The night’s rest had been anything but restful, all hours of the night Razien tossed and turned while that voice chattered away inside his mind. At dawn, he was dressed and standing before the cave, staring down the blade that flashed an ethereal silver. Longing filled him, the desire to hold it and make it his own was his singular thought as he approached it. And as simple as that, hefting the blade from its burial place, he could feel the change in atmosphere, the pulse of a world receding. For all of a second, Roya was a city of silence, utter and endless, until the voice came crashing in. Drowning his mind, as the tide coming and wiping away the structures built by the paws of cubs’. That woman’s voice, no longer soothing but harsh, scoured away his every private thought. Ever since the convex metal doorway had given way and allowed entry, he had heard her. Now it was not a half-heard whisper on the breeze but an all-consuming torrent of noise that wrenched his ears and stung his mind. Finally feeling too ill from the contact, Razien loosed his grip on the sword’s handle only to find the oddity of its absence.
Where the long crooked blade should have sat, stabbed into the bowl-like metal floor, was nothing. Gleaming as the morning’s first light when the clouds first parted, it would be impossible to miss, however, surely was no more. Stumbling back, Razien wrapped his paws to his skull, the voice was so loud he could only feel his heart pounding like a drum of war. It was a string of ever more startling events as another convex door opened wide but in a new fashion. It sparked to life, revealing a gateway, its quaking, silvery fluid flashed wildly against the metallic innards of the cave. Clearly, it had been designed to house the portal as well as the blade and perhaps even the beast. Eyeing the shimmering portal, the Wolf backed away until he had nearly tripped over the step leading in from the outside, he continued until he was clear of the chamber. Still working to calm his breathing, heavy and now somewhat hoarse, it wasn’t for a few moments more that Razien realized the sheet lack of sound. Not only had the husky female voice seemed to fade from shrieks and shouts to a low murmur, but of the city and its residents, there was nary a peep.
Creeping towards the town square, leaving the otherworldly alcove, he slipped beside the towers of Spring and Summer from where he first beheld the change. In the market square, the outer border to the city’s center, not a soul was stirring; more accurately, only their souls were stirring. Every citizen that had been about their daily routines were lying motionless, nothing more than heaps of dull-colored furs in their various garb. Stumbling forward, Razien caught himself on the edge of the tower of Summer, he could hardly believe his eyes and had no desire to. It couldn’t be real, but the ache that stung from the deep, poorly dressed wounds on his back begged to differ. Forcing himself to stomach the scene, he pressed on, not lingering on the sights nor furthering his conclusion by checking for life. Instead, Razien took flight as though his own life hung in the balance, soon to join those unfortunate souls. No, he did not run from such a primal fear, but for something more substantial, his life was not in peril, but those that were he could no replace.
They lay just where he expected them to be, in his heart, he had hoped to not find them in such a state. With tender paws, he lifted the black-furred Wolfess, the warmth just now dissipating from her, but still, she felt almost alive. She was laid across Razien’s lap as he reached further to gather up the other two, they were smaller but no less lifeless. He hadn’t felt the tears, they were splashing onto their gowns, but to him, they could have been from anywhere but his own eyes. His insides felt hollow, worse still than the biting realization at what he had done to reach this place, to come again to the world of the living. But this was not something he could claim as an accident, nothing he could justify by himself to be an act committed unaware of the consequences. Casseda had warned of this blade, Shar-Ikell, she had called it, but he hadn’t believed it. Where his merging of souls and subsequent possession of his own son’s fur had been done in ignorance, this mass murder was caused by his arrogance. Still, fury boiled up in him, Razien wanted to take this fabled blade of pure Erkinan and plunge it deep into the heart of that so-called supreme being. It was as this thought rattled in his mind that the hollowness within him was replaced but something alien.
She returned not in screams or whispers, but, finally, the voice spoke to him with a calm, even demeanor. It was of an accent unknown to him, a husky tone, but the syllables danced from the speaker in a way words had never sounded to him. All felt to be somewhere in the void within his vessel, he could only listen to the voice by stepping into the emptiness himself. Knelt in the grand hall, his kin laid about him, Razien Moqura, entered what he could only initially perceive to be the world of spirit, Karhan’ Dharian. Yet, as he came fully into this withdrawn place, a non-existent location that only stood to be so long as Erkinan flowed into it, he was acutely aware it was not where he had anticipated.
The shadows of ancient architecture built and reinforced by Erkinan did not stand, nor was the light cast in the almost sickly moonlight silver. Rather than the kingdom of the Lords, from where they would rule unseen, the Wolf found himself in a calming neutral place. Green hills, spotted with poppy and daisy, surrounded the concave valley that was host to nothing more than a simple log cabin. It was an old thing, worn and weathered but still well cared for if lacking in a few necessary touch-ups. Though it was quite a small thing, probably only boasting one bed-chamber, a kitchen, and a common area, the structure was built to an odd height, with a queerly tall door frame. Taking an estimate by sight alone, Razien had to figure it would accommodate someone almost twice his height with his own being about standard for a Wolf. As he focused in, the voice became more decipherable, and it became all the more obvious it originated from within. Summoning up his courage and readied to banish his curiosity, Razien climbed the stoop and entered the quiet, quaint cabin.
A hoof could be seen hanging from a crossed leg, the rest of the body was concealed by the high-backed easy-chair the woman was seated in. On his approach, despite floorboards squealing underfoot, she continued to speak, by no means exhibiting unease. Finally, only steps away, Razien stopped entirely and allowed the words to strike his ears. “But of course, to do any of that, you’d need to be willing to sacrifice more than most are ready to give. Truthfully, throughout the aeons there have been a rare few who could manage that power even if they could surrender all that was required of them. In you, Razien, I sense a chance at both, but more importantly, I sense a new element I can’t claim to have ever known before. Now, what can that be, do you think?” Her tone was comforting, even if her words were the very opposite of that.
Sidling around the chair, making certain to keep his distance, Razien finally set eyes upon the woman of massive stature and indeterminable race. Milky gray eyes were set in a long face belonging to what type of creature Razien could not guess, however stern they appeared, there was a softness in the gaze. Her size was a more than an intimidating thing, bolstered all the more so by the thick muscles that could be seen where fur was unconcealed and still somewhat so beneath her attire. Regarding her fur, the Wolf could only express some befuddlement at the seemingly random arrangement of creamy white splotches in her coat of rich, earthy brown. She had been staring silently back at him a while when Razien noticed the dense swath of soft cottony hair hanging from between pointed up ears. A humble and patient smile came to her lips before the equine woman tried to press on, “There we go, now we both know what we are dealing with. Do you feel better now that you are able to lay eyes on me as well?”
“What are you? Who are you? What..? Can you explain this, any of this, to me?” Razien held out his paws gesturing all about, his mind finally trying to rationalize it all and failing.
With a very motherly look, that of trying to calm a cub amid a fit, she gestured him to sit, “There is much for you to know, but only so much that you can believe and, of course, the very pillar of that belief is built on unstable ground. They have told you, have they not, of the Spiritcatcher?”
“The Spiritcatcher. You mean the grandmaster of all ghouls that do not already swear allegiance to the Goredrinker?” he asked, eyes wide not only at her words but now taking in her massive size. The woman was otherwise of normal proportions but was a towering thing even from her seated position.
Leaning in from her slanted seat, the equine face became wrapped in sincerity, the eyes sober with truth, “The very same, despite the mistakes you make in naming me so. No doubt a fault of how you have come to know of me. So that is the question for you; can you trust the one they have named such a vile thing of nightmare, or will you continue to be subservient?”
There came a brief moment of stillness that preceded the odd woman’s question, fleeting because the Wolf was quick to his feet after it all had sunk in. Not looking for a second to see if she followed, Razien fled from the cabin as fast as his legs would allow. He had seen enough in his life, too much for most, but after all, he had been told of this ‘Spiritcatcher’; he wasn’t about to stay within her reach. Even were she not the fearsome commander of all the wayward and wicked specters that haunted the realm of mortals, her size would still make her more than a threat to him. As he leapt from the stoop out to the grasslands, the cool breeze feeling as razors in his fur against the chill in his spine, Razien recalled the mass of muscles she called legs and arms. ‘If she were so inclined,’ he thought, ‘she could catch me in an instant and subdue me in short order.’
For another moment, he paused, a few strides from the steps, hoofs knocked against hardwood, but she did not step beyond the threshold. Instead, the woman only looked somewhat quizzically at the Wolf from beyond the open door, still swaying with the breeze. Though she presented no direct threat to him, Razien turned tail before long and made for the hill, and whatever lay beyond, he wanted to be far away from this creature. But as he bolted up the slope, her melodic voice came at him once more; only now was it distorted by the breeze, too much for it be recognizable as anything.
Rising over the incline, Razien looked back once more to see if he was being followed, he was not, but the lack of a pursuer wasn’t the more significant issue. Absent-minded as he was in his flight, he had not seen the jutting rock before him that snagged his foot, sending him down to the earth. To his surprise and chagrin, the hill fell down into another valley on the other end. Tumbling head over tail repeatedly, the Wolf was only able to gather so much of a sight of this valley, but as he confirmed upon finally coming to a halt, this one was in far contrast to the other. It was as if he had stepped through into another world; the ground here was barren of any form flora but littered with the remains of an absurd amount of fauna. More perturbing than heaps of sprawling stretches of sun-bleached bone were those who had undoubtedly clean them of their flesh. In his time, Razien had seen much of the Goredrinker’s kin and the servants of Spiritcatcher, but these were things far beyond his knowing.
He didn’t take more than a second to survey those before him and focus his attention on only the closest, but that one alone was too daunting for him. It stood high as a city wall but frail and slender, planted on four bird-like legs, the pale creature spread out like a parasol as it grew taller. The extended flaps of skin collapsed around its twiggy frame, allowing a conical piece of flesh, glowing as though aflame, to fix on Razien. Once he was spotted, the flaps peeled open again only now a cascade of thick saliva poured out, and vicious fangs were presented. For all he had known and seen in his life, Razien was oddly frozen in place, this horror something too much for him to take in. Yet as it neared, it seemed to shrink further and further until out of sight as the green hill rose again, and he tumbled back down the grassy slope. A chime struck his ear, but for how long it had been going, he could not assure himself, it merely was just there as the woman atop the hill.
She galloped back down, a cloth ring of bells tight in her grip, as Razien finally began to regain control over himself. The equine face fixed him with a look, something of mild anger, curiosity, and perhaps pity. Without another word, she carried on past him until back on the porch at the cabin’s front, sitting down heavily with an apparent lack of grace. For an instant, the nameless pale-skinned horror beyond the hilltop flashed in the Wolf’s mind before he was once again fully able to take charge of himself, the fear not dissipating but releasing its hold somewhat. Distrustful but all the same willing, Razien approached the woman, and this time sat beside her without needing her to insist he should. They sat together, quiet as the grave, for an imperceivable amount of time, it felt it could have been only minutes but may have been hours. Finally, when she spoke, Razien was almost frightened, her smooth though low voice almost boomed against the silence, even at what had to be a whisper.
“The stories of the Spiritcatcher are myths, at least by the tellings of those ancient Rh’euleen who put forth these tales upon every new coming of their worlds. What stories they could tell, if they were disposed to telling the truth of it, would be that of a hunter and warden of wicked spirits. I want you to believe what feels right to you, but I won’t give you a choice to not hear by truth,” she spoke, somberly as though it were a tender subject for her.
Uncertain if he could leave without her help, and also from his own curiosity, Razien probed for further information. “Casseda and Narothepp tell many things I don’t swear to believe, I can not speak to what they say of the Spiritcatcher, but I will say their truths have been proven incorrect in the past.”
“Yours is a rare soul, one I see come along only far too infrequently.” There was some levity in her tone, maybe the start of a smile to her lips, “A want for knowledge, the ability to give way to new wisdom, and a distrust for the orders one is forced to abide by, it makes you powerful but dangerous. Perhaps what I will tell you will make you stronger or perhaps simply a greater risk for those who would trust you. You may call me Sareffin, that is the name of their greatly feared Spiritcatcher; Sareffin of Kyddo, Matriarch of the Weaving Sword, head consort to Emperor Vaulez, but most importantly, the Sovereign of Spirit.”