The thundering paused every few minutes; the air rose heavy in anticipation
of the next assault upon the soil. The rhythm was familiar to the groups of
Unarra tending to the various tasks of the day. Some even used the noise to
jolt them back awake after falling asleep from a night spent playing too
many games of hyra. Atlak hated how the dust was stirred into the air, how
his feet vibrated afterward and caused him to pause in his work to recover.
Tynel Mellor and Tynel Atlak were lashing groups of vines together for the
trainers' use. Mellor marveled at his spawn's ability to work
single-mindedly, and had praised Atlak on many occasions at the amount he
could accomplish in one day, even in comparison to such experienced workers
as Mellor himself.
Mellor had hoped the long day would slow the relentless questions from his
curious spawn, but such was not the case. Atlak paused only long enough to
voice his frustration with the rippling ground swells experienced while
taming the Pikatan. Atlak turned his attention back to Mellor and continued
probing, "...but if Tallic had such obvious talent and empathy with the
beasts why did the Tresed relinquish him to apprentice status for so long?
Is that why he left? Some say you were friends. What was..."
"We are still friends." Mellor was thankful for the growing tremors of the
Pikatan. "That is enough about Tallic for today my progeny; the taming
exercises have begun."
Upset that his questioning had ceased, Atlak tried not to cough as the dust
kicked up around him. "Of all the creatures, what is so sacred about the
Pikatan anyway?" Atlak's scowl grew deeper and darker with every leap and
hard landing of the Pikatan.
Mellor was amused. "Keep that up, Atlak, and your face will become etched
"Just once, I would like to stomp through their valley and disrupt them
while they are trying to get work done."
"I suppose you would also want to be revered as the Sacred Atlak too then?"
Mellor smiled. "Perhaps you would teach the Unarra about the patience of
taming as well?"
The reprimand was enough to keep young Atlak from continuing to outwardly
show his distaste for the Sacred Pikatan. Atlak just grumbled to himself as
clouds of dust mushroomed into the air not far from where they worked.
However, the thunderous quakes caused by the Pikatan didn't stop this time.
A telepathic warning was sent to all nearby, but Atlak was distracted by the
sudden and chaotic rearing of the Pikatan. Something was wrong.
Most of the Pikatan were rounded up before any large amounts of damage were
done. Yet, one crazed animal, its eyes rolling in its skull, careened
forward with its strange loping leaps, dodging all attempts at capture.
Atlak's insides churned, a mix of ice and painful heat as he looked up to
see a silhouette of a figure on a near-distant hill. Atlak began to scream
even before Mellor was trampled...
Mellor slept, his mind wrapped in darkness as his body was wrapped in
bandages. His consciousness floated, secured away from pain and all other
feeling, content to drift. Sounds started to break through the darkness,
though, and, so slowly he wasn't even aware of the transition, Mellor awoke.
The sounds that had awakened him resolved into two quietly arguing voices.
He recognized Atlak's immediately, and a moment later placed the other as
belonging to one of the local healers.
Atlak was trying to keep his voice down to avoid disturbing his sleeping
parent, but the best he seemed to be able to manage was a loud stage
whisper, "I'm telling you it was him! I wasn't so young when he left that I
wouldn't recognize him!"
"And I'm telling you it couldn't have been him. No one has seen him for
salvods, he must be dead by now," the healer responded in a calm,
no-nonsense tone. "Besides, the peace-keepers found no trace of him on the
hill where you say you saw him standing." The healer lightly stressed the
word "say" as if to imply he doubted Atlak's faculties were in his full
control at the time. Atlak opened his mouth to give an angry refusal but his
parent interrupted him.
Both Unarrans gave a startled gasp when Mellor spoke, "Who do you speak of,
Atlak? Why is it so important that you must disturb my healing rest?"
Atlak opened his mouth to answer, and then glanced at the healer, who was
eyeing him sternly. "No one, Parent, I'm sorry I woke you," he finally
Mellor looked searchingly at Atlak for a few moments before his eyes glazed
over with pain again. "You're keeping something . . . from me," he murmured
with some effort, "My Child . . . What are trying to protect me from?" He
trailed off into silence as his eyes closed and he once again sank into the
The healer bent over to check Mellor and nodded once to himself, satisfied
that he was again deeply asleep. He turned back to Atlak, "Your parent will
be fine but there is nothing more you can do for him now. I suggest you go
back to work to take your mind off of things."
Atlak made a non-committal grunt and headed towards the doorway. The thick
mat of vines covering the opening pulled aside at his approach so he could
pass. He paused in the altooslight and looked towards the field where he and
his parent had been working earlier, but already the single-mindedness his
parent had praised him for earlier had seized upon a new obsession and,
turning quickly, he made his way to the hill where he'd seen the Unarran who
had telepathically agitated the Pikatan to such a violent level.
Atlak scanned the ground, but saw no clue as to where the person who'd been
there had gone. He cast about the village with his mind until he found the
familiar touch of his Kadin, a small creature that had been his first pet
and was gifted with a keen sense of smell. Atlak called to the Kadin, which
quickly came out of the village and bounded up the hill towards him. Atlak
smiled at the Kadin and patted it affectionately, then asked it if it could
track the scent of the Unarran who had been on the hill before the
peacekeepers. The Kadin obediently bent its nose to the ground and snuffled
about a bit. After a few moments, it picked up the scent and ran off towards
the nearby forest. Atlak hesitated for a moment, looking back at the
village, then set his mouth in a grim line and followed the Kadin as it
plunged into the forest.
It was pleasantly cool in the shade of the trees, but Atlak couldn't let
himself relax. He clucked his tongue a couple of times at the Kadin, letting
it know it should range ahead and keep quiet. They had been hunting together
before and the Kadin was well trained, it made very little noise as it
scampered ahead. Atlak continued as quietly as he could, following the
simple mental tug the Kadin emitted to let him know where it was. The wind
rustled the branches overhead gently as Atlak passed beneath.
Time passed, and Atlak noticed the trees thinning. He stopped suddenly, at
the edge of a clearing in the forest. His Kadin continued on around the edge
of the clearing, but Atlak didn't notice. All of his attention was focused
on the old Unarra who sat in front of a small fire, profile to him. Atlak
stepped stiff-legged with anger from behind the trees and hissed, "Tallic! I
knew it was you!"
The old Unarra looked up in surprise and tried to rise, but many hardships
and salvods had weakened him. He stumbled and fell to his knees facing
Atlak. "Mellor?" Tallic said in a slightly wavery voice, "Mellor - is that
"Of course it's not Mellor, you old fool!" Atlak cried, "I'm his child,
Tallic squinted briefly, and then said, "Oh, Atlak! What are you doing here,
child? Did Mellor send you? How is he? I haven't seen him in ages . . ."
"LIAR!" screamed Atlak. "I saw you on the hill this morning! I know you were
the one who spurred the Pikatan into trampling my Parent!" His fingers
spasmed as he took a step towards Tallic.
Tallic fell back on his posterior with a thud and his eyes widened as he
asked, "Mellor's been trampled by a Pikatan?" He seemed so genuinely
surprised and upset that Atlak paused and frowned.
"Don't you even know your own actions?" he asked crossly.
"Of course I do!" snapped Tallic. He continued in a growl, "I haven't been
anywhere near the village since the Tresed excommunicated me, I was too
ashamed. Look at me!" Tallic flung his arms wide, "I'm skin and bones!"
It was Atlak's turn to look surprised, "Excommunicated! What did you do?"
Tallic sighed and dropped his arms to his sides, "Once, everyone said I was
very talented with animals, and it was only a matter of time before the
Tresed approached me about joining their ranks. Once with them, however, in
their ritualized society, it became obvious that my talent came at a strong
price to the beasts I tamed. I was a very harsh master - even I can see it
looking back on it now - but I was taught that your beasts must respect you
and you must always be in control. I punished the creatures I tamed for the
slightest disobedience . . ." He glanced at Atlak to judge his reaction as
he spat out, " . . . beat them."
Atlak couldn't help but shudder slightly at Tallic's words. Tallic nodded
grimly and continued, "I was horrible - but your parent tried to help me.
Pointed out that the Tresed consider all life sacred and that what I was
doing went against some of their basic beliefs." Tallic shrugged, "But I
wouldn't listen. Thought I knew best how to keep animals in line. The upper
echelon of the Tresed decided I needed to learn a lesson, so they made me a
simple Apprentice again, after I had worked so hard to get to where I was!"
Tallic paused and breathed deeply for a moment, staring into the past. "I
decided I'd show them what a mistake they'd made by wasting my talents like
that," his attention returned to the present and he fixed Atlak with his
eyes as he continued, "I tried to tame a Pikatan."
Atlak couldn't help the scandalized "No!" that burst from his lips. Tallic
smirked, then grimaced, "There's a very good reason only the spiritual
leaders are allowed to train Pikatan, they're very . . . intractable. I
tried and tried to get the one I had hidden in the forest to obey me, but it
wouldn't do a thing I said, only snapped and lunged whenever I came near. I
got desperate and became harsher and harsher with it, trying to break it to
my will. Finally . . ."
Tallic paused and grimaced again. "Your parent suspected I was trying
something foolish and followed me into the forest one day, probably to try
to save me from my own stupidity. There was no way he could be prepared for
what he found, however. Once he'd followed my trail a ways, I'm sure it was
easy for him to follow the sounds of me bellowing in rage and frustration,
and the Pikatan bellowing in rage and pain. He must've broken into a run
because, somewhere out of the red haze I was in, I saw him burst into the
clearing where I was hiding just as, just as . . ." Tallic swallowed dryly
and backtracked a little, "The Pikatan was near starved and I'd been beating
it continuously for days by that time . . . Your parent came upon me just as
the sacred Pikatan fell, dead, at my feet." Tallic finished in a whisper.
Atlak clapped his hands over his mouth and his head tentacles writhed and
coiled with his distress like a nest of snakes. Tallic couldn't meet his
eyes anymore, "Your father did what he had to - he turned me in to the
peacekeepers. I didn't blame him and still don't, I was appalled by what
I'd done, begged for them to kill me." Tallic hunched over his knees and
rocked a bit, "They wouldn't do it, though - said it'd be too easy on me -
so they forced me out of the village. This was not too long after you were
spawned, Atlak, but I guess they didn't want to terrify the newest
generation with the horrors I committed."
Atlak nodded, wide-eyed, "Every time I ask about you, unarrans change the
subject." Atlak's expression became fierce again, "But then, it must have
been you that I saw this morning!"
Tallic, however, shook his head slowly, "No, but I think I know who it was.
You see I did something else that is forbidden while I was out here." He
almost grinned sheepishly at the incredulous look on Atlak's face, "Well, I
was already banned from the village forever, and once stupid, always stupid,
I guess. You see, I got very lonely away from everyone and everything I
ever knew, so I . . . I spawned."
Atlak reeled, "What? How? You can't without . . ."
Tallic snorted, "There are other ways." A little quieter he said, "And I
Atlak pondered, "So . . . you think your Spawn attacked us today?"
"Yes, I did!" A voice said from the far side of the clearing. Atlak turned
his head quickly in that direction and saw a young, but sickly-looking,
Unarra standing just inside the edge of the trees. The Unarra strongly
resembled Tallic; Atlak had no doubt that it was his child.
"Why?" Atlak asked, "Why would you do this?"
Tallic's child curled his lip and trembled with rage, "Your parent destroyed
my parent's life! He and I have nothing! NOTHING! You have no idea what
it's like . . . I watch the village; watch you and your parent eating,
working, laughing together. My parent has told me how your father turned
him in, cheating him of the glory that should have been his! I've listened
carefully as he has told me about what he thought was the correct way to
train an animal . . . and I have learned well! BEHOLD!"
He turned sideways and gestured towards the trees behind him. After a
moment, a Pikatan stepped from between the trees and into the clearing.
Tallic sadly shook his head, "You have listened, my child, but you have not
"Keep quiet, old one! I'm doing this for you, after all." Tallic's child
turned his gaze upon Atlak, "It's too bad the Pikatan I got riled up this
morning missed you, too, but I guess I can rectify that mistake now." He
pointed and the Pikatan advanced towards Atlak. Atlak took a step back, but
the Pikatan was gaining speed and was almost upon him. Suddenly, something
moving so fast it was just a blur burst from between the trees next to Atlak
and knocked him aside.
"Oof!" Atlak cried as he hit the dirt, then he turned just in time to see
the Pikatan reach down and take his Kadin in its jaws from where it rested
on the ground after impacting with him to push him out of the way. The
Pikatan gave a few quick shakes of its head, there was the snap of breaking
bones, and it tossed the Kadin aside. It lay lifeless where it landed.
Atlak heard a piercing scream fill the clearing and realized it was coming
from him as he ran and knelt to cradle his loyal pet in his arms. He glared
across the opening in the trees at Tallic's child and said in an
emotion-filled voice, "Now you see the link that truly binds a tamed beast
to its master. Now you see the power each has over the other. Until you
love your beast and until it loves you, there is no true control."
Atlak turned and looked at the Pikatan, which was stalking towards him once
again. He had no fear, and he did not blame it for doing what came
naturally, but he would not see it controlled by a hateful, jealous, sick
creature like Tallic's son any more. He sent simple pictures directly to
the beast's brain, pictures of The Hunt: A heard of Kompa thundered across a
grassy plain at twilight, bellowing in terror as a pair of Pikatan harried
their flanks. The Pikatan separated a slow, weak, sickly Kompa from the
heard, skewering it from both sides with their spines. Next he sent an
image of himself, the perfect picture of Unarran health and productivity,
next to an image of Tallic's child who was smaller, thin, and malnourished.
The Pikatan blinked and looked back and forth between Atlak and Tallic's
child, who was beginning to look a bit nervous. The spawn of Tallic took a
step backward and it seemed to be a signal for the Pikatan, which growled
deeply and bounded towards him. Tallic's child turned to run back into the
forest, but had only taken a few steps before the Pikatan pounced and was on
Atlak turned away and came face to face with Tallic. He stiffened a little,
but Tallic just watched the Pikatan while he spoke softly, "Go, you have
corrected most of my mistakes now. I will stay and correct the last . . ."
He trailed off and started to walk towards the Pikatan; he called back over
his shoulder, "You'd better run while it's still busy with me, so you can
reach the safety of the village before it's done."
Atlak backed slowly from the clearing, still carrying the body of his Kadin,
then turned and ran back towards the village to rejoin his parent, and to
help him heal.