"Oh come on, Yolande," said Neera teasingly, "you're wonderful with those kids, and you know it."
"It's just that," replied Yolande laughingly, "I have so many! More than any other female in the Herd."
Chanda just smiled, saying, "Just be thankful they all healthy and happy. It's all that matters."
"I hear you, honey," That was Eema who spent much of the confab reminiscing on the old days when she brought forth her first hatchlings. Of course this was way before any of females present were born, and Eema reminded them that, "No matter how many babies you have, or if your own health is not too great, it's important to love them all the same. Let no one tell you how to rear your children or say you're doing wrong." She looked at Vonda who so bitterly recalled her own experience with pushy females – one in particular – who gave her a very hard time when Chanda and Quinten were born. Vonda knew she was at a low point in her life, and that nosy, loud-mouthed Fatossa took advantage of that. Well, that was all in the past, and now Vonda could at last reconnect with her daughter and enjoy all those lovely grandbabies.
Vonda watched as her daughter conversed lively and knew exactly which fruit to pick out. Chanda could tell these things by touch and smell.
"Here, Mom," she said, rolling several juicy peaches in Vonda's direction, "I know these are your favorites."
"I still don't know how you do it, Chanda," said Vonda, still in awe of her daughter's independence. "I imagine without your sight, the other senses have grown stronger. I've heard of such...When one sense goes, the others strengthen as to compensate."
Eema nodded, "I've heard that, too. Remember old Grither?" Grither was an old dimetrodon, the very last of his kind and a throwback to a bygone era. He often counselled Eema on a variety of subjects. Eema looked at Chanda and Neera, adding, "He was quite a few years before your time. Anyway, his hearing went, and I swear his sense of touch improved greatly. Why, he could tell who or what was coming before they got upon us. Good old Grither...I often think about him, especially now. Come to think of it, Grither had the same thing you have, Chanda. Couldn't go too long without eating or he'd go into shock just like you. His eyes were fine, but it was his heart that finally gave out."
Chanda shook her head, saying, "Poor Grither. To think he suffered just like me. If we only knew what this malady is, and how to cure it. All I can do is manage it, and accept what it does to me."
As dusk fell over the valley, the Herd settled in for sleep. One corthyosaurus family gathered around Chanda and her brood – the way it should be. In that circle were Chanda and Omar, Quinten and Yolande (and all eleven baby dinos!), Vonda and...Well, someone new. Seems during the females' afternoon confab, a widowed male corthyosaurus happened upon the group. This was not by chance, as Aladar and Zini played matchmaker. The leader of the Herd and that wacky lemur, after hearing of Vonda's past troubles, decided it was time to do something good. Why not? She's a widow, having lost Chibro years ago. Then there was Lowin, a corthyosaurus about the same age as Vonda. He lost his mate during that awful post-Fireball march across endless wastelands.
So...two lonely dinosaurs who were in dire need of companionship. Lowin had only one son, and that son happened to be Yolande's brother. How much sweeter could this get?
It all happened so casually, the introductions that is. Aladar and Zini, accompanied by Lowin and Yar, just happened to stroll by the magnolia tree where the females gathered. Neera and Plio knew what was up, so they played along. It was Plio who offered the guys some refreshment...
You know, sometimes things turn out so well...almost too well...
Vonda and Lowin hit it off at once, and Chanda and Quinten were just too thrilled their mother would at last find happiness. There had been enough pain and suffering; now was the time for rejoicing.
"You know you're marrying into all these grandchildren, Lowin," Vonda said teasingly. Lowin smiled, replying with equal humor, "Well, Vonda, it seems we both gain quite a family. And I have eleven! Oh well, the more the merrier. Actually, it has been so long for me, being without the comfort of a mate. Lora died en route to the Nesting Grounds, right in the middle of the desert. I hadn't time to grieve, what with Kron pushing us so. Yolande took it easier than I thought, but I know it's been hard being without her mother. Lora would be so proud of Yolande's choice of mate. Quinten is good to her, as Omar is to Chanda."
Vonda glanced over at a now sleeping Chanda entwined lovingly with Omar, their six slumbering children huddled securely around their parents. How wonderful for all, the way things turn out. Within a few days, there will be a second pairing to celebrate, a new blended family to love and cherish. While Vonda still grieved for her long dead mate Chibro, she now had Lowin who showered her with love and devotion. Why didn't she and Lowin cross paths years ago? That was one of life's little mysteries, but now was the time to look to the future.
She still worried about Chanda whose illness began to take its toll again. Just before retiring for the night, Chanda complained of being extra tired, listless even. She felt a pain in her lower back that had plagued her for nearly a month before she laid her eggs. That pain came and went, even when her eyesight totally failed. However, Chanda, ever the trouper, seldom complained or dwelled on her state of health; just coping with the onset of blindness was daunting enough.
"My only prayer," said Vonda as she snuggled next to Lowin before drifting off to sleep, "is for a miracle, a cure for Chanda's illness. I worry about her so, and somehow, I can't shake this feeling that when I look upon her, it will be the last time."
Darkness bathed the Nesting Grounds, the crescent moon and myriad stars as the only light. Yet, no one was awake to enjoy the heavenly display; the Ground's residents, from the towering Baylene to the spritely Suri, slumbered under that starry deep blue vault. So why was one seeing light as if day?
Chanda thought she heard one of the babies stir, and ever the alert mother, she awoke only to sense a feeling of awe and wonderment. No, the children, along with Omar and the others, were fast asleep. Nothing to worry about, but...
She felt the pain again in her lower back, more excruciating than before. She felt weak, numb, lethargic. Not wanting to disturb the others, Chanda quietly shifted herself as to allay the pain, but that only brought temporary relief. Trying to go back to sleep, Chanda, in her own dark world, so much wanted to see the stars; it was a particular favorite pastime since childhood. She craned her head up as if she could still see them. Of course, she never forgot the placement of this and that constellation, sensing the brightest star which appeared cradled in the crescent moon.
As Chanda continued to stare up at the stars with sightless eyes, she sensed a swath of light swooping down from the heavens. She had not been able to distinguish dark from light since losing her sight, so she could not understand why all the sudden she could "see" this light. Was her eyesight coming back? Could this be the miracle she heard her mother pray for? Oh, if anything, Chanda wanted so much to see again, even though she had adjusted to going through life not able to see.
The light grew stronger; Chanda wondered if the others could see it, that is if their sleep had been disturbed by the growing brilliance. Yet no one stirred; no one noticed this brilliant light. Could it be, Chanda thought with a shudder, another Fireball coming to destroy their verdantly lush valley? No, because all Chanda could hear was silence. The Fireball caused much commotion that night – birds squawking and shrieking, flying frantically away from the Fireball's deafening screaming across the sky.
"So if it's not a Fireball, what is it?," she wondered out loud.
Then there were voices, unlike any other she'd heard before. Yet there was something very familiar about those voices; Chanda had heard them before, before the blindness set in.
"Chanda...Chanda," the voices said to her ethereally. It was them, the very celestial beings who appeared to her months before.
Miraculously, Chanda could see again, and she could make out the shapes of these beings swooping down out of the heavens. The sky illuminated with such a brilliance that night became as bright as day. She saw the beings – light, ethereal, graceful, beautiful – winging their way toward her. Accompanying them were apparitions of Chanda's long dead family: her father Chibro, her grandmother, her siblings who died upon hatching. She could make out the shapes of other dinosaurs who passed on generations before, one of which was the legendary dinosaur Gotoma.
"It is time, Chanda," said Gotoma. "You have done well in your short life. Now is the time to release you from pain and suffering."
Chanda could not understand, and the ghost of her father approached, saying compassionately and lovingly, "My dear daughter, how much I wished I had lived to see you and your brother grow into the fine adults you've become. I've watched from beyond, watched your mother suffer under the insensitiveness of others. I've felt her pain, and I've sensed your courage as you faced this illness and its consequences. Chanda, your children will be well taken care of; your family and friends will see to that. Come, my dear. Follow the light..."
Chanda wasn't so sure what to do, but as if compelled by an otherworldly force, she arose from her spot next to Omar. Her mate, not even the babies, didn't even stir. She looked back to see her children, the first time she ever saw them with her own eyes. How beautiful they were, how utterly peaceful they looked slumbering next to their father. She saw her mother sleeping deeply with Lowin, the male corthyosaur destined to be her stepfather. How strange for Quinten whose mate Yolande would not only be his mate but his sister of sorts. Stranger still – and sadder – that Chanda had to leave her family and friends without saying good-bye. Perhaps this was what Baylene was saying that things happen for a purpose, that one must face down their own demons before moving on. There must be some sort of closure to a portion of one's life. Well, Chanda's life was nearly coming to a close. Not that she was afraid, on the contrary. All her life she had to battle attacks and seizures, the disease's ultimate complication in robbing Chanda of her eyesight. That pain in her lower back signalled, according to her father's spirit, the end was coming soon. Her kidneys had begun to shut down, and now it was a matter of moments before Death overtook her.
She stood at the edge of the Nesting Grounds now, a path of brilliant white light before her. Chibro and Gotoma stood at the end of that road, beckoning her to come. Without looking back, Chanda stepped onto that path, allowing the light to engulf her. How miraculous! She felt no more pain; her eyesight returned tenfold. Gone was the tiredness, the lethargy. All she felt was peace. Chanda continued down that path, finally joining her father at the end. The light pulsated around them as Chibro caressed his daughter. Those ethereal creatures continued to wing their way about the valley, illuminating the night with heavenly brilliance. They commenced singing in praise and rejoicing, exalting in the triumph over adversity.
The illuminated road slowly vanished behind them as Chibro stretched out his forepaw to his daughter, saying, "Welcome home, Chanda."