By Thomas Little Chief
This is chapter one of a novel Thomas Little Chief is crafting for Subversify publishing. I hope our Subversify readers enjoy it as much as we did.
The night was chill in the desert air when Doran et Alba left the confines of his residence. He had stopped momentarily to caress the hairs off the forehead of his wife Elna and then again as he entered the sleeping quarters of his two children, Vasa and Endal, their sleep only slightly disturbed as he crooned nursery prayers at the young twins in the darkness of the night.
There was momentary hesitation in Doran’s composure as he looked gently down at his children. This was the time of the Nebilus, and his responsibilities as Rook Prime was paramount to the colony, as fewer and fewer Draloc bondsmen were able to maintain the ability to communicate with, and in return foster the sacred link with the Draloc kin.
“Ah my children, if only that blasted dragoon had not chosen me.” Doran spoke in hushed tones of regret as he left the confines of the nursery room, and after making his way through the lower living quarters donned a night shift as he left the comforts of his residence, wondering if he would survive the tests the spring day would present him.
Walking from the edge of the settlement, Doran looked above him into the vast night sky. The constellations reflected the season and Gaumon, the Great Draloc, stood eternal with wings open, spewing flame and pitch into the Mausant Nebula, his eye, a decaying neutron star, flashing red and white in rapid ellipsis brought a sense of doom to his ancient bones.
“There are only a few generations left, Great Gaumon, and then we will be blinded to your children as you yourself will be blinded to us.” Doran spoke to empty desert, if not to the sands themselves, and gathering his wits about him, the man lowered his sight below the great constellation and fixed them on the lower slopes of the Aroath Plateaus, and hidden amongst them, the Conclave of the Xarton Riders.
It was hours of walking in the early morning night, over the lesser dunes of the desert before reaching the cascading slopes of the Plateaus and the associated surrounding Mesa’s that enclosed the Inner Goral Desert. A dim blue gathered on the horizon as the first of Xarto’s suns, a blue dwarf, prepared to herald the day in, and Doran’s climb to the Conclave would be rewarded with the rising of Salias, the primary sun of Xarto, a massive yellow star, and the bane furnace of the desert world known as Xarto.
Well inside of the Conclave, Doran made his way to the temple of Salias, the ritual prayers and customs would need tending, and the whole of the Conclave Riders would be gathered there, awaiting the arrival of their Rook Prime.
This is a very important day. Doran thought to himself as he walked among the sandstone walls and pillars inside of the temple, the wall braziers burning brightly against the confined darkness gave an ethereal glow to the interior of the caving and he finished his thoughts neatly, Every draloc rider will be looking to me for answers that I do not have.
The hours that followed brought monotone ritual for Massat et an Jact, although sometime during the ceremony the man lost himself to the mysticism and power accumulated through countless generations of draloc riders sheltered and fostered within the Citadel.
Massat, or as he insisted, Jact, found himself entwined by the deep resonate voice of the Rook Prime, and before he realized it he was enthralled by the commanding tones as the Prime spoke to the accumulated masses in High Dralc “Remember our ways, follow the steps of others before you and the new will now follow you.” Doran et Alba’s voice echoed long and solemn in the expansive dark cave, as well as in the mind and memories of Jact himself.
Swaying to and fro, Jact worded ceremony in ancient tongue with his brethren riders, the meaning of the chants long lost in the halls of bygone antiquity, but the atonement had substance, undeniable power and effect, and for with each crescendo of phrase he intoned, Jact fell further and further back into his own memories.
He saw himself long years ago, twenty to be sure, a young initiate showing signs of empathy with complex desert creatures, let loose into the deep scorching dunes to find communication with a Draloc, if he was strong enough.
Days he wandered the baking sands, searching for the valley entrance into the Mesa’s and Plateau’s that would summon him. And when he found that entrance, Jact crossed into the unknown, beyond the pubescent fear on his face he stepped between sandstone corridors, until he came to the vertical cliff base of a large Plateau.
Hand over fist he scaled the climbing walls in fading light. Night brought little rest and much blood from cuts and slices rewarded him by sharp rocks and cranny edges used for handholds. Hand span after hand span took him higher and higher and long hours into the early morning the vista of the surrounding desert became scenes of rolling dunes and open desert stained deep beige in various shades over the rolling sands under the bright Xarton moon.
The top was near and his stamina weak, gasping from dehydration and blood loss, Jact hauled the last hour climb until the cliff edge apex of the Plateau was behind him and he lay heaving air face down and near unconscious.
There he lay as the world became washed in shades of light blue. Composing himself Jact hauled his body from the ground, kneeling momentarily to shake dizziness from his head; the youth then stood and looked to the surroundings of the high flat aerie.
Long expanses of flat dirt and sandstone lay forward, perhaps a mile across to the other side, and near the center of the Plateau, and in a large outcropping of rocks and boulders nestled at the stellar feet of Gaumon movement fostered, and deep heckles borne of reptilian rasp echoed from within.
Swaying to and fro, compelled by the chant, Jact held on the balance of vision and reality, neither truly distinct nor separate from the other at the moment. Ancient rites and ceremonies in place for thousands of years had bonded and trained Riders of the Conclave and their draloc for the untold millennia, serving to strengthen and maintain the shared mental link between the two.
In the confines of the dimly lit cavern, the voices of over five hundred riders and initiates echoed in solemn rite against the walls as Doran et Alba’s voice cascaded and soared above the rest, leading initiates and riders alike. Although the initiates would have no draloc, as of yet to communicate with, it was the riders the ceremony centered on, and their draloc would without doubt be experiencing the ritual as well.
Again on the Plateau, Jact rose from his exhaustion of the climb, the reptilian hecklings continued from the outcropping and were a sure sign that a draloc was stirring in the early morning temperatures. Gauging the time was crucial for the youth, and as he advanced near the outcropping, he circled it by one third as well so as the rising of Salias would be behind him.
There was nothing to do now, no weapons or means of defense were allowed the child, and as the bane sun rose washing the blue light off the desert from her sister sun, so too did Jact reach out with his mind, sending tentative emotions wrapped in colors of purples and blue to soothe and ease the reptile.
There was a violent flash of red in the youths mind as the draloc rejected his invitation, and as the clear light crested the plateau edge he battled against the mental onslaught as a terrifying sight clawed its way over the rocky mass from within.
There are no true singular forms for a draloc; the kin share no size or color limitations to the breed in their heritage. Sizes and colors are random, as too are the physical manifestations; the only binding requiem for the species is the ability to spit fire and pitch, in this knowledge, the shape of the draloc that crested the rocks brought sheer terror to Jact.
A creature, near five meters in length, bathed in crimson red and gold clawed its way over the rocks. Holding close to the ground and resembling a bat in movement, it slid down the edifice and then began pacing side to side in front of the outcropping, heckling nervous awareness of its broken solitude.
As the beast moved side to side, Jact took in more of the features. The head was large and reptilian, golden spikes grew out and backwards and crowned the head from jaw line to jaw line and then converged under the lower mandible, joining into a single spike just under the chin.
The face itself was covered in brilliant red scales that enhanced the yellow cat-slit eyes; a beak style nose tipped the upper face and deadly sharp teeth concealed a long reptilian tongue, forked slightly at the tip. The neck flowed easily into the body and forearms and wings combined in single application.
The body of the beast was lean and lithe, leading to powerful hind limbs and a long tail for balance tipped with spikes and razor sharp plates. As the draloc clawed its disdain in front of the outcropping, it’s back gleamed crimson in diamond luster.
Teal circles ringed in green shined on scales and mottled on the leathery wings along the bone structure stained black, and down the spine and tail, and as the draloc rose on its hind legs and roared, the under belly could be seen and shared the golden hue and black streaks of the back legs and tail. This was no beast of burden, there was a feral quality denoted by a high intelligence and everything about this draloc spoke of pure predator.
Jact remained where he stood, bathed in the early morning light blinded the creature’s knowledge to his near presence and as he began meditations to ease his breathing and lower his heart rate, the draloc maintained it defensive postulation moving from side to side, the heckles becoming low hisses and deep snarls with liquid fire dripping through the beast’s razor edged teeth as it searched nervously for the invisible interloper.
Reaching out tentatively again, Jact brushed lightly against the very surface of the draloc’s consciousness with an invisible hue of serenity, settling ever so gently into the beasts mind, there was a perfect moment in time when both existed in and balanced the other, and then the beast became aware of him and rose violently on its haunches, standing high in the air with wings spread wide and spat a blanket of fire into the blinding sunrise.
Flaming pitch landed meters shy of the youth in sizzling globs here and there, and Jact advanced closer in sporadic crouched movement keeping the rise of Salias at his back and maintaining the mental link. Now within a meter and a half he kneeled and waited as ancient prayers and meditations flowed over his mind in unknown tongue.
Mesmerized by the mental onslaught, the draloc remained crouched on the ground, head swaying side to side, oblivious to the youth staring it keenly in the eye. Long moments the beast stared back through a shaded nictiting membrane over its eyes, and just as its other senses began to come aware of the boy’s prescience, the blinding rise of the bane star edged higher than the plateau top and the youth emerged to the beast in its immediate vision.
All hell broke out over the draloc’s mind, to say the least, and Jact seized hard upon the reptilian awareness, forcing his will upon it and causing the creature to dismiss the initial shock and fear of their abrupt introduction. As he continued the mental rituals, Jact stepped again forward and spoke in vision and word “I name you Taloc.”
Shaking its head violently, the draloc hissed and tried to wipe its clouded mind free. Jact began humming the chants in low, throaty rumbles and then said “Taloc e Fel” to the beast in near trance state as the feral reptile began to step sideways, manifesting its poverty of will into physical bluffs and intimidation tactics.
Jact stepped into the sideways walk, and both he and the draloc began circling the other in tight, slow arches. He will kill me if I cannot convince him to accept me Jact thought inwardly as he noticed flaming saliva begin to flow through the teeth of the lower mandible and drop in burning rivulets off of spikes under the jaw and forming flaming puddles of liquid pitch in the sand.
Again advancing the strife for domination of the beasts mind, the youth began intoning and wording the chants at and into the draloc’s mind as they circled a near death dance, Jact found time to address an irritation, thinking to himself, Taloc e Fel?
The name washed over his consciousness in a violent sandstorm as realization of its translation from ancient high Dralc dawned upon the youth and Jact spoke in reverence to the beast and the deserts “Your name is Talon and Flame.”
As the complexities of the name set in on the youth, the draloc dropped its posturing, and began a light heckling, not uncommon, but similar to the purr of a ringed desert cat. “You agree with your name, then?” Jact said to the beast. Pausing shortly and then finishing “Taloc e Fel?”
Stepping forward slightly, the draloc then held a sideways stance and lowered its heads to the sands and cocked an eye up at the youth. Jact felt a sensation of the name, talon and flame, but not as the wording, rather the name settled more on Talon/Flame. A brief pause and then the sensation of the name Taloc e Fel came as through the fire, comes the talon.
A fierce pride flowed into the boy, and the draloc raised its head high in reptilian vain, turning his head on long neck in the fashion of a predatory bird to glare down its beaked nostrils with thin slit eyes, as if seeking question or doubt from willing quarry.
Laughing slightly from Taloc’s vanity, Jact answered in verb and thought, “No, the name is fine. I can think of none better.” It’s now, or never the youth internalized as he stepped to within a meter of Taloc and dropped the mental restraints holding the beast at bay.
“I am Massat Jact.” The youth said, crossing legs and bowing low and formal, following as he again rose, “And if you let me live today, I will be known as Massat et Jact.”
This was the crucible, the time of decision for both child and draloc. The kin cannot be ruled through brute will, it is a decision of acceptance and trust, and as the youth stood, hands outstretched to the side he sent the vision of Massat et Jact wields the Talon through the fire as he prostrated his death for the vanity of the beast.
Taloc’s head jerked higher and back slightly, and the draloc stumbled against his back legs, disrupting neatly folded wings as forearms with three claws and an opposable digit sought to backpedal. Lowering his head, Taloc hissed in nervous distrust as he thrashed his tail side to side and knuckled himself sideways, keeping wings in a tight crisp fold over his back and agitated tail as his hind legs followed in shared distrust.
Jact tolerated the serpentine disdain momentarily, and then stepped forward and visualized his emotions in fact. You have been alone too long, little brother. Further steps stayed the retreat of Taloc in their boldness. You are not the size of the great predators, Jact thought in chiding understanding, but together we will learn how to defeat them.
Focusing his purest pride of Taloc, Jact took the final step and then reached out and gently caressed his hand over the draloc’s neck and broke the bond of insecurity. You have been driven from the kin because of your difference, removed to the outer desert outcast and alone.
The youth removed a small rod with a fine tip from his belt and began to scrape desert ticks and mites away that were seeking residence under scales and plates. Working his way up Taloc’s neck Jact found an immense infestation behind the golden crest, and as he began the laborious task of dislodging the parasites, Taloc succumbed to the sands gravity and laid belly down heckling high contentment.
Hours the youth spent delousing the reptile, and Jact utilized them wisely, placing intricate web after web of loyalty and trust over the draloc’s mind. He commented on scars and wounds as he tended over them, stretched out the vast wings and massaged the leathery flesh causing them to secrete oils to nurture and renew the tissue and enhance the luster and color as well.
The boy worked well into the evening blanketing his very being into Taloc e Fel’s awareness, and finally after honing the claws into scalpel precision using a shed scale, he arose and walked away from the unconscious reptile and scaled the edifice of the rocks and debris of the outcropping.
Inside a sheltered cove of the boulders, Jact found Taloc’s exposed lair, and after a brief search found a rich nest of sand spider pearls. Harvesting them in great haste, the boy greedily bit into them, bleeding them dry of the precious water entombed within.
Sand spiders, being inherently attracted to dralocs, will deposit their pearlescent sacs of water, harvested and wrapped in their own silk, within a lair generation after generation. The water resources can reach the tens of liters and are a valued resource for credit and harvest, the water sold and the silk spun into ultra valuable cloth utilized in elite ceremony.
At times a draloc will take fancy to random pearls and mouth them, and from the searing saliva precious diamonds of brilliant hues can result that will pay the dowry of exotic foreign clan princesses or warriors. After further inspection when none were found, Jact made tired egress of the outcropping and short bedding under a mild rock cleft.
The ability to easily achieve sleep was not the concern for the youth, rather the haste and need for him to move away from his draloc before it again awakened. Young initiates have been lost to their dralocs when the beasts, during the binding process, associated the children as possessions, and viscously guarded them to death.
Jact turned inwardly to ceremony again, and as he shut his eyes he placed his life in a short rite that would awaken him in two hours and fell into a void of deep falling sleep. There were no dreams in his free fall and in short order he jerked in mid-sleep, as if to catch himself from falling, and was at once vaguely awake.
Scurrying out from underneath the cleft and feeling as though he had just crawled under it, Jact took in the surroundings and noticed Taloc curled in a tight ball far to his right and fast asleep. Walking over to the beast, he was taken in as the stars gleamed across the draloc’s scales and wings in lustrous black liquid sheen in the night’s luminescence, as it breathed evenly in its slumber.
Brushing his consciousness over Taloc’s mind, and finding his layers of webs still intact, and point of fact to be settling in quite nicely, Jact laid pride on the sands and made way for the edge of the plateau and began walking the curve in search of an easier way off the high flat aerie.
The night was early into the morning hours, and the way aptly lit by the large Zarthan moon, casting dark hues and bolstering shadows of dunes and crevice alike on the far down desert scenery. Jact stopped at the edge of the plateau, and as updrafts of air heated by the cooling sands below flowed past the youth, he contemplated his return to the rookery, and how his life was now changed.
A wide circumference of the plateau gave ample time for thought, and in hand spans of time the youth came across a rift in the lip of the edge that showed promise of pathway to the lower plateaus and then access to the open desert sands below.
His path dimly lit, and cold chill now in the air of the enclosed pathway, Jact wandered ever down. Sometimes, short cliffs obstructed him, and the ones he could not easily scale down, he would traverse until his progress was no longer obstructed.
Expanding hours consumed his descent until finally he was firmly stepping on the desert basin and sands, bruised and battered by the nights trek. More hours of walking around the plateau brought him back to the side that he had entered in initially, and the youth set his direction for the return to the clan and the draloc rookery.
On the third morning of his walk out of the wilderness, with little rest and greatly famished for water and food, Jact became aware that Taloc e Fel had awakened and was savagely pining over his lonely status.
Making further haste in his steps, Jact traversed familiar sands and dunes and in a few hours was within sight of the initiate camp tents, knowledge of Taloc e Fel in frantic winged pursuit edged him forward in despair, and hobbling past the rope boundaries, sentries and riders walking around the neat corner of a tent caught site of the desert battered child and sent commotion rippling into the heart of the encampment that an initiate had returned.
Exhaustion and dehydration combined forces on the child’s senses and Jact crumpled to the ground clinging desperately to his feverish awareness as elder bondsmen converged on him in multitude asking if he was alright and from others if he had bonded a draloc and still others questing if the child had come across other initiates.
The onslaught was profound, and as his head was lifted off the sands and cool liquids offered to his parched and blistered lips, Jact failed to word his warning to the other bondsmen over the grit of his swollen and parched tongue as something never before seen came roaring from the skies and violently alit upon the sun blasted sands.
Taloc e Fel, now firmly on the ground, knuckled sideways of the assembled masses and roared great undulations and heckles as he paced side to side and ever closer to the confused and frightened men of the desert as feral fire dripped from his snapping jaws.
Within moments, three other dralocs alit on the scene as the reptiles responded to their bondsmen’s initial terror and they began their own undulations and heckling as they fought the mental restraints placed on them by their experienced riders not to start a frenzy killing.
Tension was high in the air, Taloc stood against the men of the desert as well as their bonded draloc and refused to back down, even as the sheer size of the other draloc dwarfed him by double and some almost triple. The smaller beast merely spit more screams of rage and laid his crest further back as he again advanced sideways at his foe, unrelenting in his need to reach Jact.
Refusing to yield reason to the greater mass, Taloc clawed his way intently sideways and forward, and as the other bondsmen were preparing to release their beasts mental restraints, Massat e Jact grasped a short sword from a distracted riders sheath and burst past the men and wildly swinging the blade at the massive dralocs, began screaming his own roars at the beasts, repeating over and over “I am Massat et Jact, he is my Kin! Leave him alone or I’ll kill you”
The unexpected outburst caught all off guard, and a seasoned bondsman, turning to his fellow brothers yelled urgently at them “Send your beasts away, the child has bonded this one and brought it with him from the desert!”
There was mild confusion briefly amongst the bondsmen as realization set in, and as Taloc again undulated in sheer rage, the men broke rank and made an open path between the enraged reptile and the initiate.