((note: this is set during Aster’s early months in the Labs area))
A horse was… not really something Aster would have seen himself dealing with when he had first set out to find a creature companion here in this town. The ones he had known in his homeland were all showy creatures owned by those with the money to afford their upkeep, and thus he had only ever known them from afar. They were considered a luxury item; there wasn’t space enough in the city to accommodate many, and the ones found within the city limits were all the fine-bred sort, too delicate for any real work, and almost too delicate to carry a rider.
It was difficult, too, to imagine that this little slip of a thing in front of him would ever be capable of very much, but Aster had had the fortune of meeting the parents. The mother was a fae wisp of a thing, but not small, and there was definitely an aura of magic about it.
The father was some sort of half stone monster who ate flesh, and Aster had half expected to be petrified if he looked into the thing’s eyes too closely, like the basilisks of myth. He began, upon seeing the father, to understand the concept of 'monsters' as they applied to the creatures in this region.
Both held promise as more than just a living trophy piece. And the colt had been within his price range. He wasn’t able to afford much right now, scraping money together doing whatever odd jobs he could. He still lived out of the kennels himself, since it was free, and hardly worse than any of the other places he had slept in his life. Besides which, the idea of living in a cramped city apartment among all these people… No, he slept much better surrounded by the sounds and scents of the animals at the city kennels.
Still, it was important for him to have something to guard his rest. And a horse would do, if it would have the abilities for the job. He’d heard somewhere that many of them were only loyal to a master who raised them from the time they were young, and that suited his needs very well.
The trouble was, of course, that he was going to have to train it. Him. Aciel.
There was a great deal for the little colt to learn, but there was an order to these things. Names first. Names were important.
“Aciel,” said Aster. They were in the park, in a little secluded area, just the two of them. Aciel was standing, ears pricked toward some sound that Aster couldn’t hear. He was a spooky little thing, still all legs and dandelion fluff, but with strange pale eyes and the hint of wings in the little, stubby set of extra limbs on his shoulders.
Looking at them, Aster felt something in his chest seize, and was forced to tear his eyes away. Aciel, who had only turned an idle ear at the sound of Aster’s voice, now turned more fully to face hm. Aster could make out a tiny nascent horn peeking out from the wisp of mane on his forehead, a dark bluish-steel color.
Aster held out a hand, in which there was a tiny little sliver of a Labs-formulated herbivore treat. Slowly, with a hesitation that might have been caution, Aciel stepped forward and took it delicately from him. Aster could feel the fuzzy sensation of his lips as they closed over the treat.
“Good boy,” he said. He wanted to reach out and pat the colt, but it was a little too early for that. He was clearly still a skittish thing, and while Aster didn’t know a great deal about animal handling, he didn’t want to ruin anything by trying too much too soon.
Hells. He probably should have just settled for a dog or something. Dogs didn’t give a damn, and they could live through almost anything. As a kid, half the competition for food on the streets where he ran were between starving children and starving dogs. It wasn't like dogs were fearless either, but at least he'd be more confident in their ability to bounce back from it.
Ah well, he’d already paid, and money was no easy thing for him yet. Besides, he was already here, wasn’t he? And it wasn’t like Aciel was showing any especially terrible behavior. Yet. There was still time for things to go south, but until then…
“Aciel,” Aster said again. The colt turned an ear, but didn’t pay his full attention to the name, so Aster held out another treat and called again. “Aciel.” This time, Aciel turned fully, and Aster fed him the treat.
Well, it was kind of working so far, though if they kept on like this, Aster didn’t know if Aciel would be full before he’d fully learned anything. Though he supposed there was always tomorrow.
Still, there was nothing else for it at first. “Aciel,” he said again. They repeated the process a couple more times, until Aciel began, a little, to expect the treat after hearing the word. By the sixth or so time that Aster called, he was turning readily to Aster for the treat.
Aster gave it to him, but he quickly realized this was no way to proceed permanently. He couldn’t be always feeding Aciel any time he needed Aciel to do anything; it simply wasn’t practical. So the next time Aster called him, there was no treat. He only said, “Good boy,” as he had done every time that he’d fed the colt.
Aciel inclined his head and waited for a moment. When no treat seemed to be forthcoming, e grew a little bolder, and took a few steps closer to Aster. Probably he could smell that they were more, and knew that he was being held out on, but Aster didn’t budge.
It was at this point that Aciel did something out of Aster’s expectations--- the little colt, who couldn’t have been more than a month or two old at this point, lunged for him, head lowered, as if trying to gore him with that nearly nonexistent horn.
Aster’s eyes widened, but fortunately, his body remembered to react in time, even if he was caught unprepared. Years of hard life would do that; if he couldn't do at least this much, he wouldn't be alive right now. He darted to the side, and as the colt passed, tapped him firmly on the nose. “No,” Aster said firmly.
Aciel snorted, pale eyes fixed on him. Aster knew his own strength; the blow wasn’t hard enough to hurt, only just enough to be felt, and to make it a little unpleasant, so as to act as a deterrent. He hadn’t thought he would have needed to do this, but apparently Aciel had more of his father’s blood in him, or whatever this was, than Aster had given him credit for.
He sighed. Was this thing going to be a handful after all? But at least he had some fight in him. That spoke well to his potential of actually being an effective fighter or guard, if nothing else.
Aciel was clearly still thinking about the treat, and made another quick step towards Aster, but Aster drew himself up to appear a little bigger and said again, “No.” Aciel, perhaps remembering what had happened the last time, was held in check. Though he pranced back and forth, he went no further.
Eventually, after being stared down by Aster, he did lose interest. Only then did Aster call his name again. This time around, Aciel was slower to react, some trust having been lost by the lack of treats the previous time. Thus, Aster made sure to feed him well this time.
They played a curious little game of sorts, like this--- Aster called his name, and fed him treats some of the time, only to withhold them at other times. At first, Aciel tried to muscle him or outwit him for the treats with surprising vigor, but eventually Aster’s patience won out. All the while, he repeated his previous rebuke of ‘no’ if Aciel ever got a little too forward. Sometimes, just the word was enough. Occasionally Aciel forgot the threat of being bopped on the nose, and Aster had to remind him again, but it happened less and less frequently as time went on.
Eventually, the little Equillion gave up guessing, and Aster was able to get his attention with his name, treat or no treat. He was more relieved at this than he had thought he would be when he'd started out.
It was hardly what he would have called an accomplishment, teaching a creature his own name, but still… It was progress of some sort. He’d managed to teach the colt something, and hopefully some manners too, in the process. He was beginning to realize just how much of a task was ahead of him, and how much time it was going to take. He was also starting to regret coming all the way here, to a place so reliant on creatures for everything.
But then, well, it wasn’t as if he was getting any better offers elsewhere. And eventually, Aciel was going to be worth it. Probably. Maybe.
With the name down, Aster set out to teach Aciel a few more basic commands. He deliberated as to which ones he wanted for a moment, but then decided that he may as well try to get Aciel to come on command. It was pretty basic, which meant it shouldn’t be too hard, and it seemed like a useful enough thing to know. After all, it would be pretty pointless to teach him the rest if he couldn’t get Aciel to come to him when he needed it.
It didn’t seem right to tie something to the little colt’s head or neck, so Aster just settled for walking some distance away and holding out a treat. “Aciel,” he said, to get the colt’s attention. Then, he said, “Come!”
Aciel’s ears perked up, and his nostrils flared. Even at a distance, he recognized the treat. He didn’t come right away, however.
It might have been that he suspected it was a trick, after that debacle from earlier. Aster tried to resist the urge to sigh. He had really shot himself in the foot with that one, hadn’t he?
Well, it appeared that he hadn’t ruined his chances permanently, at any rate. Aciel did meander closer, after a time. When he reached Aster, he was allowed to have the treat. “Good boy,” Aster said.
With Aciel’s attention occupied, Aster went a little further again, and held out another treat. “Come,” he said. This time Aciel was a little quicker to come to Aster's side once he noticed the treat, this having worked once for him already. That was good; he was learning, sort of.
Aster managed to step away again while Aciel was distracted, then gave the colt a little time to finish what he was eating before trying again. "Come!" he said.
This time the reaction was even better. Aciel turned to him straight away, and was at his side almost as fast as his still unsteady legs could carry him. Aster gave him the treat as soon as Aciel arrived. "Good boy," he said.
But the era of 'good boy' was about to come to an end again. When Aster tried to step away this time, Aciel wouldn't let him. He had seemed to grasp the idea that what Aster wanted from him was to be by his side, and now he was contriving not to leave it to begin with. Aster sidled this way, then that way, and Aciel follower him around the entire time.
Aster sighed. That was a different trick, one he meant to teach Aciel eventually, but not the one he was teaching right now. Some luck he was having. He had been hoping to teach these next two tricks one at a time, but he began to see the sense in alternating them.
Stopping where he was, he straightened and widened his stance, which brought the pursuing Aciel up short. "Stay," Aster said, holding up a hand with an open palm to Aciel.
Aciel stared at his hand, and then at him. Aster wasn't really sure whether this was going to work either. Still, he had glimpsed other trainers trying similar things with their creatures, so he had some hope that it might.
Aciel tried at first to go around again, but Aster angled his body to block him, and eventually Aciel stopped, looking somewhat confused. That was good enough. Aster took a cautious step away, and again Aciel tried to follow, so this time Aster herded him back to his original position and repeated the command. "Stay," he said.
Aciel looked, if anything, more baffled than he had before, but he did, at last, stay. And this time when Aster moved away, he didn't try to follow.