The Neophyte

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I feel wind course through my feathered crest as I bolt across the plain. My clan has tasked me with the hunt today. The raid on our home by a brutish beast has left us tired, exhausted, skittish.

I was too young to defend our home yesterday. I was ordered to guard the females and the children, and I did as I was told.

But I was not happy.

I had shepherded in the non-fighting remains of the pack into a reinforced cave we had claimed, and from the mouth of the cave, I watched. I watched Rra'gaash leap with powerful legs into the air and land on top of the Thick-Chest. I watched Rra'gaash's latching-claw dig deep into the back of him. Perhaps right between ribs. The feet of the Thick-Chest stomped the plain, kicking up dust and grasses, and his short tail thrashed at the air ineffectively.

The Thick-Chest roared in pain and I saw Rra'gaash sink his teeth deep into the neck of the invader. The Thick-Chest was screaming and waving a massive club above its head, attempting to dislodge Rra'gaash. It failed to notice the three other hunters of my pack sneak up from behind.

I watched their whistling sticks unsheath with powerful flicks of their tails. Each stick landed firmly into the side of the Thick-Chest and Rra'gaash only tightened his jaws on its neck.

I watched the Thick-Chest flee into the darkness, leaving behind its club.

Now I track its scent. This is my test, to kill the wounded beast. I smell blood upwind, and I push harder, faster than I ever have before.

Within hours I find a watering hole. Many have been there, including my quarry. I sniff the air eagerly and see one of the whistling sticks. It is half sunk in the mud and small waves of water lap at it. I pry it from the muck and take in the scent of blood.

Not too old. I am close.

I lean down toward the water and lap at it, quenching my thirst for the moment. This is the furthest out from my clan's hunting-grounds I have ever been, and who knows where I could get my next drink.

I taste the blood on the breeze and I continue my hunt. Soon, I am upon him, but he is not alone.

I creep low to the ground, but my gait is awkward as I move through the dried savannah grasses. I hear him speaking in a language I cannot identify. My clan knows little of the Thick-Chests beyond their aggression.

I am close enough now, mere strides away, peeking out from between golden blades. I see my quarry, smaller than the others. He gestures as another one of his kind studies his wounds. My quarry winces and roars as his companion pokes at a whistling stick wound in his side.

My quarry hurls a heavy, clawed fist at the inflictor of his pain, and then barks something. I cannot make it out. He rises to his feet and points in my direction. I feel my pulse quicken, but I realize it is not at me he points, but the direction from whence he and I both came.

Back to the clan.

I carry little on me but a whistling stick and my own teeth and claws. There is little I can do now. He is well defended. I slowly reverse from my current position. I must get a head start.

My feet brush past dried grass and onto hard, cracked earth.

I feel something crack beneath one of my feet, then, and worse still, I hear it. I dart my eyes towards the Thick-Chests, and they are alert now.

I do not clear in time, and one of their heavy clubs sails through the air and strikes my head. I bounce along with it upon the ground several times, following the trajectory. I shake away the pain and dizziness as best as I can as I try to rise to my feet, but I am not fast enough, and I feel one of their large feet strike me right in my ribs. Pain jolts me to awareness and I thrust the whistling stick between my claws at the source of the pain and feel the resistance as it snaps in half, digging deep into the foot.

I land on the ground, hard. My breathing is like fire in my chest. But I see the Thick-Chest, a large one, fall back in agony and I watch blood gush from its foot. I begin to crawl. I must keep moving. Soon I feel strength returning to my legs and I am on my two feet. I dart off, hearing the thumps of their clubs bouncing along the ground, each one missing me.

I was a hunter, but now I am a messenger. I return to the clan, but each second is agony. I feel crimson blood staining my green and orange skin. I press on.

I do not know how I make it, but I return to our hunting grounds. My legs give out from under me and I collapse a few strides away from the communal fire. I feel dryness in my mouth, but I am conscious of dirt and mud clinging to my drool. I can barely breathe now. My chest feels sticky from where I was kicked.

Rra'gaash approaches me. He looks concerned, perhaps angry that I came back in such a state. With my last few moments, I tell him about the Warband on the way to the clan.

I feel like my chest is on fire. My eyes begin to close.

The last thing I see before my final sleep is Rra'gaash looking down upon me, thankful.

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