Errus and his sister Ginny had welcomed Gurat and Kong into their community. But this act was not merely one of kindness. Errus had said that they needed all the allies they could find because of their continual war against the Children of Dra, the goddess of darkness. Now, however, it was not the other tribe that threatened their safety, but a rebellion among the creatures known as lanktors.
The brawny warrior Errus, who had a habit of deferring to his sister Ginny, was the most skilled of all the lanktor trainers. However, what good was his skill and experience when the creatures were going berserk? Seeing Kong and Gurat, he shouted, “Get back! They are mad without reason! I cannot get them to hear the command tones!” He fell again as a sharp-beaked lanktor snapped his bonds and swept the warrior aside like a rag doll.
Gurat rolled forward and grabbed the fallen trainer, hauling him to safety even as Kong gasped at the sight of every lanktor breaking free and soaring skyward. “The flying lizards!” cried Gurat. “They are leaving!”
Jumping forward, Kong caught a trailing bridle that fell loosely from the back of the nearest lanktor as its leathery wings flapped and carried it overhead. He clung to the bridle with both hands as Gurat cried out to him, “Kong! Let go! You will fall to your death!”
Kong swung both legs upward and managed to fall across the lanktor’s back. “No! I can ride it!” he said. “I will try to stay on it and find the source of their panic!”
Errus leaped up and grabbed a bow and arrow tossed to him by an approaching tribesman. “I must kill it before it takes the boy too high!” he said.
Gurat pushed him aside and said, “No! Kong is very smart! He is brave, too. He may be able to help you. If you lose all the flying lizards, then your enemies will gain the advantage!”
A woman with long red hair entered. “Errus, you are hurt!” she said. “What happened to the lanktors?”
“I am fine, Ginny,” said Errus to his sister. “I cannot answer your question. Never have I seen the lanktors act in such a manner. They seemed to act as one. Dra’s evil spreads across the world. That can be the only reason for their behavior!”
Ginny touched the hairy Gurat and looked up at him with expressive and tender eyes. “Gurat, are you hurt?” asked the woman. “Surely, you seem sorrowful!”
“It is Kong,” said Gurat. “They have taken him away, and I fear for my blood brother! Let us follow them!”
“I will assemble the other lanktor riders,” vowed Errus. “We will leave at once. If the boy survives, we will find him.”
Meanwhile, Kong felt an odd rush of exhilaration as he clung to the lanktor. He gazed down over the creature’s back to see the world below him. It was frightening, beautiful, and thrilling at the same time. “The lanktors are all going in the same direction,” he said. “They are heading for the village Errus and his men destroyed before. That was where I was taken by the Children of Dra when Gurat and I first came to this valley from the Caves of Doom. I see the smoke from the fires they started still rises to Lural!”
He shook his head sadly. The burnt-out village was not a sight to make him happy. He felt no warrior’s pride at the scene of death and loss. “The Children of Dra were mindless in their devotion to the teachings of their priestess, Jelenna! She was evil, and she made the women enslave the males and treat them like animals. Her daughter Sharra was pretty and kind. Her lover Rolen was my friend, too. When he spoke out against Jelenna, she had him burned at the stake. Her daughter Sharra wept even while she helped her mother. She was that devoted to Dra that she could do nothing else, though her heart was breaking. I felt sorry for her. I mourn for noble Rolen.”
But he gasped as the entire flock of lanktors dropped down to land within the center of the smoking ruins, where a huge clearing remained free of the rubble. Kong jumped down and ran around a broken hut to watch the creatures from a distance. The bodies are gone, he thought. Someone has cleared this spot. Someone has commanded the lanktors to come here, too. It must be a shaman like Magl from Attu’s old tribe.
Soon, a figure emerged from the shadows and approached the creatures with a casual manner that showed no fear or surprise. She was wearing a brief animal skin and a white bone mask that hid her features. Kong frowned. She controls them. Not even Errus and his men could tame them so completely. It is magic!
She reached out a hand and caressed one of the huge creatures before she turned to stare directly at Kong. “Come out, boy!” she said. “I sense you. Mother Dra hides nothing from her servant!”
Kong stood up and stepped out around the ruins to face her. He knew the voice all too well. “Jelenna!” he whispered. “I saw you die. I saw you fall to a spear tossed down from one of the lanktor riders!”
The priestess laughed in the bitter tone habitually used by the old woman who ruled the village so cruelly. “You saw the death of my body. My spirit still walks. I was given the power by Dra herself. She gave me the power to touch the minds of the flying lizards and control them. I shall use that gift to avenge the loss of my tribe. I shall use that power to kill all those who sheltered you as well.”
Kong shivered and drew out his knife. “I will fight you! You killed my friend Rolen!” he shouted.
He charged forward and swung at the woman, only to hesitate and freeze in his tracks as she removed the white bone mask to reveal not the withered features of the crone Jelenna, but the beauty of her brunette daughter Sharra. “You are Sharra? Yet you are also Jelenna! She speaks through you!” he said.
She laughed and ordered one of the winged lanktors to knock him flat with a sweep of its wing.
Kong rolled away and ran back to avoid the beast, even as the possessed Sharra darted aside and ordered them to attack. “I ordered Rolen to kill you. He refused. He rebelled against my will, which was the will of Dra. He paid for his sins, and now so shall you!”
Dodging the nearest lanktor, Kong gasped as the creature lifted itself into the air and swooped low after him. He saw a fallen hut and cried out, “You can’t catch me!” Diving through the remaining window, he rolled across the floor to emerge by smashing through the weakened straw that formed the walls. He coughed and struggled to keep moving as the screams of the huge birds filled the night.
I cannot avoid them all, he thought. I must follow Attu’s words to me when I was a child. She said if you have no claws, then you must make claws! I will use the lanktors against Sharra and one another!
Allowing the birds to get closer, Kong turned to run back toward the center of the village. He felt his heart beat as they drew closer, and he almost slipped as he raced through the night.
Bursting out of the shadows to charge at Sharra, he leaped forward to hit the ground at her feet, even as the first lanktor crashed directly into her. The birds could not stop in time, he mused. They knocked her flat before her commands could take effect. Now to make her stop controlling them!
Kong tackled Sharra and pinned her to the ground, even as the lanktors circled them but did nothing more. They could not attack him while their mistress was stunned and so close to the boy, something he counted on to help him triumph. “Sharra! You are Sharra!” cried Kong as he fought with the enraged woman. “You are not Jelenna. She hated everyone. Her hate killed the love you and Rolen knew. Let her hate die. Let her spirit rest. Live and honor Rolen in all you do!”
Sharra gasped, and her eyes widened as tears began to fall down her cheeks. “Rolen? Oh, Rolen!” she sobbed as she broke through her late mother’s mental and physical bond.
“Sharra, it is well,” said Kong. “You are free.” She held him, and he embraced her as the lanktors circled warily. He looked up to see Gurat, Errus, Alamar, and the other lanktor riders rush forward.
“Kong, we followed their flight as quickly as we could,” said Errus as he and his men calmed the lanktors. “They seem tame again. They obey our commands again!”
“It was magic,” said Kong, “a lingering hate from the past. Sharra’s mother took them over, but she is gone now. Sharra is not your enemy. I want you to let her live with us all in the Tree Village.”
“Little brother, you amaze us,” said Gurat. “You alone saved our new home. I believe that Magl was speaking truth when he said you would be a great hero.”
Errus smiled grimly. “I will accept the woman into our village if she will join us.”
“I cannot,” said Sharra. “I still serve Dra. I reject the hatred my mother, her priestess, embodied, but I do not reject the teachings of Dra. I will go and find a home elsewhere. I will not oppose you, but neither can I join you.” She turned and walked away as the night began to fade into dawn.
Kong picked up the fallen bone mask and tossed it on one of the fires that lingered in the ruins of the village. “Her life has been ruined by her mother. Trog One-Eye will not ruin my life. I will not live for hate. He and I will meet again someday, but until then I will live and breathe free from hate. Let us go home!”
Gurat nodded and led the boy back to the waiting lanktors. Lural, She Who is the Moon, could no longer be seen as her sibling, Raral the Sun, rose and warmed the day. However, the boy touched by her light at birth stood tall, and his courage, wit, and compassion promised great things for his future.