The wolf and cougar leading the convoy dismounted, waving out a paw to the women behind them to remain in the saddles. From where Sirian and Shi’Karil sat, it was hard to say precisely what it was lying in the frozen grass. As the ravens cleared away, fighting to pull one last shred of meat from those bones, it was made no more evident what they feasted on. Once the two had come abreast with it, they looked all the more confused, shifting their view, again and again, unable to determine the creature’s origin. Finally, the wolf drew out a short rod that had been stored on his back with another identical silverish staff. Carefully he rolled the stiff, gore encrusted cadaver over, frost and earth pulling up where the muzzle and cheekbones had frozen in. The face was still indistinguishable for the most part, yet it was terribly obvious that this was not some beast of the wilderness. The sharp ears and long muzzle would have insisted it was a wolf if its size couldn’t confirm that much. All the same, regardless if it was one of their own or not, the wolf called over Shi’Karil.
Sirian watched from afar, not only because she had not been called over but on account of the fact they were looking over a rotting corpse. She had seen enough of death already at still such a young age, barely out of her teens, and she feared there would be far more to come. That was her rationale behind chasing down that all black cougar. He was a killer, having slashed to ribbons, the chief of a nearby coyote village. Not only that, Sirian had felt that wickedness in him, placed inside by that twisted blood of the demon king, Pai’gen. Then, of course, there was that voice. Something that seemed to only come to her and speak with a sound that was unlike any language she had known before. What it whispered to her were secrets that she could never have learned without the invisible speaker, but she would not deny that they were truths. Suddenly, Sirian’s eyes caught the intense light of flames, not the crackling warmth of a cook or campfire but a vibrant, violent inferno localized solely on the corpse. It was a brilliant white that would make snow look like dirt. In only a moment, it went from a raging column of flame to little more than cinders sitting atop a blackened mound. The others returned to their mounts, and the procession began anew as the final remnants of the fire flickered away.
“What was that that just happened there? How do you northerners know how to make fire that’s white like that?” Sirian asked the priestess as they continued north.
Her lips raised at the corners, if only slightly, “A gift of sorts from some ancient beings. You saw the writings in my tent? The source was not unlike that. They are the last vestiges of those who once lived in these lands. The greatest shame of these relics and artifacts is that only a few seem to be able to read them properly. That is how the priestesses are chosen in Perion and the other northern cities. It is why I have been summoned to ride north, after all.”
“Is that why we’re riding north? I thought we were in a hurry. Why would we need to rush to read some special script?” Sirian was perplexed by the notion that she had been left out of the loop on this one.
Shaking her head, any memory of a smile banished from her features, Shi’Karil confessed, “The fire, we go to lay some our own to rest. Part of the caravan was a day behind us. We thought they’d be safe, but one of our riders arrived this morning speaking of a massacre. We should be so lucky she returned safely, but… Anyway, I must burn away their remains, not only to keep the beasts from devouring them and cure their furs of any curses placed against them but to prevent their damnation.”
“I am truly sorry, priestess, I didn’t know, I couldn’t have guessed that that was what LaRoue had come to tell you. I feel like such a pain in the tail for even trying to get your attention when you have such important matters to see to,” the fox remarked, meeting Shi’Karil’s gaze with a sorrowful expression.
The lynx, however, offered a more moderate attitude, “It was not your own doing. You know now, and there’s no turning back. And, to be honest, I rather enjoy your company.”
The two fell silent for a time after sharing kindly smiles. There were shapes on the horizon that were more or less indistinct from that distance. One of the other riders called that it was where the caravan had likely settled for the night, their eventual destination. The distance between them wasn’t terribly great, but over such flat land, the lynx was quickly getting bored. Remembering her companion’s need for council, Shi’Karil asked, “So who is this man we are chasing? You said he may be touched by the vile blood of demons. How do you know this?”
“I saw enough of him to know first-hand that he can not be anything but a servant of the demons. He attacked some of our allies, killed a chief, and plenty enough of the nobility,” Sirian ached at that truth, knowing full well now that the cougar was looking for her. Taking in a breath, she continued, “I was there when he murdered a good friend of mine, and when he turned to come for me, I could see his flesh form back together. He had been stab and slashed and cut into, but black blood flowed into the wounds and patched him up without an issue. When he fled, he headed northwest from Seras. We don’t know why or to where. All I know is that we can’t let him get away.”
“What race did he belong to? If he was an elk or caribou, he could be a threat to his own lands. He would be able to hide among all the others, and you might not ever be able to rightly place him,” the priestess warned as though Sirian couldn’t consider that possibility.
The truth was that the cougar would not have meshed well in his own lands, and Sirian could not forget his face, “No. It was a cougar, black. All of his fur was soot black. He’d be hard to miss with his almost glowing eyes, and he had a bluish silver band that was cauterized into his tail. If we come across him, trust I’ll do what you threatened to do to this lord of the dark.”
“I worry that who we chase may be one and the same for how wicked a soul your query sounds. Trust, we will do all we can to track down this cougar,” Shi’Karil promised before one of the riders at the head call for a halt.
They had reached the encampment of wagons and half-collapsed tents that sat in a slightly smaller circle than the one south of their location. The stench of rot and gore was so heavy on the winds that there was no doubt in Sirian’s mind it had been a slaughter here. The only point of contention was who or what had done the slaying. By the sounds of it, these feral types would be able to lay waste to plenty more people with ease, but just the same, perhaps it could have been the cougar, and still, there were other elements kicking about the land that may have a taste for mortal flesh. Sirian and Shi’Karil dismounted after the first two guards with the other two quickly closing the gap between them, ensuring the priestess would be safe.
Sirian surveyed the space within the caravan, limbs and torsos, heads and unrecognizable hunks of flesh and fur lay scattered all about. Shi’Karil sniffled, stifling a cry of despair or more disgusted noises as she looked out upon the sea of gore. There was no way she could tell if these were all her own kind or a jumble of all sorts of creatures, but it did not matter. The loss of life, mortal life that would have objected to the temptations of the demon’s offers for salvation, were still lives irretrievably lost. Even if they were not all of her clan or even race, she needed to lay the poor souls to rest, ensure that they would sleep eternal. Were they not given the proper rites, the demons could puppeteer their flesh and, with them, raise an army of fiendish warriors. Even one of the mortals converted to a devil was enough for more than ten men to deal with if they could handle it all. Shi’Karil wouldn’t hazard how many men it would take to battle an army.
“All right, I want all of you to quickly search the area. We need to make sure every arm and leg and what have you is placed in the pile. Use discretion as you pick the pieces up; some may be traps set by the demons or whatever has done this. The good news is that there is no evidence of the ferals coming through. We have to hurry though; this mess is going to attract something if not the afflicted folk of our villages,” Shi’Karil commanded, quickly putting the men to work.
Sirian tapped the other woman on her shoulder, “What should I do? I don’t feel right leaving all the work to the others. I can be of help even if it is just moving bodies around.”
“You’re with me. I don’t want to be alone around this scene for obvious reasons, as you might imagine. We need to move the piles a bit closer together, unfortunately. As long as every piece is touching, the spell should work fine. And I do mean we need to get every single piece and part of these bodies to burn. I’m not sure how you lay yours to rest down south, but we absolutely can not allow any of our own to go unburnt,” the priestess entombed.
Sirian patted her one the back, “It’s all right, Shi’Karil, I understand completely how you mean. I’m not used to this burning business, but I will help. So, is it best we arrange them in a certain order or just pile it all up? I get that you need them touching but wouldn’t it be easier if we had it all together?”
“I’m burning the wagons as well, so if they are closer to those, it will help. Their blood has touched the better part of most of them. We’ll take what we can from within them and call it good. I know it seems a waste, but with the blood demons, it is always better safe than sorry,” was the response, one that Sirian could not agree more with.
It took very little time to arrange all the body parts and chunks of gore
that were within the circle in a sort of spiderweb of flesh. They reached the wagons and those tents that weren’t themselves connected to wagons. Some of the shelters were used to negotiate the spaces between the wagons, making it impossible for anything to go untouched by a crawling flame. As Shi’Karil’s and Sirian stripped what they could from within the wagons, the men returned, laying dozens of body parts down to complete the network of dead fur. With the little they could take from the wagons, there had not been much inside to begin with, removed, Shi’Karil readied herself to burn it all away. The men returned to the mounts to keep them calm. This fire would be so much larger than the first that there was not a doubt in anyone’s mind that the myters would get frightened; they scared easily. However, as Shi’Karil started her cryptic chant, another noise joined them in the encampment. A crackling of bones, the sloshing of blood, and the tearing of flesh echoed across the wagons. The mass of bloodied limbs writhed and kicked, life stirred anew within the gore heap, and something began to rise from it all.