By: Thomas Littlechief
Taurn et Hesp, recluse in his work tent for the better part of the day, took little notice to the commotion on the distant edge of the encampment. If anything, he may have commented against himself about having the draloc handlers and young initiate helpers sanctioned in their caretaking skills.
Such was the mood lately, if you could equate that term in the sense of years, of Master et Hesp. This would be the twelfth year he had served as the Initiate Master in the encampment, a position handed at him a year after his mount had been slain during a rutting feud, and the years had been vile on Taurn’s mind, as well as his body from the grief of his kin’s death.
A communication had arrived earlier in the afternoon for Master et Hesp on wing of elite guard, the contents had simmered themselves into deep agitation and steel resentment in the man’s mind, a toppled decanter of spice flower wine, empty testament to his discord adorned his massively disorganized desk.
As the aged Master sat, he again rehashed the analytical demands from the Council of the Conclave in his mind, a rapping on the slate knocker secured to the tapestry on the exterior of the tent disrupted his thoughts and he flared malice in his voice as he barked out “I will not be disturbed!”
Brief silence accentuated his irritation into rage when the tent flap opened in defiance of his commandment, and as he labored out of his chair against his robes preparing to dole out harsh recrimination to an inept Page, confusion plagued his disdain as the Master of the Stables instead stepped through tent opening into the dimly lit and disorganized tent.
A moment the hardened man stood as his eyes adjusted to the darkened interior, and as he focused his sight on Taurn, he said “Master Hesp, an initiate has manifested an anomaly.”
The statement, or rather his title in the statement, sent the Initiate Master’s temper over the edge and he responded “You will watch your courtesies, Stable Master.” in edged warning.
“Apologies, Master et Hesp,” The man ceded, mock defeat his victory, again stating “an initiate has manifested an anomaly.”
Taurn composed himself and walked to the far corner of the tent and poured fresh spice flower wine for both men, returning with the proffered intoxicant in extended hand and quested hesitantly, “How so, Stable Master?”
Accepting the beverage, the man then stepped to a subordinate chair, and after adjusting his robes, settled into the seat and made as if he had taken a drink, and then said “A young initiate, Massat, returned from the desert after seven moon falls. He was wildly successful in bonding a draloc.”
“And how is this anomalous, Stable Master?” Taurn snapped impatiently between greedy draws on his wine.
“He came from the border of the inner desert.” The Stable Master stated tentatively, and then followed “He returned with his bonded draloc.”
The statement caused Taurn to spill wine on his robes as he choked in mid drink, and as the man stumbled slightly, wiping rich stains off his robes, he dropped into the seat at his desk when the Stable Master continued.
“There’s more, the beast is of the Lesser Epitome variety, dwarfed to nearly five meters. It is severely reptilian, exhibiting feral higher reasoning and cognitive awareness. This draloc’s intelligence, I believe, far supersedes the expectations hallmarking this Raptor subspecies.
“How is this so?” Taurn hissed, leaning forward in his chair, his face wrinkled in shocked denial. “No initiate has ever returned with a bonded kin. It takes years to call them from the wilds, if ever!”
“And its intelligence, how do you arrive at your statements, Stable Master?” Taurn furthered the question in greed and veiled disbelief written on his face.
“It recognizes names. The beast will follow a conversation, looking to individuals named in the interchange, identifying the person before they answer.”
“Its mannerisms are an indication as well. My mount and two other leviathans remain at the edge of the encampment. After the dwarf reasoned it out that we weren’t going to harm the child, we set the leviathans on a forward flank, obstructing its access to the child.”
“The beast not only calculates its non-retreat, it seeks to dissuade and confuse the leviathans to gain access to the child. If the Leviathans are not constantly reined to heel in countermeasures, the beast would sidestep the flank with tactical ease undoubtedly.”
“In light of your testimony, how are we to proceed?” Taurn responded after long dense moments. The spice Flower Wine, in tandem with the unprecedented arrival of child and bonded kin seasoned heavily on his mind and his thoughts flowed in mired, dense intoxication.
Setting his wine cup to the side, the Stable Master leaned forward in his chair and clasped his hands together in webbed finger interlock. His forehead in furled brow he answered, running his massive hands through his thick sandy hair.
“The child’s encounter with the desert was merciless, to say the least. It will be long, questionable days before we can answer if he will recover.” The younger man rearranged his seating, and concern settled over his features as he drew fresh breath.
“There can be no doubt that there is a profound bond between the child and beast. If we are to understand how it occurred, young Massat must first overcome his encounter.”
“Agreed,” Taurn responded, nodding his head in ascent, “but what of the Beast?”
“I can only assume that with a bond of this complexity, it would be detrimental to them both if we tried to intervene or impede on the symbiosis.” There was an unsure tone in the man’s voice, and his shoulders and hands shrugged in the complexity of the hypothesis.
Taurn abdicated his chair in favor of the freshly opened decanter of wine. Pouring another drink, he drew heavily on the violet draft to fend off tremors of addiction and turned with instruction to the waiting man.
“Bring them into the encampment. Taylor the beasts accommodations to the needs you feel necessary, and bring the child to the initiate infirmary. I will monitor his progress personally.”
There was brief hesitation in the Stable Masters response, but it was supplicated in surgical precision as the younger man spoke.
“The beast will be brought in, however, the child is no longer under the tutelage of the Initiate caste, being that his kin was summoned from the wilds at the time of his return, Massat has graduated your ministrations.”
Taurn was almost at the point of rage, his face flushed deep purple mirrored his ire and as he began to stammer the words of his wrath, the younger man rose and spoke over him.
“I have come here, not with intent of seeking your counsel, Master of the Initiates, but with this warning: Massat Jact is out of your care, the Conclave Priests have taken over the concerns of his well being, and if you try to interfere, I will have you quartered by my own mount.” And with those words said, the younger Bondsman left before Taurn could recover his wits.
Doran et Alba had little respect for the Master of the Initiates, a point he reinforced as he exited the tent by deliberately spilling his wine cup, disgracing the courtesy of his host in the misuse of liquid resources.
Adjusting his senses to open desert camp after his dramatic exit, Doran took in the lateness of the day. Already the Mausant Nebula was beginning to materialize in the northeast as the blue hues of Pleus shown through her larger sister’s waning rule over the arid world, soon both suns would set in a brilliant blue burst, and Gaumon would be the first to step from the vast darkness.
A quick glance back, to be sure that Taurn wasn’t going to confront him in public, at least not in his inebriated state, and Doran left the Initiates offices behind him. There were a few stops he needed to make before returning to the edge of the encampment, but thoughts of what to do once there almost kept him from realizing what was going on around him.
It was an eeriness that one could not miss, unless you were Doran et Alba at that very moment. His deep thoughts and intent footfalls took comfort in the absence of commotion around him, the silence nurtured his quandary, and it wasn’t until he glanced around after massaging an aching temple that he saw that everybody around him silenced and began speaking in hushed tones and behind veiled hands as he passed.
Redressing his desert robes in step, Doran walked up to a pair of squires he recognized from the stables, and when both youth remained silent in front of him, Doran rocked forward and back on his arches and said “Right then, both of you can walk with me.”
Both of the young men Doran knew, he had been following their stages of advancement through the Initiate caste. Broan Stast and Aldras Karr, eighteen and nineteen respectively, had been Squires of the Stables for the past two years as they worked to call their bonded beasts from the wilds.
As Doran began walking through the myriad tent lanes with the two youths, he stated “I have heard that both of your kin now hunt in the area, I believe they may soon join with the Rooks.”
Glancing sideways as both beamed in agreement, Doran took pride in the young men, Broan, the younger, was far stronger in his bond with his kin, and would soon be entering the Sentry Caste. Broan’s draloc, a magnificent Horned Basilisk, stained in liquid hues of blue and accented with violet from lower jaw to the under belly and the leather webbing spanning the wing bones.
Standing on four legs, in full defense posture, Broan’s beast soars near five meters tall, eleven meters from beak tipped face to tail, with a tip to tip wing span of twelve meters. Violent crimson eyes speak of a fierce territorial beast.
Fangs jutting from the raptor like face, some near 30cm, and great crests of horns at the base of the skull along with thick chevron plates along the neck and breast rounded out this scarce leviathan predator, and when Broan is able to drive the wild out of the beast’s mind, both will be trained as High Sentries to all Clans.
Aldras, slightly shorter than Doran’s height of two meters, shared the desert hues of his fellow clan’s men of sand brown hair and hazel green eyes, however shared those traits are, there is still something that separates Aldras from Broan and even Doran, and it laid in the youth’s inability to deal with the demands of sustained desert solitude.
Even as a young initiate, Aldras struggled with the demands the Initiate Camp instituted on his life, his preference for opting for easier solutions and lethargic thinking in essence was a perfect simile for the beast he had bonded, a lesser Leviathan of drab sand coloring and poor defensive scaling.
Both Aldras and Broan had came to the Initiate Camp the same year, still coddling for their matrons, each had found a sincere friendship in the other. Their vast differences aside, including the dralocs they bonded, the pair could almost be brothers.
Doran often wondered how their friendship survived the knowledge of the vast chasm that would separate them in life; for while Aldras and his mount would deal in menial tasks of clan labor, Broan and his kin would dine and be advisers to clan chiefs and warlords.
As the lanes amongst the canvas tents widened, the trio reached a crossroad that signified the center of the vast Initiate Camp. To the right laid a large conglomeration of immense vaulted tents and sandstone archives, dedicating libraries and centers of calm for essential skills needed by any who would bond a kin.
To the left, in immaculate precision, laid the myriad colored tents and canvas temples of the Conclave Priests and their methods of Initiate responsibilities, and Doran had need to seek advice with his masters there, but before he would enter into the silk lined tents, he would have some answers from these two young men.
Looking at Broan for the most direct answer, Doran asked “What do you know about the commotion on the Eastern edge of the encampment?”
There was brief hesitation as the youth gathered his thoughts, and then he answered squarely with the order of synapses on his tongue. “It is said that young Massat Jact has returned from the desert near death and hunted by an abomination.”
Broan solidified his stature and postured his training as he looked Doran in the man’s eyes and addressed him as an equal, seeking retort of knowledge factually. “This very morning, while I was in the deep dunes seeking a name my kin would answer to, I saw a force of five Death Dealers on wing. They were not in battle formation, but rather they flew in clipped formation; signifying the death of a rider.”
Seeking his opportunity to add his amount to the conversation, Aldras then volunteered “When Salias soared in her zenith; Master et Hesp received a herald from the Elite Guard. It is said that he has just left the encampment in a state beyond inebriation, and in an incoherent rage.”
Snapping his head to the side severely to address Aldras in his entirety, Doran demanded “When did you hear of this?”
The young man seemed almost abashed beyond response, and Broan came to the aid of his brethren and said “It has been on the lips of everybody we have passed, Master. Have you not heard it?”
A brilliant blue flash of the setting of Salias and her smaller sister Pleus surged over the sands and canvases of the encampment, Doran looked high into the sky in the sudden darkness. The red and white ellipsis eye of Gaumon resonated brightly, and strangely seemed larger and blurred to the naked eye.
And then as Gaumon stepped out of the vast black nothingness, he pulled the stars and constellations out of the dark to bring ethereal light to the sands of Xarto, and as Doran returned his attention to the confines of near reality, lighting sticks in the lanes and larger urns and pyres in the greater tents shed their gelled water barriers and began burning draloc pitch, bringing radiant heat and lighting to the depths the night sought to entomb the encampment with.
Doran held his meditation a brief moment more and then said to the two young men “There is much going on, Massat has indeed returned from the deserts, but the beast that arrived with him was not in predatory pursuit, it is more apparent, however, that the child bonded this kin and brought it out of the Inner Goral Range with him.”
Both of the young squires listened in unbelieving nervousness, and as Broan breached the stilled moments by saying “No Initiate has ever brought a kin with him out of the deserts, Master.” Aldras finished in hushed tones “And the child is only twelve years old.”
It was a decision Doran made without hesitation, and as he extended his arm in the direction of a large open tent, he said in hushed tones to the young men he had such high confidence in “Come sit with me, you are now both men of the clans, and I need the help of trusted men before we lose control of this situation before we understand it.”
Both young men followed the Master into the open seclusion, new found pride bolstered each and together they felt as if the long tethers of their Initiate tribulations had been severed as they sat in congress with their elder.
Doran looked at the two men seated in chairs in front of him as he sat casually on the edge of a slate desk. He spoke in tones that made the pair feel trusted and equal in the Masters eyes. Even after immense minutes, as Doran explained the long details of the day, both Broan and Aldras held an air of adulthood the elder Master found new pride and respect in.
Everything Doran told the young men indeed shocked them. But as he spoke he used the mastery of the bond with his draloc, infusing confidence into the younger, more susceptible minds of both squires.
Soon he reached the end of what he felt the pair need to know, assured they need not question what he had told them, he sent them in separate directions saying “These are duties I need you both to do, I expect you will keep what I have told you close to your chests until the Conclave Priests announce more.”
Both Broan and Aldras snapped at attention out of their chairs when Doran stood, and each said in unison “Yes, Master.” as both left with the speed of youth on their heels, Doran made his way again towards his Masters tents.
It was a short walk to Master Hagen et Straul’s tents, and arriving at the outer entrances, Doran briefly stared down a pair of Sentry Adepts before they opened the flaps, yielding to the dominance of the elder man.
Heated argument ensued within, seven men; Hagen et Straul, Padrel et Frenjk, Garen et Kest, Welve et Treub, Kroan et Sytte, Tynes et Keade and Predden et Kurshd delivered a two sided debate lethally between dissimilar Clans.
Masters et Straul, et Frenjk and et Kest were all in the Caste of the Conclave Priests, however Masters et Treub and et Sytte were of the Initiate Caste and Masters et Keade and et Kurshd belonged to the Caste of Sentries, and the latter four were lethal in their demands.
Welve et Treub stood eye to eye with Padrel et Frenjk, heated tones speared his voice and inner vile stained his elderly body far past his years. Using intimidation and postulation, the aged man spat harshly at the younger Conclave Priest “The creature is a murderer; the Castes will yield to our commandment to destroy the abomination!”
Master et Frenjk stood firm in the sand floor of the vast tent, calmness from years of meditation radiated off his psyche and he responded in the merest reason “There is no evidence that the creature is indeed the murderer you seek, we will not respond in favor of your demands until we know if the beast is indeed an abomination.”
“Three Initiates found rendered and mutilated in the deserts in the same amount of days,” Welve et Treub spat vehemently in Padrel et Frenjk’s face, further triads of anger shook in his voice as he waved angry fists in the air and hissed greatly “the beast will be killed before anymore Initiates are slaughtered!”
Before Master et Frenjk could respond, Hagen et Straul, truly ancient in his years, arose from his chair with some discomfort whilst he waved both hands palms down attempting to ease tensions; he spoke in the ease of hard earned lessons.
“Again we cannot be sure if the draloc is indeed an abomination, it has made no attempt at any life since it arrived this afternoon.”
Master et Treub immediately had his atrophied hand in the air and was about to start a new tirade through the ever increasing purple in his face, when Predden et Kurshd fluidly stepped out of his chair and grabbed the irate Masters hand in midair and gently pushed down as he stepped forward and began speaking another argument.
“There is little time to debate this. The abomination has remained at bay only for the reason of the presence of greater Leviathans. Should their prescience be absolved, the beast would reach the young initiate, and with the desperation the beast has shown to get to the boy, it is only obvious it intends to slaughter our young resource.”
Garen et Kest, stepped forward, the sarcasm in his voice mirrored his youth as he spoke “It is just like the Sentry Caste to attack any unknown shadow under Salias. If you lot had your way every kin or bondsman that had a sore tooth during a bad morning would be put to sword.”
This of course set off a chain reaction amongst the various Clansmen, great shouts of arguments absorbed reluctantly into the inner silk lining of the tent, and after long moments of the great clamor on the aged ears of Master et Straul, he banged the butt end of his dagger on his desk top until he was sure his voice would carry over the angered verbal brawl.
“Master et Alba has returned to our congress, there is yet wisdom to be heard from him I believe, and we will not move until he has had equal words in this forum.”
All eyes turned to the Master of the Stables, and in grim prosecution, he adjusted his robes and stood nonchalantly until he was sure every single person would suffer his words in their entirety.
“I was on the outskirts of the encampment when the boy arrived. He was severely desert worn and dehydrated. There are various cuts and contusions that cover the boy in his entirety, but they indicate they were sustained in the pursuit of extreme desert survival.”
“The boy’s hands are covered with lacerations that indicate he scaled enormous heights of vertical sandstone. The only area where he could have sustained such injuries in the timeline he was gone suggests he wandered into the boundaries of the Inner Goral Desert, a harsh environment to be sure.”
“Taking into consideration the nature of the child’s injuries, it is wise to consider that they are environmental, and not related to feral kin assault.” This, of course, started a slight murmur amongst most in the tent, and when Doran asserted he was not done in harsh remand, all simmered again.
“Now the beast arrived on the hem of the lads robes, and other representatives of all our clans were present at the time. At first it seemed that the beast was indeed feral and after the initiate, but when the other Leviathans arrived, the beast began to display tactics to elude the larger kin, tactics that I remind you gentlemen displayed its abilities of higher reasoning to resort to non-violence.”
Welve et Treub began an outburst, and Doran silenced the wraith immediately when he said “I am not finished et Treub, if you cannot silence your lack of honor, then kindly give excuses for your petrified ass and be gone from the Priest Caste’s premises. I will finish my say with or without your measly prescience.” Brief rage flashed over the man, but his tongue remained behind his closed teeth as Doran continued.
“When the beast arrived initially, Massat Jact was near unconsciousness, and it was almost desperate to gain access to the child, but as the Leviathans arrived, the child mustered strength beyond him-self and in the confusion secured a sword from a distracted bondsman.”
“Now the idea is absurd, but the child turned the blade at the leviathans and began screaming that the beasts was his and they were to leave his kin that he had bonded alone, the child even went as far as to call him-self, and I quote, ‘Massat et Jact’.”
An uncommon aura blanketed the silk lined room, and all suspended their attention in the scant seconds it took for the Master of the Stables to continue. “When the child succumbed to his desert ordeal and lost consciousness, the beast was nearly frantic until we began to stabilize young Massat, and it is at that time the kin, a Lesser Epitome and extremely rare in manifestation, began to show its true cunning.”
Again Doran held scant moments in the air as if they were ages being recorded laboriously in hard tome, and his words brought further unrest when he spoke them in his own time. “The child claims that he has named the beast ‘Taloc e Fel’, or in ancient tongue, ‘through the fire, comes the talon’.”
Sensing Doran’s weary state, Master et Straul asked the Master of the stables “And what is your opinion as to what is to be done?”
“We shall observe the boy and his kin. It is obvious that there is a profound bond between the pair. I do not believe his draloc is the feral beast we need to seek out and destroy, to do so without authorization from the larger Rook Clans would be dangerous.”
In immediate countermand, Welve et Treub demanded “And who are you, Stable Master, to command a stay of our hands?”
When the other representatives of the Initiate Caste and Sentries worded their approval in Master et Treub’s words, Doran decided to end the discussion, Immediately and with prejudice.
Doran et Alba had always remained reluctant to reveal the true strength in his bond to his kin, however when he did, it left most people deeply scared and afraid of the hardened Clansman, and tonight would catapult the man into the higher echelons of the Priesthood of the Conclave in his display of raw power.
As Doran clenched his fists and drew them up to his chest level, all the flames in the tent began to falter and dim, bottomless cold infiltrated the inner tent as the Master of the Stables began to draw ambient heat from the room and focus the energies on his fists and massive forearms, blue flames ignited in his eyes and burned heatless and ever colder in their consumption.
Doran’s upper robes shattered in shards of frozen ruin, exposing his bare upper torso, and as the frozen flames consumed his eyes entirely, the man opened his fists, palms up, bringing into existence great orbs of heatless blue fire that floated gently above his palms.
A great serpentine rumble resonated in high testosterone through Doran’s words, and he spoke in terms of absolute rule, he floated slightly above the sands.
“I am the voice of the Rook Prime in all considerations you contest in this boy! On penalty of your life, no harm shall befall the child or beast!”
Raising his palms above his temples, Doran snapped his fists closed as he brought his forearms down violently against his sides. A blue explosion detonated from the Master of the Stables, knocking the bondsmen all to the floor and ripping the tent to shreds around the shell shocked men.
“If you are not a Priest of the Conclave, your chances of surviving me are very remote if you do not remove yourself from my sight before I regain control.”
It was far beyond what he intended, but as the flames diminished, the dazed bondsmen picked themselves up in absolute terror of the Master of the Stables and scattered the debate in their hasty retreat as his feet returned to the sands.
Assessing his brethren, Doran was dismayed that Master et Straub had suffered a head wound and would be hours in a concussion before the aged patriarch would find coherent speech again. Looking to Padrel et Frenjk, Doran stated.
“It is not safe here for the boy or the beast.” Padrel nodded agreement in the man’s words and asked “So what shall be done?”
A long moment Doran considered, and then answered “I have sent trusted squires to gather supplies and gear. I shall take the child back into the wilds, with all luck and the blessing of Salias herself, the beast will follow us and we will have some time to sort this mess out. This is not the first time an Initiate has required intense supervision with their kin, and for what Massat lacks in age and training, I believe he has more than made up for in the bond to his beast.”
Already other Clansmen were arriving in response to the destruction of Master et Straub’s tent, and finding a dark robe of the Priesthood in the scattered obliteration, Doran donned it and secured the sash in knots signifying to all that he was an emissary of the Inner Conclave.
There were no questions from the arriving kinsmen, and taking control of the situation, Doran stated to the men simply “There has been an incident here, it involves the anomaly on the edge of the encampment, and until Master et Straub is able to resume his duties, Master et Frenjk will hold his offices.”
All nodded understanding, and as Masters et Straub and et Kest were removed to nearby tents, the rest dispersed without waiting for dismissal. Doran, searching further through the wake of his demonstration, soon found a scrap of leather parchment and placed it on the desk after he righted it from the sands.
In deep concentration, Doran ran his hand above the scrap of parchment, and as his hand moved over the surface, words etched in blue flame wrote themselves into the leather and then faded from existence.
Looking then to the two Sentry Adepts, still dazed from their traumas, Doran offered the parchment to them and said “Take this to Krelst et Hanjd, within your order. Before you give it to him, tell him I said to be easy on you.”
As the young men took the magikd parchment and left, both felt as they had donned as vest of dread, and in their retreat, neither saw Doran laughing silently to himself, nor did they hear Padrel whisper to the other man in a low hiss “That was absolutely uncalled for Doran.”
Looking his friend in the eyes, Doran finished off his humor in a hard clansman nod, “They will suffer no harsh recriminations, and if they’re to be sentries, it will do them good to learn to seek out dissuasion and deception before reporting to superiors.”
Padrel, already looking for other ideas to address the myriad confusions of the day, held Doran’s eyes in hard stare and then said “Your option is risky Doran, and your kin shows signs of needing to return to the vast sulfur fields of the far Southern magma wells also. Will it be safe for you without your beast?”
“Rastin indeed grows ever hungrier, I cannot delay his return to his feeding grounds in the south much longer, but even if Rastin left, I believe Massat’s beast can be controlled. You know I am not without my defenses, and we must know if Massat has learned of a new way to bond the kin or if this is simply an anomaly. I will not allow the Caste’s to destroy these questions before I have had a chance in finding answers.”
Grim determination was in the man’s voice, and Padrel could not deny the dangers for the beast and child remaining within the compound. As he nodded his head finally in agreement, doing so only because he understood more so than most, that there was nothing he could say or do would sway the other man in any sense, Padrel found little sustenance in the words that followed.
“I am taking the child tonight, before we lose control of him to the other Clans and Caste’s. I am more than sure the other Caste’s will seek us out in the next few days, if not the Prime himself. What I need from you is not barriers, but rather distractions to keep others from following too soon. Krelst will help, and I’ve promised he will get first considerations when it is time to place Massat.”
There was little argument Padrel could ledger with his kinsman, and with a stout handshake, the two men parted, Padrel to seed distraction, and Doran into the night to spirit the child Massat and his kin to safety under color of night and confusion.