A/N: Would you like to play a game based on this? Survive as a warrah, follow your own adventure, and voyage to the border? If so, visit my profile, which contains a direct link to my Scratch page. There, you can play a series of games where you are your own warrah character. Enjoy! (GAME IS COMING SOON!)
I heard noises come from behind some distant gorse: The loud crinkling of grass and light sniffing. It was a bit hard to hear over the sounds of penguins fleeing and brisk wind ruffling the brush. I could smell the scent of a male warrah, a dog—though my muzzle was covered with penguin blood—and I immediately moved into a defensive stance. Any warrah would certainly smell my kill and I, but obviously this warrah ignored it.
The noises got closer, and I growled in warning. Nothing stopped the stranger; it just got closer and closer until I could recognize the scent.
"Turbati!" I barked.
"How'd you know it was me, Ipsum?" Turbati smugly replied, jumping out from the thick gorse and coming towards me.
"You know better than to disturb me while I'm eating." I growled.
Turbati was young and diminutive, which made him nearly defenseless against older warrahs, but he refused to respect them anyway. I had to act strict around him and try to implement rules, though I was never very successful.
"I can see why!" he remarked in his usual infantile bark. "That's a massive king penguin, Ipsum."
I licked my chops and looked at the food as he said that.
"All I can catch lately are night herons, and they're small." he said quietly, gazing at the prey. "If I could even catch a penguin . . ."
I stared at him. "I'm not falling for it." I said and then ate more of my kill.
"Falling for what?" asked Turbati innocently.
"Your tricks, Turbati. You come around and make me feel guilty until I give you food."
The innocent act became more desperate. "But you have a huge penguin there! You won't eat it all anyway, and the turkey vultures will finish it off. There's no sense in wasting it."
I sighed. Wordlessly, I tore off a wing and a chunk of meat, afterwards tossing the food to the scrawny warrah.
Turbati gave me a thankful look and practically inhaled the meat, leaving only scraps of feathers and bones. I noticed how he resembled me with his red coat and white markings on his tail tip, muzzle, and chest. He licked his blood-stained white muzzle and looked at me happily. I didn't exactly return the happy look; I didn't like giving him food. In my opinion, no other warrah is going to treat him as special as I do, so it's better he learns early to find his own food.
At the same time, I can't deny giving him food either. Turbati was the son of my mate, Solis, and I owed him at least a penguin wing. I took care of Solis during pregnancy and in raising the pups, but after one too many arguments with her, I left. The litter was at the age of curiosity; they could talk, walk, play, and explore, but they weren't ready to fend for themselves. I knew Solis would have a hard time taking care of four pups alone, but I left anyway; that's why I gave Turbati food everytime he guilted me into it.
"Whatcha been up to, Ipsum?" Asked the bouncy Turbati. "Haven't seen you in, oh, two days."
Finished with my meal, I padded patiently past him. "The same routine. I hunt, I eat, I sleep. What else is there?" I called without looking back.
He walked alongside me. "What's wrong, Ipsum? You seem bored. We need to go explore somewhere. Oh! I saw these caves the other day with—"
"Turbati," I interrupted him, "I don't want to go. I'm going to my burrow and, if you want to stay safe, you should do the same. I don't go looking for trouble."
He gave an exasperated sigh. "You're so boring." he muttered under his breath.
I ignored the remark and kept walking. Soon after, Turbati and I parted ways for the evening. It was twilight, and the air became frigid; it felt like I couldn't reach my burrow fast enough.
I usually don't have dreams, or at least I don't remember them, but I did that night. The sun on a blank horizon was shining as if it were right in front of me, but I could barely feel its warmth. Solis emerged from the sun and looked down at a litter of four red pups that had appeared with her, squirming around helplessly. She was beautiful with a pale mahogany coat and subtle white points all along her underside.
The amiable look she bore turned into a grimace as the pups disappeared one by one. I didn't say anything and just stared at them until they were gone. Before Solis could look up, she faded with them. All that was left was the bright sun, soon vanishing as well, leaving nothing but darkness in its place.
I woke up to a breeze that chilled my bones. I was used to the cold spring weather and arose to start another day. I went to the magellanic penguin burrows and caught one that would suffice, settling down in a thin tussock field to eat it. Apparently the tussock labyrinth wasn't enough to conceal myself; a robust warrah with dark fur and pale white points appeared during my meal.
It was a male—a large, threatening dog named Minantia. If Turbati wasn't asking for food, it was Minantia, but he fought for it. The ghostly warrah bore a jagged scar under his right eye and a twisted left ear. He was my age or younger, but had the battle wounds of an elder. I could tell by his toned muscles that he only took food and fought by choice; the warrah was strong enough to defend and hunt for himself.
As soon as my eyes met his, I knew I would have to give him the kill. Minantia chuckled as I gave it willingly to him, and he continued lurking around the field, the limp penguin hanging from his jaws.
I was furious at Minantia, but the scar on the back of my neck reminded me not to mess with him. He was the dominant warrah in our land and everyone knew it. Minantia was one of the reasons why I insist that Turbati leave others alone, or at least try to become independent.
The next day, I fortunately did not come across Minantia again. I tried to avoid him by hunting at a pond instead of the beach, along with staying away from that particular tussock field that reeked of his scent. I settled on a crested duck that morning and ate it slowly on the bank of its presumably natal freshwater pond. The gorse behind me rustled, but I could smell Turbati easily and ate the duck without fear of Minantia coming.
"Hey Ispum!" Turbati greeted me.
"Hello, Turbati. Come for food again?" I said in a friendly way, but still trying to get to the point.
"Why do you always think I want something?" he said, annoyed.
That was strange. Normally, he found it convenient when I skipped to giving him food, not offensive.
He paused. "Nah, no thanks."
I watched as he walked towards the duck, sniffed it, and looked around, disinterested.
"No thanks?" I repeated, almost letting out a chortle. "Are you sure you're Turbati?"
He laughed calmly. "Last time I checked. I'm just not hungry."
This behavior seemed far to content and courteous to be Turbati. No witty remarks at my accusation? No overly peppy news about a fun place to explore? I felt slightly disappointed at his arrival.
"Since when are you not hungry?" I stopped my words sharply and thought for a moment, unamused. "Who's giving you food?"
Turbati looked offended. "So you don't think I can catch my own food? Is that it? Well, I can." he rambled, acting highly defensive.
"No, but you never deny food. I thought you said you could only catch night herons and small grebes?" I pointed out.
"I'm becoming a better hunter, you know. I'm growing, too." he proudly stated.
I eyed his body, which was still as scrawny as always, but not skinny. He looked healthier, but still small, and I didn't exactly believe the growth spurt story. Despite my doubt, I tried to be supportive. He was only the age of one seasons' cycle, around twelve moons—at least that's the time I remember Solis having her pups—so he was reaching his full size.
"Okay," I said, then deciding to have a different approach. "So, what did you catch today?"
"I caught one of those, you know, those penguins with the yellow plumes and a short beak?" he mused.
"A rockhopper penguin?" I suggested, still doubting the explanation.
"Yeah, one of those. It was huge, probably bigger than yours yesterday."
"Really? Hmm—that's strange, rockhoppers usually don't get bigger than most king penguins." I attested.
"Oh, well, maybe it wasn't bigger than yours, but it was still big." he replied in an assuring voice.
I breathed deeply. "So you're not getting food from anyone else, you're just hunting better?"
He wagged his tail proudly. "That's right."
"Well, okay." I dropped the subject and continued eating.
The young male chattered on about the weather, the pond, other warrahs—anything to avert talking about his hunting. I would bring it up in between bites, and he would give a simple answer then continue talking about something random.
Turbati continued to visit me when I ventured out of my burrow, always full and ready to talk or follow me around. After a few days had gone by, Turbati greeted me while I was hunting one evening by the same tussock field I tried to stay away from. He was talking nonstop—as usual—when Minantia unexpectedly emerged from the towering grass. Neither one of us were paying attention to the scents around us, so we were both surprised when he greeted us.
I was immediately alarmed by his presence. This feeling was usually brought on by Minantia, but this time it was different. A protective instinct. Turbati, I thought, he's never met a warrah such a Minantia. I intend to keep it that way.
I knew better than to outright growl at Minantia, but I couldn't help the light rumbling I emitted at the thought of little Turbati having to face Minantia.
"Who's this?" Minantia curiously asked in a sly tone that made his husky voice eerie. It was a voice of pure mischief.
I stared at him wordlessly with my ears pinned back and sharp teeth begging to be shown.
"I'm Turbati," stated Turbati naively. I detected a bit of suspicion in his voice. "Who are you?"
"I'm Minantia." He seemed amused by the callow warrah.
I cut in before he could continue. "You've come at the wrong time, Minantia. I have no food for you to steal, so leave us alone." It was probably the most I had ever spoken to Minantia since I got my scar.
He tilted his head to the side and growled intently, the exposed scar tissue beneath his right eye prominent in the sunlight. "Perhaps it's you and your friend that need to leave. This field happens to be my territory now, and I suggest you respect that." No longer was his voice an eerily friendly and comical tone; it now had attained Minantia's normal, hostile voice of familiar authority.
"Your territory?" I repeated, somehow forgetting all boundaries between our dominance ranks. "This is a huge field, and warrahs have been hunting here for as long as I can remember! No one claims it because they respect the fact that some warrahs depend on it!"
Minantia snarled and held his head high with narrowed eyes. "You're pushing your limits, Ipsum. If you were smart, you'd leave right now and take the puppy with you."
Turbati growled quietly. I gave him a warning look before Minantia could. I turned back to Minantia, ears still pinned back and hackles raised.
Minantia stood with his tail sticking out straight, teeth bared, and everything tense. With his massive size and dominant position, I would be asking for death if I denied his request.
I turned silently; telling Turbati to follow me was unnecessary. We backtracked over our scent trail which led us right out of the tussock and into barren plains.
"Ugh!" Turbati exclaimed when we were out of earshot. "I can't believe he called me a puppy!"
I cut my eyes at him, ears still glued back in defeat. "As tragic as that sounds, the rest of the warrahs in this area are probably worrying about finding new hunting grounds."
"You hunt on the beach anyway, Ipsum. It's not like you're gonna find any penguins nesting in the tussock." he replied carelessly.
"Maybe we'll be okay, but some won't be. Do you know how much tussock covers the land from the beach to the mountains? Well, the field you're looking at harbors the most prey, thanks to its location. You can expect to see a lot of fighting over prey and territory now." I stated, shaking my head in disgust. "I think that's the whole reason for Minantia claiming it, just to stir up termoil where he can't."
Turbati stared blankly in return.
"What?" I asked.
"If you promise not to tell anyone, can I trust you with a secret?" he said with a hint of mischief about him.
"It depends on the secret. I can't promise anything." I replied honestly.
"Hmm, I'll tell you anyway." Turbati decided pompously. "Have you ever been past the river?"
"No," I replied.
The river ran alongside distant mountains and was the farthest I had ever traveled.
"And those caves, do you remember me mentioning them? It turns out, the river goes past the mountains and behind those caves. It's narrow there and very shallow, so I was able to walk across it. After a short distance, I was stopped by a barrier, a border of some sort. I couldn't get through it, but there were these creatures on the other side. They didn't have any fur, claws, or fangs and stood on two legs, making them much taller than me."
"Humans," I suggested as he described them.
I blurted out the term, but it took me a moment to comprehend the truth of it. Turbati saw humans? That's impossible. My ancestors were raised—I was raised—Turbati was raised—each warrah in existence for as far as the eye can see was raised to know humans to be myth. They were vile creatures, and I was told only stories of how they came to either capture warrahs or attempt to wipe out our kind.
"You've seen 'em?"
"No, but I'm familiar with them. They're a horrible species, and you shouldn't mess with them." I warned Turbati. If he was describing them right and he had really seen humans, I feared this was a matter bigger than he knew.
"Horrible species? Ha!" He scoffed mockingly. "They must not have been the humans you're talking about, because they were really nice! They held out chunks of delicious, foreign meat and gave it to all the warrahs who found them. I was one of only four smart enough to find them that day. One warrah there talked to me; Viator. He told me not to tell anyone else and keep it a secret for those who discover it on their own."
"You shouldn't be doing that!" I protested.
"I suppose I could tell others, but—"
"No, not that! You shouldn't be taking food from humans; you could die from poisoning or they could capture you when you take the bait! Never trust a human, they are unreliable and crue l. I don't want to hear of you going there again."
"I knew I shouldn't have told you!" Turbati growled angrily. "Viator said he told his whole family, but the brother and father were just like you and forbade him from going back. When Viator went back and brought the meat home, hoping that it would make them grateful to the humans, they tried to kill him. The 'horrible species' treated him better than his own family! Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
"I don't like it," I said grimly, ignoring his story, "I certainly won't be going any time soon, and you shouldn't either—for your own sake." I assured him, walking towards the beach.
"Fine. Starve!" he called after me. "I'm still going every day, and you can't stop me."
I ignored him and continued padding across the barren field until I was walking down a short hill that led to the shore. Perhaps I should have went back and coaxed Turbati to stay away, but he had angered me. I knew I had only provoked him to return to the humans, but my mental defense was flared so greatly that the thought was smothered with aggression. If I ever catch him going back . . .
I looked across the beach at a couple magellanic penguin nests and remembered that I still hadn't eaten yet.
After eating a small female magellanic penguin, I went back to my burrow and settled down for the night. My mind never rested, though the sounds of the wind and owls were relaxing. I couldn't stop thinking about Turbati and the humans; I lay awake until night came, the darkness causing me to think about Minantia instead. As I did, sleep slowly took over, and reality quickly blurred with fantasy, numbing my mind hazily as I slipped into the realm of dreams.
It felt like the continuation of the previous dream with Solis, except the sun was at its usual distance, and there were no pups. Solis was standing across from me in a meadow of bright, healthy grass and colorful flowers. The weather was warm, which was something I wasn't used to. I began to think these dreams revolved partly around my distaste for cold weather. Nevertheless, I ignored the pleasant air and began running towards Solis, her expression lightening as I approached.
Just as I got close, her eyes grew wide and fearful. I stopped in my tracks and began to ask what was wrong, but I followed her gaze instead. Behind me, a large, frightening pack of humans came running towards Solis who was frozen in fear. I couldn't exactly make out their profiles; I had never seen a human before, therefore their image was a tall, lanky shadow, but I knew what they were. Perhaps the mystique of the nightmare is what made it remarkably scarier.
I barked for her to escape and even tried physically pushing her to move, but to no avail. The surreal logic of dreams in general caused time to sporadically increase and decrease in speed, making my thoughts hazed with panic. The feeling told me that strategically attacking, much like trying to talk to Solis reasonably, was futile.
The humans galloped closer until I had no choice other than escaping solely. I darted off, leaving Solis behind. It was instinct. Common sense silently reminded me that Solis could follow. Almost as soon as I started my sprint did I realize I was leaving her to die. I turned back to only see an empty spot where she stood before. There were no humans or flowers or warm weather, only a cold, lonely night scene. Not even stars or the moon shone in the sky, just cloudy darkness. I immediately regretted leaving Solis alone.
I shouldn't have left, I thought, even my the voice of my thoughts choked with sadness. Look at what I've done . . . . I wasn't only referring to the dream.