Night Circle cycles passed, and things changed very little since that dinner incident.
After Petrie's siblings had served their punishment, none of them, not even Pearlwing, spoke to their brother whenever their mother or uncle were present, but when no adults were around, they bullied and belittled him endlessly, particularly Donnie and Terra. The two oldest siblings took sheer delight in ruining Petrie's day every possibility they got, and whenever other Flyer children were around, everyone laughed at him on any day he left the nest, whether it would be helping his mother or uncle collect food or spend quality time with them while exploring their forest.
By now, the knowledge of Petrie's bad speech had spread like wildfire across the herd, and nearly all the children began to view him as a worthless, nest-wetting baby. The adults, on the other hand, didn't take too kindly to all the negativity he was receiving, on the basis that he was just three cold times old and still needed time to mature, and were sure to silence their children whenever they stepped out of line.
Cerusa was still having a miserable time trying to teach Petrie proper speech. She trained him every single morning, each time ending with the same result; Petrie would fumble around with his words and fail all his memory tests, and when he finally couldn't take all the torture anymore, he would beg his mother to stop, to which she reluctantly complied. With each day, Cerusa got more frustrated on the inside that her son seemed to perceive the daily speech lessons as mental torture, … but she couldn't take it out on poor Petrie. She knew why he was unable to take all this and why this seemed like mental torture …
He had a hereditary condition, just like his late aunt Liran and her cousins. From the outside, one wouldn't be able to tell. He had the appearance of a perfectly normal child, so one would assume he was just a shy little boy still trying to learn basic social skills, but inside was a completely different story in comparison to his siblings and other children of the herd.
It was obvious that Petrie wouldn't be able to attempt normal speech until he reached his Time of Great Growing …
… but time was running out fast.
Only after several Night Circle cycles did Cerusa realize she was pushing her youngest son too far, but her promise to Rantyl still lingered over her. She wanted ALL her children to grow up to become respected members of Flyer society, just as her mate wanted, … but what if Petrie wasn't ready for that? When would he be ready for that? Why did that fateful wish have to be so much of a burden on her? Perhaps certain factors were much more important than others …
It was a subject that brought dread to her, knowing how Petrie would react, but it was still at least another cold time away. However, Cerusa contemplated that Petrie's poor social skills would surely affect his mentality and in turn hinder his early flying skills due to his complete lack of self-esteem. His fear of the sky alone was only one of several factors she believed would come to haunt them once it became that dreadful time to begin teaching her children the most important lesson in all of Flyer society.
Cerusa hated herself for pushing her son too hard, but she knew he had to be mentally prepared before that dreadful day came when he would have to begin his flying lessons.
If only Rantyl were here … ?
If only the herd could wait just a little while longer before considering their trip … ?
Another thing that brought her down tremendously was the fact that her other children were being no help at all. She constantly had to struggle to keep her children in line whenever Petrie became the subject of any conversation. While they were well-behaved, for the most part, they constantly tormented Petrie behind her back and made life very difficult for the family in general.
Pterano was only being minimal help to his sister. While he maintained a good image for Cerusa's children, he was starting to get carried away with his frequent nighttime storytelling, which greatly annoyed his sister. She didn't want to let her kids have such ridiculous stories stuck into their heads at night. It was the last thing they all needed, especially Petrie.
One cloudy morning, Cerusa even questioned herself if she was even fit to be a mother at all. Her children's lives generally brought misery with their mixed behaviors and feuds between them, and she wondered how Rantyl would have reacted to seeing how poorly Petrie was being treated by his own siblings. She suddenly found herself losing her own self-esteem just like her youngest son was, and she wished she could turn back time just to stop her mate from taking his final journey. Without him, she felt so helpless to raise her kids, and she longed for these painful days in this Bright Circle-forsaken forest to be over soon.
"Perhaps, the Great Valley will be a much happier place," she sighed to herself before remembering just how much food the Flyers would reluctantly have to share, "Hopefully, those despicable Pointy-faces won't get in my face."
Out of all the … "others" … that Cerusa had seen her fair share of over the years, she had a very particular distaste for Threehorns. She considered them the worst of them all. Just about every time she ran into one, something bad was going to happen. After her many run-ins with them, she thought them to be the second-most vile kind of them all, behind only the vicious Sharpteeth that terrorized everyone. It was at least a relief there would supposedly be no Sharpteeth in this … Great Valley.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a sniffle, and she turned to find Petrie sitting on the other end of the nest, staring off into space and apparently trying not to break into another episode of emotional despair.
Judging from this, Cerusa deduced that Petrie was questioning his own worth in the world. Every day, he seemed to wonder if he had any purpose other than just … existing. His mind was always full of negative thoughts about himself, and his heart was extremely frail and so easy to break.
The blue Flyer sighed and took a slow approach toward her son. She felt guilty over the fact that she was now keeping not one, but two secrets from him, but she wondered if he was ready to learn the truth …
… the truth about his Daddy …
… the truth about … himself …
She knew now wasn't the time to tell him. Pterano had suggested waiting until they got to the Great Valley before telling the little Flyer why it had to be this way, … but how would he react? Would he hate them forever for keeping such dark secrets from him his whole life? Would he be terrified and believe he would spend his life as a friendless Flyer and possibly never find the strength to move on in life?
Cerusa shook her head. She didn't want to think about such an outcome right now. It was way too soon to even consider the possibilities.
Right now, … the most important thing … was getting her son ready for the most important years of his childhood still to come. She knew Petrie's path would be a difficult one, but despite his early struggles, she was determined to put things right, learn from her early mistakes of parenthood and give him hope for the future. She would lift him into the skies no matter what it took. She would cast aside the seeds of doubt and be just the mother that someone like Petrie needed.
She slowly got into a sitting position right behind her son and tapped him on the shoulder four times to get his attention. It was only the gentleness of the taps that stopped Petrie from flinching. He knew right away who it was.
"Petrie?" she spoke in a soothing voice.
It was the most depressing voice Cerusa had ever heard. Petrie sounded so down, it seemed as though everything had come crashing down on him.
It was the voice of someone whom had lost all hope.
Cerusa's stomach lurched. This was not the kind of greeting she had expected. It was no secret to her now that her son was completely downcast. She knew the reason for it, and she heaved as guilt consumed her.
Taking a deep breath, she recomposed herself.
"Petrie, I …"
"Please, not that today?" Petrie suddenly begged.
Cerusa sat frozen for a moment and took a deep sigh as she knew what Petrie was saying. He couldn't take any more of those Bright Circle-forsaken speech lessons. He had all but given up on those and had resigned to his future as the kid whom everyone would laugh at. Her heart nearly skipped a beat as the guilt sank in. Although she knew she wasn't entirely to blame for this, granted it was doomed from the start, she still couldn't help but blame herself for her son's misgivings.
"No, Petrie," she sighed after a long silence, "I was not going to do that."
She paused for a moment as she considered what her next words would be …
"I was going to ask wha-,"
"You promise to make me better Flyer," said Petrie flatly, "Y-you … say you make me better Flyer, … but you do nothing to make me better Flyer."
Cerusa flinched and barely managed to hold back a gasp of shock as her son's accusatory remark struck her like a boulder.
"P-Petrie?" she stammered.
Petrie then turned to face her, and for the first time, Cerusa saw a glare on his face … directed at her. Never before had she seen this from him. She felt this would be a moment that would turn her world upside down.
"W-why, Mama!?" shouted Petrie, his voice nearly broken on the verge of tears as he could only reflect on all the misery that had come crashing down on him throughout his young life, "M-me thought … you w-would make it easy for Petrie, … but … instead you make everything hard for me! E-ev-everybody … think me … s-so stupid … because of you and me brothers and sisters! Why you do this to me, Mama!? Petrie thought you love me! Me thought you care about me!"
Cerusa's heart exploded, and she clenched her chest.
"Petrie!?" she gasped loudly as his harsh words stung her. Her agape beak quivered from the accusations as she watched Petrie's eyes moisturizing. She blinked a few times as she felt the tears filling in her own eyes. She knew he had a point. She deserved this kind of accusation from her son. She had only succeeding in making life much more difficult for Petrie in her desperate attempts to make life better. All her efforts had backfired, and here she was, paying the price and taking all the heat from it.
Finally, with a sigh of defeat, Cerusa spoke to her son in a sorrowful voice …
"You're right, Petrie, … I've been … such a terrible parent," she said before she could finally hold it in no longer.
Petrie's face softened as he watched his mother break down. It was then that he realized he had hurt her feelings, and yet she had just claimed that she deserved it because she was … a "terrible parent."
A terrible parent?
As much as he didn't want to say his mother was such, a part of him still felt mad at her for putting him through so much torment in trying to "make him a better Flyer." Why was she putting up such high expectations? It wasn't as though they were in such a big hurry to get ready for the importance of Flyer life …
"Well, I did tell you our herd will be on their way once you're all old enough to fly. You'll need to warm up to it soon, dear."
That was when it hit him. Could it be that the herd was in such a big hurry to get out of this forest as soon as possible? Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn't they just wait a little longer …?
"I feel that I've hurt you more than anyone, Petrie," Cerusa spoke weakly through sniffles, "I only want what's best for all my children, … but I've only made things worse for everyone."
Petrie just stared at his mother and watched her struggle. It never felt right to see her in tears, but even he knew he had his reason for criticizing her.
"M-Mama?" he said, but that was all he could think of saying at that moment.
"Yes, Petrie?" said Cerusa, something Petrie did not expect.
He noticed her looking right at him with tears streaming down her face with an expression that looked like she was begging for forgiveness for her sins.
"W-why nothing help me be better Flyer? Why me brothers and sisters hate me? Why life have to be like this? W-why?" asked Petrie.
Petrie gulped as his mother gently picked him up and set him on her lap, gently stroking his back with her wing.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, Petrie," sniffled Cerusa, her voice broken with guilt, "It's my fault things have turned out like this. I wanted to see all five of my children …"
She couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence. No matter which words she would have chosen next, they would have made Petrie feel even more uncomfortable, and he would have had reason to blame her entirely.
"It's just that I miss your father so much," said Cerusa as she finally broke down, "I thought … that if I did what I thought he wanted me to do …"
Petrie was shocked by his mother's words. She was never one to open up about his father like this. There were still so many questions he wanted to ask her, but it was obvious something about him … "just leaving the family like that" … still pained her to this day.
Suddenly, another terrible thought entered Petrie's mind as he considered Cerusa's last sentence …
"I thought … that if I did what I thought he wanted me to do …"
"I promise … I'll do everything I can to help you become a better Flyer."
Finally, it all came together …
Was this why she was pushing him so hard? Had his father put such high, unreachable expectations on the family? Could he have been pressured by the herd to make these expectations for when it would be time for him to come back and they would go to …
But then, it dawned on him …
Whenever the subject of Rantyl was brought up, there was never any mention of the Great Valley. What did that mean? Did he have other plans? Where did he want to bring his family? Had he possibly considered leaving the herd?
All these unanswered questions placed such a burden on Petrie. If only his mother ever told him something, anything about what he wanted …
Nothing. It was all just a blur; a mystery, something he couldn't comprehend.
"I'm so sorry, Petrie."
Petrie shook his head as his mother's voice snapped him out of his thought train. His mother appeared to be inconsolable. She was a complete wreck now. She was sobbing just as heavily as … that terrible day …
It was a sight Petrie had never forgotten; the day when his mother had been told that something … horrible … had happened, and to this day, he still had no clue what they had said that day. All he could remember was his mother weeping like a lost child. The memory had haunted him ever since.
"I've pushed you way too hard, Petrie," Cerusa sobbed, "I thought that trying so hard to get you to learn proper speech so that you'd have some friends would be the best way to get you ready for what's ahead, … but I've only succeeded in doing the complete opposite. I've let my whole family down, and I've made life much more difficult for you than it needs to be. I'm the one who should be ashamed."
"B-but then, … w-what you going to do n-now?" asked Petrie, "Everyone going to laugh at me forever."
"Petrie, … could you please listen to me for just a moment?" begged Cerusa through sobs, and Petrie flinched and hesitantly nodded his head, indicating she had his full attention.
Cerusa steadily calmed herself down and looked into her son's eyes sorrowfully.
"If there's anything I ever said about proper speech being a way to earn friends, … I … I take it back."
"W-w-what?" gasped Petrie in surprise.
"I was completely wrong to put you through all this. I realize now that speech is not the most important thing right now. There are so many other things we should be worried about beside that," said Cerusa.
"B-but … what if everyone keep picking on Petrie?" lamented Petrie, at which point his mother suddenly pulled him in and hugged him so tightly, it nearly choked him.
"Petrie?" she spoke loudly, making her son recoil, and she immediately softened and settled down with an apologetic look, "I will see to it that the other children will stop bullying you, and once I do, don't worry about your speech problems. Kids should not have to care about other's problems. Please do not feel ashamed because you cannot speak correctly. It's okay if you're different, because everybody is different, and no one gets to judge others this way. If you really think it's what you really know how to do, … then be yourself. Be what you are. Don't be a silent one, and don't try in vain to correct yourself all the time. Just be you."
Petrie was taken aback by this. As far as he was concerned, bad speech had been what made everyone bully him, but to imagine that one could still have bad speech and not be judged by it was beyond him. Could it really be possible that one didn't have to be cast out just because he couldn't talk correctly? Was it okay being who he was? If his mother was willing to let him be this way …
"Please, Petrie, … find it in your heart to accept who you are, … and please … find it in your heart to forgive me," sniffled Cerusa, "I'm so sorry I put you through so much pain. I'm sorry for letting you down. I'm sorry for being a terrible mother to you. I do love you, Petrie, and I do care about you. You are more than just my child. You are my special child, and nothing will ever change that."
Upon hearing the word 'special,' Petrie's beak quivered, and his cheeks turned red. He had never felt special. He always viewed himself as the lowest and weakest scaredy-egg of the family. Whatever made him special?
"S-special?" he gasped in between sniffles.
"Everyone is special, Petrie, each in their own ways, and I think you and I have both found out what makes you special," chuckled Cerusa.
"Y-you mean … me talking?" Petrie stammered in surprise.
Cerusa grinned and nuzzled her son's beak with her own.
"That's right, my little one," she answered.
"But why everyone else think it no be special?" said Petrie in a sad voice.
"Don't worry about what others say about that, dear," replied Cerusa, "Just remember that you are you."
"Me … be … like me?" Petrie said to himself thoughtfully.
"Just be like yourself. You are Petrie, so just be Petrie," giggled Cerusa playfully.
Petrie couldn't help but let out a small chuckle from his mother's playful words.
"Listen, Petrie, … I'm so sorry for the way I've been pushing you, and I promise that from now on I will go easy on you. I just want you to promise me that one day you will be brave when the time comes," said Cerusa.
"For me to … f-fly?" gulped Petrie, still uncomfortable about the prospect of flying.
"I'm making a promise for you, my little one. Will you make this promise for me in return?" asked Cerusa.
Petrie shivered for a moment before he nervously reached for his mother's hand.
"M-me promise, Mama," he spoke meekly, "And m-me sorry me … g-get mad at you."
"Can you forgive me, Petrie?"
For the first time in what seemed like ages, Cerusa saw a smile creep its way onto Petrie's beak. It was a sight she had missed so much that it warmed her heart.
"Me forgive you, Mama," he spoke in such a happy voice, "Me love you."
"Aw, Petrie," smiled Cerusa, "I love you, too. Come here, ya sweet, little one!"
Petrie let out a soft laugh as he climbed up his mother's chest and embraced her. She wrapped one wing around his back and used her other hand to gently rub his head.
The rare cheerful look on her son's face confirmed to her that their bond was mended and that it was time to put the past behind them and start anew. From this moment on, there would be no more torturous speech lessons. It was all about getting her children ready for growing up, and she would make sure that all five kids would get the love and equal treatment she should have given them from the start. As much as giving Petrie special treatment would be tempting given his condition, Cerusa knew it was a terrible idea as it would only cause further animosity between him and his siblings. That very day, Cerusa learned the hard way perhaps the most important lesson of being a mother: to not rush her children through their early stages of life, even if one of them had a hereditary condition that hindered his learning abilities and had become the laughing matter of all the herd's children. She would take everything one step at a time, and hopefully life for the family could become easier …
Lunchtime went by rather quietly. Neither Flyer seemed to be able to get a conversation going. Petrie could never find the courage to start a conversation, even with his mother. Cerusa could see that Petrie was still thinking about their small argument and reconciliation that morning. Both knew that their relationship may have been strained, but deep down they still loved each other and always would because of their blood relationship. Instead of talking, they simply smiled and nuzzled each other. No words were needed in a moment like this.
Their silence was interrupted by the sudden presence of a third Flyer …
"Hello, Cerusa. Hello, Petrie."
The sound of Pterano's unmistakable voice brought their attention, and they grinned at him in acknowledgement.
"Hi, Uncle," said Petrie.
"Are you feeling okay today, nephew?" asked Pterano.
"Uh-huh," nodded Petrie.
"That's good," said Pterano with a warm smile as he stroked his nephew's head.
"So, are we switching duties for now?" Cerusa asked her brother.
"I think now is a good time, yes," answered Pterano, "You don't mind looking after the others while I keep Petrie company?"
"I don't mind, Pterano," said Cerusa, "Just make sure he has a good time."
"I will, sis," promised Pterano.
Petrie perked up at this.
"You mean, … m-me get to be with Uncle Pterano for a while?" he asked with a sudden rush of excitement.
His mother and uncle nodded at him, and Petrie whistled in happiness and wrapped his wings around Pterano's leg. It wasn't very often that the uncle and nephew spent quality time together, but whenever they did, Pterano always made sure to make it fun and entertaining. Times like these seemed to bring lots of happiness and hope for the little Flyer, and he hoped today would be no different.
"Petrie, you be a good little boy, okay?" Cerusa spoke to her son, "Don't leave your uncle's sight."
"Me promise, Mama," nodded Petrie eagerly, although to Cerusa it almost seemed to appear as if he was too excited to listen, and this prompted her to give him a little tickle just to make sure he meant it. The boy giggled a little and nodded his head to confirm he was honest.
"Just making sure, little one," chuckled Cerusa, and she turned to her brother, "I'll leave him in your capable wings, Pterano."
"He and I will have a good time, I assure you," replied Pterano.
"Okay, you two. I'll be seeing you later," Cerusa smiled, and she took off into the forest below.
Petrie barely had time to register another thought before his uncle picked him up and placed him on his back.
"Come along now, nephew."
Petrie flinched once he realized his uncle was about to jump and glide off the nest rather than climb down the tree, but unlike Cerusa, Pterano was not fazed in the least, and he jumped and spread his wings out to steady their fall without any hesitation. The little Flyer calmed down only a little once he knew they were venturing down into the forest rather than the skies above.
"I know the idea of flying is still not in your favor, Petrie, but just like your mother said, you will have to brave it soon," said Pterano, and it was only now that Petrie realized his uncle had, in fact, noticed him whimpering. He blushed in embarrassment.
"W-what if me never feel ready for…"
"Now, now, dear nephew, let's not think about the 'what ifs' right now," Pterano cut in before Petrie could finish his … broken sentence, "You and I need to have a little chat."
Petrie gulped nervously. He hoped this chat wouldn't be about … all his many troubles.
Pterano glided his way down and touched down some distance south of their nest. Once his feet were on the ground, he allowed his nephew to slide his way down, and he turned to face him.
"Come here, Petrie," he spoke gently as he sat down, and Petrie nervously crawled onto his uncle's lap and allowed him to slowly stroke him, "I've heard you've had … quite a trying time, to say the least."
Petrie sighed sadly, "Like nothing ever get better for Petrie."
"Petrie, don't look down on yourself," said Pterano, gently turning his nephew's beak upwards so that he could make eye contact with him, "You may have fallen out of grace with many of the herd's children, but that doesn't mean it will stay that way for the rest of your life. Change takes time."
"How long?" asked Petrie despondently, unable to imagine anything changing for the better. Misery was all he ever seemed to have known, and it felt like a curse to him, knowing it was all because of something he couldn't grasp.
"You must be patient, little fellow," answered Pterano, "With time comes patience; with patience comes change."
Petrie snorted defiantly.
"Me no think so. Nothing ever change."
"Alright, Petrie, it seems to me you're not thinking clearly."
Petrie was taken aback by his uncle's stern words, and he recoiled before Pterano's big wings trapped him in an embrace.
"You're obviously thinking too much about the negative side of things," Pterano stated before his voice softened, "The problem is that you've only seen the negative side of life because you're struggling with growing up. Have you ever taken just a moment to think about the positive side? Don't you ever think of how glorious a Flyer's life is meant to be, soaring freely unlike any other kind of dinosaur?"
Petrie gulped and shivered nervously, especially at the thought of "soaring freely." He knew exactly what his uncle meant with those words. As much as flying still scared him, he couldn't help but wonder why everyone else in his family and the rest of the herd thought so fondly of it. All the other Flyers seemed to take it in their stride, and whenever Petrie saw other kids (without them noticing him), they would talk about how they couldn't wait to fly. There wasn't a single Flyer he knew that was terrified of such an idea. His mother had pointed out time and time again that they weren't called "Flyers" for nothing, but only now Petrie began to wonder if he even deserved to be called a "Flyer" if he didn't have the bravery that everyone else apparently possessed.
"M-me still … sca-scared to …" Petrie began, but his uncle gently closed his beak with one hand before he could finish.
"Shh, shh, shh," Pterano soothed his nephew, "Trying to fly might be frightening at first, but once you give it time and patience, you'll learn. Don't worry if others try to put such heavy expectations on you. Just be yourself and make your own expectations. All we ask of them is that one day you'll be able to fly and embrace the sky with joy. You are a Flyer, Petrie, and all we ask of you one day is … be a Flyer."
Petrie fidgeted nervously as he tried to think if there were any positives when it came to being what a Flyer was meant to be. Only now did his uncle's words hit him. It dawned on him that not being able to fly when the time came would be a major embarrassment, maybe even a death sentence for their kind. As much as he wanted to think about the positive side of life, the negative thoughts continued to pummel him, and now he knew that as long as he remained afraid of lifting his feet off the ground, everyone would most certainly sham him.
So much for simple expectations.
"For now, I ask that you not dwell on that, Petrie. You still have time to grow before you're ready to try," said Pterano kindly, "Right now, it's all about being a kid and learning of the world around you."
"And how me do that when me no have any friends?" sighed Petrie sadly.
Pterano sighed and stared down at his nephew. It seemed that no matter what he did to try cheering up Petrie, nothing could bring a smile to his little beak. It was obvious that his nephew was scarred by all the negativity he had already experienced and only expecting more of it for as long as he remained the poor, frightened little boy he was.
"Whatever happened to the cheerful mood I used to see from you?" Pterano questioned his nephew.
"Me no know," answered Petrie, turning away and folding his arms.
"Come now, Petrie, let's turn that frown upside down," Pterano insisted.
Petrie refused to answer.
"Hmm," said Pterano, having seen enough of his nephew's sour mood, "I think we'll have to do this the hard way."
Just as Petrie was about to open his beak, he noticed his uncle's hand slowly closing in on him, its fingers making wiggly movements. Immediately, the little Flyer realized what was about to happen, and he frantically squirmed his way out of Pterano's hold and made a run for it.
"Come on back here, Petrie!" his uncle shouted playfully and immediately gave chase.
It didn't take long before Petrie's disadvantage of being only three cold times old became apparent. No one that age could run very fast compared to their older relatives, let alone a Flyer who hadn't started that blasted training yet.
Just as he sensed his uncle approaching, Petrie made a quick right-hand turn and didn't have time to see what was ahead before it was too late …
Veron's sweet bubble plants.
"Petrie! Look out!" Pterano shouted in vain.
Petrie barely had enough time to shut his eyes before he felt himself colliding with the many fruits that promptly went flying all over the place. He fell and landed on his side and felt himself getting pounced numerous times by what just had to be sweet bubbles. He even felt sticky juice streaming all over him. He waited until he was sure no more sweet bubbles would fall on him before he opened his eyes and sat up.
"Someone wasn't looking where he was going, I see," said a voice, and Petrie knew that one had to belong to Veron, the only Flyer outside his family he ever seemed to have gotten on good terms with.
The little Flyer gulped and blushed just as he saw his uncle brushing some bushes out of the way to check on him.
"Looks like it's time for my nephew to take a little bath," commented Pterano.
"You're lucky I'm taking it easy on you, silly little one," chuckled Veron, "Thanks to you, though, I'm gonna have to grow more of them so I can feed the other kids."
Petrie blushed and quivered in shame and embarrassment as he realized the magnitude of what he had just done. Surely now, the other kids had more reason to pick on him because he had destroyed quite a large portion of the sweet bubble plants.
"M-me sorry," he sniffled, "Me no know. Me was trying to run from me uncle and me no see where me go."
Pterano lowered himself and patted his nephew's head.
"Now, now, Petrie, don't blame yourself for this," said Pterano gently and he stood back up and eyed Veron, "I accept full responsibility for this little accident."
Petrie was stunned. His uncle blaming himself for something he had done? For as much as he wanted to blame himself, he couldn't help but find it awkward that his uncle was willingly taking the heat instead because he was the one whom had caused Petrie to run into the sweet bubble plants.
"In any case, just be careful next time," nodded Veron.
"Indeed, we will," replied Pterano, and he turned to his nephew and offered his hand, "Come along, Petrie. Let's get you cleaned up."
Petrie shakily nodded and accepted the gesture, and his uncle pulled him up and back onto his feet. He didn't turn to say goodbye to Veron, but instead just sunk his head and stared at the ground as he saw the purple mess he was in.
Pterano led Petrie deeper into the forest where a tiny stream was nearby. Neither of them said a word until they got there. All the way, Pterano noticed that Petrie was desperately trying to hold back tears. He was obviously embarrassed by what had happened and was hoping that none of the other kids would start going after him for what happened to the sweet bubbles.
The two stopped on the bank of the stream and sat down side-by-side. Pterano dipped a finger into the water and started rubbing it against Petrie's head to rinse the sweet bubble juice off.
"Now, now, Petrie," he whispered, "I'm very sorry."
Petrie just sighed and didn't take his eyes off the water. He just sat there looking at his gloomy reflection as the water melted the juice off.
"What?" moaned Petrie weakly.
"Is that the only look I'll ever see on your face from now on?" asked Pterano sarcastically.
"Something bad always happen to me, even now just because you want to tickle me!" said Petrie.
"Well, how else was I going to try getting that frown off your beak?" asked Pterano.
"Anything but tickling," pouted Petrie, "And now, me ruin everyone's sweet bubbles."
"Petrie, I tried to tell you, you need to stop being so hard on yourself for everything that happens to you," said Pterano, and he soaked Petrie's wings with water, "Accidents happen to everyone."
Petrie simply sighed and let his uncle finish rinsing him until all the juice had come off.
"I just want to see you smile because I never see you smile anymore," said Pterano as he turned Petrie and gently stroked his beak to get him to make eye contact, "Petrie, what is the problem? I don't want my nephew to be moping forever."
"Petrie never find happiness anywhere," he lamented.
"That's just not true, Petrie," replied Pterano, "Childhood can be troubling, but you can overcome those troubles if you give it some effort. Your mother and I have tried hard to help you, but you know that won't be enough. You'll have to make your own decisions, too."
Petrie was still full of doubt, but he thought of no words that could counter his uncle's, so he said nothing and looked away.
Pterano sighed in frustration. It seemed that no words could bring a smile to his nephew's beak, and it became clear that nothing could ever cheer him up. He clearly seemed to have "lost his smile."
Or had he?
Grinning to himself in determination, Pterano tightly hugged Petrie with one arm, grasping him as tightly as possible to ensure that this time he would not be able to escape and inadvertently run into more trouble.
"Uncle!" Petrie complained, "You squeezing me!"
Then, he noticed his uncle's hand and its fingers making wiggly movements again, and he tried to break free, only to find out that there was a reason his uncle was holding him this tightly. He swung his legs back and forth in desperation, but he could only whimper hopelessly as his uncle's wiggling fingers drew closer to his chest.
"N-no!" begged Petrie, "Please! No! Stop!"
"Sorry, nephew, but I can't stand seeing that unhappy frown," replied Pterano, "Let's see if we're really capable of turning it upside down."
He chuckled and gave his nephew a mischievous look, and Petrie shut his eyes and turned his beak away, knowing there was no escape. He barely had time to register his next thought before he felt some poking sensations on his chest. He knew what those were, and he tried desperately not to laugh, but he couldn't keep a few giggles from escaping his beak.
"Hehe. Hehehe. Uncle! Please! Hehehe! Stop!" pleaded Petrie through his small giggling fit.
"Hmm. Maybe once I've seen your smile again, little one," teased Pterano, and he began to tickle his nephew a little harder.
The sensations had an instant effect …
Petrie suddenly burst into a fit of laughter, and a smile finally formed on his beak.
"Eek! Oof! Eekeeheeheeheeheehehehehehehahahahaha!" laughed Petrie, "Uncle Pterano, stahahahahahahop!"
Pterano just chuckled and kept on tickling his nephew, feeling quite proud of himself for finally bringing that much-needed smile onto his beak.
"Pleeheeheeheeheehease!" chortled Petrie, his legs swinging back and forth as his uncle's tight grip prevented him from thrashing around, "No more! Nohohohohoho!"
"Do you promise to give me a smile once I stop?" asked Pterano teasingly as he poked his nephew's shoulders, his most sensitive spot of all.
"EEK! AHH! YEHEHEHEHEHEHES!" Petrie screamed through laughter, "PLEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEASE! HEEHEEHEEHEEHEHEHEHEHAHAHAHAAAA!"
Finally assured that Petrie had had enough, Pterano promptly stopped the tickling and waited for a moment while his nephew frantically tried to catch his breath. Once he looked up at his uncle, he still had a few leftover bubbly laughs ready to escape from his beak, and Pterano playfully rubbed the sides of Petrie's beak, right where the ends of his mouth were, just for good measure. This brought those last few laughs out, along with an adorable smile, just the one his uncle wanted to see.
"Ah, that's more like it," said Pterano playfully, poking the top of his beak.
"Eek!" squeaked Petrie, "Uncle! Stahahahop!"
"Had to be done, you silly, little nephew of mine!" teased Pterano.
"Uncle!" blushed Petrie sheepishly.
The two shared some laughs, and Pterano tightly hugged his nephew and stroked his head before loosening his grip on him and allowing him to move his arms and wings again.
"Now then, perhaps a little story will keep that smile on your face," suggested Pterano.
"But … Mama no like your stories, Uncle," Petrie pointed out.
"Don't worry about that, nephew. Only you and I will know about this one. I promise to tell no one else," reassured Pterano.
"Um, … okay," replied Petrie unsurely.
Pterano kept a wing wrapped around Petrie's back and stroked him affectionately as he cleared his throat to prepare himself …
"A long, long time ago, when those tiny lights in the big darkness were much shinier, when the Great Night Circle was much smoother, and the whole world was very different, there were no Threehorns, no Longnecks, in fact, not even a Sharptooth."
"R-really?" gasped Petrie wondrously.
"Oh, no, Petrie. Only one kind filled the skies with a mighty screech and the big flaps of their wings. They were the smartest, bravest, most handsome creatures to ever rule the world."
Petrie's mind was filled with wonder as his uncle paused dramatically.
"They were called … the Flyers!"
"Wow!" gasped Petrie.
"Yes," smiled Pterano, "Our ancestors were the rulers of our world. They were specially gifted with great power, and with power, nobody could match them. The noble Flyers who ruled the world so long ago were blessed with pride."
"What Flyers like?" asked Petrie.
"They were much like you and me, little one, only with so much power," answered Pterano.
"Where they find that power?" Petrie pondered curiously.
Pterano simply smiled at his nephew, "Well, Petrie, the Flyers of our time don't really believe in this, but legend has it that long ago there was a magical stone that fell from the sky and landed in a mountain near the herds of the rulers. The rulers found the Stone, they all touched it and made a wish, and in return the Stone gave them unimaginable power to rule the world."
"Wow!" gasped Petrie excitedly, "What stone called!? Stone still around somewhere!?"
"Now, now," chuckled Pterano, "It's not really something to be excited about now, because no one has really seen another stone like it since. That's why few Flyers believe in it today."
Petrie moaned sadly at those words.
"And as for your first question, many call it the Stone of Cold Fire, but like I was going to say, I can't confirm this to be true. After all, it's only a legend."
"But, … w-what if, um, … S-Stone of Cold Fire … real?" pondered Petrie.
"That remains to be seen, little one," replied Pterano, "Depends on whom you ask. Few believe it is real."
"Um, … y-you believe in … Stone of Cold Fire, Uncle Pterano?" asked Petrie.
"Ah, now that would be telling, wouldn't it?" teased Pterano.
"Uncle!" sighed Petrie.
"Maybe one day, one might fall from the sky and land anywhere," suggested Pterano.
"Me wish me could have power like that so no one bully me anymore," said Petrie.
Pterano laughed at his nephew's words and tickled him briefly to turn that brief frown back into a smile accompanied by some laughs.
"Uncle!" squeaked Petrie in a bubbly voice.
"I must say you're quite a curious little one," said Pterano, earning a sheepish chuckle from his nephew, "Perhaps when you grow up, you'll become an adventurous Flyer."
Petrie didn't feel so sure about that, but he didn't want to press it any further.
"I think now would be a good time to play that one game you've always been good at," suggested Pterano, eager to brighten the mood.
Petrie perked up at this and nodded with a smile. If there was one game he was "always good at," it was hide and seek. Being the small Flyer he was, it was easy for him to hide in various places, and most of the time his uncle would have a really hard time finding him.
"Alright, then!" chuckled Pterano once he noticed his nephew's brightened face, "You go find a good place to hide while I count down."
"Okay, uncle!" squeaked Petrie, and he jumped off his uncle's lap and ran right through some bushes just as his uncle turned his head away.
He turned to his left and quickly found a bush that looked excellent for hiding, and he promptly dived his way in and closed any gaps between leaves to conceal himself.
"Ready or not, here I come!" he heard Pterano's voice echoing in the distance.
Petrie tried to hold back a giggle as he anticipated his uncle having a hard time finding him, but as he heard his footsteps getting a little louder each second, he knew those hopes would be dashed sooner than he had wished.
Usually, it would have taken a lot longer than this for Pterano to find his nephew, but today it seemed luck was on his side, and once he eyed a particular bush, he spotted just a tiny dot of a shade of brown he recognized easily.
"Well, well, it seems I've found you already," he snickered with a mischievous grin.
Petrie heard his uncle's voice and gulped nervously, and without thinking twice he popped out of the bush and began to scurry away just as Pterano's hand just about reached him. His eyes were fixed on Pterano's hand, and he didn't take a moment to see where he was going …
"Oof!" Petrie yelped as pain shot through him and he fell backwards, landing hard on his back as he was overcome by dizziness.
"Whoa, whoa! Little one! Watch where you're going!"
Petrie shook his head and once he regained his senses and looked up, he noticed another grownup Flyer standing right over him …
… one he had never seen before …
The Flyer was a tan male with wings that looked as transparent as Pterano's, with a brown neck and a dark gray neck ring.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
Petrie gasped in unimaginable horror and immediately stumbled back to his feet and rushed to his uncle, hiding behind his legs. He was sure he had just made a terrible mistake he knew he would regret, and he gave his uncle an expression of horror and desperation that seemed to be telling him, "Save me! Protect me!"
"Is … he alright?" the stranger asked, Petrie noting he appeared to be … confused … by his behavior.
"Hello there, Dactyl," Pterano greeted the stranger, "My deepest apologies for the little excursion."
"Ah, Pterano," said Dactyl, "How does today fare for you, my humble deputy?"
"As good as it could be," answered Pterano with a reluctant sigh.
"Is … that little boy alright? He looked quite terrified of me," Dactyl pointed out.
"Ah, yes," said Pterano, looking down at Petrie and stroking him comfortably, "We were playing hide and seek and he decided to make a break for it, although I believe he got scared because he doesn't feel comfortable around strangers."
"Is he yours?" asked Dactyl curiously.
"Yes. He's my nephew," said Pterano.
"What's his name?"
Pterano held back a sigh as he answered, "Petrie."
Dactyl immediately glanced down at Petrie as if the name had hit him like a ton of boulders. Pterano could easily guess why.
"Your sister's little one?"
"Yes," Pterano confirmed awkwardly.
"So, … he's the one everyone has been …"
Before Dactyl could finish his sentence, Pterano grabbed his beak and clamped it shut. The last thing he wanted was for Petrie to hear more about how the other children all despised him.
"Don't mention that in front of him!" he hissed in a whisper.
Dactyl didn't say another word once Pterano released his hold on his beak.
"My apologies, Dactyl. He's extremely emotional," said Pterano.
"I … see," said Dactyl hesitantly.
Pterano affectionately rubbed Petrie's head to get him to calm down.
"There, there, Petrie," he spoke gently to his nephew, "This Flyer is not going to hurt you."
Petrie merely gulped in fright.
"Take it easy, little one. I mean no harm," Dactyl spoke as gently as he could in an effort to gain the slightest bit of his trust.
"Y-you … kn-know him?" Petrie stuttered to his uncle.
"In fact, I do, Petrie," answered Pterano, "This is Dactyl, the leader of our herd."
Petrie squirmed a little as his uncle's words sunk in. So, this was the herd leader? This Flyer happened to be the leader of all Flyers? Now he thought he looked like a complete fool the way he had carelessly bumped into him like a silly idiot.
"He … l-leader of all Flyers?"
"Well, at least all the Flyers around these parts," replied Dactyl.
"And … w-why he call you … d-deputy?" Petrie nervously asked his uncle.
"Because that's what I am," chuckled Pterano, "I'm one of the herd deputies."
"Y-you never t-tell me that before," stammered a surprised Petrie.
Pterano simply grinned at him before turning back to Dactyl.
"So, what brings you down here?"
"Business with a few other deputies helping to get the children ready for the big journey that's only a few seasons away," replied Dactyl.
"Oh, I see. Well, I hope the children in that group are well-behaved," sighed Pterano.
"They have, for the most part," said Dactyl, "Speaking of which, Cerusa has been very hesitant to let any of her kids join that group. Given how your nephew's been treated lately, I'd gladly recommend it."
"Dactyl, I'm not sure if Petrie's fit for a group like that," said Pterano.
Petrie gulped with dread upon hearing that, and he wrapped the end of Pterano's wing around himself. He couldn't bear the thought of being in a group with a bunch of children who all hated him just for what he was.
"Nonsense. It'll be perfect for him once you give him some time," insisted Dactyl, "Shielding himself in the nest forever isn't going to work, you know."
"I'll have to consult my sister on that," said Pterano, "I may be your deputy, but I'm not doing this without Cerusa's approval. Might I point out that they are her children, not mine."
"Do what you have to do. I'm sure she'll agree to it," said Dactyl, "It's for the best for everyone. Now then, I'd best be off. Good day."
"Good day to you, too, Dactyl," replied Pterano as the leader got a running start and flew off.
A shaky sensation on his wing brought Pterano's attention back to his shivering nephew. He seemed so frightened, and perhaps there was good reason for it.
There was no way Petrie would possibly be able to fit in such a group setting like that. He would surely become the target of bullying for the other children almost immediately. The last thing Pterano wanted was to put Petrie into such a position, and he was certain that Cerusa would not approve of Dactyl's idea. She would protest it to no end and do whatever it took to make sure Petrie would not be mercilessly picked on so frequently just because of what he was.
"M-me no want to b-be in t-th-that," stuttered Petrie.
"There, there, Petrie," soothed Pterano, picking up and hugging his nephew, "I'll speak to your mother about it and see what she thinks about it. To be honest, I'm sure she'd feel better if she and I were teaching you rather than somebody else."
Petrie couldn't think of any way to respond to that. He just shivered in fright like he was seeking protection from some hideous monster.
"Why don't you and I find some lunch for the others?" suggested Pterano, hoping to brighten his mood for at least a little while.
Petrie perked up and nodded his head with a worried look. Pterano knew this was going to linger on him for as long as he had reason to fear ending up in such a situation, but he wanted to take his mind off of it by any means necessary in order to keep the negative thoughts away.
With a wink and a smile, Pterano set Petrie back down and wrapped a wing around his back as they ventured around the forest to find some tree stars.
Just as lunchtime came, the two Flyers made their way back to the nest. Cerusa was already there, as were the other children, who all sneered at Petrie, causing him to wince and look away.
"Ahem," coughed Cerusa, turning the kids away from their brother, and she turned to her brother, "How were things?"
"Things went okay," said Pterano, "Petrie is doing fine."
Cerusa took one look at each of them and could tell that Pterano wasn't exactly being truthful. He seemed to be hiding something he was hesitant to tell her, and it could only be something about Petrie that just might be dreadful.
"You sure your morning was fine?" she said suspiciously.
Pterano sighed and walked up to her sister, "I need to talk to you for a moment."
"That would be possible if we could trust the kids," moaned Cerusa.
"We might have to. It's important and I can't delay this subject," insisted Pterano.
Cerusa let out a deep breath of despair, and she looked down at her children.
"I want you all to stay right here and eat your lunch. Your uncle and I have something important to discuss," she told them.
"Okay," the children replied, although Cerusa wasn't sure if they really meant it.
Pterano set down the tree stars he and Petrie had collected, and all five kids each took one, leaving plenty left over for a later dinner.
Petrie sat as far away from his siblings as possible while he nervously watched his mother and uncle step onto a branch sticking out from their nest.
"Alright, Pterano. Tell me what this is all about," said Cerusa impatiently.
Petrie simply watched as Pterano briefly glanced at him worryingly and brought his beak against Cerusa's head to whisper something to him. The two went on whispering to each other, and with each second that passed, Petrie couldn't help but notice his mother becoming more frantic. He knew right then what this private conversation was about.
"WHAT!?" Cerusa suddenly shrieked loudly, making all five kids jump from shock.
"What's Mom so upset about now?" whispered Pearlwing.
"How am I supposed to know?" hissed Donnie, "She's always upset."
Petrie took no notice and just stared at his mother. She was hyperventilating as if she had just fled from a Sharptooth. She appeared to be so frightened of whatever her brother had just told her.
The little Flyer imagined that at that moment, things were only about to go from bad to worse …
Yeeeah, it has not been an easy time for our favorite Flyer pal, and now that he may end up being forced into a Mr. Thicknose-esque group setting filled with other children that will more than likely torture him to no end, how will Petrie be able to cope with such a situation? Will Cerusa manage to talk them out of forcing Petrie in, or is it an unavoidable scenario? This chapter may not have provided much in terms of pace, but I've at least established who the herd leader is, and we've got some spotlight on Petrie and Pterano's uncle/nephew relationship. For those of you who've seen LBT VII, I'm sure you all know how tragic this foreshadowing will be.
I deeply apologize for how long you've had to wait for this chapter. So many broken promises. :/ Firstly, I was so distracted by other things happening in life, most notably a health scare in October that landed me in the hospital (and no, it wasn't you-know-what). Also, this story was entered for the 2020 Fanfiction Awards despite not being finished, and I didn't want to update it in the midst of the voting period because I thought it wouldn't be fair. However, Windows Update failures have occasionally left my laptop in periods of limbo, and it's quite clear I'll have to back everything up and reinstall Windows, so I wanted to go ahead and publish this chapter while I still had a chance.
With that being said, this will obviously be my last chapter of 2020, but the story will continue in early 2021. So until then, have a good holiday season, but more importantly, wash your hands, stay safe and shop safely. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! :)