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RandomScrub posted a topic in Tales of InfamyThe baked dirt of the pitch was a far cry from the fierce steppes of his home. Instead of the healthy smells of grass, animals and uncorrupted air, Shrike could fairly taste the rancid sweat sloughing off the motley gathering of spectators. He hawked and spat in an effort clear his fouled throat. Kneeling on the hard ground he once again checked his tools. Tightly coiled briars bound with cordage sat in barely-constrained wait. Like him, they had travelled from fierce hunting grounds where they choked whole valleys and haplessly snared with their bristling, finger-length thorns. It was the numbing briar-juice that was the greatest danger, though. Many a soul had been slowly snuffed in the briar’s cruel clutches. Frantic attempts at freedom only tore fresh wounds and into those the briar-juice seeped. Man and beast alike had met their miserable ends fully conscious but entirely paralysed to die slowly of hunger, or be consumed alive by nimble predators who stalked the briar’s dark paths with surefooted grace. He knew, as did all the members of his tribe, that the briar-grounds were sacred and place of power where they gave worship to the Sun Father through the savage hunt. They were the life-giving larder of the tribe and the suffocating horror of its enemies. Like his namesake, the fleet and deadly butcherbird, Shrike harried his prey driving it onto the cruel thorns before ending the hunt with a sure, swift thrust of his briar-wood spear. After every kill, blood was ritually spattered upon the briar in thanks to the Sun Father and the life of the prey. The Sun Father himself had lit the path that led Shrike to the Hunter’s Guild. This was not a matter of conjecture, for he had walked that path with Sun Father’s own avatar. On the day it happened, Shrike had ranged the briar-grounds and through persistence and cunning misdirection had snared a young pronghorn against the briar’s cruel wall. As he gutted the beast and made his offering to the Sun Father he heard the low rumble of thunder, as if a freak storm had burst upon the steppes. He quickly bound the pronghorn’s legs and slung it onto his back as the thunder crashed again, this time closer and coming from within the dense briar. He hefted his spear and cautiously loped toward the source of the noise. He had not gone two hundred paces before the noise sounded again, not thunder but the roar of some great beast moving relentlessly through the briar toward where he stood. He watched as tall thickets burst apart and sprayed clouds of thorns, leaves and dust into the air. Even unseen Shrike knew that the beast was prodigious in both size and power. Though the fear rose up in him he calmed himself with the fact that he knew the trapping hollows and twisted byways of the briar were his allies, just as he knew the glory that would be his from such a kill. He ground his foot into the dirt and set his spear before the briar erupted with a spray of vegetation and a bestial roar that echoed an ancient and primal fury. The beast reared upright on its hind legs, its forepaws raised and tipped with wicked scythes. It roared again, the sun behind it, a sacred backdrop blinding Shrike with its brilliance and filling him with a terrible awe. This was no prey-beast. It was a mighty grizzly, one of the Sun Father’s totem animals. It was a messenger of his god and he sank to his knees in reverence. The beast dropped to all fours, its great head level with his own. A voice cracked like lighting within his head. “Shrike”. He looked up in surprise and met the eyes of the bear. They glowed with gentle fire, the colours of a steppe sunset. The great beast took in breath and roared again, spraying Shrike’s face with gobbets of slaver and filling his nostrils with its hot, sour breath. Shrike slowly took the pronghorn from around his next and offered it to the bear before shuffling back, still on his knees. The bear pushed its muzzle into the fresh kill and tore into the meat. The pronghorn was soon devoured. It then raised its bloodied jaws and held the young man with its strange gaze before stepping forward and gently touching its forehead to Shrike’s in the traditional greeting of the steppe tribes. He heard the voice again, this time the agreeable rumble of distant thunder. “Seenah will guide you to my Scion. Take with you my sacred briar-thorns. They shall be the instrument of my will, novitiate.” As commanded Shrike carefully cut and bound lengths of thorn, cocooning it with cord that he twisted from tough briar-vine. Once his labours were complete, Seenah let out a low growl before ambling off in the direction of the great forests that towered at the edge of the steppe-lands. Understanding the beast’s intent, Shrike fell in beside him. They journeyed for nearly a month across the vast steppes and hunted together for sustenance, harrying their prey with unspoken coordination. Shrike would make offering to the Sun Father before bear and man both shared their kill in companionable silence. Seenah led him through the soaring forest for three days and nights before they came to a sun-dappled clearing in which sat a cloaked figure, broad and heavily muscled. He stood as the pair approached. “Welcome, novitiate. I am Hearne, Scion of the Sun Father. By his will I am your mentor”. For the next year Shrike had trained under the Scion’s guidance, adapting the savagery of the hunt to the game of Guild Ball. Seenah trained by his side and together they made cunning use of the cruel briar-thorns to herd, trap and strangle. The Sun Father had wisely bonded these two Hunters. Now, as they waited for the start of Shrike’s first match, he stood, shoulder to shoulder with his ursine brother. He calmly secured the briar coils in a sling on his back and gripped his spear with a steady hand. A clarion blast sounded the start of the match. Shrike and Seenah roared in unison, their fury sounding a savage prayer to the Sun Father. As one, they charged.
**Spare hour, thought I'd add my two cents! By no means a writer, but had a fun daydream so thought I'd get it typed.** Ribs cracked and lungs heaved heavy, laboured breaths as they compressed from the force of the blow. Batton’s vision blurred as his dilated pupils struggled to realign the competing midday suns his swirling mind had concocted. Knees buckled, legs fell and the worn dirt granted its dry embrace. A wretching cough threatened to spill his tasteless lunch gruel over the painted lines of the grass, with only a hastily pressed fist keeping his lips shut. “Well…he saved it at least?” Tapper said, head cocked to one side as he stood underneath the shade cast from his team mate. “I guess. Doesn’t look like the lad’ll be blocking any more today though, shall I get the next one?” Stave asked. “He’s the last.” The captain sighed. “She’s doing this deliberately you know, she doesn’t see the point in one.” Batton’s eyes watered as his breathing struggled to settle, hot dust caking the side of his parched lips as he rose unsteadily back to his feet. Groggily he stepped back to his mark once more and beckoned over to the player opposite him. This time it hit him in the gut, and his tempestuous meal cascaded freely as he doubled over from the shot. “She’s going to kill the boy at this rate…” the hulking Stave sighed indifferently. “Then you’ll have to explain to the Valentian winemakers why you can’t fulfil your end of the pact.” Tapper stroked his beard absent-mindedly as he watched the boy again return to his mark and signal the striker to fire once more. The weighted leather ball fizzed across the courtyard and smashed into Barrow’s shoulder as he recoiled in agony, clutching his dulled limb loosely. The Valentians’ economic support was a critical piece in his defence against Esters’ political machinations, and they expected to have one of their own representing the Brewers, but their convoluted passing style did not sit well with the Brewers brawling game. The boy was different though…he had something a little more about him. Tapper’s musings were snapped back into reality as a howl ripped out of Batton’s crumpled form, his arm contorted in a grotesque parody of knotted treebranch as yet another virulent shot hit its mark. “Friday! That’s enough!” The captain bellowed. The blond striker smirked defiantly from across the pitch as she stared down at the broken rookie while physicians rushed to his aid with clanking tools and hip flasks of maldriven whisky. Her saunter tempered slightly as Tapper closed in on his wayward forward. “I suppose you think you’ve proven a point?” He asked. “We don’t need one, why waste time protecting the goal when we could get another forward? You think that boy the equal of the Ratcatcher or Butchers’ hulk? Look at him, pitiful like the rest. You’d do better to put the damned cat in goal instead.” Friday hissed as she retrod a familiar argument. “He saved all of your shots though…” Tapper stated coldly. “If I was aiming for the goal that might be the case.” Friday mocked arrogantly. “…but you were, and the boy stopped them…and I’d wager he’d do it again tomorrow.” Tapper challenged. Batton’s pain subsided as he watched Friday storm away from the captain in the centre circle, his view obscured as the towering Stave pushed a pint to his mouth. “Ere you go lad…best get that down you to dull the pain. You did good today…now catch your breath. You’re down in the pit with Pint Pot this afternoon.” The rookie choked on his beer as the physicians dragged him away to prepare…
Dust wasn’t a healthy fellow in his early days as a rookie. Not many Miners are when they first join the Guild Ball team. Miners all have a similarly grey complexion no matter what their skin tone is. Something about the lack of light and presence of so much dirt and rock just seems to suck the glow out of them. That doesn’t mean they don’t have vigor. The Miners Guild is chock full of mad men. Far too many go cave crazy and disappear into the depths, but the ones who manage to hold on usually get a shot at pointing their crazy at a ball or some unfortunate Chandler player. Dust was a crafty sort. He’d signed up for the guild’s team after his minimum time spent in the deep tunnels hunting for whatever their current contract demanded. His father had been a Miner. His grandfather had been a Miner in the war, so on and so forth all the way up his family tree. He knew what his lot in life was and Dust was determined not to die down in those tunnels. So he signed his life away to play some ball. Our man Dust was a scrapper. His tackles were vicious and his short, stocky body was built for shrugging off some vicious attacks. Between that and his teams penchant for digging trenches and creating cover out of a perfectly serviceable Guild Ball pitch, he was a welcome member on a team full of mad diggers. Their close association with the Alchemist Guild and procurement of very volatile explosive materials made their tactics reckless and dangerous. Dust loved it. The Miners Guild Coach was a stern woman. She drilled her team hard and was always looking for new talent. When the pre-season tryouts came along, she happily snapped up Dust as the team’s new Rookie. Their strategy almost always seemed to devolve into two things: 1. Get the ball to the Rookie. 2. Create utter chaos and hope the new boy hits the goalpost. Their first matchup in the lower rungs of the league was against the messenger’s guild. Dust didn’t feel ready. He was scared stiff and surrounded by men and women with too many digging implements and far too little care for what happened after they started digging. The only teammate he had any faith in was the darn Mole that seemed to follow the Captain around everywhere she went. That Mole had an almost supernatural talent for flying out of the ground just in time to stop an opponent from making a pass. That Mole seemed to be integral to the first part of any Miner’s Guild strategy and there was no way Dust was going to complain about it. Dust took position on the pitch and waited for his team to make the kickoff. Their captain punted it as far as she could. The Miners were devils with a shovel and pick, but they needed time to get it done. The second the game was on they all hopped to it. Players and captain tearing at the muddy ground. The Mole had disappeared as soon as it could and occasionally appeared around the pitch, seeming to prepare his own tunnels. Dust scoped out the competition. While all were lithe and muscular, none seemed built for a scrap. The messengers and their Roadrunner mascot were banking on their speed to win them the game. It seems they weren't prepared for a team of mad miners to put much of a fight for the ball. A female messenger had control of the ball. Her team seemed to be spreading out to allow for passing and presumably avoid multiple casualties to the Miner’s explosives. It was in Dust’s best interest to get control of that quickly. He made a mad dash for the Messenger who was unfortunate enough to have the ball on Dust's pitch. He easily clotheslined the much taller figure, seeming to stun the woman with the sheer abruptness of the attack. Dust gained control of the ball and began sprinting straight for the enemy’s unguarded goal post. His team sprang into action completing their part of the plans and attacking the slim figures with gusto. One messenger fell to a turned ankle while trying to escape the howling dervish of pickaxes chasing after him. Another fell to the combined assault of the Captain and her beloved Mole, knocking her down when she stepped into a mole hole and taking a rather nasty hit from a very sturdy shovel. Dust was fast approaching the coal post. He was just out of his reliable kicking range when a Roadrunner nearly tripped him. Luckily he rolled into a dodge just in time, coming up to his feet and punting the ball straight into the goalpost. A messenger guild official threw the ball to the only member close enough to the goal to gain possession of it. The Messenger was not spoiled for options as far as where to go next. The miners had all but one player occupied. He made for a long pass to the Messenger’s team Captain who had managed to knock out a Miner. The Messenger had just made contact with the ball when the Miner’s mascot, Mole, popped out of the earth, wrapped his limbs around the ball and used his body to steer the ball towards Dust. With one goal and two knock outs, he was a goal kick away from his first win. The Messenger’s captain was sprinting up the pitch like she had death on her heels. Mole released the ball and it rolled towards Dust. Dust snapped his leg out, getting possession of the ball, wound his leg back and kicked for all he was worth. Before he could see what happened to the ball, he lost consciousness as a very angry captain descended upon him. The Miner’s won. 12-2 in under five minutes. Seems the Rookie may have earned his new career. My word count comes out to 998 words. Sorry it's a bit long, but I just kind of got into it and kept going.