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The Mr E

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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 his feet as he thundered forward. How many this time? Two? Three? Three, tops. Either way, it didn't matter. Littlefoot saw clouds of dust beyond the dune, agitated by the commotion; heard the screams devoured by roars of the creatures that would likewise devour the screamer, 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 feathers on his head and elbows snapped flat against his body in an instinctive effort to look smaller and less threatening.

Longneck and fast biter locked eyes in a moment of silent communication. Littlefoot lowered his head so as to close the gap between their gazes. He'd never seen this species before. The creature smelled funny, as though he'd been 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 him, 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 were gigantosauruses, but the largest of the group? He 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 idly flexing as he eyed the enigma of a longneck with a contemplative air. It seemed he felt no obligation to share his thoughts 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 as 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 sight of the look in the alpha's eyes. The spinosaurus wouldn't even 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. Then 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. They would figure out how to build a better world. They would 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 allow his underlings to move ahead of him. The coward! At the last second, Littlefoot made as though to turn and retreat, baffling the predators. What was this crazy longneck up to? The answer came when he, perfectly in position, swept a sandy tsunami into the air with his tail. Startled, the predators paused as their prey vanished behind the wall of dust. Having recovered first, one of the gigantosauruses dashed around the cloud, never expecting the longneck to dash with him. Flinching to a stop, he found himself face to face with the giant. Impossible! No lumbering longneck could move that fast! His staggered thoughts were jarred to a stop as Littlefoot's foreleg found his gut. The sharptooth crumpled, the 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 the owner to a swift hip bump. The gigantosaurus stumbled right into a tail whack followed by a headbutt in rapid succession. Dazed, she saw no option but to collapse.

Now for big one. Titan's Talon came charging in, metres away. Ducking, he felt the waft of the longneck's tail swinging over his head and sail. The dodge 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!
« Last Edit: September 17, 2020, 11:09:45 AM by The Mr E »