As though it were planned to be at that exact moment, Torqariyan’s ears were assailed by the call of seagulls as he stepped into his new body. Never before had the salty taste of the seaside air or the warmth of the sand felt so good. He hadn’t even flitted open his eyes for the first time in this new form, and he was already intoxicated by life itself. Karhan’ Dharian may have been a world of everlasting life, but that was a shadow of an existence when compared to living in the fur once more. Slowly his paw fondled the sand, letting grains fall through his fingers as he moved them to his fur and began prodding at himself. In just as gradually of manner did he open his eyes to cast his first glance on the world. Cerulean waves lapped against golden sands not more than a few strides away from where he lay, the crabs scuttled about in their way, not bothering him, and the seabirds soared overhead. It was all lit in the dying light of day, the nearly red sun falling beyond the ocean while the ever-darkening indigo sky became a curtain of white pinpricks. So taken by the simple scene, so overjoyed to see the world of mortals once more, the Jackal almost cried until he finally noticed the still form beside him.
Young and beautiful, she was far more than a sight for sore eyes, she was the most perfect creature Torqariyan had seen in what felt to be ages. Of course, in the realm of spirits, he had fallen for the blind Rabbit, but he had missed the divine beauty of his own kind. Not only was she a beauty beyond belief, but she was real, she was flesh, and she was here. He trembled with nervousness, part of Torqariyan wanted to reach out and touch here, wake her from slumber and allow his primal instincts to guide him, but there were other things bobbling about his mind. This woman, whoever she was, had ties to this vessel, and unfortunately for her, that meant their time together was short. It was without a doubt a young lover or husband he had taken the form of, and now he would be forced to rob this beauty of her heart.
And yet, he considered not allowing such events to unfold, to just lay there and remain as though no change had occurred. The power, the choice of it all, was in his paws and his alone, but he was far from confident that he could make that decision. There hung so much in the balance, Razien’s acquisition of that forbidden power, the wrath of Verillia should she find out, and of course Haven. It was with the thought of the green-eyed girl, her long ears hanging down her face, and that hopeful smile of one who had seen such trouble in her life, that he broke from that mindset. What he would sacrifice would be eternal while this moment, this young darling, would be so very fleeting. Were this flesh to be the same as his own, it could last forever unless too damaged, and that would mean having to watch her beauty fade with age until she had transitioned to another realm. As the final rays of day fled from the sky, Torqariyan had made up his mind, reluctant though he was to do so. On the sleeping girl’s muzzle, he planted a gentle kiss, a parting gift for the wrong he had done her. Even as he did so, the aroma of her, the taste on his lips, was nearly more than his resolve could manage, yet he carried on. Feeling for it until comfortable, he reached for the Erkinan until he could summon a portal large enough to accommodate him. And like a summer breeze, the Jackal was gone without a sound just as quickly and quietly as he had come.
In an instant, the sandy beach and sound of the surf were replaced by cold packed dirt and a silence that would make grave grounds seem the site of a festival. Torqariyan had a loose grasp on the layout of Roya, he had only been once, and it was a brief moment they spent in a tangle that toured through the Wolf homeland. Immediately he began to regret taking the form of one from his home, the Jackals, saved for those deep in the desert, typically dressed in lighter garments. Chilly late Autumn winds were as freezing needles pressed through his fur, not a sensation he often experienced in his old body and not one he cared to now. All he had to do was to locate the foolish blood-marked Wolf, and then he would… Then the question finally set in on his mind; what would he do once he found Razien?
From the central courtyard of the faux compound, Torqariyan worked his way into the main hall of what must have once been something far more ceremonial than the glorified barracks it was now. Many places shared that trait, something left from a prior existence, it’s purpose and design shrouded in mystery only to be likely transformed and bastardized by those who would call it home in this age. There was an eerie quiet to the fortification as Torqariyan started down the straight shaft, a hallway cut into the side of the mountain. Though he hadn’t been there long when he had last seen Roya, Torqariyan was sure guards and soldiers were littering these halls. Passing all the elaborate wall hangings and banners, woodcuts, and décor of various styles, Torqariyan hurried to the entrance into the city of Roya. Finding the dense rust red, iron doors that lead into the valley hidden in the mountain’s heart, opened and unsecured the Jackal had to wonder what was happening. Perhaps Casseda was right in her calling for the Wolf’s death. The power he has taken very well could have driven him mad, and the guards are struggling to restrain him. Or could this be something more? A trap set by the Goredrinker or one of his fiends? Curse the blood-marked marauders of condemned flesh!
Throwing open the door fully, Torqariyan laid eyes on the majesty that was Roya; indeed, it was a beautiful place, a city of legend and myth to some he was sure. From the far end, the four Towers of Season stood, there four banners hung still in the absents of any heavy breezes. Though the embroidered clothes each were there own color and marked proper for their respective seasons, the towers themselves were the same slate gray. It was an excellent contrast against the mountain wall to their rear, which was as the range’s name implied, a queer sort of violet or purple. Snow was typical this time of year in the Amethyst Peaks, or so Razien explained once, so Torqariyan was quite surprised to not see the fine white powder coating the village’s roofs. Looking out onto the four squared-off sections that made up the city, the Jackal could see not a single person about. In fact, on closer inspection, there appeared to be nothing at all moving about in the streets or homes. With the lack of wind, an unnatural silence hung over the land. Rather than taking his time to wander down the hill and poke about the homes, Torqariyan leapt through space with one quick flash to close the distance between himself and the quiet village.
He had forced himself to land in Roya’s center, or near enough as he could see from the hill, but even as he looked around and let his ears search for sound, he was left nothing. Cautiously he began to snoop about the homes; he didn’t want to seem like some kind of thief but figured stealing a few glances through windows wouldn’t be all that suspicious. It was as he poked his eyes in the window of a third home that he thought how silly it was to worry about seeming suspicious if anyone found him he’d be more delighted than anything else to not feel so alone. Even as Torqariyan worked up to opening the doors of homes and shops to call inside the Jackal found not even a single scrap of life. It wasn’t until he had worked closer to the towers that he had come across anything of note or an explanation for the absents of Wolves.
At each edge of the square there sat a cart, not small enough for men to drag but made to bed hooked onto a densely muscled shren of the north. As Torqariyan neared, the smell took him all at once, pungent and potent but more devastating familiar; the reek of death radiated from the cart. Maintaining his courage, Torqariyan hazard a look inside the cart to take stock of who or whatever sat inside and if they were indeed dead. To his dismay, there was not one or few but many, many red-furred bodies lying in a great heap in the cart. More shocking still was the state they all were in; no blood, no signs of struggle, nor even the pained expressions of slow poison marred their muzzles. Like some cruel joke, each Wolf in the pile looked almost content or at least indifferent with whatever horror seized them and took their final breaths. Stumbling away, Torqariyan hadn’t kept his ears open or thoughts on anything besides the bodies, but as he turned to shuffle away in a hurry, he smacked face-first into another living person.
The wide-chested Wolf only stared down at him, towering over Torqariyan like the mountains themselves stood high above the village. Though he was only a Wolf, Torqariyan could have insisted he was the height of a Lion as most Jackals were nearly the same height as a Wolf typically. His eyes narrowed in a look of contempt, “A stranger? As though we needed any more trouble about now.”
“I know how this must look, but please trust that…” Torqariyan didn’t get to finish his quick plea to be heard out as the man waved him off.
For a moment, the grim and stern cast of the man’s muzzle almost broke into a weak grin, “Forget it, boy, you didn’t cause this mess, less you’ve been skulking about for a few days now. I’m not thinking you’re here as a servant of the Goredrinker either, but that leaves me wondering, what are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for someone, it’s imperative I find him before any of the others looking for him can have a chance to reach your city,” the Jackal answered, seeing no reason to lie as of yet.
Plaintively the Wolf bobbed his head, “Well, we’ll have to see about all that. Before I let you run free, you’ll have to go before the Chief. Can’t let anything sneak by Saiyel, lest he think we’re undermining his authority.”
“How soon can I see this, Saiyel?” Torqariyan asked, finally taking the massive paw offered down to him and rising with it.
Looking out towards the towers, the Wolf seemed to think before answering, “Chief Moqura was stricken with the loss of his mother and siblings, he’s been asleep ever since. I suppose I’d say anytime now, he’s been out a couple of days, but if he doesn’t wake here soon… Well, let’s not think about that just yet. If he sleeps a few days more, I will turn the decision over to the council.”
Torqariyan followed the man, his mind was reeling as he realized one of Razien’s kin would ultimately be in charge of his fate. So dumbstruck by the idea of this, Torqariyan didn’t even ponder the real question at hand now. If Razien hasn’t come back to assert control of Roya, where is he now? She said with certainty that I’d find him here, but where am I to find him if he hasn’t made himself known? It was several minutes before Torqariyan had come back to himself and realized where he was. So lost in thought he had been that Torqariyan hardly realized his body was busy with another task. Somewhere along the lines, the Wolf had asked him to pitch in, and he had done so willingly; there wasn’t much else to be done but wait after all, but as he came to, he found his paws on the body of a lifeless Wolf. Gingerly he and the other man rested the black-furred woman in the cart beside two younger looking girls, all three dressed in relatively finer clothes than he had seen on any other body. They were peacefully looking, the children joyful, their eyes filled with hope and love, altogether looking as some ill-fated family. He couldn’t know what had delivered all these Wolves such swift and seemingly painless deaths, but looking on those it had touched, Torqariyan couldn’t help but feel revolted anything that vile could exist.
Chapter: The Familiarity of Strangers
“Thank you for your help, stranger, we’ve been hard-pressed for able-bodies around here, as you could have guessed,” the Wolf sighed as he latched the cart’s door shut.
Torqariyan forced his gaze off the dead women, “You can call me Tor, and don’t mention it. Where has everyone gone, though? That is, I mean, other than these unfortunate souls.”
“Well, Tor, when the rest of us, those who weren’t taken by this scourge, found them like this we were quite torn and divided. You see, lots of them, those who were scared, wanted to run, worried it was Goredrinker or Spiritcatcher, and so we let them run. They likely went off to Eren’s Field or Seras, maybe somewhere in between, but the rest of us… well, the rest of us were too foolhardy to run. We abandoned the guard posts and our works for a time and started to round up the bodies, finally, now we’re at the last of them. We had hoped Saiyel would have recovered by this time, none of us know what should be done with the kin of a Chief since they usually handle such affairs privately,” he slumped against the cart, dismay clear on his muzzle.
As the Wolf drew and packed a pipe, Torqariyan looked about at the other carts and the still utter absents of people. Floundering to recall if the man had given his name, he simply called back, “You said ‘we,’ are there many left besides you?”
“Of course, you can’t expect a smith to stay about when there’s no one in sight who would be needing his skills. No, the rest are have gone with other carts of bodies or are taking their rest; we’ve worked non-stop to get all these folk tended to and to a proper grave. The only reason I get to lurch about town is that they decided, without my opinion accounted for, to leave old Biel to round up all these bodies.” A puff of almost minty smoke filled the air as he let out a nearly sinister chuckle, “But then again, they also left old Biel in charge of keeping his eye on the Chief, so it’s not to say that no one’s looking out for me.”
For a moment there was silence until a chattering struck Torqariyan’s ears, he hadn’t realized it before then, but he had begun to shake and shiver, “Biel, would it be any trouble if you could help me find some more seasonable clothes.”
“I was waitin’ on you to ask,” he said with a broad grin, one that said he hadn’t had much to grin about most of his life but, more importantly, less in recent memory.
From his bedchamber window, Razien watched the blacksmith escort the Jackal to his shop, he sneered with irritation. Sareffin had told him many things he could not have assurance on just yet, but one thing she had said had already come true, Verillia herself was moving to stop him. It was troubling, but the Spiritcatcher had also said no one would be able to guess his true nature without the power he or she possessed. With only Verillia’s aid, the other Lords could pinpoint the relative area he dwelt in, but to his identity, they would be in sore shape at figuring it out without help. Of course, should the Darkstalker or one so ruthless come for me, then the other Royans might not be so lucky. I’ve got what I needed here, perhaps I should go on the offensive.
Sareffin had explained the spectral blade to Razien, how it worked, and what its function was in the age it had been crafted. It could only be wielded by one of the two of them, and she had no proper physical form to make such a thing happen. He would have to be the paw to rend the Rh’euleen low and draw away every last breath of power they held. His path would be a dangerous one, but to expunge the corruption that had taken those on high, he would have to be willing to sacrifice all. Feeling the flow of Erkinan, he forced the blade to materialize in his paw. This time it was not the curved edge he drew from the metal floor but now a hearty long-sword, the kind that would shatter weaker blades beneath it. The idea of crushing anything beneath the weightless mass of spirit seemed absurd to Razien; Shar-Ikell oozed power, but to believe something without substance could do any damage at all didn’t make sense. Still the giantess had gone on about much that seemed beyond comprehension or logic yet it all had resonated with Razien. Perhaps it was just in her way, or her words had penetrated his mind enough so to split his sense down to nothing, but all she said seemed to be right by him.
Dismissing the weapon, allowing the charge of Erkinan it took to build it to return to him, Razien left the window and began to pick through Saiyel’s wardrobe. He wasn’t in need of clothing necessarily, whoever had brought him to his bed hadn’t gone about the process of undressing him aside from his coat. They likely didn’t want to appear indignant but had to check him for any possible wounds. Despite his best efforts to shuffle through the various sets of attire, boots, coats, jerkins, and miscellaneous, he came up empty for what he sought. He had thought it likely his son to conceal some form of weapon in his wardrobe, Razien knew he would have, but likely that was a result of the life he had lived. Nowhere else in the boy’s room could he have concealed a weapon and that was a pity, Razien didn’t want to have to rely on Shar-Ikell at every step. Sareffin had been very clear that the sword would drain him of Erkinan and leave him weak with overuse. Having a real weapon, even just a long blade, would do him well. He was resolute to cob one from the blacksmith before he made his way out of Roya, he just needed his opening.
Looking down through the window once more, Razien was reminded of the Jackal. He could detect it was Torqariyan if the fur didn’t give it away, and he was confident both he and the smith were still in the shop. Sneaking in there would either have to wait if he wanted a secondary blade or not be done at all. The chance to hide amongst the dead as they were carted outside the city walls was nearly lost too. A few shren were being led in as he watched from on high, they were hastily hooked to the carts, and began towards the main gate. With that plan out, Razien was certain it would have to be an escape by night, and it would be a risky escape at that. He very well couldn’t go through the fortified front and plainly tell the guards he was going out, he’d do better to inform them outright he was the reincarnation of this vessels sire. So wrapped in thought, so fixated on the goings-on outside, he hadn’t heard the door crack open, and footsteps announce the entry of another.
“Well, bleed me! Saiyel, you’re up and about! I mean Chief Moqura, it’s good to see you back with us,” the broad shoulders of the blacksmith momentarily blocked out the doorway as he stepped through. Trailing just at his tail was the Jackal now in a thick shren hide jacket that he had to have borrowed from the smith as he very much was swimming in it.
Staring daggers back at the Jackal, Razien did all he could to keep irritation from his tone, “Why have you brought this stranger in and to my private quarters no less?”
“Well, we’re so short on manpower at the moment, and someone should be keeping watch on him at all times, I’d imagine. I wouldn’t figure him to be too much of a pawful if he got wild. After all, I think he can be trusted and seeks an audience with you,” the smith explained in his honest and to the point way, it was for that attitude Razien had treated him kindly when he could have been snappish.
With his gaze still fixed on Torqariyan, he muttered back lowly, “Not at this time. Take him with you and get him set up somewhere out of the way.”
“Understood, I’ll see to it. Is there anything you need at this time, Chief Moqura?” Biel asked, his tone not giving away an ounce of feeling. Razien gave him only a shake of the head, he wanted both men gone as soon as possible. Backing out of the room to allow Biel through, Torqariyan made eye contact with the Wolf inside who’s expression had a far too distinct look of knowing on it. It’s him! There’s no doubt about it! Those eyes! Those were Razien’s eyes, no one else in all the world could have the exact same, not even a son.
As the two unwelcomed and unannounced guests departed, Razien’s mind flipped back to the trouble at paw. If he wanted to utterly vanish from Roya by night’s end, he’d have to do some rather meticulous planning. It had to look like Saiyel hadn’t left on his own accord, he certainly couldn’t allow himself to be spotted, and any route beyond a straight shot through the keep doors would be next to impossible. He needed a way to disappear completely without going through the fortification or stowing away on a cart. To be one place and then another with absolutely nothing in between wasn’t his specialty, however, the very Lord who called such a skill his own was just within his reach. It’s a perfect set up, and he doesn’t even know it. I don’t even need to get free of Roya; if I turn up missing, they’ll be on him like a Bloodkin on a battlefield. Too easy, far too easy, but it’s no time to turn down such an opportunity. Now, all we have to do is wait and see what comes.