x-posted to sanity_cheque and originalit
Chul`tak followed as Nemee led the way through the herd of bau toward the practice range. The old bull, Dind, coughed a warning and raised his head, threatening to gore them with the splayed tooth jutting from his lower jaw. The bull had been getting crankier every day recently. Chul`tak thought that it wouldn't be much longer before one of the younger males supplanted Dind as the leader of the herd. He watched the bull carefully over the greenish-grey backs of the other bau as they threaded the herd, and listened for the tell-tale scuffing of a three-toed foot that would precede a charge. The old bull snorted and coughed, then went back to digging for roots with his horn-tooth.
Chul`tak relaxed his watch and put his attention back on his sister, watching her duck lithely between the flanks of bau around her, stopping occasionally to pet a suckling calf. She really had no fear of the creatures, though the top of her head barely reached the shoulder of a full grown bau, and they all seemed to know her and react favorably. She had a way with animals that he could never match. Everyone has their gifts, he thought. He liked to think of himself in terms of his ability as a hunter. His arm was strong, and his aim was true. At just over five feet, he was tall for one of his tribe and his lean body was well-toned and trim and he could run for hours without stopping.
As they arrived at the practice range, a marked out lane of scuffed dirt leading to a twisted tree, Nemee handed him one of the two spears she had brought and stepped to the line marked in the dirt. Chul`tak leaned on his spear and started reciting from memory the litany of forms and positions that their father had drilled into both of them. As he finished, Nemee nodded and surged forward from the line, whipping her throwing arm forward and loosing the spear in a perfect arc to slam into the tree thirty paces away.
"Good!" Chul`tak said. "You can get more force behind the spear if you throw it like this, though."
He stepped up to the line and chose his target, then surged forward and threw the spear. Nemee laughed as it soared over the target, barely missing and drove into the ground 20 paces beyond. She poked him in the ribs, laughing and making fun of his aim as they walked down the range to retrieve their spears.
"I can't believe you missed, brother," She said as he pulled his spear loose from the ground. He turned toward her and held up the spear. A single green leaf from the twisted tree was stuck to the tip. She laughed even harder and he joined her.
The Council's call came hours later. He was ready for them, dressed in tough trail clothes made from woven bau-wool. His mother had dyed the outfit a pale green to match the the plains he would be traveling through. The traveling kit was prepared strictly according to tradition; one waterskin, a bedroll, a pouch of dried meat pounded with berries, one spear and his flint-knapping kit. Everything else he would need must be provided by the land.
The sun stood high overhead as he strode through the camp to the gathering at the center. No one was required to attend the beginning of a spirit quest except for the intendant and the council, but almost everyone came anyway. Silence fell over the crowd as he stepped forward into the circle of elders.
"I am Chul`tak, son of Mika Firestone, son of Kord One-arm, son of Aern Firstwalker. I come before you to take the rites of manhood and earn my name!"
His grandfather, Kord One-arm, took a step toward him from the circle and spoke, "I speak for this boy. He stands on the thresh-hold of manhood. I call upon the spirits of our ancestors to show him his path." Kord One-arm stepped back and the shaman, Mornd, stepped forward. He raised his arms to the sky and his voice called out in the flowing syllables of the language of the gods. The shaman's words sounded alien to Chul`tak, it was so different from the soft speech full of clicks and hard consonants that his people used. Mornd lowered his arms and reached into a pouch at his waist, drawing out a handful of small bones. Still calling out to the spirits in their own tongue, he opened his hands and the bones floated up and began to whirl around him in a cloud. One by one, the bones dropped to the ground until only one remained, hovering before the boy. Chul`tak could not read the markings on the bone, but he felt his stomach clench in anticipation as Mornd stopped chanting.
"The boy must travel to Ma-dun," he said quietly. Chul`tak's heart skipped a beat and he heard his mother's voice wailing in the distance. Ma-dun, the ancient seat of Selaan. The city of death.