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Rite of Passage
I looked out towards the borders of our lands, our twin stars beating down at almost full strength. I had my bow on my back, and I was wearing my hunting clothes, a hand-stitched patchwork of various pieces of pelts from different animals I had killed when I was younger. Thirty pieces, stitched with care, a symbol that I was a full-fledged huntress under the eyes of the Popemni people.
I had completed it long ago, but the day I had earned it crossed my mind, because my long-time friend Gwonal was about to complete her set of hunting clothes. Today she had said she would bring back her thirtieth piece of pelt, though she had added a separate challenge for herself.
She said she would kill one of the plains striders with her bare hands, then take off its pelt with said hands.
Though she declared this in front of the whole village - with a bit fouler language, though. That was expected from Gwonal.
I wouldn’t admit it, but I was worried about her, ever so slightly. She was the best fighter in the village and one of the best among the Popemni across our lands. But a plains strider? Was she serious? She and I, along with our two male friends, Junt and Shaynakl, had taken down a few in our time when we were out on exploration missions, but it usually took at least two of us using a few dozen arrows to take one down.
Since plains striders have only been found this far South, I’ll give a bit of a description: They walk on four, powerful legs, startle easily, have thick hide, and have horns which they use as weapons.
It had been two hours since Gwonal set out on her test. She would be back soon if all went well.
I was waiting for her on a hill with a good view. The hill was surrounded by 17 rocks that would be great to clean carcasses on, about 30 shrubs, and a small sapling. It’s not that counting is a hobby of mine, I’ve just been waiting ever Gwonal since left, and there was nothing else to do to prevent my small worrying from becoming something worse. There was a council meeting going on, which left Shaynakl unavailable to spar with, and Junt’s sister had just gotten her first kill the day before, so his household was celebrating.
I began thinking of my two hunting brothers. First to my mind came Shaynakl.
The eldest member in our hunting bond by a few seasons, Shaynakl felt it was his responsibility to be our representative in village meetings and council votes. He spoke with a bit more sophistication around us as a result, and had developed a habit of sitting with his legs crossed in front of him like he was always in a meeting. He was also the most intelligent in our group; although, he liked to hunt and spar more than help out scientists or star-charters.
Junt was the third when it came to age, but the gap between him and me was only a half season. Junt was a bit more pious than the rest of us, so he was given the task of group shaman, which Shaynakl was happy to pass on to him. Usually the eldest was both group shaman and representative in government. Junt was, as a result of being pious, more focused on family activities, since family is one of the more important things in our religion.
Our religion, Go’ainavi did not have a supreme being, or any evil spirit, all it puts forth is that our ancestors guide us in ways we do not know, and when we die, we guide our descendants. Shamans basically tried to communicate with our ancestors.
I was in deep thought when a shadow appeared beside mine.
“Good afternoon, Kymura,” said the voice of Shaynakl.
I turned to face him. He had a blank expression on his face, and he was looking out to the horizon as I had been. He was looking to see if Gwonal was coming or not. He wore his political garment, an elegant thing made of material that was harvested from plants found up North.
“Hey,” I said, “how was the meeting? What was discussed?”
“Food supplies, which hunting bonds should be rewarded the most,” he said, still looking out to the horizon, “some other mundane details that only concerned the adults, and we had had an ambassador from the High Council here. He’ll be staying a while.”
“How long, exactly?”
That was the end of that conversation.
“You see Junt in the village?”
“No, but I heard sounds of the celebration. They’re performing one of the closing songs.”
He narrowed his eyes slightly.
“There she is,” he exclaimed, as his face turned to one of pride, pride in Gwonal I imagined.
I turned to the horizon and saw her, though from this distance it would be hard to tell what she was, as she was dragging a huge carcass behind her.
“I’m going to help,” I said.
“I as well,” Shaynakl replied.
We walked to meet her, which took a good fifth of an hour because she was so far off. We both stopped and looked at her prize in awe.
“Toldja I’d kill the thing!” she said, gasping for breath.
Gwonal’s hunting garb was stitched fairly neatly, with one open spot over her left shoulder, which was the only place anything she had hunted had ever wounded her. She had hunted alone and had never told anyone what she had tried to kill. It must have been powerful because it had taken a chunk out of her shoulder, and now, eight seasons later, you could still make out a small dent in her flesh.
“How?” Shaynakl said, looking at the beast’s crushed head, it was a plains strider indeed.
“Well, I found this one all by itself, which means it’s probably disease-ridden,” she scoffed. “Figures! I kill one by myself, first Popemni in known record to do so, and I can’t even serve it to the village.”
“A shame. They taste great,” I said.
“You kidding me? They’re the best tasting meat this side of the plains,” she continued, still panting between breaths. “Anyway, it was in this place with a lot of rocks. I thought I would use them as a way to keep it off me and let me tire it so I can kill it without the risk of being ripped in half by it’s horns. But when it saw me, it ran right for me, I dodged it, but it didn’t stop, it just kept going. It ran right into one of the rocks, and started rocking back and forth. I took this opportunity, jumped on top of it, and then started mashing its head in with my bare hands, like I said I would.”
Shaynakl and I just stood there, not saying a word.
Gwonal was more impatient than usual, however, and started dragging the carcass towards the village. “You two gonna help me or what?”
We began dragging it by its legs.
“So, how were your days?” Gwonal asked, still panting.
“I spent a good sixth of a day sitting around listening to dull-voiced politicians,” Shaynakl said, breathing hard; however, not near as hard as Gwonal.
“I didn’t do much, just sat on that rock up there.” I said, fatigue already setting in.
“How bad were the politicians?” Gwonal said.
“For once, I wish I had skipped the meeting. We talked about food, and rewards for hunting bonds,” he said, then looked back at the carcass we were dragging, “would you mind saying we all fought this?”
We all chuckled.
After half an hour, we made it back to the village. Our village is a 70-hut piece of civilization. The huts are spaced out a fair distance from each other, arranged so that they all surrounded a much larger hut where meetings were held. Each hut was made of rocks, all cut using other rocks into fairly cubic pieces, with dried mud filling in the cracks between them.
A few other villagers watched out approach, with either surprised or jealous expressions.
Shaynakl and I let go of the legs of the plains strider, and Gwonal climbed on top of its carcass. She composed herself, cleared her throat, and began a speech:
“Dear members of our village!” She almost yelled.
“Oh dear...” Shaynakl sighed.
“This oughta be good.” I chuckled.
“As you all know, I am Gwonal, the only orphan from birth in our entire village!”
This was something that Gwonal took as a point of pride, despite her being made fun of and looked upon with pity because of it. Her father died before she was born. I’m told he was a natural-born warrior. Her mother was a tactical genius when it came to war strategy, and was one of the higher-ups during the Unifying War. She died giving birth to Gwonal.
“I am the strongest and best fighter in our village! I have defeated all our hunters in single combat!”
Some villagers left their huts and joined the crowd, about half the village was eagerly awaiting the rest of Gwonal’s speech.
Gwonal darted her eyes around to meet the 100-some pairs of eyes that were looking at hers.
She continued, “I said I would accomplish that, and I did. I said I would find a hunting bond that would take me in, and I did!” She looked at me and Shaynakl, and smiled, just then, Junt ran up beside us, wearing his hunting garb. It was stitched almost as finely as mine, but with a sort of pattern to the stitches.
“I see I haven’t missed anything yet,” he said.
Gwonal crouched down, pointed to the crushed head of the plains strider.
“I said I would kill one of these single-handedly, and I did!”
The whole village was out. The chief was at the front of the crowd, next to me and my friends. The crowd began to murmur excitedly.
Gwonal grabbed the hide of the plains strider by a patch directly in front of her feet.
“I said I would skin it alive with my bare hands!” the crowd was silent again.
Gwonal began pulling with all her might. Nothing appeared to be happening. Shaynakl pulled out his knife. Just then, a tearing sound began to fill the air, a soft noise, but it felt like the loudest I had heard yet in my life.
The crowd started murmuring again.
The tearing grew louder, blood began seeping from an ever growing patch of crimson muscle.
Gwonal began speaking, “And... I...” the skin peeled off with a sharp tearing sound that caused the whole crowd to jump.
“I DID!” Gwonal yelled with all her might. An expression of joy on her face, the blood of the creature lay splattered across her torso.
Junt and I joined the thunderous cheering of the crowd. I looked over at Shaynakl, he was smiling, a tear fell from his eye.
As the cheers died down, voices could be heard. “That’s amazing!” “By my ancestors....” “Remind me to never make her angry.” “I don’t think anyone could have predicted that.” “I wonder if she asked for some help from her ancestors on that hunt...”
Gwonal jumped down from the plains strider’s carcass and walked towards the three of us.
Her expression lightened into a warm smile, and took the time to hug each of us, leaving a bloodstain on Shaynakl’s political clothes, but he didn’t care.
Junt, Shaynakl, and I stood there, just smiling at her for a few moments, and she smiled back. It seemed only yesterday that she came to us asking to be in our hunting bond with an invincible attitude, itching to fight.