Of Mortals: Chapter Eleven

If the tumult that Sirian had left when entering the tent had been chaotic, what she returned to after her very brief conversation was bedlam, utter anarchy. More bodies and blood were scattered and splattered across the scene, with many more half-picked dry while others were stacked into loose mounds of a sort. Somewhere along the lines, the refugees had clearly taken a stand, some remaining to fight while others took flight on birds whose wings were more vestigial than anything else, no less. Shattered bodies lay among broken weapons, and now flames began to devour the structures making up the camp. At some point, fire had been introduced evidently to scare away the beasts, not as though it was doing all that good of a job at it. They indeed were aware of the flames, enough so to avoid them; however, they were not sent running at the sight of them. Sirian hastily searched the melee for her companions, finding them in one of the slowly diminishing knots of strugglers.

Immediately, Sirian rushed out of the tent, knowing she had to meet Shi’Karil by their camp in just moments. It was going to be tight on time and a risky maneuver besides, but Sirian knew what she had to do, even with it being all she could do. As she moved into the killing grounds, dulled, feral eyes searched over her. When they had locked on her, their growls changed in nature, from hungry and predatory to almost defensive. They did not all at once fall upon her; in fact, the mass of monsters seemed to keep at bay, watching as she approached. Sirian may have thought for all of a moment that things were about to go her way. However, she knew better if the slowly encroaching feral cougar wasn’t clue enough.

It’s body tensed, the intense howls and hisses of rage sending chills down the spine of any who heard them. The furied cries caught at least the attention of Sothoh, who fixed on Sirian the moment he realized where the beast’s gaze was set. His muzzle worked silent words that Sirian was more than deaf to. Her thoughts were focused on her singular task. Even as the horde began to enclose the circle around her, Sirian drew Erkinan from her core to her paws. Something had surged inside Sirian in the last few seconds, an effect she could only excuse as a result of Shi’Karil’s drink. Whether or not that boost, however much it was, would help Sirian was yet to be seen, and if it weren’t enough, it would likely be the last Sirian would see.

The flows of power rushed down her arms, pooling in her paw pads as the beasts lumbered forwards. Sirian felt alive as the Erkinan jolted through her, filling full all of her body until she felt ready to burst with the arcane energies. Just as escape from the ravenous horde neared impossible, Sirian lifted her paws and let free an explosion of white-hot light. The wildly crawling flames looked like candles against the sun’s light in the dark of the night. For all the fire was supposed to have done, the Erkinan fueled flare sent the attackers reeling. Those nearby suffered grievous wounds, the cougar that was near enough to touch Sirian had suffered the worst of all. Like a candle left beside an open flame, the flesh and fur melted away down its face in streams of gore. Others, further away from the nucleus of light, were merely left stunned or temporarily blinded from the attack. It was a simple conjuring of magic, not to say it did not expend much of Sirian’s power, but she was conscious, and it had served its purpose.

Sirian fell back, pulling in hard, fast gasps of breath, trying to settle her mind and body after using up so much energy all at once. She glimpsed all around her that the refugees had not allowed the blinding light to go to waste. A swathe was cleared in the horde of beasts, and a stream of refugees poured out, taking quick shots at many of those debilitated savages as they passed by. The halt in the slaughter was bound to be short. Not a single one of the northerners thought otherwise, so they moved with haste. Three of the twelve wagons were unhitched, and bulkier myters were lashed to them, ready to take flight at any moment. What could be gathered up of the supplies laid out about camp were tossed in just as some of those lightly affected by Sirian’s attack began to clamor around their fellows. By the time they would make it through, most would be ready and gone, Sirian among them.

As the tide of resistance washed out of the horde, Sirian found Jaium and was taken away by the wolf even as the fox searched for his partner. She wasn’t too weak to stop him, yet she knew that Jaium was smart and capable if only too direct at times. Muttering, at a volume only he could hear, she asked, “How did you and Sothoh make out in all that mess?”
“Matter of opinion. Are you asking me or the one we’re leaving behind?” his tone was hard but cracked midway through his question. It was too apparent something had gone wrong. Jaium hadn’t needed to be so direct; his voice would have given him away immediately. Sirian twisted back to look beyond the northerners behind her, but Jaium kept her moving. In a hollow, hurt sound, he again remarked, “There’s nothing that can be done. And I wish I could say differently about him.”

Reaching the perimeter of the camp, Sirian locked eyes with Shi’Karil, who was descending from one of the fast-footed myters. She had Greshalin stay on the bird while another came up behind the mounted myter. Hurrying against the flow of refugees, Shi’Karil made to speak to Sirian before she would enter the camp. With so many pouring out from the chaos within and the effects of her light still so potent, Sirian stopped the woman. The fox grasped the woman by her arms, “Priestess, your people are escaping, as many as we could save. Let’s flee with them while we still have our chance.”
“I can not. This is my responsibility; I have allowed too many to fall at the claws of these marauding beasts. If I should continue on, then I carry a burden of immense shame with me. Take care of Greshalin for me. Once you and the others are clear of the camp, you may have luck in finding one of my own to take her in. With her lineage, it should not be a challenge. Preferably not her uncle, though,” Shi’Karil commented, struggling to free herself from Sirian.
The fox glanced to Jaium, who was still pulling on her, “Jai, say something! She’ll die if she goes in there!”
“We have to go, no time for talk! If she has a deathwish, let those things fulfill it,” he growled in response, tugging at Sirian’s sleeve and offering no support.

Again Shi’Karil tried to continue into the circle of wagons, which was beginning to open up as myters were taxed with their burdens. The lynx was irritated but complacent as she spoke again, “This is my responsibility, Sirian. I have no control over this now. All that is left for me is to burn out all of those who remain suffering and those beasts who will terrorize the lands if they’re not snuffed out now.”
“What about the girl? I won’t just let you abandon her to me or anyone else. Come on, we can’t leave you to die,” Sirian demanded this time, now tugging on her as much as Jaium was pulling at her. Shi’Karil pulled away from Sirian then, finally able to free herself, she was about to berate the woman when Jaium’s paw found her throat.
In little more than a whisper, he remarked without concern, “I’ll wring the life out of you yet, girl, unless you get moving. Now what’s it going to be, I kill you, or you come with us?”

There wasn’t much room to argue on Shi’Karil’s behalf. She could die there by another mortal’s paw and accomplish nothing or live to do harm to the beasts another day, another way. Jaium didn’t release Shi’Karil’s neck until she was beside the myter; however, he had the decency to move his grip from the throat to the spine. He was the last to mount up, having to share a myter with Sirian, not as though he was terribly concerned at that time. The wolf was lost in thought, his gaze searching over the heaps of dead and half-devoured bodies. Somewhere in there lay a friend, not just a friend, his foremost friend through every year of his life since he was but a cub. There were not words he knew to describe what he felt at that moment, but Jaium knew what he thought seconds after a golden fire had bloomed all about the desolate camp.

Shi’Karil slumped forward only a hair, just enough to show she was now entirely spent on whatever element gave her strength from that carafe. She managed to remain upright enough to not squash the small girl in front of her. Shi’Karil knew she needed to look strong for her. With a clicking of her tongue, Shi’Karil motivated the myter into motion while the fox and wolf lingered on a second or two more. They watched the fire spider web out from the core of the camp wildly until its net was spread across the whole of the space. Likely anything within the mess was singed or catching flame at that moment. Jaium scowled with frustration before spurring the bird into motion, yet Sirian’s eyes did not depart from the camp. It was hard to admit; perhaps had she been there to see it herself she would believe it, but Sothoh was gone, lost to those beasts if not the sacred flames. Sirian wondered how she would explain the man’s death to his superior or, worse, his chief.

The wolves would need to know; either she or Jaium would have to go before Chief Atlai and his underlings. Moqura would understand, more so than he should considering his high military position, but that didn’t help the other eleven members of the chief’s council. Still, they needed to know that not only was that cougar yet to be caught, but now Mishonrayel was compromised. Just as well, they should know of the northern refugees looking for shelter from this devious storm. If they weren’t alerted, the wolves would likely assault them, believing them invaders like they had of Sirian’s clan

cycles ago. And then there was the news of Sothoh’s death. Their shamans would need to say their special prayers for him, perform the proper rights for those who died by fire, and were not left to return to earth as the eastern clans were accustomed to. Sirian couldn’t help but reflect on what a mess everything had become in so short a time. It was unreal but all the same a good summary of her life overall, one disaster after the other.

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