Words in italics represent character thoughts.
Been looking forward to this one for quite a while! The theme for the Gang of Five Fanfic Prompt of June 2020 is: Adapting.
Potential minor spoilers for The Swimmer Trials by Beaucephalis/The Lone Dragon from Chapter 67 onwards. You don't have to read his story before reading this one, but if you did I think you'd be pleasantly surprised with some tie-ins here. :)
"Me? I am a longneck too, see? And I have a lonngggg tail like you!"
— Ducky, The Land Before Time
Chapter 1: Hatching Worries
To most dinosaurs, walking was a necessary ability for them to survive, and one which they took for granted.
But to Ruddy and Hull, it was something that they knew their youngest child would have considerable trouble with from the exact moment the two adult swimmers witnessed it hatching from its egg.
This particular egg was the last of three to hatch, and though both parents tried to quash the lingering thought about the runt of the litter usually being weaker than their older siblings, the first thing which struck both of them was the size and shape of the tail that had broken through the fragile eggshell.
It had snapped vertically upwards in one swift motion, the force flinging a decent chunk of the membrane previously surrounding it away from the nest as the gray appendage jutted straight up into the air, now freed of its restrictive prison.
What worried the parents, however, was the abnormally large size of the tail when compared to the egg that surrounded it. Considering the sheer strength exerted by the tail as it broke through the eggshell and its size in relation to the remainder of the egg underneath it, they were forced to come to a grim conclusion with some nasty implications that no parent ever wanted to have to face.
That was not at all considered the shape of a normal tail for a hatchling to have, especially when Dribble and Penny could be used as a basis of comparison, the two hatchlings having hatched earlier in the day before the Bright Circle had descended.
Needless to say, the shape of the newborn's tail almost looked like it was the tail of a longneck, but Hull had seen his mate lay her eggs with his own eyes and was certain that it was their child. He gently gripped his mate on her shoulder as a show of support. As if on cue, the cracked egg lost its balance due to the large tail protruding from the domed surface and rolled on its side, splintering into pieces and revealing the hatchling within.
Ruddy let out a choked sob when she saw the hatchling break free from her confines and stretch out her limbs while exposing her underbelly, the mother leaning closer so that she could examine her newborn child from head to toe.
…or in this case, from head to tail.
Unfortunately, it was just as they had suspected. A birth defect in the tail, practically a death sentence for their species given that swimmers used their limbs and tail to assist with swimming. With one's tail overextended like this, it would be exceptionally hard to control, and it wasn't a far stretch to extrapolate that the child's ability to regulate and control their movement would be exceptionally hard, perhaps even impossible.
Curse the Big Water… why, oh why, must this happen to us, Hull wanted to say, though he stilled his tongue for his mate's sake. Despite trying to pull himself together, he felt his heart shattering when he caught sight of his child's inquisitive aquamarine eyes, shining as it reflected the dim light of the Night Circle above.
So young and vibrant, and yet so likely to have their life snuffed out of them by nature before ever reaching the Time of Great Growing. There was a reason that swimmers had many children, and it was because many of them didn't make it to adulthood before meeting a grisly end. To be afflicted with a crippling disability only further diminished the already measly odds of survival that all swimmer children found themselves being stacked against.
Unaware of all of this, the infant slowly wagged its oversized tail from side to side.
"It's a girl," Ruddy eventually stated, beak pressed into a small smile as her daughter started to let out a contagious giggle upon realizing the two large swimmers in front of her were enraptured by her tail, following it with their eyes.
"Gah, she's a really cute one, too." Hull pursed his beak, pointedly scratching his sharpened head crest. This particular child of theirs had inherited the same light gray skin as the rest of her family, and also shared the rounded crest at the back of her head with… well, everyone but him. "Well, what should we name her?" he asked Ruddy with a shrug of his shoulders, "Any ideas, dear?"
As if their daughter could somehow decipher and interpret what her parents' intentions were, she proceeded to obediently make eye contact with them, kicking her tiny feet about as she continued lying on her back. When she noticed the two adults getting closer, the swimmer suddenly bristled in fright, swinging its large tail in an upwards arc and covering her belly with it, which only further made it apparent that her body was positively diminutive relative to her imposing tail.
"Oh dear… I think she's a little frightened, Hull." Ruddy held her arm out to the side, beckoning her mate to take a few steps back. "Give her some space."
The child promptly calmed down when the shadows that had previously loomed over her body retreated backwards. As if on cue, Ruddy snapped her fingers in excitement right at that moment, muttering a single word.
Hull incredulously glanced back and forth between his mate and his child. "Pellie?" he repeated.
"You heard me right, dear. I think that this precious little dear should be named Pellie. Well, do you have any objections with that name?"
"Nope," he shook his head, before softly rolling the name around with his tongue and finding that Ruddy had made a good choice. Pellie was a nice name. Their little Pellie… yep, it was perfect.
The poignant moment was then broken in an instant when the newly-named Pellie attempted to get up from her belly-up position, only to end up struggling to even lift her head because her lengthy thin tail kept getting in the way.
Both Ruddy and Hull's hearts broke when it dawned on them that their daughter couldn't even get herself into a sitting position. Aside from her tail, Pellie hadn't shifted from her prone posture since she'd hatched, and now the prospect of her being able to move on her own accord at all seemed dimmer than the darkened depths of the Big Water. Her eyes soon flashed with horror when she realized that she couldn't maneuver herself. Pellie continued to writhe, thrashing her body about at random in hopes that she could somehow prop herself up.
Hull averted his eyes from the sight, unable to deal with the facts staring him in the face. The gray swimmer placed his palm in front of him to mask the tendons of his face contorting with agony.
Putting Pellie out of her misery now almost seemed like it would be an act of mercy. The only defense that swimmers had against predators were large numbers in a group and their increased mobility when in water, so it was almost a guarantee that the poor girl would almost certainly wind up as sharptooth fodder if it turned out that she truly was permanently incapacitated…
"Look, Hull!" Ruddy's voice broke the male out of his stupor. "The reason Pellie can't get into a sitting position is not because she's paralyzed… it's because she can't get a foothold thanks to her tail."
Hull jerked his head back to look closely at his thrashing daughter, realizing with a start that his mate was right — the reason Pellie couldn't get up was because she was unable to get a proper footing on the ground thanks to her abnormally large tail. Normally an infant swimmer's feet were roughly close in size to their tail, but in this special case the size discrepancy caused her feet to be unable to touch the ground from her current position.
Ruddy eventually decided to help Pellie out, reaching down to lift up her body so that the young swimmer could finally get into a sitting position. To the adult's surprise however, the brief expression of relief on Pellie's face was quickly replaced by an annoyed pout. She almost seemed frustrated that she had to be aided into a sitting position through the assistance of a third party.
"Oh man. I can clearly see that she's a feisty one," Hull observed the antics of his daughter as Pellie glowered at her mother, letting out an amused chuckle at the irony of it all. Of course the child who was the most disadvantaged by fate would also happen to be the one who was the least likely to take such a weakness lying down… of course that would be his luck.
Ruddy snorted at the remark. "She gets it from you, Hull," she playfully bantered.
"Ugh. And here I thought that her tail would be the only issue we would have to deal with." Hull clutched his head, feeling a migraine slowly coming. "This girl is definitely going to be a heap of trouble when she grows up, I can already foresee…"
…in more ways than one, too.
Hull frowned. There was something else that was nagging at his mind too from the moment he realized how helpless and fragile Pellie was.
"Ruddy? I think we should join up with a herd…"
The female whirled around, shocked at his declaration. "Did I hear you correctly, Hull?" she eyed her mate with a melancholic expression. "Didn't we meet each other solely because we both didn't agree with the traditionalist mindset borne by our respective herds and chose to leave when we were older? Don't tell me you're actually thinking of giving up our independent lifestyle just to go back to that!"
"I didn't finish, dear," Hull interjected, holding up his hand to cut in. "Since when did I say that we would have to join up with a traditionalist herd?" he proceeded to specify, his clarification earning a sigh of relief from his relieved mate. "Come on, Ruddy, you know me. We suffered under those heinous traditions! There is no way I'd ever let our children grow up the way we did!"
Hull abruptly paused, clamping his beak shut as his eye drifted over first to Pellie, then to their other two children who were peacefully sleeping by the side of the nest. "Crud… I almost woke them with that outburst," he muttered.
"Be careful, Hull," Ruddy chided teasingly. "If you already can't handle Pellie on her own, wait until Dribble and Penny both wake up."
"Anyway!" Hull coughed. "Not every herd out there will be like our childhood herds. We just have to find the right one to join, Ruddy. Once we do, the safety of numbers in a herd is more than worth the sacrifice of free volition, especially with Pellie here," he said, gesturing towards a still-grouchy Pellie. "If it's just us out here in the Mysterious Beyond with zero protection and a sharptooth ambushes our family… you and I both know that a swimmer like her will practically be finished."
His dire words hung in the air. Ruddy exhaled a tired breath, tilting her head up and gazing the starry skies above.
"I think you're right, Hull…" she finally admitted. "Let us discuss more and make preparations regarding that tomorrow morning, it is getting rather late." The swimmer then let out a yawn, sluggishly dragging her feet over to Pellie.
"Still, before we turn over for the night, I think we should at least introduce Pellie to her older brother and sister."
Before Pellie could let out a squeak in protest, she was being carted in her mother's arms off to her snoozing siblings, squirming defiantly every step of the way until she was lowered back to the ground.
Hull chortled at the sight, earning himself an annoyed glare from his mate. Rolling her eyes at him one more time for good measure, Ruddy let her frustration simmer away as she gently pat a rambunctious Pellie on the head, slowly coaxing the hatchling to sleep.
Yep. She was definitely going to be a handful.
When Hull saw Pellie drifting off, he decided to lay down for the night as well, with Ruddy following suit barely moments after him.
He could hardly wait for Dribble and Penny to meet their younger sister when they all woke up tomorrow. As far as he could tell, the three children would at least be together for the foreseeable future.
As for what an uncertain future would bring to their precious Pellie, all the anxious parents could do was to wait and see.
The only thing which Hull could hope for was that life would be lenient to her.
What's this? I'm actually early for the fanfic prompt for once? Blasphemy. :)
If you're an avid reader of The Swimmer Trials you might happen to recognize the name of this swimmer hatchling, and you'll probably be right, because yes, Pellie happens to be the swimmer OC that I submitted for that story.
Last December there was a call to action for anyone who wanted to submit their own swimmer characters to participate in the eponymous Swimmer Trials, and of course I snapped that opportunity up after being prodded and sent in my own creation. While drafting up my OC template for submission, I'd managed to flesh out Pellie's backstory enough to decide to give the disadvantaged swimmer her very own story. I really gained a soft spot for Pellie after creating her, I must admit.
This is my first Land Before Time story carried solely by original characters, something I've been apprehensive on doing for a while since I was uncertain if I could succeed in having OCs carry a fic by themselves for the longest time, but I have to give it a try haha! I've already done character studies of many canon characters, after all, so who's to say I can't attempt it with my own creations. :p