunted their friends? Their families? Standing before them was a meal big enough to satisfy them for days, and a fast biter who had unrepentantly betrayed his own kind. As the valiant hunters who brought down this longneck, they would get first pick of the rations. They would guarantee those closest to them a reprieve from starvation.

Littlefoot interrupted the monologue, stating that The Great Famine was more than just a famine. It was something far worse than that. Didn't they see the lights in the sky? Didn't they see their prey vanish before their eyes? The world as they knew it was dying around them, to be replaced by something new and sinister where dinosaurs had no place. The good news was that he knew how to stop it, but he feared one longneck and his friends weren't nearly enough. The age of sharpteeth and leafeaters was over. They could unite 'til all were one, or fight 'till all were gone.

The sharpteeth took a moment to digest this information, before Titan's Talon broke into a squawking cackle. He had to admit: this was the most creative escape attempt he had ever seen from a leafeater! Oh, how the prattling of a doomed longneck amused him.

Littlefoot's eyes narrowed a smidgen.

What if the leafeater was right, asked Terror's Fire? What if the famine wasn't something that hunting could fix?

Titan's Talon snorted, fixing piercing eyes on his subordinates. Both gigantosauruses stared at the ground and exposed their sides, acknowledging his dominance. Titan's Talon reminded them that they were trained to be heroes: to do what was necessary for their community. Why would they give that up? Why would they abandon their office and suffer the same punishment as the fast biter and longneck? When they were gone, what would happen to their families? Would they relegate their loved ones to lives of shame? No, of course not. There would be no lives to live.

After a moment of silence, the gigantosauruses wordlessly reaffirmed their loyalty by standing at his side, awaiting commands.

Littlefoot cast a sympathetic gaze at Terror's Tempest and Fire. In a purr, he told them that he understood. They were doing what they thought was best, but they couldn't help their families like this.

The sharpteeth interrupted Littlefoot with their roars. The time for talk was over!

In a flash, the longneck's nuanced gaze turned to stone once again. Very well.

Titan's Talon sounded a command and the sharpteeth assumed a new attack configuration.

Needless to say, these were no ordinary sharpteeth. It was clear to him that they had a prehistoric playbook, with secret techniques communicated by code words meaningless to anyone but them. Luckily, he had a playbook of his own, and many of their strategies were mere variations of what he had already seen in his mind's eye.



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?"



For the umpteenth time, a whip of the tail sent Titan's Talon reeling. He steadied himself and shook off the hit. The way the longneck aborted their attacks ... it was as if he was there every day they trained. Titan's Talon pondered his options as he took a moment to catch his breath. This wasn't the first time he had left his subordinates to keep the longneck busy, but he couldn't care less. Usually, he would take the opportunity to attempt a sneak attack, but the leafeater's defence was nigh-impenetrable. There had to be a way to end this hunt. He couldn't lose, not to a sympathetic weakling!

Littlefoot clenched his jaw as the T. rex bit his tail. The little fella was a pain, but hardly the biggest of threats. Then he noticed Titan's Talon watching from the sidelines. So, this was the alpha's game? Hang back to take a breather while the underlings suffered the heat of battle, then jump in when Littlefoot least expected it. Fine. Littlefoot had his own game to play.

With a herculean heave, the longneck lifted his tail into the air. The T. rex stubbornly remained attached to it, until a sharp swing hurled him right into his alpha.

Practically flattened by his own subordinate, the spinosaurus's frustration flared into the red zone. The moment he had regained his footing, he lashed out on the T. rex. If he couldn't end the longneck, he would at least be rid of this useless omega!

Suddenly, Littlefoot's tail cleaved between the attempted mauling, hooked around the spinosaurus and flung him off of his would-be victim. It took a moment for alpha and omega to process what had happened. When they did, the sharpteeth flabbergasted. All of a sudden, Titan's Talon released rasping huffs that, for him, passed as a chortle. Of course! It was so obvious! Weaklings like the longneck always carried their hearts outside of their bodies! However, this leafeater's weakness was unique. He didn't care only for his loved ones, he cared about everyone, and the sharptooth declared his discovery for all to hear.

Titan's Talon failed to notice that his statement had an unexpected effect on his followers. Terror's Fire's jaw hung loose, mirroring the feelings of her male counterpart. The longneck cared ... for everyone? Even those who shamelessly wished to eat him? How was that possible? She didn't know, but it stirred something strange within her heart.

The spinosaurus flashed a glance in a very specific direction. It was fleeting, but the longneck caught it. He was glancing at the fast biter.

At once, both Littlefoot and Titan's Talon broke into a sprint for the young raptor. As skilled as the longneck was, he was only one longneck.



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.



The fast biter gasped, momentarily stunned by the sight of two giants barrelling towards him. Then he flailed his legs beneath him with all the grace of a panicked toddler and began to run. His late start made all the difference.

In spite of his status as a 'lumbering longneck', Littlefoot's explosive muscles were powering him ahead of the spinosaurus. However, Titan's Talon had already released a command, and the gigantosauruses were on the longnecks legs like shackles. They'd slowed him down, but it wasn't long before Littlefoot tore his legs from their mouths and pressed on in a desperate gallop. Terror's Fire watched in shock. The way he ran to save the fast biter ... it was the same desperation she had seen when her mother raced to rescue her from a rogue sharptooth; the same desperation she'd witnessed in countless other species when she threatened their young, but Littlefoot wasn't a mother. The fast biter wasn't even a longneck! He was a total stranger: a natural enemy. What insanity was she witnessing? Why did it bring tears to her world-worn eyes?

Titan's Talon lunged, sliding across the sand like a footballer in a touchdown dive. For a moment, he had the fast biter. Then his grip slipped. The spinosaurus stumbled to his feet. The tiny sharptooth tumbled to a stunned stop. A giant shadow rushed past just as Titan's Talon began to move forward. Senses clouded by the close call of a concussion, the fast biter looked up to see a massive silhouette coming down on him. His legs tensed before exhaustion coerced him to just let it go. It was too late. He couldn't escape the Titan's Talon, but part of him posed the question: Why was the spinosaurus' silhouette so huge? When that silhouette stopped a few feet above him, the scent of longneck flooded his nostrils. It wasn't Titan's Talon! It was his rescuer!

Crouching atop the fast biter was all Littlefoot could do before Titan's Talon slammed into his side. He didn't budge. A whip of the tail sent the spinosaurus jumping back to avoid contact. Meanwhile, Terror's Fire's jaws locked around his leg. Terror's Tempest tried to follow suit, only to totter away at the blow of a tail. However, it was a sloppy blow – too sloppy to do much damage. Ordinarily, Littlefoot would have been able to strike from a better position, but he couldn't risk shifting with the fast biter beneath him.

The raptor made several attempts to flee, but beyond the longneck were jaws ever waiting to chase him back beneath his shelter. This was the endgame, and the sharpteeth were playing with cutthroat tenacity. Littlefoot could scarcely fend them off as they switched tactics in rapid succession, always taking advantage of his low manoeuvrability.

Finally, the longneck fired a headbutt, but Titan's Talon ducked it before throwing his skull upwards in a headbutt of his own. A sharp pain shot through Littlefoot's chin as his neck was sent swinging into the air. His vision blurred as sound turned to amorphous fuzz his ears. Even as his head swayed unsteadily, he had the presence of mind to keep it out of the sharpteeth's reach, but that was it. He vaguely felt their jaws splaying his legs apart, bringing him painfully closer to the ground. However, straddling the realm of consciousness, his disoriented mind revisited a memory that, in some ways, was even more painful than the present.



Weeks ago ...



At the heart of The Great Valley grazed a family of parasaurs, referred to by the blanket term 'swimmers'. At first glance, it was a peaceful scene, but there was a tension beneath that peace. The twitches of frayed nerves. The tired eyes of parents having stood vigil through the night. Regardless, this was family time - an oasis in which they would try to forget the harrowing ordeals of the past few weeks.

The youngsters of the family, brother and sister intermittently watched the tree line. Sometimes they took turns. Other times, they scanned the forest with their combined eyes.

"Anati, do you hear that?" asked the brother.

"Hear what, Ark?" his sister inquired, before listening in silence. "Sounds like a baby animal."

Ark did not respond.

"Maybe a feathered flyer?" Anati suggested.

"It's not a flyer," he replied with a shake of the head.

Slightly unnerved by his seriousness, she joined him in looking for the source of the sound. Two minutes passed. Then five. Still, they were staring into the forest.

"Does that tree look funny to you?" asked Ark, pointing.

Anati shrugged. "A little, but trees grow in all sorts of shapes. Just yesterday, I saw a few that combined to look like The Amazing Threehorn Girl."

Ark rolled his eyes. "That's because you think of Cera all the time."

"I do not!" protested Anati.

"If you ask me, Littlefoot's where it's at," Ark went on.

"You're just saying that because he's a guy!" his sister argued.

"I'm saying that because he's a decent guy," clarified Ark. "Unlike Cera, his ego fits inside The Great Valley. Oh, and he's not a bossy grouch."

"Cera isn't a bossy grouch ... at least not all the time ..." Anati admitted. "I hear she was much worse as a kid. Besides, being a 'grouch' sometimes is what makes her a good fighter."

"Hm, no argument there," Ark agreed. "Anyway, we're getting distracted. We should focus on the trees."

Raising her head, their mother decided to intervene. "Kids," she chuckled. "Aren't you going to finish breakfast?"

The siblings exchanged looks in a quick, wordless conversation before Ark continued to watch the forest while his sister turned her attention to their parents.

"You guys can eat. We'll stand guard for sharpteeth," explained Anati.

"Honey," her father began. "I know things have been scary lately, but sharpteeth won't find us this far into the valley."

Anati's brother spoke up, not removing his eyes from the tree line for an instant. "Sharpteeth aren't supposed to find their way into The Great Valley at all, but now they're doing it like they always knew how in the first place."

"You stayed up all night watching out for us," smiled Anati. "Now it's our turn."

A nudge from her brother's tail conveyed his disapproval of that statement. In retrospect she regretted it herself.

"You've been awake all night?" asked their mother.

The girl shook her head. "Not me. Just Ark," she said, pointing back at her sibling. "You need a break. Just relax and enjoy the green food. "

Her father chuckled. "Anati, I'm so proud of you, but we can't relax until you relax."

"Ohhhh ... wait, what?" asked the girl.

"Hmm ... how to put it?" her father wondered aloud.

His wife stepped in. "We don't keep our hearts inside our bodies. We keep them inside of you two, which means we often feel what you feel. That's why we can't relax until you relax."

Anati scrunched her brow in confusion. "How does that work, exactly?"

"You'll understand when you're parents," her father assured. "For now, all you need to understand is that you can't live your life in constant fear. Even in the Mysterious Beyond, families find ways of enjoying life. Don't worry about the sharpteeth. It's a big valley. They won't find us here."

Anati looked at her brother, attempting to read his expression. He briefly made eye contact, before shaking his head and continuing to gaze at the tree line.

"What about you, Ark?" pressed their father.

"I'm most relaxed when I'm standing guard," Ark replied.

The older swimmer shrugged with a sigh, returning his attention to the green food.

Minutes later, Ark glanced at his family and gave a sigh of his own. They actually appeared to be enjoying themselves. What was he stressing himself over? Baby animals? Funny trees? Finally, Ark allowed himself a few bites of green food, but the tree line continually tugged at his attention. He turned away from it. Out of sight, out of mind. Soon, he felt his nerves settling. This was nice. There was even a pleasant shadow shielding him from The Bright Circle. As time passed, the Sun must have shifted until it hid behind a tree. Since when was the tree line so close?

He froze, eyes wide. It wasn't that close.

Ark looked up to see a massive head bedecked with horns, pointed teeth bared in a sinister grin, bloodshot eyes staring down at him. His jaw dropped. Mind reeled. Muscles turned to ice. He couldn't move! Even as massive jaws quietly descended towards him, he couldn't move! He couldn't even scream!

It was too late.

The sharptooth's green and brown camouflage turned to carnelian as his powerful jaws gingerly lifted Ark off the pasture. Then the creature took several big steps back. Any second, the swimmer expected those jaws to crush him. His nerves went haywire, but the big crunch never came. Finally, he managed an attempt at a scream. Nothing came out. Fortunately, his sister did it for him.

Ark watched in horror as his family bolted.

The sharptooth growled in annoyance before giving him a light squeeze. Finally, he released an unbridled cry.

His family turned as though yanked by an invisible tether stretched to its limit.

"Anati! GO!" his mother commanded.

The girl hesitated with a shudder before darting away as her parents charged the sharptooth. Two against one. They actually had a chance, until several more sharpteeth rushed from behind the predator who calmly held Ark.

The two swimmers slammed into the first of the sharpteeth, knocking him clean off his feet. With a livid bellow, Ark's Dad headbutted the second attacker. The sharptooth stumbled back, but didn't fall. Being a carnotaurus, he wasn't the biggest of predators, but he was large enough to overpower the swimmer. Large enough to knock him down with a devastating swing of his horned head.

Ark was racked with the purest form of terror as a sharpteeth pinned his parents. His captor seemed to purr until Ark managed to paw his eye in a last ditch effort. He shrieked, letting the youngster tumble to the ground. Startlement turned to rage. Fine! The little swimmer wanted to go first? So be it!

A ferocious battle cry captured the attention of hunters and leafeaters alike. The carnotauruses brandished their teeth. What was this? A rival predator. No ... there was that unmistakable timbre of a leafeater's voice. They could see it a distance off - an amber form barrelling over a hill. The alpha snorted. They would deal with this leafeater after turning their attention to the swimmers ... who they quickly discovered were fleeing the scene.

The sharpteeth squawked in frustration. No! Stop! Come back! Notwithstanding the language gap, they knew the swimmers would never listen. Stomping a foot in exasperation, the alpha spun to face the charging leafeater. It would pay a couple thousand pounds of flesh for ruining their hunt! The alpha cocked his head. Strange ... what was he staring at, exactly? A threehorn? It sure looked like a threehorn, but it was rather fast for such a species. Surely, it was wasting its energy, rushing in at a full gallop. Exhaustion would catch up with it before it reached them. However, if anything, the creature accelerated. As the leafeater neared, her features grew clearer, and even more pronounced than her menacing horns was the white-hot wrath on her face.

"This is MY VALLEY!" bellowed an adult Cera.

Nostrils flaring, the alpha released a roar as he accepted her challenge. He knew how to deal with threehorns!

The alpha stepped forward, legs bent, poised for action. The threehorn was metres away when he jumped clear of her path. He would use her own momentum to flank her. Much to his surprise, she adjusted her course at a moment's notice. Again, she was heading straight for him. Impossible! He couldn't have known the time she spent honing her muscles, horns, bones and scales. He couldn't have known that she had made it a point to shatter the perceived limits of her species. However, when the horns hit, he immediately knew that this was no ordinary leafeater. That was his last thought before consciousness fled his mind.

Cera charged on as though she hadn't even collided with the alpha, leaving the sharpteeth shaken as their leader dropped behind her. Voices laced with concern, they asked if he could still stand.

He did not answer.

The threehorn made a U turn. She was coming back! The sharpteeth roared their warnings, but there was no mistaking the slight quaver in their voices. Cera grinned at the sound. Then they exchanged grunts as though formulating a strategy. She snorted, confident in her training. Anything they could do, she could see from a mile off!

A dozen metres from impact, the threehorn broke into a ferocious zigzag. The sharpteeth scarcely had time to process her chaotic new tactic before she had slammed into one, sending the female flying into another as the threehorn rushed onward. The sharpteeth shuddered. If they didn't slow down this monster, she would pick off them all!

Cera turned for another charge. Three down, six to go! Wait a minute ... she counted four. Where did the other two go? The moment Cera reached the sharpteeth, a pair of particularly large grass mounds exploded towards her, their colour-changing scales returning to red. Oh, come on! Since when could a sharptooth do that? She swerved. One missed. The other awkwardly collided with her. They tumbled, coming to rest side by side. Seeing eager jaws looming too close for comfort, Cera pushed off of the sharptooth beside her, rolling clear like a corkscrew and ending up on her feet. She burst into a run, only to for her tail to be trapped between teeth.

They wanted close quarters combat? She would be happy to oblige.

Cera twisted her tail and body, yanking the biter into her horns. A sharp, upwards flick of the head and he stumbled away, jaw throbbing. A particularly brave sharptooth charged in, meeting her head to head. She slid back a few feet. So, these things had horns? This would be interesting. Too bad hers were so much bigger. Cera pushed him back, back, back, faster and faster, until she shoved him into an incoming predator.

Ark and Anati watched from a distance as the sharpteeth came at Cera from every side. The threehorn faced them all in a frenetic fury of melee. More often than not, their jaws clapped against air as she whirled away from their attacks, retaliating with sharp flicks of the head; kicks of the hind legs; shoves of the body. She was like a hurricane: untouchable, unpredictable, devastatingly powerful.

Anati smiled at Ark's loosened jaw. "Didn't I tell you Cera was the best?" she gloated.

A sharptooth managed to catch Cera's crest in his teeth, instantly having second thoughts when she began to yank away from him. A split second more and she would have broken free, until another sharptooth grabbed the other side of her crest. The two predators heaved her torso off the ground so that she was forced onto her hind legs. Cera fumed in that vulnerably awkward position. Making her look 'awkward'? Big mistake!

The threehorn pushed off the ground, throwing herself backwards in a body slam. Quickly rolling to her feet, Cera snickered at the sharpteeth mewling on the ground around her. Her amusement hit a full stop when four more latched onto her, trying their very best to chomp through her hide.

"Thank you, stone scales," Cera mumbled.

She gave a tremendous twist. One detached, but the two she had body slammed were quick to replace him. Even the alpha had regained consciousness, joining the others in their effort to pin her down. Cera knew she was in trouble. The sharpteeth knew this might have been their only shot. Will vs. will, might against might, leafeater and predator thrashed about in the struggle of their lives.

The ground began to quake.

Earthshakes were not uncommon in their primeval world, but this one was unusual. A rhythmic rumble, like running footfalls. In the sharpteeth's minds, that was out of the question. Nothing big enough to cause an earthshake could run like that ... could it? Stranger still was the fact that the threehorn sat in the grass. She grit her teeth as the predators bit and wrenched all the harder. She was tough. She could hold out. They knew something was coming, and they were trying to finish her quickly. However, she knew the truth. It was already too late.

"Three ... two ... one," Cera counted down.

Trees splintered, casting their leaves in a blast of green as Littlefoot exploded from the forest.

Cera couldn't help but grin. The longneck was fast for his size, but she'd never seen him move faster than when someone was in danger, and woe to the landmarks in his path. She called it 'Breakneck Speed', in part because he ran so quickly that it looked as though his neck would break from the backlash. It was a bit of a joke between them, but in reality she didn't take it lightly. In fact, she admired it. After years of training alongside Littlefoot, what started as a forced attempt to relate more to the longneck had grown into a deep camaraderie. Why he was lugging a massive, uprooted tree with his tail, Cera did not know, but his creative tactics never failed to amaze her. She would find out soon enough.

The sharpteeth released her as their jaws went slack before they turned tail and headed for the woods on the opposite side of the pasture. Cera immediately galloped after them.

"These sharpteeth are tricky!" she shouted to Littlefoot. "If they reach the forest, we might lose them!"

The longneck's answer came in the form of a giant shadow sailing over Cera's head. The sharpteeth stumbled to a stop as the owner of that shadow came crashing down in front of them – the massive tree that Littlefoot had been carrying, hurled ahead of him so as to block the predators' path. The sharpteeth had little time to react before Cera dashed in front of them, skilfully skidding into a turn before bulldozing the sharpteeth away from the forest like pins in a bowling alley.

A silhouette briefly eclipsed the Sun, drawing the predators' eyes to a flyer.

"Sharpteeth in my shadow!" Petrie announced to unseen company as he circled above the predators. "Littlefoot! Ambushments ready on both sides! Your orders?"

"Valley Guard, DRIVE THEM OUT!" Littlefoot bellowed.

Not a moment later, dinosaurs charged from the woods before and behind the sharpteeth. Peppered with the familiar faces of Ducky, Spike, Ruby and Ali, their numbers were bolstered by recruits from every corner of The Great Valley. The sharpteeth ran for their lives across the pastures, herded by the sheer quantity of attackers. Littlefoot and Cera were among the pursuers, until the threehorn dropped back.

"What's wrong?" asked the longneck.

"There were nine sharpteeth," she declared. "I'm counting eight. I think one's hiding."

It didn't take long for Littlefoot to spot a mound of green that didn't quite fit in with the rest of the pasture. Realising that her cover was blown, the sharptooth dropped her camouflage and growled a threat before rushing for the tree line. Cera and Littlefoot were hot on her tail, but the moment they entered the forest, she had vanished.

Cera snorted. "Toldja these sharpteeth were tricky. No worries, I think I can smell him."

"'Her'," Littlefoot corrected.

Cera raised an eyebrow. "How can you tell?"

"Her voice," he explained. "Chomper taught me how to tell the difference."

"Sounds the same as any ol' sharptooth to me," commented Cera.

A quiet pule met their ears.

"Did you hear that?" asked Littlefoot.

"Sounded like a feathered flyer, or a baby animal," Cera replied.

In short order, the hidden predator's voice emanated from the opposite direction.

"Dumb sharptooth's giving away her position," commented the threehorn, stalking towards the sound.

"Wait," instructed Littlefoot. "She's not growling. What does that sound like to you?"

Cera paused. "A sharptooth in the throes of a bad stomach ache?"

"It sounds a bit like the lullaby Chomper said his parents used to sing," Littlefoot noted.

The threehorn's eyes widened at the implication before she and the longneck quietly moved towards the source of the puling. As the whines grew closer, the 'lullaby' quavered with thinly veiled desperation. After rounding a gargantuan tree, the threehorn stopped cold at the sight of what lay between its roots – a nest occupied by two hatchling sharpteeth. Their eyes had barely opened, but nonetheless they looked up at the sound of the approaching leafeaters.

Cera outright screamed in outrage.

The sharptooth burst from her hiding place, snarling in a show of force before her threats mellowed to pleading whimpers as Cera stormed towards the hatchlings. The threehorn's attack was cut short when Littlefoot placed a massive foot in front of her.

"Littlefoot, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" shrieked Cera.

"They're HATCHLINGS!" the longneck protested. "What about CHOMPER? He was a hatchling when we-!"

"What ABOUT him?" Cera snarled. "Chomper grew too big to eat bugs so he LEFT US to 'figure things out'! Now he's in The Mysterious Beyond eating who-knows-who! The sharpteeth are MOVING here and having BABIES! We CAN'T let this HAPPEN! GET OUT OF MY WAY!"

The mother sharptooth's pleas were profuse.

Cera whirled at the predator. "SHUT UP!"

"She thinks WE'RE the monsters!" Littlefoot argued.

"I said SHUT UP!" the threehorn yelled at her friend. "She doesn't have a RIGHT to think that!"

"Maybe not," reasoned the longneck, "but we have to show the sharpteeth that we deserve their respect!"

Cera's response was an inarticulate bellow. At the edge of the berserker zone, she rushed for the hatchlings.

*( ( FOOOM! ) )*

Littlefoot had dropped to the ground in her path, forcing the threehorn to skid to a stop. The sharptooth gave a frantic cry, only to be quieted when Littlefoot rumbled a response in her language, assuring her that he would do everything in his power to protect the hatchlings. He just needed a little time to sort things out.

The sharptooth squawked in confusion. She had never expected leafeater to speak her tongue, far less give his word that he would protect her offspring! Forcing herself to calm down, she watched with bated breath. What other choice did she have? A simple shift of his weight and the longneck would be on top of her babies!

Cera's manic eyes darted about in search for a way around the longneck.

"Calm down, please. There's something I need to explain," Littlefoot coaxed.

The threehorn looked about ready to bulldoze him, but after a moment's hesitation she closed her eyes and pulled the reins on her temper with a deep breathing exercise. When that didn't work, she decided to count to ten. When that failed as well, she made it twenty. As angry as she was, Littlefoot deserved at least a few moments of leniency. Finally, Cera managed to calm down somewhat, even if was still visibly more than a little ticked off.

"Talk. Fast," Cera commanded.

"Remember that swamp full of creepy crawlies twice the size we were as kids?" Littlefoot quickly asked.

"The ones who multiply like mad 'cause you keep feeding them?" Cera countered, rolling her eyes. "How could I forget."

"Right," Littlefoot went on. "Remember that pond with lots of fish and large snails I've been feeding as well? The types that Ruby and Chomper like to eat?"

Cera did not respond. Her patience was wearing thin.

"Remember that cave-?"

"-Also full of creepy crawlies that you feed. Yes, yes I remember," Cera finished. "You've been trying to make sure Chomper has enough to eat if he comes back. It's a waste of effort. There's no way one grownup sharptooth's gonna eat that much. Ever."

"Precisely," Littlefoot concluded.

Cera stared in realisation. "You've been ... preparing for other sharpteeth?"

"Think about it, Cera: sharpteeth aren't stupid," Littlefoot explained. "If we can easily find our way into the valley, maybe most sharpteeth can do it too. Maybe they just haven't chosen to come until now."

Realising that the leafeaters were occupied, the mother carnotaurus camouflaged with the greenery, creeping closer.

"And you think they up and decided to move here becauuuse?" asked Cera.

Littlefoot briefly glanced at the heavens. "Perhaps it has something to do with the lights from the sky we saw a few weeks ago. Who knows what's happening in The Mysterious Beyond? Maybe the lights drove them here."

"Into our valley," Cera growled.

Uh oh. Littlefoot could see her temper gearing up for a second wind. If he knew anything about Cera, he had less than half a minute before she went savage. The way she lightly pawed the ground told him that her body was already clashing with her self control.

"It's not 'our' valley," he gently reminded. "Now, especially now, there's more than enough for everyone!"

"How many successful conversations have you had with a sharptooth?" Cera probed.

Littlefoot opened his mouth.

"Besides Chomper!" she snapped.

The longneck closed his mouth.

"Did it occur to you that they don't wanna cooperate?" she shot. "Did it occur to you that they just wanna EAT us?"

"Cera-"

"My MOM, Littlefoot! My SISTERS!" the threehorn exploded. "Those things wiped out more than HALF MY FAMILY! Just when my dad and I were beginning to get along, just when he was beginning to feel like an actual dad, THEY CAME AFTER HIM! They came after him because he was OLD and WEAK!"

"The Baby Star is helping him get better!" Littlefoot reminded.

"The Baby Star should DO ITS JOB BETTER!" snapped the threehorn, tears welling in her eyes. "My sister's scared SICK and Tria's not talking to ANYONE! Littlefoot, Sharpteeth are NOT like you! They don't CARE about us! They don't care that we have LIVES or FEELINGS! Tell me why WE should care! Tell me why we shouldn't STOMP ON EVERY NEST WE CAN FIND!"

Cera attempted to shake the tears from her face, hating the idea of being seen like this in spite of herself. It was a futile effort.

Littlefoot's voice was soft and empathetic. "Cera, you have a point. It's a very big point. Apart from that, I understand what you're going through. You're not alone. You saw what happened to my mom. You know what happened to Grandpa … and Doc … but you know what? We still have each other. You're a fighter, Cera. Tell your heart to beat again. We'll figure things out if we hold on together."

Their gazes held. Seconds turned to moments. Then Cera's eyes softened a touch as she sighed.

"Littlefoot, I ..." she swallowed a lump of ire mingled with bruised pride. "I ... think you might be my best friend. I know you mean what you're saying, and it means a lot to me, but there's something I need you to do."

"Yes?" he replied.

"I need you to move," she commanded with adamant finality.

Littlefoot briefly squeezed his eyes shut. He'd imagined this scenario. It did not end well.

"No," he stated simply.

Something changed in Cera's eyes - subtly, silently, darkly. Then she turned and began to leave with unnerving nonchalance.

"Then I guess we can't both be happy," stated the threehorn.

Without warning, she spun around and raged towards Littlefoot. He steeled himself. This wasn't the first time she'd rammed him. All he had to do was imagine her charging him with three times the force of their sparring sessions. He was ready for this.

He couldn't be more wrong.

Nothing could prepare him for the full brunt of two, four-foot horns colliding with his hide like javelins on a freight train. The impact rippled through every nerve in his body. He held his ground, but Cera's feet tore into the forest floor as she pushed into him with all she had. She was strong. Strong, and angry.

The sharptooth wasn't sure what to make of this. It occurred to her that the disagreement was a staged attempt to endear the leafeaters to her species, but Cera's attack was most certainly not an act.

Darting in and leaping over the roots surrounding her offspring, the mother scooped up the hatchlings with her mouth and fled just before Cera managed to shove the longneck onto the nest. Both leafeaters looked to see the sharptooth fleeing from behind Littlefoot. Cera immediately charged after her. Not a moment later, the earth shuddered as Littlefoot clambered to a stand and rushed after her. Fresh fury washed over her. Based on his thunderous footfalls, he was moving at the speed usually reserved for saving lives - Breakneck Speed, and for what? A sharptooth and her litter?! Compounding Cera's wrath was the way the sharptooth manoeuvred her way through the forest, as if she were familiar with the lay of the land. As if this were her home! However, it wasn't long before the sharptooth made a wrong turn.

Littlefoot threw his voice in a warning of danger ahead.

The sharptooth pushed on, spurred by instinct, having few options and hoping that the longneck was wrong. Bursting from the greenery, the predator had reached a clearing, but seconds later she was forced to stop at the edge of a sheer drop. She turned back just in time to see the threehorn come crashing into the open. The sharptooth growled before staying her aggression, lowering her head as best she could with the hatchlings in her mouth before turning at an angle in a show of surrender. The threehorn surged forward nonetheless. A gust swept over Cera's head, heralding a large tree tossed into her path by Littlefoot. She barely balked, bashing into the trunk and rolling it towards the sharptooth. The hatchlings mewled as their mother crouched in preparation to jump the log, knowing that the odds were against her.

A mere moment from impact, Cera was knocked aside by Littlefoot's tail. However, she never lost her footing, skinning the soil as she slid in a spin that lined up her livid eyes with the gaze of the longneck.

Seeing no clear-cut way past the leafeaters and the tree in her path, the sharptooth ducked behind the trunk, hoping that her unlikely longneck ally would clear a path.

"Cera, this isn't our first fight," Littlefoot reminded. "I've won most of our battles."

"That was SPARRING, Littlefoot!" Cera barked.

With that, she barged towards the longneck.




Titan's Talon grinned at the scars marring Littlefoot's scales in several areas. It looked like a threehorn had given him a nasty fight. If the longneck couldn't live in peace with fellow leafeaters, how did he expect to turn the alpha's subordinates against him? More than that, those marks were a testament of the fact that the longneck was not invincible. The sharptooth lashed out at the scars, knowing that damaged tissue never healed to match the toughness of that which surrounded it. However, his teeth slipped off the scars more than any other part of Littlefoot's armoured hide. What was this? It didn't make any sense! Wait a minute ... upon closer examination, these were no ordinary scars. The skin had healed remarkably well, but the way it had healed – it didn't look like any skin he'd ever seen. Why did the Sun glint off of it in a metallic sheen? The spinosaurus shook his head in dogged determination. This longneck was easily the most extraordinary prey he had ever faced. After taking him down, Titan's Talon would be immortalised in sharptooth legend! A quick glance told him that his gigantosaurus subordinates were beginning to get through the longneck's scales as they yanked at his legs, keeping him off-balanced. It wasn't enough, though. Littlefoot was coming to after the initial disorientation of the headbutt. From here, the trick was to make sure he never recovered.

The alpha sharptooth instructed the gigantosauruses to hold down the leafeater. Then he dashed for the front of the longneck, where he found the T. rex attempting (and failing) to attach his jaws to the leafeater's throat. The useless runt! He all but trampled the T. rex, hissing for the smaller sharptooth to stay out of his way.

Seeing no other, more constructive options, the T. rex retreated to a safe distance.

Titan's Talon snorted before locking his jaws around the longneck's throat. Against such a foe, it was not a lethal attack in itself, but enough to limit the leafeater's oxygen so as to keep him dizzy. With his forelimbs, the spinosaurus pulled down Littlefoot's neck. Disoriented as he was, the longneck resisted. However, the gigantosauruses' jaws fettered his legs so that he couldn't tug away. Titan's Talon put all his weight into bringing Littlefoot down to his level. The leafeater's neck lowered a smidgen and Titan's Talon shifted his jaws higher. Another few moments of pulling and he found the leeway to shift even higher. Soon, the leafeater's neck would be horizontal, putting his head in biting range. Then it would be over.

In the heat of the hunt, the larger sharpteeth had failed to notice the fast biter slink from beneath Littlefoot. He even escaped the unoccupied eyes of the T. rex resigned to watch from the sidelines, until he seemed to appear at the sharptooth's side. The T. rex drew a startled breath.

Before the larger predator could congeal a response, the fast biter asked his name.

The T. rex furrowed his brow in bemusement. His ... name? In spite of the circumstances, he found himself answering: His name was Tremor. Footfall's Tremor.

Ignoring the T. rex's lowly rank of 'Footfall', the fast biter bobbed his head in a quick greeting, introducing himself as Vanish, a scout of the Forerunner Clan.

Footfall's Tremor flared his nostrils. Scout, he asked in a disdainful snarl? More like a dirty snitch! The fast biter was in direct violation of the Coalescent Code, whereby sharpteeth could not ally with leafeaters, especially against their own kind. That ordinance was enforced by the Hunters' Bond, one of the highest authorities in the land. Not only had he broken the law, but he had done it during The Great Famine! Despicable! As such, he was no longer eligible to be treated as a sharptooth! His punishment-!

Vanish interrupted the diatribe with a stamp of his foot and a sharp hiss, asking if the T. rex could dispense with the self-righteous propaganda and start thinking for himself!?

Footfall's Tremor gave a stupefied stare, unsure of whether he should be impressed or outraged.

Tempering his voice, Vanish begged him to look and see what was happening. This wasn't simply a battle between leafeater and sharptooth. This was a conflict of concepts: tyranny vs. empathy, right vs. wrong. The Hunters' Bond was known as a force for good among their kind, but one longneck had put them to shame. They were alive because he didn't want to hurt them. They were hurting him because he allowed it. He was willing to sacrifice himself for their kind, and they were punishing him for it? He had already saved them both that day: Footfall's Tremor from Titan's Talon, and Vanish from the other sharpteeth. What had the alpha done for them? Did Footfall's Tremor really want to live and die at the side of someone like Titan's Talon?

The T. rex had no answer to that.

Abandoning the prospect of help from the larger sharptooth, Vanish fluffed his feathers in a flourish of fighting spirit before charging towards Littlefoot's attackers.

Meanwhile, Titan's Talon had dragged Littlefoot's neck down to nigh-horizontal level. Regardless of the leafeater's state of stupor, it took everything the alpha had just to hold him there. Titan's Talon squeezed a command through his teeth, telling Terror's Tempest to go for the head.

The gigantosaurus released the longneck's leg and hastened to fulfil his order. However, his stride slowed when he heard Terror's Fire quietly whimpering. As a male, he followed the ubiquitous custom of emotional constipation. If he felt something that made him look weak or less masculine in his mind's eye, he would bury it before anyone could see it. The funny thing was Terror's Fire had a tendency to voice his inmost feelings, whether she knew it or not. That was one of the reasons why he chose her as his life partner. Now, she was begging the longneck to forgive them, even as she did her best to pin him down. Littlefoot couldn't hear her. Their alpha probably couldn't hear her either, but it weighed heavily on Terror's Tempest's conscience. No. He couldn't get sentimental over a leafeater. Their families depended on his loyalty. Before anyone could accuse him of dawdling, he accelerated to the front of the longneck and spread his jaws. This would be easy. He'd done it dozens of times. However, his will wavered when Littlefoot's eyes shifted towards him. Though glazed, they conveyed a glimpse of the longneck's soul: powerful, vulnerable, intense, gentle, wise, innocent, perhaps too innocent. Terror's Tempest had no idea why this longneck did what he did but for the first time in his adult life, he was looking at a leafeater, and couldn't see the meat. Only the soul.

Titan's Talon snarled, demanding to know why Terror's Tempest was standing there, staring at their prey?! He would be punished for this!

Steadying himself, Terror's Tempest swallowed his sympathy and prepared to do what he had to do. He was interrupted by a livid screech. Turning, the gigantosaurus saw Vanish attached to the face of Titan's Talon, doing his very best to attack the spinosaurus's eyes. The alpha released the longneck and thrashed in an effort to remove the fast biter. After a few seconds, Vanish was hurled off of the spinosaurus, only for the alpha to fix his eyes on Terror's Tempest. No, not Tempest. Something behind him. The gigantosaurus was bowled off his feet when that 'something' slammed into him before rushing for the spinosaurus. His jaw dropped at the sight. Footfall's Tremor? Of all sharpeeth, he had turned on them? Now?

The spinosaurus gave a harrowing roar before swinging a paw full of claws at the T. rex. Having anticipated this, Footfall's Tremor slowed to a sudden stop before lunging at the alpha. His jaws clapped air, the spinosaurus having evaded the bite. Then he found himself seized by the scissors-like maw of his former leader before being hurled to the ground.

Titan's Talon had pinned the T. rex with a foot when a shadow reached his flank, rising until it dwarfed him. He looked back to see the longneck lifting his head, lungs gulping oxygen as he surged back to life. Terror's Tempest scrambled to a stand just as Littlefoot yanked his foot into the air. Terror's Fire wisely, rapidly released it, falling on her side and rolling clear of a stomp. The male saw it before his wife did: the chilling change in Littlefoot's eyes. The sharptooth rushed towards her. Littlefoot drew back his tail. Terror's Fire stumbled to her feet. Then she saw the tail. Her husband charged past her. Unable to shove her out of striking range, the best he could do was act as a living shield.

*KARAAACK!*

The tip of Littlefoot's tail had obliterated the sound barrier just before it swept beneath them. The couple was knocked clean off their feet. Terror's Fire landed on her back, but she didn't even feel it. The only thing she felt was the shattering pain in her legs. Nothing in all her years of fighting had come close. The worst part? She didn't feel the half of it! Terror's Tempest had absorbed the brunt of the blow!

Terror's Fire was quick to her feet, surprised to find that her legs were still working. She ran, but something was wrong: she couldn't sense her husband following. Looking back, her jaw slackened in horror. He was attempting to get up, but his leg failed to support him. It looked ... wrong. Very wrong. He gave it an incredulous stare. The pain hadn't set in yet. It was too much to register. She rushed to his side, shrieking questions about his well-being, knowing that he was anything but well. Finally, she attempted to console him with a broken purr.

The gigantosauruses looked up to see the longneck standing over them. His facial features were obscured by the Sun silhouetting his head, but their imaginations filled in his look of severity. He raised his foot to finish them with a stomp.

Terror's Fire opened her mouth, but nothing came out. What could she say? How could she excuse herself for attacking after he reached out to them time and time again? Closing her mouth, she bowed her head in shame. She would not ask for mercy. What he did next would be inscrutably deserved.

The moment that followed might as well have been an eon. Physically, nothing happened, but Littlefoot's mind was abuzz with ambivalent thoughts. He was torn. Two of the sharpteeth had surrendered, but was there really any other option? Given the upper hand, would they ever show a leafeater the mercy he showed them? Cera's words flashed through his mind.

"Did it occur to you that they don't wanna cooperate?" she shot. "Did it occur to you that they just wanna EAT us?"

"They don't CARE about us! They don't care that we have LIVES or FEELINGS! Tell me why WE should care!
"

Littlefoot's gaze turned to ice. Standing before him, he saw Sharptooth, who had contributed to his mother's demise; he saw Red Claw; he saw the predators who had taken Grandpa and Doc; he saw those who attacked Cera's father when they saw an easy meal. Why should he care? After all, he was now The Lone Dinosaur, and The Lone Dinosaur was an instrument of justice. Of vengeance.

Terror's Fire slowly crouched, resting her chin against the injured male.

A pang of bitterness spiked through Littlefoot's heart. Did she think that she could gain his sympathy by showing the obvious? That she cared for her own kind? No. She didn't. In his heart of hearts, he could see that this wasn't some bid for pity. It was an action born out of the simple desire to be close to her loved one when they met their end. Staring at Terror's Fire and Tempest, when he looked hard enough, he saw himself kneeling with his head against his mother as she breathed her last words.

"Littlefoot, let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen closely ..."

His heart was snarling for justice, and his rational mind chorused its agreement. He'd lost family. He'd lost his best friend. How much did he have to lose before understanding that sharpteeth were sharpteeth? However, there was also a whisper – a whisper that told him someone had to reach out first, even if it hurt. It told him that his call was not to be The Lone Dinosaur. He was a warrior, but more than that he was a builder. It occurred to him that that Voice, though it whispered into his heart, was not a part of his heart, but something greater.

Terror's Tempest flinched slightly as something landed on his temple. Something wet. Dropping a few inches from his wife's snout, she couldn't miss it. Was the sky water falling? No. A sniff quickly identified the salty liquid, joined by a drizzle of similar droplets. She looked up at the longneck just as he harmlessly returned his foot to the sand and took decisive steps towards Titan's Talon. The sharptooth released a breath that she didn't know she was holding, and with that breath came a quiet 'thank you'.

The spinosaurus began to back away. This leafeater was actually fast enough to outrun him. However, instead of charging, Littlefoot gave an ultimatum. Titan's Talon was to leave. Immediately. This was his final warning.

Titan's Talon sneered before releasing a deafening call. Much like the first time he did it, there was an answer. This time, though, the answer was much louder. Closer.

Littlefoot lifted his eyes to the dunes. First, he saw the sails. Then the long, characteristic snouts. Soon, five spinosauruses had crested the hill.

Terror's Tempest and Fire stared in horror. Footfall's Tremor took a few steps back, and Vanish? If he hadn't run for the hills, he was doing an excellent job of hiding.

Titan's Talon greeted the newcomers with head bob before briefing them on the battle. He didn't even bother to use coded language when suggesting they attack the longneck's wounds, especially on the legs. That way, they could bypass his armour. Afterwards, they would deal with the other sharpteeth, who were neither fit for their ranks nor for life. Tremor had outright turned on them while Tempest and Fire had shown the longneck moments of sympathy, giving him the chance to escape.

Littlefoot raised an eyebrow at the T. rex and gigantosauruses, pleasantly surprised. It seemed he had missed a few things on account of nearly suffocating. He flashed a smile at his apparent allies, punctuating it with a wink. Their spirits lifted. Would he protect them? Could he protect them in his condition?

The longneck tottered before traipsing in enigmatic little circles, trailing his tail against the sand.

Everyone stared in confusion. Then the spinosauruses broke into hearty cackles, with the exception of a dumbfounded Titan's Talon. One of them addressed him between breaths, asking if this was the longneck who gave him so much trouble? This mentally challenged oaf?

Titan's Talon stuttered before insisting that this must be some kind of trick! The longneck was a master of strategy!

The other spinosauruses exchanged amused glances before agreeing that they should probably take him down as quickly as possible. There was no shortage of sarcasm in their voices. On a slightly more serious note, they voiced their hope that he was not sick. Sharptooth-communicable diseases were rare among leafeaters, but they had heard of one that muddled the mind. What else could make him behave like this, aside from faulty sanity? Oh well. Beggars couldn't be choosers.

All eyes were drawn to the longneck. The cackling petered out to nothing. Something strange was happening. Something they had never imagined.



Cera huffed in fatigue. However, her condition was nothing compared to the longneck barely standing before her. With multiple injuries on account of her horns, he looked about ready to keel over.

"Had enough?" she panted.

Rocking as he climbed to his feet, Littlefoot began to sway back and forth, finding a rhythm. Cera raised an eyebrow. Then he began to slowly spin on the spot, swishing his tail against the thin soil with every oscillation. Turn. Swish. Turn. Swish.

Cera rolled her eyes. It was called the 'Dust Dance'. After the first weeks of their training, Littlefoot had told her that this was what Doc taught him to do at the end of a tough battle, and he did it without fail every time they sparred and she got the better of him. Some kind of ceremonial acknowledgement of a worthy opponent, she supposed. It looked rather pathetic, as if he were about to topple over. As amusing and flattering as it was, she always shook her head at that quirky tradition. This time, though, she was in no mood to be amused or flattered.

"Cera ... please tell me this isn't you ..." begged a panting Littlefoot as his tail began to displace dirt and weeds. "Please tell me ... Doc was wrong about you ..."

She gave a gruff grunt. "What? So I'm a 'monster' now? Doc didn't like me, but we did see eye to eye about sharpteeth. Forgetting that, if Doc's opinion meant so much to you, then maybe you shouldn't have taught me everything you know."

"I didn't teach you ... everything ..." he assured.

His turns grew faster. Stronger. The soil began to lift off the ground with the wind generated by every swing of his tail. What in the world-? Cera was suspicious, but what could he do in his lethargic state?

"Doc made me promise not to show you ... a few things ..." he went on. "I came up with this idea ... Sometimes, I thought it was impossible, but he helped me turn it into something useful. Something you can't beat."

Suddenly, Littlefoot was no longer panting. The ruse of his lethargy had given way to mighty, methodical movements. Apparently, he'd caught his breath long ago. This was his second wind, and now the very wind itself was at his beck and call.



The sharpteeth, allies and enemies alike, gawked at the sight. The longneck had conjured a raging whirlwind from the sheer movement of his massive body. Enrobed in a vortex of sand, only his upper neck and head remained invariably visible. His tail flashed in and out of the cyclone, accentuating the storm with peals of thunder every time it superseded the sound barrier.

Attempting to shake free of the shock, the spinosauruses focused on locating his weak spots … but how? His wounds were completely obscured by the sand! He wasn't simply spinning – he was dancing, and his actions were never quite the same as he adjusted to stay in step with the storm. Try as they did, it was impossible to predict his exact position within the swirling dust. They couldn't fight this! It was like battling a force of nature!

One of the spinosauruses suggested that they wait it out. The longneck couldn't keep this up forever.

Amid the howling wind and thunderous din, Littlefoot couldn't hear them. However, it was plain to see what they were doing. In fact, he had already imagined it.

The Dust Dance changed. Before the sharpteeth could decide how to react, the longneck had sent the sand and wind sweeping towards them. It engulfed their world. They had to run, but where? They couldn't see anything!

Titan's Talon managed to stumble from the cloud, joined by a few allies. He heard the cries and tremendous impacts as the longneck dispatched the stragglers. A deafening crack and he scrambled out of the way as one of his comrades came crashing down where he stood. How many had made it? A quick roll call and three others identified themselves: Titan's Roar, Titan's Fury, Titan's Might. Two failed to respond, including the sharptooth at his feet.

Another whirlwind coalesced at the longneck's behest as he danced towards them.

Titan's Talon urged the spinosauruses to be brave. They still had him outnumbered! They were the Titan's! No leafeater could stand against a group of their rank! He couldn't fight them all!

Deciding on a coded strategy, they split up and converged on the living whirlwind. In kind, Littlefoot hurled his winds in all directions. Titan's Talon ignored the sand stinging his eyes as he pressed on in a speedy stalk. The longneck's ultimate trick would be his undoing. Advancing with stealthy steps, he would never see them coming under the cover of the storm. To top it off, the longneck was bound to be weary by now. Once Titan's Talon reached the leafeater, he would not stop biting until he dragged the giant to the ground. However, something was wrong. He should have reached the longneck by then. The giant must have moved, but how far? Without a trace? He let his ears guide him. They quickly reaped the sound of tail impacts and cries of sharpteeth meeting their demise. He made for the latest source of the sounds and found an incapacitated spinosaurus on the ground. The longneck was ambushing them one by one, but how? If their vision was limited to mere metres, how could he see them amid the sand? Then it clicked. The sand was not their refuge. It was their ruin. Only a longneck could peer over the clouds of dust! At his height, it wouldn't be hard to identify their forms through the relatively shallow layer of sand above them!

Waves of wind and sand hissed against the sharptooth. The longneck was stoking the storm. Therefore, the wind direction determined his position. Titan's Talon abandoned discretion and launched into a sprint for the leafeater. It was all or nothing! Through squinted eyes, he saw Littlefoot's head towering over the dust, turned at an angle nearly perpendicular to him. The beast hadn't spotted him! He would blindside the longneck! Claws raised, Titan's Talon repressed a roar as he closed in. A few steps from striking distance, the longneck nonchalantly turned towards him ever so slightly, as though he saw him. As though he always saw him.

The last thing to meet his eyes was a tail blazing from the mist.

*KAA-RAAAACK!*

The T. rex and gigantosauruses winced while Vanish shielded his ears from the devastating thunderclap.

Moments passed and the dust settled, revealing a panting Littlefoot and six incapacitated spinosauruses slightly buried beneath the falling sand. Finally, it was over. Now he just needed a few minutes of rest.

The longneck almost flinched as something skimmed his ankles. He looked down to see Vanish racing around his legs in unbridled excitement, chittering praises. After a while, the fast biter darted in front of the longneck and forced himself to calm down. Once he stopped vibrating (somewhat), he opened his mouth and out came another rush of chitters.

Littlefoot chuckled and lowered his head so as to be on eye level with the raptor, or at least close enough. This done, he uttered a 'you're welcome' in the sharptooth language.

Finally, Vanish cleared his throat and his response was quite unexpected.

"I have never heard a leafeater speak our language so well," Vanish stated. "It is amazing, but I will speak your language to honour you."

Littlefoot blinked. A sharptooth speaking the tongue of the leafeaters? Well, it certainly wasn't unheard of, although Vanish's voice was more like that of a songbird than a herbivore – very easy on the ear.

"There's no need to honour me," Littlefoot stated good-naturedly. "I'm just a longneck."

Vanish bounced on the spot with a fresh burst of tweeting. "You are humble! That only makes me want to honour you more! It is a Forerunner Clan custom to sing honour songs to those who deserve them. I have made one for you!"

Littlefoot's mouth opened in the beginning of an argument.

"Hush! You will be honoured!" Vanish asserted.

The longneck's eyebrows went up as he closed his mouth. It was hard to argue when the fast biter put it like that.

The moment Vanish began to to sing, Littlefoot's jaw went ajar and only dropped lower and lower. He remembered the many songs he and his friends would come up with as kids, but this? This took the cake. Masterfully honed, movingly emotive, the fast biter's voice was akin to a wind instrument. And the lyrics? They permeated longneck's heart like rain on a wilting meadow, speaking to his fears, his tears, his wounds and his prayers, while inspiring him to never let go of his beautiful heart.

"… So don't lose your way in each passing day.

"You've come so far. Don't throw it away."

The longneck squeezed his eyes shut upon hearing those final lines. The fast biter didn't know. He couldn't know, but by some twist of fate those two verses were nearly identical to part of a lullaby his mother would sing him. It was like a gift. There had to be an Unknown One up there.

"I know, my song is not perfect," Vanish admitted. "I cannot speak exactly like a leafeater, but I hope you-" The raptor stopped upon noticing the tears dripping from the longneck's chin. "Oh … you are crying? Happy-crying, I hope?"

Littlefoot smiled and nodded. "Definitely 'happy-crying'. You know, I was about to give up on helping sharpteeth, but now? I think I could help a thousand, even if they don't always show their appreciation. Thanks for that, um ..."

Vanish quickly picked up on the fact that Littlefoot had no idea what his name was.

"I am so silly!" the fast biter laughed. "I forgot to make introductions. You go first. Let me guess: you are related to The Lone Dinosaur? His son, maybe? You are like him, but different."

"Pretty good guess," Littlefoot replied. "No, we're not related, although he was a friend of mine. He taught me how to fight. My name's Littlefoot. What's yours?"

The fast biter simply stared at the longneck's feet, each big enough to leave prints the size of a nest he would find quite comfortable. Apparently, he was stuck on the 'Littlefoot' part.

"Heh, right," Littlefoot began. "My dad's name was Littlefoot back when he was a kid, so I sort of inherited it. For some longnecks, it's customary to change our names when we get older, but I decided to keep mine."

"Why?" asked Vanish.

Littlefoot smiled as he thought back to the fond days of his youth. "Well, I guess I never wanted to feel like a different person. There's nothing wrong with growing up, but a lot of longnecks can't wait to get older and change their name ... along with everything else. Half the time, they act like a totally different dinosaur. It's good to mature, but it's hard to hold onto the things we learn from being a kid. Sometimes, we end up looking down on dinosaurs who are different, and smaller than us. It's much harder to look down on someone when you have a name like Littlefoot. In any event, longnecks aren't the biggest things on land. At least, not anymore ..."



The night before ...



Heavy rain riding on driving wind thundered past Littlefoot under the night sky shrouded in tempestuous clouds. However, he could hardly feel it. Even Petrie, hovering beside him, was completely unperturbed by the wind. He didn't know how, but The Baby Star was shielding him and his friends while increasing their strength. It had something to do with the metallic objects she had temporarily attached like barnacles to their scales. Distributed symmetrically across his body in several areas, he felt a slight buzz as the 'barnacles' fulfilled their purpose by whatever mysterious means. The Baby Star could do many, many things that he did not understand, but could she help them pull through a battle like this?

Standing before the longneck was a creature as tall as he was and then some. However, unlike his species, it didn't have a lengthy neck to bolster its height. As such, it was massive. He wouldn't be surprised if it were as heavy as him, Cera and Ducky combined. Sporadic lightning blasts accentuated its majestic silhouette reminiscent of a feathered flyer. However, the intricate metallic parts composing its body were nothing like any feathered flyer he had seen. It was not a being of flesh and blood. This creature, if it could even be called a 'creature', hailed from Beyond the Mysterious Beyond. Hence, he and his friends had come to call them 'Far Beyonders'.

Littlefoot's mind went blank. It was one thing to fight a sharptooth, but Far Beyonders were all but unstoppable. He and his friends had barely survived their last battle with another ... but they had survived. They had even defeated it. He had to remind himself of that. There was a reason why the Rainbow Faces had chosen them to fight this war. They chose them because they could win it.

The Far Beyonder calmly opened its mouth and a tiny ball of bluish white fire formed within it. Instead of casting heat, this 'cold fire' did the opposite. Rain drops turned to ice before his very eyes, bouncing off his shield in crystal pebbles. Even with The Baby Star's protection, Littlefoot felt the ambient temperature drop at an alarming rate as the ball grew bigger. In no time at all, it was huge – big enough to engulf half a longneck.

Littlefoot's eyes widened as he remembered the young ones who had tagged along on the journey. Looking down, he saw the parasaurolophus siblings peeping from behind his leg, each with a single protective barnacle on their back. This was no place for kids, yet they were adamant in their decision to come. It almost felt like retribution for the way Littlefoot and his friends had worried their folks sick when they set off on countless childhood adventures. Needless to say, this was far more dangerous than any adventure of which they had partaken.

"Ark, Anati, you need to run. Hide." Littlefoot commanded. "Now."

Staring transfixed at the fireball, the little swimmers didn't answer. If this thing scared him, they must have been absolutely petrified.

Suddenly, the Far Beyonder released a bloodcurdling cry as the ball of cold fire flashed ominously.

"SPLASH MANEUVER!" Littlefoot commanded.

Everyone scattered: everyone but the kids. Littlefoot rushed in front of them, his belly slamming into sand as he and lay there, using himself as a living shield just as the cold fire blazed towards them. The full brunt of the blast crashed into the longneck. Somehow, it burnt and chilled to the bone at the same time. For a moment, he could neither think nor feel anything but the pain. For another moment, he could neither tell if he was alive nor dead.




At present, Littlefoot winced. If not for The Baby Star …

"Are you okay?" asked Vanish.

Littlefoot shook away the memory. "Sorry. Don't worry about me. So, to whom do I owe the pleasure?"

Vanish gave a blank stare, momentarily confused due to his lower grasp of the leafeater language. It took him about two seconds to realise what Littlefoot was asking.

"Oh, you want my name?" replied the fast biter. "I am Vanish, a Hidden Runner scout from the Forerunner Clan."

Littlefoot's eyes widened at the statement. "A Hidden ... Runner?"

Vanish shrank back. "Is that bad?"

"No, not at all!" Littlefoot quickly declared. "It's just that my friends and I heard the Hidden Runner legend when we were young. We even thought we found one – his complex colours allowed him to blend in with the bushes."

Vanish cocked his head. "Only bushes? Did he look like me?"

"Not really," Littlefoot admitted.

Vanish gave a smug smile and shook his head. "I do not think that was a Hidden Runner. This is."

With that, the raptor disappeared into thin air.

Littlefoot's eyes widened in wonder. Then he examined the spot where the fast biter stood from another angle. For a moment, he could see Vanish more easily as the raptor's colour-changing scales went out of sync with the sand behind him. Then Vanish rapidly adjusted his hues so as to disappear again. On closer examination, Littlefoot could see the fast biter's outline, but barely. Tiny details remained visible, such as claws, eyes and feathers, although Vanish had done his best to hide these details. Tucking his fingers close to himself, he managed to conceal the claws on his forepaws. Though his blue feathers couldn't live up to the camouflage of his scales, they had lost their colour and collapsed their fibres, lying flat against his skin like supple little needles. With eyes squinted shut, the raptor's white sclera were mostly hidden while his irises had changed from blue to brown. Littlefoot had seen horned sharpteeth change colour, but their camouflage was nothing compared to this.

"Incredible ..." the longneck commented.

Vanish beamed as he reappeared. "Thank you! Uh oh … the complement is going to my head, so I will say that I am not a 'Hidden Runner' so much as a 'Hidden Stander'. It works best when I stay still. My mom, though: she was … I mean she is the most amazing Hidden Runner in the valley! They call her 'Unseen'. She was spying on invading sharpteeth when she went missing. The invaders say they …" an odd look crossed his face, "they say they got rid of her, but I know she is only making them think that so she can hide better. That is why I decided to fill her place as a scout spy until she shows herself. If the other sharpteeth hadn't set a stinkweed trap, they would never have been able to follow my scent when they noticed me spying."

The fast biter caught a sympathetic murmur from Fire. It sounded much like an apology.

Speaking sharptooth, Vanish told her that there was no need to apologise for taking his mom. After all, Hidden Runners had a secret that made them hard to kill. Even if they appeared to be dead, that was not always the case. According to him, his mother had 'lots of that secret', but he cautioned Fire not to tell any other sharpteeth. Otherwise, they might try harder to make sure they were dead.

Littlefoot gauged Fire's response. Her somber eyes suggested that she wasn't convinced that Vanish's mother was only 'hiding'. If so, he deeply hoped that she was wrong. Catching the longneck's gaze, the sharptooth shied away from it, retreating to the sight of her loved one, who appeared to be tottering on the edge of unconsciousness. Deciding that she couldn't bear to see him in this state, Fire simply closed her eyes.

The longneck looked on her with pity before visibly jumping, startled by a memory. How could he forget? Perhaps because he was still getting used to the bizarre new elements of his life. At times, it felt as though he were living a sleep story.

When Fire heard the longneck approaching, she opened her eyes, meeting his gaze albeit awkwardly.

Littlefoot looked around. "Baby Star? Are you there?"

Nothing happened.

"Baby Star?" Littlefoot repeated.

Fire nearly jumped out of her skin as what looked like a second Great Circle appeared beside the Longneck's head. However, unlike the blinding radiance of the Sun, she could stare at it without hurting their eyes. Another dissimilarity came in the form of its flickering light – a stark contrast to the Sun's steady glow.

Squawking, Vanish stumbled back and disappeared at the sight of the star.

"It's okay," Littlefoot assured.

"Sorry," said Vanish as he reappeared. "For a small dinosaur, there is no such thing as overreacting. So … what is it?"

He flinched as the star darted close to him, slowly hovering around the raptor so as to examine him from every angle. Without a sound, without facial expression, it emanated palpable curiosity as intense as his own and then some.

"It's a 'she'," Littlefoot specified. "The Rainbow Faces- I mean, a few friends from Beyond the Mysterious Beyond brought her here to help me."

"Beyond the what?" asked Vanish.

"You know, up there," explained the longneck, gesturing the sky with his head.

Vanish stared into the heavens with wonder in his eyes. "Wooow … Are you sure she's a 'baby'? Aren't stars rather small?"

"No, I think they're very big," Littlefoot theorised. "I know a flyer who says they don't seem to get any closer, no matter how high he goes. He can pass the clouds and they still look the same. I think that means they're very far away, which means they would have to be big for us to see them. For all we know, they're bigger than a valley."

"That's … pretty big," Vanish commented in awe.

Littlefoot felt the star turn her attention to him. Then she flashed in panic, streaking around his body and examining the injuries. Was this her first time noticing? Hard as it was to believe, he couldn't blame her. She hadn't been herself since the previous night. No wonder she didn't notice that he had been fighting for his life a few minutes ago. Perhaps she was sleeping ... if her kind actually slept.

"Don't worry about me," Littlefoot assured. "But what about you? Your glow is still shaking. Are you feeling any better after the battle?"

If the appearance of the star wasn't a shock enough, the sharpteeth found their minds spinning as she channelled images directly into their imaginations, displaying The Bright Circle moving across the sky. Beneath that sky were visual representations of Littlefoot and the Baby Star, the latter flickering as she did at present. Once The Bright Circle reached sunset, the star's flicker was replaced by a strong, healthy glow.

"So, you'll be better by sunset?" asked Littlefoot.

The Baby Star flashed twice.

"Good to know," Littlefoot replied. "Will helping these sharpteeth slow your recovery?"

After pulsating thoughtfully, the star flashed and dimmed twice.

"'Yes' and 'no'," Littlefoot concluded. "Is that a 'sort of'?"

She then communicated an image of her healthy glow returning a few hours after The Night Circle had shown itself.

"So, it'll delay your recovery by a few hours?" asked Littlefoot.

A double flash confirmed his conclusion.

"I hate to inconvenience you, but could you please help them?" requested Littlefoot.

The star gave a double flash before darting close to the sharpteeth. Fire was surprised to find that instead of emanating heat like The Great Circle, the star seemed to take the edge off the desert's temperature. Streams of cold fire flowed from the star, enveloping Tempest's body. Fire stepped back as the flames washed over her as well. Then they concentrated above the sharpteeth's injuries, especially the male's leg. The verve returned to Tempest's eyes as he raised his head and watched his leg regain its original shape. In a few seconds, the flames withdrew into the star.

Tempest raised his leg in disbelief, experimentally stretching and withdrawing it. Then he rolled onto his feet and stood, his flabbergasted expression matching that of his spouse.

Fire broke the silence with a joyous squeal. Forgetting his age, not to mention the taboos of his gender, her husband joined her. They bounced and skipped like a pair of hatchlings before nuzzling each other in a long moment of unbridled bliss.

Littlefoot couldn't help but smile at the sight.

Tempest's chin met an unexpected texture and he drew back from his wife, examining her neck. The new skin replacing her battle bruises was fiery, much like her original scales, but something wasn't quite right. They were harder. Shinier. Metallic. She failed to notice his scrutinising eyes on account of her own observation. With a point of the muzzle, she drew his attention to his restored leg. He gave it a close look. Whatever had happened to her injury had occurred in his leg on a much larger scale. He flexed the limb. It felt better than ever, yet simultaneously different from the rest of his body. Almost foreign. Curiosity nuanced with uncertainty crept into his body language.

Fire gave him a gentle nudge, reminding him that he had healed from a very serious injury: this was a good thing.

He nudged her back, agreeing with the sentiment.

After mending Tremor, The Baby Star's cold fire reached for Littlefoot. He stared down at the metallic scales that already replaced some of his wounds.

"Not that I'm ungrateful, but is there any way to heal us without leaving shiny scales?" asked Littlefoot.

The Baby Star withdrew her fire, with her glow gently pulsating in thought. Somehow, he knew that she was unsure of how to answer, or at least how to communicate the answer effectively.

Finally, she conveyed an image of Littlefoot facing a winged Far Beyonder with The Baby Star at his side. A single blast of cold fire and he was bowled over, just as he had been in their last battle.

"Don't know what would have happened if you weren't there to protect us," Littlefoot stated.

The Baby Star decided to answer his question, communicating a visual of him doing battle with the same Far Beyonder. However, she was absent. This time, when the Far Beyonder unleashed its cold fire, he froze like ice before turning to dust.

"Okaaay," Littlefoot commented, mildly disturbed by the sight. "What's that got to do with shiny scales? Are you saying you won't always be here to protect us?

The star painted a third scenario. Again, she was nowhere to be seen, but this time Littlefoot was covered head to toe in shiny scales, and that was hardly the end of it. Many of his other features had changed. Disturbingly, he looked like a cross between a Far Beyonder and a longneck.

"I … don't think I want to end up like that," the longneck declared.

The Far Beyonder launched a cold fire blast. The shiny longneck flinched as it exploded against him with devastating force, but when the dust cleared, he was still standing. Just as the Far Beyonder charged another attack, Littlefoot's tail blazed with lightning. When the next fireball came, he launched a tail strike that sent a slash of electricity splitting through the fire. Then he charged forth with unprecedented speed and swung his lightning tail once again, tearing the Far Beyonder in two. Upon the fall of their ally, a legion of Beyonders of all shapes and sizes stormed in across the land and from the sky. Littlefoot's friends appeared at his side, all enveloped in shiny scales just as he was. Having reappeared, The Baby Star darted to his tail and he wrapped it around her. Her size increased as he fed her lightning bolt after lightning bolt, then he hurled her at the Far Beyonders, obliterated half of them in a lightning storm that she unleashed. Mouths open in a silent battle cry, he and his friends charged, loosing awe-inspiring attacks as they made quick work of their enemies.

The images ended, leaving a mind-blown Littlefoot. That kind of power ... wielded by dinosaurs?  The scale of that battle was almost mythical.

"So … you're saying we need the shiny scales in addition to each other, otherwise we won't be strong enough to fight the Far Beyonders?" asked the longneck.

Two flashes affirmed his statement.

Littlefoot slowly nodded, digesting the ramifications. "Okay. Whatever it takes."

A grunt drew the longneck's attention as The Baby Star proceeded to mend his wounds. He turned to see the gigantosauruses and T. rex bowing at a vulnerable angle. Littlefoot recognised it as the submissive posture Tremor had taken to placate Titan's Talon.

The longneck quickly lifted their heads with his tail while explaining in their language that he didn't want to be revered or submitted to.

Tempest smiled before responding in a way that Littlefoot never expected.

The longneck blinked. "Vanish, did I hear him right?"

"He said 'in that case, you will make an excellent alpha'," Vanish stated.

Before Littlefoot could argue, Fire chipped in and stated that The Hunters' Bond was supposed to be a force for good, but he had shown them a good that was beyond them. If he was going to reverse The Great Famine, he would need all the help he could get.

Tremor stepped forward, stating that Littlefoot didn't need to worry about food for the sharpteeth. There were things to eat besides dinosaurs. It would be hard, but they would figure out how to build a better world, and they would figure it out together.

Littlefoot had never smiled the way he did that day. This was worth it. This was totally worth it.

After letting the moment sink in, the longneck asked what exactly was the 'Hunters' Bond'.

Tempest explained: The Hunters' Bond was tasked with defending and maintaining order within sharptooth kind. They primarily enforced the Coalescent Code – a set of rules whereby sharpteeth would live in harmony. Unlike leafeaters, they couldn't usually find food growing on a tree. They were under the impression that their survival depended on hunting other dinosaurs: intelligent creatures much like themselves – too much like themselves. Contrary to popular belief, sharpteeth were not heartless predators. They had to take special precautions to avoid sympathising with their prey, such as vowing to never learn the leafeater language. Those precautions had eventually evolved into the Coalescent Code. However, there were exceptions: 'dividers' who broke the barriers of predator and prey.

Littlefoot asked why they didn't identify him as one of these 'dividers'?

Most of the dividers were sharpteeth as opposed to leafeaters, Fire went on. After all, a sharptooth had no fear of being hunted by a herbivore. Even so, friendships would often form at a very young age, or mothers would adopt orphaned hatchlings. There were very rare occasions when a leafeater would take pity on a sharptooth in jeopardy, but not when that sharptooth posed an immediate threat. For instance, the aforementioned leafeater would be big enough to avoid becoming prey. However, Littlefoot fell under none of those categories, and he wasn't protecting a friend or adopted family. The fact that a leafeater would risk his life for a random stranger, a sharptooth no less, was unthinkable! Besides, Vanish didn't have the appeal of an 'adorable, orphan hatchling'.

The fast biter snorted. As an early teenager, he couldn't identify himself as a 'hatchling', but nonetheless he took offence from that statement.

Fire repressed a chortle before explaining that predator/prey relationships had sometimes caused serious complications when sharpteeth attempted to defend their leafeater friends and families. When The Great Famine began, the Hunters' Bond made a far more aggressive effort to preserve sharptooth kind, cracking down on these complications. There were valleys, scattered across the land, where hunting was forsworn so that prey could increase in numbers. During crisis level food shortages, these valleys were open for predation.

Littlefoot nodded slowly. That put everything into perspective. The Great Valley must have been one of those feeding areas.

"In my home, Hidden Valley, fast biters and leafeaters mostly live in peace," Vanish explained. "There is more than enough food for everyone. We kept our peaceful valley a secret, but the Bond found out. They thought it was wrong: something that should not exist. A Great Guardian helped them get inside our home. It knocked down the valley wall! We tried to fight, but the Guardian was helping them. It is very big, with a shiny body."

Littlefoot narrowed his eyes. "Sounds like a Far Beyonder - a 'Valley Breaker', to be specific."

"According to legend, Great Guardians help sharpteeth in times of trouble," Vanish stated ruefully. "I guess they only want to help the Hunters' … Bond …"

The look on Littlefoot's face startled Vanish. It conveyed a daunting resolve seldom seen in a leafeater. The longneck turned and marched away, forcing the sharpteeth to hustle to keep up.

"The Far Beyonders, or 'Great Guardians', aren't here to help anyone," Littlefoot asserted. "If we don't stop them, they will turn this world into something where no dinosaur can survive. I need to find my friends. A storm separated us during a battle with a Far Beyonder."

Vanish stared in shock. "You survived a Great Guardia- I mean, a 'Far Beyonder'?"

"Yes. In fact, we defeated it," Littlefoot stated.



The Far Beyonder's bladed wings made devastating weapons, but it was never prepared for the saurian equivalent of a martial artist. Littlefoot lashed out with his tail in tandem with the thunder and lightning rending the sky. At first, all the Far Beyonder could do was attempt to use its wings as a shield against his ever-changing attack pattern. For half a minute, he menaced it with strikes strong enough to shatter sharptooth bone, but it was watching.  Its penetrating eyes followed his every move from behind the shield.

It was learning.

Surrounding the metallic monster, Littlefoot's friends were ready to strike given the opportunity. However, the longneck was on a roll. Intervening at that point would only break his streak.

The Far Beyonder teetered when a hit found its head. Perfect. Littlefoot drew back his tail for a finisher. The Baby Star knew what to do, dashed to the tip and transmogrified the sand into structures that ran along his tail like external vertebrae. If the barnacles buzzed, these things almost stung. No surprise there. The structures sent dancing lights like sky fire surging up and down his tail, incinerating the soil beneath them. He was thankful that it only 'almost stung'. With a bellow, he unleashed a crackling lash.

Like a flash, the Far Beyonder darted into the crook of his attack, avoiding the brunt of the strike but nonetheless convulsing for a moment from the shock. Then it caught his tail with its beak, crushing a handful of structures and killing the current.

Littlefoot's friends gasped when it swung the longneck as though his tremendous weight meant nothing, slamming him into the Earth. It hurt, but without The Baby Star's shield, Littlefoot was sure he wouldn't be getting back up.

The longneck sprang to his feet and tried to twist free of the monster's mouth. Its grip was unbreakable.

Cera charged. The Far Beyonder saw her coming and winged into the air with Littlefoot dangling beneath it. Petrie brought it down with a speeding beak to the back and longneck, flyer and Far Beyonder landed in a heap. The metallic monster was quick to its feet, swatting away Petrie, knocking down the rising Littlefoot, shoving him across the wet sand and into a boulder. The longneck's lungs emptied as the impact cracked the rock. Standing over him, the Far Beyonder raised its sharp beak before Littlefoot looped his tail around its neck, prematurely pulled it close and sent it stumbling with a kick.

The others were closing in, only to wince when the Far Beyonder took to the skies with a mighty flap, disappearing into the storm.

"Do you think it's gone?" asked Ducky.

The storm took a turn for the bizarre, lightning bending in unnatural positions. However, most of the gang couldn't discern what was happening. It took the eyes of a flyer.

"Petrie, what's going on up there?" asked Littlefoot, turning to his friend.

Perched atop Spike, the pteranodon shuddered violently as he pointed a shaky claw at the sky.

"It ... I-I-It ..." he stammered.

"Spit it out, Petrie," Cera commanded.

The flyer gulped before blurting his observation: "It's BRINGING the STORM!"

Wrapped in lightning streaming from the clouds, the Far Beyonder dove towards them with ravenous speed.

"TAKE COVER!" Littlefoot commanded.

The dinosaurs rushed behind an over-arching rock just before the Far Beyonder landed in an earth-shattering blast of light and sound. That was hardly the end of it. The Far Beyonder continued to cast sky fire in all directions, scorching sand to glass; boulders to bits. Even the rain and nearby river began to evaporate as the Far Beyonder utterly destroyed the landscape. Littlefoot curled around his friends when their shelter was obliterated, teeth gnashed as the lightning blazed against his hide. He could feel his shield faltering as the pain escalated to the unimaginable. In the middle of it all, Cera was trying to wriggle free.

"C-CERA!" he shouted, barely audible amid the thunder.

"Let GO!" she demanded.

Lacking the strength to restrain her even if he chose to, Littlefoot let the threehorn stumble free.

"BABY STAAAR!" Cera roared.

Before she even finished that command, the star had forged her face-mounted machine which summoned its signature energy barrier. Lumbering in front of her friends, she blocked the worst of the lightning, but the Far Beyonder wouldn't let up. An endless torrent of sky fire fell from the heavens, engulfing the monster in blinding light as its outstretched wings redirected the lightning in all directions. Petrie was right. It was as if it had literally dragged the storm down to them.

Gritting her teeth, she dug her feet into the charred soil. Her face was getting numb, eyes agonised by the incessant radiant energy pounding against her. It was like standing in the middle of a raging river of fire. Nonetheless, she took a step forward. Then another. Belaboured steps quickened to a gallop. The threehorn roared as the Far Beyonder focused its full fury on her. Nonetheless, she pushed through and her armoured horns collided with the monster. The lightning onslaught immediately ceased as the metallic beast was thrown into the air, crashing down in the baked sand with its wings sprawled. Before it could gather its wits, the dinosaurs had pinned it down. Notwithstanding their faltering friendship, Littlefoot couldn't be more grateful that Cera was on his side this time around.

"Petrie, Flying Rock!" Littlefoot commanded.

The flyer gulped up at the storm before mustering his courage and rushing into the sky.

"Ducky, sink it!" instructed the longneck.

Cera's weapon disintegrated as The Baby Star zoomed in front of Ducky, dragging the pieces before adding fresh sand as she reintegrating them as a lightweight armour that covered much of Ducky's body - her 'Swim Suit', as she affectionately called it.

...

"And you called it a 'Swim Suit' becaauuse?" Cera once asked.

"Because it's perfectly suited to a swimmer, of course!" Ducky chirped.


...

Ducky's bones juddered as The Swim Suit fired up intense vibrations: a slightly concerning sensation, but pleasant once she got used to it. She dove into the ground and the vibrations caused the burnt soil behave like liquid ... somewhat. It was more like swimming through a soupy pond littered with lumps of debris than the fresh, clear water she was accustomed to. Oddly, the Swim Suit allowed her to move at least two times faster underground than she did underwater - a welcome paradox. The dirt muted the din of the surface world as Ducky swam through the ocean of sand, but The Baby Star trailblazing ahead of her gave the swimmer an instinctive knowledge of where she was going. She surfaced underneath the Far Beyonder and grabbed its leg, attempting to drag it back into the sand. However, her grip slipped and the beast retaliated with a vicious stamp.

"DUUUCKYYY!" Spike wailed.

Everyone's head turned. Even as an adult, Spike tended to communicate in inarticulate grunts. Only the most extraordinary circumstances prompted him to speak. For his friends, it was usually a chilling sign that worse had come to worst.

Spike went berserk, releasing the Far Beyonder and battering it with his tail. The monster blocked the nastiest of the blows with a raised wing that quavered as the enraged spiketail began to wear it down. Suddenly, the Far Beyonder rapidly lifted that wing, bringing it down just as quickly on Spike's incoming tail. With his weapon pinned, it conjured a ball of cold fire in its mouth.

"Oh no you DON'T!" Cera yelled.

Forfeiting her position pinning the beast, Cera drove one of her horns into its chest, sparks sputtering as she managed to break through the monster's mysterious shield. This time, the Far Beyonder kept its wits about it, allowing the fireball to continue growing. It angled its head towards her, only for Littlefoot to throw off its aim by hooking his tail around its neck and tugging with all his strength. Nonetheless, the Far Beyonder used its free wing to desperately chop at Cera's horn as she struggled to sink it deeper. A final chop and she stumbled back. Cera's jaw dropped in stunned outrage when she saw half of her horn still lodged in the Far Beyonder's torso. Her rage reached new heights as she charged blindly, only for the Far Beyonder to slash its wing beneath her feet and flip her through the air.

The Far Beyonder fought to take aim at the threehorn while she was down, but Littlefoot foiled it with a mighty yank. Given a few moments, it would have broken his grip, but it didn't have a few moments.

Not long ago, amid the fray The Baby Star had spawned several little things that flew without wings, which attached strings to Ducky's armour and dragged her to safety. This done, she disintegrated the Swim Suit and flying things before zooming into the sky with the pieces trailing behind her. Meeting Petrie in the heavens, she re-purposed the fragments around his body. He briefly panicked as his wings grew stiff for a moment before reminding himself that he didn't need to flap to stay afloat when she engulfed them in metal. Flapping was only necessary when he wanted to move, and man could he move when she did this to his wings. Every beat released hissing fire that propelled him through the air with borderline terrifying speed. Still, it was the closest he ever felt to wearing a straight jacket, and her addition to his beak was the closest he ever felt to wearing a muzzle. The trade off on the latter case? That 'addition' had turned his beak into a veritable harpoon tipped with the star herself. Petrie dove, flinching as 'hissing fire' blasted from his back and sent him blazing to Earth like a comet.

Littlefoot squinted as The Far Beyonder's fireball grew to the point where it looked about ready to blow up, casting the blinding glare of a never-ending lightning flash. Even as Petrie's finishing blow drew nigh, it took no notice, putting all its effort into angling its attack at Cera and failing. Then, in the last few seconds, it gave in to Littlefoot's tugging and turned its fire towards the sky. It knew their plan!

Fireball and flyer collided in a devastating blast that bathed the world in blinding light.

...

Moments later, Littlefoot found himself on the floor. For one, long, surreal lull, the rain had stopped falling, atomised by the cold fire. Then it returned in a shower of hail flash-frozen by the outer fringes of the explosion. As hail transitioned to water, Littlefoot looked around, finding himself at the edge of a crater: shallow, but wide enough to fit several longnecks. At the centre of the crater was the Far Beyonder, slumped, sparking, portions of metallic armour stripped bare. He gasped. For a moment, it appeared as though The Baby Star were nestled within its exposed torso. No. That couldn't be right. It was another baby star. Somehow, it felt different from The Baby Star he knew: callous, unfriendly, though the two were virtually identical.

Littlefoot looked around, finding his friends strewn about the battlefield, gathering themselves.

Spike stumbled to his feet and gave a concerned grunt as he nuzzled Ducky, who lay on the ground.

"Yes, yes, yes ... I am okay," she confirmed, struggling to her feet with his help. "Just a headache."

"Same here, thanks for asking," Petrie added in light sarcasm, having lost his metal augmentations. Sitting up, he grabbed his mouth with a wince. "Ow ... Beak hurts too."

A weak glow drew Littlefoot's attention to The Baby Star. He looked down and there she was lying amid the sand, hail and water. She was flickering. He'd never seen her do that. In fact, he'd never seen her touch the ground for more than a moment. She always floated. This wasn't good.

Everyone's eyes turned to the Far Beyonder as it shifted. After attempting to rise and failing, it released a burst of cold fire that devoured the ground around it, slowly but surely repairing the damage.

Cera growled, marching towards the monster.

"Wait!" called Littlefoot.

"WHAT?!" she spat.

"You're wet!"

"It's RAINING! So WHAT?!"

"If The Baby Star were protecting us, the rain would slide right off!" Littlefoot explained.

Cera hit a full stop, realising that he was right.

Littlefoot nudged the star with his tail. "Are you okay?"

He could feel waves of confusion sweeping from her, as though she were suddenly awoken and couldn't shake the sleep from her brain.

"Can you hear me?" asked the longneck.

The star's muddled mind seemed to focus on him ... somewhat. Suddenly, he noticed a familiar sensation of light buzzing peppered across his body.

"I can't feel the rain anymore," Littlefoot stated.

"Well I can!" replied Cera. "Tell Baby Star to finish the job!"

Littlefoot repressed an irritated huff. As important as it was for them all to fulfil their duties, The Baby Star wasn't some kind of ... some kind of ... In another life, he might have used the word 'machine'. Then again, in another life he would have known that she was in fact a machine, at least in part.

He rubbed the star the same way one would attempt to rouse a sleeping dinosaur.

"Can you protect the rest of us?" he asked.

She was focusing on him, but not responding - her equivalent of a blank stare. Unlike a groggy dinosaur, the star wasn't coming to her senses.

"Can you even float?" he pressed.

No answer.

"She's in some kind of daze. I think she's stunned ... or hurt," Littlefoot reported.

A grunt expressed Cera's disdain. "Stupid, unreliable little-!"

She stepped into the crater, pawing the ground as she prepared to charge the Far Beyonder.

"It's covered in cold fire!" Littlefoot reminded. "Who knows what'll happen if you touch it!"

"No pain, no gain," the threehorn argued. "We go down fighting!"

"Cera!"

The threehorn blinked at him in mock confusion. "Oh, I'm sorry. Were you under the impression that I still respect your authority? Where have you been the past few days?"

"Look, I get it," Littlefoot countered. "You're stubborn. You don't give up, but you're not a fool. The Far Beyonder has a tactical mind: it strategically overpowered us when we had it pinned! If you attack now, it will take advantage of our weakness! Cera, you're one of the best fighters since The Lone Dinosaur, and you need to live to fight another day! Ark and Anati are hiding nearby. They have Ruby, but they need you! The world needs you! Go! Get the kids as far away as possible! The star's protecting me, I'll catch up! Too much is riding on our success!"

In spite of what she said, Littlefoot caught a glimpse of respect in Cera's eyes before she buried it.

"Have it your way, oh fearless leader," she replied, departing from the crater.

Petrie began to protest. "But Littlefoot-!"

"-is a big boy and a good fighter. He can handle himself," Cera interrupted. "Besides, if he wants see his mom, who are we to stop him?"

The longneck stared in stunned silence. She didn't really mean that, did she?

Sensing the impact of her statement, Cera's gaze briefly faltered before she hastily turned and herded the others with her horns. "C'mon! Let's go!"

A numbness crept in as Littlefoot watched them vanish into the veil of rain, their voices melting into the drone of the sky water. Since his battle with Cera, their friendship had been strained at best, but maybe he was kidding himself. Maybe they were no longer friends.

Littlefoot turned to the Far Beyonder and the numbness was shattered by a piercing chill. It was perfectly intact, good as new. No one would have known that the metallic beast had battled the dinosaurs. On the other hand, Littlefoot felt as though he were at least four times his age, suffering the aches of a lifetime fighting sharpteeth every day. He'd already overcome the primordial fear of staring a sharptooth dead in the eye, but the Far Beyonder was a whole new brand of nightmare. In its eyes, he saw the end of everything he held dear: his friends, his family, his world, his life. Never had he experienced such palpable fear. He was alone. The Baby Star wasn't recovering. The hope of his world would perish with them.

No.

He couldn't think like that. In spite of his efforts to resist the dismal thoughts and feelings, they ceaselessly bombarded his mind. Wait a minute ... 'his thoughts'? That couldn't be right. Last he checked, he wasn't prone to acute episodes of hopelessness, not even when The Baby Star conveyed images of the dark destiny his world was sure to face, should they fail to save it. He then remembered that the star could fill his mind with images and feelings. The Far Beyonder was also a baby star, underneath all that metal. Perhaps it was doing the same. Perhaps it was trying to scare him, but to what end? Why didn't it simply attack?

Littlefoot's eyes widened in realisation. Maybe it couldn't! It looked strong and healthy, but the battle could have taken a toll that he wasn't aware of! He had to exploit this window of opportunity, but how? Without The Baby Star, did he stand a chance against a Far Beyonder, even in its weakened state?

{~You are a clever one, Littlefoot.~}

What was that?! The longneck spun around, but there was nothing behind him. That voice: cold as though it were congealed from the essence of fear, and it sounded as if it had whispered straight into his ear. No, his head!

{~So, you thought you could contend with the titans?~} the voice continued. {~A waste of time. A waste of life.~}

The longneck's jaw loosened as he came to grips with the source of the voice - The Far Beyonder!

"How did-?" Littlefoot swallowed. "How do you know my name?"

{~I have peered into your thoughts, your feelings, your memories. Your 'Baby Star' kept them hidden from me until now. I broke her you see, but then again she was broken since she arrived on this world. Have you had a chance to wonder why she never utters a word? Surely, she would have spoken to you if she could, yet she remains silent while I converse with an insect.~}

Littlefoot was at a loss for words.

{~My strength is returning. Flee or be crushed. Leave The Baby Star. She cannot help you. Enjoy your last days with your friends and family. That is the greatest mercy I can offer.~}

The Baby Star released a shockwave of panic. She had recovered just enough to lift off the ground for a moment before dropping into the mud. Littlefoot attempted to pick her up with his tail, but he couldn't touch her. The strange force surrounding the star caused her to shy from his grip. With the Far Beyonder's fear bearing down on his mind, escape flashed through his thoughts. What else could he do? He couldn't move her. What sense did it make for both of them to die?

The star's panic escalated. If anything, her efforts to shake off the stupor only made things worse. Her frantic flashing pulsated as though she were reflecting Littlefoot's anxious thoughts as he fought to regain stability over his mind. Finally, Littlefoot's will hardened.

"I'm not leaving you!" the longneck declared.

The Baby Star's flashing stopped, replaced by the simple flicker indicative of her injury. Littlefoot felt the star's attention fix on him like a steady stare.

"I. Am not. Leaving you," Littlefoot repeated. "You are my friend."

He felt tears at the edge of his eyes, but it took him a moment to realise that they weren't his tears. Behind her featureless glow, The Baby Star was crying: not in fear, but in gratitude, casting emotion so that his body responded as if it were him. A new voice entered his mind, though broken like an nearly incoherent echo.

(~Th (~ank (~you~) Little~) foot~)

Mildly taken aback by her unexpected response, Littlefoot smiled down at her. Then he turned his eyes on the Far Beyonder, which watched with a frigid glare.

{~Give your mother my regards.~}

The Far Beyonder's beak snapped open, ravenously conjuring a ball of cold fire.

Littlefoot felt a chill touch his tail. He looked back to see that The Baby Star had floated behind him, emanating hope and determination like a battle cry. Though she bobbed like a hatchling learning to swim, she rapidly devoured the sand with her cold fire, transforming it into a whirlwind of metallic parts. Littlefoot stared in amazement as the parts pieced together like an intricate nest. That was the best way he could mentally describe it, but instead of a nest she had tipped his tail with a massive construct. With The Baby Star hovering deep in its mouth, the object vaguely reminded him of a creepy crawlie's open jaws, or claws clasped in a symmetrical triangle. This was the first time he'd seen her build something this big on the spot, but it was deceptively light for its size. It occurred to Littlefoot that The Baby Star was carrying a good deal of the load.

"Thanks," Littlefoot muttered.

One problem: he had no idea how to use the tool she had given him. Then she channelled the instructions into his instincts. He curled the very tip of his tail and the device spread its jaws, forming a massive cold fireball between them. Littlefoot laughed. What a weapon!

Quick as thought, he took aim and launched the fireball just as the Far Beyonder unleashed his own. The two infernos clashed in a splashing flash of flame, cancelling out one and other. The Far Beyonder prepared a second blast, but the flames of the collision parted as Littlefoot sent another fireball smashing into him. Realising that he couldn't match The Baby Star's firing rate, he took off, headed for the stormy sky. A well-aimed fireball and he dropped like a boulder. This couldn't go on. He knew that he had to take down the longneck immediately!

The avian beast lowered his head behind wings raised to shield his body. Then he charged on foot as Littlefoot's fireballs ate away at the wings, rendering them useless for flight. However, they had served their purpose. He didn't need to fly. He needed only to get close to the longneck.

The Far Beyonder parted his wings and snapped at Littlefoot, grazing his shield as he dodged him by a hair. Taking advantage of the beast's momentum, Littlefoot curved his neck in a headbutt to the back of the Far Beyonder, sending the monster face first into the mud.

Charging a fireball, the fallen Far Beyonder whipped around his head to unleash it, but Littlefoot to shoved the weapon into his mouth and discharged, obliterating the metal monster's jaw. However, the combination of his blast and the Far Beyonder's mouth full of flame had stripped away a portion of the weapon. The longneck cracked what remained of the weapon across the Far Beyonder's head, stunning him before ramming it into his back. He spread the weapon's jaws, wrenching apart a layer of armour and firing into the vulnerable area.

Without warning, The Baby Star vanished, leaving a confused and concerned Littlefoot. He shook away the worry and focused on the task at hand, splitting into the damaged armour with tail strikes approximating karate chops. Once he could see the star peeping through the metal, he reared as high as he could and brought down the heel of his foot in a boulder-crushing blow that sent tremors through the sand.

The enemy star emanated shock as his light flickered and the metallic husk went limp around him. Littlefoot lifted his body once more, ready finish the Far Beyonder. However, he remained frozen on his hind legs in a crucial moment of hesitation.

{~... You ... you can't do it ... can you?~} the enemy star stated.

Littlefoot's nostrils flared as he willed himself to make a choice.

{~That is ... one of many reasons ... why you never had a chance ...~}

With that, the star's Far Beyonder body fell apart as he shot into the sky, past the clouds at war.

It was over ... for the time being. Would his merciful decision bite him in the back later? Was it even mercy, or weakness? Wise as he was, Littlefoot was aware of the universal scale of morality he had yet to understand. However, he did know one thing - life was precious, and the Far Beyonders bore the marks of a very special special kind of life. They were baby stars, and baby stars were people. Still, he couldn't let them destroy his world, whatever their reasons. The question was how far was he willing to go to defend it?

Littlefoot exhaled, head hanging before he looked around for his missing friend. "Hey. Baby Star?"

A few seconds later, she reappeared from thin air, flickering softly.

"Where'd you go?" he inquired.

She struggled to answer. (~ My (~ I (~ cou (~ ran (~ ou ~) keep ~) energy ~) gether ~)

The star pulsed in frustration.

Littlefoot took a second to try and decode her jumbled response.

"You ran out of energy?" he asked.

Pleased that he understood, she flashed twice for a 'yes'.

Littlefoot nodded. "Rest, my friend. You deserve it."

Glowing with warm appreciation, The Baby Star disappeared, and that was the last he saw of her for several hours.




Vanish's feathers vibrated in awed excitement before he told the other sharpteeth that they had chosen their alpha wisely.

Littlefoot smiled before asking: "Have you seen a threehorn, swimmer, flyer, spiketail and a fast runner travelling together?"

"Um, yes," Vanish stated. "They are alive, I think. The Bond has them. The threehorn attacked both the Hunters' Bond and Forerunner Clan. Are you sure she is your friend?"

Littlefoot sighed. "I'm still trying to figure that out, but I have hope we'll be able to patch things up."

Vanish's first response was a thoughtful grunt. "Anyway, I was spying on the Bond. Before they found me and chased me here, I heard that they were going to make an example of the threehorn. She might have to fight the Great Guardian."

Littlefoot broke into his 'Breakneck' run. Even the fast biter was taken off guard by his speed.

"Wait!" called Vanish, sprinting after Littlefoot. "The 'Hidden Valley' is hidden! You could look for days and you'll never find a way in! Your friends got lucky, even after the Guardian knocked down the wall!"

"That's why you're going to guide me!" Littlefoot replied. "We're taking back the valley!"



You're still here? Seriously? Splendid. Next time I think to write a one shot this long, talk me out of it. I may or may not listen. I hope the last part wasn't too wordy. Just focus on the more interesting areas when you review … or just 'do you' when you review. Autonomy, woot!

You've probably figured out that this story occurs in medias res and serves as something of a pilot episode.  I'm now expanding it into the 'War Before Time' series, starting with 'Mentors of Yesteryears', which bridges the gap between the original Land Before Time series and this story.  Check it out at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13516136/1/War-Before-Time-Part-1-Mentors-of-Yesteryears.  Although Battle Before Time lays the groundwork for War Before Time, the two stories aren't necessarily perfectly consistent.  Tweaks may be made to the world building and plot line so that things don't quite play out the same way in War Before Time.

Vanish's mother, Unseen, is an alternate version of the utahraptor main character from "Jurassic Park: The Unseen Element". In the aforementioned story, she encounters one of the most dangerous humans on the planet, who may shape up to be her best friend or worst enemy. In that universe, most utahraptors have a unique natural abilities, such as above-average speed, sound mimicry or poisonous feathers and body fluids. Her unique ability was metachrosis, or colour-changing, which enhanced her knack for stealth. In The Battle / War Before Time continuity, however, all utahraptors have an even more advanced form of metachrosis, making them veritable Hidden Runners. However, Unseen is still a cut above the rest in camouflage.

Scattered throughout the chapter are a few Easter eggs for you to identify, divided between easy and … slightly less easy.

Easy:

- Multiple meta-references to the original Land Before Time.

- A callback to Disney's Tarzan

Less Easy:

- A quote resonating through the Transformers franchise

- A song by Danny Gokey

- A mild reference to The Flash comic story arc, "Force Quest"

- I've never followed Rocky and Bullwinkle, but somehow a reference made it in here.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to review and reveal the Easter eggs you've found!

14
LBT Fanfiction / Re: The Windrider Valley Quest
« on: September 12, 2020, 05:58:25 PM »
I initially had a hunch this was some kind of concussion-triggered flashback, given that Zephyr acknowledged him so casually though their kind is something of a rarity.  Of course, I couldn't be more wrong, but I very much prefer the route you took.

'Windrider'?  That's a pretty cool designation for his species.

A 'scout' her parents sent?  Hmm.  Is she some saurian equivalent of a princess?  I doubt they'd go to the effort for a less 'important' member of their society.

Zephyr may not have had the chance to give details, but I'm guessing these coming-of-age traditions would be particularly brutal for Guido, whose strength and flight capabilities would be subpar in comparison to most of his species.  Throw in a Darwinian element and he's in serious trouble.

Great start!  Kinda brings to mind Rio and its sequel.  We've only had a taste, but the characterisation is quite good.  Can't wait to see the world building you employ with this new valley.

15
LBT Fanfiction / Re: War Before Time Part 1: Mentors of Yesteryears
« on: September 06, 2020, 07:32:51 PM »
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!

16
LBT Fanfiction / Re: War Before Time Part 1: Mentors of Yesteryears
« on: August 16, 2020, 08:38:35 PM »
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 exercising her horn thrusts on thin air.

Mr. Thicknose turned to see what she doing. "Practising 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 practised, 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?"

Chomper 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 practised.

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 developed the rowdiness of American football.

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 headbutted 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 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-defence 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 hiccuped. "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.

Petria 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 made rapid expansions and contractions, hyperventilating 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'.

17
LBT Fanfiction / Re: War Before Time Part 1: Mentors of Yesteryears
« on: July 20, 2020, 12:49:21 AM »
Please note: In this story's continuity, the dinosaurs judge time using 'heartbeats' (the equivalent of seconds); 'breaths' (five heartbeats); 'sleeping breaths' (ten heartbeats); 'holding breaths' (thirty heartbeats) and 'naps' (one hour). Yes, it's uncannily akin to human time measurement, but there's a reason for that ;). Of course, dinosaurs of different ages and species have different heart rates, breathing patterns and napping tendencies, so they semi-universally accept specific values and stick with it. Adults such as Mr. Thicknose teach the children to measure heartbeats and breaths with surprising accuracy, although their measurements are never quite perfect and will begin to go off over time. 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 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. They will also use their analog system loosely, but I'm rambling so I'll shut up now :).



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'?"

"You break stones on a regular basis!" Littlefoot argued.

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 gears.

"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 part!"

He made a show of looking around. "Tree part? Let's see ... Ah! There it is! The closest part: 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 can 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's looks like green food, but you're hiding under 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 her 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 relented.

"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!

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 keeps falling 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'.

18
LBT Fanfiction / War Before Time I: Mentors of Yesteryears
« on: July 18, 2020, 04:58:53 PM »
Follow the story on FanFiction at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13516136/1/War-Before-Time-Part-1-Mentors-of-Yesteryears

If you've read 'The Battle Before Time', you will recognise the first one and a half chapters of this story. However, 'Mentors of Yesteryears' marks the beginning of the expansion of The Battle Before Time, so keep reading and you'll find something new to sink your teeth into. This story lays the ground work, sort of like a montage transitioning from 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 a few sort-of minor continuity changes and elaborations.

1) The scale difference between sharpteeth and leaf-eaters is truer to life, with Littlefoot's species being much 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. Rogue sharpteeth have a tendency to grow larger than their somewhat more social counterparts. 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.

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 active. 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 fact 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 that 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. It turns out with a little curiosity and a touch of bravery, you can have adventures every other day, leaving your 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 that I thought 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 'unchanging' land of adventures is gone forever.

Yeah, heh heh ... that was probably a bit confusing. To be honest, I'm not sure how best to explain the unexplainable. How about I begin with how it all started. Yeah, sounds like a plan.

Chomper and Ruby had been living with us for a while when Doc, 'The Lone Dinosaur', came to the valley on one of his visits.




Littlefoot watched in awe as Doc went through what was apparently his morning routine. Moving with grace and speed belying his size, the giant sauropod skilfully 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," the adult 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. I mean, you are The Lone Dinosaur, after all! It's just that I've never seen grownup longnecks do it without hurting themselves!"

Doc gave a dry chuckle. "Been conditioning my bones and muscles since I was young. 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 visiting - be gone by the next time The Bright Circle's high."

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 scary 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 call of adventure? Sometimes, perhaps, but more than anything, for friends, for family, even for total strangers. And who were these dinosaurs? Longnecks? Leaf-eaters? 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, whether he liked it or not. He had become 'The Lone Dinosaur', immortalised as a hero. 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 on Earth are you doing?" asked a thoroughly baffled Littlefoot.

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 stopped.

"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 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?" asked 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.

19
LBT Fanfiction / What Do Sharpteeth Eat?
« on: July 17, 2020, 07:11:52 PM »
I have submitted this story in response to the July 2020 Gang of Five word prompt, 'alternatives'.  You can find it on FanFiction at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13646304/1/What-Do-Sharpteeth-Eat.  It takes place in my 'War Before Time' continuity, which (predictably) places emphasis on action with (somewhat less predictable) sci-fi twists, amid character development, new faces and some fresh world building.  I always wanted to delve deeper into the mystery of the Rainbow Faces.  If you feel the same way, check out the War Before Time tales on FanFiction: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13516136/1/War-Before-Time-Part-1-Mentors-of-Yesteryears

Enjoy!



Summary: It was an unthinkable question.  Young adults Littlefoot and Cera have been passing on The Lone Dinosaur's training to the next generation of leafeaters, but it never occurred to them that these children, born and sheltered in The Great Valley, had no idea why sharpteeth are so 'mean'.  How will they explain alternative diets to the munchkins?[/b]



What Do Sharpteeth Eat?

A War Before Time Oneshot



"The trick is to end a fight as quickly as possible," young adult Littlefoot explained. "Sharpteeth aren't looking to exchange blows. They don't wanna get injured. Their aim is to take you down in one fell swoop, so ... um ..."

No one was listening.

Well, with the exception of the young parasaurolophus, Ark, the ankylosaurus, Tosh, and protoceratops, Dimi, the other kids were busy chatting and joking around. A few of them were even darting about, giggling as they chased each other.

Cera shook her head. "I don't know what's wrong with kids these days. In my time, I'd be eating up this training like sweet bubbles."

A smirk tugged at Littlefoot's lips. "'Your time'?"

Her eyes widened at the implication. "I'm NOT old, and I'm NOT starting to sound like Mr. Thicknose!"

Littlefoot gave her a smug smile, lowering his head to her level. The fact that she was barely half his size compounded the effect.

"I didn't say that. You did," Littlefoot quipped.

Cera huffed and rapidly turned with her snout in the air, kicking dirt at Littlefoot's face with her hind leg. It was a quick move, but she'd done it enough for Littlefoot to see it coming. This time, he managed to pull away before the soil reached his snout.

Frowning all the more, Cera stomped away. "Just for that, you'll be handling the ankle biters for the next few minutes."

Littlefoot playfully rolled his eyes. He actually enjoyed handling the 'ankle biters'. Now, if he could just get their attention.

"Okay, everyone. Eyes on me," he instructed.

Their laughter seemed to absorb his voice.

*( ( KRA-KOOOM! ) )*

The kids went silent as the boom ebbed into the distance. A little more and they would have expected smoke to be rising from the tip of Littlefoot's raised tail. It was a known fact that longnecks could create 'thunder' with the crack of their tails, but after The Lone Dinosaur's training, Littlefoot was practically a walking storm. There was no missing the awe on their faces. How easy it was to forget that demonstrations were more effective than words.

Littlefoot cleared his throat. "As I was saying, sharpteeth try to end a fight as fast as possible, which is why you gotta beat them to it. Strike fast, hit hard, and don't let your body language give away your movements too early."

He broke into an intricate display of tail melee, cracking peels of thunder before the captivated audience.

"Try to resist the urge to headbutt or bite, unless you know exactly what you're doing," Littlefoot advised in the process. "There's nothing a sharptooth would love more than for you to bring your head and throat close enough to bite. If they latch on, you might not be able to escape. Have you been practising your tail combinations?"

"Uhhh ..." came a collective answer.

Ark's ordinarily focussed mind seemed to wander. "Huh? Oh, right."

He loosed tail strikes against the air, swiftly, efficiently and seemingly effortlessly.

"Hmph. Show off ..." mumbled Zin the therizinosaurus.

"Very good!" Littlefoot commended. "Let's see if you can be a little sharper with your blows, like this."

The longneck proceeded to demonstrate.

Eyes settling on the ground, Ark didn't appear to hear.

Littlefoot frowned in concern. "What's on your mind, buddy?"

"Umm ... Littlefoot, I was just wondering," began Ark, "what do sharpteeth eat?"

Littlefoot's brain practically choked on the question. Since he was a kid, Doc had trained him to be remarkably fast and graceful, even as he grew. However, when Ark asked that question, all those years of training were forgotten as he tripped on his own feet and fell like a tree.

"HE'S GOING DOWN!" yelped a scrambling Dimi. "QUICK! GET UNDER SOMETHING!"

The Earth shook as the longneck hit the ground. Having conditioned his bones and scales for years, he was considerably more sturdy than the average longneck. That was the only reason why he didn't break a rib the moment he landed. Still ... ow ...

Cera came rushing in, barely sparing Littlefoot a glance as she stared open mouthed at the youngster.

"Ark! Did you just ask what sharpteeth eat?!" she demanded.

"I'm fine, thanks for asking, Cera," Littlefoot responded dryly.

Ark fidgeted, under her eyes. "I mean, why don't we just call them 'leafeaters' too? Do they eat green food without leaves? What kind? Some of us eat plants without leaves, but we still call ourselves leafeaters. What makes them so different?"

Agreement rippled across the kids.

"Yeah, I've been wondering about that too."

"Me too."

"Same here."

"Uh huh."

Littlefoot slowly nodded as he got up. Most of Ark's generation had been born in the valley, but it never occurred to him that no one would tell him such basic facts. Then again, he himself seldom mentioned it.

"Um ... why do you think we've been teaching you how to fight them?" asked Littlefoot.

Ark paused. "I've been wondering about that. I mean, it's obvious they're super mean and territorial, like threehorns, but a bit worse."

Ark's sister, Anati, shot him a glare. "Hey! Threehorns aren't like that! At least, not Cera! She's really just a big softie on the inside!"

Cera narrowed her eyes. "What'd you just call me?"

"N-nothing, Ma'am!" Anati stuttered as she shrank back. "Please don't hurt me!"

Cera smiled with a pleased 'hmph'. It was good to know she still struck fear into the hearts of munchkins.

Ark thumped his tail in thought. "Perhaps sharpteeth only eat the ground green food without leaves. We can eat it too, so maybe they fight us to protect their limited food supply."

"That's a pretty smart theory," Littlefoot chuckled soberly. "But ... oh boy. I guess it's time we gave you The Talk."

Ark tilted his head. "'The Talk'?"

"Also known as 'The Feathered Flyers and the Stinging Buzzers'," Littlefoot continued. "You see, not all dinosaurs are like us. There are ... alternatives. Some eat what we eat, and other stuff. Some just eat ... other stuff. It's sort of like how stinging buzzers drink the sweet juice from flowers, and feathered flyers eat the stinging buzzers. Likewise, we eat green food, and sharpteeth eat ... um ... red food. Do you see where I'm coming from?"

"What's a feathered flyer?" asked Dimi.

Littlefoot resisted the urge to slap his tail against his forehead.

"Come on, Dim!" Zin sneered. "We all see feathered flyers in the valley these days! Guido's a feathered flyer! Keep up!"

Dimi marched right up to the bigger youngster and stared him in the eye. "It's 'Dimi', not 'Dim'! I know I'm not that smart, but I'm here to learn, so don't you EVER call me that again!"

Zin took a step back, deflating. Littlefoot regretted his initial judgement. Cera grunted in approval, finding herself unexpectedly proud of the little guy.

"Sooo ... what's 'red food'?" asked Ark.

An awkward silence fell upon them all.

Again, Ark thumped his tail as he pondered the subject. Suddenly, he gasped as something clicked.

Littlefoot nodded. "Yeah. I know it must be hard to imagine."

"They eat only red flowers?" Ark exclaimed. "No wonder they're so aggressive! Their food supply is even more limited than I thought!"

"But how does something that big survive on flowers?" Anati exclaimed. "Not even stinging buzzers live off just red flowers!"

Tosh shook his head. "No. You guys aren't getting it. The feathered flyers represent the sharpteeth, not the stinging buzzers."

Littlefoot nodded grimly.

"Obviously Littlefoot's saying that sharpteeth eat creepy crawlers, just like feathered flyers," Tosh explained. "Some of the crawlers are pretty big, and I'm guessing they're a lot of them in The Mysterious Beyond."

Cera's eye twitched.

"Ohhhh ..." the kids went in realisation.

"Wait, then why are they so mean?" asked Ark. "We don't compete with them for food."

"They eat US!" Cera exploded. "WE are the RED FOOD!"

The youngsters exchanged glances before bursting into laughter.

Littlefoot cast Cera a hopeless look.

"Don't look at me. They're your students," she disowned.

"Dinosaurs EATING other dinosaurs?" Ark roared. "That's THE CRAZIEST thing I've ever heard! NO ONE would do that, no matter how mean they are!"

"NICE ONE, Miss Threehorn!" Zin blurted. "You HONESTLY thought after the COUNTLESS times you've messed with us, we wouldn't catch on?"

"Okay, I'll take responsibility for that," Cera admitted with a shrug.

"How STUPID do you think we are?!" Dimi laughed.

Cera squeezed her lips shut. Even she didn't feel comfortable voicing the words that came to mind.

"Besides!" Anati giggled. "We aren't even red!"

"We are on the inside," Littlefoot assured.

The laughing ceased.

Cera's word was one thing, but Littlefoot's? This was no laughing matter. This was the end of innocence.

Littlefoot winced at the youngsters' frozen expressions. They'd never been this quiet, but there was always the calm before the storm. He braced himself.

Cera counted: "Three ... two ... one ..."

The youngsters exploded into a plethora of reactions. Spearheaded by Ark, several of them bombarded Littlefoot and Cera with questions barely coherent in their hysteria. Though Tosh was among the rabid inquisitors, he rapidly fluctuated between demands for answers, outrage at the very idea of 'red food', and vehement refusal to accept it. Anati sat herself down, clutching her chest in unfamiliarity with the uncomfortable sensation of palpitations. Zin stood quietly, eyes darting about as his brain strained to make sense of the revelation, only to suffer a bad case of mental indigestion. Dimi curled into a ball and quietly wept, while others weren't nearly as quiet about it.

Cera tried to keep a straight face as she attempted to convince herself that there was nothing funny about this. The kids were reeling from a harsh reality. So what if their responses were outlandishly wacky? This wasn't funny. This ... wasn't ... funny ...

The threehorn keeled over, racked with hearty laughter.

Littlefoot gave her an incredulous stare.

"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed in the midst of it. "My mean streak gets a real kick outa this!"

In spite of everything, Littlefoot managed a deadpan comeback. "'Streak'?"

That stopped her cold. Intuition told her she was the victim of a wisecrack, but how? It took her a moment to unravel the one-liner.

She put on an unamused facade. "Oh, har har. You think you're smart, don't you, longneck?"

Littlefoot shrugged smugly before returning his attention to the frantic youngsters. "Hey, guys! Calm down. It's not the end of the world."

His words did little to temper the tizzy.

Cera smiled, shook her head and rolled her eyes at his soft approach before clearing her throat. "HEY! GUYS!"

The children grew silent.

"So what if sharpteeth try to snack on us?" she began, pacing in front of the youngsters. "That's why the Unknown One gave us horns, claws, powerful tails, smarts and the training to turn all that into a sharptooth's worst nightmare. Some of you will be big enough to literally stomp a sharptooth, and ..."

Cera paused mid-step, realising that she'd almost stepped on Dimi. His kind was commonly viewed as lacking all that she had mentioned. "Puny bodies, puny minds," threehorns would often say of their much smaller, hornless cousins. Dimi's little tail had been wagging up a storm, until he put two and two together and falling self-esteem dragged his eyes to the ground.

The threehorn furrowed her brow in determination. She would not be having one of her students feeling this dejected.

"And some of you are small enough to fit in all the best hiding spaces, where no sharptooth could hope to reach you." Cera winked at him. "If you do it right, and mask your scent, you'll be able to sneak past them pretty much wherever you are. You'll be practically invisible to them."

Dimi brightened, his wag returning with a vengeance.

"And you know the greatest the greatest thing He's given us?" asked Littlefoot. "Look to your side."

Ark turned to see his sister. After brief confusion, he smiled before holding her paw. She returned the expression. She was his best friend. Perhaps that meant he needed to mingle a little more outside of his family, but it was fortunate that they managed to get along this well. Many siblings weren't as lucky.

"Now your other side," Littlefoot instructed.

Having caught on, Ark looked to see Tosh standing next to him. He repressed a frown. Tosh made less of an effort to hide his own sour expression ... but on second thought, it wasn't meant for Ark specifically. He always frowned. After his father left him and his mother to start a new family among a group of far walkers, his expressions tended toward scowls conspicuous even for a clubtail. With conflicting personalities, Ark and Tosh were acquaintances at best. It was hard to picture them as close friends, but Littlefoot and Cera had somehow managed to make it work. Maybe, just maybe, he could see it happening with a little effort. They both had a strong sense of justice, although Tosh's way of showing it would have involved wordlessly whacking Zin upside the head if he continued to harass Dimi. Ark had even spotted him pulling back his tail in preparation. When Zin backed off, the tail went down.

"He gave us each other," Littlefoot went on. "We outnumber sharpteeth ten to one. You're all different: different kinds, different personalities, different stories, but that's good. That's very good. Make strong, lifelong friendships. Learn to understand each other, and get along even when you don't understand. Together, your differences will help you do wonderful things."

Littlefoot smiled as he thought back to the many adventures he and his friends had lived. Then he frowned as his memories fell on one particular day. The day they faced Red Claw and said goodbye to Chomper.

"You know, I talked to Red Claw once," he remarked.

The children gasped.

"But ... Red Claw doesn't talk," Anati stated.

"He does, he just speaks differently from us," Littlefoot explained. "My friend Chomper, the sharptooth who used to live here, taught me how to speak his tongue. I was trying to convince Red Claw to be friends with us, but you know what he said?"

They shook their heads.

"He said he hated us," Littlefoot continued. "He didn't just hunt because he needed food. He loved to see us suffer. In his mind, hatred is the most powerful force of life. It helps sharpteeth feel no mercy when they hurt us. I can see why he'd say that, but he was wrong. Hatred divides, and it can even get you killed, but the most powerful, brilliant thing you can do is to love each other. Because of our love, my friends and I were able to defeat him and his fast biters. No one died. No one got left behind, but sharpteeth expect the opposite. They're counting on you to be alone. They're counting on you to look out only for yourselves and leave each other to their jaws. That's how they catch a lot of leafeaters. If you stand together, most sharpteeth will back off pretty quickly. Even if they don't, never give up. The impossible can become reality if you hold on together."

Cera found herself smiling as she shook her head before gently bumping Littlefoot with a shoulder.

"You always have to out-inspire me, don'tcha?" she asked.

Littlefoot smiled back. "You did good, but it never was a contest, you know."

"With you, it hardly ever is," Cera replied. "One of the reasons why you're such a good friend."

Even after years of watching Cera soften up, her mushier moments often took Littlefoot off guard. He'd be hard pressed to name his favourite friend, but after all they'd been through? If someone told a younger Littlefoot that he and Cera would do practically everything together, and enjoy it to boot, he might not have believed it. What a wonderful surprise it turned out to be.

"Eyes on me, everyone," Littlefoot instructed.

The kids snapped to attention like a trained army. Even when thundering footfalls met their ears, their focus scarcely wavered.

"Sorry I'm late!" exclaimed a pink, teenage threehorn as she bolted in, skidding to a stop before surveying the youngsters. "Whoa! I've never seen them this attentive! Did I miss something?"

"Ark wanted to know what sharpteeth eat, so we gave him 'The Talk'," explained Littlefoot.

Tricia creased her brow in thought. "You know, I've been wondering about that myself ..."

Cera gaped. Her sister ... didn't know? A fiendish grin spread across her face. Her sister didn't know.

Tricia's alarms went off. Some disturbing truth was tucked behind that grin, and Cera was the kind of sister who would bring down a psychological landslide and soak in the reaction like a good mud bath.

Cera cleared her throat. "You see, my dear little sister, sharpteeth-"

"Hold it!" the pink threehorn interrupted, shoving a paw onto Cera's mouth.

Tricia had to think fast. She couldn't give her sister the pleasure. Now, why would a sharptooth's diet be such a big deal? Her brain rapidly sifted through the possibilities until it pieced together one so horrific that it simply had to be true.

Tricia gasped. "They eat US, don't they?"

"Oh, COME ON!" Cera howled in disappointment.



I wasn't the first one to use the term 'red food'. Don't know where it originally came from, but it's a pretty interesting way of referring to ... um ... you know.

I'm sure you can spot a Jurassic World reference in there.

For more tales from this continuity, visit me at FanFiction under 'The Mr E' and check out 'The Battle Before Time' (the oneshot that started it all) https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13404463/1/The-Battle-Before-Time, 'War Before Time Part 1: Mentors of Yesteryears' https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13516136/1/War-Before-Time-Part-1-Mentors-of-Yesteryears, 'Because You're a Sharpneck (A War Before Time Oneshot)', https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13556382/1/Because-You-re-a-Sharpneck-A-War-Before-Time-Oneshot and 'Babysitting a Sharpneck (A War Before Time Oneshot)', https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13557155/1/Babysitting-a-Sharpneck-A-War-Before-Time-Oneshot.



20
This story was posted here in response to the May 2020 prompt, 'Hidden', taking place in Hidden Valley, home to the hidden runners and mysteries even its residents don't understand. If you've heard of the hidden runners from the original series, you'll quickly notice that the ones in this story are clearly not the same thing. Within the 'War Before Time' continuity, Littlefoot discovers in the pilot oneshot ,'The Battle Before Time', that the 'hidden runner' he once encountered was apparently not the real deal.

You can find Because You're a Sharpneck on fanfiction.net at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13556382/1/Because-You-re-a-Sharpneck-A-War-Before-Time-Oneshot

You can also find The Battle Before Time at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13404463/1/The-Battle-Before-Time



Description: While 'mentors of yesteryears' teach Littlefoot and friends how to battle sharpteeth, some dinosaurs are born to fight. The problem is they don't know how to stop.  Meet Dagara. Technically, she's a longneck. Technically, she's a lot of things. Luckily, Hidden Valley is full of 'a lot of things'. Making friends should be easy, right? Too bad making enemies is easier.



Author's Notes: In real life, I'm pretty sure amargasauruses (or 'sharpnecks') weren't omnivores, but then again Petrie is portrayed as a herbivore throughout The Land Before Time, while I'm pretty sure his species was carnivorous in real life. I sense some freedom to use artistic license :). Amargasauruses also grow bigger than their real-life counterparts in this story, though not quite as big as an apatosaurus like Littlefoot.

If anyone wonders what the 'flying nibblers' are, just google 'anurognathus'. You'll probably respond with an 'aww', a 'YIKES!' or something in between.

By the way, within this story's continuity the dinosaurs judge time using 'heartbeats' (the equivalent of seconds); 'breaths' (five heartbeats); 'sleeping breaths' (ten heartbeats); 'holding breaths' (thirty heartbeats) and 'naps' (one hour). Yes, it's uncannily akin to human time measurement, but there's a reason for that, as we'll find out in War Before Time ;).

Without further ado, I introduce Dagara, a sharpneck whose story exists on the periphery of my 'War Before Time' series! Sooner or later, her life will converge with Littlefoot and company, but that's a tale for another day.


Enjoy!



Maybe you've heard that Littlefoot and his friends are growing into sharptooth-smiting warriors. Maybe you know that someday they'll fight the War Before Time, but you don't know me. Not yet, anyway. Can I let you in on a secret? The Great Valley is just one of many mysterious valleys, like The Land of Mists, Sunstone Valley and ... honestly, that's all I got besides my own. It's not like I've ever had to visit another valley. Don't judge me! Anyway, they're all different from The Mysterious Beyond. Most are full of good green food, water holes, nesting grounds and everything else a leafeater could need in all the right places. I can't complain, but it's kind of strange when you think too hard about it. No one knows how they came to be, but my home, Hidden Valley, is rather unique. For starters, it's not supposed to exist. Not after The Great Earthshake, anyway. These days, the valley's full of 'not supposed to's. Sharpteeth shouldn't really be here, yet here they are. There shouldn't be enough food for us to coexist, but most of the time, there is. The water should have dried up, gone stagnant or flooded the valley long ago, but it hasn't. Some would argue that leafeaters should be leafeaters, and sharpteeth should be sharpteeth. There shouldn't be an 'in between' ... yet here I am.

Hi. My name's Dagara. I'm probably the last sharpneck alive, which makes life ... complicated.




Because You're a Sharpneck

A War Before Time Oneshot



The young sharpneck was practically vibrating.

She growled at herself. Why was it so hard to sit still? Sure, she was 10, but even the threehorns her age didn't have this excessive energy ... or did they? She couldn't tell for sure. Maybe they were just really good at hiding it. Maybe their parents had trained them better.

A loud snore drew Dagara's attention to her adoptive father: Wartar, the threehorn alpha tattered with the marks of another life spent in the heat of combat. The sharpneck didn't like to look at the marks on his side. She'd long since figured out what most of them meant. He may have retired from the battlefield, but she had a hunch he'd carry his drill sergeant of a personality to his end. No, the other youngsters weren't trained better than she was. No one trained their young quite like her dad. From all appearances, her impatience was 'a sharpneck thing'. Everything seemed to be a sharpneck thing with her, from personality quirks to her unusual diet.

"Dad, are you awake?" she asked.

His answer (or absence thereof) came in the form of another snore. He had to told her not to leave the nest until he had awoken, but this was the first time she'd seen him to sleep in. Yes, he'd had a long day prior, but come ooooon! The Sun was peeking over the cliffs that surrounded the valley, which said a lot! Those cliffs were higher than they had any right to be. Any creature supremely lucky enough to reach the valley would find it hard to get in without falling to their death ... almost as hard as it was for most residents to leave. It was a miracle Hidden Valley hadn't collapsed altogether. After The Great Earthshake, the valley had nearly disappeared off the map, sinking hundreds of feet into the ground so that only the centre's greenery enjoyed The Bright Circle's light most of the day. Luckily, that centre occupied 70% of the valley, dubbed 'The Green Zone'. The valley's edge was the polar opposite. Starved of sunlight, it was a place where only the hardiest, least palatable vegetation survived. Known as The Grey Zone, this was the logical habitat for those who didn't need green food. A such, there was more than enough room for the leafeaters and ... non-leafeaters to keep to themselves much of the time.

"Good morn-"

"GGRRRAAAAHHH!" Dagara snarled.

Without blinking, she charged at whatever had made that noise. She didn't see it, but her ears gave her a pretty good idea of where it was, and it was invading her territory!

Dagara's sharp eyes glimpsed motion as something sidestepped her charge, although she couldn't tell exactly what she was looking at. Then her conscious mind caught up with her actions.

She skidded to a stop, squinting at the nearly invisible thing before sniffing. "Unseen, is that you? I could've killed you!"

The invader's scales turned to a profusion of greens, broken by yellow stripes on her back. With blue feathers running from the top of her head to the base of her neck, it was an adult female fast biter.

Unseen gave a quiet cackle. The young one thought she'd nearly killed her? How amusing! ... Although Dagara might have had a point. She was little more than a third the fast biter's size, but Unseen had watched her training with her father. The sharpneck was a natural warrior, armed with some pretty formidable biological weapons. She could at least hurt a fast biter, even if that fast biter was one of the legendary hidden runners.

"You know, most creatures do not instantly attack when startled," Unseen chuckled. "If they do, they think first."

"I was thinking!" Dagara insisted.

Unseen twitched her feathers in amusement. "And what were you thinking?"

The sharpneck grew sheepish. "Uh ... 'Intruder invading territory' ... 'threatening Dad and me' ... 'nothing friendly sneaks up on you' ..."

Unseen took a moment to consider that. "'Nothing friendly sneaks up on you': that's a fair assumption, but not always accurate, especially in a valley where hidden runners live."

Dagara shrugged before giving a response that was quickly becoming mechanical. "I'm a sharpneck, remember?" That said, she apologised with a sharptooth coo.

Unseen smiled. "It's nice that you are using my language, but I prefer to practise my leafeater."

Dagara thought for a moment. "I prefer to practise my sharptooth. How about you speak leafeater and I speak sharptooth?"

"Deal," Unseen agreed with a bob of her head.

Dagara would speak gibberish for all she cared if it meant spending time with Unseen. When hidden runners entered The Green Zone, they were seldom seen, which was just the way most leafeaters liked it. Of course, if anyone went missing, the pack was automatically placed under suspicion. If no one could find the missing leafeater within hours, there would be dire consequences. Yes, the two groups mixed, but seldom without some incentive. Dagara didn't need much motivation to mix. She thought the hidden runners were the coolest things in the world! In Dagara's mind, Unseen was the closest thing she had to an awesome big sister, although Unseen's unpredictable daily movements made it hard to get in touch with her. Coupled with the fact that the hidden runner always seemed busy, Dagara hesitated to ask Unseen to hang out. Did adults even 'hang out'? By her standards, Dagara wasn't quite sure. If she could just get the younger hidden runners to play with her, though ...

"I'm surprised your dad is still sleeping after the ruckus we made," Unseen noted.

Dagara looked at the threehorn, throbbing her agreement in sharptooth before explaining that he'd had a long day, training kids and rescuing one who got stuck in a landslide.

Unseen nodded. "So I've heard. Ordinarily, I would tell your dad in person, but I must move quickly. I will come back later. In the meantime you can give him the message when he wakes up."

"You can give me the message right now," Wartar grunted as he opened his eyes.

Unseen chirped in surprise. "Oh, good morning, Alpha! You will be happy to know that the hidden runner food shortage may no longer be a problem. We have found a new food source. That's the good news."

The threehorn yawned, not even bothering to get up. "And the bad news?"

"Our food source is a new kind of creepy crawler," Unseen explained. "They are big and aggressive."

"How big?" he asked.

"Two sizes. Some are," she glanced at Dagara, "almost two times bigger than your daughter. Others are slightly bigger than a hidden runner."

Wartar huffed. "That's not big."

"It is when they attack in numbers," Unseen went on. "We think that they lived underground until an earthshake disturbed their nest. That would explain why they are coming out of The Dark Zone caves, but it does not explain why they took so long to get here. Maybe it took time for them to find the valley. Anyway, we're fighting them right now. We are trying to keep them out of The Green Zone, but we don't know how many there are. We're sending most of our chicks into The Green Zone for safety, until we can figure out what we're dealing with."

Dagara perked up. Maybe this time the young hidden runners would be willing to play with her! Wartar wasn't quite as enthusiastic.

"Do what you must," he curtly replied. "And the crawlers, they eat meat?"

Unseen shook her head. "They seem only interested in green food, but like I said, they are very aggressive. Also greedy and territorial. They're eating what little green food they can find in The Grey Zone, while trying to push us out of our territory and spread into The Green Zone. No one has been hurt, but we are confused."

Wartar raised a half-disinterested eyebrow. "Why is that?"

Unseen clicked her sickle-shaped claw against a twig in thought. "They have been living underground, yet green food does not grow underground. What were they eating before coming here? If they came from the surface somewhere else, where would that 'somewhere else' be? The flying nibblers say there is no green food near the valley. Only what remains of the rocky maze that once surrounded it, and dry lands beyond that as far as the eye can see. It makes most sense that they came from underground, but not enough sense."

The threehorn gave a loud, annoyed sigh. Hidden runners and their compulsive desire to understand their prey.

"It really doesn't matter," the threehorn grunted. "What matters is after The Great Earthshake drove you here from the falling canyons around the valley, you made an oath to behave yourselves and help out by eating troublesome crawlers and buzzers."

Unseen nodded. "And we are very grateful that you allowed us to stay. We will try-"

"Don't 'try'. Do. Your. Job," Wartar emphasised. "Don't let them reach The Green Zone. Make yourselves useful for once."

The ordinarily level-headed Unseen usually fidgeted around Wartar. He was one of the few things that scared her, but nonetheless she was eager to please. However, when he said that, her body language changed for the briefest of moments. She stopped fidgeting, narrowed her eyes at him and stared at the ground with the slightest of sighs before seamlessly resuming her usual behaviour. No one noticed except Dagara. The sharpneck was beginning to learn that sharpteeth were more complex than they seemed. They had multiple layers of personality: the one they displayed, and the ones always watching in the background, ready to show themselves at a moment's notice. Unseen had approached the nest with no reason to expect conflict, but a part of her was always ready to hunt or be hunted. That way, she instantly responded the moment Dagara attacked. She was genuinely uncomfortable around Wartar, yet a more settled, sober side had shown through when he insulted her. That side was not afraid of him. It had shifted from slightly offended to disheartened. Dagara had no doubt that that side was capable of telling off Wartar without blinking. To a leafeater, these layers might have seemed deceptive, but it was simply the way sharpteeth were built ... or maybe it was just the hidden runners ... or just Unseen. Hard to tell. From what Dagara could discern, most hidden runners had some degree of multi-dimensional personality, but it was difficult to figure out how much it varied from individual to individual.

"The leafeaters should keep their eyes peeled in case some crawlers get past us," Unseen concluded.

Wartar nodded. "Make sure everyone knows about this."

"But Alpha, mother wants me to help with the fighting!" Unseen argued.

The threehorn stared at her as if the answer were the most painfully obvious thing in the world. "Then get the flying nibblers to spread the message. They're too small to fight, aren't they?"

"Oh, right," she fumbled, nearly tripping on her feet as she left. "Enjoy your day!"

Wartar's only response was a grunt.

The sharpneck stared after Unseen. She would have liked to see those big creepy crawlers.

"Dagara, stay out of The Grey Zone. Otherwise I'll have to babysit you," her dad warned.

She winced. From a threehorn parent, 'babysitting' was not what it sounded like.

"Okay," she agreed, "but can I at least ...?"

He was already snoring once again.

Dagara suppressed a frustrated scream while resisting the urge to headbutt him. Rudely waking him up was one was surefire way to end up being babysat, but HOW was she supposed to stay in this ONE SPOT, watching the Great Circle make its journey and LISTENING TO HER DAD SNORE?!

Dagara's legs started moving before she knew what they were doing. Another 'sharpneck thing'. Long story short, she was impulsive. Long story long, her body had a habit of reacting to her thoughts, feelings and instincts, whether she wanted it to or not. That gave her nearly instant, hyper-intuitive reactions that would go a long way in a fight, but it wasn't much good for making friends ... or obeying commands ... or keeping her mouth shut ... among a good number of other things.

The sharpneck was willing herself to turn back when the unusually powerful, 'Do What You Wanna Do' part of her mind argued that she had already left the nest. His order had been broken. She couldn't break it anymore than she had, could she?

Dagara shook her head. That wasn't a good enough excuse.

Her mind was a clever negotiator. Okay ... so her dad had told her not to leave the nest until he woke up. He'd already awoken. Sure, he'd fallen back to sleep, but if he wanted her to stay, wouldn't he have reiterated it? Besides, he said to stay out of The Grey zone, not to remain within the nest. Did he really want her to sit around while he slept the morning away? It was daybreak! She was always up and about by daybreak!

Dagara considered that for a moment. Wellllll ...

With a sigh, the sharpneck allowed her legs to carry her away. Why did every part of her seem to have its own democracy, even her brain?

Stepping into the forest, Dagara felt a strange, mildly exhilarating sense of freedom. She knew it was the thrill of rebellion. Why did it have to feel so good?

First things first, Dagara searched for a nice, sturdy tree far enough to avoid any noise that threatened to reach the nest. She found many, but tried to ignore them. They'd already been ... used. Technically, she could reuse them, but she preferred to avoid visiting the same tree more than once. She didn't like looking at the trunks after she was done with them.

Ah! This was a pretty good one! The bark had a lovely texture: just tough enough to withstand her, but soft enough to do its job. She walked around it, looking for the best spot before stopping mid-step.

Uh oh ...

Apparently she'd already gotten to this one. It was easy to lose track, but there was no mistaking the scars running along its trunk, dribbling frozen tree sap.

Many of her dad's scars looked just like that.

Dagara released a heavy breath, leaning her head against the tree and closing her eyes. Her dad had always said she was a clever girl. She didn't want to be clever. She didn't want to be a lot of things. Maybe that way her chest would hurt less every time she looked at a scarred tree ... every time she looked at her dad.

Dragging her feet to the other side of the tree, Dagara tried to forget the scars. Once they were out of sight, she rolled her shoulders, loosening up. At the right angle, in the right stance, she might have passed for an ordinary longneck. Then she flexed her neck. Up came the spikes ... or horns. Why couldn't they be both? Two dozen of them bedecked the back of her neck from top to bottom. When most of the threehorns her age were still making do with a single horn, Dagara had all of hers. She was very, very proud of them, so long as she didn't have to look at the marks they left in the tree bark.

The sharpneck tore into the tree with her spikes, sharpening them against the trunk. She didn't feel quite like herself until she'd done that. It came before eating, before cleaning, before she was ready to socialise ... or try, anyway.

Once done, Dagara pulled away from the trunk, shaking her neck in invigoration. Then she caught motion at the side of her eye. Apparently, she wasn't alone.

Dagara turned and looked around. She couldn't see anything, but she knew they were there. Staring at her.

"Okay, har har," she began. "I can practically feel your eyeballs. Why not introduce yourselves? There's no need to be shy."

No answer.

She rolled her eyes. "Don't tell me you're afraid of a little ol' sharpneck. I thought hidden runners were braver than that!"

Again, no response. She knew why: they didn't particularly care what she thought of them. After learning that the sharpneck was remarkably observant, the young hidden runners had made a game out of it. It was hunting behaviour, minus the attacking part. With nothing else to do, it only made sense that the youngsters would come visit their favourite play thing.

"You know, the first time you did this, I thought you were playing with me," Dagara admitted. "Then I realised I wasn't part of the game, just part of the challenge. You hide. I spot you. If I find you, you're out. Last runner standing wins, then you all leave without saying a word. I know Silence has been teaching you leafeater, and Unseen taught me sharptooth, so quit pretending I'm talking to myself here. Why don't we play together?"

Not a peep.

Irritated, Dagara released a low growl that sounded worthy of a full-blooded predator. Then she spotted a massive dragonfly perched on a fern. Sharpteeth considered them an excellent snack, but she hesitated. Her dad had never outright told her to hide her true self, but he had subtly encouraged it. She thought she did a pretty good job of it too, but all it took was one blather mouth to ruin the secret. However, chances were no hidden runner gossip would reach leafeater ears for at least a few years.

"I know your secret," she baited. "You don't disappear. You just change colour to blend in with what's around you," she balked, but only briefly. "Wanna hear my secret? I'm a longneck, but I'm also sort of a sharptooth, just like you!"

Silence. They weren't buying it.

Dagara grinned, displaying pointy teeth usually hidden in the presence of a leafeater. Revealing them brought a sense of catharsis.

"That's not the only thing we have in common," Dagara added.

The sharpneck smoothly lowered herself and crept towards the dragonfly. In doing so, her sandy scales turned mottled green, punctuated by a darker marking running along her side. The colours shifted, pulsing and throbbing according to the movement of the bushes caught in the wind.

She heard at least a few hidden runners chirp with fascination.

"See? I'm just like you," she repeated, stalking the creepy crawler. "My dad says it's called the 'Bush Blush'. I know, I can't disappear as well as you do, but it's enough to hunt- Oof!"

She'd tripped over something soft. After that 'something' squealed, she realised she'd stepped on a hidden runner. His camouflage pattern disappeared the moment he lost focus. Dagara stared. Ohhh ... so that's what the young ones looked like. She'd never seen one up close: one who wasn't hiding, anyway. This chick was one third her height, probably less than half her age. She didn't know sharpteeth could be this adorable when little. The way he scrambled to his feet and stared up at her with big, sheepish eyes and a tail hanging low didn't help his image as a predator.

"Awww!" Dagara melted, before catching his scent. It was faint, but identifiable. "Hey, you smell like Unseen! Are you her so-?

She was cut off by an eruption of chattering from every direction. It sounded like laughter ... and it was. In the uproar, the hidden runners lost their camouflage patterns and she got a good, rare look at them. They were all much smaller than the sharpneck, but most appeared to be bigger than the one she'd tripped over. Her brain unravelled their cacophony of voices, picking up mockery heaped upon the youngster she'd stumbled on. Vanish was always the first to be spotted, they teased, and now the sharpneck had practically stepped on him!

With a series of chirps and friendly growls, Dagara stated that it could have happened to anyone. It wasn't Vanish's fault she was stalking in his direction.

They stared at her and exchanged looks as though she'd grown a second head.

This was getting extremely annoying, and Dagara expressed that with a snarl. "Didn't I SAY I could speak SHARPTOOTH!? WEREN'T YOU EVEN LISTENING?!"

The hidden runners disappeared and the bushes rustled as they fled in all directions. Apparently she'd spooked them. The sharpneck spotted Vanish, who was inching away from her. Strangely enough, the dragonfly remained perched after all the commotion. It was practically begging to be caught.

Dagara pounced, snared it in her jaws and placed it at the hidden runner's feet.

Vanish blinked down at the snack, wobbling on his feet as he pondered his next move. Eyeing her warily, he reached down and took a nibble. Nibbles turned to chomps and soon he was finishing up the last scrap of dragonfly.

The sharpneck smiled at him. "Friends?"

Vanish gave her a blank stare before backing off and fading into the bushes.

Dagara wasn't quite sure how to react to that. He ate her food ... looked her in the eye ... and left. On second thought, she knew exactly how to react.

Her breathing quickened. Irritation flared to anger, and anger made her spikes itch. When her spikes itched, the only way to make them stop was to unleash them on something. It helped if that 'something' had a heartbeat.



"DAGARA, this has to STOP!" Wartar once bellowed. "You CANNOT lash out like that EVER again! DO YOU HEAR ME!?"

A slightly younger Dagara stared at the ground without answering.

"You're a GOOD GIRL with a GOOD HEAD on your shoulders!" Wartar continued. "WHY do you feel the need to ACT like the OPPOSITE? TELL ME!"

She sighed. He had a way of making her feel empowered and ashamed at the same time, but she wouldn't respond. The answer sounded too stupid in her head.

Wartar turned around to 'babysit' her.

"Wait!" Dagara exclaimed. "I lash out because of the itching!"

He looked back at her. "... The itching?"

Dagara looked around as though searching for some other, more logical explanation. She couldn't find one.

"When I'm really angry, my ... my horns itch *sniff*," she blurted. "It's a really bad itch, a burning itch, like fire! I don't wanna lash out, but I gotta do something with my horns, or they keep itching and I feel like I'm going crazy! *Sniff* ..."

Wartar slowly nodded as he turned to face her. That explained a lot about sharpnecks. It was too ridiculous to be a lie.

"If you gotta use your horns, try taking it out on the things that aren't alive," he suggested.



Greenery went flying as Dagara chopped into the bushes with her spikes. Was it helping? Maybe, but not nearly fast enough!

Wartar had been watching his daughter slash away at a bush for several minutes. Usually, she would have calmed down by now.



"Feeling any better?" he asked.

She huffed, teeth bared, a myriad of leaves stuck in her spikes. "No! Maybe I'm just too angry this time!"

He stared down at her. At his height, he saw the greenery attached to the sharpneck more than he saw the actual sharpneck. Wartar stifled a laugh.

"What? What?" she almost snapped.

"From up here, you look like a very angry, very tiny tree!" Wartar exclaimed.

He broke into a full, hearty laugh.

Dagara looked on in ambivalence. Part of her was demanding that she attack him immediately for making fun of her, but she'd never seen him laugh like this. Was it really that funny? Dagara tried to picture things from his perspective. 'A very angry ... very tiny ... tree'? The image brought a chortle. That actually sounded kind of hilarious!

Soon, both sharpneck and threehorn were rolling in laughter, turning heads as their voices reached threehorns reasonably nearby.

When the laughter ebbed to chuckles, Dagara made a startling realisation. "Hey! The itching's gone!"

Wartar smiled at her amid little laughs. "Maybe that's the cure! Laughter!"

Dagara thought for a moment. "What if I don't have anything to laugh about?"

"There's always something to laugh about, if you look hard enough."

"... But what if there isn't?"

He frowned, looking around to ensure none of the threehorns were too close. Certain of this, he lowered his voice.

"Well, if you're sure you're alone, you might be able to take out your anger on something that's alive."

Dagara stared at him in mild shock before lowering her head. "I don't want to hurt anyone ..."

He was so proud of her. "Not someone. Something, like a crawler, or a fish. Something you'd normally eat. Don't let anyone see you. They might not understand, but if I know sharpnecks, that'll definitely work. Just ... try to laugh first, okay?"

Dagara nodded. "Okay. So what else do you know about sharpnecks?"

He chuckled soberly as he patted her on the head with a gentle paw. "When you're older, I'll tell you everything."[/i]



A large, primeval horseshoe crab scuttled at the edge of a saline pond in a seldom-travelled patch of forest.

Dagara burst out of the bushes, storming towards the crustacean. It made a break for the water but she seized it with her teeth and hurled it from the pond's edge. No sooner had it landed on its back before Dagara's horns turned the crab's underside to sushi. It would make a decent meal, but she needed more and had some extra steam to burn. Two birds, one stone.

...

Minutes later, Dagara returned with tubers, fruit, herbs and spicy plants skewered on her spikes. The tuber was a pain to uproot, but at least the effort had burnt off a good portion of her wrath. She dispersed the herbs and spices over the crab. Its shell made an excellent platter. After slicing the fruit with her horns, she began to cut the tuber. Red like a beet, though about as sweet as a potato, it could have done with a little extra flavour. She decided to leave it to soak in the salty pond. The sharpneck licked her lips. Hunger was beginning to replace her anger. They said necessity was the mother of invention, but Dagara's tantrums pushed her creativity to the point where she was discovering a form of cuisine.

Now for dessert. She had fruit, but it could use a little more variety.

...

Dagara ran headfirst into a sweet bubble tree. The impact sent down a rain of berries and blossoms. Luckily, her skull was pretty sturdy. Nonetheless ... ow ...

Amid the rain of blossoms, she glimpsed a familiar face peeping from the other side of the tree. Was that ...? Oh, it was him alright: another longneck slightly taller than she was. She liked longnecks. With the exception of herself, they were gentle and admirably level-headed. Their mere presence was calming, like a babbling brook, or the whispering wind, but this particular longneck? He was special. His brown, brown eyes carried a warmth and tenderness she could just soak in for hours. Well, technically she couldn't. That much staring would likely freak him out.

"Oh! Hi, Brack!" she exclaimed, speaking in a controlled, softened, higher pitch than usual.

Dagara cringed. She sounded 'girly', and she hated it! It wasn't a matter of shyness or automatic flirting. In her mind, there was no alternative since her voice was breaking early. Well, maybe not 'early' for her species, but the way it broke was particularly problematic. It sounded like a perpetual snarl - not a quite a sharptooth, but something equally disturbing. She could be in her friendliest of moods yet everything she said would come out like a death threat. As if making friends wasn't hard enough already. To mitigate that, she made a conscious effort to temper her voice, resulting in a higher pitched, peppy tone that struck her as feminine to the pretentiously annoying extreme.

"Hi, uh ... it's 'Dagara', right?" Brack asked.

She giggled awkwardly. Okay, that wasn't helping with the impression conveyed by her voice modification, and it wasn't even the half of it.

Confusion widened Brack's eyes as he looked her up and down. His sister, Dipla, poked her head from behind him, instantly mirroring Brack's expression.

"What? What's wrong with me?" asked Dagara.

"You just turned peach and pink!" Brack stated.

No, no, NO! Wartar had explained to her that sharpnecks had multiple 'blushes', and no way of controlling them. The 'Battle Blush' was her personal favourite. The 'Adora Blush'? Not so much.

Dagara uncomfortably pawed at the ground. "Oh, that happens when I feel, um ... it's just this stupid thing my scales do sometimes."

"It doesn't look stupid," Brack disagreed.

Dagara honestly had no idea what he was getting at. "Okay. If it's not stupid, then ...?

"Well ... you know ... it's ... uh ..." he fumbled.

"'Pretty'," Dipla finished. "My brother's trying to say 'pretty'."

"Dipla!" Brack exclaimed in embarrassment.

Dagara glared at the male. Flowers were pretty. Butterflies were pretty. They were also fragile. She wanted to be a warrior, just like her dad, and in her mind warriors were not 'pretty'! 'Cool'? Sure. 'Awesome'? Absolutely, but not 'pretty'!

The longnecks drew back, courtesy of the glare. Dagara quickly pulled the reigns on her expression. She knew she had a tendency to scare off longnecks. She couldn't blow this!

Dipla squinted at her. "What's that wet red stuff on your spikes?"

"Red stu-? Oh, that's mostly fruit and vegetable juices," Dagara explained.

Dipla squinted all the more. "Mostly?"

"It's ... yeah ..."

"How'd it get there?"

Well, 'the truth sets you free', Dagara thought. "You know how sometimes you get really angry and you end up destroying random objects?"

"Uhh ... no," Brack admitted.

Dagara exhaled. Of course not. They were longnecks.

"It's no secret that I have a bit of a temper," the sharpneck confessed. "Although I'd never take it out on another dinosaur, honest! Well, not anymore, at least ... unless that dinosaur is a bad sharptooth ... or a bad leafeater ..."

Dipla nodded uncomfortably. "Interesting. Anyway, it's been nice, but we've gotta repair our nest. It was damaged in a flash flood."

Dagara tilted her head. "That happened two days ago. I thought your herd already fixed the nests."

Dipla hesitated. "Well, yeah, but ours was damaged all over again."

"... Then what did you sleep in last night?" pressed Dagara.

"It happened this morning."

"And you didn't fix it before you left?"

"We only just found out about it, right Brack?"

"Mm hm," Brack nodded.

Dagara was not happy. This time she made no effort to hide it. She didn't expect other longnecks to lie so readily. It was a very unwelcome lesson in stereotyping.

"We know because our mother sent us an Earth Whisper," Dipla explained. "It's a longneck thing. You basically stomp on the ground to create very small earthshakes that send messages long distances. It's easy to miss if you don't know what to feel for."

Apparently they were forgetting that she was a longneck. Dagara decided to remind them by stomping on the ground, Earth Whispering a single word.

*( ( Liars ) )*

The briefly at a loss for words, the sibling stared with semi-petrified eyes.

"My dad taught me," Dagara explained. "Some threehorns are strong enough to make good Earth Whispers. He thought it'd come in handy when I'm big enough to use them."

Dipla quickly shook off the shock. "We're not- I mean- Our mom uses a unique Earth Whisper to call us! You wouldn't recognise it because ... you're not us. Let's go, Brack."

Dagara narrowed her eyes at Dipla. "If you keep trying to 'save' your brother from me, who's gonna save you?"

The sharpneck's eyes popped at her own question. Wow ... that was super dark. It was a good thing she'd only said that in her ... head. Why were they staring at her like that? Oh. No.

Dagara gave a nervous chuckle. "Um ... Will someone please tell me I didn't say that aloud?"

Brack gave her a glare. "Wish I could, but I can't. We're gonna go now."

"But you haven't eaten anything," she argued.

"We'll eat somewhere else," Dipla stated.

"Okay," Dagara stumbled. "I'll see you later, I guess. And sorry about the threat! I didn't mean to say it! It just sort of ... slipped out ..."

The longnecks ignored her as they hustled off.

Dagara wilted. Yet another social interaction gone horribly wrong. The least she could do was wait for them to get out of earshot ... or at least disappear into the greenery before she reacted. She had just enough self-control, right? Nope? Oh, who cared. They thought she was a monster. What difference did it make? Besides, they were jerks!

The longnecks broke into a run as they heard the sharpneck tearing into the berry tree.

...
Dagara dropped the berries among the fruit. Everything looked delicious, but her mind was elsewhere. Yes, the longnecks were being jerks, but maybe they weren't the biggest jerks in the equation. Why couldn't she accept a simple complement? Most dinosaurs thought 'pretty' was a good thing. Why did she have to go and threaten Dipla? That crossed the line! It wasn't like she woke up every day planning to be mean. Was it really that hard for a sharpneck to show a little grace?

For the first time, Dagara noticed ants beginning to eat her breakfast. It didn't bug her much (no pun intended). They had unwittingly volunteered as part of the meal.

The sharpneck was about to take a bite when the ground shook violently. Trees shifted. Flying nibblers took flight with panicked squawks. Dagara's heart pounded as she looked around, made note of the area least likely to suffer from a fallen tree and dashed for it. There, she huddled in a ball. Years ago, earthshakes seldom touched Hidden Valley. After The Great Earthshake, they became a semi-common occurrence. Here, they were uniquely terrifying because there was no telling which earthshake would finally bring the sunken valley down on itself.

As quickly as it began, it ended.

Dagara uncurled. No screaming, no crashing rocks. It didn't sound like the earthshake had done much damage to the valley, if any. Good. She breathed a 'thank you' to Whoever was up there. Now for breakfast.

Yet again, the sharpneck was interrupted when voices met her ears. Who could that be? Nobody really visited this area. There wasn't anything wrong with it so much as it was off the beaten path.

"Earthshakes happen all the time," declared a male. "Didn't scare me any more than those creepy crawlers. Speaking of which, I don't know why they're giving the hidden runners such a hard time. Most of them are barely bigger than us!"

"Maybe it's their numbers," suggested a female. "There sure were a lot of them. They sounded kinda scary, too."

"Good thing the hidden runners didn't let us get too close," another male stated with a smirk in his voice. "You would've ended up running, crying for your mommy!"

"Take that back!" demanded the female.

Dagara could hear the argument turning to a clash of horns.

Of course! It was them! Batta, Ring and Ram: a group of friends who wandered the valley seeking out adventure. Even The Dark Zone was fair game for their spelunking pleasure. Being a clique of three threehorns, they dubbed themselves the 'Nine Horn', although each had yet to grow more than a single horn on their nose.

Dagara looked in their direction, then down at her breakfast. After eating meat, she would always chew on a fragrant plant in order to nullify any trace of it on her breath. By the time she did that, chances were they would be gone. Dagara decided to forego breakfast. The ants could have it. She would eat later.

Before heading out to meet Nine Horn, the sharpneck gave her voice a tune up. She couldn't speak the same way she did with the longnecks. Threehorns wouldn't respect it, so she lowered her tone to something more natural.

"Hi, guys!" she called, testing her voice.

Aw boy. It sounded too much like a snarl. After a few more dry runs, she was satisfied with her voice and trotted out of the treeline with a hopefully friendship-inducing smile. She had to be careful, though. Too big a smile and they wouldn't take to it.

"Hi, guys!"

The trio of threehorn youngsters fell silent the moment she opened her mouth. One even rolled his eyes.

"Why are you talking like that?" asked the female.

Dagara's smile dropped. "Talking like what?"

"You sound angry," the girl clarified.

Dagara nervously pawed at a piece of grass, bending her neck to subtly remind them of her spikes. It wasn't a conscious threat so much as a defensive instinct. The moment she realised what she was doing, she smoothed them down again.

"I'm not angry. I think my voice is breaking."

"How old are you again?" asked one of the males.

"Way too young for this kind of thing," she stated with a laugh.

The threehorns glanced among themselves without so much as a chuckle. Dagara supposed it wasn't that funny, but why did they have to be so weird about it?

"Are you guys okay?" asked the sharpneck, attempting to address it directly.

"Why wouldn't we be okay?" asked the first male.

"For starters, you rolled your eyes when I showed up, Ram," she pointed out.

"How do you know my name?" asked Ram.

"We live in the same herd," she explained. "The other kids talk about you. You're kind of like an alpha, right?"

Ram smiled as he puffed his chest, flattered. "Yup, and these are my friends," he gestured the female, "Batta and-"

"-Ring," Dagara interrupted, gesturing the male with ring-shaped markings on his crest. "I know all your names."

Ram didn't look too pleased. "So you've been spying on us?"

One step forward, two steps back.

"As I said, we've been living in the same herd, like, forever," the sharpneck explained, trying to keep her irritation at bay. "Besides, you're 'Nine Horn'! You're kind of famous! I'm a pretty big fan."

They glanced at each other with smug smirks. "You know your stuff, sharpneck."

"It's 'Dagara', if you didn't know that already," she stated. "So, watcha playing?"

"'Hide and Find'," Ram replied. "Not 'it'! Count to one hundred!"

Before Dagara could respond, the threehorns had darted away. She smirked to herself. If they thought they could throw her off with some ridiculously high number, they had another thing coming. She wasn't going to count to one hundred. She would count to two hundred, and find them before noon, which was a tall order seeing as midday was just around the corner.

Turning away and closing her eyes, Dagara counted aloud: "One heartbeat ... two heartbeats ... three heartbeats."

Many of the dinosaurs had taught their young how to gauge time with surprising accuracy. Repeating 'heartbeat' after the number helped them slow down enough to better measure the unit of time. However, Dagara was throwing off her precision by counting more leisurely than she needed to, all for the sake of upping the challenge. When it grew tedious, she found herself upping the speed. Accuracy was a small price to pay for avoiding going stir crazy.

The moment she reached two hundred, her head snapped to the sky as she gauged the time of day by the Sun and was off like a shot. Twenty holding breaths 'till noon - no sweat.

The sharpneck sampled the air. They weren't upwind, at least not directly, but her exceptional sense of smell was enough to trace their tracks. She could do this!

"The SILVER ZONE! The earthshake revealed The SILVER ZONE!"

Dagara's gaze darted to the source of that sound: a flying nibbler speeding through the air. Usually, such creatures were incredibly articulate (almost annoyingly so), flaunting their extensive vocabulary for the sheer sake of showing off. Even when they had important news to share with the valley, they would find a way to slip unnecessarily big or obscure words into the brief bulletins they squawked on the fly. Not this one. He seemed shaken to the point of alarm as he broadcast his news bulletin over and over.

"Take heed, ye gobsmacked, lest this portent mark the imminent annihilation of us all!" he added in the distance.

She squeezed her eyes shut in annoyance. Never mind. Ignoring that last part, the sharpneck was intrigued. There were only three zones, weren't there? What was this about a fourth 'Silver Zone'? She supposed she'd find out soon enough, when the news was shared in detail.

Okay, time to get back to tracking that yummy threehorn smell.

Dagara's mind screeched to a full stop.

Did she actually just think that? Skipping breakfast was proving to be a horrible idea.

Nose to the ground, Dagara hurried after the youngsters. It seemed they had all moved in the same direction. Not a smart play. However, this was taking too long. Three minutes had passed and they were nowhere in sight. Wait a minute ... they left more than just a scent. They left footprints! Drawing from her unique slew of instincts, the sharpneck rapidly taught herself to discern the subtle signs of trodden grass and soil.

She raced along their trail as though nothing else mattered, jerking her nose to the ground when her eyes failed her. Noon was upon her, but it only brought a rush of tenacity. By her slightly subjective clock, she still had time! Failure was not an option!

They were just beyond the thick grass. Oh, this was going to be good!

The sharpneck prepared a 'boo!' but her breath died in her lungs when the threehorns' conversation reached her.

"I can't believe she fell for it!" Ring exclaimed. "She's probably halfway across the valley by now!"

"What'd I tell you?" was Ram's rhetorical question. "There's a reason why I'm Alpha."

"What if she tracks us?" asked Batta.

"Leafeaters don't 'track'," argued Ring.

"My dad says she's not a leafeater," Batta explained.

There was a lull. Dagara's blood ran cold.

"But ... we've seen her eat green food," Ring reasoned. "She's a longneck."

Batta shook her head. "No. She's a sharpneck. I heard she snacks on fish and creepy crawlers! She just does it when she thinks no one's watching."

"That. Is. Disgusting. Hidden runners are hidden runners. Leafeaters are leafeaters, but that thing?" Ring shuddered. "That's just wrong."

Dagara burst from the grass, no longer able to restrain her anger as she snarled: "Maybe I should snack on YOU!"

The stunned stares of the threehorns kick started her self control.

She shrank back. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I would never-"

"It- it's okay," Ram interrupted, quickly finding his voice. "If we knew you were that ... special, we would have played something more fitting than a simple threehorn game."

Dagara raised an eyebrow. "Hide and Find isn't a specifically a threehorn ga-"

"How 'bout a friendly duel? Three on one," suggested Ram, gesturing his friends with his horn so that they surrounded her. "That sounds better, doesn't it?"

Honestly, that sounded like a stupid excuse to beat her up. Three to one wasn't even a 'duel'! Buuut ... she did enjoy fighting. If she won, perhaps they would like her. Threehorns respected strong fighters. As long as she kept her head on, she wouldn't be in any danger.

Ram charged. A split moment before his horn met her, she dodged, leaving him a tad bewildered. Much like her voice, Dagara's reflexes, musculature and tactical mind had developed faster than the threehorns'.

Dagara smiled and arched her neck so that her horns were on full display - a chilling sight. "Nice try, Three Horn."

Ram fumed. "My name is Ram!"

"I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to all of you," she chuckled. "You call yourselves 'Nine Horn', but combined you've only got three horns to show for it. I have twenty two."

With bellows of outrage, the threehorns rushed in all at once.

She crouched. Taking them simultaneously would be difficult, but there was another option. She had to time this right.

At the last second, Dagara sprang onto Ram's back and hopped off of it, leaving the threehorns to collide with each other.

The sharpneck smiled at the groaning heap of bullies. She was proud that she hadn't injured them, but the fight ended too quickly. No ... that wasn't a demerit. It gave her bragging rights! One sharpneck had taken down three threehorns in a single move, and she didn't even have to use her spikes!

Threehorns respected strength, but they did not take defeat well. They would be itching for a rematch, which promised many more battles in the future. In a convoluted way, it was as if she had actually made friends!

"Later, guys," Dagara dismissed, departing in high spirits. "It's been fun!"

She heard scampering footsteps.

Just as the sharpneck turned, Ram managed to bite her leg. Who even DID that kind of thing? Dagara shrieked in fury. She had an idea of how to get him off, but it would hurt him. A lot. Instead, Dagara tried to yank herself free before the others piled on top of her. After a brief struggle, she relaxed. It would have been sooo easy to just jerk her spikes back, but she resisted. The spikes were beginning to itch, though ...

Ram stepped in front of her, grinning as his cronies pinned her. "Since you liked that game so much, we're gonna play something else: 'Dunk Tag'!"

Fear flashed through Dagara's chest. "Th-That's a water game!"

"So?" asked Ram.

"I'm still learning to swim," she explained.

'Learning' was an overstatement. Her body density was greater than water, which made it nigh impossible to stay afloat.

Ram sneered. "We know, but we'll teach you, right guys?"

Ring snickered while Batta looked thoughtful.

"What if the grownups find out?" she asked.

"Do you see any grownups around here?" countered Ram.

Batta scanned the area. Someone could have been hiding in the treeline, but chances were slim.

"Grab her spikes. Let's go," Ram commanded.

"HEY! Jaws OFF!" Dagara protested. "This isn't fun anymore! STOP IT!"

"We stop when I say 'stop'," declared Ram.

With that, the threehorns began to drag her. She could smell water. There wasn't much time. Try as she did, there was no safe way to overpower them, and her spikes were itching like crazy. Finally, her self control snapped. Her eyes grew dark before she went limp.

The threehorns stopped, pondering the lack of struggling as they subconsciously loosened their grips. Her scales had turned fiery amber and orange, punctuated by pulsing red markings that ran along her side. It was the 'Battle Blush'.

"I think we broke her," Ring commented. "Yikes! What happened to her scale-? OW!"

Batta, Ring and Ram jumped back when they got a face full of sharp neck.

Dagara quietly rose to her feet as they roared their rage.  They weren't going to back down. Good.

"GET HER!" Ram exclaimed. "Ooof!"

The sharpneck had barrelled right into his side before clamping his crest with her spikes and flinging him into Ring.

"YAAAAH!" bellowed Batta, charging the sharpneck.

A paw to the face and Batta staggered back, shaking off the blow before rushing in again. Dagara darted clear and Batta smacked into Ram, who was attempting an ambush. She spun into Ring and her spikes colliding with his horn, lodging it between them. With a vicious roll, Dagara left him sprawled on his back while she sprang to her feet.

The threehorns recovered at roughly the same time. They had her surrounded.

"On three, guys!" Ram commanded. "One ... THREE!"

As they converged, Dagara whirled into a firestorm of tail strikes and spiked attacks. Any strategy the threehorns could formulate was lost in the frenzy. When it was over, they all lay in bundles of misery.

Ram began to get up, but Dagara held him still with a paw. He flinched. Everything hurt.

"Ow! You win!" he announced. "We're done! You win!"

Dagara grinned, allowing him to get a good look at her menacing teeth. "We stop when I say we stop!"

"That's ENOUGH!" barked a voice that was not to be questioned.

Dagara's blood ran cold as she got off of her victim.

"D-Dad?" she squeaked.

She could see the vessels popping in his forehead ... and his eyes ... and everywhere else, for that matter. Never had she seen Wartar that angry, and his rage seemed to fall on all of them like brimstone.

"Everyone! HOME!" he roared.

The aching Batta, Ring and Ram were sluggish to rise.

"NOW!" he thundered.

The youngsters scattered in every direction before making a mad rush for their respective nests.

For at least ten minutes, Wartar stood there fuming, allowing his wrath to ebb before he did something he would regret. He would organise a meet with the threehorns' parents and see if he could smoothe things over. Then, and only then, would he talk to Dagara. She would have ample time to cool down.

Once Wartar's rage had truly melted, he let his tail sag to the ground as his head hung.

"My poor Dagara ..." he muttered.



Under the evening Sun, Wartar marched to meet Batta, Ring and Ram's guardians. He was quite sure his mood could not get any worse, until an unwelcome voice met his ears.

"Hello, Alpha. This is a bad time, isn't it?" Unseen asked out of the blue, walking alongside him.

Wartar frowned at her. He never noticed the hidden runner until she was right next to him. Dagara seemed to catch wind of her more often than not before she chose to reveal herself.

"There's never a good time," he stated. "What do you want?"

The hidden runner looked tired, with feathers that splayed as though she'd picked a fight with a whirlwind. She hadn't even bothered to groom herself before talking to him. It must have been a long, hard day, not that Wartar was feeling particularly sympathetic.

"We've kept back most of the new crawlers," she informed. "They seem to calm down in the evening, but some have made it into The Green Zone. They have an unusual roar. You will know it when you hear it."

Wartar huffed. Just what he needed: more taxing news.

"I want the hidden runners to find their nest and put an end to this yesterday," Wartar commanded.

"We already tried to find their nest," Unseen stated. "We have not found it, but we might know which zone it is in."

"That's too vague," Wartar snapped. "They came from the caves, right? It would have to be The Dark Zone."

Unseen shook her head. "They are coming through The Dark Zone, but not from it. They seem to live beneath it."

He rolled his eyes. "Which would technically still be part of The Dark Zone."

"No," she disagreed before hesitating. "One of our flying nibblers found something new, but I am having a hard time finding the words in leafeater. My language is more descriptive. We can use it to make pictures with our voices, but I believe we have figured out a way around that."

Wartar blinked as Unseen began to, for want of a better word, dance. Colours pulsed across her scales, rapidly creating images. As she moved, the visual perspective moved and transitioned with her, as though her body were an ever-changing window to the unfolding scenes. At first Wartar wondered why she wouldn't just sit still and let the images form. He didn't need a performance. Then he realised that she wasn't simply displaying the images, but portraying them: swaying with the trees, quivering with the bushes and marching with the herds that appeared on her skin. Chirping like nibblers, hissing with the wind and grunting for the herds on her scales, her voice mimicked the valley's ambience almost as well as her skin.

"What do you see?" she asked.

"The Green Zone," he stated.

"Good."

Her dance of colours changed to greys as she embodied cliffs reaching for the blue sky; sparse ferns and waterways with figures of hidden runners going about their business. She trotted and wove as though navigating the tricky terrain of the canyons at the valley's edges.

"The Grey Zone," Wartar summarised.

Unseen nodded before her scales grew dark, punctuated by the figures of flying nibblers, fluttering between stalactites like bats. Her scales did more than change colour. They had limited bio-luminescent capabilities, which allowed her to pepper her skin with what could only represent the glowing fungus that lit the cave systems.

Wartar frowned as he identified The Dark Zone. Unseen's little show was beautifully mesmerising (not that he'd admit it), but he had seen these zones before. Just when Wartar was about to demand that she give some fresh information, her display changed to something ... truly alien: tunnels and chambers of smooth, silver surfaces illuminated by lights that definitely weren't fungus. Wartar knew a cave when he saw one. These were not caves. Their shapes were too perfect, geometric and ... were those moving forms he saw? Living things moved. Trees swayed. Water flowed. The moving objects he was witnessing were none of the above. She gave low whirrs as walls slid apart; powerful hums as the passages seemed to shift; steady throbs like a heartbeat emanating from the walls. Unseen accentuated the movement with a mechanical dance. Suddenly, scores of massive insectoids flooded the chamber on her scales.

"We call it The Silver Zone," Unseen explained. "The earthshake uncovered an entrance to this place and a nibbler was briefly trapped there. He barely escaped the creepy crawlers. Then something grabbed him ... without even touching him ... and it pushed him out into The Green Zone. The Silver Zone quickly covered itself so that we could not get back in."

Wartar paused, his expression unreadable.

"Is it possible that your flying nibbler was hit on the head and had a sleep story?" he asked.

"Sleep stories are based on things you already know about," Unseen argued. "There is no point of reference for what he saw down there."

"Hm," Wartar grunted. "Well, now you know where the crawlers are coming from. Find a way back down there and get rid of 'em by nightfall."

Unseen raised an eyebrow. "Sir, we are spread thin. That's a bad idea. If we succeed, we will have lost an important food source. More than that, if we fail, we will lose many hidden runners. The Silver Zone is beyond what we understand, and ... there are some things you just can't fight."

"I will not have those things in my valley," Wartar asserted. "Make it happen."

"No," Unseen answered simply.

His eyes burnt into her. She didn't flinch. For the first time, he noticed that she wasn't fidgeting under his glare. Maybe she was too tired, or maybe she was simply done fidgeting around him. Either way, he didn't like it.
"What. Did. You. Say?" the threehorn demanded in a slow, threatening tone.

This time, it was Unseen's turn to give an exhausted huff. "We have been fighting all day and are tired. We have some ideas of how to better keep back the crawlers, but the best we can do this evening is hunt them down in The Green Zone. If given no other choice, we will consider trying to visit The Silver Zone, but this isn't the time."

Wartar chuckled condescendingly. "The Green Zone, The Grey Zone, it makes no difference. If you want to live in our valley, you'll have to earn your keep. You're not even supposed to be here."

"But we are," she asserted, "and we're here to stay. You might not see it that way, but you are part of our pack now. We will do everything in our power to protect you, but we can only do what we can do. In the meantime, stop acting like a hatchling."

For a moment, Wartar couldn't even form an opinion of her behaviour. Timid Unseen had stood up to him ... and she considered them a 'pack'? After digesting that statement, he rose up at his full height and stared her down like the vermin he thought she was.

"For the better part of your life, your teeth have claimed countless leafeaters," he spat, "and you have the shameless, sick audacity to try to convince me that you think of us as a 'pack'?"

Unseen held his gaze before staring at the ground. "Sixteen thousand ... and ninety two."

Wartar was at a loss. "What?"

"You said my teeth claimed countless leafeaters," she explained, before shaking her head. "They weren't 'countless'. I counted them."

The threehorn grimaced in disgust. "You expect me to believe you'd remember a number like that?"

"Not just the number. I remember their faces ... their voices ... their smells ..."

"Their tastes," Wartar interjected.

Unseen gave a small nod. "Yes. After bringing down a leafeater, Silence made us all pause for ten holding breaths before eating. We called it 'The Moment'. In that time, we silently looked upon our prey, committing them to memory. Sometimes, we would try to figure out what kinds of lives they had, based on their smells, their features, and observations we made before ... taking them. Those 'observations' we made while hunting are how some of us first learned your tongue. I have felt many pains, but The Moment was the most painful thing I've ever done. Sometimes I felt hatred for what I am. Sometimes, I stopped eating. Maybe I always should have stopped. I don't know. Part of me was angry at my mother for making us suffer The Moment, but the older I got, the more I understood why we did it. I began to appreciate it."

"And why did you do it?" asked Wartar.

Unseen briefly squeezed her eyes shut. "Silence wanted us to understand that leafeaters were more than food. They had lives. They had hearts. They had hopes, loves, and families. In all the ways that mattered, they were just like us."

Wartar narrowed his eyes. "But that didn't stop you from taking that away from them."

Much to his surprise, he caught Unseen stifling a whimper.

"I know," she agreed soberly. "We'd been living like that for as long as we could remember. What other way was there to live? None of us had the courage to try something new, and even if we did, who was to say it would have worked? Then The Great Earthshake forced us into your valley," Unseen huffed a chuckle. "You may see it as a curse, but I think it's the best thing that ever happened to us. Now we know we can live a different way, and we will not turn back."

Wartar let her words sink in, but not too deeply. He was trying to keep them away from his heart, but his mind was turning them over every which way.

Unseen interrupted his thoughts as she began to leave. "Have a good evening, Alpha."

"Yeah, you too," he grunted gruffly.



Wartar reached a watering hole, on the banks of which were three very angry threehorns. Ignoring the pond, they fixed their glares on him. Only the fathers had come: that was a bad sign. Knowing that contentious conversations between threehorns often got physical, the other dinosaurs had deserted the area.

"Evening," grunted Wartar.

"Your sharpneck almost killed my son," snapped the oldest of the threehorns: Ring's grandfather, Lyder.

Wartar exhaled. He almost missed talking to Unseen.

"My daughter was defending herself," he asserted.

Ram's father, Buck, outright laughed. "And you believed her?"

"No. Saw it with my own eyes," Wartar explained. "I haven't spoken to her since the fight."

"Of course you haven't," deadpanned Com, Batta's father.

Wartar's glare lit into him. "Are you questioning my integrity?"

The threehorns exchanged glances in wordless communication.

"No," Lyder conceded. "You have been an honest and good leader, which is the only reason why we let you keep her."

"Hardly the only reason," Wartar spat. "I fought half the herd to keep her! I paid for her with my blood, and she is MINE!"

"But she's not OURS!" Com blurted. "My daughter doesn't have to treat her like she's one of us! We had a PACT! We promised not to talk about the horror stories, and you promised to deal with her if she BECAME a horror story!"

"My daughter is NOT a HORROR STORY!" boomed Wartar.

"Your daughter is gone," Lyder stated simply. "That creature cannot replace her."

Pain twisted Wartar's features. Buck looked about ready to fly at him, but backed down upon seeing the turmoil on their Alpha's face. No one had lost more than he had.

"She is a good girl ..." Wartar declared in a voice surprisingly small for his size. "She wouldn't be here if I didn't think that."

"We know," Lydar stated. "Just ... remember your promise if she's not."

"... I remember ..." yielded Wartar.

Without another word, the threehorns were on their way, leaving an anguished Wartar alone with his thoughts.



Dagara sat in her nest with a scowl fixed on her face. If she kept that up, she was pretty sure she would develop premature wrinkles, but it didn't matter. She was done smiling to make others feel comfortable. Who cared if they liked her? Smiling never made a difference anyway.

When she heard Wartar's footsteps approaching, she bit a stick from the nest and began to chew on it, more to make a point than anything else.

"Evening, Dagara," he greeted.

She ignored him.

The threehorn sighed. Her anger hadn't extinguished. It had solidified. Wartar gave a nearly inaudible sniff before noticing her odd choice of a snack.

"Um ... why are you eating a stick?" he asked.

Dagara gave an over-done, insincerely innocent smile. "Because, Daddy, being your sweet little munchkin, I went straight to the nest and stayed there like you ordered: without breakfast, without lunch, and I'd be hankering for dinner around now at any rate."

Wartar winced. "Sorry. Why'd you skip breakfast?"

She laughed humourlessly. "'Cause I was in a hurry to make friends! Don't worry. I'm done."

Wartar sat next to her. "Do you wanna grab a bite before ...?"

"Nope. Let's get this over with."

Ordinarily, Wartar might have given her an immediate babysitting for disrespect, but his wife would have warned him that that would only exacerbate the situation. He was the tough one. She was the empathetic one. It was hard thinking for both sides of the parental equation. Half the time, he was pretty sure he failed miserably. So ... what would she say in a situation like this? His mind came up with a reasonable answer.

"Batta, Ring and and Ram were being jerks," he stated.

She shrugged. "I know."

"But that doesn't mean you have to be a jerk back. You can do better."

"That's nice, but I'm done."

"Done what?" he asked.

"Trying," she answered. "I'm just ... done. If anyone's mean to me, I'm just gonna do whatever I feel like."

Wartar slowly nodded, letting her words settle. "You can't afford to think like that."

Dagara got up and glared him square in the eye, spikes raised. "And what if I do, hm? Are you gonna babysit me? That doesn't work, 'cause I'm not a threehorn. You can't reason with me 'cause I'm not like other longnecks, and you can't shove me in The Grey Zone because I'm not a fast biter. Give me one. Good. Reason why I shouldn't act like EXACTLY what I AM!?"

A flash of emotions crossed Wartar's face: anger, anguish, angst. It struck her intuition funny, but Dagara held fast her searing eyes. Suddenly, Wartar gave an answer she never expected.

"Because you're a sharpneck."

Dagara blinked out of her glare. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you're a burning mountain; a ravaging storm; an earthshake without end," he elaborated. "Left unchecked, you will fight with everyone and everything in sight. You will destroy relationships, friends, foes and family. If you live long enough, you will lift your head and look around to find all your enemies are gone, but there's no one left to love ... and no one left who loves you."

Dagara's jaw went ajar as she felt her heart freeze. Not knowing what else to do, she stared at the ground before glancing at the sky. Whoever was up there had given her this life, and what a lousy gift it was.

"There is only one thing in this world that can stop you," he went on.

She raised her head to see him lift a paw and tap her chest.

"You," he declared. "Generation after generation, sharpnecks faced their fiery fighting spirit. They could hide it. They could direct it, but never truly tame it. They had to fight. It was their nature, but do you know what they did? Everywhere the sharpnecks went, they fought. They fought for friends, family, strangers, justice. In the Cold Times and famines, they fought back starvation, saving herds, always finding a way. They didn't even think before snatching victims from sharptooth jaws. In times of peace, they challenged the living conditions of those around them, working to create a better world. There was always something to fight. It was just a matter of finding the right battles."

Dagara's wide eyes wandered to the scars on his side. "So, what happened? You had to fight them, didn't you?"

Wartar looked back at his scars with saddened eyes. "That's what happens when a sharpneck chooses the wrong battles. Some let their fighting spirit consume them, believing sharpnecks should dominate other kinds instead of helping them. They were few, but the threehorns never forgave them. They allied with sharpteeth and launched a campaign against everything under The Bright Circle. I helped to stand against these rogues, but once the opportunity availed itself, the sharpteeth turned on their allies and attempted to wipe out every last sharpneck. As far as we know, only one hatchling survived. You. That's why you need to the strongest, wisest, most heroic you that you can be. When you fight, you fight for all the sharpnecks who ever lived, and all the sharpnecks who will never be born, but you know what?"

"What?" asked a dazed Dagara.

His lips lifted in a tender smile. "You can do it. Countless others have done it before you. You're stronger than you think."

Seconds passed as Dagara's unblinking eyes stared deep into his own. Tears congealed at their rims and she squeezed them shut, resting her forehead against his snout. Wartar closed his eyes and leaned into the moment. They didn't know how long they held that position, but finally Dagara's voice broke the silence.

"I think you should be nicer to Unseen and the hidden runners," she stated.

He frowned in surprise, but in retrospect he should have seen that coming at some point. "Can we talk about this tomorrow?"

Dagara thought for a moment. "Sure. I can wait."

Wartar groaned. "Fine. Let's get this over with."

"Like it or not, the hidden runners are stuck here," Dagara continued. "Believe it or not, we can actually enjoy them, if we let ourselves. Alright, if you wanna think from a completely selfish standpoint, the hidden runners are actually pretty dangerous. They're nice now, but who knows what would happen if we keep being mean to them?"

She actually had a point, but instead of admitting it Wartar gave her a weary look.

Dagara responded with a chipper smile. "I'm a sharpneck! It's my job to fight for stuff like this, remember?"

Wartar would have massaged his temple if he could reach it. What had he done?

"Do you have any idea how many leafeaters Unseen alone has eaten?" he asked. "You know what? Let's find out."

Dagara's eyes fluttered in confusion. "Okaaay ..."

"She's 25 Cold Times old, right?" asked Wartar.

"26," Dagara corrected.

"There we go. And she's been living here for 5 Cold Times."

"I think she came here around her hatching day too," Dagara stated.

Wartar nodded. "Perfect. That means she was almost exactly 21 when she came here. How many bright circles old would that make her?"

Dagara drew back. "You're asking me to multiply 21 by 365?"

He chuckled. "I thought you were good with numbers."

Dagara narrowed her eyes in competitive resolve and thought for a few seconds. "She's been alive for 7665 bright circles, give or take a few."

Wartar's eyes froze on her.

"You weren't expecting me to get it, were you?" she chuckled.

He returned the chuckle. "Always knew you were a clever girl. On average, a hidden runner can eat a good meal every 4 days, but that's the minimum requirement. Anything less is substandard."

Dagara crossed her eyes in thought. Wartar thought it was adorable.

"That's at least 1916 meals she's eaten," Dagara calculated.

"Hmm. By her count, it was 1692," Wartar commented.

Dagara's brow went up. "She counted them? But that's 224 leafeaters short! I mean, it's not unbelievably far off, but I think it's far enough that she would have felt it, like, a lot!"

"Which means a good deal of the time, she was starving herself," Wartar concluded.

"Maybe they just couldn't catch enough leafeaters," Dagara suggested.

"Trust me, they could," Wartar assured. "Back then, leafeaters were always coming to the valley, and like you said, the hidden runners are extremely dangerous."

"Hm," grunted Dagara. "Looks like you owe her an apology."

Wartar made a show of rolling his eyes as he got up. "I suppose so. Anyway, I gotta address the herd. Wanna tag along, eat something ..."

"Yes, please," she nodded.

"... and apologise to Nine Horn?" he added.

Her smile dropped. "Please. No."

Wartar smirked down at her. "I thought this was the kind of stuff you live for!"

Dagara dropped her head in defeat as she trudged out of the nest with a playfully exaggerated groan that seemed to go on for almost a minute. Wartar was surprised she could pack that much air in her tiny lungs.



"Alright, listen up!" Wartar announced for all the herd to hear. "We've got a new kind of crawler in The Green Zone! They are big and very aggressive! They don't eat meat, but they are after our green food and territory! Their roar is very distinct, so you will know it when you hear it! If possible, squish any you encounter! Stay close to the herd, or travel in groups of at least three adults! Children, do not wander! I'm lookin' at YOU, Nine Horn!"

Dagara heard a few snickers as she wolfed down grass behind Wartar. It wasn't the feast she'd prepared that morning, but the sharpneck had no complaints. She didn't need meat every day.

Chewing a path across the pasture, Dagara almost bumped into Batta and Ring. How inconveniently convenient.

They drew back at the sight of her, but put on bold faces nonetheless.

"Just try something, sharpneck!" dared Batta. "The whole herd's watching!"

Dagara almost laughed. They were trying so hard to overcompensate for the fact that she scared them! Then she rebuked herself as she noticed their bruises covered in herbal paste, chewed up by the adults. It was meant to aid their recovery after the big fight, but it smelled tasty. Apparently she was still pretty hungry.

She lowered her head in a genuinely apologetic posture. "Listen, I'm really, really sorry about this morning."

They exchanged surprised glances before giving her a dry look.

"We don't care," stated Ring.

"I don't care if you don't care," Dagara replied. "I'm still sorry."

"... Aaand we still don't care," Batta repeated, adding insult to injury with a fake smile.

Dagara looked around, rapidly redirecting her attention before she could get angry. "Hey, where's Ram?"

"He probably smelled you coming," Batta quipped.

"Oooh! Good one!" Ring exclaimed, bumping his horn against Batta's in their equivalent of a high five.

Dagara sighed. That actually hurt a bit. She shook it off and spotted Ram's mother, Doe, walking up to his nearby father, Buck ... and Ram was nowhere to be seen.

"He's not with his folks," she observed.

"Yeah, he managed to leave a while before you got here," Ring stated. "Lucky boy."

"I can't find Ram anywhere," reported a worried Doe, overheard by Dagara.

The sharpneck huffed with an eye roll. "He's probably off moping somewhere after the way I thrashed his tail. Wait ... did I just think that or say that out loud?"

She heard a grown threehorn storming up behind her.

"Take a wild guess!" guffawed Ring, rapidly stepping back alongside Batta.

Dagara turned to see an enraged Buck raising his paw. He looked about ready to step on her. The sharpneck dashed away as Wartar collided with him, reminding the threehorn why he was Alpha. The two giants locked horns. Everyone gave them some room as they thundered into one and other. As disruptive as it was, this behaviour was an accepted means of settling disputes in their culture.

"I'm sorry!" Dagara quickly amended. "I shouldn't have said that! It was insensitive!"

Buck managed a laugh amid the struggle. "You taught it to apologise? Neat trick!"

"'It', is my DAUGHTER!" Wartar roared.

Buck knew he was going to get trounced for that, but if he couldn't get to that horrible sharpneck, he could at least slight her. The herd took several more steps back as the fight escalated. At this rate, no one would find Ram before nightfall.

Dagara grumbled as an unwelcome idea formed in her mind. She knew Ram's scent. She could track him down, but why on Earth would she waste time doing something like that?

Dagara slipped away, nose to the ground as she reminded herself in a mumble: "You're a sharpneck. You're a sharpneck. You're a sharpneck. You're a sharpneck ..."



The light receded as the Sun began to set, dappling through the many trees and vines that lined a gully. Ram stood at the bottom of the gully, staring down at a patch of disturbed earth. He heard something picking its way down the slope and looked back.

"Guys?" he called.

"No, it's just me," Dagara replied, carefully navigating the tangle of vines and roots that infested the soil.

Ram stood his ground, but his voice trembled. "I'm not afraid of you!"

Dagara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure. Anyway, you don't have to be. Some of the big creepy crawlers ended up in The Green Zone."

"I know," Ram replied.

She paused before proceeding. "You should be with your folks. No one's supposed to be alone, especially kids."

Ram seemed set on ignoring her before raising the question: "Then why are you here?"

After giving that a second of thought, she chuckled in defeat. "Good point. Why don't we head back together ... or at a distance? You pick. Say, what are you looking at, anyway?"

"A hole in the ground, duh."

The sharpneck furrowed her brow at him as her spikes developed a slight itch. She honestly thought he'd have the common sense to be a little nicer by now. Oh well, threehorns would be threehorns. Dagara shifted her attention from him and his obnoxiousness before noticing strange, pointed footprints nearby. She sniffed them, rapidly sorting through the ambient scents. Ram had been eating sweet bubbles: probably an attempt to get over his defeat through comfort food. The fruity smell was a bit of a distraction. He was also covered in herbal paste, much like the others. Its delicious scent was yet another distraction. She rapidly pushed past the diverting aromas and identified an unfamiliar scent.

"Something smells odd," she commented.

"Probably your breath," Ram jibed.

Dagara knew for a fact that her breath smelled fine, but she refused to retort. The smell grew stronger as the footprints neared the hole. She stopped stone cold.

It smelled like some kind of bug.

"Ram, I think we should leave. Now," Dagara urged.

He flicked his tail, shooing her. "You can leave. I'm taking down that crawler and dragging it back to the herd."

She kept half her anxious gaze on the hole. "Look, I get it. You're trying to reclaim your honour after our fight, but here's the thing: I lost that fight. I lost my self control and my dignity, so there's nothing for me to rub in your face. Let's just get out of here."

Ram whipped around at the sharpneck. "SERIOUSLY, Dagara! Just LEA-"

Something erupted from the hole, unleashing a high-pitched chirp like that of a grasshopper, but loud enough to make their heads spin.

Before Dagara could get a good look at the thing, her reflexes took over and she threw herself into it, spikes first. The creature jerked to a halt, but it was strong. She felt her paws slipping under its strength.

"PAAPAAAA!" Ram shrieked.

...

Unseen jerked at the sound of the commotion. Another invader, and it had a victim. Not for long if she could help it.

The hidden runner exploded towards her best guess at the source of the noise.

...

"Okay, I yield," Buck announced, pinned on his back by Wartar's paw.

The Alpha snorted into his face before releasing him. Suddenly, the threehorns raised their heads upon hearing an enigmatic roar followed by Ram's scream.

Ram's parents rushed to their son's aid. Wartar was quick to their side, spot selecting members of his herd as he hurried.

"You two! COME WITH ME!"

"But where is he?" asked one of the chosen threehorns.

He had a point. Though they'd heard the noise, it was difficult to discern the exact direction. By the time they got there, it might have been too late.

...

"TANGLE GULLY!" Dagara shouted at the top of her lungs. "HELP! WE'RE IN TANGLE GULL-! Ah-!"

Her powerful voice was cut off as the creature threw her aside, surging towards a petrified Ram. She was back to her feet in an instant. Just as it reached him, Dagara bit its leg and yanked with all her might.

"GO!" she shouted between her teeth.

Why wasn't Ram going?! Past the creature's writhing body, Dagara noticed its claws wrapped around Ram. NO!

She yanked all the harder. It wouldn't budge! Releasing the creature, Dagara twisted through the air and landed on its end in a spiky body slam. The creature released him, spinning to face her. It didn't get far before she hammered its side with her hind legs, knocking it on its back. Much like a beetle, it flailed about in a failed attempt to get to its feet.

"Let's GO!" Dagara commanded, rushing for the gully's slope.

Ram hobbled after her ... way too slowly, barely using one of his hind legs.

Dagara's mind rapidly unravelled the situation. Why was he limping? His leg! It had bitten his leg! But why was it trying so hard to catch him? Giant crawlers didn't eat meat! The herbal paste! If it smelled good to her, it must have been irresistible to the bug!

Tears were in Ram's eyes when he tried and failed to climb the slope, grimacing in pain as he gave her a desperate look.

The bug flipped onto its feet. Finally, she got a good view of its features. With the form of a praying mantis and the robustness of a beetle, it was nearly twice their size!

Dagara could hear the adults' thundering footfalls. They would be there soon, but not soon enough. The crawler was charging. Luckily it wasn't the fastest thing it the world.

The sharpneck charged past Ram and slammed her horns into the crawler before treating it to a frenzy of spiked strikes. Claws raised, it shielded itself from her blitzing blows while snatching at her. She couldn't get past the armour, but it was beginning to back off. She was doing it!

Out of the blue, the crawler snared her in its claws, immediately gnawing at the spikes. She thrashed. She shoved, but it would not let go. Then Dagara winced as a sharp pain racked her neck. Its grip slipped, giving her the opportunity to force it back with a headbutt.

Shock and dread churned in her gut as she spotted a horn on the ground - one of her horns. Her thoughts raced.

This thing was taking her apart!

Dawning realisation crushed her will. She was losing! This might have been her first and last real fight for the sharpneck legacy! What good would she be if she perished now? She could run. She could grow up, and then she would be able to stand against something like this. Ram was a goner. Why did she have to let him take her with him?

"RAM!" bellowed the threehorn's father.

Dagara glanced back to see him charging into Tangle Gully, only for the vines and roots to ensnare him. Trees cracked as he forced his way through the greenery. The other threehorns tore through the vines more carefully, but even they were succumbing to the same fate.

They were here, but they would be too late. She was all Ram had, but she didn't even like the guy!

Raising her paw to split, Dagara caught sight of Ram's face. He could see that she was leaving, and she could see silent resignation in his eyes. He wasn't going to beg. He didn't expect her to help.

Dagara's decision gave way to a fresh wave of thoughts. What was she thinking? She'd grow up, squish the little challenges and run when something big came her way? Who cared if she liked the guy? She was here, she could fight, and if the sharpneck legacy died with her, it died on the shoulders of a worthy bearer!

The crawler crashed into Dagara, knocking her beside a crouching Ram. She raged to her feet and flung herself on top of him, legs anchored on either side just as it bore down on the youngsters. Wrenching, biting, prying, pushing, all it had to do was get through one, obstinate little sharpneck. She wasn't nearly strong enough to hold a candle to such a creature.



"You can do it," Wartar assured. "Countless others have done it before you. You're stronger than you think."



Her muscles locked. Even as she felt the crawler chewing and cracking through her horns, she didn't yield.

It briefly turned its attention to Buck, who had loudly snapped a tree trunk. She took the opportunity to shove her spikes into its face. The crawler drew back, quivering in outrage.

Dagara's muscles screamed with the slightest movement of her neck. Her bones ached no matter what she did, but her Battle Blush pulsed bright as an inferno. Her horns no longer itched. They were way past that. They only burned, and that burn flared through her body from head to toe like wildfire.

She stepped ahead of Ram, brandishing what was left of her spikes.

"If you want him ... you will have to BREAK ME!" she snarled.

Behind her, Ram gasped through a hanging jaw. Even the grownups briefly fell silent.

Of course, the crawler had no idea what she was saying, but it had a retort. Raising its hind legs, it rapidly rubbed them against its wings like a grasshopper, emitting a high-pitched chirp. It clasped its jagged claws in true praying mantis fashion and scraped them back and forth with great speed, resulting in a second layer of chirping. Together, the noises rang in their ears, splitting the air throughout the gully.

This creature had its own language, but Dagara quickly realised that she could speak it. This wasn't an argument. It was a shouting match!

Dagara took a deep breath. The wildfire concentrated in her chest, churning, raging, demanding to be released. Then she unleashed a sound repressed for as long as she could remember.

( ( SSKRRRRAAAAEEEEEEEEEE! ) )

Ram squeezed his ears.

The adults outright froze in their tracks.

The crawler's chirp was quickly devoured by the spine-chilling roar that was Dagara's. Her pitch and power escalated by the second and soon, there was nothing left but the sharpneck's voice.

Dagara's roar crescendo before it ebbed like receding thunder. Panting, the sharpneck seared a glare into her enemy.

The crawler took a step back, its antennae twitching in uncertainty. Then it raised its claws and lunged towards her.

Unseen pounced out of thin air, slamming into the crawler's side and making quick work of it with her jaws and claws.

Dagara blinked a few times, having difficulty coming to grips with this. It was over? Just like that? Unseen made it look so easy!

The hidden runner was breathless. "Are you ... okay ... young ones?"

Ram only stared in a daze.

Dagara lowered her spikes. "Uh huh ... Are you sure it's ...?"

Unseen allowed herself a chuckle. "Yes ... I have fought many of these today ... I know how to bring them down."

The sharpneck slowly nodded. She appreciated, adored and (slightly) feared the hidden runner.

Unseen's eyes settled on Dagara's damaged spikes. "Does it hurt?"

Dagara shrugged as her mind returned to the sensation. "I think it feels like how it looks."

The hidden runner winced in empathy.

Responding with a weak smile, Dagara wobbled on her legs. The exertion of the fight combined with the meals she'd missed throughout the day was catching up with her. She took a moment to steady herself before lowering her lethargic eyes to the scattered spikes broken off in the battle. She'd lost even more than she'd realised. Dagara gave a sad sigh before beginning to collect the spikes with her mouth. This simple task was a battle in itself, but she finished quickly. Setting her eyes on the gully's slope, she moved to climb it before tottering on spaghetti muscles.

"You don't need to walk," Unseen assured. "I'll take care of everything. You did well, Dagara."

The sharpneck thanked Unseen with another drowsy smile before crouching into a restful position.

Ram's mystified eyes were fixed on Dagara when Unseen's gentle jaws lifted him off the ground.

"Hey! Lemme go!" he squirmed.

Unseen smirked in amusement before speaking through her teeth. "Isn't your leg injured?"

"... Yes ..." he admitted.

"Wouldn't you like me to carry you to your parents?" she pressed.

" ... Okay ..." he agreed.

A few steps later, Unseen plopped the youngster between Buck's horns. The adult didn't seem to notice at first. Staring at the sharpneck, his utterly bewildered expression matched his son's. Then he noticed the weight on his forehead.

"Huh? What's this?" asked the threehorn.

Unseen twittered a snicker. "It's your son."

"Oh ..." he replied.

The threehorn turned to leave, neglecting to thank Unseen. Threehorns weren't in the habit of showing hidden runners courtesy. Why start now?

Scarcely noticing the disrespect, Unseen retraced her steps and carried Dagara out of the gully, placing her on Wartar's head once he emerged from the gully himself. Careful not to prick the threehorn with her leftover spikes, Dagara hooked her neck over his horn to avoid falling off.

Her job done, Unseen took off across the grassland.

"Where are you going?" asked Wartar.

Unseen halted before turning back to him. "Must track the other crawlers. There are more."

The threehorn gave her a solemn nod. "You deserve our respect. More than I've given you. More than I can give you."

The hidden runner's eyes fluttered in shock before she beamed and lowered herself in a gesture of returned respect.

"Thank you, Alpha."

She was surprised to see Wartar lower himself the same way.

"Thank you, Unseen."

Without another word, the hidden runner sprinted into the twilight, beaming to herself. This time, she didn't bother disappearing.

Wartar turned and headed for home while Dagara smiled around the spikes between her teeth. Another victory in one evening.

"You did good, Dagara," Wartar commended with unprecedented warmth. "I'm sorry about your horns. Um ... why did you pick them back up?"

She was hoping she could somehow reattach them, but didn't answer for fear of dropping them. Wartar looked up at her and realised her reason for silence.

The threehorn chuckled reassuringly. "They grow back, you know."

Dagara dropped the horns as she perked up with a jerk, accidentally jabbing him with her spikes.

"Really?" she asked. "How long does it take?"

Wartar ignored the slight pain as he thought for a second. "Hm, about ... twenty bright circles, at least."

She went into shock. "TWENTY DAYS?! That's, like, FOREVER!"

Wartar narrowed his eyes in a semi-stern look. "Just be glad they grow back at all. Some dinosaurs aren't that lucky, and it takes a threehorn much, much longer."

Dagara thought about that for a moment before nodding, interrupted by a big yawn. Watching the stars twinkle into view, her eyelids slid shut and that was the last she saw of the commencing night.

The next morning ...

( ( SKRRRAAAEEEE! ) )

Wartar sprang to his feet, ready for battle, only to see a bubbly Dagara bouncing about the nest. One look and he was fairly certain this was a sleep story. Dagara never acted like this. The threehorn settled into the nest once again, hoping to wake up outside of dreamland next time.

"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" Dagara chirped, bouncing up to his face.

Now he was sure it was a sleep story. She never called him 'Daddy' unless she was being sarcastic ... or trying to get on his good side.

"Be gone, sleep story," he grunted.

"Wha-? I'm not a sleep story!" she insisted.

"Mm hm, I believe you," he agreed without agreeing before dozing off.

( ( SKRRRAAAAAEEEEEEE! ) ) she roared all the louder.

Wartar nearly jumped out of his scales. This was not a dream! Though their nest stood a short distance from the rest of the herd, many of the threehorns were beginning to stare. Even from a little sharpneck, that sound was the very manifestation of terror.

Dagara continued to bounce. "I didn't even know I could make that noise! It felt so GUUUUUD! It was literally the SCARIEST thing I've ever heard! Even the crawler was scared!" She gasped as the revelation hit her. "Y-you were scared TOO! SQUEEEEE!"

The sharpneck did a happy dance as she squealed uncontrollably.

Wartar chortled. It was refreshing to see his daughter this happy.

"Okay, yes, you scared me," he admitted. "But you might want to use that roar sparingly. It's not exactly herd-friendly."

She tilted her head before noticing the other threehorns staring. Some of the hatchlings looked utterly petrified.

"It scares threehorns?" she slowly asked in shock. "Not just you? It can scare, like, an entire herd?"

He nodded slightly uncomfortably.

A smile spread across her lips as she bounded into the air. "That is SO COOOL!"

"Dagara," he warned.

She caught herself. "Oh, right. I will be very careful to only roar when nobody's around ... or when it's appropriate ... or at least not all the time ..."

Wartar sighed. She was a sharpneck, after all. He supposed he shouldn't stifle her. That wouldn't stop him from monitoring her behaviour and intervening if necessary, of course.

"That's good enough for me," Wartar conceded. "After yesterday, you deserve a little wriggle room. I'm so proud of you."

He startled slightly when she flew into his muzzle in a hug and a nuzzle. Her fiery amber eyes had turned to honey.

"I love you, Daddy."

Wartar momentarily froze. She sounded just like a certain threehorn around her age. He saw that threehorn every day, only in his bittersweet memories ... but she wasn't that threehorn, and he didn't want her to be. She was wonderful and beautiful and priceless in her own way. She didn't have to be a threehorn. She was his Dagara.

The threehorn soaked in her affection and returned it with a nuzzle of his own. "I love you too, Sweet Bubble."

The moment seemed to last forever ... until Wartar began to snore.

"Daddy, you're getting old!" giggled Dagara.

"Hm? What's that?" asked the threehorn before yawning. "I think I'll sleep in again, but you can leave the nest if you want."

Dagara squealed yet again as she practically flew out of the nest, only to trip on an invisible object ... which yelped.

Confused beyond all reason, the sharpneck looked back to see a young hidden runner toppled on his head. She instantly recognised him.

"Vanish! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, before cooing a sharptooth greeting and apology.

The hidden runner squirmed onto his feet and looked up at her in shame and shyness.

"N-no. I yam so-rree," he struggled.

His gurgling growl of a voice wouldn't pass as a leafeater to save a life. It was cute, though. Dagara had to admit that.

Vanish cleared his throat, attempting to better articulate himself. "I didant want to bee yor fren becus I was worreed what hiden runerrs wud think of me. I folowed you last day, wanting to apolojise. I was too shy ... and yoo seemed too angrry too talk too."

Dagara nodded. "Yeah, I was pretty angry. Sorry."

"Yoo get angrry, but yoo are also nise and brrave and strong!" he paused to chirrup in excitement. "I saw wat yoo did last evening! Yoo arr herro!"

The sharpneck shrank back in embarrassment as she felt her Adora Blush coming on. Luckily, Vanish had darted into a bush before he could see it. His protruding tail wiggled in excitement as he dragged out an upside down horseshoe crab, minced and decked with a host of goodies.

Dagara's mouth was ajar. This was the breakfast she had never gotten to eat! How was it still fresh? It took a split second for her to realise that it wasn't her breakfast, but rather a replica. Lacking her spikes and strength, Vanish hadn't chopped and mixed the food quite as cleanly as she would have, but he'd done a close enough job to confuse her at first glance. There was one notable difference: a dragonfly on the top, much like the one she had given him as a friendship offering.

After yanking the meal right in front of her, Vanish eagerly looked between it and the sharpneck. If he wagged his tail any faster, she was pretty sure he would lift off the ground.

At first, Dagara was at a loss for words. "Vanish, this is ... thank you! I love it!"

Vanish yipped much like a puppy before plopping down and waiting for her to eat, even as the first signs of drool appeared on his tiny jaws.

"You know what? Why don't we share?" she offered.

He chirped in confusion. "Iss it too much?"

"Not really, but I want my new friend to have some," she explained.

Vanish dashed over to her and gave a soft headbutt (took her a moment to read it as affection) before munching on a crab leg.

Dagara dug in. Wow! It was delicious! He'd been paying close attention to her culinary process! She couldn't do a much better job herself! For a moment, the sharpneck realised that she was eating meat within view of the herd. Well, not quite 'within view'. She was behind the nest. Most of the threehorns wouldn't see her, but so what if they did? She was what she was, and what she was was awesome! Maybe 'Whoever was up there' hadn't given her such a bad life after all, but it was up to her to make the best of it.

"Wat made yoo save Ram, aneeyway?" Vanish suddenly asked. "Yoo were gowing too run, and he was meen. Why did yoo hewp?"

"Because it was right thing to do," she replied. "Because I'm strong enough to help others, even when I don't feel like it. Because ... well ..."

The answer was getting away from her, so Dagara decided to sum it up in one, all-encompassing statement.

"Because I'm a sharpneck!"



Aaand that concludes our first taste of Dagara. She turned out more relatable than I expected ... although her struggles are rather caricaturised compared to what I think most humans would go through.

Can you identify any of the references in this chapter? Do you have any theories about the valleys? Hunches about the sharpnecks? What do you think The Silver Zone could be? What will happen when Dagara meets Littlefoot and his friends?

The hidden runner/utahraptor Unseen originally appeared as the main character of my other story, Jurassic Park: The Unseen Element. Her mother, Silence (briefly mentioned as the hidden runner alpha), is a supporting character there as well. The two versions of Unseen might appear to have different personalities, but if you look closely enough you might find that they are actually pretty similar. The variations have more to do with the fact that they are reacting to different situations in considerably different worlds. There's also the fact that the Jurassic Park Unseen's personality evolves a bit every time she sheds her skin (long story).  Come to think of it, this Unseen may evolve after shedding too, but there's no telling how many times she has shed over the years in the War Before Time universe, which would make her character arc somewhat out of sync with the Jurassic Park version.  You know what?  This paragraph kind of turned into a big ball of wibbly wobbly stuff, so lets just move on.

Check out my fanfiction account https://www.fanfiction.net/u/4665894/The-Mr-E for more Dagara oneshots, War Before Time tales and more of Unseen in Jurassic Park: The Unseen Element!(verysubtlesubliminalattempttomakeyoureadthatlaststoryifyou'reoldenoughtohandletheviolence).

Thanks for reading!

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