First off, sorry for the delay. I got a new job that has long work hours. For future reference, please don't ask me about updates - Ill get them don't you worry. Just remember I have a job now so expect a slight delay sometime. Secondly, this is a chapter I've been wanting to share with you for a very long time now. Rogue's past! This is the first chapter of several.
Some things I'd like to point out before you begin reading is that one, Rogue past alternates between two points of view. (you'll see why later) Secondly, I had no choice but to add some titan characters for plot reasons and for you as a reader to get to know Rogue's species. Third, you will get to find out how little titans come into the world. (and don't worry, its not terribly graphic)
As usual, if you spot any errors, PM ME and I'll fix them. :)
Also, get your tissues ready. This is a sad one.
103 Years Ago:
In a remote part of the world far from the sea, deserts, icecaps, and stone walls, there was a flourishing land – a rare haven compared to the rest of the apocalyptic earth. The landscape was filled with trees – projecting a high canopy over most of the land. Rivers were abundant, waters like sparkling sapphires that weaved through the lush foliage like serpents. There were cliffs and large carved rocks and an array of creatures that fed off the haven's bounty. It would have been called paradise if titans, beasts that craved mankind's crimson flesh, didn't infect the delicate world.
Not all titans however, crave the sweet nectar and meat of man.
Deep in the haven was what could have been called the core of the forest, lay the heart of the wood. The area was gorgeous, a vast clearing where the leafy canopy opened up to the blue sky. The circumference was blanketed in long grass and sheltered by rocky cliffs, giant pines, and maples. The centerpiece was a large but peaceful waterfall that cascaded into a shallow river that fed the wood's heart. The place was tranquil – perfect for the thriving pack of titans.
Seated atop a high boulder was one of the pack's longtime individuals, a seventeen- meter titan with long black hair and a scruffy dark beard. His vast humanoid body was muscular but still had a weighted abdomen – but otherwise incredibly fit and strong. The creature's pointed ears flickered to eavesdrop on the distant conversations while his golden and black ringed eyes scrutinized the pack with watchful interest. The titan was known as Titus, a well-respected mentor of the Hunter Titans – one of the eight breeds of titan. There were the Skinless, Leapers, Beasts, Crawlers, Colossals, Hammers, Mindless, and Hunters. Of the eight species, the Hunters were a remote breed, so much so that the others knew nothing of their existence as they did unto them. The Hunters were an incredible breed of titan. They were fast, strong, and incredibly skillful at hunting – their prey being the Mindless titans, unintelligent lumps of meat that roamed the earth. Compared to the standard titan, the Hunters possessed acute senses that made them the top of the food chain. Their intelligence nearly matched that of a human's instead of their minds being empty voids. They were nothing short of extraordinary.
Titus shifted his weight to his other arm, grass rippling with the vibration. Golden eyes fell upon a cluster of females. He blinked, brow furrowing in the slightest as he studied. His eyes sat upon a particular female titan known by the coven as Clymene, one of the most respected titans. Like the titans of their breed, she had pointed ears. Long chocolate locks flowed down to her chest and her eyes were teal as the sea. Like some of the titans in the coven, she lacked lips – teeth jutting out from her skin with a serrated jaw, a dominant gene among the Hunter Titans. Her role was one of the coven's Advancing Titans or Advancers – one of the many assigned jobs given to the pack's members. The Hunter Titans had a complex system to which they lived by. The pack was ruled by an elder titan that oversaw the classes that all titans were divided into with other high ranking Elders that ensured the leader's decisions. First were the Mentors that trained selected young titans to be Advancers. An Advancing Titan's job was to both protect the pack from the Mindless Titans – and bring back the lesser giant's bodies for the pack to feast upon. Advancers were almost always the most fit titans in the pack. Then there were the Gatherers – the weaker titans that were tasked to gather foliage for the bedding that the titans slept upon. The system made the pack a functional inhuman society.
Titus continued to stare at Clymene, watching as her face morphed into a look of discomfort as she raised a hand to massage her swollen girth. Like several of the other females during birthing season, Clymene was pregnant – and by the sight of her, he knew that it wouldn't be much longer until her litter saw the light of day. Every five years, male and female Hunters choose mates for mating season. They considered their mating process a simple one. When the female and males select their preferred mates they immediately begin their delicate work. For Hunter Titans, reproduction is quite a different process in comparison to man's. Instead of a traditional mounting, the mated pair lock mouths and the male vomits a special secretion that activates the formation of eggs in the female's stomach lining. After the initial mating, the male aids the female for the next six months to nurture their unborn litter – the growing offspring feeding off the sunlight taken by their mother as well as any bits of meat that would dissolve in her stomach to be absorbed by the pups until their birth. Clymene grunted in irritation as she rubbed a particular spot on her lower abdomen, Titus observing the slight ripples beneath her flesh – it was evident that one of the pups was giving her a hard time. He could sense it; her litter would be coming soon. Very soon.
The titan heaved a breath of steam, the cloud lingering for a moment in the pleasant spring air before dissipating into nothingness. Arching his head, Titus looked up to the cerulean atmosphere, sky as blue and as open as it ever was – sunlight pouring down to warm the pack's flesh. With a practiced gaze, Titus judged the sun's position. It was midday – close to the afternoon. Knowing what he was to do at this hour and on the very day, Titus began to stand with the shifting of his body vibrating the earth. It was time for him to hunt.
The forest of the Hunter Titans was as picturesque as usual, the lush land preserved as best as possible by its inhabitants. Deer were feeding from the fresh grass, birds were in conversation, and other furred creatures awoke from their winter slumber. If it was one thing that the Hunters were glad that the Mindless did, it was the fact that they ignored the animals and plants. As much as they ruined and tainted, they thankfully left one of the last beautiful aspects of the world alone.
Titus moved slowly and smoothly, his gate the result of being a seasoned and skillful predator. It was the way of the pack. Hunting the Mindless Titans was their livelihood. Not only did they perform their art for the sake of population control, but for a food source as well. It was true that titans as a species didn't necessarily need to eat to survive. However, for his particular breed, it was found that Mindless Titan meat gave them extra proteins and other vitamins that were expelled while the meat was still in their stomachs until it was regurgitated. The extra benefits made the Hunters stronger and sturdier. Thus was the reason why the ones assigned to take down prey brought back their catches for the pack to feast upon. It was a weekly event, one that was never canceled.
The creature inhaled, catching the scent of a Mindless that instantly made him still. Titus paused beneath the trees, nostrils flaring and tapered ears fidgeting and swiveling to locate prey. The smell of Mindless blood was present along with the distinct scent of a Hunter – making it clear that another of their kind had taken it down. Since the kill was claimed, Titus strolled forward again with his senses on high alert. As of late, there was a slight increase in Mindless Titans in the Hunters' territory. The beasts usually stayed outside their marked borders that bore the scent that promised death. But of course, there were always those few that ignored all boundaries and followed their own bloodlust to the end of the earth in hopes for a meal. Of course, they were just easy prey that didn't have to be carried back a long distance. Some of the Hunters loved that Mindless were truly as stupid as fish swimming into a net. The most intelligent and experienced though saw this as a potential burden – and being a long time Mentor and high ranking Hunter, Titus shared this belief.
Turning around a bend crafted by a stream, the titan's golden irises spotted something abnormal among the serine beauty of the landscape. Compared to all around him, it was quite the blemish upon the area and demanded his attention. Titus approached the point of interest, a large pine that shadowed the stream and a small family of deer. Normally, any eyes that didn't belong to a Hunter would have missed the tiny clue. Just a few meters below his head was a collection of broken and severed limbs that were freshly snapped – the wood still light and yellow without the presence of mold or moss. With the branches being neatly seven feet long and ten inches thick, he knew that there could be only one kind of culprit. Titus bent in the slightest to sniff the branches hungrily, nostrils flaring and his breath rustling the pine's prickly needles. Titus's pupils fixed into serpentine slits, nose wrinkling in distaste. No doubt had a large Mindless passed through, and not long ago. Suspiciously and now on high alert, Titus scanned the small perimeter again, gaze immediately dropping to the bank of the stream to see a large footprint imprinted in the mud. Immediately, Titus dropped down and ran his clawed fingers around the outline of the print. With instinct taking hold, Titus leaned further down to intake the scent of titan, pupils turning even thinner like a sapling's tree ring as he continued to diagnose the situation. If it was one thing that made the Hunters formidable, it was their highly concentrated animalistic instincts. They could hear better, smell better, and overall sense better than any other titan that they knew of. Titus continued to smell, following his nose to the direction of the source.
He felt his body grow rigid. The titan was a fairly large one and it was headed straight to THEIR border – one that a Mindless could not cross even more than their own.
With no scent of another Hunter present beside himself, Titus stood and bolted. The ground tremored and the landscape shook, the earth quaking as the seventeen-meter moved at a brisk pace, growling to himself in a wordless curse for their pack's negligence. His new target was at least a fourteen meter that was certainly moving in a fast pace. Knowing this, Titus pushed himself further – lightening his mass and testing the limits of his body. Like all titans, no matter the species, the Hunters were genetically prone to body deformities. Even though the dominant and recessive genes that determined if a Hunter had lips or no lips and the presence of pointed ears and sharp nails was determined to be the defining characteristics of the Hunter Titans and not defects, they were plagued with slight abnormalities. Among their breed, the deformities that occurred were shapes of torsos and the length of arms and legs. Sometimes a torso was a tad bit longer or more broad or their arms were almost to their knees if placed to their sides. Their legs were either proportionate, or just long or short. Thankfully, unlike the Mindless, these deformities were not as drastic and didn't hinder them of most of their mobility. The only drastic abnormality that ever occurred to a Hunter was to that of their current leader – a titan born with skin and hair as white as bone with eyes as pink as the berries on a creeping wintergreen. Although the titan was vastly different from the rest of the members of the pack, the creature's vast wisdom dominated his physical appearance. Titus himself had a few abnormalities. His torso was wide and his arms, if relaxed against him, his fingertips went just above his kneecaps. Of course, despite the awkwardness that it sometimes imposed, Titus was used to his body and knew how to move it. The Hunter Titans had hopes of eventually creating an absolutely perfect specimen – something that they had not yet achieved. If one thing was for certain though, every Hunter no matter what was bred with the intention to be a fighter.
Titus continued to move, pushing himself through trees and low growing brush. His mind was swarming with questions as to how a Hunter could have let a fourteen-meter Mindless so close to the Village. It was known than on the rare occasion, a Hunter could be killed in the hunt, but with the perimeter lacking the scent of their blood, it was unlikely. Perhaps a Mindless had somehow evaded a Hunter's keen detection. With his ears erect, Titus heard the clear sound of massive and uneven footsteps – signaling that he was nearing his prey. However, with another inhale of the air and straining of his ears, Titus's heart thudded even harder against his rib cage. There were the whinnies of the equines and the desperate orders called to retreat and attack. Titus's brows narrowed and his teeth clenched in anger, blood boiling at what was currently transpiring. Usually, the Hunters never allowed such a thing to occur.
Seeing the sight of tanned flesh through the green, Titus thrust himself forward and released a loud and threatening howl that shook the forest to its roots – a signature roar that was unique to every Hunter that announced their presence. Time seemed to stop for a split second as Titus charged into a glade on the edge of the forest. In the middle of the clearing stood a fourteen-meter Mindless. It was thin with its gut swollen grotesquely and its ribs prominent like a corpse. On its face was a mocking and permanent smile that never transformed into any other expression. Its eyes were fogged with nothing but an itching hunger with its teeth stained and yellowed from the blood of its past meals. Around the titan's feet were at least a dozen humans. Men that wore armor forged of steel and rode atop horses that were skittish and fearful of each of the titan's steps. In their hands, they bore long things that man called swords to Titus's understanding – weapons the were effective only against animals or other humans. Such blades did nothing to a titan's skin, one of the reasons why the earth was overrun with their filth. Man, no mater how strong they were or how expertly they crafted their weapons, they were no match for a hungry titan. The group of humans before him were residents of The Village, a decent sized settlement of males, females, and their offspring that refused to leave their lands to go to the Great Wall that they spoke of that lay in a land far away and across the sea – a wall that Man had retreated behind when the Mindless began to devour nearly all of the humans upon the earth. The Hunter Titans' other priority was to protect The Village from the Mindless and had been protecting the settlement at least a hundred years before the Mindless or titans in general were known to exist. Before the Mindless even came into the existence, The Hunters defended The Village from criminals and wrongdoings – the escaped telling stories of the fierce giants only for them to be shot down as just stories until the titan apocalypse. When the Mindless came, that was when the Hunters realized their true purpose upon the world.
Protecting the Village, they were considered as gods, deities, and saviors by its people. In exchange for their services, the humans taught them their language – a tongue that they referred to as English as well as about the world around them. With the gift of man's tongue, The Hunters often utilized it among their own pack even though their vocal chords couldn't allow a perfect pace or tone, speaking it even more than their own native tongue that was often complex and difficult to distinguish, composed of a series of grunts, growls, and other vocals only meant to express one's current mood, situation, etc. It was just one of the things that made The Hunters both wild and civilized – an apex predator and dominant race of titan. A force to be reckoned with.
Upon Titus's arrival, the humans instantly backed away from his wake. The Mindless craned its head, but far too slow as Titus lifted his arm and encased his massive hand around the titan's face. The monster made a pained grunt, completely caught off guard as Titus forcefully pushed the titan into a nearby tree, the sound of impacted wood echoing into the forest. With incredible strength, Titus surged forward with another bellow and dug his sharp nails into the titan's trachea. His prey let out a gurgling scream, hot blood spraying in all directions as he ripped out the creature's throat. With steam pouring from the open wound, Titus then encased the creature's head and began to tear it from the titan's body, ligaments separated, muscles tore like threads, and skin ripped like leaves in a storm as Titus easily decapitated his prey. The fourteen-meter's body slumped forward, the top of the neck steaming with its nape still intact – the traditional practice carried out by the Hunters. The pack always left the nape, the weak point of a titan and the kill spot, alone until the Mindless was brought back to the waiting jaws of the pack to feast upon – Advancers keeping their catch incapable of awareness or movement until they returned home.
With his prey incapable of resisting or fighting back, Titus then hoisted the monster over his shoulder, holding the titan's legs just before his head like a human hauling a heavy sack of flower. His work was complete. The hunt was successful with no human blood spilt.
"Is that?" A voice whispered below, one that was young and questioning.
"It is. That is the one called Titus, one of the most powerful of the Hunter Titans that's ever existed."
Upon hearing his name spoken from human lips, Titus turned in the slightest to view the cluster of men staring up at his massive form with the look of great respect. A small smile pulled at his lips as Titus dipped his head in greeting, rumbling deep in his throat.
"Thank you." The leader of the men uttered, in a state of awe, obviously amazed to be in such a formidable titan's presence.
With another nod, Titus cleared his throat. "YOU ARE… WELCOME." His gruff and cavernous words carrying across the small glade. Speaking no other word, Titus then turned and began to take his haul back to the heart of the forest.
The blue heavens began to turn amber, reds and yellows staining the sky like a repainted canvas. Titus continued to haul his kill to the pack's grounds – going back the way which he came. Carrying the fourteen-meter was a chore. A titan's head could regenerate within two minutes. Thus, he was constantly stopping to rip the titan's skull from its shoulders every time it became aware of itself and attempted to get loose from his clutches. Finally, the titan stepped through the trees and back into the rocky and sheltered clearing that the pack called home. However, Titus froze.
The clearing was vacant, empty. Not a single soul was present and kills brought back only lay abandoned with their napes half hazardly torn out.
For a moment, he found himself blinking in confusion until it dawned on him. It was time. It certainly explained why there was no Hunter Titan present beside himself.
Knowing the event that was unfolding, Titus quickly threw the fourteen-meter before him and hurriedly sank his teeth into the nape, taking only a few moments to savor the flavor of blood and juicy meat before ripping out the Mindless's weak spot. Not wishing to devote time to regurgitating his meal due to a titan's lack of digestive organs, Titus simply spat out the nape and dropped his kill to the earth. Not wishing to miss what was currently unfolding, Titus quickly made his way to the far side of the clearing towards the mouth of a large cave that lay in the belly of a cliff side – one that was vast and covered in foliage from moss and vines to willows and pines. Trees grew from it in all angles from acute to obtuse, framing a waterfall that cut across the elevated plateau. Titus slipped into the cave, one that was composed of several caverns and tunnels that The Hunters called home. Water had once flowed through the caverns long ago, making the earthy stone smooth and the passageways and areas big enough for his kind. In the cave, there were many catacombs and dens that each of the titans made their nesting area. There was also the great grotto as well, an area where many of the titans chose to nest openly. The large expanse was also where the cave branched off into other sections of living quarters. It was the heart of the cavern, and knowing what was currently happening – Titus made the hollow his destination.
The rocky walls twisted and curved, the cave lit up by many fissures cut into the dirt and stone overhead, giving the sunlight that they needed to survive while still being sheltered from the elements. The titan's ears suddenly pricked forward as he approached the grotto, hearing a collection of sounds that provoked him to walk faster. He could hear the restless murmurs of his kin and the clear sound of uneasy and strained breaths. Golden eyes widened. Yes. It was happening. It was time.
Knowing that an event such as this required silence, Titus lightened his frame and slowed his pace, careful to keep a low profile. He was late and didn't wish to bring attention to that fact. He could sense the presence of nearly every titan in their pack – even their leader and many of the Elders that held much of the authority and enforced the pack's rules. Soon, the tight rock walls opened up into a spacious cavern that possessed ledges and pathways from floor to ceiling. Light beamed through the rocks overhead like rays cutting through clouds, giving the grotto a peaceful aura. Titans were perched all around the room, sitting with patience and staring down at the spectacle like wise old owls. In the center of the hollow upon a slight knoll, was a small group of four titans, three of which were gathered around a laboring Clymene.
Titus stalled, remaining in the shadows of the entrance – keeping out of the limelight as he continued to observe. Clymene lay on her side, belly rising and falling as she inhaled and exhaled in a shaky pattern, body infected with pain. Two elder titans watched her closely, eyes calculating and vigilant – ready to aid if need be. Clymene's mate, a large lipless fifteen-meter titan called Thorn, who was a dedicated and skillful fighter known by nearly every member of the pack, sat upright before his partner – watching his pups being brought into the world with both pride and apprehension. Clymene breathed, looking exhausted as she and her mate stared down at her abdomen where three tiny pups lay nestled against the warmth of her flesh. Each looked identical to their parents, sharing their lipless maws and dark brown hair. If measured from head to toe the pups would be a mere two and a half meters. Compared to fully grown adults, they lacked muscles but rather possessed a layer of fat along their bodies – giving them a signature chubby appearance that would mature in future years. Their tapered ears were big, nearly the full length of their heads as with all Hunter Titan pups and pressed flat to their skulls as they lay curled as tight as physically possible. Like with most offspring, their eyes were large with lids shut tight in fatigue and they had small noses. Each had their own imperfections just like their parents, two with long arms and one with a long torso, but being from two esteemed members of the pack – they held everyone's extreme interest.
The birthing of new titan pups in the pack was always the event that had to be attended. Mentors looking for their next pupils to train made it their duty to size up which pups would show the most promise in making Advancers. Every three years, when new pups were born, Mentors would make their early observations and when the pups reached three years of age – Mentors would choose their next pupils to take under their wing to train them for three more years to be Advancers, the pups being full grown at age five. Those that were not chosen were made Gatherers and those that were selected to be Advancers were later pitted against the other pupils to pick another Mentor after their three years of training. Titus himself was nearly ready to take on another pupil to train, and when he first heard that Clymene and Thorn were expecting pups, he immediately held them with extreme importance. Being some of the strongest members of the pack, their pups held promise. With he himself being the highest ranked Mentor, just below the Elders, Titus would have first selection when the time came for choosing.
His golden eyes watched as a contraction rippled across Clymene's slightly swollen girth, making the titan drone weakly and stretch in the slightest – back legs lengthening out and going stiff along with her muscular and lean arms. Clymene panted, puffs of steam leaving her mouth with her nostrils flaring with each ragged breath. Her teal eyes were shut tight in agony as she rode through the nasty force of the contraction, her mate looking at her in a mixture of unease and worry. Thorn leaned forward and gifted her with a gentle lick across her damp brow in a loving act of encouragement – the female's skin wet from her steam. Clymene suddenly let out a screech through her clenched jaw as the contraction peaked, making Thorn and the other two titan's brows crease in concern.
"THIS ONE…IS TAKING A WHILE." Titus overheard from one of the Elders above looking to their white leader beside them who only remained silent as he watched.
"MUSST BEE STTUBBORN." Spoke a lipless Elder who leaned further over his perch.
Titus remained quiet as he looked on. Another contraction crippled Clymene's abdomen, suddenly rolling sickly and forcing the mother to sit up in the slightest and hunch over. She then began heaving, shoulders shaking violently and putting the pack on edge. Thorn quickly lifted his hands, ready catch the coming little one. Compared to most species on earth, titans gave birth in as much of a different way as they did when mating. Mammals were birthed live and titans did something vaguely similar. However, instead of being brought forth through their loins, titans delivered their pups by vomiting them just like passing their pellets that contained their last meal. Compared to humans, the Hunter Titans gave birth to litters of three to five at a time. Mindless Titans birthed their abominations in the same way. However, they unfortunately had the ability to impregnate themselves every few years – no matter the sex. Instead of the Hunter Titans' fairly modest and small litters – Mindless Titans usually gave birth to ten pups on average. Fifteen at the most. Unlike the Mindless Titans, the Hunters actually nurtured and raised their offspring as opposed to letting their young fend for themselves.
"IT IS LATE… BUT COMING." A voice said from overhead. "IT IS TIME."
Clymene's heaves became full-fledged gags, provoking the others to get on edge. Titus watched Thorn prepare himself and the two watchful Elders get ready. The laboring female coughed, a sudden gush of fluid spilling from her throat as the amniotic membranes ruptured. Clymene coughed, then began heaving yet again with her mate completely focused upon her mouth – not even paying any heed to the fluids that now coated his hands. Titus remained stoic as Clymene's jaw suddenly unhinged itself and the female seemingly went into a trance. Her throat swelled up grotesquely as a lump forced its way through from her stomach. Clymene emitted only a few muffled grunts as a mixture of translucent liquid, mucus, and blood leaked from her maw. With another heave, a bundle began to crown from her esophagus. The other titans looked on, moving in their seats to get a closer look at the miracle that was taking place below them. Then, with a final lurch, a pup fell from the mother's maw and into the father's awaiting embrace.
The tiny titan announced its arrival into the world with a loud but primal cry. Looking at the newborn pup's flat chest, it was clear that it was a little male. Its hair was as deep brown as subterranean earth and full with the length of his locks just touching his shoulders. Sputtering and whimpering, the titan pup opened his wet eyes to reveal irises that were utterly captivating. They were a bright green, emerald and glowed like the canopy in summertime. They were perhaps the most beautiful eyes that Titus had ever seen in his lifetime.
However, the thing that really made the pack stand in shock or gasp in surprise was the pup's body. Titus could only look on in awe at it for it was absolutely perfect. The little male was proportionate in every way shape and form. The Mentors leaned forward and looked on in wonder and in slight greed – each automatically wanting to take the titan as a pupil in the future. Titus found himself smiling at the newborn, the baby was a complete marvel. The Hunters' albino leader raised his brows and let his lipless maw curl into a slight grin at the mother and father's product. The flawless titan that the pack had hoped for had finally arrived.
"HE IS… PERFECT!"
"THAT… IS A GOOD… PUP!"
Thorn produced a deep rumble in his chest in liking, the father completely elated at his seamless child. Clymene lifted her head and looked at the newborn in exhaustion before leaning forward to give the pup a few gentle licks with the intention to clean. The mother edged closer, inhaling the tiny titan's scent. Suddenly, the mother froze, halting her act of examining her newborn. Titus looked on in befuddlement as Clymene lifted her head away in the slightest – her face suddenly morphing into one of disgust. As if to double check, the female lowered her snout to inhale the aroma of her newborn before snorting in dislike. In question of his mate's repulsion, Thorn lowered his nose to sniff the crying pup – face transforming into one of repugnance as well. Upon seeing the pair's reactions, one of the watchful Elders approached the baby and opened its lipless maw with its fingers – face turning into one of both disappointment and disapproval as well. The father then began to speak in their native tongue to the two others while Clymene looked on at the tiny pup in her mate's hands in seething anger. With the pack completely silent, Clymene suddenly released a sharp snarl and rose and open palm – slapping the pup from her mate's hands to send the newborn flying through the air and in Titus's direction.
The grotto was deathly quiet as each set of eyes watched the infant sail through the air like a rock. Time seemed to stand absolutely still while the silence continued to hang in the atmosphere. Titus watched in horror as the tiny pup made impact on the high wall above his head – the tiny creature's spine instantly snapping with the force of the blow. The baby screamed then, letting out a hollow and pained wail that echoed throughout the grotto. It was a cry that Titus had never heard anything remotely close to. It was so sad, so rejected, and so full of agony that it pulled an emotional cord within him. The pup then began to fall into the dark abyss that Titus lay hidden within, urging a protective instinct deep in the celebrated seventeen-meter to be brought forth. Before he could even take a single breath, Titus reached out desperately and caught the tiny titan just before it could bust its head open on the unforgiving cave floor. The titan could only stand and stare at the sobbing pup, eyes wide with alarm and breath hitched as he looked upon the baby in shock.
It was exceedingly rare that a mother titan rejected their young.
Their leader, the white titan known as Azeroron, stood slowly from his perch and looked down upon the displeased parents. He wore an impassive gaze and only glanced in Titus's direction for a brief moment before returning to the mated pair.
"WHHY?" The pale behemoth questioned, voice surprisingly level and the deepness of it carrying across the grotto. Titus lifted his head at the leader's words to see one of the Elders that oversaw the birth stand from his kneeling position, glancing at the two disappointed parents before shifting his gaze back to the white titan.
"THE PUP… HAS A DELAY IN… BRAIN. IT IS SIMPLE." The titan announced with Titus and many of the pack's faces falling into a frown. "IT – THIS PUP… IT WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO… LEARN LIKE A NORMAL TITAN. IF… AT ALL." The Elder exhaled tiredly. "NOT ONLY THAT… BUT THE PUP… IS MUTE." The Elder pressed on with a rustle of murmurs sweeping throughout the grotto once again – some of the others shaking their heads in shame. "HIS CORDS… ARE ONLY HALF FORMED. HE WILL NEVER… BE ABLE TO SPEAK. EVEN… IF HE COULD… BEING SIMPLE… THE PUP MAY… NEVER LEARN HOW… OR EVEN A SINGLE WORD." The titan's shoulders sank, the mother and father nodding in agreement. "THE PUP… IS FLAWED. MAY BE... PERFECT ON OUTSIDE… BUT NOT ON THE INSIDE. IT MAY… NOT SURVIVE."
Thorn heaved a harsh breath, looking down at his three 'perfect' pups nestled against his mate before bowing his head in the slightest in the white titan's direction. "EII ANN SSORRRY. THEE PPUUP ISS A… FAAILLURRE." He apologized, the word making Titus's heart seize. Never before had a father called his own offspring a mistake in the history of the pack.
Azeroron blinked slowly, in deep thought as he shifted in his seat. The leader let out a breath in defeat. "ETT CANNOTT BEEE ELLPPEED. ETT IISS… SUUCCHH AHH SHAAMEE."
Titus remained still at the leader's decree, spellbound by everything that just transpired before him. Hearing a small sputtering cough, he was then reminded of the little titan in his hands. Titus swallowed as he looked upon the helpless little one. His fingers could feel the titan's spine realigning and healing slowly, the baby whimpering at the amount of discomfort. In the shadows, Titus continued to stare at the minuscule three-meter male. It was simple and mute, a damning combination that would plague the pup with problems. Due to the defect, the pup had little chance in the cruel world. Still, strangely enough, he still held hope for it. There was just something about it that made him grow soft and have a different opinion than the rest of the pack. Instinct began to grip on his reins, gaining an urge to cover and nurture that he couldn't quite explain. Before he knew what he was doing, he lifted the little titan to cradle him against the warmth of his chest, cupping the pup's bare bottom and the back of his wet little head. Slowly, he began to retreat backwards from the grotto, getting only a glance from their leader, before disappearing from anyone's line of sight completely.
The titan continued to walk through the caverns, seemingly in a daze as he headed for his private den. Even though the pup had been dubbed to be mute – the little guy had quite the set of pipes on him. The baby had begun to wail and cry yet again, flailing his little limbs weakly as Titus moved along. Titan young were known to weep upon their birth and in their infancy for various reasons, but this pup was making sure that he could be heard by seemingly the whole world. Titus winced at this, eardrums begging for mercy but he still carried the infant through the vacant caverns. The titan pup was probably trying to tell him something, but he had to get to the safety of his den in order to figure out what. Maybe the small specimen was just pleading for his mother and father, emitting cries of desperation that would never be answered.
Rounding another corner, the tunnel opened up into another spacious and rocky hollow illuminated by the cracks overhead. With the other titans still at the grotto most likely fawning and congratulating the new parents and examining their pups, the area was quiet. It was a rather unique chamber, walls covered in intersecting roots and vines abundant upon nearly every surface – having grown down from the gaps in the cave's ceiling. Small creatures had also made their homes in the cavern. Bats roosted high overhead, nursing their own newborns with milk while lizards scurried among the green and shallow pool below. It was a peaceful part of the cave – he was the only titan having made his nest among the wide crevices.
Hearing the pup shriek desperately upon their entry, the bats hurriedly vacated the premises and back into the fading sun. Titus gripped the baby firmly and began his accent up a heightened pathway that was carved on the western side of the cavern. Within no time, he came to the opening of a catacomb covered by thick vines. Looking once behind him to see if any other titans followed, Titus then passed through the leafy curtain into his nesting quarters. It was a rather spacious little area, a cozy cave within a cave that was plain and ordinary. Like the rest of the cavern, the walls were wrapped in roots and vines. Like every other quarter of a Hunter Titan, there was a source of light from a high hole in the wall to his right and there was a pile of dried pine needles, oak leaves, and grass that served as his nesting area.
Weak in his knees and his mind in a flurry, Titus motioned over to the beam of light and gently placed the crying pup upon a smooth stone – hoping that the last rays of sunlight could calm the infant down. Titus lowered himself to kneel upon his knees with golden eyes taking in the little pup in full. The pint sized beast stretched his proportionate limbs, fingers and toes sprawling and reaching up to nothing. The baby titan's face was scrunched up as he continued to sputter and sob, his vocals sounding like a mix of calls of a bear cub and a human infant. Titus swallowed. What was he doing? What was compelling him to help a pup that had little chance of surviving? What provoked him to be the first to whisk the little creature away from the cruelty? Then again, the better question was WHY was he the ONLY one that stepped in? Did all of the Hunter Titans believe that this poor pup was the failure that his mother and father believed? Titus's ears wilted in the slightest, lifting a hand to curl around the baby's head. Still, something deep inside him was telling him otherwise, a small whisper at the back of his head. There was just something about this titan pup that made him disagree with the others.
The little one continued to plead and whimper, his little throat going hoarse, the pup coughing and reaching out urgently yet again. Titus bit his lip. In the years that he had been alive, he had never mated with another titan to produce young – not even before he became a Mentor. Having a pup in his custody now was surreal and he wasn't a hundred percent sure of what to do. When male titans impregnate a female, they let their parental instincts take hold. Males are very protective of their mates and nurture the mother throughout her pregnancy, bringing her meat and protecting her from Mindless Titans – the hostile creatures able to sense the female's venerable condition. When the pups are born, the male embraces his role as a father and helps the female raise their offspring until they become independent and strong enough to survive on their own. Titus wasn't having the same instinctual awakening – only a mere part of it, just the need to protect. He had no idea that his decision would be one that would greatly change his life.
Titus continued to stare at the pup, suddenly realizing the reason as to why the infant was crying and pitying himself for being too lost in thought to realize it. The tiny titan was still covered in birthing fluids, strings of mucus and splotches of blood were still donning the baby's body and hair – his parents never even bothering to clean the little titan at all before rejecting him. Titus knew that such a thing was dangerous to a newborn pup, the mucus likely to cause suffocating and choking. Even though it was impossible for a titan to die of strangulation – it was incredibly painful and could cause a slew of issues. There was only one way of course that the pup could be cleaned – and Titus had to be the one to do it.
Apprehensive but willing, the seventeen-meter picked up the tiny pup from the stone and made his way into his nest. Titus then settled upon his rump, cradling the infant securely with his hairy little head in his palms. The behemoth swallowed, trying to get over the repulsive idea before letting his long pointed tongue slip from his maw – an adaptation that their specific breed developed to utilize in the caring of young and both a tool to quickly clean themselves. His long appendage glided over the pup's face, wincing a bit at the less than pleasant taste but successfully clearing any remaining mucus from the small beast's nostrils. The pup calmed in the slightest, the little male's wails quieting into soft whimpers. Knowing that the pup had to be completely clean of the biological material from his birth, Titus continued. The titan prolonged to lap at the pup's hair and soft skin with utmost attentiveness, making sure that the fluids were gone. The baby felt like a fuzzy peach like all other Hunter pups, having millions upon millions of short translucent hairs that covered his body – an adaptation native only to their breed for they birthed in dens instead of in the light of the sun. The fuzz or 'pup fuzz' as the Hunters called it, helped babies keep much warmer next to their mothers in the shade of the caves – the fuzz shedding once the pups were old enough to venture outside. The pup whines then began to die down into soft squeaks – sounds that meant that the titan was no longer experiencing any discomfort but was rather expressing a sense of happiness. Another vocal from the infant made Titus pause in his work, inciting him to lift his head in surprise.
The pup was purring, cooing in delight. Golden eyes looked upon the tiny titan, seeing the petite male's shadowed lids peel away to reveal his captivating greens. The pup blinked several times before looking up at the great titan. Titus felt himself weaken. The newborn was entranced, emerald hues simply staring up at his own in nothing but adoration. Like nearly all babies that he had seen from the forest's wildlife and the other pups, the titan's eyes had a 'floaty' and sleepy appearance, soft and warm. There was something else in the pup's eyes that he had not expected to see, a level of understanding – a realization that Titus was now his guardian and savior. His entire world. Titus felt a smile pulling at his lips, mustache elevating a bit. Yes, there was certainly something about this little pup that was making him melt.
Unfortunately, Titus's smile dissipated as his thoughts about what had occurred came back to him. The little pup, for the duration of his life, was most likely going to endure a cruel reality. Life was going to be harsh. The pack believed him to be worthless, a failure and the little titan was likely going to be constantly reminded of his indifference. He was going to be seen a nuisance. Titus knew this wholeheartedly. It made his heart sink down to his stomach seeing the pup staring up at him, the tiny giant completely innocent. The little male didn't deserve such harsh treatment. He deserved a chance at least. In the luminous green pools, Titus saw hope and a sense of astuteness that couldn't quite be described. The pup cooed and let out a variety of squeaks and baby noises. Gradually, the skin at the corners of the newborn's lipless maw pulled up into a smile, elfish ears fluttering in glee as the tip of his tiny tongue stuck out from from between his line of incisors. The pup let out a content gurgle and waved his arms. As tough as the Mentor was, he found himself thawing at the sight. Yes. He could care for the pint sized behemoth until he saw fit. Taking him on as a pupil was not likely, but he wanted the pup to at least get his chance at life – what was considered as the most precious thing in the world.
Titus sat back and cradled the spirited newborn to his chest not unlike a mother ape. The smile returned back to his tired face, watching as the pup began to grow sleepy – exhausted from his rough arrival. He was aware that he needed to gift the baby with a name. There was one in particular that he thought of that sounded perfect. A traveler that settled into The Village once told him about a far away land that fell before the Mindless nearly devoured the entire planet's human population. The civilization of that land considered titans, perhaps some like them, as great beings that were more powerful than even the gods. One of these titans was burdened with holding the world upon his shoulders – the celestial heavens. The pup would be cursed with a similar encumbrance as well. Therefore, the name suited him.
Titus rumbled softly. "I… THINK I'LL CALL YOU… ATLAS."
The pup let out a soft trill at his naming. Atlas then yawned, little jaw opening as wide as possible with his tongue curling and a teeny squeak escaping him. Titus observed the pup's eyes flutter, sleep creeping upon him. With the sunlight vanishing from the cave, it signified that night had fallen upon the heart of the forest. Knowing well just how mothers slept with their pups, Titus slowly lowered himself to his side and placed the newborn into the pile of dried grass near his abdomen. Golden eyes took in the sight of Atlas, watching him squirm in the leaves to press himself further against the much larger titan. Titus nearly huffed as the pup curled into the tightest ball possible – feet nearly up by his head and hands cupped beneath his jaw. It wasn't long before the pup fell fast asleep.
Titus sighed, lowering his head to rest upon his arms as he watched Atlas's back rise and fall with his steady breath. He himself yawned, exhausted both physically and emotionally from the day's events. It wasn't long before he too, fell into a deep state of repose.
He swore that just before he closed his eyes, the little titan smiled once again.
The forest began to lighten with the rising sun, making the landscape light and airy. Everything seemed to be coated in a pale yellow light and a thin fog was hanging over the forest floor. Life was beginning to awaken from its temporary slumber, deer venturing out into the fields for an early morning feeding and birds pecking the ground for worms. Within the den, the fresh morning rays poured in through the natural sky light, warming the seventeen-meter's flesh. Feeling his frame naturally awaken from the solar energy, Titus gradually lifted his shadowed lids to view the edge of his arm and the dried leaves of his nest that needed replacing. Slowly, he lifted his head to yawn, reaching up to satisfy an itch upon his scalp before recalling what had occurred the day before.
Quickly, he turned to stare down at the tiny pup that still lay curled up against his side. Ah yes, Atlas – the pup that he had graciously taken in. The baby titan was still asleep and would likely be for the next several hours. Newborn titans were a hundred percent dependent upon their parents. They were rather weak and could not stand upon their own two feet. They spent most of their time sleeping and soaking in their parent's body heat and sunlight from up above. Pups usually stayed in their mother's nest until they were where weeks old where they would venture outside for the first time. At three weeks, the little titan would have an energy spike and be rather playful. It was then that parents would teach their young how to walk upright. Titus tilted his head, watching Atlas's ears twitch in his sleep. He was in for quite a responsibility. The only knowledge he had about rearing a pup was from what he had seen before. Of course, this titan's disabilities could make that knowledge completely useless.
Slowly, Titus sat up fully, leaving Atlas to lay only in a mixture of leaves. He needed to go hunting and bring back some meat. Feeding the pup always increased their health. Being rejected the way he was, Atlas needed the extra nourishment. Stress was never good for a pup. It could cause long term trauma and the titan would have a skittish nature. He did not want that. The pup was going to have a hard enough life. He wanted Atlas to be a happy titan.
Of course, there was another matter. He knew that the pack would not necessarily approve of Atlas's continuing existence. Many of them would perhaps not even want the pup around and wish for exile. He was sure that no one had seen him carry the pup from the grotto besides their leader – and even so he wasn't sure if he was really looking at him. Perhaps it would be best to keep the pup a secret until it was old enough to venture outside. The idea of a Mentor such as himself taking in such a pup may not even sit well with the other Mentors who had wanted to immediately take on the titan as a pupil before knowing Atlas's disabilities. They could even come to the conclusion that he knew something that they did not. A large disagreement between them was entirely possible if such occurred. Titus sighed. He wasn't a hundred percent sure if that was how he should go about the situation, but it was what he was to stick with until he knew further.
The seventeen-meter then stood and turned back to peer out of the hole, he was later than usual in awakening, some of the other titans had probably already went out on patrol. If he was discreet enough, he could grab a small kill and haul it up back to his den to feed the pup. Luckily, yesterday was the day that he was to hunt and provide for the pack. Advancers and Mentors always rotated out with the hunting duties. The fact that he didn't have to do so for the day was a blessing. Nodding to himself at his plan, Titus carefully got to his feet and made his way to the other side of his den and gathered a few rocks, setting them next to his nest before standing again to retrieve more. Once he had a considerable amount, Titus then kneeled next to his pile of dried greenery and began to place the rocks around the perimeter of his bed. It would serve as a small safety barrier and pen to contain the little pup in case he tried to crawl out of his den. Such an instance was unlikely, but he couldn't rule out the possibility.
The titan admired his work for a moment, watching as Atlas uncurled himself in his sleep and clumsily rolled into a ball yet again in the opposite direction. To ensure that the baby behemoth would be warm enough in his short absence, Titus carefully raked a thin layer of leaves over the minuscule beast's body. Once he was sure that everything was secure and that Atlas was still fast asleep, Titus quietly snuck his way out of his den and began to make his way through the cavern, hoping that once he reached the outside that no one would be raising suspicion. He wanted the pup to be safe.
The morning light began to mature into the clearer rays as time passed and the day became well underway. The weather was just as it was the day before, nothing but sunshine and clear skies. For the Hunters, a sunny day was a blessing. Their bodies soaked in a large amount of solar energy and such good weather brought out many of the Mindless for them to kill. For man, it was both a blessing and a curse. It was good for their health and their crops, but with the Mindless fully active they had more of a chance in being attacked. For the wisest of the Hunters, they saw it as partially a curse as well. With the Mindless always going after the residents of The Village, they could only hope that Hunters were there. If they were late or nowhere to be found, it would be a massacre.
Exiting from the cave and back into the world, Titus looked out at the glade surrounded by the towering forest and rocky walls. The early hunting had been done and the titans already brought back their kills. In the center of the glade was a pile Mindless bodies, all with their heads severed and limbs torn off to render them immobile for the pack to dine on fresh meat until their bellies were full – ripping out the napes when they were finished.
Trying not to bring attention to himself, Titus motioned for the pile of fresh kill and began to sift through in search of a perfect portion to take back and feed the pup. Golden eyes would stray away every few seconds, looking around the titans that graced the area – hoping that he wouldn't see two in particular. The titans were likely to approach him after what occurred the evening before. Oh how he dreaded the impending conversation and encounter. Around him were the feasting Elders and nearly every other member of the pack from each role. Advancers soaked in the spoils of their kills, licking the blood from their flesh before digging in even more – still living off the high of their hunt. Mentors were eating as well although in groups or alone, those in a party talking to one another about the upcoming duels in the coming months and who to pick as their next pupils and who to demote to a Gatherer. The Gatherers themselves were eating just as calmly as the Mentors and in their own groups – often sitting near the high ranking titans to learn a thing or two in order to impress them so they could be promoted to a higher rank. The heavily pregnant females were eating their meals generously, consuming every piece their mate handed to them and often demanding more. One would think that a gravid female couldn't eat when carrying, but in truth Mindless meat was a great benefit to the developing pups. Even though the unborn babies fed off the sunlight absorbed by their mother, carrion also helped them grow even stronger just as the reason why adults ate the meat despite not needing to. Sure, the pups developed in the female's stomach rather than a womb, but the fluids in the organ caused meat to dissolve – making the pups able to absorb it. Those males whose mates had just given birth, were fishing though the pile just as he was to bring back a meal for their new family.
Titus then returned to his sorting, looking through the pile of steaming flesh. He needed a fairly small titan so it would be quick to carry up to his den. Atlas wouldn't need much of it. Finally, after a few more minutes of looking, he stumbled upon the body of a five meter Mindless. Unlike the Hunter Titans that ranged from twelve to seventeen-meters in size, the Mindless Titans varied in size greatly from three-meters to fifteen – the smallest ones even being fully grown adults. The five meter before him was perfect for Atlas to gain some extra nutrition and ease the stress.
Upon hearing the familiar address, Titus looked up to see the one titan that he was dreading to see, Thorn. The fifteen-meter looked very similar to his son except for that his hair was much shorter than Atlas's shoulder length locks. The new father was obviously getting meat for his mate and had every intention to suck up to the Mentor. Although the male was very level-headed and strong willed, Thorn had spurts of arrogance and selfishness. Titus knew very well since Thorn had once been his pupil many years ago. As a student, he was great at combat, but his attitude sometimes made Titus indifferent about him. He had trained hard and won his duel, but stayed an Advancer for he didn't want the responsibility of a Mentor. Still, Titus forced a smile and rumble in greeting even though he resented the the titan greatly.
"HI THORN." He greeted, hesitating in the slightest. "HOW… ARE YOUR PUPS?"
Much to his surprise, Thorn only smiled and replied without hesitation. "THHE THREE ARRR GGOOD." The titan informed as he began to look through the pile of meat, searching for a smaller titan as well.
Titus found himself slightly spellbound at the father's lack of concern over his other pup. However, he decided to try and provoke the dad to say something through small talk. "GOOD. THAT IS… GOOD. HOW – IS CLYMENE?"
Titus nodded. "AH. SORRY ABOUT YOUR FOURTH PUP… BUT MAYBE THERE IS HOPE… FOR HIM." He continued, watching as Thorn didn't seem to even flinch.
"EII – DOUBT IT." Thorn replied quickly, making Titus feel a lump form in his throat at the lack of compassion in the father's tone. "THEE PPUP WAAS… DEEFECTIVE. NNOTT MUCCH… HOOPE FOORR ITT… ETT WWOOULLD NNOTT SURVIVE." Thorn snorted in slight repulsion. "SOO… DOOO YOU SEEE ANYY…PPUUP OOFF NNINNE THHAT YOOU WOOULD LIKKE ASSS A PUUPIL?"
Titus felt his stomach nearly turn over at Thorn's crude response. He showed no remorse at all. The titan didn't even care if his other offspring even survived or not. The father didn't even ask where his other son even was. "MMMM… TELL ME. FEMALE? MALE?" He continued, trying not to show his distress.
"TWOO FEEEMALES. ONNN NAALLE. DDA FFEEMALES HAVVE LONGG ARNNS. NNALLE HASS LONNG TOORSOO." Thorn informed, ignoring the other male completely once again, his tone not even sounding sorry.
For a moment, Titus found himself unable to answer, blown away by his formal pupil's attitude. Trying to keep his stunned silence hidden, he reached up to scratch through his beard, pulling a leaf from it and trying look as if he was in serious consideration – hoping that Thorn would buy the act. "HARD TO SAY AT THIS…POINT. THEY ALL… LOOK PROMISING. I WILL… KEEP AN EYE ON THEM." Titus finished with a false grin, picking up his selected kill and throwing it over his shoulder to give Thorn the impression that he had things to do.
Thorn nodded at his response, gathering a seven-meter from the pile and quickly tearing its head from its shoulders. "WELLL… ETT WWOUULD BEE AAN ONNOR FOOOR OUU TOO BEEE AH NNENNTOOR… TOOO ONN OFFF NNYY PPUUPS." Thorn grinned after looking up from disabling his kill further. "SEEE YYOOU… LAATERR TTIITUUS!" Thorn casually bowed his head before turning away to converse with another Advancer.
Making sure that Thorn had his attention fully elsewhere, Titus turned and retreated back into the cave, shamed that the fifteen-meter was even one of his previous students.
Titus avoided anyone that he could as he passed through the caverns and tunnels, evading the area that Clymene and Thorn resided in at all costs. He was sickened at the father's lack of compassion for a disabled son. He had seen humans in The Village before with children bound to wheeled chairs and those that were simple just like Atlas. No matter how hard it was or what difficulty awaited them in rearing such a child – humans toughed things out and raised the child just like any other. Among their pack, that wasn't the case. They were more like animals it seemed, abandoning offspring that was weak and was different compared to the others. It was one instance that made him wish that the Hunter Titans were more like humans.
He wished that nature was a bit fairer and more forgiving.
Suddenly he heard it. The unmistakable sound of a wailing pup – the very one that he was looking after. Upon hearing the cry of desperation, Titus kicked himself into high gear and raced for his den. Of all things, he didn't want the pup to awake when he was absent. He was foolish to think that the infant wouldn't. The pup had probably aroused and saw that he wasn't there and was panicking. He had to hurry and calm the baby down. He didn't want to attract unwanted attention. Not only was it not necessarily safe, but he didn't want to stress out the delicate pup further.
Hastily, he entered the vine covered cavern and began to make his way up the path to his den. Hopefully he would be able to calm Atlas. Since he didn't have the full blown parental instincts of a new dad at all, he didn't know for certain if his absence was truly the reason why the pup was wailing. It could be another reason entirely. Maybe even one that he could do nothing to ease.
Reaching the entrance, Titus peeled back the tangle of vines to find something that he didn't expect. Over his nesting area stood Azeroron, the white titan wearing a neutral yet difficult to read expression as he stared down at the tiny titan in the pile of leaves – the little beast laying on his back kicking and screaming with his petite face wet with tears. Titus felt his shoulders tense up in the slightest. It was no secret that he and Azeroron were good allies, longtime friends. The albino was far wiser though and at least four hundred years older. His looks were signature, pale white skin and reddish eyes. His frame wasn't as bulky as some but he still possessed a good amount of muscle. The titan's face was nearly skeletal, his cheekbones and chin more prominent than most. Silver hair fell to his shoulders and a small tuft grew into a point upon his chin. Titus trusted and abided by anything that Azeroron said. Of course, the leader's previous comments made him a bit uneasy. What could Azeroron be thinking about? What were his intentions on coming into his den?
"AZERORON?" Titus queried as he slowly approached the pale creature, the titan lifting his head to acknowledge him before turning back to the crying pup.
"HELLOO TTIITTUSS. EIII WASS… EXPPECTINGG YOUU. WEE NEED… TOOO TAALK." The titan began, brushing a strand of shoulder length hair from his face. "BUUTT FIIRRSTT," Azeroron paused as he pointed to Atlas. "HE WIIILL NEEDD CCAALLMINGG."
Nodding in return, Titus quickly dropped the five-meter titan's body with Azeroron voluntarily placing a foot on the small of the thing's back to hold the monster in place as it regenerated. With utter care, the seventeen-meter bent over and retrieved the whining pup. In full view of the pack leader, Titus cradled the pint sized titan to his chest. Atlas squirmed in the slightest, stretching his arms before peeling open his shadowed lids. The pup blinked, looking up at him and quieting instantly. Atlas formed a smile with his malformed mouth, letting out a little squeal before turning and burying his face into Titus's chest. The baby continued to trill, little ears wiggling as he snuggled further into the larger titan's flesh. The corner of his mouth turned into a smile. He was the reason why Atlas was howling. The pup just wanted to be held by him.
"EII CCANNE HEERRE BECAUSSSE EII NOTICCED… YOOUU TTOOKK TTHEE PUPP LASST NNIGHTT. EII CAMMME TOO SEEE IIFF YOUU DELLT WIITH HIMM LIKKE HIIS PARRENTS ORRIIGINALLY…WISHEED ORR IFFF YOUU WEENNT ABOUT IIT AHH DIFFEREENT WAYY." Azeroron paused, salivating his mouth to speak further with a slight show of pity written upon his face. "HEE HASS TAKKEN AH LLIKIING TOOO YOUU."
"I THINK... HE HAS." Titus stood, feeling slightly more comfortable with the calmness of the leader's tone.
"MMMM… EEII SSUPPOSEE… YOOU PLAANN TOO CARRE FOR THHE PUPP?"
Titus nodded, eyes watching as Atlas trilled and took one of his fingers into his maw, holding the digit with his little hands as he began to lick and suckle, familiarizing himself.
"YES. I PLAN TO – AT LEAST TILL HE'S AT A… POINT OF INDEPENCE." Titus replied truthfully, watching as the pup let go of his finger and struggled to put his own foot into his mouth, finally able to do so after several tries. Atlas's tongue went between his toes, the teeny titan suddenly interested in himself.
Azeroron exhaled. "TTITTUS… THISS PUPP… ITT IS NOOT LIIKE THHEE OTHERRS. EIII KNNOWW THATT… YOOU HHEARRD TTHHHAT THHISS PUUP ISS SIIMPPLE. TIIITTUSS… KNNOWWINNG TTHAAT ANND KNOWWING THAAT ITT HASS LITTLE CHHANCE OFFF LIVVING – WHHY TTAAKEE ITT IINN?"
Titus hesitated. "I… THINK HE HAS A… CHANCE. EVEN IF IT IS SMALL… I THINK HE NEEDS ONE." He replied. As if agreeing, Atlas let out a squeal and snuggled once again into his chest – little fist in his mouth.
The white titan remained quiet, watching the pup for a moment before swallowing once again in preparation to speak. "TITTUS… YOUU MAYY KNOOW TTHAAT HEE WWILL LIVVE AHH TRROUBLEDD LIIFFFE… NOO MATTERR HOOWW SHORRT. TTHHEE PAACCK… WILLL NNOTT TAAKEE IIDEEAA SOO WWELL." Azeroron pressed, watching as Atlas grabbed both of his feet and raised them – letting out gurgles that could pass as laughter.
Titus swallowed. "PLEASE AZERORON. DON'T EXILE HIM. HE… WILL DIE IF YOU DO." He muttered, tone barely above a titan's whisper.
Azeroron remained still, eyes descending upon the pup in the titan's arms. For a long moment, it was quiet between them, only Atlas making vocals as he continued to discover himself. Finally, the albino titan softened. "IT ISS CLEARRR THATT… YOOU SEEE SOMETTHING INN HIMM. ALTHOUGHH YOUUU DON'TT KNOWW WHATT ITT ISS. FINNE. TTHHISSS PUUP CAN STAAY." Azeroron informed, making a wave of relief wash over Titus. "HHOOWWEVVERR, BEEE WARRNNEDD ATT THHE CHALLENGESS THEE TWOO OF YOOU FACCE." The leader continued, raising his hand to wave a finger over the pup's field of vision, the little titan letting out a boisterous squeal as he tried to make a grab for the white titan's fingers. "WEEE ARRE ONNLY A SNNALL RRACE OFF TITTAN. PUUPPS ARR OUURR FFUTTURR. ALLTHOGGH HEE ISS NNOTT ABBLE TOOO FIGGHT… HE'LLL HAVVE AHH PURRPOSSE IINN OOURR PPACCK."
Titus felt himself relax completely. The pup would be in his company. He wouldn't be thrown out to fend for himself. Azeroron then picked up the five meter who had regenerated completely during their time of talking. The leader quickly decapitated the beast again and handed it to Titus who took it in his free hand.
Azeroron nodded. "TOOO GETT HIMMM STARRTED… JUSST FEEDD HIMMM BLOOOD. EII ESSIERR ONN PUUPSS' STTOMMACHS. HEE CANTT DIGESST MEATT YETT."
Titus nodded and went to sit in the comfort of his nest. He placed Atlas into his lap and plunged his hand into the five meter, coating his hand in blood. The titan then raised his index finger to the pup's maw, watching as Atlas immediately took interest – edging closer to smell before letting his little tongue lap at his fingertips. The baby purred, ears and arms fluttering at the delectable taste. He couldn't believe he had forgotten. Mindless titan blood was easier on the tummy of a young titan. Recalling now, giving a pup meat straight up was a lot harder for them to regurgitate. Blood was much easier. If anything it would just be a small amount of spit up afterwards. Titan meat and blood not only gave a pup a good strong start or eased stress, it also strengthened their stomach muscles and made it easier for them to regurgitate future meals. The little titan licked his palm, his tongue trailing off to lick himself before going back to Titus's fingers.
"NOTT TOO ARROUSSE SUSSPICIONS, I WILL NOTT SAYY THATT ITT ISS YOUUU WHOO ISS CARRING FORR HIMM. ASSS YOUUU KNNOWW, MEENTORRS CANN BEEE – RATTHERR PUSHHY. KEEEP HIMM… RATTHERR UNDERR RAAPPS." The white titan concluded as he turned and began to make his way from the den. Azeroron then halted, head looking up thoughtfully as he remained with his back turned to the pair. "WHHAAT… IISS THEE PUPP'SS NAANNE?"
Titus watched as the baby belched in the slightest and began to settle, the pup's tummy rounded out in the slightest from his meal. "ATLAS. I CALL HIM… ATLAS."
"AH… ETT ISSS AH GOOOD NANEE. SSUITS HIM."
In the great grotto, many of the titans had gathered to watch the next spectacle. Some Mentors lined the outer wall and others watched just for the entertainment. Titus sat upon a high ledge, secluded from the rest of the higher ranking titans as he peered down at the adorable show before him. Three weeks had passed and all of the pups in the pack had been born. It was now the time where all of the babies learned the art of walking upright to survive. Titus watched the few groups of new parents and their offspring below them, giving in to a bit of humor as many of the little pups played with one another. Until they are able to walk on their own two feet, pups moved about on all fours – looking both odd but clumsy as they ran and hopped around on their hands and feet. Many of the pups roughhoused with their siblings, chasing one another, tackling them to the ground, and playfully nipping at their ears while others sat and observed or stuck close to their parents – bugging them a bit to get in on the action.
In the time that passed, Atlas had acquired this playful nature as well – if not he was even more spirited than the other pups. He was high energy and scampered all around his den – pouncing after lizards and attempting to chase after fluttering moths. To Titus, Atlas seemed just like any ordinary pup. High energy and high maintenance. The little titan woke him up every morning by pulling his hair and biting his ears, chirping loudly as he tried to get Titus to spend time with him and join in on his roughhousing. The pup also seemed to play with just about anything, even having a strange fascination with feathers. In fact, Titus had to almost constantly put his nest back together due to Atlas rolling in the leaves and stringing pine needles all across the rocky floor. Still, he enjoyed the pup's company.
However, in the weeks that he had raised the pup, Titus hadn't noticed anything that gave away the pup's disability at all. Atlas seemed to be completely normal and just like any other growing infant. It made Titus wonder if the others had been wrong.
Titus's eyes fell upon Thorn and Clymene who had initiated their teaching session. Titus wasn't paying too much attention to the success the pups would have necessarily, but he was really looking at just how Thorn and Clymene went about teaching their little ones. True, he had seen parents teach their pups how to walk many times over, but this was the first time he was going to have to educate a pup himself. He wanted to go about things just right. If he was really teaching a mentally disabled titan as the others claimed the baby to be, he wanted to know the best way possible or formulate how to do it.
The three pups of Thorn and Clymene continued to pick on one another until Clymene gathered them together, placing them before her as Thorn took his place in front of them. Just as the three tried to turn and play once again, the fifteen-meter made a sharp grunt so foreboding that the pups stopped instantly and stared up at their father in question – eyes wide and innocent, waiting to see what their dad did next. Atlas's two sisters shared their mother's teal irises and longer hair. The two looked mostly identical except one's length of their nose. Titus had learned that they were called Zeal and Tesame. The male inherited his father's intense yellow eyes and shorter hair. His mother and Father called the pup Mitus, a play on another mythological titan's name called Menoetius – a titan that was ironically Atlas's brother in the story. The coincidence made Titus consider Thorn as Zeus at points – the one who had condemned Atlas to carry the weight of the world.
He began to take note as Thorn grunted sharply and began to pace slowly back and forth. The beast's yellow eyes were hooked onto his offspring as he did so, taking in the sight of them watching his every movement. Titus knew that pups learned things from observing their parents. Walking was one of them. Thorn then stopped and knelt down before his pups, putting as much of an encouraging look upon his face as he could muster with their eyes showing a degree of weariness and shyness. Clymene then cupped a hand beneath the rump of Mitus, pushing him upward onto his own two feet with the pup giving a squeak in surprise. The mother held the baby up for a moment, the little male teetering for a few seconds before he turned his attention to his awaiting father. Without the pup knowing, Clymene gradually removed her hand – with the pup standing on his own. As he realized what had happened, Mitus grasped that he wasn't in the safety of his mother's embrace. The male squeaked in alarm and began to wobble, but he still managed to hold himself upwards. His yellow eyes were lit with fear, the pup looking to his dad for aid. Thorn grunted again, urging his offspring to take his first step. Then, with the pack watching, Mitus lifted a chubby leg and took his first big step forward, teetering once again until he planted his foot upon the earth. The pup let out a chirrup at his success before letting his face twist into a look of pure determination. Mitus then took another step without fault. With a big smile pulling at his face, the titan pup toddled forward and right into his father's folded knees. Mitus purred, looking up at Thorn's proud face before turning and padding over to the embrace of his mother who licked his brow in congratulation. Mitus concluded his act with a triumphant little 'roar' to the top of the grotto, trying to bellow victoriously just like he had seen his parents doing.
Seeing Thorn and Clymene treating their pups with such attentiveness with no thought of their other son whatsoever really made it feel as if he had a boulder in his stomach.
Just like their brother, Zeal and Tesame were urged to walk upright like their sibling. Zeal walked just as easily as her brother whereas Tesame stumbled and fell onto her knees once before urging herself to keep going. Titus forced himself to watch the three little pups beginning to chase one another around their parents on their own two feet and soon scampering off to play with the other pups of the pack. In the end, when it came to choosing the next pupil for him to train, it was all about the wellbeing of the young titans. Not their parents. He wasn't training them. He was training their pups.
Seeing as much of the educating process as he possibly could, Titus discreetly stood and began to make his way back to his den. Hopefully training Atlas with the same method would prove successful.
If it was one thing that had become clear during the last few weeks that the pup was in his care, it was certainly true that Atlas was quite the little rogue. Titus only stood in the opening of his den, reminded of the fact while looking at the disaster that was his living quarters. His nest wasn't even a nest anymore. The leaves and pine needles were strung about the dirt floor in all directions. Some pebbles were misplaced and various vines had been ripped from the walls. Atlas himself was in the corner of the den, sitting on his rump with a vine in his fleshless jaws. The pup made a loud and cheerful cheer through his clenched jaw, wiggling his ears in greeting before turning back to pull on the vine, growling as fiercely as he could which in truth sounded rather pitiful compared to the snarl of a fully grown titan. The little creature paused in his pulling – staring back at Titus once again, purring with a pleased look on his face, proud of what he had done and was making sure that the larger titan witnessed his display of strength.
"ATLAS." Titus heaved a breath, exhausted from the many times he had come back to his den to happen upon such a scene. The baby only chirruped at his name and dropped what he was currently doing and scampered into Titus's direction. Like all little pups, Atlas moved around on all fours – only that he did it with more elation. The pup practically hopped like a rabbit at points. The tiny titan then placed himself at Titus's feet, sitting on his foot and hugging his shin, burying his face into his toasty skin with a loud squeal – the pup's way of greeting him upon return. If it was one thing that brought his hopes up about the pup's mental capabilities, it was that Atlas caught on to his name rather quickly just like other pups. He had his hopes up that walking would come easy as well.
Looking over the disaster that was his den, Titus pushed any ounce of frustration aside and grunted in greeting. He then bent over and picked up Atlas, the pup melting in pleasure as he was placed against the larger beast's chest. The baby continued to coo, looking up at Titus with his green pools illuminating brightly. The pup was certainly attached to him, but Titus wasn't completely sure if that was a good thing or not. Sure, babies were incredibly close to their parents in their first year of life, but how would Atlas be if he was truly mentally deficient? In five years' time, when titan pups were fully grown, he couldn't have an adult titan following him around twenty-four seven wanting to snuggle against him. Titus shook his head, putting away the thought as he decided to focus on teaching Atlas.
With a rumble in encouragement, Titus walked over to the center of the den and placed Atlas onto the floor like Clymene had with Atlas's brother and sisters. The little titan looked up at him with a questioning gaze before letting out a trill and bouncing towards him again, seeing the act as play. At this, Titus grunted roughly, telling the pup 'no' without a word as he seated him once again. He frowned inwardly at this. Atlas's brothers and sisters sat upon the command of their parents. Gurgling, Atlas attempted to approach him yet again, but was quickly sat back down by his hands. So far, Atlas wasn't exactly following that pattern. This made a wad of worry swell up inside Titus.
Then again, the pup could just be playful.
Titus gave Atlas a stern gaze, keeping a hand on the little titan's head for several long seconds before moving away to stand. To his luck, the pup sat still, simply looking up at the bigger titan with eyes filled with wonder. Titus grunted again, using the same tone as Thorn as he began to slowly pace back and forth across his den with the little beast turning his head this way and that to follow him. Titus then paused and returned to Atlas to urge him up, but before he could put a hand onto his back, the small behemoth darted beneath his legs and began to roll in the leaves once again. Titus felt his heart drop upon the reaction. Atlas wasn't listening, nor was he even showing the desire to learn. He could feel his heart start to sink. Maybe this was the delay that the others spoke of.
"ATLAS." He began sternly as he made a grab for the baby, but the pup had other ideas. Atlas slipped away at the last second and began to run around on all fours in his den – daring the larger titan to come after him. Titus however was an expert at swiping small prey, so with a quick scoop, he snatched the pup up from the floor. The pup continued to warble in his arms, chirruping as he reached for Titus's beard with the intent to pull. The seventeen meter grunted sharply, sounding much more firm and strict. Atlas looked at him, square in the eyes as he stuck his own tiny hand into his mouth while Titus sat the pup before him once again. Gently, his held Atlas up on his own two feet, the little titan squealing. "STAND UP ATLAS." Titus ordered kindly as he slowly let go of the baby. For a few gratifying seconds, Atlas stood upright until he dropped to his rump, letting out a squeak in surprise. Titus frowned, but it was a start.
"LET US… TRY AGAIN." The titan pulled the little one to his feet. Titus carefully held Atlas's little wrists between his thumbs and index fingers and gently pulled the titan to him. The pup let out a confused and fearful vocal, not moving his legs whatsoever as Titus continued to pull. Leaning steeply, Atlas finally tumbled over onto his hands. The result made Titus grimace again. The titan pup's disability was beginning to shine through. He couldn't give up though. He had to keep up his attempts. If Atlas wasn't walking by sunset, he would then know that training the little creature to walk was impossible.
Again, Titus tried the same pulling technique, with little Atlas making sounds of distress and squeezing his fingers as he held on for dear life as if he was about to fall into the center of the earth. Green eyes looked up at the titan, showing absolute fear, tears swelling up in the pup's ducts. It was then that Titus realized he was going about teaching Atlas the wrong way. He was educating with an iron fist, being far too strict for the sensitive baby. He was making walking upright scary for Atlas, something that the pup would refuse to do if the process was something he was terrified of. Titus sat the pup down and rubbed his chin. Atlas had a playful personality, he needed to make the lesson fun. Perhaps then Atlas would get the concept.
"WANT TO… WALK ATLAS?" Titus smiled at the young titan, the baby looking up and blinking away a few tears. Atlas then reached for titan, telling the adult without words that he wished to be held. Complying, Titus scooped up Atlas and swaddled him in to his arms, letting the pup calm to a point where he began to purr before standing up and lowering the pup so his tiny feet were upon his own as he held the little titan's hands over his head. Confused, Atlas tilted his head backwards to peer up at Titus in serious question, but the larger creature only rumbled in encouragement, making sure to keep his smile. Titus took a few steps in advance, the little titan's feet lifting and going in sync with his own. Atlas let out another squeak in surprise at first, but then began to smile and gurgle in pleasure. Titus beamed to himself, so far so good.
For nearly an hour, he kept walking with the little titan on his feet, hands now cupped beneath the pup's armpits for Atlas's arms not to tire. It was nearly midday and Titus then decided that it would be best to stop and see if his technique had worked. Without warning the spirited pup, Titus halted and took his arms away from the baby. For a moment, all was still as golden eyes observed the pup stand upright, looking a bit confused and puzzled. The seventeen-meter's heart sank, perhaps he was wrong.
However, before he could could think of other possible ways to make the pup walk, Atlas strolled forward on his own two feet, briskly and with the grace of any young titan or creature – clunky and a little uncoordinated but perfect. Atlas then rotated his neck, turning to look upon Titus whose face was lit in shock. The pup then squealed and moved as quickly as his legs could carry him into Titus's waiting embrace. Atlas trilled, burying his face into the crook of Titus's neck, nuzzling in what he could classify as utmost thanks and affection before scaling down and practically running around the den, daring the older giant to a chase. He found himself staring for several gratified seconds before letting out a playful bellow and heeding to the pup's desire to play.
Even though he had just learned to walk, Atlas was quite quick for a pup, even on all fours, the baby had proved to be rather fast. Titus knew that it was due to Atlas's good proportions and it was a sign that the pup's muscles would really fill out as he aged and be rather significant. Of course, the teaching session also proved that Atlas did indeed have a mental deficiency. He could not learn the same way as the other pups. In fact, Titus felt as if he had to force Atlas to walk and he hadn't taught him at all. The pup squealed as he suddenly turned and blazed towards Titus, grabbing the order's leg in an attempt to tackle the much larger beast to the ground. He only smiled and picked up the pup to cradle against him. Atlas did seem to have some capability to learn, but it was much too early in his development to make any solid conclusions. The baby could very well have a good amount of knowledge but had a slower learning rate or really was simple compared to the other titans of the pack. Titus gulped. So far, the baby wasn't showing many signs leading to the conclusion that he hoped for.
Atlas purred and trilled shrilly, burying his face into Titus's chest, showing his love by gifting him with several licks from his tiny tongue. The seventeen-meter gave in to a subtle smile. As mischievous as the pup was along with his playful ways of destruction and his overall imperfections, Titus was beginning to not see the baby as a chore. He was growing fond of him. He didn't want to give up on him. He couldn't be an Advancer, but he still held promise.
Emerald pools lit up with utmost fascination and curiosity as they focused on the new arrival within the den – what the larger titan, as he called themselves, said that the covered world was called that they lived in. His ears fluttered as they absorbed the sounds it made, listening for anything new. Since his birth just a few weeks prior, he found the big space around him to be wondrous until the time being. It was full of the pointy and thin things that he liked to string about on the rough surface he constantly walked on. There were these tiny and shiny things that he liked to chase which scurried around the floor and in the cracks. The top of the den thing that he and the other titan lived in was a bright thing that shone in through a hole that made the area vivid and warmed him – gifting him with energy. The other being always put him into it at points and wanted him to go in it whenever he felt like it. He often wondered what it was, but perhaps it was another space like the den, a big space maybe. A bright world – something that he couldn't go see just yet.
In his time living, he also learned after some time that the other titan called him 'Atlas' whereas the other called himself 'Titus'. If it was one thing he knew, it was that he liked Titus lot. He was big and had softness growing on his face. His body was warm and he always cradled him against his chest and placed him against his belly when the brightness faded. Titus brought him the yummy red stuff that came from the dead and different smelling beings to lick and suckle upon until his belly was full and rounded from it. Granted, he always spits the stuff up later, but he didn't mind. Titus was wonderful. However, Titus left the den world quite often for a long time. Perhaps he had gone to the bright world. He didn't like it when Titus left. He whined and cried for him to come back, wanting him to hold him and run with him. Titus never returned when Atlas wanted though, but he always came back and gave him what he wanted plus more.
Still, he desired to go with him when he left.
The pup's pupils grew bigger as he observed the new thing in the den while sitting atop a large stone not unlike a cat as he studied with incredible attentiveness. Unlike the shiny and smooth things, this one was fuzzy like the top of his head. Its eyes were almost like Titus's, outlined in black. It walked on all fours like he used to and there was something bushy and long sticking out of its end. It was so strange and so INTERESTING. So NEW. It continued to dig and sift through the pointed things and thin things, sticking its nose into them and smelling. The little titan lifted on his haunches in the slightest, ears erect and hips wiggling. He could hear everything about the visitor: its steps, the sound of its tongue smacking against its jaws, and the thumping inside it. To the pup, this thing was a potential friend, something to keep him entertained until his Titus came back.
Atlas lowered himself, belly nearly upon the hard surface as he locked himself onto the tiny target. He tensed his developing muscles as he prepared to strike. Then, when the thing had its back turned to him, the pup let out a shrill and happy squeal as he leaped down from his perch. The sound startled the thing as the now nearly three-meter titan landed upon the ground, making it tremble in the slightest and causing the creature to lift in the air for several brief seconds before bolting for its life. Atlas let out a cheerful trill and began to chase it on his own two feet – discovering that the two legged way was much faster than the four legged one that he was used to. The fuzzy thing was faster than the smaller shiny things that he chased previously, so the little titan pushed himself further, gurgling in pleasure. Suddenly, the visitor veered and began to swiftly climb the wall of the den – soon going out of Atlas's reach and back into the bright world. The pup's heart plummeted. The thing had left him, making loneliness grip him again. With sadness overwhelming him, Atlas began to cry, the pup wailing. He hated being alone! He wanted Titus!
With the wet clear stuff filling his eyes and racing down his cheeks, the little titan clumsily walked to the entrance of the den, stopping where Titus had placed several hard things before it to keep him in the covered world, and plopped down onto his rump. Throwing back his head, Atlas continued to call and call for his Titus, but the big titan wasn't coming. He was alone. Alone in the covered world and with nothing willing to become his friend. Everything felt too big and he felt too small. It was scary. He wanted to be held! How was that going to happen? How was he going to be loved? Was Titus gone for good? What would happen to him? Would he ever return?
Atlas sputtered and coughed, tiny body shivering as he tried to blink away the tears. Gloomy greens peered at the wall that the other made, simply staring at it in hatred and sheer dislike. If only the obstruction was gone and out of his way could he –
Then an idea formed in his head, one that instantly made Atlas adapt an expression of curiosity. The little pup tilted his head back with a tiny squeak – his mouth forming into a smile. He could go and find his Titus! He climbed the hard things sitting around the den and the barrier that the Mentor had made wasn't much taller. He could certainly climb it. If he made it over to search for Titus, then perhaps they could go and find the other titan that he first saw when his shadowed lids initially opened.
With his small features twisting up and reflecting a look of pure determination, Atlas then approached the rocky wall that was at least five meters in height. Using the same method he used when climbing the cavern's boulders, the pup tensed his legs before jumping up onto the barrier. Atlas grunted, surprised by the steepness as he held on to the top of the wall. Growling with fortitude, the pup attempted to bring his leg up to meet his hand – but the attempt proved futile as he lost his grip and slid back to the floor. Atlas whined at his failure, but he wasn't bound to give up. Again, he tried to scale the wall using the same process. This time, he was able to get his right leg where he wanted with no tumble. However, his body was far too stretched for him to firmly brace his weight onto his other foot and push himself up. The pup simply remained in his awkward position for several brief seconds before he could hold himself no longer and let his body drop back to the ground of the den world. Still, he wasn't just going to accept his fate of loneliness and retreat to sulk in the corner. He was going to get over the hard wall and go see his Titus!
Again and again, Atlas jumped up to the top of the barrier, but he couldn't get a good enough grip to pull himself up and over it so his only accomplishments were tumbling back to the floor. His plump arms pushed himself up again, green eyes staring heatedly at the one thing that blocked his goal of getting free. The little titan made the most vicious snarl he could make. He had been at the same thing for what seemed like forever. He wanted up! He wanted out! Why couldn't he climb out! Angry, the little beast began to throw a tantrum of sorts. Atlas, screeched and projected his rage for only the lizards to hear, beating his little fists onto the floor and stomping around in a tight circle. He spun around, stamping the earth on all fours until he took out his frustrations on his right foot – grapping it forcefully and causing himself to clumsily roll onto the floor. For a few more seconds, Atlas wrestled with his own feet before he stood yet again to face the wall. He didn't understand! Why couldn't he figure out how to climb that thing! How could he possibly get over it without falling? The titan pup continued to glare at the stones before him, suddenly seeing something that he completely overlooked. The stones were not stacked on top of one another but piled. Recalling how the fuzzy thing had scaled up the wall of the den world, the thing hopped on several rocks before going straight to the one at the top. In order to climb the barrier, he would have to do the same!
With newfound confidence, Atlas approached the stones blocking his exit again and scaled onto the first and lowest stone. The miniscule beast stood upright for a moment and looked for the next safe perch. Spotting his next step, Atlas smoothly transitioned onto another stone that was closer to the top. Standing at the peak, the little titan squealed in elation at his accomplishment and ungracefully hauled himself onto the wall only to tumble over the other side – landing roughly on his belly and face with a squeak in surprise. Grunting back any amount of agony, Atlas sat himself up and looked before him only to enter a state of awe. He wasn't in the bright world, but he had rather ventured into an even bigger den world. The pup gradually stood, eyes wide and jaw slacked as he surveyed his new surroundings. The top of the world was so high and the bottom was so low. The stringy green things climbed all over the walls of this world as well. The pup's head rotated in awe, he was standing upon a high ledge with a path down to the bottom of the cavern. The bright world from up above shone through many of the gaps, highlighting every nook and cranny and the pool of dark liquid upon the floor. Atlas's ears twitched, hearing the hundreds of high chatters and squeaks over his head. Turning his gaze to the sky of the den world, he spied many tiny black things that left him perplexed. They looked like the very little fuzzy things that he sometimes found in the nest that he and Titus shared, but they were hanging from the wrong way up! Atlas tilted his head as he continued to speculate. These things… what were they? A flash of movement caught his attention, seeing another thing about the den world dwellers that severely confused him. They had wide and flat things that stuck out from their bodies, things that they fluttered back and forth like how he moved his ears. The flapping fuzzy things continued to squeak and make a chorus of noises. A smile spread across the little titan's odd face. Perhaps these things would play with him until his Titus returned!
The pup instantly swiveled his head for more rocks to climb, but seeing none that would suit him, Atlas resorted to his second option. The little titan took a deep breath and produced the loudest squeal that his lungs could make. The sound echoed in the hollow cavern, bouncing off the walls and traveling among every surface. Green hues watched as the fluttering things stirred and began to scatter. To his amazement, the things glided through the air! They didn't touch the ground or walls! They were practically floating! The creatures seemed to move in a metamorphic mass, moving as one organism as they dived and swooped. The titan gurgled in pleasure even as the things raced toward him. The creatures swarmed around him, mere insects to the pint sized behemoth – the titan seeing their assault as mere play, the pup twirling in circles as he tried to ensnare the things between his fingers. Atlas squealed, enjoying himself in his newfound activity – until his foot slipped on the rocky edge. The titan let out a sharp gasp in surprise as his body began to tip, no ground beneath him. The ceiling of the den world began to grow farther away, making Atlas realize that he was falling – having slipped from the edge of the rocky path. Fear coursed through his body. No! No! NO! He was helpless! There was nothing to grab onto! No one to help him! He was falling into the depths below!
He screamed. He couldn't do anything else. He just screamed.
Suddenly, his body was jolted, a force wrapping around his leg. The world was still and no longer passing by him. Slowly, Atlas peeled open his eyes to see his savior, relief and excitement flooding through him. Above, Titus held him by his ankle. The larger titan's face bore both shock and relief, open mouth forming an uneasy smile as he hauled him up with Atlas giving into another loud squeal of happiness. He was so happy! Titus was back!
The larger behemoth pulled the pup into his arms, cradling him tightly as he turned back toward the smaller den world. Titus's golden eyes shifted to the rocky barrier that Atlas scaled before turning his attention to the pup once again. He let out a breath of steam.
"ATLAS… YOU ARE A NAUGHTY… LITTLE THING."
Not really knowing what the large titan meant, the pup just trilled and buried his face into Titus's warmth, the big beast letting out a rumble that the baby knew was good. Titus then carried him into the den and sat in what was left of the nest. Atlas purred, cooing in delight – knowing exactly what was coming next. He watched as Titus carefully ripped off a piece of food and held it to him. Routinely, the pup edged forward and bit down, suckling the tasty red liquid from within his meal. Atlas trilled as he continued to indulge, hands and feet kneading in pleasure as he stared up at Titus with extreme thanks and fondness. His guardian gave in to a small grin, shoulders relaxing.
"YOU ARE IN A HURRY… AREN'T YOU ATLAS? AFTER THE DARK COMES AND… THE LIGHT RETURNS… I AM GOING TO TAKE YOU OUTSIDE." The titan pointed to the hole that bore the bright world. Atlas followed the digit, green eyes glowing in excitement. He didn't understand much, but he knew that Titus was talking about the bright world.
At the mere mentioning, Atlas continued to melt in happiness as he prolonged to nurse on the red nectar until his belly was full.
Today was the day, the moment where the pup would get his first taste of sunlight and the world outside his den. Titus bore a smile as he walked through the cavern with Atlas walking and weaving in and out of his legs – making the journey slower but Titus didn't mind. The day before had frightened him enough. He never imagined that the titan pup's curiosity would literally lead the little creature over the edge and into danger. He was thankful that he had returned when he did. Atlas wouldn't have died from the fall, but it certainly would have hurt him. Titus did curse himself at the time, feeling far too ignorant to not take Atlas's great curiosity into account. The baby would have climbed over his makeshift wall sooner or later. He was asking for it.
However, today was the day that all the titan pups were brought out of the nest for the first time. It was a big step in a young titan's life and the start of something new. For Atlas, Titus predicted that it would be a sensory overload and a complete adventure. The pup was obviously eager to get out, the previous day's events proved that. As they walked through the cavern, Atlas's eyes were 'as big as grapefruits' as the humans commonly said in their native tongue. The little titan was already looking around the cavern, his head swiveling in all directions as he beheld every rock formation and anything that wouldn't be considered a wonder. Titus grinned in the slightest. He had never seen a pup more excited. Hunter Titan pups were usually nervous when first entering the outside world, slightly skittish, backward, and having to be reassured by their parents. Atlas of course, was different. The world just seemed to amaze him like everything else. Titus had been looking forward to taking the little titan out for the first time at four weeks of age. The pup's activity levels were often like a pain in his side. Atlas was constantly into everything and not to mention tough to keep an eye on. Bringing the pup outside gave him a chance to interact with other pups and perhaps make a friend or two. Such a thing helped young titans become more independent from their parents – which was what Titus wanted. He wanted Atlas to live the life of a normal titan or as close to normal as possible. Still, he was a little worried, but he remained optimistic.
Atlas trilled and grunted as he weaved around Titus's ankle, nearly making the older creature trip. Titus peered below to see green eyes staring at him in absolute elation and delight. The pup squealed and practically hopped ahead with the desire for Titus to get ahead of him once again. If it was one thing that Titus had noticed as soon as the pup began walking, it was that Atlas had great control and was doing things that normal pups couldn't achieve until they were at least a month old such as climbing. Atlas was strong as well, the pup able to move smaller rocks like some that he had placed around his nest to keep Atlas from stringing the leaves everywhere in the den. He could even pick them up and throw them down in play. It was a sign that Atlas would grow to be a rather large and incredibly strong titan. His proportionate body only added to that. Deep down, Titus almost resented the fact. The pup's disabilities were most likely going to make such gifts go to waste.
He didn't want to believe that though.
The pair then rounded another bend, light pouring in to illuminate the cave with light, the entrance to the outside just before them. Titus stalled on the mossy rocks to look down at Atlas. The little pup had stilled, jaw slightly agape and pupils blown wide, entranced until the change of light began to irritate his eyes and ushering the baby to blink. Titus let out a humorous rumble and gazed forward. Most of the other parents had long since taken their pups into the light. The last pup was just ahead of them. It was a mother and a tiny female. The little pup was crouched and hunkering down at the edge of the cave, staying just a few inches away from the light. The pup was trembling, big ears shaking as the female looked to her mother pleadingly whose other pups had successfully went outside. The mother wore the kindest look that she could with her lipless maw, inviting her baby into the open with a few soft grunts. Finally, the pup edged forward into the sunlight, stopping to look about in awe before joining its siblings with their mother and father in a nearby patch of high grass. Titus huffed. Yes, that was the normal reaction for nearly all Hunter Titan young. Wondering how Atlas would fair, the Mentor returned his attention downward only to find that Atlas was no longer at his feet. Instead, the little beast had paraded forward, climbing as quickly as he could manage over the many rocks as opposed to going up the smooth gravel. Quickly, Titus went into action and halted the pup's advance with a hand embracing Atlas's chest. The pup made a confused little squeak and peered up at Titus, the older beast only returning an easy smile. He wanted to be close to Atlas if anything foul rose. The night before during the time that he was feeding the pup, Titus succumbed to his own thoughts. His outlook on the situation had slightly changed. Being secretive about the pup, just made him look ashamed of the little titan. He honestly didn't truly care if the other titans caught him with Atlas anymore. He would defend the pup if the time arose. After all, he had gotten the blessing from Azeroron himself that Atlas was to stay under his care and live with the pack. There was no harm in that since Atlas was handicapped. To the others, it would just be that the pup was rewarded to the most capable titan to care for him.
Of course, despite all the odds stacked against the pup, Titus really wanted to make the facts fiction. He really wanted Atlas to prove the others wrong. He wished for that more than anything. After all, it was still unclear the extent of Atlas's disabilities. But he still held great hope.
Titus then purred and removed his hand from the baby, giving the pup permission to proceed. Atlas trilled at the act and advanced forward. The pup was excitedly scaling the rocks with the larger titan urging him up the path when he needed aid. Normally, he would have just moved Atlas onto the fine little stones so he could walk and travel at a faster pace, but he just let the pup enjoy his own passage of discovery. Atlas produced many squeaks and other vocals as he continued, the baby overflowing with excitement. Suddenly, the titan pup stalled, stilling and becoming silent. Atlas was completely unmoving, not even looking like he had taken a single breath. This instantly puzzled Titus. Could the natural fear of going outside for the first time have finally overtaken him? At the little pup's action, he bent down again to offer encouragement, but no grunts or words escaping him as Atlas surprisingly surged forward at the highest rate of speed his little body could exert. The pup squealed, calling and expressing his arrival of sorts. Titus simply stood in shock, he had seen the pup get excited numerous times, but this occasion was different. Atlas was practically screeching in elation as he came to the mouth of the cave. Titus's brows knitted together as he watched the pup's arms reach out as if he sought to grab something.
However, the pup completely ignored his query and kept moving. Atlas gurgled and chirruped as the light from the outside drew nearer and nearer with each of his steps. Titus was floored. The little titan showed no sign of slowing down. Then, Atlas took his first steps into the sunlight, the day illuminating every detail upon his frame. However, the pup didn't stop. There was no pause. Atlas didn't even stop to stare in wonderment at the new world around him – this was unlike the pup. Titus's heart began to hammer. Something was wrong. With his hairs standing and spine quivering, Titus quickly began to trail the baby that was still running.
But then he stopped, his eyes growing wide at what he spied before him. He instantly felt his body go numb. What he would see next – would forever be a haunting memory.
Walking just before Atlas was Clymene guiding her pups into the center of the pack's grounds to feed. The pup continued to squeak and squeal as he toddled up to his real mother. Atlas then did the unthinkable and pounced – latching onto Clymene's back leg and burying his face into her calf, the little beast purring elatedly and in utter happiness. Titus's blood ran cold as Clymene abruptly turned and looked down at her new passenger. Her face was unreadable, emotionless as she stared down into green pools that peered up at her in adoration – Atlas looking up at the female Hunter Titan in the only gaze a baby could give to its loving mother.
Titus found himself unable to move, feeling as though time had stopped around him. He was silently cursing himself yet again, angry that he had forgotten. Upon seeing their parents at birth, titan pups remember their mother and father's appearance and scent – never forgetting it. Titus gulped. Even though it had only been mere seconds when Atlas's eyes opened the first time – the pup had seen his parents. Thus, their identity was permanently branded into his mind. As Clymene continued to stare at the snuggling baby, Titus sunk into a great level of fear.
Finally, after what seemed like minutes, the mother's face changed from her blank expression. Clymene's brows knotted together, eyes narrowing and pupils turning into thin and threatening slits. Her skin formed into a snarl and a deep growl began to resonate from within her throat. Still, this didn't phase Atlas as the pup continued his nuzzling against the taller titan's leg. Seeing her own son not reacting to her mild threat, Clymene hissed loudly, gathering the rest of the pack's attention as she shook her leg and knocked Atlas into the ground – the little pup tumbling roughly before he sat up and looked back to his mother as she started to walk off once again to guide her confused pups away from the scene. To the Mentor's horror, Atlas only smiled and cheerfully padded along after her. With all eyes now watching the spectacle, Atlas reached out to Clymene again. The moment the tiny titan's nails grazed her flesh, the female turned around and snarled another warning before proceeding forward once again.
Still, Atlas didn't get the message and went after his mother again – squealing and pleading for her love – love that she would never bestow upon him. Again, Clymene hissed threateningly, ears pressed against her skull and eyes turning feral. This time she stood her ground, her other pups crouching close behind her as they grew terrified of their mother's reaction. Atlas still bore his smile though and wiggled his ears, holding his arms out before him for his mother to embrace him in a hug and for her to cradle him to her chest. The pup then scampered to grasp hold of his mother again, but before his chubby hands could grip onto her warmth, Clymene bent over and harshly grabbed the pup by the waist – and then tossing him roughly into the dirt much to Titus's horror. Atlas struggled to sit up, slightly dazed from the impact. As he tried to get his footing, emerald greens met his mother's furious teals once again.
Despite the terrifying action and cruel gesture, Atlas was still grinning warmly – completely unaware about the curse that his mother and father had placed upon him. Finally, seeing a horrifying outcome, Titus willed himself to move again.
But he was too slow.
Atlas went for his mother again with open arms, limping in the slightest from an injury, as he was hungry for her affection. Clymene, without a shred of remorse present in her frame, swung an open palm and slammed Atlas to the ground. The pup let out a shrill cry of surprise, lifting his head just in time to see his own mother unhinging her jaw and roaring an earthshattering threat at full volume into her stunned pup's face. Breaths were held as the bellow died down into a wrathful growl and finally into a series of harsh inhales and exhales. Titus swallowed, having stopped in his charge to peer at the little titan's face.
What he saw nearly snapped his heart in two.
Atlas's smile was nowhere to be found, having vanished into some other realm. The three-meter's eyes were wide and his naturally tan skin had paled, the warmth draining completely from it. The pup's jaw slowly drifted agape as his back hunched and his body began to tremble in utmost fear. Atlas's ears lowered with his green pools beginning to succumb to cascading tears – the droplets of water began to fall down his cheeks with the baby looking at his mother in the deepest sense of terror that Titus had ever seen. His heart had since plummeted to his stomach at the event. He never thought that Atlas would be so publically rejected again. Grief fell over Titus; it was his fault that he let Atlas slip away so easily from him. He felt so utterly stupid. He couldn't even move to help! He was so stupid!
Guilt was soon replaced with anger. And if there was no severe punishment, he would have considered knocking some sense into Atlas's cruel parents.
"WHAT IS… GOING ON?"
"ISSS THATT? THEEE ITTTLE GRRREEN EYYEDD PUUP CLYMENNEE REJJECCTEEDD?" A titan whispered to another.
"EETT IISS… ALIVVE?"
"TTHATT THHE PUUPP THHATTS SINNPLLE?"
"WHY… IS IT STILL AROUND?"
Atlas only continued to shake and tremble, crouching low and cowering as if he expected another hit. The other titans had since gathered around, looking at the pup with mixed expressions, with a few even observing in sympathy. Atlas began to whine and slowly began to back away from his mother. Titus had enough, but just as he took a step forward, Atlas suddenly broke out into a fit of full on sobbing – the titan's cries hollow and alone, the very same cries he had made when he had been brought into the cruel world and cast aside like a piece of filth. The pup then stood and bolted to his right, away from Titus and the crowd, heading for the rocks and the edge of the forest.
"THE GREEN EYED PUP… HOW IS HE STILL ALIVE?"
"GOOD… IT LEFT. THE PACK DOES NOT NEED MISTAKES."
"EII FEELL SOORRRY FOOR THHORNN ANNND CLYMENNE – DEEYY BIRTHEED AHH DEEFECCT."
Titus winced, barely able to listen to the pack's words of cruelty. Clymene snorted and began to move away from the scene, making the Mentor's gut twist in anguish as she gently guided her three pups away with an easy smile – the grin soon fading as she started through the crowd. It was then that she was bombarded by a question from a titan that actually showed concern.
"CLYMENE? THAT PUP… IT IS YOURS ISN'T IT…NOT?"
The female titan paused at this, turning to face the other Hunter Titan with her eyes veering behind her in the direction that Atlas disappeared before looking back to the others around her. "EEEIII DOO NOOT CONNSIDDERR THEEE GREEENN EYYED TIITANN ASSS NYY PUUP. ETTT ISS… SIINNPLE. NOT ABLLE TOO ACOMMPLISSH ANNYYTIINNG GGRREEAAT. IITT ISS, ASSS WASS SAAIDD, AHH NISSTAKKE." Clymene concluded, her answer foul and nearly making Titus sick to his stomach.
"IFF ITT ISS A DEFFECTT… THENN WHHY HASS ITT NOTT BEEN EXILEDD?"
"WHHERRE ISS AZZERRORRON? WHAATT DOEES HEE HAVVE TOO SAYY ABBOUUT DIIS?"
"IT IS… UNFORTUNATE. THAT PUP IS MINDLESS BAIT."
Feeling his blood boil, Titus opened his mouth to step in. A roar then sliced through the air, but it was not his own. The commanding howl was rickety and deep – the most recognizable of the pack and one that's tone was among the most terrifying. Titus felt himself calm in the slightest. The bellow belonged to none other than Azeroron.
At the roar, all of the titans instantly quieted, watching as the white titan pushed his way through the crowd to take stance in the center. His reddish eyes flatly glanced at Clymene, the others, Titus, and in the direction that Atlas had gone. Azeroron then snorted, looking impassive just as an elder spoke up.
"AZERORON? THAT PUP… HAVE YOU MADE PLANS FOR IT? IS IT TO BE… EXILED?"
Azeroron blinked, face reflecting a level of irritation. "NOOO. THHE PUUP ISS NOT TOOO BEE EXXILED." He began with a wisp of muttering running though the crowd. "YESS. THHEE PUUP ISS SINNPLE. HOWEVVERR, ASSS THE PUUP GROWWS HEE WILL FINND A PLACCE TOO WORRK INN OUR PAKK. EII HAVVE PLLACCED THHE PUUP IN THEE CARRE OFF THE NOOSTT CAPPABLLE TIITTAN TOO RAIISEE HINN FORR DEEE TINNE BEEINGG." Azeroron finished, roaring once again to end his decree. The albino took one glance at Titus from the corner of his eye before leaving the crowd in silence. At their leader's departure, most of the other titans began to return to what they were doing beforehand, but not without whispering about what had transpired. With the tension fading, Titus then spun and began his search for Atlas, dreading what he was most likely to find.
Titus gulped as he headed into the area that Atlas retreated to, a small and compact expanse right on the edge of the tree line. It was secluded, littered with boulders, small trees, and moss. It was a tight area, barely big enough for Titus to comfortably walk through. Due to the size, not many of the Hunters ever passed through it, but it was the perfect place for a pup to hide. Titus stilled, listening to the heart wrenching sounds of a crying titan pup. He didn't have to look hard to find Atlas. The Mentor simply bent over and peered underneath the ledge of an overhanging rock, finding the baby curled up against the stone. Atlas shivered violently, hugging his legs and his face soiled in tears. Titus couldn't help but feel even more numb. Atlas had run up to his mother expecting her adoration and embrace, but her rejection probably had him wondering if he had done anything wrong to deserve such treatment. Not only that, but the little one was completely traumatized.
Titus swallowed. "ATLAS?" He asked softly, hoping that the pup wasn't too scared to move. "ATLAS?"
Slowly, the pup turned to look at him, making a knot swell in Titus's throat. Atlas's eyes were puffy and red – irises filled with a mixture of trepidation, despondency, and bewilderment. His little teeth were almost chattering and his tapered ears were shaking at the tips. Atlas whined, cringing before suddenly crawling forward and nearly launching into Titus's lap. The seventeen-meter gasped at Atlas's act, the baby trying to wrap his small arms around Titus's torso as best as he could, burring his face into the flesh of his belly. The older titan, although stunned, reached down and gently cradled his hand against Atlas's hairy head.
Oh how he hated it. Of all things he didn't want Atlas's first time outside to be like it was. He wanted it to be full of adventure and wonder. He wanted Atlas to have fun and behold the wondrous world around them. He wanted the memory to last forever, but the experience would produce no good memory from it. Atlas looked up at him briefly, green eyes seeking solace before he buried his face into him again. Titus only sighed and rubbed the pup's back – taking part in a human gesture of comfort that he had seen man do to their hurt or upset children. Azeroron was right. Atlas was going to live a harsh life, but Titus was stubborn. He wanted to change that. Witnessing what had just transpired, he was more determined than ever to prove to the others that Atlas was just as great as every other titan, and maybe even greater.
Titus kept still, watching the pup toddle along at a safe distance from behind a line of tall trees. After the incident with his mother, Atlas remained skittish and fearful for nearly a week after the unfortunate event. At the time, Titus greatly feared that Atlas would never want to get around the others or go outside for that matter. However, with much coaxing, he was able to get the little titan to go outside again with the pup in awe of the world like he had previously theorized. Atlas was quite the explorer as Titus had come to learn. The pup would go to every inch of any place he was allowed to go and would get into anything and everything. When the pack and Titus returned to the cave for the evening, Atlas always seemed to bring things back with him from rocks, saplings, and small bunnies that he somehow managed to catch. The young titan also seemed to be getting over the fear of the other titans in the pack. He would walk among them, but quick and alert. Not to mention he stayed clear from his parents. The other titans' behavior towards Atlas was divided. There were those that did feel sympathy for the pup, offering small but leery smiles and grunts in greeting, but ultimately ignoring Atlas altogether. Others were not so kind. Some would leer at the innocent titan or hiss at him when Atlas tried to interact. All of them though, would converse with one another when Atlas passed by them – saying the common statements of feeling sorry for the pup or that the kindest thing would be to exile. Atlas had also earned a new nickname during the time, the simple title of 'Green Eyes' which was what most of the pack came to know the pup as. Only a mere few knew Atlas's real name. In addition, most of the titans had no idea that Titus himself had been put in charge of the pup. Only a few of them had but were either at peace with the idea or were silent at the fact. Titus still hoped that their behavior would change.
Two months had passed since the pup was birthed. Besides his advances from the event, his relationship with the other titans, and curious state of the outdoors – Titus had been trying to educate Atlas in the meantime. At nine weeks of age, titan pups are taught how to communicate using the basic tongue of man. Parents teach their offspring their names, very simple words used to convey meaning, and words used to describe objects such as rock and tree. Knowing the important milestone, Titus had proceeded to try and teach the curriculum to Atlas. Unfortunately, this attempt yielded another look into Atlas's disabilities. The fact that he was mute was very true. Titus tried hard to get Atlas to say his own name, but all that left his mouth were bizarre sounds that couldn't even pass as human young tongue. When trying to teach Atlas what things were, it was clear that the pup wasn't learning well and not as fast as the others. Atlas either was too energetic and playful to learn at the time, couldn't fully grasp a concept, or got many things mixed up with others. The results put quite a dent into Titus's hopes, but he trusted that a bit of sacrificed time would help.
At the moment, he was going to try and make another milestone with Atlas, getting the baby to make some friends his age. Since mothers had begun to let their pups stray further from them but still remained at a safe distance, it was the perfect chance to get Atlas to play with other pups without being in the presence of judgmental parents. If it was one thing, it was that young titans didn't bat too much of an eye. At least that was what his level of parenting told him.
As gently as he could, he had urged Atlas to run off to explore which was relatively easy after some pointing and guiding since the pup was of the curious sort. Although he knew that there were other mothers close by, Titus remained his distance – able to watch the pup or look for a future Advancer to train while he was perched upon a high hill. He felt that his way of going about the minor task was safe. The Mindless steered clear from the area for they didn't possess the skills to scale rocks, thus it was a common area where parents let their offspring run free. The landscape was composed of a rocky basin full of high grasses, moss, and a variety of flowers – perfect for pups to play with one another in without bothering the daily labors of the pack. In a clearing were several different pups and litters from different parents, each playing like all little Hunter Titan pups did by roughhousing, chasing things, and challenging one another. Titus yawned in the slightest and relaxed against a tree, ready to watch and see the results - hoping that Atlas would make a friend within the hour. The pup needed someone to be with besides himself for Titus couldn't always keep the pup company.
The greens above fluttered in the wind that carried through the forest in a gentle breeze. It was wondrous and peaceful, a fine day and a constant feast for the eyes of the young titan. The trees were flourishing along with every ounce of organic life that was even more abundant after a recent rain. Of course, Atlas was too absorbed in the environment around him as well as being too young to recognize that fact. Sure, the den that he and Titus shared was cozy, warm, and possessed a safe atmosphere but to the young pup it was boring. Only a place to curl up and fall asleep. The place that his Titus had called the 'outside' was much more of a sight to behold and a much more fun one. It was full of things that grasped his undivided attention. There was softness between his feet that tickled his toes and covered the earth as far as he could see. Some parts were taller than others and were bursting with intricate things that smelled sweet. The things that he overheard his Titus call 'rocks' were much bigger and more imposing than any that was in the den. The objects that amazed him most were the towering things that stretched high over his head with tops of green. Their surfaces were rough as opposed to his smooth skin that had lost its own softness that was like that he found on the top of his head. Their arms branched out with the brightness coming through in the holes to light the lushness below. There were also things that moved about in the outside world that were smaller and much different than him and the other titans. Some were soft, had long ears, sticks on their heads, and some even looked and felt like tiny rocks. Atlas loved the company of the smaller creatures. They usually stayed near him when he approached them, the little titan quickly finding them to be great companions. He had even tried to bring them back with him into the den – the creatures only escaping quickly to return to the outside. Atlas gurgled as he toddled along, walking not unlike a human toddler. Today was a very different day for the pup. A step out of routine. Usually, when he and his Titus ventured into the outside with the large titan, the giant was always hanging over him and not letting him stray out of his sight. This time, Titus had literally held and guided him in the right direction – performing his act of pointing over and over before the little titan understood that Titus was giving him the permission to roam with the titan sitting from a watchful position of course. Atlas was thrilled at the chance to venture.
Granted, as incredible as Atlas found the outside world beyond the den, there were also things that he learned to avoid and be leery of and such things he questioned. His first time in the outside world was purely terrifying and full of confusion. Titus was his. Titus kept him warm, fed him, and watched him. Atlas understood that Titus was his everything. However, when he went outside – mother was there along with his littermates. There was her smell and her face – the very that he remembered in the fog of his arrival. However, when he went to embrace her, she was angry. She roared, snarled, and hit him. Mother had made it clear that he should stay far from her. Atlas didn't understand. Why did she do what was done? Why? What had he done? He had been so fearful after that. He didn't want to leave the den for what seemed like eons until Titus brought him out into the outside again. Even as he walked among the other titans, most of them ignored him or looked away. His own father, as their eyes met from afar, did not look upon him too kindly. Only a few would exchange friendly grunts and flutter their ears. But ultimately they didn't interact with him like Titus did. The pale one just watched him in silence. This confused the pup. Why was he with Titus? Why did his mother and father not want him? Had he done something?
The titan pup huffed to himself, his mind quickly trailing off once again to his surroundings – curiosity ignited by a small and brightly colored fluttering thing that danced around his head. The things that moved off the ground and high above the overhanging green amazed him so. Doing such was a wonder, but from his first experience on traveling out of the den he had learned that titans could do no such thing. He was meant to move along the earth. Atlas gurgled, the sound becoming a soft squeal as he tried to gently cup the flapping insect in his hands. The little beast's odd mouth drew into a wider smile as a natural instinct pertaining to play flooded through him. The pup huffed and squeaked as he began to bounce and bound in every direction that the creature went. With pupils blown wide, Atlas watched the fluttering thing hover over his head and just out of his reach. It was composed of so many hues! It was as buttery as sweet smelling blooms, deep crimson as the nectar he drank, and blue as what lay beyond the overhanging green. Atlas often found himself marveling at such, after all – titans were only the colors of dirt and sand. Of course, the pup nor the other titans seemed to mind this fact. A garbled sound escaped from his lipless maw as the butterfly began to ascend upwards. Not willing to let his playmate leave, Atlas carried himself forward as quickly as he could, bracing his plump hands against the base of one of the tall things – his fingers gripping the rough surface as the little titan tried to call the creature back to him. Atlas's heart sank in the slightest as he watched it sail towards the green boundary. The pup whined, smile sinking before his somewhat chubby façade morphed into a look of determination. Atlas crouched upon the ground to where he sat on the balls of his feet, hips wiggling before he launched himself up as high as his developing muscles could. However, it wasn't enough. The little titan tumbled roughly back to the earth, rolling over comically before stopping to rest on his stomach.
The pup snorted in irritation, emitting a rather pitiful growl to curse himself at his failure. Atlas quickly sat back upon his rump and turned his greens back to where the fluttering thing had been only to discover that it was nowhere to be seen. His tapered ears sank in sheer disappointment only to perk up again as he heard the rustling of organic blades. Almost like the creatures that hooted at night, Atlas swiveled his head quickly to see a hopping thing nibbling away at the forest's bounty. His ears twitched in excitement as he briskly got on all fours and crouched, bright greens watching and looking for the right moment. It was a game to the little titan. He always tried to catch the quick and nimble creatures in hopes that they would become companions. Other times, Atlas would just observe the hopping things that he was sure he heard his Titus call them 'rabbits' or 'bunnies' when he managed to catch one and bring it to the den – only for it to escape back into the outside. Atlas beamed, crouching further and preparing himself. Finally, the rabbit turned in the slightest and the pup launched himself forward with an excited squeal. Startled, the small creature turned to peer upon the Hunter Titan pup before bolting- powerful hind legs working to their full potential. The rabbit darted left and right with Atlas mirroring its movements, hopping much like he did before he began to move about primarily upon two legs. Compared to the rabbit, the young titan was clumsier, nearly rolling or toppling over every time the rabbit curved sharply around rocks and trees. Atlas chirruped, huffing as the animal darted down a steep hill that caught the pup by surprise – the sharp knoll causing Atlas to misjudge how fast he was going. The tiny titan's feet went over his planted hands to completely offset him, provoking him to flip forward. Atlas released a squeak in surprise as he somersaulted down the steep terrain, flipping over and over with Atlas igniting with panic. Then, a rough surface impacted his back and the spinning world around him stopped. Slowly, Atlas peeled open his eyes to see his feet and the above green – the pup sitting the wrong way up. Atlas let out a confused squeak as he maneuvered to sit correctly. The little beast blinked several times as he tried to gather himself. Recalling the rabbit that had been his target, Atlas hoisted himself to his feet and scanned the green to discover that the animal was nowhere to be found. A small whine sounded in the back of his throat. He was really hoping to take the rabbit back with him to show his Titus. Of course, determination settled within him again and Atlas rotated his ears and sniffed in an attempt to locate his potential friend again. He quickly found that the rabbit was long gone.
However, a different scent and sound came to him – one that made the little titan forget about the rabbit instantly. It was no doubt the smell of the other titans, but it wasn't the other mothers and fathers. The sounds they made were like those he produced – excited squeaks and playful growls. Atlas's chest fluttered, something pounded in him. This had never happened before. The tiny titan looked around for a moment, making sure that none of the larger titans were around before hoisting his chubby frame over the log that he had hit. He had to take a look. He had to. Atlas smiled, grunting cheerfully as he clumsily made his way down the hill. He knew that he shouldn't get too excited, but he couldn't help it.
Atlas's plump feet carried him through the rough landscape, the light beginning to take refuge behind the overhead green. The forest, as Titus had called the outside sometimes, had grown a bit more crowded and dense. The tall things were cuddled close together with strings of green like those in the den, tangling around them like a lover's adoring embrace. The ground was very steep and the young titan had been forced to take his time scaling down it – planting his feet on narrow ledges, climbing over sleeping stones, and felled tall things that had seemingly lost their balance and collapsed to meet the earth. The pup grunted as he hoisted himself onto the top of a small stone, crouching to examine from his new perch. The scents were very close now, Atlas determined – closing his eyes and sniffing to reassure himself that he was right. The little titan leaned forward, ears erect and eyes narrowing as he peered through the dense drapery of leaves. The pounding in his chest quickened. He could see the color of flesh, it was them. Those who he always wanted to meet.
Atlas then left his perch with a quiet rumble and softly threaded across the ground. The knoll then leveled and the pup quickened his gate to duck behind the shelter of a stone. His ears listened and twitched with the yipping, squeaking, and playful growls. Gradually, Atlas rounded the rock and stood. Afore him was a clearing surrounded by the tall things and high rocky walls like that of the den. Light spilled down from the green, highlighting the area in speckled light. Leaping, pouncing, and tackling one another in the clearing were the other titan pups of the pack. Atlas quivered in the slightest, lifting his hands up to interlace his fingers beneath his chin. The pup's breath hitched as he continued to watch the others play, vocalizing and nipping at one another's ears. He was nervous. He had never been around the other titans his age. Never. The closest he had ever been to them was when he was introduced to the outside world for the first time with his littermates just a few feet from him behind his furious mother. It was since that day that he didn't stray too far from Titus when walking among the pack. He knew well that the other mothers seemed incredibly watchful of their pups. With some of the titans leery of him, he didn't venture close to the other pups in case their mothers were not fond of him either. Now here he was, in the company of the other young titans without the watching eyes of their parents present.
Atlas fretfully rubbed his own hands over one another – the tips of his ears trembling. Would these pups not like him either? The young titan swallowed. He wanted them to. Oh how he wanted them to like him! He really wanted another friend! Titus was wonderful, but sometimes the much larger behemoth seemed too tired to roughhouse – often refusing to give in to his ear pulling when the light peeked into the den when the darkness left. Atlas blinked, watching the other pups growl as threatening as they could as they reared and pounced on one another – rolling around in the earth's softness. It was then that any ounce of fretfulness left the pup, the feeling replaced by the lust for merriment. A need to play – an infant titan's weakness. Atlas let a squeal part from him as he propelled himself into the glade. The little beast quickly dropped down to motion forward on all fours – his mouth formed into a broad smile knowing that he was in for quite some fun. Atlas kicked, his plump body sailing into the air and landing upon the pile of tangling pups.
At his impact there were several surprised squeaks. They shifted beneath him, scattering in different directions before spinning around and going after the first titan they lay their eyes upon. Atlas stood to follow suit, his vibrant greens spotting a small female and two males running around one another in a tight circle. Atlas's ears fluttered as his heart pounded with adrenaline. The pup then sprinted as fast as he could to meet them, tripping once to tumble onto his face before getting up again to make his way for the group. Atlas then dropped to his hands and feet once again to match the stance of the others. Almost seamlessly, he positioned himself to run in their small circle. Atlas kept his eyes onto the female that was leading, trailing close behind her as she charged into another group of pups. Atlas trilled loudly, hopping into the fray yet again. The cluster of six babies swarmed like honeybees, trying their best to topple one another over. Soon the group merged with the other with hands and teeth grabbing ears and strands of hair. Elated greens scanned the moving pups for a particular victim to tackle, the little beast selecting the closest target near him which happened to be the same female pup that he had followed before. As nimble as he was, Atlas spun in her direction and pounced, his flesh meeting hers and the two tiny behemoths tumbling and rolling in the green. He let out the most fearsome growl and nipped at his opponent's locks, playfully pulling them as her teeth pulled upon the tip of his tapered ear, the two chirping and squealing until they came to rest in a puddle of dappled light, Atlas beneath her own chubby form. The baby titan released a shrill trill and merrily pawed at her as she attempted to pin him down through his kicks and soft swipes. Suddenly however, the female paused in her attempts, her body simply standing over his own until she let out a startled squeak and lifted herself free from him. Atlas sat up in slight confusion, but keeping his odd maw in a smile as he observed.
The rather rowdy pups had gone silent, stopping their pretend quarrels to look upon him with what he determined as shock as well. Stunned. Atlas cooed, rocking a bit. They must have noticed him! A few of the small titans looked at one another and some edged a bit closer, weary movements falling under Atlas's detection. The female tilted her head, ears erect as she looked at him. Since the pups were calm, Atlas could easily look upon her face as well as the others'. Each one looked similar to him with the exception of a few of them having their mouths shielded by flesh. The female lacked the covering like he did but the softness upon her head was a bit curlier – eyes being the color of what lay beyond the green overhead. Atlas kept quiet, his skin still pulled into a smile as the other small titan leaned forward and began to sniff him, her nose twitching much like a rabbit's. Atlas did the same, little nostrils flaring as he inhaled her scent until he concluded his examination with a purr. His ears fluttered with anticipation, watching as the female tilted her head a bit before her own toothy maw shaped itself into a smile.
"NAANE?" The pup squeaked out, voice significantly higher than the tone of Titus's. Atlas only kept his grin upon his face, much too caught up with the fact that he was finally being noticed. "NAANE?" The titan spoke again, her smile fading in the slightest.
Atlas blinked, perplexed at her faltering smile. Was she disappointed in something? Could she be sad? Maybe she just wanted to play more? Deciding that was the latter, Atlas released a trill and rolled onto his side, reaching up to paw at her again. However, she didn't give in to his invitation, her grin only falling further until the pup perked up yet again.
"NNAANNEE?" She asked again, holding up her hand and placing it on her chest. "KAANAA." She beamed. "KAANNAA." The young titan pressed on, speaking much slower and then pointing to him once again. "NANNE?"
At a sudden realization, Atlas stalled in his attempts of beckoning her to play. Green eyes widened even further. Was she asking for his name? The thing that Titus called him by as he did to him? He had come to learn after many long hours spent listening to Titus and the other titans perform the thing called 'speaking' Atlas knew that names were things that each titan owned and called one another by. Atlas. Atlas was his name. This pup, Kana, she wanted to know his name!
To reply, Atlas opened his maw and let out a variety of sounds – his vocals nothing but a mixture of breaths, grunts, and other noises that were as close as he could get to his name with the others simply staring. The pup paused, his somewhat pudgy face screwing up in fortitude with a touch of irritation before he parted his teeth to try again – his throat begging him to quit. It was one thing that he didn't understand. He couldn't speak like the others. He didn't get why he couldn't do this wondrous thing like they could. His mouth was indeed lipless like many of the titans in the pack, but it couldn't seem to form any word at all. Just sounds that were agonizing to the ear as well as his delicate tissues. Feeling his throat give, Atlas stopped his attempts and smiled at Kana and the others in hopes that they still understood him.
The female pup's brows pinched together in confusion, ears flat against her head before she glanced at the others who shared her perplexity. The young titan tilted her head comically. "NO… TTAALK?" Kana squeaked, shifting closer to him and looking upon him with great interest.
Atlas kept his warm smile, wanting nothing more than to just continue playing. With the idea in mind to urge them on, the pup let out another squeal and dropped down again to roll upon his back, holding out his hands to further tempt the others. Wiggling his ears, he waited with the other small titans still watching him. Finally, another pup hopped excitedly, big smile upon his face with him own finger directed at him.
"GEEN EYES!" The pup spoke with the others looking on in realization, ears perking up and all confusion vanishing from their faces. Many of the pups stepped forward to smell him with others letting out shrieks of glee and branching away to take part in another form of play. Still, Atlas kept his grin as they continued to take in his scent as he did with them. Green Eyes. This was another name that he seemed to have. He didn't really know of any other titans with two names. He had often heard the other titans call him Green Eyes in passing. He didn't like the name as much as he liked the name Atlas and it seemed that Titus didn't favor it much either. Atlas recalled his Titus correct others on occasion when it was needed, but overall the other titans seemed to only call him by his second title. The only other titan that called him Atlas was the pale titan with a name that was so complex that he didn't even try to reiterate it. He had quickly learned and understood that the pale titan was the pack's leader and he was not to be opposed. Although the leader was stoic he seemed to favor him, Atlas still kept clear. Indeed, he was a bit disappointed that he wasn't faultless enough that the pups understood what he was trying to say. He supposed that it was better than nothing at all though.
He just wanted to play with friends. That was all he wanted.
Atlas observed as one by one, the sniffing titans dispersed, the little titan trying to follow their sudden movements – his head tilting back and spinning with the little beast losing his balance and tipping in the slightest. Kana brushed past him to join the group of pups that were engaging in a new activity. Atlas blinked at the sight afore him. Cutting through part of the clearing was ditch dusted with dirt. A few rocks were nestled against the edges where the green met the slope of the earth. The small titans had lined themselves up behind one another – an act that Atlas found strange. He remained silent as he watched a pup stand at the edge of one of the stony slabs. The pup's face was formed into a look of fortitude as it bent its knees to get into a squat. Atlas felt a sense of confusion nipping him. Several times he had seen the larger titans get into such a position to get the red things out of their mouths. The sight made his spine quiver. He had seen his Titus perform such an act before and to Atlas it seemed painful. Was the pup in front of him doing what he thought he was doing?
However, to Atlas's relief, the pup did nothing of the sort. The young titan jumped as far as he could possibly go, sailing over the powdered earth before touching down on the other side, imperfect but successfully landing. The infant squealed in triumph with the other pups letting out trills at the other's conquering. He continued to watch as another pup repeated the process followed by another. Atlas chuffed, rolling over to stand up once again. His head tilted curiously as he gradually made his way toward the group of pups. However, his lively greens adverted to the dirt filled ditch – the soft earth suddenly very appetizing and gathering his full attention. Atlas trilled happily and toddled towards his new destination, hopping into the dirt pit and rolling about with a squeal. It felt so good between his fingers and toes! Turning about in the soft earth was fun! Sure, it was quite dusty, but he could always cleanse himself afterwards and Titus would make sure his hair was clean. Atlas squealed and huffed further as his plump hands gripped handfuls of dirt and tossed them with a chirp. Atlas beamed broadly as he plopped down upon his rump and dipped his hands in the dirt, moving them around and watching the sediment shift in great interest beneath his digits. Atlas bit his tongue in concentration as he shifted the soft earth into a small pile, ears fluttering in glee as he marveled at his work – unaware that the other titans were silently looking on at him with slight senses of concern and adjudication. Atlas trilled yet again as he stood only to stamp his foot down into the pile.
Upon hearing his second name, Atlas paused in his play to turn and look upon Kana, the male who had spoken, as well as the other little pups who were staring at him. Atlas squeaked, big smile on his odd face as the tiny male and female left the line and made their way into the dirt filled ditch. The little titan squealed elatedly. Were his new friends coming to join him? Atlas practically trembled as the two came to stand next to him and placed their hands upon his shoulders. Naturally, he tried to invite them with a garbled mess of vocals to join him. However, the two only pushed him forward towards the direction of the other pups. His smile faded and his ears stopped wiggling. What were they doing? Why were they taking him away? Why were they not joining him? Feeling uneasy, Atlas let out a whine and dug his heels into the ground – making the two titans stop to look upon him again. Nervous, he tried to pull away but the two motioned to hold his hands, smiling at him and pointing to the rock that the pups were jumping from, grunting and gesturing to try and get their point across. Atlas blinked, ears lowered and cringing as Kana and the pup moved him further.
But he was having none of it.
With all his strength, he broke free from their grasps and bounced back to seat himself once again in the dirt happily. Atlas squealed to himself as he pushed the dirt around again, not catching the others' intense staring. The young behemoth then began to scoop the earth into a pile again, but stopping as soon as he felt a familiar hand. Startled, Atlas swiveled his head around to see Kana beaming down at him. Frozen, he watched as she pointed to the other pup that was now standing upon the rock.
"TAANNO!" Kana informed, giving him the male's name. "JJJUNNP!"
Atlas blinked, eyes observing as Tano bent his legs and launched himself from the stone, sailing through the air for a slight moment before landing awkwardly on the other side – having not built the energy needed to get his entire body upon it – his rear comically hanging over the ditch. Atlas watched the titan scramble to his feet and look down at him while hopping enthusiastically.
Kana chirruped. "GEEN EYES… JUNNP!"
Atlas finally let out a breath and looked from the rocky perches to the two young titans. After several back and forth glances did he finally get what Tano and Kana wanted. The pup gurgled in glee. They wanted him to join in on their jumping game! Knowing such, Atlas scrambled to his feet and climbed from the ditch to make his way to the opposite side where there was no line of pups. The small giant positioned himself on the overhanging stone and began to prepare himself, tightening his developing muscles and focusing on his goal – tuning out several shrill and opposing shrieks. Before he could thrust himself forward however, the same sets of hands grasped his shoulders and spun him around. Kana and Tano gave disapproving grunts and raised their fingers to the other side to indicate what they wished of him. His brows furrowed and ears folded backward while he disagreed with a miniscule growl. As he attempted to resume his act, Tano gently gripped his shoulders again and furthered his attempts in turning him. Stubborn and growing irritated, Atlas parted his maw to release a defiant screech as he pulled back and flailed in the slightest. He didn't understand! Why were they trying to make him go the other way! This particular perch that he had his eye on was much better to jump from! Atlas let out another screech and pulled as hard as he could in the opposite direction, bending down so his bottom nearly grazed the grass. At his rebellion, Kana and Tano released him with still and stunned looks upon their own chubby faces. For several long moments, the other pups simply stared at him, watching as he got up with a rough grunt before smiling again as he approached the edge of overhanging slab. His ears wiggled excitedly as the line of titans stepped back a few feet from his target. They were silent as he prepared, hesitant to make a single squeak or move as he focused on his mark. Atlas stepped back, twice for good measure, and hunkered down with one foot forward and the other behind him, posed like an athlete. Then, after a deep breath, he charged forward and leaped off the hard stone with a triumphant cry. He sailed, feeling like he was practically floating as if the earth couldn't catch him. Finally, he touched down before the other pups – landing perfectly on his own two feet, something that the others had not accomplished. Atlas's smile grew bigger. He had made it! Animated, Atlas released a squeaky roar to the overhanging green and blue beyond. His eyes looked upon his peers and was met with overwhelming praise – the titan pups becoming vocal as they bounced. Tano and Kana soon joined them, the two titans purring and dipping their heads rub against him in congratulation. Atlas purred and brushed against them in return, expressing his thanks. He felt so good! The other pups were wonderful!
Then, the sound of a snapping twig instantly silenced the celebrating titans. All ears rotated forward and eyes adverted to the other side of the glade, the pups still as they beheld the new visitor. Atlas's heart pounded as his curiosity spiked. The creature was one of the fuzzy beasts, but unlike any that he had ever seen. It certainly wasn't a rabbit. It had horns, but not upon its head like the prancing deer but rather coming out of its mouth. The animal was low slum, belly rounded and its features were small and beady. The softness upon it didn't look smooth to the touch but rather coarse. Atlas grew more interested. He had never seen a creature such as the one in front of him before. It sported and grunted much like many of the titans did. It rooted its nose in the ground – it was peculiar. For the young titan, the animal was absolutely intriguing.
It was then that an instinct ignited within the pups, one that was deeply seeded within the species. One that pertained to make chase, to practice the art of the hunt. The creature then lifted its head with its black eyes flashing in their direction, an event that made the pups abandon their current activity and spring forward into a sprint. Atlas let out a high pitch roar like many of the others as they charged into battle. The vibration of the earth crafted by the footfalls of the tiny titans instantaneously provoked the animal to bolt. The panicked squeals of the beast only fueled the pups' urges even more. Atlas moved with the group, a mini pack all on their own. His ears were back against his skull, chubby legs pumping strongly. The animal was all he was focused on, irises blown wide. Soon, he pushed his way up through the group to be with those leading the assault. His prey swerved, weaving into a collection of rocks. Atlas, along with many other members of the small pack, leaped upon the stone to plunge their arms into the gaps to swipe at the furred beast as it attempted to find cover. He huffed, bending over awkwardly with his rump in the air as he tried to snag the animal that had managed to brush his fingers. Atlas let out a high pitched growl, trying to resituate in his strange position to get closer to the thing that was currently captivating the pups, eyes following it as it dipped beneath an overhanging ledge. Atlas quickly got back up and tried to push through the others who were now huddled against each other as they tried to snag their prize. He let out another series of tiny growls, trying his hardest to get through. He really wanted to catch the snorting thing! He wanted it badly! So very badly! He wanted to win this too! He wanted more praise, the affection shown to him by his new found friends.
Then, a pup's hand managed to push the creature from its shelter, making it bolt back into the open glade. Atlas swiftly turned and released another cry as he leapt from the rocks and initiated his hunt again. The other young behemoths soon followed, but ultimately falling behind as he pushed himself. His nostrils flared, heart pounding as he remained focused on his victim. Every impulse and instinct of the hunt was flowing through him. For a moment, it seemed nothing else existed in the outside world. The animal curved left then right with Atlas mirroring it. Finally, the furred creature slowed, sides heaving as it begged for air. He chirruped excitedly. He could do it. He could get it and show it to the others now! Then the creature slowed to nearly a halt, moving in a weak gallop. Seeing his opening, Atlas lunged forward, palm and fingers wrapping around his noisy prize. The juvenile titan rolled in the green, still keeping his firm grip on the thing in his hand until the canopy and earth stopped trading places.
Atlas blinked, reality coming back to him as the frantic squealing swarmed around within his ears. Looking over, he saw the animal thrashing fruitlessly in his grip. His heart lifted into his chest, the pounding in his breast quicker. He had done it! The small pup then scrambled to his feet as the other tiny titans approached him, their ears fluttering in excitement at his catch.
"GEEN EYYES!" A pup pointed. "PIIGG!"
He let out a sound of understanding. So this thing was what was called a pig? Atlas beamed at his discovery. Absolutely elated with his success at obtaining the animal, Atlas squealed and shook his arms – joisting the pig as he spun around in a circle and stamped his feet into the earth. After several more rotations, Atlas stopped to smile at the dizzy pig in his hand with the others looking on in amusement at his sheer and unique display of excitement. Wishing to show the others his catch again, Atlas motioned closer to the group with his hand stiffly outstretched to give the mini pack as well as Tano and Kana a better look.
However, a new scent made him stop in his tracks. His ears lifted, swiveling around as his nostrils opened wider as he scrutinized further. He knew this scent. It was a very familiar one. One that he wouldn't soon forget. Hearing the new arrivals in the clearing, Atlas turned around to see none other than his three littermates emerge from the thick green. They stopped upon seeing him - faces stunned, pupils wide, and brows raised in the slightest. It had been a while since Atlas had seen them this close. He didn't know their names, but it was clear that he had a brother and two sisters. The two females were very similar, sharing the same hair length as his but with their eyes matching in hue – a strange mix of green and the color of the sky. The male looked more like his father, yellow eyes the color bright amber and his hair was shorter than his.
"MITUS!" Tano announced.
He let out a small gasp. So those were their names? The names of his littermates? Atlas felt the longing feeling inside his chest again before it occurred to him. Mother was nowhere to be seen. Father too. His tapered ears fluttered quickly and eager squeaks left his maw. This was his chance! He could finally play with his littermates! He could be with Mitus, Zeal, and Tesame! Atlas perked up even further, perhaps they would like to see the pig he had caught too!
With the idea in mind, Atlas quickly bounced over to where his brothers and sisters stood. His sisters only stilled even further and his brother's face remained almost puzzled as he came before them. Atlas shuttered in their presence as he tried to mutter their names with no success. He then held the pig to his brother, watching as the larger pup's head cocked back with his chin resting on his chest as he looked at Atlas and the pig with a look of repugnance. For a moment, Atlas was confused with Mitus, but perhaps the pup had never seen a pig either. Again, Atlas offered his raucous catch, grunting to ensure that it was fine to look at. The forest was still and quiet as Mitus continued his stare.
He didn't see it coming.
Mitus's face suddenly changed, nose wrinkling and brows narrowing with a dangerous glint filling the little beast's yellow eyes. His brother abruptly lifted his hand and swatted at Atlas's hand, hard enough to send the pig flying out of his grip. Before he could even comprehend what was happening, he found himself being shoved hard to the ground. Many alarmed squeaks met his ears. He slowly lifted his head to see Mitus standing over him with his mouth pulled into a sneer and his short hair ruffling upon his head as he growled – angry. Atlas could only look at his littermate in fear. Why? Why was Mitus not liking him either?
Kana looked at him worriedly, too frightened to move. "GEEEN EYYES?" She began only to be cut off as Mitus turned to peer upon her and pointed at him.
"BAADD!" He harshly educated. "GREEN EEYESS… BAAD!"
Atlas held his breath. Bad. No! he wasn't bad! He was just trying to share with his brother! Why was Mitus doing this! The shaken pup gradually tried to get back up, but before he could get to his feet, he was forced into the dirt yet again. Now completely panicked and frightened, Atlas's greens returned to see Mitus ominously standing over him again.
"BAAD!" Mitus stated yet again – suddenly tilting his head back to screech, the sound so piercing that it practically silenced the area and rattled his ears. Atlas whimpered, trying to get up again – the move only provoking Mitus to lunge. Atlas yelped as his brother collided with him, the two rolling in the dusty earth. Green eyes watched in horror as Mitus raised his petite fists and brought them down upon his chest, knocking the wind out of him. A hand slapped across his cheek, a stinging pain radiating through his jaw with the slight taste of blood seeping onto his tongue. Raring to free himself, Atlas managed to roll out from beneath his littermate and make his way towards the other pups, squeaking in desperation – wishing for their aid.
They didn't move.
They did nothing.
They just stared.
His heart didn't even have time to sink as Mitus tackled him into the ground yet again. Atlas was petrified. He didn't fight. He didn't even counter any of his brother's attacks. He simply remained still. He couldn't do anything. He didn't want to harm Mitus. He didn't –
Atlas's train of thought was cut short as the pup suddenly sank his teeth into his ear – the little titan screaming in agony. He felt the blood run down his neck, his brother's growling muffled by crimson. Why! Why was this happening to him! He had only wanted to play. Now all he wanted was someone to come same him.
His heart thundered, his great hands pushing the towering trees from his wake as he charged through the wood. Titus was in shock. He had made another mistake again. At first, he had relished in his success. Atlas was getting along fairly well with the other young pups that the birthing season produced. He seemed to be getting close with the pups Kana and Tano – both energetic and very friendly clever pups born of a good bloodline. They had been the perfect match for Atlas to play with. They had grown fully aware of Atlas's disabilities upon meeting him, but embraced the special pup with open arms. He had been getting along well with the other titans as well. But the unthinkable had transpired – something that he did not anticipate. He damn sure wasn't counting on the rest of Atlas's littermates showing up. When they did, his heart had gone wild knowing very well what was to occur. Pups learned from their parents and often mirror everything that they do. It was definite that Mitus fully adapted his parent's beliefs about Atlas. Titus swallowed. Of all things he didn't want to happen. Damn he was doing a horrible job as a parental guardian.
Titus silently cursed his form as he carried himself through the forest, wishing for anatomy that allowed him to carry his weight faster. The unmistakable sound of Atlas screaming met his ears and chilled his blood. He simply couldn't believe that Mitus had taken things to the extreme. From experience, Titus knew that on rare occasions Hunter Titans would show aggression towards one another if they didn't favor the other for any reason. They would bite and hit one another but never outright kill just to show who was boss. In his four-hundred years, he has seen very few pups get into fights – let alone with their own littermates. Mitus bullying Atlas was the one thing he never wanted.
The thing however that startled him and broke his heart the most however was the fact that Atlas wasn't fighting back. The pup just let himself be beaten up. Atlas just seemed unwilling to fight his own brother. Deep down, Titus hoped that the pup under his care wasn't doing such a thing because he felt like he deserved it. Atlas didn't deserve any of the cruelty that he ever received. Another alarming fact was the visual that the other pups were not stepping in. It was either that they were scared stiff or Mitus had made his message clear.
Oh how he didn't want this to happen!
Finally, after what seemed as if he had been running for miles, Titus scaled over the low rocky barrier and into the clearing. His heart nearly stopped at the now clear view of Atlas being pinned beneath a growling Mitus who had his teeth sunk into the other's shoulder with Atlas letting out a long and strained whine. The other pups looked to the larger titan, but only remained wide eyed as a spooked owl. Zeal and Tesame squeaked at their brother – the vocal meant to project Mitus to torture further. Seeing enough, Titus let out a rippling snarl and stamped his foot into the ground, hard enough that Mitus was tossed off of Atlas. The short haired pup looked up at the larger titan, eyes quickly adverting away to stare heatedly at a nearby rock. Titus growled, wordlessly telling the unruly pup to back up which Mitus did reluctantly, walking back over to join his sisters and sitting in a protective and watchful manner. Once he was sure that Mitus was stationary, Titus bent down to tend to Atlas.
The sight practically broke him.
Atlas was whimpering softly as he limped towards him, having been bitten on his leg. The little pup held his wounded shoulder and his head was hung low – ears wilted with one of them folded over as it was nearly bitten off. A slight bit of blood from the corner of his mouth, revealing that he had been hit across the face rather hard. Atlas trembled, completely horrified and frightened. Even beneath the pup's wild hair that cascaded over his face – it was evident that Atlas was crying, damp cheeks clearly present. Wisps of steam rose from the pup, the wounds slowly healing but doing nothing emotionally. Titus finally released a shaky breath. Not really knowing what to do, he lifted a hand towards the sniveling juvenile.
The tiny titan stalled for a moment before quickening his pace and grabbing Titus's hand, burying his wet face into the warm flesh. The pup held him tightly, his tiny nails almost digging into his own skin. His chest tightened even further as he picked up the sounds of Atlas's muffled cries. He winced more as he felt his hand dampen. Finally, he willed his body to move a single muscle, choosing to do the only thing that he knew for certain how to do – raise his opposite hand to place on Atlas to rub in comfort.
Before he could even ensure that he was alright, the situation grew even worse.
Their scents met his nose and the sounds of their footprints met his ears. Knowing just who it was, Titus quickly brought himself upright to stand over Atlas just in time as Clymene and a few of the other concerned mothers came into the glade – obviously alerted by Mitus's screech. Internally, Titus was fearful – terrified about what could possibly transpire. Still, he kept his stoic face to not show Atlas his weakness let alone to any of the mothers. Of course, he was seething with anger and it was the perfect time to lecture Clymene. After all, he was a Mentor and close to being an Elder. He had more authority to enforce Azeroron's wishes. He was going to be there for Atlas this time.
The clearing was tense, deathly silent as the other mothers quickly checked their pups to see if they were fine before looking around to search for a potential threat. A lump formed in Titus's throat as Clymene's sharp eyes peered down at her litter, examining them with a practiced eye – one that a mother Hunter Titan possessed. Her suspicions then fell on Mitus who was still staring heatedly at Atlas behind him, growling and making a small fuss. Clymene's brows narrowed, nostrils flaring as she inhaled the scent of her unwanted young. Much like he had seen hawks do, Clymene rotated her head quickly to view Atlas cowering behind his calf with Titus fearing to even look upon his face that was likely petrified. Then the mother's piercing teals flared with absolute distain, brows lowering and face forming into an ugly snarl as she released a piercing roar at the innocent pup. Even though it was a roar with the message to stay away, it still hit Titus's nerve. He then countered Clymene with a loud and guttural howl that commanded her as well as the other mothers' undivided attention. Titus kept his teeth bared and continued to growl while Clymene stood back up to meet his gaze. To his surprise, she simply kept her menacing glare upon him. By her body language, it was clear to Titus that she was holding back her tongue. She was currently reading him. He knew what she was thinking and what conclusion she had come to seeing Atlas with him. Even knowing this, Titus felt the need to project it aloud.
"IT WAS… AZERORON'S WAY." He informed in a gruff tone. "HE… ATLAS, WAS… PUT IN… MY CARE." Titus revealed, studying Clymene's body language and making note of the slight muscle twitch in her face.
It was clear that she was essentially cornered by his powerful gaze alone, golden eyes practically burning beneath the canopy. She simply stared at him, jaw clenched and her muscles tight. There was a natural need present for her to chase away what she deemed as a nuisance, but above all else there was complete resentment for him. For Clymene, with him promoted to be Atlas's guardian, it was the one thing she and Thorn didn't want. After all, with his time getting closer to select another pupil - all they wanted him to do was select one of their three 'perfect' pups to train. Not spending his time caring for a pup that was practically unwanted by a large amount of the pack with very special needs. Deep down, Titus knew she was greatly upset with how Atlas was and knew he would never be an Advancer as Titus concluded as well. But she, her mate, and many of the others' behavior was still inhumane to a pup that wasn't causing any trouble or harming anyone.
This was just simply not a good thing for Atlas. Not a good day at all.
Clymene released a harsh breath, ears pinning back before she let out a rough snort. Titus watched, feeling a small amount of victory as she turned around in the opposite direction and grunted sharply for her pups to trail her. The other mothers followed suit, bending down to address their offspring and coax them to follow – Tano, Kana, and many of the other pups flat out refusing. Several of the pups pointed below him to Atlas and looked at their mothers with the simple question of why, only to receive the bluntest form of a denial and their mother's hand pushing them away. Titus sighed in great disappointment as he watched the greenery of the forest swallow up the females and pups, Kana and Tano looking back in worry before leaving them behind. It was for certain now that the other pups would have nothing to do with Atlas now. They were either influenced by their mothers or would be leery of what punishment could befall on them.
He had hit another bump in the path.
His muscles relaxed, ears and brow falling as he exhaled despondently. Recalling Atlas's state, Titus turned with the intention to comfort further only to see something else that he didn't want to see.
Atlas was gone.
Golden eyes widened in panic. No! Not this! He didn't need this! He didn't want Atlas to wander off and put himself at risk! Titus cursed himself. He should have held him! Knowing that there was no time to waste even though he was in the pack's territory, the concerned titan sniffed deeply, aggressive as he prepared his search. He was obviously provided with Atlas's scent instantly, but it took a slight moment to find the direction the pup had gone in – an area of the forest where more of the sky shone through the canopy. Titus kicked himself forward with all his senses up front. True, Atlas was a pup and couldn't have gone far, but the pup was more agile than the others and could get into places he couldn't. Atlas had certainly done what he did last time his mother threatened him, which was get a safe distance away to hide.
Oh how this simple plan went horribly so quick.
Titus continued to follow the scent that guided him around several moss blanketed boulders and long forgotten rotting trees. As a master of tracking, he bent down to the forest floor to briefly smell a patch of long ivy, following it to a nearby fallen branch before determining that he was still on the right track. Knowing another thing he needed to do, Titus produced several loud and frantic ape like grunts that resonated through the trees. Hunter Titans with pups produced the very noise when they suspected a Mindless near the area as a way to ward them off. It was one thing that the oblivious and unintelligent Mindless actually feared greatly. Upon hearing it, one of the only instincts the Mindless had activated, telling them to run or get slaughtered by an angry mother or father Hunter Titan. Not only did he make such a vocal for that reason, but he knew that Atlas would recognize him if he heard.
Titus rounded another bend only to stop in his tracks. Seeing what was before him, he hung back to observe. Atlas was the only living thing in the quiet and softly lit clearing. The little beast was seated upon his rump, legs out loosely before him. The pup's head was down, eyes looking at his own reflection, the first time he had ever seen it, in a minuscule pond. Atlas's ears were low and forward, revealing that he was showing mild interest. The young titan seemed to be in thought, ears swiveling a bit. Atlas appeared to be fully healed except his eyes were still slightly irritated from his earlier crying. Titus proceeded to study Atlas, trying to figure out what the baby was doing. Perhaps Atlas was struggling to understand what had just transpired. It was a hard thing to call. He couldn't say for sure at points what was going on in Atlas's head. After all, he didn't truly know how extensive his intelligence was with the mental impairment. It was something that he truly hated that he didn't know. It was a difficult study within itself and he hoped that he could see things in time.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, Atlas smiled and jumped up onto his hands and feet – the act confusing the older titan. The little pup grunted, squealed, and squeaked as he hopped happily in place. Atlas bounced back and forth, his attention still focused on the crystalline surface of the pond. The pup then paused for a split second, puffing himself up with his hair raising before leaping into the pond with a loud squeal. Titus felt his lips shape themselves into a smile. Atlas was playing with his reflection. The larger titan huffed as the pup proceeded to roll around in the water before scrambling to his feet again to bound around in a circle only to repeat the process.
But then Titus's grin began to dissipate – a depressing thought coming to mind. Atlas had been reduced to playing with his own reflection. It was a pitiful way to cope with loneliness and he wondered if this was Atlas's way of compensating the fact that he was unlikely ever going to be able to play with the others. It ate away at Titus's insides. Why did the world have to be so cruel at points?
Then, as he continued his quiet study, he had an epiphany. He wasn't totally out of options with getting a friend for Atlas. Though the candidate that he had in mind wasn't exactly a pup and a little more mature – he was sure she would be perfect.
After the particular failure he just endured. It was worth a shot.
Titus ignored another roll in his gut, the queasy feeling settling into his system. He made his way up the natural stairs in the cavern to his den, trying to hurry because he knew he didn't have long. He was optimistic about the day. He was going to introduce Atlas to the next step a pup learned at the tender age of two months and three weeks. Not only that, but he was going to try and fix what had occurred with Atlas trying to make friends. This time he wouldn't have to worry about a judgmental parent watching the scene. It would just be him, Atlas, and his current pupil under his instruction. Titus was much more confident that this time he would do something correct and really help the young titan.
Swallowing back a wad of saliva, Titus pushed the large boulder away from the entrance to the den, something he had to place over it every time he left to hunt so Atlas couldn't escape and harm himself. He was instantly greeted by Atlas's high pitched and thrilled chirps and squeals. The little titan ran as fast as he could towards him, ears wiggling and mouth in a wide smile. Titus grunted his greeting as he moved the boulder back over the entrance – the baby running around his feet and making the job difficult.
"HELLO… ATLAS." Titus beamed as Atlas wrapped his arms around his calf and buried his face into his skin in a hug – the pup purring loudly. "YOU HUNGRY?" The older titan asked in a friendly manner.
Atlas squealed again, jumping up and down before proceeding to sprint around the den before diving to roll about in his nest that the pup had already rearranged all over his quarters. Titus sighed as he made his way to what was once his bed and bent down to try and get things in order. Atlas paused in his rolling to bound around Titus before bracing himself against the large titan's knee and peering up at him expectedly. The baby titan wiggled his ears again, gurgling and grunting in need. Titus smiled through his nausea. Ah yes. Atlas was definitely hungry – a feeling that most Hunter Titans experienced as pups and on incredibly rare occasions as adults.
Knowing that Atlas would have to wait a little bit longer for his meal, Titus reached out to pat the pup's head with the young titan trilling in response. "HOLD… ON THEN." Titus breathed, feeling his muscles in his abdomen build up with pressure. "FOOD… COME SOON. IT... GOING TO BE… NEW AT –
The titan was interrupted with the sharp squeeze of his stomach contracting, the behemoth's breath hitching and brows bunching together at the agony. Atlas's expression and mood changed into one of great concern as Titus naturally got into a new position to ride out the strong contraction – a burden that came with passing a pellet. His hand pressed against his girth as he breathed in preparation. Golden eyes watched as Atlas became even more startled and utterly confused, the pup having never seen an adult titan regurgitate their leftover meals that he knew of. When a titan ate, their body absorbed any nutrients from Mindless meat before ridding themselves of the unneeded. It was something that every kind of titan that the Hunter Titans knew of did. But their breed utilized the function for another very important purpose.
Finally, an incredibly strong wave of nausea hit him and a mass was forced into his esophagus. Guided by instinct, Titus unhinged his jaw and opened his mouth as wide as possible and began to heave. Saliva and phylum leaked from his chops until a hard and forceful lurch expelled the red pellet from his body – falling to the den floor in a wet heap. Titus took the time to breathe before licking his lips and beard to cleanse. He then smiled warmly at a spooked Atlas and gestured to the fresh pellet and clacking his teeth to emphasize what was to be done. The other usage for a Hunter Titan's pellet was to give their offspring their first meal of solid food. Unlike he or the other mature titans, pups could not force down tough meat, skin, and bones not to mention they ate more often than adults. Thus, their mothers and fathers always engorged themselves on plenty of carrion to regurgitate for their litters. He knew this very well from watching other parents of pups. Sure, Titus wasn't exactly thrilled about eating much more than usual, but at least he only had one pup in his care instead of several – the parents of such litters usually eating so much to the point where their abdomen would bloat and round out until they passed the pellets for their young to eat. The trait was also a way to introduce and awaken a young pup's instincts on how to pass such pellets – a necessary survival skill they would need in their eternal lifetime. Titus kept his friendly façade as he continued to try an entice Atlas into giving the regurgitate solids a try. Patiently, he observed as the pup lowered himself to all fours and sulked to the compacted mound of damp meat. Atlas's nose twitched and his eyes squinted as he stretched his neck to sample the scent. It was a known fact among the Hunter Titans that pups were sometimes hesitant when trying their first true meals, but it normally didn't take long for instincts to awaken. He was proven right as Atlas suddenly lit up like a sunny day, the pup announcing his excitement with a shrill trill before eagerly diving in to the pellet. Titus smiled broadly as Atlas enjoyed his meal, ears wiggling quickly as his teeth gnashed at the saliva coated flesh – the pup peeping and gurgling happily. The tiny titan paused in his feast to look up at the older giant as if to give his thanks before going headfirst into the pellet again. Titus huffed in amusement as Atlas shuffled around the mound of meat as he ate, reminding him of bees circling flowers and young dogs of the human settlement rotating around their dishes as they ate. The fact that Atlas had taken eating solid food well was a great relief for Titus.
"LIKE IT… ATLAS?" The behemoth questioned, the little beast snapping his head up at the query, grinning with his teeth, chin, and chest reddened from the blood and meaty juices. Atlas then dove into his meal again to steal a few more bites, his appetite bringing a huff out of the large titan. "YOU… EAT A LOT." Titus observed the pup's belly expand to its capacity before Atlas burped and pushed himself back upright, revealing his plumper stomach. Not many babies ate every bit of their first solid food offering, then again Atlas wasn't like the other pups. Perhaps the pup had a higher metabolism. Of course, for unexplainable reasons, some titans in the pack actually binge ate – which was something that he assumed their bodies preferred. Atlas appeared like he was going to fall into that category which wasn't a bad thing but rather a good thing. Titans that binge eat consume a lot in one setting and absorb a vast number of nutrients at one time – making their endurance incredible. It was a relief to Titus that he would possibly not have to retrieve food twice a day but rather once a day. Still, he would have to eat a lot more. Way more.
Atlas chirruped as he toddled over and clumsily rolled onto his rump. Almost comically, the pup began to rotate and arch his neck to clean himself – little tongue doing a less than perfect job as he tried to get to hard to reach places. This was the first time he had witnessed Atlas partake in self-grooming – the pup the right age to begin the instinctual need. Titus huffed again as Atlas transitioned to licking parts of him that were not even graced with a speck of dirt – the pup toppling over with a surprised squeak before trying to complete his task again. Knowing that he needed to aid Atlas with his cleansing and recalling how the mothers went about such a thing, Titus quickly scooped the roly-poly pup into his lap with Atlas letting out a joyous squeal. Next, he parted his jaws and began to tidy the baby up, licking away the blood and trying to rid any bit of sinew with Atlas cooing – a full tummy making the pup drowsy. Pausing his work, Titus looked over Atlas to make sure the pup's skin was clean before deciding that the task was done.
Titus sighed as he watched the small titan try to curl up into a little ball between the dip of his thigh. Atlas then began to doze off, but Titus had things planned for the pup and a schedule to keep. Still not wanting to wake the pup up however, Titus carefully maneuvered Atlas into his arms, cupping his rump and cradling the young titan's head as Atlas's chubby cheek rested upon his shoulder. The megalith smiled tenderly to himself as he began to venture out of the den. Hopefully he would succeed on his mission.
The light of midday bathed the land in a lovely shade, making all around them bright and crisp. Titus walked along through a stretch of the forest that was full of flowering vegetation, following a natural path that guided the titan to his destination. Atlas had since awoken and was now running around his feet and hopping about in the grass, obviously in a good mood. Titus smiled down at the pup, watching as he paused to look upon a group of deer. Atlas cooed at the creatures, little face showing his excitement. The pup knelt down to sit upon his rump, suddenly rolling upon his side and squealing – a bid to play that the herd of deer didn't understand, the creatures spooked and abruptly bounding away. As he would assume, Atlas tried to go after them in a bid to win them back, but the older titan gave a sharp grunt in warning that made the young titan stop and turn back to him- practically trotting and beaming broadly.
"I AM… TO GET YOU A… FRIEND TODAY." Titus iterated warmly to Atlas who looked up at him in wonder and eagerness. "I… THINK YOU TWO… WILL LIKE… EACH OTHER." He continued hopefully as Atlas merrily padded ahead, not truly listening to his speech. Deep down, Titus hoped that he was right. He really wanted to make more progress to prove others wrong. He wanted Atlas to be as great as possible just to show the other titans that the pup wasn't a waste of space.
The pair continued to navigate through the private section of forest, Titus feeling comfortable knowing that no other Hunter Titan besides he, his pupil, or Atlas would be around. Each Mentor had their own territory that they used to train and most never invaded another's space. He was thankful for this fact. No one would be around to judge or intervene with Atlas's chance. Titus looked down to watch the pup again, seeing him look and touch various rocks and other objects while emitting a variety of vocals that could be considered the titan version of the human speak that they called 'baby talk.' At this, Titus decided to take advantage of the situation and try to educate Atlas until they reached their destination. The pup was currently stroking his hands across the rough and bumpy bark of a tree, looking at it with newfound interest. Titus placed himself over the pup, his shadow making Atlas turn around in question. Noticing that Atlas had gone slightly stiff as a reflex, Titus let out a rumbling purr and pointed to the massive evergreen.
"TREE." He spoke clearly. "TREE." He continued, watching as the pup followed his finger to the spruce – ears pricking forward in interest. Titus felt a spark of excitement at the pup's reaction. He had tried his outdoor educating before with Atlas, but at the time the little pup just seemed unwilling to learn and just got things mixed up. The little titan looked back to him and let out a small squeak before Titus pointed to a neighboring pine. "TREE." He repeated, with Atlas looking on in wonder, making the adult grow more exultant. "THESE… ARE TREES." Titus further implied with Atlas smiling up at him with the older titan deciding to test the pup. "WHAT IS… TREE ATLAS?" Titus questioned, not pointing at any of the greenery and keenly watching Atlas. The pup could understand the gist of a question, but he hoped the infant could answer. The pup let out a joyful hum and toddled to a bush, slapping it a bit with his hand before looking back at Titus expectedly. He could feel his chest harden at Atlas's mistake. There had been points where Titus just wanted to throw a rock in frustration or fell a tree, but this was what he had to deal with when it came to teaching a handicapped titan. He was absolutely sure tough, that when Atlas succeeded in remembering or recognizing something, the victory would be much sweeter. "NO ATLAS." Titus replied softly, watching the pup's face fall in the slightest. "NOT TREE. THAT IS BUSH. WHAT… IS TREE?" Titus attempted for the second time with Atlas staring at him owlishly. Suddenly, the pup excitedly chirruped and nearly skipped to the spruce to plant his hands upon its surface. Atlas rotated his head to look upon him with a lopsided grin and an odd sound coming from between his teeth. Titus nearly jumped in triumph. "YES! TREE!"
At the correct answer, Atlas's smile grew impossibly bigger and his ears fluttered about. The little beast stomped around in one of his circular motions before holding his head high– the tiny titan looking completely proud of himself. The Mentor let his lips drift into a subtle grin and lowered his hand to pat Atlas's head – the only way he really knew how to praise the pup. For a moment, the young titan relished in the touch before hopping forward. He couldn't help feeling the way he was currently. More than half of the time he was at a loss when it came to being a parent. So whenever he learned how to do something correctly or made any headway with Atlas, he felt absolutely triumphant.
They continued to walk through the wood, Titus taking every opportunity to show Atlas everything he could possibly use to teach the pup. The little titan had gotten many of his queries right, but as he expected Atlas did mix up many of the things that he pointed out such as birds, butterflies, sticks, and flowers. Still, Atlas was producing better results. He was indeed learning what things were – just not at the same pace as others. It was progress. Titus then turned his attention down to the small pup only to find something that made him pause upon the trail. Atlas was walking much slower with no pep in his step. His plump face looked almost pale and strained – small brows bunched together. Atlas's hands held his stomach, the pup letting out a distressed whine. Titus was then hit with sympathy knowing very well what was happening. Atlas was getting ready to pass his first pellet, and judging by how much Atlas ate, it was going to be a large one. From observation, most pups were terrified at the sensation and often needed coaxing from their parents. Knowing this, Titus bent down to Atlas's level in preparation to aid just as the pup stopped and got into a squat. The little titan coughed, crying a bit as he gagged in the slightest. Titus lifted a tentative hand and began to stroke the pup's back just as Atlas began to whine in pain. Teary greens looked at him briefly before the infant gagged, heaving up mucus and saliva before coughing again. Titus bit his lip, stroking more feverously as Atlas continued to wrench and thrust. To make sure that the pup's body was functioning properly, Titus paused his stroking and felt the sides of Atlas's tummy to ensure that his stomach was contracting correctly. Seeing that it was, the Mentor returned to his gentle stroking just as Atlas's jaw unhinged. The pup's eyes bulged in the slightest as he wheezed and belched more saliva. Then, with a hard lurch, a decent sized red mass fell from the pup's maw into the grass. As sort of a congratulation, Titus patted the pup's back with Atlas pausing in his breathing to smile weakly at him. The pint sized beast cooed and looked back to his pellet in what Titus could determine as a sense of amazement. The pup squeaked, looking up at Titus as if to ensure that the older titan had watched his accomplishment.
"GOOD JOB." Titus huffed with Atlas wiggling his ears – the color already coming back to his face.
Suddenly, Atlas trilled loudly and went straight for his pellet, jaws open wide and ready to do one thing – an action that Titus completely forgot about but quickly adverted by throwing his hand between Atlas and the pup's steaming pellet. The little titan continued trying to run forward, making no distance behind Titus's hand with the older of the two sighing in relief as he scooped up the pup with Atlas making a sound that could be equivalent to a giggle. He had foolishly forgotten the fact that upon passing their first pellets, some titan pups would mistake them as an extra opportunity for food which was a revolting thought within of itself. Thus, the parents sometimes had to pick them up and throw them away. Titus looked down at Atlas who was swaddled in his arm – the little pup making reaching notions towards his pellet. Titus swallowed, ears sinking at the thought of what he was going to have to do with Atlas huffing in the meantime.
The joys of parenting indeed.
With the pup beginning to make a fuss, Titus held his breath and quickly picked up the pup's pellet and threw it as far as he possibly could into the forest with Atlas huffing in great amusement yet again. To ensure that the pup wouldn't even try to go find his regurgitated meal, Titus insisted on holding him as he started off again to his destination with Atlas completely enjoying himself.
Soon enough, the strong scent of daffodils swept through his nostrils – ensuring him that he was close. The pup seemed to have taken heed to the new aroma as well, Atlas's nose twitching like a hare's. Minutes passed, and Titus finally met the rocky wall that led up to the plateau just beyond. The natural ladder of sorts was steep, stones looking as if they slept on top of one another and blanketed themselves in moss and fungi. With the fact that he had to tackle the obstacle in mind, Titus sat down a cooing Atlas with the little pup plopping onto his rear and looking up with utter fascination. Due to his odd proportions, Titus needed both hands free to make the climb. Hopefully Atlas would follow easily. With an encouraging grunt that was an invitation to trail him, the large titan began to skillfully scale the embankment. As he met the halfway point, Titus angled his neck to check on Atlas, only to find the pup trying his upmost hardest to jump up onto the first rock – only to repeatedly fall back roughly to the grass. The sight made Titus instantly cringe at his ignorance yet again. Atlas was too small to climb the very rocks he was ascending. Watching as the pup's face lit up in horror as he looked back up to his guardian, Titus descended back to the earth with Atlas squeaking gladly at his return. Titus scratched his chest in thought of how to tackle his current predicament, fingers threading through dark and coarse hair. He then realized he would have to do something that mother and father titans often did. When crossing rough terrain that required every limb, said parents carried the pups in their mouths. The mother or father's teeth would lightly clamp around the back of the pup's neck similar to the way felines carried their offspring. Granted, Titus was uncomfortable with the idea of doing such a task. If he accidentally bit down too hard, he could potentially kill Atlas even though the skin of a Hunter Titan was much thicker than most titan species around the neck area. He didn't want to do so and favored a different route, but with the very obstacle the largest he had to do it. He couldn't keep his pupil waiting.
As carefully as possible, Titus cupped Atlas in his hand to ensure that the pup wouldn't move about and brought him towards his face. Ever so gently, he then opened his maw and lightly clamped his teeth around the back of the pup's neck from the sides. Instinctively, Atlas stiffened, legs straight and joints locked while Titus ensured himself that he had a good but safe grip on the pup. Satisfied, the large titan then began to scale the rock face again, ears flickering at the sounds of Atlas grunting and trilling at the unusual experience. Just as the little pup had figured out how to reach his beard, Titus crested the wall and took Atlas from his mouth and back into his hands. He huffed as the pup instantly lost interest in trying to pull at his beard and looked out at the major change of scenery before them.
The deep forest had peeled away to expose a wide open field that lay nestled in the center of the wood. It was covered in buttery daffodils and was home to many of the small creatures that loved to frolic about and feast on the small vegetation – a food source for deer and rabbits that fed both man and other small predators. It was a great area for the Mentor to train his pupils in for it was wide enough to practice more duels and sessions of sprints. Trees surrounded the field in an embrace, making the meadow private even from a roaming Mindless. Seated patiently in the center of the field was his pupil, a she-titan named Jade. She was three years old – the equivalent of a teenager. Her eyes were a shade of cerulean, hair a deep earthy color and falling messily just past her chin, looking more like the cut of a young male. Like Atlas and many of the Hunter Titans, Jade had a lipless maw. Her build was rather lanky as it was for every young titan her age, the true curvy and feminine build of a female titan not having blossomed quite yet – hips not quite as wide and bust not as developed. She was nine meters tall. Personality wise, Titus labeled her a common human term – tomboy. Jade was spunky, daring, and played rough. She was incredibly friendly though with a carefree characteristic. Titus chose Jade as his pupil for her athleticism. She was nimble and proficient with quick jabs. When sparing with a titan using brute strength, she made up for it with speed. His gut was telling him that Jade would be a good fit for Atlas. They had things in common, abet nosey and adventurous. Jade was his last chance at finding a companion for Atlas.
The female titan got to her feet as she acknowledged his arrival, a purr already resonating in her chest and already prepared to give Titus the proper greeting – a bow of the head where his brow would meet hers. However, Jade's pleased look changed into one of confusion as she spied Atlas sitting up in his arms and trilling – the pup wiggling his ears in greeting with a broad smile upon his face. Jade tilted her head as she approached him, brows drawn together in confusion. Titus knew good and well that he had some explaining to do and he wasn't quite sure how to begin.
Jade abandoned her greeting to warily approach the pup in his arms, the young female proceeding to then sniff the baby titan with Atlas leaning as much as he was able to smell Jade as well.
"TIITTUS… THHATT ISSS… GREEEN EYYES!" Jade grunted in question. "WHHATT –
Titus quickly snorted and rumbled to interrupt, gesturing for her to take a seat – an order that she quickly followed. He then joined her as she got settled, holding Atlas in front of him with the little pup squeaking excitedly and reaching for Jade – the female looking almost nervous. The beast then exhaled. "JADE, THIS IS – ATLAS." The older titan beamed slightly. "ATLAS," He pointed, green pools following his finger to his pupil. "THAT IS… JADE." He pressed onward, the pup looking at the young behemoth with Atlas looking up into Jade's face with his gasglow grin as broad as ever. "JADE. THIS… IS JADE." Titus continued as he lowered Atlas to the ground and released the pup. He observed his pupil's face, still looking quite confused as Atlas padded over to her and clumsily climbed into her lap – Jade almost looking too startled to move. She seemed tentative to put a hand on him as Atlas let out a squeal and began rolling about between her legs before trying to climb up to attempt to initiate a session of play – the pup growling comically as he tried to get up to Jade's ears.
"SOO… DIISS ISS ATTLLASS?" Jade questioned as she lifted Atlas off to place him on the ground again – the little titan then proceeding to play with her toes. Titus grunted.
"YES. AZERORON – PUT ATLAS… IN MY CARE." Titus began, trying to figure a way to explain things. Jade's brows rose, head tilting.
"SOO… YUU AREE THHE ONE ATCCHING HIMM?" She queried with Titus giving a grunt to confirm with Atlas still trying to play with Jade's toes – the female purposely moving them to stimulate the pup – something that Titus took as a positive sign.
"YES – I TOOK HIM… JUST AFTER BIRTH."
For a moment it was quiet between the Mentor and his pupil, the two watching as Atlas retired from playing with Jade's toes to trying to catch a small butterfly that was fluttering around them. It seemed like eons before his student cleared her throat to speak once again.
"SOO… UNNN," Jade began, obviously trying to ask a difficult query. "ISS… ATTLASS… THEREE" She gestured to her head – the notion instantly making Titus's chest tighten. "THHEEYY SAAAY… HEEE… ISS NOOT. THHEYY SAIID… HE ISS DDEFECT."
Titus exhaled, his golden eyes drifting to Atlas who's eyes comically crossed to look upon the flying insect that had just landed upon his nose – the baby squealing. "I – DON'T … KNOW YET. RIGHT NOW… I THINK – ATLAS IS PARCIALLY THERE." Titus scratched his chin. "HE CAN LEARN… BUT IT IS – SLOW. ATLAS… IS BEHIND… COMPARED TO… OTHER PUPS. GETS THINGS… MIXED UP A LOT. HE… CAN'T SPEAK. MAKES… IT HARDER." Titus paused for a second time, trying to figure out what to inform Jade of next. "ATLAS… DOES NOT LISTEN WELL. VERY... FULL OF – ENERGY. I… AM… TRYING THOUGH. ATLAS IS… GROWING ON ME." The titan beamed in the slightest before getting serious yet again. "I GUESS… HE COULD BE… A GATHERER. AZERORON… I THINK HAS… SAME IDEA. I… WANT BETTER THOUGH. ATLAS… DESERVE MORE." He sighed yet again. Jade noticeably bit her tongue as she nodded in understanding.
"OOKAAY. CANNN… YUU… TELLL AHHT – HE THINKKS?" Jade asked quietly, still watching the bouncy pup. Titus nervously scratched his scalp.
"I'M… TRYING TO LEARN. I AM… TRYING TO… DO… WHAT A FATHER… DOES. NOT… GOOD AT IT… YET." Titus admitted. "I AM… WATCHING OTHERS." Titus concluded, watching as Atlas cheerfully waddled to him – placing his little plump hands onto his leg and squealing up at him just to make sure Titus was aware of him before diving in the grass to roll about. Showing off.
The older pairs of eyes continued to watch the baby, seeing him swipe at grass to provoke aphids to vacate their perches. Titus smiled. Looking at Atlas currently, it was hard to believe that the pup was mentally impaired. He looked and behaved just like any normal infant. Knowing Jade was bound to send another query his way, the Mentor looked back at his pupil who was still observing the pup with an impassive face. Characteristically, her ears twitched in thought before turning to him.
"SOOO… ISS ATTLAS – CONNING TOO TRAININNNG?" Jade continued, her eyes never moving from the lively pup before finally shifting to his expectant gaze.
"YES. ATLAS WILL…BE WITH US." Titus dithered. "I CAN NOT…LEAVE HIM… ALONE – JUST YET." He quickly corrected himself. "ATLAS… HE LIKES… HE CAN WONDER. VERY CURIOUS… HIGH ENERGY." The large titan continued. "I DON'T THINK… HE WILL BE… ANY TROUBLE." Jade nodded, obviously trying her best to take the flush of information.
"UNNN… WHAAT YUUUU PLLANN… TOO DOO… WITT ATTLASS?" She asked – the query innocent enough but only making Titus feel fretful. It was such a simple question, but the answer seemed complex – even so it seemed more like a guess.
"I… WANT HIS LIFE… TO BE NORMAL." He spoke slowly. "I… WANT.. TO RAISE HIM – I HOPE HE CAN BE… INDPENDENT. ATLAS… I WANT HIM… TO HAVE A… PLACE IN THE PACK. I WANT… HIM TO – FIND A MATE AND… HAVE PUPS. I… JUST – WANT HIM TO BE GREAT."
The female titan absorbed each and every one of his words, nodding to herself, her blue eyes glancing at the bouncy pup before turning her attention back to Titus. Just when he thought she was to be as skeptical and fretful as the others, Jade smiled and let out a rumbling purr, her spine straightening in confidence and ears fluttering.
"SUURRE! WEEE… BEEE FRRIENNDS! EEI… CANN PLAAEE AFTRR… TRRAININNG." Jade beamed. "EIII… CCANN, ELLP YUUU…
Before the young titan could speak further, a loud and piercing squeal instantly grasped the pupil and Mentor's attention. He nearly huffed. Next to Jade, Atlas was spinning around in a circle, stomping his feet into the daffodils with his eyes shut tightly in glee. The pup proceeded to squeal and grunt before plopping down roughly on his rump – completely amused at making himself dizzy. Atlas huffed repeatedly – the equivalent of giggling as he rolled onto his back and kicked his tubby legs. Jade couldn't help but to let out a hoot.
"HEE… ISS CUTTE."
Titus simply nodded in agreement, watching as the pup got to his feet and toddled over to a nearby pond and began to play in the shallow waters. "INDEED." He replied, still keeping his smile as he watched the tiny titan under his care play – ensuring that things were sound before slowly standing upright. "NOW… LET US… START."
A resonating tweet left his lipless maw as he moved his hands about in the wetness, watching the swirling movements before looking back up at his Titus and the new titan that favored him as well. Titus had stated that her name was – Jad? Jude? He knew it was something of the sort. He was happy that she had shown him kindness and she had said the word 'play' which he knew very well what it meant.
However, he was very confused. He didn't understand what he was looking at. Titus had forced his new playmate to do a different activity besides frolicking with him. Atlas didn't get what the two were doing. At first, they were stretching odd ways before getting into a tight stance – both of their fists held up. They wore determined looks, but what perplexed him so was the fact that they were throwing their coiled hands forward – similar to the way that his littermate had hit him. However, their punches never made contact. Currently, the two were moving their arms and legs in foreign ways, the younger following Titus's moves. The pup found himself tilting his head for the umpteenth time at their display. What was it for? Why were they doing such a thing? It was so very strange to him. Why did his new playmate have to take part in such things? Why couldn't she or Titus come over to keep up their play!
Then again, his new friend seemed very willing to participate in what his Titus wanted her to do. It had to contribute to something important that he didn't get quite yet. It seemed like a type of play that only bigger titans could take part in. As much as he wanted to try it – his attention was more focused on watching the small silver things moving about in the wetness. He hadn't seen anything of the sort yet and they held his full interest. Atlas swirled his hands in the water again, watching the strange creatures lose their grace in his wake – turning over and flopping about. His lively greens then caught sight of himself – a rippling reflection that instantly made him squeal. Eager to play, Atlas slapped the wetness before rolling about in the water with another squeal. He would have fun with himself until Titus and his new friend invited him to engage in play that was better suited for his small stature.
Atlas gurgled, pausing in his rolling about to shake his head to rid it from the unneeded water, purring to himself as his locks fluffed and ruffled like the feathers of a bird. The little titan leaned down again, ready to toy with his other self once more – but something stopped him.
It was something that he had never smelt before.
His ears flickered questioningly, a small squeak escaping from between his teeth. What was it? Wondering if Titus had smelled the same, Atlas rotated his head only to see the large titan still playing the same game with the female. The pup tilted his head before looking back in the direction where the strange scent was coming from. Tiny nostrils flared wildly as he inhaled again, his lungs expanding and his eyes shutting as he focused. It didn't smell like a titan or any other animal. So what was it? Slowly, Atlas stood from the pond, ears fluttering in thought. He had to find out what the smell was! No matter what! He had to! Completely compelled by his new need, Atlas wholly forgot that Titus didn't seem to like him wandering as he discreetly crept from the pond and began to enter the forest yet again – a broad smile upon his face at the thought of discovery.
The little titan stalked through the brambles and lush green, guided by his nose. Atlas hopped cheerfully, his head tilting back to admire the canopy. He smiled a bit bigger, a pleased growl slipping from his throat. Titus had said that the tall things that sheltered all the life in the forest were things they called trees. To him, their name made them more incredible than they were before. They were so tall and he wondered what made them grow so big. Could a titan ever grow to be taller than the trees he wondered. In a way, he hoped not. Being under them was so much more comforting. Unbeknownst to him, Atlas had stopped in his path to admire the timbers, the pup quickly recalling his quest and starting back forward with a trill.
Atlas bounced along, trying not to get distracted by crawling insects and hopping rabbits, only following the bizarre scent. As quick as he could, the pup climbed over rocks, logs, and pushed his way through tangling roots and low branches. His ears fidgeted as he sniffed, nose twitching. The smell was getting stronger which he knew meant that he wasn't far from the source. He then began to scale another stone, seating himself upon his rump to survey. Atlas sniffed, ears rotating forward only to catch a sound that was all too familiar to him.
Although it was faint, he could clearly hear speech.
His ears twitched, befuddled by the sudden and quite unexpected find. Although they were muffled by the surrounding vegetation, he could clearly make out what sounded like words. Granted, he couldn't really find a meaning to most of them, but he understood enough from hearing his Titus repeat them. Atlas continued to listen to them even as he carefully scaled down the mossy boulder. The vocals were slightly different than those that the titans spoke. Titus's voice was deep, and like most he had to pause every few words. His new friend without lips did the same except her voice was strung out with tone much harsher – and if he had the gift of speech he imaged that was what he himself would sound like. The voices that he heard just ahead were so much higher in pitch and they spoke quickly. It also seemed that they said many words at once. Atlas grunted to himself, he had never heard titans speak so skillfully before and in such a strange manner.
More curious than ever, Atlas prolonged to push forward. He continued to carry himself quietly as he went even further away from the meadow. The pup tried not to squeal or project his excitement fearing that the titans ahead or what he assumed they were, wouldn't be fond of him. Atlas only smiled. Perhaps he would make another friend today. Soon, the timbers thinned in the slightest and the vegetation reduced. Even though he felt more exposed, he was very close to the vocals and scents. Suddenly, Atlas slowed his gate, changing direction in the slightest to take refuge behind a thick tree and bushes. Peering through the low branches, Atlas spied the source to what had gained his attention. He had never been hit with confusion so hard.
Afore him were a couple of very small titans, smaller than even himself or any other pup he had seen for that matter. They weren't as chubby as he was and their bodies didn't seem to be bare – they were covered by a strange thing that didn't even seem like fur. Atlas leaned forward – ears fully erect as he continued to scrutinize the strange little titans. There was only a few of them, a large male, a large female, and a very small male. The female was sitting upon a thing that looked to have been made from the very trees in the forest that had bizarre round feet. In the front of the thing were creatures that were much bigger than the deer but lacked the horns. For a moment, Atlas found himself transfixed on the animals with long manes and tails before putting his attention back on the odd titans. The two males were reaching into the low trees and picking the round things that were a shade of blood, placing them into their arms before returning to the big wooden contraption and putting them into something that almost looked like a wood nest. The female seemed to be examining the fruits, wiping their surfaces off to clean them. Atlas smiled. They were so interesting! These strange titans were doing things that he had never seen the big titans in his pack do. Sure, they gathered leaves and the greens of the forest – but never any of the sweet smelling bounty. They spoke to one another so quickly too. Granted, he wasn't sure if the small titans were pups like he was or if they were two parents with a pup. They were so wonderfully bizarre.
Either way, he wanted to play with them.
Then, the small male suddenly began to walk in his direction, obviously looking to pick the fruits from the tree that he was taking refuge behind. Instinctively, Atlas grew nervous and crouched down – trying to remain unseen as his bright greens watched the small titan stop just a few feet from him and reach into the branches. Atlas watched as the small male selected certain fruits, looking at each with a practiced eye before plucking them from their perches. Now that the small titan was close to him, Atlas could see him in greater detail. The miniscule being's body was frail and looked almost delicate compared to his own and the stuff that covered his body wasn't fur at all but rather something that seemed like it was woven. The strange titan had lips like some of the others in his pack but his hair wasn't the shaggiest in the slightest. The young male hummed to himself, surprising Atlas with how many times it changed pitch before rotating his head to look upon the larger male.
"Father? How many apples do we need?"
Atlas blinked at the query, recognizing a single word. Father. So this was two parents and their pup!
"Well, we are bringing them back to sell in the village so we will need plenty my son." The father smiled back before returning to his own harvesting.
Atlas nearly purred in amusement, put kept his excitement caged as he watched the other pup finish his picking, having so many red fruits in his arms that he was nearly dropping them as he turned to head back towards the wooden object. With both curiosity and the desire to play coursing through him once again, Atlas quietly walked out of the brambles – making sure to keep himself on all fours and as light as possible. As quickly as he could, Atlas got as close to the male as possible, his ears fluttering in elation. He kept low slum and stopped just behind the other pup as he placed the apples down and began to sort through them. Incredibly inquisitive, Atlas stepped forward – nose twitching as he sniffed. The other pup didn't even smell like the forest but rather held an assortment of scents that he never beheld before. After the first inhale, he couldn't help but give in more to his own questions and need to frolic. With no hint of nervousness whatsoever, Atlas pushed his nose gently into the other's back and sniffed aggressively – making the young male screech.
"What!" The other pup spun around, dropping his harvest with his body going rigid in shock. As the pup's blue eyes blew wide, the female sitting atop the wooden contraption gasped while the father quickly joined his mate – his hand on something shiny hanging from his waist. Atlas practically ignored the parents' stunned, spooked, and somewhat confused looks as he squealed, hopping before the young male and hunkering down in a bid to play. The large male visibly relaxed, his wife following suit.
"It's – a Hunter Titan pup." The older male spoke. "I've – never seen one this close." He paused, blinking in disbelief before looking at his own. "You can relax my son, he's not going to hurt you."
Upon seeing the boy calm at his father's reassuring, Atlas let out a happy trill and flopped down to roll upon his side – showing his submission. With a squeal, he rolled awkwardly onto his head before flopping down on his back –kicking his legs about before arching his legs over his head to look at the other pup from the wrong way up. Still, the small titan remained stiff and stunned at Atlas's invitation. Wiggling his ears again, he then scrambled to his feet to hop about once more all the while the family continued to look upon him.
"This one is young." The father continued as Atlas paused in his hopping to sniff the boy again. "I'd say it's at least two months old. Definitely one of this season's pups."
"Is it a male or female?" His mate asked.
"It's a little male." The being paused, Atlas deciding to playfully nip the bottom of the soft thing upon the smallest titan – the thing feeling odd between his teeth. Playfully, he pulled – the male letting out a gasp and falling onto his rear with Atlas squealing. "Strange, during the few times I've seen their pups, they are always following the mother or father. The parents don't allow their pups to even come near humans."
The female leaned forward, her eyes still looking at him seriously. "Could it be – lost?"
Atlas then proceeded to advert his attention to the wooden structure, running his hands upon the weathered surface, letting his tongue snake between his teeth to taste the strange object, stopping to gently nibble a corner of it with the large male and female watching his every move. "There is a slight chance that he could have strayed away from his mother. Then again, I've seen pups walking with their mothers before. They only look with interest but otherwise they shy away. Even when their mom lets them explore for a bit, they still don't go far from her and tend to only watch us humans rather than trying to make contact with us." Atlas listened to the man speak before deciding to hop around and roll again – stopping to play with his own feet on his way to make an attempt to frolic with the young male again.
"Dear, do you think it is possible that this one could be an orphan of sorts?" The female prolonged as Atlas continued to grab his own plump feet. At her words the male seemed to stiffen.
"You – have a point." He began as Atlas turned his attention away from his toes and began to walk toward the boy again, but his attention easily drifted to the maned creatures and the odd vine like things wrapped around them. The titan pup grunted cheerfully, leaning close to sample their scent with his ears wiggling at the new discovery. These small titans were so interesting! As he lifted a gentle hand to run his fingers through the long hair of the animal, Atlas missed the father's sudden look of concern. "I think you might be right. Looking at how it acts – I think something may be wrong with it."
"What? You think it could have some kind of defect?"
"I think that may be true. I know many kinds of animals will abandon their young if they aren't capable of surviving on their own. Looking at this one and how it acts – I think it indeed has something mentally off. He's – all over the place."
Atlas continued to ignore the male's speech, his eyes scanning the dark strips wrapped around the maned creatures. Deciding that he wanted to test the strange things, Atlas squealed and nipped at the black strips, his soft pulling making the creatures whinny and stir. The father stood in the slightest, waving his hands about.
"Hey! Stop that!"
At the vocal, Atlas paused. Going by the being's tone, it seemed that the black strips were off limits. Although he really wanted to pull on them again – he didn't want to angry these small titans. Recalling what he was going to do before, Atlas turned back to the stiff little male and proceeded to push his head into him – squeaking before rolling about on his side once again, pawing the other as another bid for the boy to join him in play. A hearty laugh met his ears.
"Maybe he's just incredibly playful. Maybe nothing is off at all."
The father hummed in thought. "I think the latter might be true. I've never seen a Hunter Titan behave quite like this one."
"Well," the female continued as Atlas watch a smile slowly shape out of the little male's lips at his antics. "Even if there is indeed something wrong and if he's truly alone, he is still quite cute. This pup's eyes are – beautiful. I've never seen such a vibrant green. It's like the forest at summertime."
The man sighed as Atlas tweeted, ears fluttering about as the small boy lay a hand on the tip of his nose. "Still – it's tragic. A damn shame really."
"Yeah – it is. Nature can be very cruel."
Still, even as the two other titans spoke with their faces plagued with pain as the truth settled in, Atlas ignored them. The other little pup before him had accepted his invitation as he continued to stroke his short nose. The little male made a sound that he couldn't place – one that was obviously cheery and sounded so lovely to his ears. He had never heard his own pack or Titus make a noise like it. When he himself or Titus found amusement in things, they huffed. This sound was absolutely pleasing. Wondering if he could create such a vocal, Atlas attempted the chortle – only sounding as if he was gurgling or choking on a meal. The sound hurt his throat, so Atlas decided that it was best to keep to his giddy huffs.
He chirped and teasingly dropped down again, wiggling his tapered ears that the male seemed absolutely intrigued in. The boy grasped the cartilage in awe, running his hand along the structure. Wanting to provoke the other pup to play, Atlas quickly licked the other across the face with a loud purr – coating the other in a layer of saliva that left the male stunned.
Atlas huffed and licked the other again to further tease – spinning around in a tight circle before nuzzling into his new friend. This day was wonderful! His Titus had taught him what a tree was, introduced him to one friend, and he found this small friend. What a day!
Unexpectedly, Atlas felt a vibration beneath his feet, making his heart surge. His Titus! He must have come to see what he was doing! His smile grew bigger. He could show Titus his new friend that he made on his own!
However, the forest suddenly seemed so much darker – so much quieter. It was an unsettling feeling that Atlas never felt before. He didn't like it. Wondering if the other titans could feel the same, Atlas turned to look upon the parents and their pup. What he witnessed only puzzled him even more. The three titans looked terrified. Their eyes and mouths were open wide and his new friend was scrambling to climb onto the wooden contraption. The maned creatures were whinnying and producing panicked cries as the footsteps shook the area. Atlas only remained confused. Had these titans ever seen a bigger one of his kind?
Deep breathing met his ears and the thundering steps stopped. Eager to show Titus his new friend and the smaller humans that there was nothing to fear, Atlas got to his feet and turned around to greet his guardian with a squeal.
Looking at the titan before him, it was abundantly clear that the beast was not his Titus.
Atlas's smile faded as his excitement grew into fear. The titan didn't look like any other from the pack. It was frighteningly skinny with its ribs nearly overhanging it's famished looking stomach. Its face though was what made chills course all throughout his tiny body. The titan lacked the familiar pointed ears, but this fact was not what stood out to him. The behemoth's mouth was stretched in a menacing smile – teeth stained red. The eyes were lifeless – nearly completely dark with none of the other hues present. Slowly, it's strange mouth opened in the slightest to give out a low hiss that made Atlas shutter. The creature was so unnerving. It looked like something that should have been lifeless. It looked horrifying.
Atlas knew. It was a monster.
The titan's cold and dead eyes slowly descended upon him – the behemoth's face never changing in expression. It was eerily frozen. The pup's terrified emerald greens, watched as the monster reached in his direction – the world suddenly feeling as if it was in slow motion. Atlas found himself unable to move, pupils shrunken down into pinpricks. Finally finding himself, Atlas instinctively let out a desperate howl for help. Why! Why was everything happening to him!
He cried out again, hunkering down and scooting back harshly into the wooden creation crafted by the smaller titans. Atlas looked on at the monster's face – a thing of nightmares. He was so scared! Where was Titus! Where was he! Then, as it drew nearer still, Atlas's instincts came to meet him yet again, the little titan naturally letting loose a pitiful growl that was nowhere near threatening. Why was he doing such a thing? He was helpless against it. It was so much bigger than him! So much stronger currently in every way! Then it hit him. This titan looked like the things that he had seen his pack eat. This titan was the kind that the pack ate! Now, it looked set on eating him! Any streak of defiance was replaced at the fact – Atlas resorting to his frozen state of fear. The pup was much too scared to even call for help let alone move as the titan's hand became just a few feet from him.
His life was over. He would never see his Titus or anyone else again. He was done for. A piece of meat. His own mother and father were going to get what they wanted.
Then, the feeling of fight or flight came back to him, more or less a need to defend himself. Atlas narrowed his eyes, growling again with his back arching and hair ruffling. His nose wrinkled in a snarl. Why? Why was he feeling this urge again? Why did it feel so natural? Was it because he was cornered? What was it? As the dirty, blood stained hand drew nearer, Atlas felt the need to fend himself further. He opened his maw and let out the fiercest sound he could make – trying to roar like he had heard the other titans of his pack do – the sound only coming out as a rough squeak and not the deep and earth-shattering bellows that they were capable of. Still, the titan came at him, forcing Atlas to simply close his eyes and wait.
This was it.
However, before he fell victim to jaws much larger than his own, the forest around him shook, tree limbs clattering and pebbles bouncing. The wooden contraption jolted, rising a few inches off the earth before touching down again. A powerful resonating roar sliced through the area, one that was so loud that it shook even his own chest. Then, a shockwave ran through the glade – a massive fist making contact with the monster's face with the foul beast's skull instantly caving in and its body being knocked down into the earth. Atlas remained stunned, even as he was scooped into a pair of large hands and placed protectively onto warm flesh. He finally blinked.
Titus. He had come to his rescue along with his female friend.
Still, he remained silent and stupefied. His guardian's roars shook even the canopy, his hands grabbing the titan's leg and hoisting it into the air, swinging the monster in an arc before throwing it onto the unforgiving ground. Green eyes watched as Titus rose his foot and brought it down with tremendous force upon the titan's nape.
Over and over again.
Red. Crimson – blood painted the green and steam began to obscure. Atlas's ears filled with the sounds of the creature screeching in agony. His nostrils flared at the scent of flesh – an alluring odor. Then, the forest was silent. Not even a bird chirped a melody overhead. Even so, as the steam lifted, Atlas remained stagnant. His friend returned him to the grass – quickly checking on the small titans before getting up to scrutinize their surroundings. Hearing steady thumps – Atlas arched his neck to see Titus approaching him – his face impassive with his brow slightly creased. For a moment, the pup couldn't tell if his guardian was irritated or not until Titus exhaled and knelt down to seat himself upon his knees. The large titan's hand gently rubbed his scalp before hoisting him up to seat upon his lap. Oddly, the older behemoth remained silent – simply looking from the steaming carcass to the shaken little titans who were trying to recover their harvest.
"ATLAS." Titus suddenly began, the pup looking up into the beast's almost forgiving golden hues. The titan sighed yet again before continuing. "LOOK." Titus outstretched a finger to what was left of the steaming mass of carrion. "THAT… IS A MINDLESS. A… MINDLESS TITAN." He gestured before pointing to the small beings. "THOSE… ARE HUMANS. HUMANS. THEY… ARE NOT…TITANS." His guardian continued to explain, Atlas's maw opening in shock at the news. "MINDLESS… EAT HUMANS. WE HUNTERS," Titus lay a hand to his chest. "PROTECT HUMANS. WE… EAT MINDLESS. HUNTERS… PROTECT MANKIND. REMEMBER THAT… ATLAS. REMEMBER THAT."
The little green eyed titan rotated his head to gaze upon what was before him – his shadowed lids unblinking. It was true that he had trouble understanding words and their meanings, but those that Titus had just spoken – he could understand with absolute clarity.
Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Rogue's past!
I think I'll try to update every 2 to 3 months. If there is a delay, blame it on my work.
Next chapter: Chapter 26: Tiny but Tenacious: Rogue learns more of the pack's ways and finds inspiration while enduring the unwanted cruelty that constantly grips him.