Of Mortals: Chapter Four

The tension in the tent was not lifted as another lynx came along. This one was in a mad hurry to find Shi’Karil despite it appearing as though this was where she would always station herself. He was a brawnier sort, his musculature looked awkward on such a small frame, and surely he would have looked more proper if stretched a head or two taller. There was the briefest pause as he entered, his eyes seeking that familiar sand-furred woman and crossing instead the sunset orange of Sirian’s fur. As he made his way to Shi’Karil, he cast an awkward smile to Sirian, patted the cub on her head, his fur blending with hers as almost the same tone of gray, and then knelt beside the priestess. Worriedly, he glanced once more at the fox before whispering to Shi’Karil, the message evidently not something she had wanted to hear.

Sirian tensed, unsure if what would come next was going to be at all good for her, especially in this foreign camp on her own. The boys could have easily stirred up trouble whether or not they were looking for it in the first place. Jaium and Sothoh were often enough behaved on their own. Jaium’s mouth could get them into trouble but not unless he was trying to impress some pretty girl. Then Sirian had to address the more glaring issue, Mishonrayel, at his most civil attitude or far worse. He wasn’t the type to look for fights, but he certainly would not back down from the merest suggestion of one either. Sirian gulped down a hard breath as the male lynx finished speaking, and the priestess worked her muzzle back into a calm, even expression.

“My apologies, mistress Sirian, it would appear there is trouble still chasing our tail from the north. Fortunately, for those of your lands, it would appear this is not a case of the feral curse but some other entity that has been set against us. I must go at once to the site of this incident, if you’ll excuse us,” Shi’Karil bowed before rising and heading for the entrance.

Sirian was up just behind her and hot on her heels, “Wait a moment, I have business of my own, possibly north of here, and I’d like to ask you some things.”

“I don’t have time for conversations, not at the moment. If you are so intent on dragging answers for me, then you’ll have to saddle up a myter with me. I’m needed, and delay is not possible,” she shot back, not even regarding Sirian with the briefest glance.

A bit put off by this, the fox grabbed the lynx by the shoulder and spun her about, “Settle down for a moment and just talk to me. We were kind enough to come to you and hear you out rather than turning you over to chief Atlai in Roya, so just give me a minute or two of your time.”

Silence had swept over the lynx immediately outside of the tent the fox and priestess had just emerged from; even the man still inside was hushed. Sirian realized, in that moment, that perhaps laying paws on one that was simply referred to as a ‘head priestess’ by her countrymen may not have been the best plan. For her part, Shi’Karil only fumed behind her veil, her face taut with rage until she took in a deep breath and let that fury subside. A paw fell on Sirian’s shoulder from within the tent, not a tight grip but something that said she would need to do some groveling to get out of this situation. Glancing back, she caught the quizzical expression of the male lynx and almost frightened look from the girl cub. Weighing her options, battling her way out of the encampment, or swallowing her pride, Sirian chose the more grating option.

Nodding her head slowly with a humbled expression, Sirian effected her utmost sincerity, “I am sorry, priestess Shi’Karil. I need answers, we’re looking for someone who is very dangerous that could be anywhere north or west of here. In him, there is some touch of the blood demons, and I have to try to stop him before he can do any more harm. I would like to ride with you if you will allow me to, but only if you will answer my questions.”

“Let her go, LaRoue, she meant no trouble in what she has done. We haven’t any more time to waste while the sun is still in the sky. You keep your best eye on Greshalin while I am absent. I won’t be right pleased if I come back to find her arm in a sling or scratched to pieces again,” Shi’Karil remarked to the lynx behind Sirian.

For his part, the male lynx stammered as he awkwardly tried to hide his face with stretching, “Ah, it ain’t my fault, sis. Greshy’s a cub still; they always into somethin’ or another. And I swear you the only one who don’t know that. She’s in safe paws, ya’ll ready know that much. If she got some bruises or missin’ fur when you get back to us, don’t fret nothin’.”

“Greshalin, be on your best behavior for your uncle and make sure you look out for him. He needs someone more mature than him to keep him out of trouble,” Shi’Karil beamed at the girl who proceeded to run forward and leap into her arms for an embrace. The priestess fixed her gaze on Sirian then and quietly remarked, “As for yourself, mistress Sirian, I won’t wait, and I won’t waste time with your riding if you move slowly. We can talk on the way, and your fellows can remain here until we return, but if I hear even one bad word on them, I won’t rest until I have the lot of you in chains.”

Seeing no sign of the others, Sirian made sure to tell the man named LaRoue to inform the two wolves and Mishon that she would be back in a short time, to keep close, and behave themselves. The man had to cock an eyebrow at that last stipulation but gave a hearty laugh once he saw that Sirian was intent on her meaning. Something in LaRoue resonated with the sentiment of having to tell grown folk to be well behaved in the absence of a more dominant person. He was also milling about by the perimeter of the wagon once Sirian and Shi’Karil were ready to head out. The child of perhaps six or so cycles, Greshalin, had come to wave goodbye to her auntie. Sirian delighted in the sight of the priestess stopping in her hectic path to the myters to embrace the little one once more. She gave a light chuckle that was met with a glare as the lynx led the way to the great birds behind one of the wagons.

Sirian stood admiring the enormous flightless birds as they paced about on their tethers, picking at the occasional tuft of herbs here and there. She hadn’t seen more than a few alive in her life, and now looking at one so close, so docile and at peace, she had trouble believing she had ever seen such a creature. When they had been brought into Seras before being butchered, they looked like little more than a bundle of feathers loosely rolled into a ball and coiled tightly with rope. Alive, they were a wondrous sight to see. They stood greater than Sirian’s notable height, their feathers fluttered with beautiful spots and streaks of color, and their heads swiveled about in almost every direction. Their necks were long and beaks wide and fan-like with serration on the inside. Enormous crystal-like eyes were bent down to take a good look at the women who had come to select mounts and were not displeased by what they saw. Once Shi’Karil had chosen her myter and Sirian her own, the four guards who would be leading them to the site of the incident and keeping watch of them while they were there uncaringly chose their own.

As they mounted up, Sirian initially had trouble getting up, not that her legs were too short or that she lacked the muscle to do so but at a sudden apprehension. It wasn’t as though she thought the bird would attack her or not be able to support her but at a feeling of guilt in using another creature to carry her to a distant location. At the threat she would be left behind and made to wait to get whatever answers she sought out of Shi’Karil, Sirian overcame that moral obstacle. With ease and a surprisingly clear conscience, Sirian mounted up on the brilliant sapphire feathered creature. She gave it a loving pat on the side of its narrow and lengthy neck, receiving soft cues and a rub back by the side of her mounts beak. So distracted by the friendliness of the myter was Sirian that she almost didn’t notice two of the guards take point and begin away with Shi’Karil behind them. The other men called Sirian to attention and helped get her mount galloping along at a reasonable pace until she had come abreast with Shi’Karil.

It was an exhilarating feeling, the wind whipping through her fur, the world all around her moving so fast, and almost every worldly care Sirian had before climbing onto the myter vanishing like puddles in the Summer sun. The whole of her conversation with Shi’Karil, preparing to leave the camp, and beginning on their way north had to have only been an hour, yet in that time, Sirian had forgotten her morning hunger. It ached at her only slightly now, but she had a glimpse at the pack Shi’Karil had put together for herself and Sirian and undoubtedly glance a hint of some cured meats being stowed away in there. She wouldn’t rankle at the worry of an over-hungry stomach for long. The journey north was enough to keep her mind far from it, if not the conversation of the priestess herself.

Though the myters were quite noisy as they ran, not only crying out when they could but their talons raking across stone and ice, Shi’Karil called out to Sirian. She moved into a tighter formation beside the lynx and between their escort to hear better. With the veil parted by the winds, Sirian could admire the true beauty of the priestess’s sad features and the youthfulness of her face. It was a somewhat hurt look she cast at the fox, “I am sorry about earlier. I have so many duties now, as the high priestess, that it is hard to manage it all. There were other priestesses before we journeyed south, but burn my tail if it seems they’re not the first to go when the feral inflicted come around. I did not mean to be so harsh with you over it, mistress Sirian.”

“I can’t accept any apology from you, priestess Shi’Karil. You’re not at fault after all you’ve been through. All you’re guilty of is being a touch short with me. But I do have questions, not only about the man we seek, but what drives us north in such a hurry?” Sirian asked, ignoring the calls of the two leading men of the charge.

Shi’Karil’s mood lightened a bit as she began to answer but was cut off by one of the cougar’s leading the group, “Halt! We’ve got somethin’ up here? Somethin’ that’s bringin’ carrion eaters!”

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