Words in italics represent character thoughts or flashbacks.
A/N: As this fic follows Mr. Thicknose's point of view in Five Stages of Grief, my August 2018 Fanfic Prompt Entry, it is highly encouraged (though not required, as knowledge of the events that take place in LBT VIII: The Big Freeze is sufficient) for you to read that story first if you want additional context from Ducky's perspective and wish to treat this as a supplementary tale to FSoG. And just like in that story, here's my trigger warning of certain themes in this story. This gets very tragic, especially if you are aware of how these events play out.
The Gang of Five forum fanfic challenge prompt themes (and yes, there is a reason I'm showing all three of the minor prompts this time :p) for the month of January 2020 are:
One word prompt: Perplexed
Dialogue prompt: "He/she had seen much in his/her life, but nothing had prepared him/her for this."
Major prompt: Never mind how old we are, or how much experience we obtain, life has a way of throwing unexpected surprises in our direction. Write a story where a character is confronted with something that confounds them and which forces them to reconsider some of their previous ideas. This can be played romantically, humorously, or seriously, depending on your preference.
Romantically, humorously, or seriously? Take one guess as to how this will end up playing out. One. Guess. :(
"Learning to learn is part of learning!"
— Ruby, probably
"You are a wise child, Arbor. My special boy… I truly believe with all my heart that you were hatched to do great things."
This was something which his mother had constantly stated to him all throughout his early childhood — that he was gifted with a curious mind from the very moment that he had hatched out of his egg.
As soon as the young thicknose gained the ability to verbally articulate his thoughts through the gift of speech at a relatively young age, Arbor made sure to take full advantage of it to sate his endless curiosity. A fond and inquisitive smile often graced the small child's face as he constantly raised questions with regards to the so-called natural order of things.
"Mommy, who's that? Why does he have something pointy sticking out of his face?"
"That is a threehorn, dear… and please refrain from saying that within earshot of one."
"Huh? Why? What's so bad about saying it? Those things are so obvious! I can clearly see them with my own two eyes!"
"Arbor, please… drop it. I'll tell you next time."
"But mom, I wanna know now! I just have to know exactly what's up with that pointy thing he has on his face!"
"…what did you say, you petulant punk!? You dare insult my horn so nonchalantly?! Say that again to my face, brat! Damn kid, I'll let you know just how 'pointy' this thing really is!"
"A-Ack! Sc-scary grown-up… mommy, h-help! Help me!"
"Don't hurt my Arbor! Please, forgive my child! He doesn't know better… Arbor, hurry and apologize to the threehorn! Quickly, right now!"
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it, mister, I really didn't!"
"You better be sorry, boy! And you… what sort of mother are you? How dare you let your son freely insult my frill and horns — a threehorn's pride and joy? What sort of hands-off parenting approach is this? You should be glad I wasn't in a bad mood when I heard that, else he'd be eating dirt right now! I swear, kids these days…"
"T-Thank you… I promise to make sure that Arbor will show his respect to threehorns such as you in future! This will not happen again, I swear!"
"For his sake, it better not! And let me tell you something, kid… there is such a thing as being too curious for your own good!"
He could recall chuckling at the memory in his youth, brushing off the threehorn's warning as the ramblings of an irritated grown-up. What was so bad about being curious? Even on the few occasions where he bit off more than he could chew, he still came away from it more enlightened, if a bit more cautious whenever it came to encroaching such topics in future.
The thing was, there was literally no disadvantage that Arbor could see when it came to being the wisest hatchling simply by knowing more than others his age. It pleased him to learn the answers to questions which he didn't even know he had, or better still, already know the answers to those questions either through a bit of inference, or simply relying on prior knowledge when he'd previously come across the topic beforehand. Now that always gave the young child a distinct sense of pride.
Besides, he was an unusual kid. Called him gifted, but he intrinsically found himself more attuned to the process of learning and education compared to many of his peers. Where most other kids who were around his age would derive enjoyment from befriending others and playing games, Arbor instead derived it from learning new things… though such a mentality did affect him on a social scale.
Arbor didn't mind it, though. Being socially awkward because he loved to learn about his environments instead of wasting his free time playing around wasn't really an issue so long as he had his mom as a listening ear and support — the question of "where's dad?" was quietly shot down when he'd asked once, and after that he learnt not to prod.
Besides, with all the knowledge he was slowly accruing from the barrage of questions which he had his mom and a few other grown-ups answer to sate his eagerness in understanding the world around him, that was all he really needed. Simple and frugal, but it worked, so why bother messing with things that didn't need to be messed with?
To put it bluntly, life was rather good to Arbor. Over time, things had fallen into a simple and predictable pattern for the young thicknose — he shyly stayed away from his peers unless they needed his expertise (in which case he would come barreling in like a storm and lecture them until the information that they required was pounded in their head), relentlessly pestered and interrogated the grown-ups whenever there was something he didn't know, and generally drove his good-natured mother crazy when she ended up receiving quite a few agitated complaints from the adults he'd irritated, though it never quite reached the level as the threehorn he'd once insulted.
All went well for him, and he quickly acclimatized to this cycle of brashly gleaning information for himself. Unbeknownst to the young dinosaur however, one day, everything was to change.
The ironic thing was that as far as he could recall, for all intents and purposes that day had started out normally. Astounding as it was, nothing out of the ordinary occurred at first. He had groggily woken up, helped himself to a healthy helping of treestars as he always did, before noting a strange anomaly while furtively scanning his surroundings.
In this small community, Arbor knew every kid and adult—every last one of which were targets for him to coax more knowledge from—by name and face. But on that very day, there was someone there who he did not recognize — basically, a complete newcomer to his home.
Many cycles of the Night Circle later, and yet he was still able to vividly remember the first time he had laid eyes on the new guy, right down to being able to describe the whole scene in excruciatingly precise detail.
That was how much of an impact this moment would have on his life.
"Mommy, who's that?" he asked, intrigued when he noticed a large green dinosaur grazing in the distant plains. "I remember the faces of all the grown-ups, and I've never seen him before."
His mom followed his gaze, squinting her eyes as she peered in the distance. "You have a keen eye, Arbor," she muttered, "That dinosaur is known as a wandering farwalker, someone who travels across the lands outside of our home."
Arbor's attention was instantly piqued. "You mean the perilous Mysterious Beyond? Sweet! One day I'll know everything there is to learn about that place!"
"Settle down, Arbor. You won't be leaving the sanctuary we currently live in for some sort of reckless exploration so long as I draw breath," his mom chided. "Most of the wanderers such as this guy usually don't have a choice of settling down. Usually these farwalkers are members of traveling herds, and for them to find the valley isn't exactly what you would call a common occurrence. We live in a very hidden and reclusive place, Arbor. Newcomers don't stumble across us often."
"Yeah, the Great Valley," Arbor proceeded to recite a description of his home from memory after he made a show of exaggeratedly clearing his throat — he'd always liked attention. "Luscious and green with a plentiful supply of food and water, the valley boasts itself to be a safe haven for flattooths that protects its inhabitants from danger and sharpteeth."
Arbor's mother proudly nodded at her son's synopsis, though her exasperated face hinted that she didn't quite approve of the pompous faux-adult tone that he used while reciting it. "You are most correct, Arbor. I should stress that the valley we take for granted today would not have remained the fabled urban legend that it is if it can be easily discovered by anyone. Farwalkers have it tough, for the journey across the treacherous mountain range to arrive at this destination is not one that I am confident to make nowadays. Gee, I'm getting old…"
"You certainly are, mommy!" Arbor bluntly agreed, prompting his mom to incredulously shake her head at her son's insensitivity.
"Arborrrrr…" she whined, her voice strained. "…what am I going to do with you?" the female whispered an almost inaudible addendum to the elongated name.
He turned towards his mother as he heard her chiding tone, his head bowed low. "Yes?"
She quickly regained her composure, looking at her son sternly. "Just be careful, dear. One of these days, you will get yourself into trouble with that attitude of yours. Charging headfirst into an uncertain situation with your head held high is the threehorn way, and you know how that tends to end!"
"Don't worry, I'll definitely be cautious!" Arbor reassured with a peppy voice. "Cross my heart!"
An eyebrow twitched. "That's exactly what I was afraid of…" she mumbled, but forced a smile nevertheless.
"La-la-la-la-laaaa~!" A jaunty Arbor sang in an off-key voice as he haughtily marched off before his mom could react. "I can't hear youuuu!"
Incredibly, Arbor somehow managed to suppress the rambunctious laughter that threatened to spill from his lips until he rounded the corner and was out of his mother's sight.
While he did love his mommy tenderly with all his heart, he still wasn't able to resist the innate urge to tease her.
Getting the worst of his laughing fit under control, Arbor then set his eyes on his target, stalking the farwalker from afar as stealthily as he could.
As he approached, the young child was able to make out the dinosaur's more pronounced features. Arbor scrunched his face up when he realized he hadn't quite seen anyone like him before. The wandering visitor had a greenish-grey hue, three rows of rounded spikes adorning his back, and a tail-bopper he knew to be synonymous with clubtails. However, his spikes didn't look like the distinct plated ridges of adult spiketail, and aside from his tail he didn't appear to fit the description of a normal clubtail either.
This only made Arbor more intrigued. Just who was he?
Well, he was about to find out the answers soon enough. He whistled innocuously as he slowly closed in the distance between them. By the time the distracted adult realized that a child was gaining onto him, it was already too late. Arbor didn't give him a chance to escape the conversation, clearing whatever little distance remained between them with a brisk trot and proceeding to look at him with the sappiest eyes he could muster.
This always works on mommy whenever I want to get her to spill things to me… it'll definitely work on this guy too!
"Hey, kid. What are you looking at me like that for? I know you're after something… so spill, what do you want from me?"
Arbor dropped the pleading eyes, stunned as he found himself the recipient of a husky growl and brusque accusation. The tone of voice turned out to be a surprise to him. His sullen and discolored eyelids had given Arbor the impression that he was elderly, but the firmness and coarse tone instead told a different story, suggesting that he was much younger than he appeared.
However, age wasn't Arbor's main concern at the moment. What mattered more was that his victim didn't budge or so much as offer to give him the time of day, instead trying to brush him off immediately. Amazingly, he was somehow refusing to concede, unlike most of the other grown-ups that Arbor had cracked after continuous pestering. This guy, on the other hand, simply had a plainly dispassionate look on his face, one which flagrantly said 'stop wasting my time'.
Being subject to that disdainful gaze played a part in Arbor deciding to be truthful. "Well, I just want to talk," he said, eyes unconsciously flicking over to the tall mountains surrounding the sides of the valley, mountains which the visitor surely must have scaled across. "I was looking around the valley when I chanced upon you. I didn't recognize your face, and I know everyone, so I figured you must be new around these parts!"
"Who would've thought?" The initial gruffness of his voice softened, displaced by the new emotion of amusement infused in his perky tone. "Usually when I go places, I get mobbed by the ones in charge. This is the first time I've seen a herd getting a kid to perform that role." He paused, looking closely at Arbor for a decent while as he was sizing the child up. "Say, didn't your momma ever tell you not to talk to strangers?"
"Oh, she did!" Arbor laughed, a confident smirk quickly forming. "But I don't listen to her, hee!"
A ruminating chuckle escaped the visitor. "You're rather thick-skinned for a young hatchling, aren't you? Poking your nose into such adult affairs…" The grown-up looked at him oddly, tilting his large head at an angle as his eyes twinkled with amusement. Arbor scowled in return, quickly discerning the sneaky verbal pun that the adult had made using his species name — "thick-skinned nose".
"…tch." The grownup cleared his throat. "Hey, kid. You're one of those who can't wait to grow up, aren't ya?"
That question certainly got Arbor's attention. "Oh, you bet!" he found himself readily agreeing. "I have to grovel up to everyone just so I get a chance to learn that sparse bit more! It's not fair that the grown-ups hog all this useful knowledge to themselves just because I'm a kid!"
"That's unusual," the adult mused, crinkling his nose with an emotion behind it that Arbor couldn't quite decipher. His best guess was that it was yet another case of the adults being frustrated of constantly being one-upped by another kid and thus the result of him implicitly showing his displeasure about the situation. Although Arbor was truthful about his reasons for talking to him, the grown-up likely thought that it was just some kid trying to pull the treestar over his eyes.
"Don't laugh because I'm a kid! It's my interest and passion!" Arbor held his head high, frill pointing to the sky. He couldn't help but to let a bit of outrage into his voice. Just because he was different and challenged the conventions of what to meant to be a kid often made him either overlooked or belittled. Being profiled alongside all the other children and treated accordingly was frustrating to deal with long-term when he was far from the norm. "It's not my fault that a bunch of ornery threehorns refuse to facilitate a discussion with me!"
Alright, I've laid the bait. He has to take this! Wait for it…
"Ornery?" With a single brow raised and the new dinosaur actively spinning on his heel to peer closely at a grinning Arbor, it was clear that his interest had definitely been piqued. "That's not a word I hear the young'uns use very often. It's one of those fancy insults we use to make fun of bad-mannered threehorns without them rockheads knowing what it means. Wherever would a kid like you pick a term like that up, I ponder?"
Gotcha, old man! Hook, line, and sinker!
"I heard my mommy say it behind a mean threehorn's back after he threatened me!" Arbor declared proudly, grinning from ear to ear. Success! He had definitely managed to catch his target's attention. Now all he had to do was to reel him into casual conversation and figure out if the new guy had any information which he could add to his repertoire.
The dark green adult let out a chuckle, though due to his size it almost came off as a bellow. "Well, threehorns aren't the most meditative species. You should consider yourself lucky that you and your mother made it out unscathed," he said, looking at Arbor's body for any signs of scars. "Did you bruise their ego, perchance?"
Arbor's eyes went wide when he found himself being pre-empted. He was going to ramble about the threehorn story and use it as a lead-in to his next sentence so that he could find out more about threehorns as he'd very quickly learnt that approaching one to consult about the intricacies of their own species was an extraordinarily biased source of information.
Yet, the grown-up had somehow picked up on his intentions and forestalled that plan. How did he know what Arbor had done to upset the threehorn, even before he revealed it?
There was another chuckle as the newcomer took a furtive glance at Arbor's dumbfounded appearance. "You can stop gaping at me, little fella. Your face is very easy to read."
"W-wait… you were reading my reactions…!" A distraught Arbor finally worked out how the adult disrupted the flow of the conversation he had wanted to control by managing to guess the very conversation topic that he was anticipating to plant. The thicknose's eyes hovered to the ground in shame when it hit him that he had been legitimately bested in a battle of words.
It wasn't often that adults got the better of too-intelligent-and-nosy-for-his-own-good little Arbor… normally, it was the other way around. But it appeared that this time around, he was the one that had been caught flat-footed, and he didn't like it. He desired having complete control over how his conversations went. He hated having the adults view him as a kid and curate their speeches just for him because of his age. Adamantly. Hated. It.
"Of course I was eyeing you." The answer was spoken in a dismissive manner, almost as though the farwalker couldn't believe that he had to explain himself. "Observation is an essential skill to have in the Mysterious Beyond. One would likely die young if they were distracted out there."
Arbor was unable to tell if the grown-up was being smug or not about gaining the upper hand over him. Nevertheless, he scowled at the confirmation, now uncertain of exactly where he stood in the conversation. He was so used to cornering adults and getting the answers he demanded from them that the likelihood of him being scrutinized under someone else's adamant gaze never even occurred to him. Most of them gave in to his pestering, so to have the situation completely upended and flipped right back onto him was a foreign feeling.
But then again, who would have thought that his own body would end up being the very thing that would betray his intentions to the newcomer? Traitor.
Arbor hid the silver of an irritated frown behind an impassive and pointedly neutral expression. He was still irked by the grown-up's uncanny perceptiveness, but he didn't want to let the adult derive any further insights out of him. Meeting his match in an adult was enough to grate on him, he didn't want the observant farwalker to capitalize on his ability to completely figure out his entire life story or something.
"Gah, I admit defeat." It took a lot for Arbor to swallow his pride, but he put aside his ego in hopes of salvaging his botched first impression. "I still can't believe this… you're the first guy to ever get the better of me through sheer wit alone. But seriously, mister, you didn't have to freak me out like that!"
The adult flicked his tail from side to side, face turning contemplative. "Well, I would think your worldview might be a bit narrow if I'm seriously the first person to challenge you. Adversity is part and parcel of life, so for you to claim that you've never faced it before is not only conceited, but also a contentious point of view," he finally stated, his tone disapproving.
"But that said, I do understand why you would think that way," he softened his harsh demeanor, looking at Arbor with serious eyes. "You're a kid, and a fortuitously sheltered one at that. It's only natural that you have yet to face situations that have spun completely out of your control — scenarios where you feel totally helpless and have to weather out the storm on your own," he explained. "Now I can't say that I know who you were at odds with, but being the largest swimmer in the pond means nothing out there in the Big Water. You're puny by comparison in the grand scheme of things, little fella."
Arbor gnashed his teeth in frustration, his head overwhelmed by the unfamiliar term. Curiosity eventually won out against his apprehension, and he tilted his head towards the visitor. "Um, what exactly is a 'Big Water'?" he asked hesitantly, idly fidgeting with his hind feet and crushing blades of grass in the process as his limbs shifted back and forth.
"You see what I mean!? You've perfectly proven my point without even meaning to," he boomed in response, his voice boisterous. He made eye contact with Arbor, smiling fondly at the child. "You are a resident of the valley, correct? Am I right to assume that you've never ventured out to the Mysterious Beyond?"
Although he really didn't want to, Arbor shook his head, promptly wincing when he saw the adult sigh.
"I thought so, little fella. Ever heard of the tale about the hopper in the gorge?"
"No…" Arbor trailed off, but quickly held his ground with a shaky smile. "But I know what a hopper is! I don't get where you're going with this analogy, mister. What does a gorge have to do with a mere hopper?"
The dinosaur's sullen eyes unconsciously rolled upwards, signifying that he was apparently reminiscing about a melancholic memory. "A gorge is a landmark that's even narrower than a valley like the one we're in right now, but is similarly surrounded on both sides by steep cliffs. In that sense, you're synonymous with a hopper who's trapped in a narrow gorge and making the fallacy of thinking that it is their entire world. You and the hopper lie ignorant to the fact that a swath of great unknowns lie just outside your dwelling should you venture out of your comfort zone."
With shining eyes, he gazed down at the attentive Arbor. "It's only natural that you think you know everything, but in reality you've only discovered but a mere fraction of what this world has to offer. The rest is but a vast unknown, and without any knowledge of its existence and the willingness to take risks, you would never discover the truths that experience will bestow upon you."
Such an enigmatic grown-up. Arbor couldn't help but be fascinated, completely entranced by his words.
Noticing that he had successfully managed to enrapture Arbor, the adult's jawline widened from side to side to form a soft smile. "This is why farwalkers like myself migrate all the time. With continual change comes new experiences, and different experiences means that you can always look forward to a new and unique day tomorrow. That's something you don't get if you are complacent and perfectly content with living a mundane existence, opting to stay put in one place." He paused and gave a cursory glance around the valley, but quickly barreled on, "Such arrogance never bodes well. We are given the opportunity to live in this world, and it would be a foolish thought to presume that you can free yourself from the obligation of partaking in new and enriching experiences. That, in essence, is the nature of the Great Circle of Life that all of us go through."
"B-But me being content with what I currently know isn't true at all!" Arbor cried out, slightly outraged by the insinuation. "It's just that unlike you, I don't have the freedom to wander the world! I'm curious and eager to know stuff, but I can't experience naught while stuck here in the valley! That's why I'm trying to find out all I can from grown-ups like you!" he argued, finally seeing an opportunity to broach the topic. "I genuinely am curious about things, and I do want to learn! I just don't have the chance, that's all!"
The adult's eyes darkened, his sunken eyelids exacerbating the severity of his expression. "If so, then I don't get your actions, kid. Why didn't you just directly state your intentions instead of approaching it in a roundabout way?" he spat vitriolically, before flinching back when he realized that he had lost his temper in front of a child and thus relaxed accordingly, his muscles visibly loosening as he slouched.
"Look, sorry about that," he apologized in a gentler tone, tilting his head down, "It's just… there's no need to be insidious around me. You ain't a sharptooth, so don't act like those sneaky unscrupulous fiends when there's no reason to."
"It's not my fault…" Arbor tried to justify, dejectedly looking down towards the ground. "The only reason I act this way is because nobody wants to tell me anything whenever I ask them, not even my mommy! I have to resort to doing stuff like this just to get them to listen to my questions. If only I was older, then it wouldn't be an issue…"
Hearing Arbor's pained lament, the adult gently consoled him. "There, there, little fella. Just let it all out." He then slowly hobbled over, his large and bulky size playing a factor in his sedate pace of movement, at least in relation to the energetic Arbor. When the adult was so close that his underbelly was practically right on top of Arbor, he proceeded to drop a pertinent question that almost made Arbor fall over in shock.
"What if I told you there was a way for you to learn things without explicitly asking for it?"
Arbor's jaw dropped until it was almost touching the ground. "Y-you really mean it!?" he asked when he managed to close his mouth before it caught any stinging buzzers, desperation audible in his voice.
"Of course I am, little fella," came the answer. "The solution to your conundrum is rather simple, too — you can learn passively with your eyes and ears," he said, eyeballing the grassy pastures to his side. "There are many things which I have absorbed just from observing things taking place around me."
His eyes slid back to Arbor. "Body language tells me a lot. Actions speak louder than words." With a soft chortle, he proceeded to give an example — Arbor himself. "You are standing at attention, your eyes widened and focused. Even if you hadn't gasped out loud earlier, I can confirm through visuals alone that I have you fully enraptured."
"And that I am indeed…" Arbor mumbled in awe, astounded by the miraculous trick that he was witnessing in front of his eyes. "Wow, you're really incredible, mister!"
"When the Bright Circle falls, the Night Circle will rise," he quoted in response to a fully alert Arbor before doling out his recommendation. "If being direct doesn't work out because of your age, you can always try a different approach. Maybe instead of demanding for answers at every waking moment, you can attempt to get the answers to your questions in a more organic approach catered to each individual. Instead of putting them on the spot, pay attention to their mood and query them at the right time and place. They will be more willing to divulge the necessary information to you then."
He let out a snort, his large body quaking in laughter. "I mean, if you need further convincing, you're the proof of concept!"
"M-me!?" Arbor was taken aback, blinking repeatedly in stupor at the proclamation.
"Yes, little fella… you. Through careful scrutiny of your words and body language, I managed to extrapolate what you wanted out of our talk, and with that knowledge I've naturally changed the flow of the topic to one that benefits us both," he confessed to a stunned Arbor. "Now, I know you told me you were planning to do that to me earlier, although in a more blatant manner. But once I took over the conversation, did you actually find yourself needing to forcefully shift the scope of the topic to get to the point you wanted?" A wry grin crossed his face. "And moreover, did you even realize that you were being strung along by me to reach a mutually beneficial outcome throughout the entire duration of our talk?"
"N-no… not at all…" The perplexed Arbor found himself tongue-tied by the wanderer's admission.
"You see? When the other party doesn't feel like they're being coerced into something, they would naturally be more willing to comply with your requests."
Arbor looked contemplative at that. "But would that really work…?" he asked, a twinge of natural skepticism still casting shadows of doubts within him in spite of the overwhelming evidence.
"I'm not your mother, kid. I can only provide an advisory role. The onus is on you to do what you think works out best for you. You shouldn't expect the world to revolve around you, because it most certainly does not. Always anticipate the unexpected, because the Great Circle of Life will continue turning on whether you're prepared for it or not." His eyes then darted towards a nearby tree. "And when life gives you rotten tree sweets, crush them and use the pungent smell of the juice as trail markers instead of outright throwing them away. Don't waste a prime opportunity by focusing on what could have been instead of simply turning a bad situation around by making use of what you have to better yourself."
Arbor scrunched up his face, the creases on his frill a clear indicator to any outside observer that he was deep in thought. "So that means if I do what you say, I can get what I want?"
He didn't even try to mask the eagerness in his voice.
The adult smiled fondly at his charge. "The power of observation isn't one to take lightly. Knowing how to read a situation and say the right things at the right time can greatly affect how interactions go. Let me pose a scenario to you — say if you were to run into an orphan in the Mysterious Beyond, what would you say to him or her?"
"Um… I'll… uh…"
Pausing momentarily and getting nothing but a garbled response, the dinosaur swiftly continued when he was sure Arbor couldn't give a coherent answer that would be to his satisfaction. "What you did right there would be game over. And sure enough, most of us would freeze up like you just did, unsure of what to do, and quite unaware that being a silent bystander only ends up hurting the child more. To a hurt orphan, such a reaction screams of crushing apathy. Your words and actions can have lasting consequences when perceived in a certain light, even if it isn't your intent."
"Hmph!" Arbor looked away with a huff. "Like you're so special! I can't see you being immune to this fallacy! Surely you'd be too shocked to react in such a case yourself!"
Arbor was pleased when he saw that he managed to actually catch the other dinosaur off guard with his retort. It actually took him a moment to collect his thoughts and compose an answer. "Perhaps…" he conceded, "…but as I told you, life is unpredictable. Being mentally prepared for anything will greatly assist you in the long run. Learning is a lifelong journey…"
He then straightened himself up, starting to walk away. "I'm afraid that's all the time I have to offer today. You're a good lad, kid. Spunky and inexperienced, but you have the drive and passion to really go far in life. If you ever need assistance, just go and tell someone that Rooter's got your back. I might be a lone farwalker, but I know many dinosaurs out there in the wilderness. Using my name can get you places."
"Rooter…?" Arbor repeated. "Your name's Rooter?"
"Names are overrated in my opinion," the dark green dinosaur heaved a sigh before giving a proper answer. "But yes, I go by Rooter." As he continued strolling away, Rooter suddenly found himself facing the young thicknose, who had apparently sprinted ahead to cut him off.
"I didn't introduce myself either, so my name's Arbor!" he announced to a bemused Rooter, proudly holding his head up high. "Thank you for teaching me everything, Mr. Rooter! You've really opened my eyes! I'll solemnly take your advice to heart!"
Though Rooter stiffened at first, taken aback by the sudden greeting, he was able to regain his composure soon enough and gave the young child a nod of approval. "Well… I'll hold you to that, little fella," he grunted with a wink before taking his leave, leaving behind a gleeful and motivated Arbor.
"I promise you, Rooter!" Arbor yelled at the retreating farwalker as his figure got smaller. "I promise that I'll make you proud by using everything you've taught me here today! If we meet again, I want us to meet as equals!"
And for better or worse, that will be a promise he would keep.
While he didn't manage to get what he had initially approached Rooter for, Arbor ended up gaining so much more from their relatively brief encounter. Even his mom had noticed his perky mood when he returned and questioned him about it.
"You certainly seem happy, Arbor. I presume the farwalker told you everything that you wanted to know?"
"Not exactly… but he told me something that was even better! Muhihihihi! This is great! This is the best day ever, mommy! I feel like a brand new thicknose now, wahey!"
"I worry for you, dear…"
At Rooter's bequest, Arbor had ended up adopting a more taciturn approach when it came to garnering answers. He was now decisively more laid-back compared to the more direct and imprudent method he had used in his early days. Being sycophantic and confronting the adults with blatant intentions of using their conversation to gain information about the world for himself had paid off dividends in the past, but with this new advice Arbor didn't even have to communicate with the grown-ups, instead gleaning everything off them by listening obsequiously.
Truth be told, he vastly preferred it this way. Arbor occasionally felt as though he was treading on dangerous territory when trying to coax information from increasingly unreceptive elders with his assertive words and queries. Knowing that he didn't have to be so brash against his meeker nature was cathartic for him.
Siphoning scraps of information from the farwalkers by listening to them tell him the stories of their travels instead of asking questions was thus his choice of accumulating knowledge from that point on. Not only was it easier to listen to them tell the valley stories of what they'd seen while forging through the Mysterious Beyond on their own accord, Rooter was completely right on the mark. Many times, they unintentionally gave him the answers to questions that Arbor didn't even realize he had.
From that moment on, Arbor was one of the most eager valley residents to greet new farwalkers, knowing that sooner or later being in close proximity to them would pay off. Chances were he would end up being educated about something he didn't know about just by being around them and hearing them make small talk. The enticing allure of learning more constantly kept him on his toes.
This decision paid off in spades. The tales they told him about their travels were so vivid and detailed that he was able to imagine the journey that they underwent in his head as though he had traveled with them all along, all without needing to leave the valley at all.
As time went on, Arbor slowly lost his aggressive demeanor, having only resorted to it for coercing the adults in the first place. His more reserved personality was being brought to the surface more and more once he lost the need to be assertive now that he was extrapolating silently instead of questioning assertively. His propensity to be shy and withdrawn gradually took hold, with the sole exception being when he was talking with his mother…
…and whenever he wanted to insert himself into a conversation so that he could correct his peers when they were clearly incorrect about something. Despite being bashful and socially introverted when compared to the rest of the kids his age, the others quickly learned that Arbor was a reliable source of knowledge who they could easily approach.
He might be a know-it-all, but he was the know-it-all.
"So that's why there's a difference in taste when I munch on pale-colored tree sweets compared to foraging brightly-colored ones!"
"Gee, you're so much better at explaining than my daddy! He beat about the treestar bush and didn't even properly answer my question about where eggs and hatchlings come from!"
"I asked mom about the different swimming styles that you had explained to me in detail yesterday and she told me that you were right! Good going, man! That's the first time I made my parents tongue-tied!"
"Yeah, you may be quiet and hate playing with us, but we can definitely count on you! You know everything, Arbor!"
The young Arbor had quickly fallen into a standardized routine that he quickly found himself getting used to, and it remained so until one fine day…
"Alina was a wonderful thicknose. The Great Circle of life has claimed her, and she will be deeply missed by all of us who remain in the Great Valley. She will not be forgotten."
His mother simply did not wake up from her sleep on what would have been—should have been—a perfectly random morning.
But Arbor knew better.
With a heavy heart, the teenager knew that his mom wasn't sleeping in when he felt that her body was cool to the touch and unreceptive to any kind of stimuli. Her pale frill was a dead giveaway.
A tear slid down his cheek when the realization dawned on him.
The mother who had always been by his side from young was gone.
"She has passed on peacefully in her sleep, a mercy compared to those in the Mysterious Beyond who often meet a grislier end…"
When Arbor was young, he had wanted to venture out to the Mysterious Beyond to see it for himself. But now that he was older and the concept of death had hit home with his mother's passing, he realized just how foolish of a decision that would be.
He didn't have to go to the Mysterious Beyond to gain any new insights of his own when he managed to amass all the knowledge which he currently had just by staying put in the valley. The risks involved in undertaking such a journey weren't worth the effort of verifying his sources.
Ironically, talking to farwalkers all the time had broadened his depth of understanding in terms of how things were in the Mysterious Beyond, their stories revealing just how dangerous a life out there was. A young and naïve Arbor would have been far more likely to recklessly leave behind the safe confines of the valley to satisfy his curiosity, but he was naturally more cautious now, especially when he didn't actually need to go out to the Mysterious Beyond now that he learned everything simply by listening to the recounts of numerous wanderers who had done all of the nitty-gritty for him.
Learning through a proxy was more than enough to satisfy him now that he had an extensive wealth of knowledge under his pelt… sorry, his skin. The small amount of personal experiences that he would add to his knowledge bank if he did venture out there would be a superfluous decision. His personal anecdote would be insignificant when he had at least fifty other examples to choose from.
And thus, Arbor quashed that desire to experience those stories for himself. It just wasn't necessary.
The teenage dinosaur took a yearning look at her cooling body, reminiscing about the fond phrase that his mother would often repeat to him as a child.
"You are a wise child, Arbor. My special boy… I truly believe with all my heart that you were hatched to do great things."
That he was. That he was…
Just you see, mom. I know you never quite approved of my incessant knowledge sourcing, but I promise that it'll all pay off! I'll make you proud, just like I'll make Rooter proud!
"Call me Mr. Thicknose," he had said, masking his first name behind formalities.
Things had changed greatly since his mother had left him all by himself. Although he lost the parental support she had given him, he gained the freedom to do and act however he wanted without constraints. He had always been someone who inherently was predisposed to learn, and now that he was on the cusp of adulthood, the next logical step for him was to utilize said knowledge of his in a more meaningful way.
Although he was already intrinsically presupposed to living his life in a certain way, extrinsic factors forced a slight change in his behavior now that he was all grown up. Yes… a substantial amount of his current mindset could in fact be traced back to that one conversation he'd had with Rooter. Every single word that transpired between them was etched in his mind from childhood up till present day.
Thicknose now used his species name as a moniker, dissociating himself from the knowledge-hungry kid who he once was. Arbor has long since vanished, a relic of the past. He was a new dinosaur now.
He felt like it was incumbent on him to impact the lives of others by letting his students study on everything he had learnt over the course of his early life, and through the act he would gradually gain a sense of self-indulgent pleasure and satisfaction in educating others over time.
That was the life of a teacher, of a role model… of an educator! He would use his sway and position to bring resonance and meaning to the lives of others, much like how Rooter had brought purpose to his.
Such was the role of an influencer! It was what he was born to do! His mother had foretold and always said that he was destined for greatness. Being assigned the prestigious role of chief educator while simultaneously serving as the prime information source of the valley? That was all the proof he needed to prove his point!
Indeed, Thicknose would proceed to set the precedent of formalizing—and then conducting—standardized learning sessions for the valley's youth to be educated long before Grandpa and Grandma Longneck indirectly followed in his footsteps by reciting stories of their own. He was the cornerstone behind the conception of communal learning in the valley, being the one who had pushed for it the most — its most fervent advocate. By seeking out reform and change in the way that the youth was being taught, Thicknose was taking an ambitious leap of faith into uncharted territory, not just for him, but for the valley as a whole.
He was able to distract the aspiring youth from the weary droll of a routine life by spinning many stories based off of his memories, thereby enlightening his audience by recounting and highlighting the many eccentricities that he had come across from others in the past. Yes, he would open his students' eyes to the world around them, just as Rooter had done for him!
After a long time, he had finally managed to succeed in his goal. Nowadays, all one had to do was simply mention the word 'teacher', and by association the name Thicknose would intuitively be the natural follow-up in the mind of any valley resident. His lessons and knowledge had become a permanent fixture of the valley. Whenever someone wanted a reliable source to back them up or required the assistance of a teacher to enroll their children in lessons during the day, Thicknose was the name and figure who instantly sprang to mind.
His role was indispensable. He had become the face of wisdom to everyone in the valley, so much so that he stood among the elite who made plans for the future of the valley, having been appointed as a key advisor whose sagacious opinions and insights bore weight in critical decisions made during routine valley meetings held at the Rock Circle.
Others tended to value his input, and for good reason. Several of the dinosaurs were often left awestruck by the opulence on display whenever he helmed the front, especially as he had been proven right time after time again. There were two instances in recent times that stood out in Thicknose's mind as situations where a lesser dinosaur would have panicked and seeked out greener pastures, but he alone remained unfettered by the blind panic that spread across the valley residents.
They were the Thundering Falls water shortage, and the swarming leaf-gobbler food crisis — two major incidents that had plagued the valley in rapid succession of each other. Even when most of the valley had collectively agreed to explore and scavenge the Mysterious Beyond in search for sustainable food sources in the latter case, Thicknose had weighed his options and realized that he didn't need to follow them since the dramatically reduced population will allow him to subsist on the few food sources that had remained unscathed in the aftermath.
Yes, he was well aware from all the data that he had ingested that sweet bubbles were renewable through the use of seeds, and by careful rationing and constant replanting Thicknose was able to get by, his meager diet supplemented by the few treestars that had survived the swarm. The plentiful green food soon returned after those scarce few Night Circle cycles, just as he predicted they would.
His calculations were worth the smug look that he had shot Topps when the threehorn stared at him in stupor when the rest of them had come back to the valley, complete disbelief written all over his frill that Thicknose somehow managed to survive when he had previously declared the teacher mad for staying in what he considered a dead valley. Thicknose reviled in the subsequent praise, shrewdly deciding that he wasn't going to tell them that the only reason he had managed to subsist on scraps was because they'd left him alone, resulting in no one being in the barren valley to compete with him for resources.
It was truly serendipitous in the way that Topps being his usual paranoid self and taking the entire population valley with him had unknowingly given Thicknose the very means to enable the success of his survival plan.
Thicknose took pride in always managing to maintain a cool mind, which helped to ensure that he wasn't susceptible to the whims of others. Staying true to what he had told himself since his mother had left for the Great Beyond, he saw no need to risk life and limb to head out to the Mysterious Beyond. In fact, he had never left the Great Valley throughout his entire tenure.
If threats of famine didn't faze him once he had analyzed the situation and realized it was to his benefit to stay, nothing would.
Through the years, he had become a self-purported beacon of knowledge, something which he repeatedly emphasized to his audience until it had reached the extent where accounts of his wisdom wound up being greatly exaggerated through word-of-mouth. It helped that many of the young children who he had sporadically assisted when he was young were now adults too, those of them who stayed in the valley quite willing to corroborate with Thicknose to give a satisfied testimonial and back up his wisdom to anyone who asked.
Over time, that was how the "been everywhere, knows everything" moniker stuck with him. While it was blatantly untrue, Thicknose never bothered to correct the saying, secretly finding the quote rather catchy.
It was an ostensibly shaky claim, however, and rightfully so.
Because unbeknownst to many, he hadn't been everywhere, and didn't know everything… and this was something that really aggravated him the older an aging Thicknose became.
"Is this really true, Mr. Thicknose? I must be honest, I kinda have trouble believing this…"
"Are you trying to belittle me, little one?" he had questioned with a grunt, staring down the swimmer who had spoken. Devin, Detras… was it? No wait, Delta was his name, he recalled. "Need I remind you that I've been around and have seen things before you even hatched out from your egg," Thicknose told him bluntly, holding his head high and using his large frill to intimidate the child. "Or are you perhaps implying that what I am currently imparting to you is not factually accurate?"
"N-no!" he gasped, "Of course not, Mr. Thicknose! I'm so sorry for acting out of line… I didn't mean it!"
The downcast look on the youngling after his teacher had rebutted him in such a crude way caused Thicknose's own mood to spiral, a dour expression on his face which he disguised as that of irritation.
Alas, he had no choice — his own needs superseded those of the young child.
There was a small part of Thicknose's mind that tried to persuade him that he was being irrationally paranoid, that he'd misconstrued things, that there was no way that a young child like that swimmer could have malicious intent to seek and undermine his achievements. However, it was also times like this—where Thicknose began to second-guess himself—that he would suddenly remember the unscrupulous motives behind his own actions towards the grown-ups when he himself had been a child, and all those fears about paranoia were pushed aside along with any pangs of regret.
One could never be too careful.
Those disconcerting and nagging thoughts adamantly persisted despite his best attempts to suppress them. Being staunchly dogmatic helped shoot down any potential criticism from his detractors before they unearthed his vulnerabilities.
The simple fact remained that all of his teachings were mere recountings of others who actually experienced them — this was Thicknose's main concern. He hadn't lived through or seen many of the things that had been mentioned to him, and yet he was forced to regurgitate out every scrap of second-hand knowledge that he'd amassed without actually processing any of it for himself.
As the population of the valley grew and he had to take more and more students under his frill, he slowly began weaving in tasty treestar trinkets of exaggerations seamlessly into the narrative to spruce up his tales and teachings. At first, it started out with small exaggerations here, minute overstatements there.
But as time went on, Thicknose was forced to infer more and more as the young children began prodding him for details which he couldn't possibly know as a middleman. The unwillingness to reveal that he was narrating another dinosaur's experience resulted in him having to concoct and fabricate feasible-sounding explanations and extrapolations to fill in the holes in the stories, and thus embellishing them to a far larger degree than ever before.
Did it bother him that he had to resort to such means? At times, yes. However, he had a ubiquitous presence around the valley. His opinion and insights were respected by all, and he had worked hard to uphold that reputation.
Was he being a bit pretentious? Well… yes, but keeping up that façade of his was an irrevocable commitment. Given how deeply he was ingrained on the minds of everyone in that valley, he couldn't back out now even if he wanted to, and could only double down harder than before to reaffirm that pristine image in everyone's mind.
The ends would justify the means… that was the key message he had managed to gather from his talk with Rooter, the bulk of that fateful conversation translated and summarized into a memorable parable.
Sure, having to come up with those little white lies when he was unsure about a subject and having to be cold to certain students was an uncomfortable prospect, but it was necessary to keep up the subterfuge of being an infallible teacher for the greater good.
Little did Thicknose know that his moral conscience would soon end up being put to the ultimate test…
"Long, long ago, further back than anyone can remember…" Thicknose intonated, admittedly fatigued that he had to recite this very lesson for the fourth time today. At least this batch of children would be his last class for the day, and that uplifting thought spurred him to push on and get it over with. "…great creatures first crawled up from the murky ooze, onto the dry land, and thus began the age of the dino—"
"Excuse me, Mr. Thicknose?" a peppy voice interjected.
Thicknose narrowed his eyes, focusing on the longneck who had spoken up from his position on an elevated stone perch. Without fail, there was always some rambunctious kid or a know-it-all heckler who would inevitably try and disrupt his class in every single one of his lessons.
It appeared that today was no exception.
Already frustrated by the three classes that he'd conducted earlier, Thicknose gruffed at the speaker. "I beg your pardon?" he deadpanned.
Yes… Littlefoot was his name. He was the grandson of the two eldest longnecks in the valley, and the lad certainly had the reputation to boot. Besides, there was only one longneck Thicknose knew who always made sure to take that seat in his classes, so he did take note of it. It was an unusual trait, as perching on a rock was more exhibitive of flyer behavior since grown-up longnecks couldn't very well sit on a small stone without crushing it. If he were to guess, the kid had most likely opted for that position so he could be more attentive, as the surface of the mossy stone was smoother and cooler than that of the grassy terrain surrounding the area.
But if Littlefoot was disappointed or frightened by his teacher's vexation, the kid sure didn't show it. "Well… if it's too far back for anyone to remember, then how do you know it even happened?" he asked.
Thicknose found himself stumbling on his words as he tried to think of a plausible response to the question, "I, uh, well, um… well, uh, we know it happened," he finally blustered, before inhaling a deep breath and improvising when he realized that his starting words actually could form the basis of a respectable counter. "Well, if it hadn't, we wouldn't be here!" he retorted matter-of-factly.
"Duh." Topps' daughter was quick to shoot her friend a cheeky smirk. Maybe it was a threehorn thing, but Cera seemed to relish in her friend's suffering as he 'got owned' — a hip term that the young'uns had a tendency to say.
This time however, Littlefoot did react, a momentary frown and glare appearing on his visage at being the recipient of Cera's searing taunt. Upon seeing her placative smile, he dropped all hostilities and jumped off his usual rocky perch. "Yeah, but how do you know the first ones came from the murky ooze?"
C-Crap! Does he know that I made that part up?
"Me flyer!" Skylar's youngest kid, Petrie the flyer, added on as he flapped his wings to get airborne, "Family maybe come down from high hills!"
Not you too! Thicknose looked at the flyer disdainfully. Quit trying to tear down my argument, will you!?
"And Ducky's family are swimmers," Littlefoot mentioned as Petrie landed on his head. "Maybe they swam right up from the Big Water."
Petrie tilted his head to the side. "Wonder where Spike's family come from?"
"Wherever it was, it must've been a long walk, 'cause he's awful tired."
Thicknose shifted his attention over to the swimmer and spiketail at Cera's remark, and right on cue the duo fell on their sides, to collective laughter from the rest of the students.
"Wh-whaa…" Ducky murmured, her voice slurred.
He stared at the swimmer as she clutched her head in pain. Had Ducky… been sleeping through his class? Sheesh, and she wasn't even being discreet about it, too! Her groggy voice was a dead giveaway!
Now, Thicknose wouldn't lie. Though he tried to look past it due to possible extenuating circumstances that could be behind her tiredness, he still felt rather irritated by that lack of respect and thus elected to treat it as a perceived infraction from the swimmer. Heck, even though he was tired himself, he tried to stifle his exhaustion for the sake of delivering an optimal learning experience.
"Young ones, please!" Thicknose had to step in to quell the laughter. He could feel his brow twitching as he observed the scene playing out around him. His meticulously crafted lesson plans always ended up being derailed in one way or another, and being one to rigidly adhere to his routine, this really frustrated him.
His routine wasn't the only thing he was adamant about. Thicknose was a stern enforcer of the rules whenever he was teaching, and flouting them was frowned upon by him. What ticked him off here was that it was a flagrant violation of his jurisdiction, and that disrespect was something he would not tolerate. "Ducky," he directed his gaze at the offending swimmer as she crouched on her haunches, "was your herd up all night gathering treestars?"
Ducky had the decency to look solemn at his accusation. "No…" she mumbled, her blue eyes glimmering with emotion as she was admonished.
"Then, please, try to stay awake."
Her jaw dropped in shock at being reprimanded, though it didn't take her long to glower at a chortling Spike. "That is so not fair," the swimmer muttered, getting to her feet and pointing a finger at him, "You were asleep too!" Ducky accused.
Thicknose looked around to see Cera goading her friend on with approving eyes and Petrie trying to suppress a laugh and couldn't help but be stymied by their behavior. Gah, kids. Always distracted by their pursuit of games and fun, traits which generally didn't carry over to adulthood. He was giving them a head-start over their peers if they listened to him, but only a small fraction of his students actually bothered to pay attention to his teachings.
Did the rest have to be so discourteous to him, though? Ducky was behaving quite irrationally today, considering that she was being unusually prickly with her foster brother. Making up his mind to put a premature end to their argument before it escalated and got distractingly out of hand, Thicknose found himself taking a step forward as Ducky continued berating her brother.
"Why does he pick on—"
"Ducky!" he raised his voice scathingly, cutting her off with a harsh tone that even managed to get the attention of those who weren't even involved in the scuffle between the siblings.
Thicknose held the opinion that he was perfectly justified to be pedantic when he taught. Being able to recite the coveted knowledge that he'd acquired throughout his life was a testament to just how much he was able to remember from the many wanderers passing through the valley. If he had to take drastic measures against a specific few troublemakers just to ensure that his lesson had a conducive environment that would ensure maximum learning potential for those interested to learn, he would do it in an instant.
"Could you please be a little quieter?" Thicknose decided to request from Ducky as he poked his head towards her. "Like Spike," he beamed in approval. The spiketail was probably his ideal student — still, silent, and never a nuisance. A great listener overall.
Ignoring Ducky's cry of indignation, he cleared his throat. "Now, uh, where was I?"
"You were explaining where we came from," Littlefoot prompted.
"Oh, yes, yes. Well…"
Thicknose didn't even make it a single word into his explanation before Littlefoot opened his big mouth and broke his train of thought yet again.
"And I said, 'how do you really know where we came from?' And you said—"
"I remember," Thicknose forcefully cut in, "Perhaps… we should talk about something else," he hinted to Littlefoot in a passive-aggressive manner to drop the topic.
He had a very polarizing opinion of Littlefoot because of moments like this. Though Thicknose was forced to shoot down his question, deep down he felt a sense of connection with the young longneck. In many ways he saw himself in the young child because of Littlefoot's insatiable thirst for knowledge. It was almost like he was glancing at a carbon copy of himself from long ago, except now he was the one who was sitting in the position that Rooter had previously occupied.
Thicknose just hoped that the brief explanation from earlier would keep the longneck's curiosity in check. Every lesson that he conducted was a rigid dichotomy between being cautious and being through, a fragile balance that needed to be maintained between the two so that he wouldn't be exposed.
Keeping the scope as general and broad as possible while taking care not to furnish too many details was something which he painstakingly took great care to consciously do whenever he was lecturing about a topic that he wasn't completely sure of, as staying vague helped circumvent the possibility of accidentally contradicting himself if he went in-depth.
"Through careful scrutiny of your words and body language, I managed to extrapolate what you wanted out of our talk, and with that knowledge I've naturally changed the flow of the topic to one that benefits us both."
"Did you even realize that you were being strung along by me to reach a mutually beneficial outcome throughout the entire duration of our talk?"
All advice pertaining to this topic remained firmly entrenched in his memory. Rooter had run circles around him back in the day, and he would follow in his mentor's example by using the power of observation to try and predict where a topic was heading in advance. By analyzing a whole host of factors, he could take note of anyone who came uncannily close to deciphering the truth before distracting those possible threats. He didn't budge on this until the moment he sensed danger. If someone were to prod, he would use his authority to conjure up some digression to divert attention away from the topic, immediately shutting down the offending question before it could do any lasting damage.
And divert their attention away, he surely did.
What would be a good topic… aha!
Now this was a subject he felt more than qualified to teach, and it showed as Thicknose projected an aura of confidence while narrating it. "I have had the opportunity to study the many methods used by different herds to gain sustenance from the green food, which surrounds us here in our fertile Great Valley. Spiketails and threehorns employ the cranio-impactus method—" which was a fancy term he coined for someone bashing down an object with their body, "—ramming trees with their head to make treestars fall. Flyers use their wings to fly to the tip top branches—"
"Oh, oh, oh!" Littlefoot enthusiastically exclaimed. "I know how longnecks do it."
Thicknose disgruntledly turned his head towards his most fervently passionate student. He appreciated the longneck's eagerness, but cutting in and heckling was a no-no for him. "Yes, Littlefoot. So do I," he deadpanned, "But I am not talking about lonngggnecks at the moment," he elongated the species name just to make a point to an increasingly despondent Littlefoot.
"Now, where was I? Threehorns, longnecks, spiketails…" he counted off the species he had already discussed, "…oh, yes. Oh, yes." Clearing his throat and closing his eyes to get his muddled thoughts in order, he then calmly resumed his narration. "But, perhaps the most—"
"No, no, no!"
Oh, come on! "What is it now?!" Thicknose snapped, whirling towards Ducky and Spike.
"Spike ate my special treestars," a downcast Ducky tried to explain, "My mom gave them just to me…"
Her lament was cut short when Spike opened his jaw wide and swallowed what was left of the pile in one fell swoop, belching in reply to a startled Ducky, who definitely did not expect such a move at all.
"All these interruptions… I can't think straight!" Thicknose moped. "Here, you two move away from each other. Ducky, you go here. Spike, over there." He gestured for the two to be split apart with his foot, before nodding his head off towards the distance. "And a perfect example of what I was just relating — notice that some of the spiketails graze, while others are using the cranio-impactus method I spoke of earlier. These spiketails are wanderers. They come to the Great Valley every now and then on their travels, searching for food. Luckily, we have plenty here for all, and peaceful visitors are welcome."
Thicknose wrinkled his nose at the noise, looking down to see Ducky making a face at her brother. The swimmer was definitely testing his patience today. Her feud with Spike was unnecessary and actively disrupting his lesson.
Still, it was unusual for her to be so hostile, especially to Spike of all dinosaurs. He looked at Ducky with disapproval. He would definitely have a word with her mother later. Maybe there was something going on behind-the-scenes that he wasn't aware of plaguing the swimmer girl.
Thicknose prided himself on his observational skills, and he knew the young swimmer rather well, enough to know that the circumstances behind her bond with Spike was certainly quite atypical. If anything, she and Spike were supposed to have the closest bond of all.
Ducky was born to a clutch of seven in the Mysterious Beyond, the eldest one of Shoal's children. When the mother swimmer had first made it to the valley along with many of the current populous during the Great Migration that took place three years ago, she only had three children left — Spring, Oxbow, and Delta. That was the cruelty of the Mysterious Beyond at play, and a key factor as to why Thicknose had never gone there himself.
But then Ducky had appeared out of nowhere, cheating death and the Great Beyond as she rode on the back of a spiketail to greet her parents before immediately demanding that he be adopted as her younger brother.
Really, who were they to say no? Despite the species barrier, the Great Beyond had granted them a rare reprieve, allowing one of the children they'd consigned to an unknown fate a second chance against all the odds.
A swimmer and a spiketail as siblings. Who would have thought? He hadn't believed Shoal himself until he had seen her children playing in the water with his own two eyes, and even then it took him a long time to accept that such an unusual event could actually happen.
"To continue," he finally stated to get the topic back on track, "food gathering." Without much trouble he managed to resume back at the point where he left, namely because he hadn't been interrupted mid-sentence for once and still had a coherent chain of thoughts. "Perhaps the most interesting technique of all is that used by hollowhorns. They bellow so loudly through the horns on their heads that treestars just fall all around them. Of course, some trees will not give up their green food so easily."
He trudged forward, gazing up at a large tree to his front. "Perhaps the most reluctant is this one here, just above me. Its broad, pointed, leafy greens, though succulent to the taste, often prove too frustrating to—"
A rancid bellow reverberated right behind his tail, shocking him into a running start that caused Thicknose to plow into the trunk nose-first, a perfect reenactment of the cranio-impactus method he'd been describing.
"What do ya' know?" Littlefoot chuckled sheepishly as they met eyes, treestars scattering to the ground all around them. "It works…"
A fruit then bopped him right on the nose, loosened by the impact.
Okay, today officially sucks.
"That is it," the humiliated teacher snapped at this transgression, shakily getting to his feet. "Class is dismissed for today," Thicknose stated bluntly. "I will see you all again tomorrow when the Bright Circle is at the usual point in the sky, and I expect to see better behavior from my students by then," he concluded with a firm voice that conveyed an appropriate sense of finality.
As the visibly elated students took their leave, Thicknose focused his attention on two in particular.
Ducky had shot Thicknose a rare stink eye as she slunk away from his class. Once again, she was definitely acting out of the norm.
And as for Littlefoot… Thicknose could still spy a glimmer of hope glinting off his eyes as the longneck walked away.
Yes, he definitely had to be cautious about this one. If Littlefoot was anything like the way he had been as a child… then he would have to nip this in the bud before things got out of hand.
It was certainly unfortunate, but that curiosity would have to be quashed while Thicknose still had the opportunity.
"He seems quite bright, but regrettably I find that he has a very negative attitude. He doesn't seem to realize that I am the oldest and wisest in the Great Valley. He needs to learn some respect!"
Thicknose had hoped that the feedback he had given to Littlefoot's grandfather the previous day would have some effect.
Evidently, it did not. And thus, here they were.
"What's that? Hahaha!" Thicknose laughed, "Frozen sky stars, falling on your head?!"
"Uh-huh!" Liittlefoot affirmed, clapping his two front feet against the rock he was on, "And when you touch them, they turn to water!"
While Thicknose continued to chuckle on the outside, things were a different story on the inside. Littlefoot had given him a one-to-one description of the frigid climate that many farwalkers had complained to him about. Just how the longneck had come across that knowledge, Thicknose had no clue, but he could attest that the details Littlefoot had given were perfectly valid.
Still, the fact remained that the child did somehow manage to learn about the unusual phenomenon. Thicknose decided to chalk it up to a repressed memory. Littlefoot was one of those kids who had used to live in the Mysterious Beyond. Perhaps he had simply recalled an old experience from the past.
One thing was clear to Thicknose, though. Littlefoot was trying to show him up by rubbing this piece of knowledge in his face.
…the tenacity of this guy!
Why did Littlefoot have to be so agnostic? The kid was always questioning and belittling everything he said. It just made everything so much harder for him…
Thicknose let out a breath, making sure to maintain a straight face in spite of his tumultuous thoughts. It came with years of experience — he made sure to always be reticent when it came to such matters.
Yes, his insecurity over his teachings would never see the light of day.
"Now Littlefoot, really," he began, deciding to let the longneck down gently. He wouldn't be fooled by Littlefoot's tricks to force a reaction out of him. "Such a thing is not unheard of, but never in the Great Valley… only in distant places that farwalkers come here to get away from."
What could he say? That was technically the truth, after all. And once again, the longneck had a dismal expression on his visage at receiving an answer that wasn't to his liking.
"But I saw it!" Littlefoot protested, "I…"
The icy glare Thicknose shot him was enough to get Littlefoot to quieten down. His hard countenance made it impossible to rebuke him.
"…'kay. Sorry," the defeated longneck conceded, a miserable expression plastered on his face as he sat down, hunching his neck forward and flumping his belly back onto the rock.
"Very well," Thicknose acknowledged his apology, "Now, to return to our previous discussion…"
As he resumed narrating today's tale, Thicknose took special care to not just blindly shut off his brain while reciting as he normally would. Instead, he paid close attention to those attentively listening.
"You believe me… don't you?"
Littlefoot's forlorn inquiry towards the flyer seated to his left caught Thicknose's ears. It would seem that despite his repeated attempts to discourage the child, Littlefoot remained undeterred by his teacher's attempt to shut him down.
This was definitely a worrying variable. Every lesson with Littlefoot was a constant battle of attrition between him and the young child's inquisitive mind, and Thicknose knew just how easy it was to wear down and erode another dinosaur's resilience and mental fortitude by constantly grating on them, doubly so since he had been in the longneck's footsteps before when it came to the act of annoying his elders till they spilled, only now for the roles to be reversed once he was all grown up.
Gah, this had to be some sort of payback for all the times he'd pestered others as Arbor.
"Oh, sure! But then, me believe anything."
At the sound of the boyish voice, Thicknose refocused his attention on Petrie, who had chirped in agreement to Littlefoot's question before supplying an addendum that changed the entire meaning behind his belated reply.
Thicknose found himself covertly grinning at Petrie's confession. In his opinion, students like these were the best, as they would mindlessly absorb everything he said without question. After having to deal with countless hecklers, this category of children was by far the easiest and least troublesome to teach.
Of course, the true irony was that Thicknose would have loved to have an active student like Littlefoot over a passive one like Petrie… if he had been qualified to answer all of the questions that were directed at him. But alas, his overt focus on his pride and ego ended up being his greatest drawback — it permeated his thoughts and behavior every waking second.
It had technically been nothing more than a little white lie at first — technically it was considered a lie by omission since nobody had ever asked if he had lived through his own tales first-hand, and thus he'd never bothered to tell them otherwise. But as the tales of his vast wisdom and knowledge began to proliferate through word-of-mouth, before Thicknose even knew it his reputation as a teacher and wise dinosaur preceded him. It was then, and only then, when he realized that he had unwittingly gone past the point where he could come clean without losing face… that threshold had been passed a long time ago.
Because Thicknose had always spoke with conviction, no one had ever scrutinized his stories, much less question the supposition that he had lived through them. It was, in a way, why he shot Littlefoot down so callously… he was Littlefoot, once upon a time when a young Arbor had asked just as many questions. But now, he couldn't afford to have the young inquisitive mind prod holes into his rock-solid image.
Uncertainty and inconsistencies slowly add up, becoming hushed whispers and rumors. It was why he was always careful to never contradict himself, even when teaching mere children. Because even if it was coming from a kid, should one of the elders lend credence to one of those rumors and investigate further, Thicknose knew that he would crack under scrutiny.
He had reaped the rewards of his reputation and knowledge, allowing him free reign over the residents and the opportunity to teach as many dinosaurs as possible. But it all hinged on one very important variable — that in the eyes of the valley, he was nothing short of perfect.
And he would have to maintain that perfection, no matter what. As deplorable as it sounded, it was a crutch that he leaned on.
Upholding that immaculate image on a constant basis was a miserable and exhausting existence for Thicknose. The paranoia of constantly looking over his shoulder almost got the better of him at times. But it was the path he had chosen to walk, and he'd lost the chance to deviate and break away from it years ago.
"Hey, is it true that you can do whatever you want when you're big?" a student named Hyp had asked of him once.
"Don't be preposterous!" Thicknose had laughed it off then. "Sure, you get that freedom to do what you want as a grown-up, but you're also shackled by the responsibilities of adult life. It's a trade-off that comes with the passage of time."
Those words would come back to haunt him in the present day. As he witnessed the somber Littlefoot letting out a sigh, a melancholic Thicknose found himself wishing that he could trade places with the young child and be free of the enormous burden he carried.
He had seen much in his life, but nothing had prepared him for this.
Thicknose was absolutely floored by what he saw, the dinosaur tentatively prodding at the substance that had accumulated by his feet overnight in sheer disbelief.
It can't be… pungent treestars, I think I'm going to faint…
The white ground sparkles that the farwalkers had told him about… it had come to the Great Valley. This was such an aberration that Thicknose had never seen it coming. It went against everything he knew, such a departure from the norm that none of the stories and tales he heard from the many wandering farwalkers had covered such an unlikely and implausible scenario.
Indeed, all of the farwalkers he had talked to claimed that the valley would never be hit by such weather. There was rather compelling evidence for this, too. Why would so many wanderers even attempt to brave the perilous trek over to the valley in the first place if the risks weren't worth the luscious greens that they expected from their destination?
But now, the impossible was staring at him, right in the face.
I-Impossible… this cannot be happening! What I'm seeing right now goes against everything that I had been told… it goes against everything I know!
The longer he stared blankly at the snow by his feet, the more bristled Thicknose got. In a rare lapse of self-control, he proceeded to kick the pile in a fit of frustration, scattering it to a flurry of individual white ground sparkles and leaving a sunken horizontal trough right where his foot had gone straight through.
His breath was misting up in front of his face due to a combination of the chilly weather and his rapid breathing. He closed his eyes with trepidation, before slowly dragging his way over to the Rock Circle, his feet forming deep imprints in the snow as he trudged his way there.
This was outrageous. The conditions of the valley were supposed to be stable, not capricious! The sudden influx of white ground sparkles was an exogenous change, and one which he hadn't been prepared for. Thicknose could explain away the swarming leaf-gobblers as a one-time occurrence, but the fact that he had failed to forecast something which he had definitely talked about prior would certainly raise some eyebrows. After all, his intuition had never failed him or the valley in the past before.
Since he knew nothing and was basically in the dark about the current crisis, he was left straddling the line between experience and throwing out a wild, yet plausible hypothesis. An empty rhetoric was all he could offer, as he was just as knowledgeable as the rest of the valley regarding the sudden cold snap.
Hedging his bets by being prudent with his response tended to pay off for him, but as he saw rounded the corner and saw the gathering crowd preparing to ask him a swath of questions about the sudden swerve in climate, it became clear that this time he would have to do some damage control to appease the unnerved residents.
Threehorn and the longnecks had corralled an emergency valley meeting, unsurprisingly. He could already sense the dissent amongst their ranks as he approached the meeting place. And nowhere was that feeling more palpable than in Topps, the valley's top-ranked threehorn looking close to blowing his top.
"Well, uh," Thicknose started with a stammer. Not good. "Uh, I've never known this to happen in the Great Valley, in all my years."
Dang, that was a terrible opening statement. That was rhetorical! He was so alarmed internally that he'd basically stated the obvious.
Sure enough, the frustrated onlookers began picking it apart. "So why is it happening now?" a duckbill immediately questioned.
A clubtail immediately followed with a complaint of her own. "This stuff is horrible. It's everywhere!"
"I'll say…" Topps lumbered forward, "it's so slippery, I almost couldn't make it up the hill from my nest."
"Yeah, he slid backwards right into my nose!" a crested swimmer muttered as he cradled said appendage. His vocal inflections were nuanced as he whined, most likely from the injury that would result from having one's nose bashed in by a fully grown threehorn's behind.
A haughty laugh from above caught Thicknose's attention.
"Ahahahaha! It was really funny!"
Thicknose glanced up to see an amused Cera, the threehorn standing together with her friends on an outcropping which overlooked the meeting area. It didn't take a genius to see that she had decided to take a crack at her father's unfortunate plight.
It was, however, the next statement which started a chain reaction that soon proved impossible to contain.
"See?" Littlefoot jumped towards Cera, a sense of validation laced in his triumphant voice. "White sparkles from the sky, just like I told you."
How could he have forgotten about that? Littlefoot had indeed maintained it yesterday! So the kid had been telling the truth after all! Thicknose felt a pang of shame for thinking that Littlefoot was out to get him, but that emotion quickly subsided when the implications rapidly set in.
"What did you say, Littlefoot?"
Thicknose could feel his blood turn to ice when he heard Topps. He side-eyed him to see that the threehorn's interest was now piqued.
"Go ahead, Littlefoot," Grandpa Longneck prodded.
"I, uh, I just saw some of the white sparkles fall the other night, and I told…" he trailed off.
Thicknose could feel his face shifting several shades of colors when an anxious Topps charged forward and demanded an answer. "Told who…?" he raised his voice, "Who'd you tell?!"
"Um, my friends…" Littlefoot started to answer before pensively stretching his neck back and hesitating. It was only when Topps shot the longneck a warning look that he apprehensively made eye contact with Thicknose and gave his teacher an apologetic gaze.
Thicknose felt his heart drop, knowing what was coming. Sure enough…
"…and Mr. Thicknose," Littlefoot delivered the coup de grâce, his admission causing the crowd to immediately erupt into hushed whispers.
Topps instantly rounded onto Thicknose, making the teacher immediately wish he could crawl under a rock and hide when he found himself the recipient of multiple scrutinizing gazes. "You knew this stuff was falling?" the threehorn demanded, clearly outraged by the possibility that Thicknose had failed to divulge the information in advance.
"Hee…" Thicknose tried acting aloof, "the boy said something, but it seemed so unlikely…" he attempted to downplay.
It didn't work.
Topps shot him a critical eye before doing what threehorns do best — lambasting everyone outside of their species.
"We're really disappointed in you," he said on behalf of everyone present, "We thought you knew everything." The disappointment from his assertion hung in the air.
The unspoken insinuation was obvious — "if you did know everything, why would you not take Littlefoot's word at face value and warn us all?"
Never did Thicknose think that after all his prudence in hiding his knowledge deficit, his fall would instead be precipitated by the most unexpected of all his comments — caused by something which he was certain he was correct about instead of something that he was unconfident and knew nothing about.
With a defeated sigh, Thicknose turned away. He couldn't bear to look at anyone.
"So did I…" he mumbled as he stumbled away from the valley meeting, his spirit completely crushed.
Thicknose was left reeling at this unfortunate turn of events. His worst fear had materialized, and there was nothing he could do about it.
While the rest of the valley was having fun with the white sparkles, he had silently retreated in shame. He couldn't even manage to garner a smidge of sympathy from anyone. That was how pathetic he was after the scandal had happened.
He was left all by his lonesome again, just like when his mother had passed on in his teenage years.
All he could latch on to as support now were merely his thoughts to provide him some semblance of hope and comfort in such trying times. He held on to the fact that despite all his experience it was the unusual extenuating circumstances which had played a factor in him being unable to foresee this outcome, something which would absolve him of his mistake.
The idea that the depth of his knowledge was too shallow due to a lack of experience and had indirectly caused his fall from grace was one that he wasn't willing to face just yet.
He fell into a restless sleep with those uneasy thoughts, only to wake up freezing. The weather had taken a turn for the worst during the night.
Thicknose gazed around, performing a double-take when he noticed that all the trees within his peripheral vision were completely barren.
Of course! How could he have forgotten!? He actually knew about this unfortunate side-effect for the white ground sparkles from the farwalkers, but the amalgamation of emotions he felt from Topps and the valley blaming him for a lack of an advisory warning had overwhelmed him. His prime focus was to save face, and thus the thought of further consequences should the situation escalate never even came to mind. In the heat of the moment, he wasn't given the chance to think. He simply stumbled away from the Rock Circle as all he wanted to do was curl in and avoid social interaction until he was in a better mood.
That contemporary distraction would prove fatal.
Unlike with the swarming leaf-gobblers, Thicknose was cognizant to the fact that he couldn't cheat the system this time. There was absolutely nothing that anyone could possibly grow in this frigid condition. With the frozen ground sparkles turning conditions undesirable, all the plants would die, and the valley would once again be plunged into a food crisis.
Or in this case, it already was in the middle of a food crisis. He didn't have to have years of experience or all his stories to know that the resulting fallout would be devastating.
A glimpse of green juxtaposed against white was enough to attract Thicknose's attention.
The dinosaur tracked a lone falling treestar with his eyes as it was blown about in the wind, before eventually fluttering to the ground. Right as he was about to bite onto the meager source of food, a harsh bark caused him to double back.
"Back off, Thicknose!"
Thicknose recognized that voice anywhere. He apprehensively raised his head, coming face-to-face with an unimpressed Topps. Somehow, he managed to look the threehorn pitifully in the eye and try and justify things. "But I'm…" he paused for a moment, contemplating whether it was worth completing the sentence, "…I'm so hungry."
"So what?! Everyone's hungry!" Topps instantly retorted with a snarl, his agitation that Thicknose thought himself to be special clearly showing. He stepped forward, "There's almost no food left, and if you ask me, it's all your fault!" he blamed the aged tutor, smashing his leg and squishing the treestar under his full weight.
"Mine? But, I-I…" Thicknose stuttered, unable to spit out the rest of his sentence when Topps lifted his foot and revealed the torn remains of the crushed treestar. He couldn't help but feel like Topps had imagined his head in that exact spot when he took his anger out.
Seeing that he was in a bind, Grandpa Longneck decided to help him out. "Come, now. You can't blame Mr. Thicknose for the weather."
"Well, maybe not," Topps was forced to admit to the longneck with an irritated grovel, but it didn't take him long to whirl back onto Thicknose. "But if he's so smart, why didn't he know that the white ground sparkles brought such cold with them that it killed all the food?" he pointed out, suitably incensed, "Why didn't he warn us to store away some treestars until warmer weather!?"
"But I couldn't!" Thicknose argued. "I mean, how could I…" he trailed off, clamping his jaw shut.
How could he indeed? He'd almost admitted to his lack of knowledge by accident to the one who was most likely to skewer him for it.
Funnily enough, it was his refusal to admit that he had no clue of the cold snap which had done him in. If he hadn't been so eager to prove himself by gambling on the previous crises, maybe he still could've been able to claim plausible deniability when things went south.
Eerily similar to Topps and his ego, ironically. Perhaps he wasn't all too different from the threehorns in the end…
"This has never happened in the valley before. Why would you expect him to know what it would be like?" Grandpa continued to argue on his behalf, something which made Thicknose feel like garbage, because in a way, Topps was entirely justified in his crusade to smear and put down the valley teacher.
"Well, everybody says he's been everywhere, and he knows everything," Topps rolled his eyes as he mocked the quote. He then shot such a hateful glare over to him that Thicknose was sure that the threehorn would rend him into pieces through the sheer force of his eyes alone if he could achieve such a feat.
"If you ask me, he doesn't know much at all, and I don't think he should be allowed to confuse the young ones with his crackpot ideas!"
Thicknose didn't even have the heart to mask his sorrow after that. The ignominy of Topps slamming him with a fiery accusation that hit close to home was too much for him to handle.
His mind was a total blank for the rest of the conversation. The only thing that he remotely processed was that the farwalker spiketail herd that had taken refuge backpedaled on their decision and decided that they were going to leave effective immediately.
Why? Because they no longer felt welcome.
And neither am I…
While everyone's attention was focused on the spiketails, a forgotten Thicknose lumbered away from a disillusioned valley who no longer respected or cared about him.
A depressed Thicknose aimlessly walked around the valley in vain, the gravitas of his dismal situation crushing him like the billowing blizzard.
He couldn't even bring himself to glower at the accumulating ground sparkles — the very thing that had ruined him so completely that he couldn't ever visualize a future where he could recover from this debacle and return to his former post with his head held high.
Years and years of hard work had all been destroyed in an instant. There was no preamble, no warning, and certainly no fanfare.
The hapless dinosaur continued plodding along the snowy path until a dulling pain on his knee caught his attention. He turned his head down, only to see a groaning swimmer who had fallen backwards onto her tail.
"Mr. Thicknose?" the swimmer quipped as she peered at him in dawning recognition. "What are you doing way out here in this cold?"
That was a good question, and one he couldn't even answer. The best he could do was resort to what he'd always done when he was at a loss — change the question by spinning the situation around. "I for one echo your sentiments," he said with a restrained voice, "In fact, I believe that I can throw the exact same question back to you, Ducky."
He was legitimately curious, after all. What was his student doing, wandering around all alone here on the outskirts of the valley? They were encroaching the Great Wall, and children like Ducky were often warned to stay away from this area.
For a moment, Ducky looked like she was mulling over the question, the swimmer strumming her fingers contemplatively together as she saw his disheveled state.
But then, as though a thought had come to her, she abruptly folded her arms. And almost instantly, a change swept across her and her entire expression changed.
She went from being easy to read to barely looking fazed by anything that was happening around her. Thicknose recalled Rooter's teachings and tried to scrutinize her face, but it was to no avail. Her formerly brim blue eyes were icy cold and virtually inscrutable. The swimmer remained emotionless as she sized her teacher up, her soulless expression squarely locking in place as though a mask of hard water had frozen over her visage.
"You are upset too, are you not?" Ducky finally asked, her voice melancholic as her eyes pierced his like an icicle made out of hard water. "I can see it in your eyes, Mr. Thicknose. I can, I can."
He furrowed his brow at her proclamation. He suspected it wasn't just his eyes which gave away his mood. Every facet of his body must be articulating his despair, plain as day for anyone to see. He exhaled a tired sigh, his relatively warmer breath frosting up in the air as it escaped his mouth and immediately condensed into a fine mist due to the surrounding conditions. "You got me, Ducky. I'm afraid that all your parents gave me a rather harsh talking-to after this whole ground sparkle mess."
Ducky had an irate expression as she responded. "Oh, do you mean when Littlefoot was talking to you about the falling white stuff and you chose to dismiss him?" she mentioned sardonically, throwing shade at him without a care in the world.
Thicknose scrunched up his face. He didn't need his analytical skills to predict the swimmer's mood, and his own state of mind fared no better. "Yes. It is about that."
Ducky looked positively affronted by what she heard, the deadpan expression on her face very much making it appear almost as though she'd witnessed some atrocity taking place. "Well, I think that it serves you right for being such a stick-in-the-mud." The consternation and contempt on her face grew more apparent as the swimmer launched herself into a lengthy rant. "In my personal opinion, you deserve to be wrong for once after always acting so high and mighty and scolding me during your lesson all the time! You do, you do!"
"Bu-bu-but—" he found himself babbling incoherently, futilely trying to defend himself as he was taken down a peg… well, a notch that was even further down from where his tattered reputation currently lay.
Now that there was no longer any need to keep up the charade, Ducky criticizing his style of teaching allowed Thicknose to view his actions from an impartial point of view. The former teacher realized that a good chunk of his actions for a greater part of his adult life had been fueled and motivated by fear of being discovered as a fraud, and now that those fears were realized, the guilt began to set in.
Only upon reflection of why he acted in such a way did it dawn on Thicknose that he had always been intrinsically motivated. In the grand scheme of things, it was never about how much those around him knew.
It was about how much more he knew in relation to them. Or more specifically, how much more they thought he knew.
Only when Thicknose ended up losing everything did that become painfully clear.
He could sense the animosity radiating off Ducky as her voice became increasingly strident. "Oh, but I honestly do not mind the scolding. It is nothing at all compared to the next thing I am about to say." The swimmer paused for a brief moment, sucking in a breath before yelling at his face.
"The truth is that I think that you are a terrible teacher, Mr. Thicknose!"
He staggered back at her words, looking at the swimmer only to tremble under the weight of her gaze. "Wh-what?" he eventually stammered, "Du-Ducky… is that really how you feel about me?"
The air around them felt brittle as Ducky pondered the question. "Yep, yep, yep," she quickly confirmed her earlier words, "That is what I think about you." The swimmer soon proved that she had no chill whatsoever when she launched into an emotion-filled tirade, one that cut deeply into Thicknose. "Cera's dad was absolutely right. You are a very bad teacher! You are, yes you are! You say that you have been everywhere and you have seen everything but yet you let this happen."
Thicknose couldn't meet her gaze. There it was again… the damn myth that'd shadowed him from the start of his tenure as valley teacher. The rumor that he had 'been everywhere, knows everything.'
Curse it all, it was anything but!
Ducky's posture then stiffened up, the swimmer clearly getting more and more angry the longer she talked. An unhealthy glut of emotions had taken control of the dreary swimmer, and it didn't take long before she let her frustration loose on him. "If you really knew everything, then why would you be so horrible and let the cold ruin all the treestars? Why would you, Mr. Thicknose!?"
It would seem like his penance for all the lies he had told was coming at him full force. There were a host of different excuses that Thicknose wanted to use to defend himself from Ducky's accusations, but the words he wanted to say were frozen on the tip of his tongue when he opened his mouth to speak, very much like the frigid slush under his feet.
For a brief moment, Thicknose blinked his eyes and the swimmer to his front was replaced by a growling threehorn, a long-repressed memory springing to the forefront of his mind.
"…what did you say, you petulant punk!? You dare insult my horn so nonchalantly?! Say that again to my face, brat! Damn kid, I'll let you know just how 'pointy' this thing really is!"
"A-Ack! Sc-scary grown-up… mommy, h-help! Help me!"
It was actually downright terrifying that his current talk reminded him of how powerless he once was, as once again Thicknose found himself trapped on the losing end of a conversation. Barring the ridiculous reality of a small hadrosaur like Ducky scaring Thicknose as much as a fully-grown threehorn baring his horns at him, it was a stark reminder that his mother wasn't here to save him from a confrontation he had no control over when he once again found himself in a situation where he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Nevertheless, Thicknose still tried to take control, attempting to abate and pacify the rapidly deteriorating situation. "B-b-but Ducky… I never wanted this to happen! I never wanted any of this to happen!" he tried to tell the cynical swimmer in a pained voice, shaking his head ruefully to express his sorrow. "How was I supposed to know that Littlefoot would be right about the white sparkles? It was just one minor mistake… one minor mistake…"
His perceived denial caused a stark change in Ducky's appearance. In the span of time it took for him to blink, Ducky's eyes filled with rage. He was honestly taken aback by just how infuriated the normally demure swimmer was after she had heard his evasive comment.
"Well, if you ask me, I do not think that it was an honest mistake. Nope, nope, nope," she rebuked, her voice slowing to a droll as she spat her triple disaffirmation. She glared at him with her arms on her hips, before making a claim which caused Thicknose to audibly gasp.
"It was because you did not know anything about the white ground sparkles, did you?"
The accuracy of her condemnation caught Thicknose unawares, causing him to flinch and look down at the ground sparkles in question. Unfortunately for him, his body language and reaction was confirmation enough to Ducky that she had hit her mark.
"Hmph! So you truly did not know about this at all." Ducky seemed more disappointed than angry as she said those words, almost as if she'd expected it. "But that is the real reason that the spiketails left the valley. You not knowing about the white ground sparkles was what caused all of this to happen in the first place!" she stated tartly.
Thicknose shrank back into himself as she hit him where it hurt. "But… I knew about… ah, who am I kidding…" he trailed off, quickly realizing that pretending he knew would be futile. First of all, Ducky would not be very forthcoming to such a preposition.
And second of all, she didn't look like she would be tricked by such a blatant lie.
He was nothing but a talentless hack. If a kid like Ducky could see right through his flimsy smokescreen, then who could he possibly fool? Not Mr. Threehorn, not Grandpa and Grandma Longneck…
…not even himself.
"I… didn't know…" Thicknose finally admitted out loud, the words surprisingly liberating.
All this time, the reason he had refused to admit that there were things he lacked knowledge about was surprisingly trivial. While superficially it was because he couldn't afford to have a blemish on a perfectly spotless record…
…deep down, such an admission would confirm what he'd always known — that he was nothing more than a talentless hack, a complete fraud who had gained his reputation not through his own merits, but by a stroke of fortuitous luck that had bolstered his name and perpetuated the lie of having seen and done everything to the point where he was regarded as a living legend.
A lie which had deadly consequences.
Of course the valley wouldn't know that every story that he'd sprouted from his mouth was told from farwalkers. Really, how were they to know? He'd learnt so much from the farwalkers that he had mastered the art of hiding that fact by twisting the numerous stories and sometimes even combining them together to make them sound legitimate to even the most incredulous and skeptical of threehorns.
In fact, he had succeeded at this endeavor for so long that sometimes Thicknose actually bought into his very own embellished take of things, the storyteller sucked so deeply into his carefully crafted tale to the extent that his own imagination let him forget that he hadn't actually lived them out in reality. If Thicknose could even manage to trick himself into believing all his stories and the vast array of knowledge he'd acquired through living them out were legitimate even though he knew otherwise, then it was no wonder his unsuspecting audience would never even consider the possibility of them being second-hand recounts from a timorous fraud.
But no masquerade could last forever, and now the stark truth was laid bare as he was called out as the sham he was. The fact that it had come in the form of a child didn't make it any less painful, in fact it arguably made it worse.
In an ironic way, Ducky figuring out the truth had absolved him of explaining. He doubted that his current tongue-tied state could even stutter out anything coherent to the swimmer anyway.
Now that Ducky had callously called him out for his lack of a moral conscience with regards to his title ever since he had started lying more and more to cover his tracks, the surmounting guilt behind everything he'd done for a better portion of his life came crashing down on him like a bolt of sky fire. He had come into conflict with his psychological conscience for a long time, but this was the first time where he was truly haunted by the extent of his actions to suppress the truth.
Where had he gone so wrong? Hadn't he once been Arbor, seeker of knowledge and truths?
How had the pursuit of a steady reputation to spread his knowledge corrupted him this far, where the ramifications of his lies had much a greater impact than he could have possibly imagined? How did he lose sight of the greater picture? Hadn't he had humble beginnings? Didn't his mother always assure him that he was destined for greatness?
"You are a wise child, Arbor. My special boy… I truly believe with all my heart that you were hatched to do great things."
Well, not only did it turn out that he wasn't quite as wise as he had thought, all he had managed to do was ruin everything for everyone. So his mother had turned out to be wrong on both counts, unless her definition of 'great things' meant making a mistake of great magnitude.
It was the sound of the swimmer's footstep as she moved forward that drew Thicknose back to reality from his distressing thoughts. Ducky had remained strangely silent up until now, but her livid face was a hint that it was all about to change.
She then went ballistic. Absolutely ballistic.
"Well, if you had known about it then maybe we could have stored some green food," Ducky tightly clenched her fist as she squinted her eyes shut, her grief-wrought face on the verge of breaking into tears as she forced the next words from her beak, "and then the spiketails would not have to leave the valley and take-ed Spike with them."
It was that outburst which finally clued Thicknose in as to what this was all about.
It was about Spike!
Spike left with the spiketail herd? Thicknose couldn't believe what he'd heard. But why!? Ducky and Spike are as close as—
He never had the chance to finish his thought as Ducky proceeded to scream right at his face. "It is all your fault, Mr. Thicknose! It is, it is!" she yelled until her voice became hoarse, tears trickling down her face as her howl reverberated across the plains.
Thicknose could see the outrage in her eyes when the swimmer lost her cool, hurling the harsh truth regarding what she thought about how he had handled the situation without the slightest hint of mercy or sympathy.
It was common knowledge that Ducky was one of the—if not the—nicest swimmer in the entire valley, so for her to act so wildly out of character highlighted just how wronged and hurt she felt. The implication was clear — Ducky found Thicknose complicit in Spike's choice to leave her and the valley, a cardinal sin in her eyes.
And now, the vengeful swimmer was demanding reparation.
Hot tears obscured his vision as he realized why Ducky was so furious at him.
To cope with the fuming Ducky and her barrage of demeaning words as she launched further blame towards her teacher over his mishandling of the situation, it was detrimental for Thicknose and his deteriorating emotional state that he tried to rationalize how external events outside of his control caused things to cascade into such a mess so that he could shift part of the blame away from himself.
But the more Thicknose thought about it, the more he came to the chilling conclusion that being wrong about the white ground sparkles was simply a catalyst behind the loss of the valley's trust, and that it had in fact been precipitated long before he chose to dismiss the case when Littlefoot suggested it.
Everything all boiled down to the fact that his words were anecdotal. His lack of relevant, up-to-date knowledge was the root cause behind all of his unscrupulous actions. When push came to shove, his reluctance to adapt to changing times and choosing to hide behind his imperfections caused him to stumble. His famous title was nothing more than a misnomer, and his misguided efforts to hide that fact by posing as someone who he was not for eons only ended up creating more problems.
In the end, lies only begets more lies. It was a vicious cycle that he had trapped himself in, and the nature of winging it that he had adopted with regards to things he didn't know about meant that disaster was eventually inevitable.
And in this case…
He rapidly blinked away the misty tears forming in his eyes to get a close look at Ducky. The mask of rage had dissipated, and all that remained was a broken swimmer who was reeling from her loss, one who yearned for her brother.
The unspoken thoughts written on her distraught face could easily be gleaned. Give Spike back to me! It is all your fault that he left-ed! All your fault… yours, yours, yours!
Yep… there was no defending this. Thicknose had torn her entire family dynamic apart, and now the tear-stricken child was left in denial over the loss of her spiketail brother.
All of this was on him.
He tore his gaze away from her, the weight of his actions finally catching up with him. With Ducky berating him and Thicknose finally understanding why she was saying all those hurtful things in what would normally be considered an out-of-character moment knowing the swimmer's gentle character, it became impossible for him to ignore the consequences.
Thicknose finally conjured a reply, cobbling together a mess of sincere words that he hoped was able to convey his feelings. "I… I see… I'm so sorry you feel… this way, Ducky." 'Sorry that I caused you to feel this way', was what he had really wanted to say, but even now he couldn't muster up the courage to take responsibility.
But to Thicknose's dismay, Ducky didn't seem to buy his apology. The child let out a sniff, her reddened eyes looking at him with suspicious ire.
"I… know that I've been a t… ter… terrible teacher to all of you young'uns." It became increasingly difficult to force the words from his mouth as he tried to make amends with a swimmer who refused to be appeased. "I guess I really know nothing after all."
More tears began to cloud Thicknose's vision, threatening to fall as he found himself on the verge of a complete breakdown.
Finally, he could take it no more.
"Please, Ducky… tell the valley that I'm sorry. I can't face them myself…"
And with that, he charged forward and ran.
"Um, Mr. Thicknose?" he heard Ducky say, the swimmer appearing as a green blur as he shot past her. "Where are you going?" a tinge of confusion had crept into her voice at his sudden departure, before turning into horror with her next exclamation. "Wait… come back!"
Thicknose ignored the swimmer, refusing to stop and accede to her request. He simply couldn't. All he could do as he sprinted away from the reminder of all his problems was howl out a final apology to the aggrieved Ducky, his legs having taken on a life of their own.
He plowed through the snow, his tears now freely falling. He ran and ran and ran until he couldn't run anymore, legs giving way under him as he collapsed on a pile of white ground sparkles which cushioned his fall.
A dazed Thicknose looked around him, seeing nothing but a deathly white that coated the ground.
He laughed derisively. He had more than deserved this verbal lashing.
Thicknose shivered as he lay on the cold substance, the harsh drop in the temperature affecting him to the extent that his teeth were chattering. He could feel the piercing cold penetrating his thick hide. As he lay there and wondered how his life had crumbled in the span of two days, he thought back to his conversation with Rooter from long ago.
What would his role model think of him now?
He hadn't seen Rooter since the day they had talked. He knew that Rooter prided himself on being a wanderer, but Thicknose still held out hope that one day the wise and aged dinosaur would return to the valley and that he would be able to show Rooter what he had achieved.
But as his reputation and life lay in shambles, Thicknose was forced to reflect if Rooter would have genuinely been proud of his charge.
Of course he would, his mind argued. Even if it all went south at the end, I still followed everything he'd said!
Are you sure? The cynical part of his mind pulled no punches. Did you really?
That's right, his pride retorted. I did as he asked! That's how I became who I am today!
Well, after you ran away from Ducky and the valley, it would appear that you're nothing but a colossal failure! What would Rooter really think of you, huh!?
As the pessimistic part of his mind began to dominate his thoughts, Thicknose sought refuge in facts. Emotions would not overwhelm him!
He hankered himself back to the conversation, trying to recall what Rooter had said.
"Body language tells me a lot. Actions speak louder than words."
That it did! He'd studiously studied everyone's body language, as Rooter had recommended.
"The power of observation isn't one to take lightly. Knowing how to read a situation and say the right things at the right time can greatly affect how interactions go."
Exactly right! He'd always been a good observer…
Thicknose found his thought process screeching to a grinding halt, a caveat to Rooter's exact words instantly appearing with the roaring impact of an earthshake.
It was then that he reached an epiphany. He'd always been good at that… as a kid. But as an adult? He'd royally botched up that part of his mentor's advice.
He had inherently abused it for his own benefit, disregarding the emotions of the other parties as long as he could manipulate interactions and conversations to his liking.
With a dawning realization of horror, Thicknose realized that he had fatally misconstrued Rooter's advice, his mind hyper-fixated on the learning points that he had a tendency to adopt, and thus only taking those specific points away from his conversation with him.
In other words, confirmation bias.
The young Arbor had zeroed in on the key part of the advice that was exclusively beneficial to him, and everything else he had ignored in favor of an offhand remark that Rooter had mentioned.
But as he thought about it more and more, he realized that Rooter hadn't abetted him to be a pathological and compulsive liar. In fact, he had requested the opposite.
"Your words and actions can have lasting consequences when perceived in a certain light, even if it isn't your intent."
It was Thicknose who had misinterpreted his mentor's advice and did all of that on his own accord just to bolster his dignity. While he had been subject to a demonstration by Rooter, he was just doing it to prove a point, and Rooter never meant any malicious intent.
But how many times had he used his age, experience, or other psychological means to intimidate and shut down a conversation? Every time he had crushed their questions, it was always unequivocally for his own personal selfish need. Until this point he always suppressed his conscience, so he had never thought about how much his disparaging words affected those he belittled.
"In my personal opinion, you deserve to be wrong for once after always acting so high and mighty and scolding me during your lesson all the time! You do, you do!"
"The truth is that I think that you are a terrible teacher, Mr. Thicknose!"
Until one of those he ostracized bit back and reality slapped him on his thick nose.
He had always rationalized that maintaining his image and career so that he could continue to teach superseded all other priorities. After all, if the truth came out and he couldn't teach, how were they going to learn? The valley children needed a good tutor to educate them about the world!
But as it turned out, the brimstone path that led to the Smoking Mountains was often paved with good intentions.
Not only did it strike him now just how self-centered that view was, the very last lesson he had conducted highlighted that his obsessive behavior had led to undesirable traits being inculcated in his students.
Teaching what he knew was a therapeutic relief, a distraction from that nagging feeling of adequacy and doubt. Apathy was simply his defense mechanism. He had mentally conditioned himself to ignore all criticism unless it bothered him, in which case Thicknose would fight back scathingly against the instigator.
Even if it happened to be a kid.
Instead of grooming the valley children to be curious and eager to learn like he once had been, his repeated standoffish tendencies led to the opposite effect. After repeatedly being berated, many of them adopted a reserved mindset to avoid upsetting their teacher.
Or as Petrie had so eloquently put it to Littlefoot…
"Oh, sure! But then, me believe anything."
What was he doing!? He had deliberately limited the potential of these kids just for the sake of his pride and image!
Instead of encouraging more behavior like Littlefoot, he curbed their natural desire to learn for the sake of them absorbing a narrative that he felt comfortable teaching. He would rather take an entire herd of passive dinosaurs like Petrie over introspective knowledge-seekers such as Littlefoot, all because they wouldn't bruise his ego by probing his words.
That should never have happened. As someone who is in a position of power, he should have been more prudent over his words and the effect that a poorly worded remark would have on others.
But alas, that wasn't the case. It was only when Ducky's own crushing accusations ended up piercing through his heart did Thicknose realize just how much words could hurt.
When did this selfishness all start? When had he cared so much about what others thought of him? When had his life become nothing more than maintaining a fragile web of lies?
If his past self could see him now, he would be shaking his head in mortal terror. He had become the very thing that a young Arbor had constantly complained about.
What a hypocritical situation. He had morphed into one of those grouchy adults who actively hid stuff from kids.
Thicknose couldn't take it anymore. He used up the last remnants of his energy to crawl forward so that he could catch a glimpse of a reflection of himself in a lake of frozen hard water that happened to be in front of him.
The vacant look in his tear-stained eyes told him all he needed to know.
"You shouldn't expect the world to revolve around you, because it most certainly does not. Always anticipate the unexpected, because the Great Circle of Life will continue turning on whether you're prepared for it or not."
And as another one of Rooter's statements came to mind, it soon became clear that Rooter would never have approved of what Thicknose had become today.
In a way, he was a victim of his own hubris. For a long time now, he had habituated himself to that routine, that age-old song and dance.
No one had dared to challenge him. With his vast wealth of information, he held a monopoly over the information flow of the valley.
That air of confidence was what had brought him down in the end.
"With continual change comes new experiences, and different experiences means that you can always look forward to a new and unique day tomorrow. That's something you don't get if you are complacent and perfectly content with living a mundane existence, opting to stay put in one place. Such arrogance never bodes well."
As Rooter had predicted, he had been blinded by his faith, as being left unchallenged by anyone led to him becoming pompous and arrogant.
"Being mentally prepared for anything will greatly assist you in the long run. Learning is a lifelong journey…"
What he should have done was to take Rooter's advice. In spite of the risks, he should have gone out to the Mysterious Beyond and learnt things for himself. He should never have set an arbitrary stopping point in his pursuit of knowledge.
"It's only natural that you think you know everything, but in reality you've only discovered but a mere fraction of what this world has to offer. The rest is but a vast unknown, and without any knowledge of its existence and the willingness to take risks, you would never discover the truths that experience will bestow upon you."
Thicknose fought to keep his blurring vision clear, only to realize that now, and only now, he was outside of the valley.
Covered in white, the treacherous Mysterious Beyond he'd built up in his mind and feared… turned out to not be all that different from the valley he lived in all his life. Thicknose struggled to stand up, but as more and more ground sparkles fell, he eventually realized that it was futile.
He'd hesitated to take the first step into the Mysterious Beyond for his entire life, and now that he had finally crossed that hurdle… it was out of his reach forever.
"In that sense, you're synonymous with a hopper who's trapped in a narrow gorge and making the fallacy of thinking that it is their entire world. You and the hopper lie ignorant to the fact that a swath of great unknowns lie just outside your dwelling should you venture out of your comfort zone."
Thicknose choked on his sobs, blinking away the cold tears streaking down his face, tears that seemed even colder in the icy climate.
Why, oh why, hadn't he explored the splendors of the world for himself when he had the chance?
There was no chance of that happening now. He could feel his sustenance—the very life force that drove and sustained him—leaching from his cooling body and draining down into the barren and slushy ground below his exposed underbelly.
But he didn't care.
He'd failed everyone who had put forth their trust in his ability to use his "knowledge".
The valley, Rooter, Mr. Threehorn, Littlefoot, Ducky…
When he was but a young thicknose, Arbor had pinned all his hopes and dreams on a piece of advice that was merely a fragmented part of a greater whole. But as an adult, Thicknose had abused those misguided beliefs and wound up hurt the emotions of many children just to keep up a fruitless charade.
As Thicknose went catatonic and felt his eyelids getting heavy, he realized that this was all he amounted to.
This was his legacy, one that had been propped on his ego until it could bear no more and collapsed in on itself.
It was a sobering thought which made him squint his eyes shut as his body began to shut down.
"My special boy… I truly believe with all my heart that you were hatched to do great things."
I'm so sorry, mommy. I guess that just like everything else, this too, is also a lie…
A flyer like Skylar had seen much in her life, but nothing had prepared her for this.
"'Find some green food', he says," the flyer mocked Topps under her breath, emulating the threehorn's brash voice as she was battered by the harsh winds. "If he makes it sound like it's so easy, why isn't Mr. Threehorn out here too, then?"
Despite her complaints, she had taken up the responsibility. It was a massive undertaking, but someone had to do it, and it might as well be her.
That did not mean that the flyer was pleased to learn that she had a ghastly conundrum to deal with. A single glance at her surroundings was enough to hint to her about the enormity of the task ahead.
There wasn't a speck of green anywhere.
"Man, the whole terrain looks depressing."
An airborne Skylar glanced to her left at the remark to see her eldest daughter craning her neck around in disappointment. She had to admit, she was glad that Pitch had pitched in to help. At least Pitch's vibrant russet-brown wings made it easy to spot her in contrast to all the white ground sparkles.
To think that she had been playing with this stuff just yesterday. If she had known that all of the tree stars would die off, she'd have told Petrie to stop, gathered up the rest of her children, and stockpile whatever food she could find.
"Still nothing?" Skylar prompted.
"Nope. I see…" Pitch's voice suddenly halted, the flyer straining her eyes before shouting in excitement. "Hold up! I see something unusual, mom!"
The adult flyer followed her daughter's eye, and she soon saw the same thing that had caught Pitch's attention.
A large mound of snow.
Both flyers made eye contact, a single nod communicating their intent without words.
The possibility of treestars being under there, however scant, was a tantalizing one.
Skylar was the first to land, and she didn't waste any time in using her wings to scoop away some of the snow and uncover the contents hidden beneath.
But of all the things she expected to find under this potential treasure trove, never in her wildest sleep stories did she anticipate being greeted by the empty face of Thicknose himself.
The flyer fought down the urge to scream, though she recoiled back a few steps. With a single look, however, she knew that it was already too late. Thicknose had already succumbed to the cold.
"Pitch!" she called upwards. "It's Thicknose! He's trapped under that slush of frozen sky sparkles!"
Her daughter circled the skies, confusion abound on her face. "Yeah, I can see that! What's he doing under there?"
That was a good question, and one that Skylar was afraid she knew the answer to.
"It's Mr. Threehorn," she cursed. "He berated Thicknose in front of the whole valley yesterday."
It was likely Mr. Threehorn's denouncement and the denouement of his career that had pushed Thicknose over the breaking point.
Normally, making mistakes was considered an acceptable folly. No one liked it, but such instances still happened. It was simply a part of life.
It only took the flyer until now to realize that Thicknose's dignity didn't allow the tutor to be humbled through committing the occasional error every now and then. He didn't have the opportunity to learn how to taste the bitter sting of defeat in a controlled environment until it was the real deal.
For someone who held themselves to such lofty standards, was it really any wonder that he reacted to failure in such a devastating way?
"He ventured out here to die… he died of a broken heart," Skylar finally deduced.
Pitch cocked her head at her mother's words, tightening her arc as she flew so that she could swerve closer to the ground. "Broken heart?" she repeated after her mom. "Color me surprised! I didn't know that Mr. Thicknose was hurting this much inside…"
But in hindsight, they should have been able to see that Thicknose was under enormous stress.
It was easy to expect perfection from someone of his caliber. But conversely, was it right that they also faulted Thicknose for failing to meet said inflated expectations?
No, that would be hypocritical of them. There was no dodging the fact that they had taken his wisdom for granted. And now, all of that wealth of knowledge and experience was gone, lost with him.
"Um, mom? Should we… uh, report this back to the valley?"
Skylar grimaced, her eyes darting back and forth between Thicknose's frozen body and her daughter.
Finally, she made a call.
"We should, Pitch. This famine might be far worse than we expected," Her resigned eyes shifted to the snow-covered Thicknose. "The one dinosaur who could have guided us in our hour of need has perished."
As Pitch nodded and began to ascend, Skylar shifted her feet across the slush under her, making distinct markings in the snow in case they needed to return to this spot later.
It was ironic how something so soft to the touch and seemingly innocuous ended up bringing such devastation and destruction to those around it. As brand new white sparkles fell back onto the exposed region of Thicknose's frill, the flyer found that all the snow that she had previously brushed away from the corpse's face was replaced, the harsh weather engulfing him under a layer of snow once again — the cruelty of nature at its finest.
With a forlorn sigh, Skylar silently took off to the skies above. The onus was now on her to break the depressing news to the valley.
In the span of a single day, one of the valley's great pillars of support and wisdom—the wise teacher who they had all taken for granted—was now gone.
And in the wake of his passing, the flyer felt hollow. Thicknose's presence and influence was ubiquitous, and his loss opened a gaping void that would not be mended easily.
To lose a dedicated teacher like Thicknose simply because of a few insensitive words that had been uttered in the heat of the moment…
…now that was the real tragedy.
Gotta have that angst tragedy. It's virtually a tradition for Land Before Time by this point…
First things first, I named Thicknose Arbor because the name has forestry connotations in it, so 'tree of knowledge' and all that. Who managed to guess that the wandering dinosaur he was talking to was Rooter before the end of their talk, anyway? :p
The 'hopper in the gorge' analogy is based on the Chinese adage of 'the frog in the well'. I hope I adapted it well to the current context, and the moral is indeed the same — someone who lives under a rock all their life can be ignorant of the big picture, having a narrow view of the world.
And now moving on as to why this story even exists in the first place. Yep… Five Stages of Grief. Never thought that I'd come back to it. Those of you who know me on Discord probably are aware that this wasn't supposed to be my original Jan prompt at all. Additionally, this could actually pass off as a The Big Freeze story if not for the scene between Ducky and Thicknose, a scene originally from FSoG just with the opposite POV, as everything else in this fic was original or freshly adapted from the source film. I'd received reviews that the portrayal of Ducky's outburst in Five Stages of Grief was spectacularly crafted, and I would just like to express my personal opinion that the reason as to why it had made such an impact is less so because of how it went down, but rather more because the events led to an uncharacteristically angry—and justifiably so—Ducky acting in a way that seems foreign to most of us.
LBT almost never portrays Ducky in an antagonistic or negative light with the exception of her animosity towards Spike in The Big Freeze—what a coincidence, huh?—and the TV series episode Search for the Sky Colored Stones, so to see Ducky genuinely lose her temper in any kind of capacity is truly terrifying indeed, especially when compounded with the effect it ended up having on an already distressed Thicknose. Interesting butterfly effect to ponder about — if Ducky didn't venture out after Spike, then the gang wouldn't have ventured out to look for her and found Thicknose in the snow…
I didn't manage to explore the full ramifications and consequences of her actions due to FSoG primarily being a Ducky-centric story, which was partially why I decided to write this as a follow-up, but I think the point I would like to stress here is that words can be a very important asset when used correctly, but also a damning tool when used poorly at the wrong time. Or as I shall proceed to quote from someone who told me the following words and inspired me to come back to this AU…
"Your words and actions have a great influence on others, positive or negative. Always exercise mercy, because you will never know what the other party is feeling inside. If you end up hurting others unknowingly, the consequences and guilt can last a lifetime."
And conversely, the opposite also holds true. Your words can affect others in more ways than one. They can pick someone up, but they can also ruin their day, and like with Thicknose sometimes you can't tell that they're hurting inside. So with all that said and done… who will you be around others in your daily life? Would you be a Rooter, or will you be a Thicknose and Ducky?