Note: read “Tower of the Ancients” first.
“Zhala Khupah Jr. Rhez. And… is that one of those fuzzy creatures?”
On Primal Earth, at the top of the Tower of the Ancients, in the middle of the vast, scorching Khupahari Desert, twelve old dinotites in leathery hooded cloaks surround Zhala Jr., new Emperor of the dinotites, his cohort Rhez, and his fluffy Taka.
The one who spoke is curiously examining Taka. They don’t get a lot of visitors here, and Taka is the first fluffy to set foot within the tower.
Rogi, the hunchbacked dinotite who welcomed the guests, stands near the staircase leading down, unaware that Zhala Jr. knows who he really is: a former employee of his very late father.
The room is round, and surprisingly cool, with vast windows, giving a phenomenal view of the surrounding desert.
Zhala Jr. speaks up, hissing in the native language of his race.
“They’re called fluffies, venerable one. I can speak the tongue of humans, that’s how I know that. Taka here is my pet.”
“Hewwo. Can munks unnewstan Taka?”
The monks apparently cannot. A second monk speaks up.
“What did it just say?”
“HE just asked if you can understand him, venerable one.”
“We’re not doing this again, Taka. Venerable ones, I have come all this way to humbly request that you teach me how to harness the power of our noble ancestors, so that I may prevent a brutal civil war from dooming our entire race by sheer stupidity. Only by being the strongest of our kind can I get everyone to listen to me, and I do not wish to follow the path of my idiotic father.”
A third monk speaks up, sounding a tad smug.
“He sought us out too. But he never made it here, and even if he had, we would not have helped him.”
Another monk nods, a scowl on his scaly face.
“He was a psychopath. He embodied all the worst aspects of our kind.”
Yet another monk gives Zhala Jr. a scrutinizing look.
“And you wish to be different from him? Do you wish to embody the best aspects of our kind instead?”
Zhala Jr. grins sheepishly.
“If we have any.”
The first monk speaks up again.
“It’s true. Our kind has many flaws. So do you wish to rise above them, young Zhala? Do you wish to be the best of our kind there is?”
The young dinotite Emperor shakes his head.
“No, venerable ones. I wish to lift our kind up with me. Even if I must abdicate the throne to do so. I do this for our kind, for the humans, and yes, for the fluffies too. That they did not originate from our world does not matter. Neither did our noble ancestors, when you get right to it. So we need to leave hatred in the past, where it belongs. We are, all of us, part of this world. And if we ever wish to be part of the other world, we need to change. We need to evolve. Because if we refuse to adapt, we’re history. Please, venerable ones, will you help me save our kind?”
For a minute or two, there isn’t a sound in the room.
Taka looks back and forth between his daddeh and the monks, having no idea what they just said.
But he’s seen his daddeh give speeches to other dinotites a few times by now, and it usually seems to achieve the desired effect. Zhala Jr. is a skilled orator.
So, if Hasbio had seen fit to bestow fluffies with fingers, Taka would be crossing his hypothetical fingers for his daddeh.
He knows the gist of why the trio came here. He knows that it’s very important.
And whatever a fluffy’s owner’s aspirations may be, they can usually count on their fluffy to support said aspirations, even if they don’t really understand the finer details.
Having a fluffy for a pet is a lot like having your own live-in cheerleader.
Fluffies are about as smart as the average cheerleader, at any rate.
Possibly a tad smarter.
Then, all the monks smile, and the first monk speaks up once more, his raspy, hissing voice sounding pleased.
“Zhala Khupah Junior… good answer. Congratulations, you have passed the test, and we will gladly teach you what you need to know.”
Zhala Jr. hangs his scaly head, the words not quite registering yet.
“I understand, venerable ones. Then we’ll just be on our-- wait.”
He looks up, as he processes what the monk actually said.
“Did you just say yes?”
“Wait, su am dis gud news ow bad nyus?”
The first monk grins down at Taka.
“Good news. We’ll be happy to help your master.”
Zhala Jr. gawks at the monk, and Taka tilts his head in confusion.
“Su yu can tawk wike hoomins tu?”
The monk gestures at himself.
“I can. In my younger days, I lived with one of the human tribes, and I have fond memories of my old friends. It’s how I know that peaceful coexistence is possible.”
The monk turns back to Zhala Jr., giving him a serious look.
“Here is what you must do. Your final trial, before you can claim what you need. You must venture to Millenium Wood, and seek out the Prismastone. And you must bring a sacrifice with you. A tribute.”
The young dinotite emperor groans.
“Millenium Wood? That’s on the other side of the continent! Alright, fine, we’ve come this far. So what’s the tribute, venerable one? What price must I pay? Blood?”
“In a manner of speaking. But not your blood, young Zhala.”
“Don’t tell me I’ve gotta sacrifice a friend or something! Rhez might be a pain in the cloaca sometimes, but I’m not gonna kill the guy!”
“I don’t know if I should be touched that I’m the first friend you thought of, or offended.”
“Doesn’t matter, I’m not doing it!”
“Y’know what, Sire? I’m gonna settle on touched.”
The monk clarifies the matter.
“Relax, you don’t have to sacrifice your friend. But when you hear what you do have to do, sacrificing Rhez might not sound so bad in comparison.”
“Not gonna lie, I kinda have it coming.”
Then Zhala Jr., giving his cohort a sympathetic look, pats him on the shoulder.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Rhez. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do it together-- why are you suddenly giving me those looks, venerable ones?”
The looks are those of people who know exactly how wrong Zhala Jr. is, and the first monk speaks up in the tone of someone who bears bad news, and wishes he didn’t.
“Er… you see… that’s the thing…”
Taka looks more confused than ever.
“Am Taka cway-zee, ow did da tone of deez tawkies jus change weaw kwik-wee?”
The first monk looks Zhala Jr. in the eyes, takes a deep breath, and drops the bomb on him.
“You must hunt one of our noble ancestors, and bring their body to the Prismastone. And you must hunt it alone.”