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RandomScrub

Forum Challenge - Shrike, Novitiate of the Sun Father

The 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.

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I'm not sure I have much to suggest here! There's a couple of tiny grammatical glitches (like "the briar-grounds were sacred and place of power" which doesn't scan quite right), and maybe you don't need to specify briar in front of things later on (because you've established it as a focus earlier), but that's kind of it.

It flows well, and while I'd like to see more about his time with the bear (I can't quite believe everything went smoothly for weeks :D ), the pace shift seems to work nicely so I don't know that changing it would particularly help!

Good work

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