The Shrike

She is watching.

Of course we'd heard of the Shrike, but we didn't know she was here! We didn't think- I don't understand! How did she find us? Blast it, isn't she supposed to be in Mharaji?! There's nothing left now. If she is here... If this is what she does, I'm taking my chances on the Surface. At least there, there are no shadows for her to jump out of. She can't reach us there... Yes. Surely not.  
— Loken, Slave Trader
    Born Sarah Galiene in the city-state of Thawke, she is now known as the Shrike, the immortal vigilante. She has come to symbolize hope where there are none, justice when no one else will seek it and terror for those with evil lurking in their hearts. Since her beginnings as an implacable nemesis of the dreaded Corpse-Walkers and corrupt magistrates of Thawke, her legend has spread far and wide across the Inner Shell.   Decades since she first gained notoriety, the Shrike still watches from the shadows, and her blades are still sharp.      

The Immortal Shadow

  The Shrike is a popular figure across the Inner Shell, and a common character in plays, theater acts, and even children's games. Some city-states outlawed such things, but that only increase her popularity with the common folk. The weapon most commonly associated with the Shrike is an arm-long heavy chopping blade used by Hattick farmers that has become known as the Shrike's Talon.   Tales of criminals and tyrants meeting their end by the Shrike are told throughout the Inner Shell, though most of them have come to be gross exaggerations of events if not outright fabrications. But for every few fictional beasts slain in tall tales, there are wickedness brought to a bloody end.  
The Mark of the Shrike   The Shrike's most distinctive feature is her mask. Made out of iron and colored black, the mask obscures her features and allows her victims only a last gaze of leering metal. Replicas are sometimes sold, either as tiny trinkets or decoration.
  Besides her talon, the Shrike has been seen using everything from sledgehammers to crossbows with the same frightening proficiency. At different points in time, she has used weapons, thaumaturgy, and brute force equally. She has been attributed to a wide array of talents, though stealth and surprise remain constants in every telling of her story.   The Shrike's most impressive ability is her legendary immortality. Though the Shrike has been struck down time and time again (even decapitated), she always returns with a vengeance. Attempts to display the corpse have met with terrible retribution on those who thought to be her killer. Combined with her ability to traverse the caves with unnatural ease, appearing in entirely different cities almost instantaneously, her shadow looms much larger then her presence could ever hope.   The caverns are vast, and the Shrike can't be everywhere, but she could be anywhere.      

The Beginning

  Sarah Galiene was born to a family of Cave-Capped Hatter tenders and spent most of her childhood binding rope, battling pests and preparing Hattick to be sold. Hard times and a severe infestation of Hatter Gnats drove her to seek employment in the city of Thawke proper to help support her family, and it was here she first ran afoul of criminals and human predators. Life in the caverns does not make for meek people, and Sarah proved early to be a match for any attempts to extort or rob her or her business. Her own sense of what was right and wrong would not let her sit by, and she came to see the greedy magistrates and criminals as little better than the Gnats.   She came to the attention of the Corpse-Walkers almost by accident. After a visit by a corpse-riding enforcer ended in blood and desperate struggle, the Shrike was born from anger. The steel mask she would wear for the rest of her days was a prize she took from the Corpse-Walker enforcer who had attacked her. He was the last to see her face before he died.   The Shrike's legend began when she turned her enemies' most effective weapon against them and taught them to know fear. The Shrike would strike her foes where they least expected it and leave them flailing at shadows. First, the slave-traffickers died, then the corrupt magistrates who supported them and finally the Corpse-Walkers who pulled their strings.      

The Immortal

  The Shrike's tale reached a crescendo with the end tyrannical reign of the Merchant-King Malak. His reign over Thawke had brought devastating famine and forced labor onto its citizens, and the Shrike had fought him viciously. After a long and bloody campaign, the tyrant-king resorted to trickery and used hostages to lure the Shrike into the open.   Ambushed, the Shrike was struck with crossbow fire and fell into an unknowable chasm. The Shrike's end was proclaimed throughout the city, and the merchant-king celebrated his victory with a great feast.   As he toasted and bragged the height of his celebrations, the Shrike appeared again and nearly ended the tyrant's life during the festivities before being driven away. As tension escalated throughout the city, the king's soldiers would claim to have killed the elusive Shrike several times, only for her to rise time and time again. Fear, always her weapon, had been honed to a deadly point.   In the end, it was not the Shrike who claimed the head of the merchant-king. Spurred on by the implacable Shrike's return from death, the city-state rose against its ruler, and he was murdered on the steps of his palace. When the king died, the tale of the Shrike seemed to end. Fewer and fewer saw her leave the shadows in search of prey or the aftermath of her hunts.   For a time.      

The Eternal

  Several city-states away, the Shrike would suddenly appear, and with powers never seen from her before. Then again, in another city-state. Truth and legend became helplessly entwined, as the Shrike seemed to roam the Inner Shell at will, sometimes appearing in cities many miles apart with only days between. Even as decades past, the Shrike always seemed to be waiting in the shadows.   She is always watching.    

Shrike's Shadow cover


The Truth

  The Shrike is somewhat of a fiction.   Sarah Galiena did don her mask and brought the fight to slavers and corrupt nobility alike. But she is not immortal, nor ever capable of all the talents attributed to the Shrike. In truth, Sarah really did fall to that hail of crossbow bolts, but survived. A young woman found Sarah and nursed her to health, then took up the mask of the Shrike and her weapons. It was this young woman who appeared at the king's banquet and whose blades scarred his face. Since then, many have worn the Shrike's mask. When one falls, there is always another, angered by corruption, greed, and man's inhumanity to man, there to take up the mask. This is the source of Shrike's many talents, her many supernatural traits, and her immortality. The true power of the Shrike is none of those things, but the power to inspire others to take up the flame and force the dark to fear them.  
And Sarah?
  Sarah still lives, though she is no longer active as the Shrike. An old woman (though only mistaken for "helpless" once) at this point, she fights her battles in different ways now, fighting for laws that protect the common folk. But she still watches... And more than one young Shrike have found themselves given aid and advice by her.      


Sarah, the First Shrike

Fact or Fiction   Who or what is the Shrike?   The Shrike has murdered cruel kings and vanquished criminals, but no one knows what she truly is.   There are a thousand tales about her exploits, each one changing between each telling. Some say she has died and risen as a vengeful spirits - other claim what haunts the dark today is a corpse possessed by unknowable terrors that reap vengeance. With every slaying, the legend of the Shrike grows.   Read the truth about the Shrike

Notable Foes

  From crazed cultists to greedy thieves, the rogue's gallery that has fallen to the Shrike's blade is long and varied, but some stand out.   The Corpse-Walkers   Cannibalistic occultists who control the dead and use terror to cow their rivals, the Corpse-Walkers, and the Shrike have clashed many times.   Read more about the Corpse-Walkers     The Tau'i Family   Responsible for flooding parts of their city with industrial pollutants as part of an escalating gang war, the Shrike's month war with the family's matron is still spoken of to this day. It was the first time the Shrike was observed to have used magic, much to the surprise of the gloating matron.   Ryok-Chrei   No one knows what happened to the band of slavers who once terrorized the tunnels and caves outside Thu'wan. Their bodies were never found, and no one has seen them since the Shrike passed through. It was the first known instance of the Shrike being seen with a weapon besides her blades.    
The Shrike 2
  The last sighting of the Shrike.

Song of the Shrike

  The Shrike has become a popular element far and wide, featuring in theater tales and opportunistic merchandise. Some are more successful than others and spread like wildfire. The poem of the Shrike's Shadow is one such tale and come in countless variants across the caverns, but always feature deserving villains meeting a grisly end.   Read the Poem Here
Shrike's Talons  
  Originally derived from the heavy tools used by Cave-Capped Hatter tenders, to clear away brush and chop down mycelium branches. It is a versatile single-edged chopping blade with slight inward curves, between 30 to 45 cm in length, and a simple handle with no guard.   It has been used as a tool for centuries and can often be found in the packs of Kaia. So common is their use that many cultures have a word for the blow of a Talon, with slight changes to differentiate between striking as a tool or striking to kill.   Though they've been used as weapons before, a popular variant specifically for violence is now called "The Shrike's Talon."

Cover image: by Daniel Kamarudin


Author's Notes

Special thanks to Ademal who pointed out that the hero could be fictional and inspired me to write this prompt in this way. :)

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11 Jul, 2018 16:17

I spotted a few easter eggs in the text that made me giggle :D

11 Jul, 2018 16:28

The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. >.>

11 Jul, 2018 16:18

I absolutely love the true story behind the Shrike, and I love how her legend lives on and will live on beyond her.

Admin of the World Anvil Codex & Discord | Director of Ethnis | My Ko-Fi | My Twitter
11 Jul, 2018 16:29

I got the idea for that when you mentioned that the hero didn't need to be real, but could be fictional. That was the idea I got and ran with it until I got... The Shriiiiiiike!

11 Jul, 2018 16:29

She is both terrifying and awesome. I really love her as a hero, kinda like your universes Batman. Well done :)

11 Jul, 2018 16:41

Thank you kindly! :D

11 Jul, 2018 16:52

I see I am not alone in thinking this is a Batman-esque hero. (Often the best kind!). I'm a little split on knowing the truth, on the one hand it was cool that it was a bit ambiguous, but I also like the legacy aspect. Great article :)

11 Jul, 2018 16:58

I was contemplating leaving it as an complete unknown, but I didn't want readers to come away thinking that sort of immortality or regenerations were commonplace. It's big deal, which is why it was so very effective.   Thank you :D

11 Jul, 2018 19:04

This is absolutely great! I love the concept of folklore style heroes who's figure is more important to shaping the land than the truth could ever have been. Bloody awesome.

Who the hell does this guy think he is?
PatheticBarrel, Logo by Sai
11 Jul, 2018 19:34

Thank you kindly! I wanted to show sort of a unintended consequences sort of thing. She never intended to change world... But she sure did.   And ol' lady Sarah still swings a mean machete.

Forgemaster Dimitris
Dimitris Havlidis
11 Jul, 2018 19:04

very interesting concept. the quote really drew me in but it was her story that made me continue reading. Very well done

11 Jul, 2018 19:34

Thank you kindly! I had a lot of fun with this one, after some problems thinking of what to do with it :)

Anna Elizabeth Boyett
15 Jul, 2018 19:28

Congrats on your feature in World Anvil's Summer Camp Roundup for Week 2!

15 Jul, 2018 19:30

Thank you kindly! Wasn't expecting the Shrike to make an appearance... But that's kind of her thing, isn't it?

Anna Elizabeth Boyett
15 Jul, 2018 19:34

You almost got staff favorite, but Shrike was the only chart topper for this week's prompts. You did a great job!

5 Dec, 2018 06:55

I love the shrike! Is the name inspired by the Hyperion-myth? The concept of the legend which is always someone else is something, that totally surprises me at the end. All along the article I wondered how that works, just to get a such simple but logic answer at the end. It's perfect! :)

11 Feb, 2019 13:34

Thank you! :D   And no, can't say it is. What Hyperion myth is that? :O

15 Mar, 2019 22:56

The funny thing is, I have a character similar to this called Stymphalia. What's funny about that? She is a member of the Council of Shrike. We think alike, my friend. :-D

16 Mar, 2019 07:24

Haha, awesome! :D

23 Jun, 2020 15:57

I can't believe I hadn't seen this article before. So glad you updated it. She's now one (multiple at same time) favorite characters in Araea.

Author of the upcoming book Rise: Liminal Chronicles |
23 Jun, 2020 17:46

There's so much old junk that I am still updating, the Shrike just had to get an early pass <3   I am glad you liked her! :D