A daunting legion stood at the northern end of the camp as Sirian and her wolves penetrated the perimeter. They were a sight that none of them would forget and one that those among the wagons had clear not either. The whole lot of them were bestial, if that so commonplace word could even begin to do justice to the brutes. Overall, they were not too dissimilar to the various races of the northern counties; however, beyond the basic shape and patterns of their fur, the similarities ended. All of these invading monsters crawled about on all fours, snarling with the biting maws of one locked in conflict, and lacking any apparel civil folk would wear to remain descent. Not only were they walking as animals would, but their eyes lacked that shine of sentience, as though they were now nothing more than mindless beasts. And then there was the size difference between any number of the mongrels and an average individual.
The point was driven home for the trio as one of the bestial lynx, easily twice the size of either of the wolves, tackled and smothered one of the cougar’s with its bulk. As Sirian and the wolves searched the area, taking in the whole scene with disbelief, they found none of the refugees were fairing quite well. Some were mounting a somewhat successful defense, while those who attempted a direct offense found themselves quickly overwhelmed. There were those who had made it beyond the perimeter to snatch up a mount and either rode through the camp to collect other still standing survivors or attempt to run the beasts down as a fragmented cavalry charge. Either case, those who had tried to ride through the fray were finding out almost immediately that their machination could go no further than thoughts and intent. Where most of the myters fought to flee from the growling, ravenous group of beasts, those few who were forced onward met with their worst fear. Neither a lance would succeed terribly well in skewering the monsters, nor would any waiting to be spirited away on the back of a bird find a proffered paw. Instead, any who made it into the thick of it found they were not escaping it if not contributing to the mass of bodies for the feast. Jaium and Sothoh both sent paws for their axes and did not forget their long, hunting knives at their belts but were stopped by Sirian before moving any further.
“You two, I need you to listen very closely. I know you’ve both seen enough battles to know this one isn’t worth winning. I know you both can weigh the importance of individual lives in this kind of situation. And most importantly, I think I know that you know we need one individual in particular, alive and well. I need you both to guard me, and I’ll get the priestess Shi’Karil out of here with us. She will help us get mounts, and with those, we ride straight northwest, non-stop until dawn. Are we clear?”
“It’s been a real thrill working with you too, fox,” Jaium grumbled, taking his ax from his back and setting eyes on the targeted tent.
Sothoh rolled his eyes at his comrade’s comment and drew his own weapon, “You make it to the priestess; we’ll do what we can to keep the path clear. If we’re not right behind you when you get out, then just run.”
Everything shifted into motion with that last comment. Both wolves charged into the mess before them, and the fox snuck around the edge of the camp. Sothoh and Jaium had seen their fair share of action. They’d had repelled demons at the gates of Roya, battled back invading clans on the north, and served as brutal enforcers for their Chief. They had even been born to lines of great warriors, wolves who had clashed with the western empire long cycles before their birth and helped foster stability in the east by means of quieting rebellions and dissenters to Roya’s authority and power. Regardless of their combined lineage and personal accomplishments, neither of the two had ever been in such tumult as this late evening. Their foes had more often been mortals and those lesser blood-marked demons that would try to enter the holy city; these creatures were a thing apart entirely. There was no tactic nor strategy to their actions, and to find a means to compensate or work around that was impossible. At the least, devils had somewhat particular movement; these bestials would be their toughest fight yet.
The journey to the tent built into the backside of the wagon was never a long one, but now as she approached amid this trouble, Sirian found it to be exceedingly drawn out. Perhaps it was the constant sense of peril or the bodies, but every step felt like a blessing bestowed upon the fox. The boys were certainly doing their job well enough in that moment as only one of the rabid, ravenous beasts eyed Sirian for all of a breath. That stare froze time and made it stand as an eternity while Sirian thought on all of her life, what she could remember, with a mix of fondness and regret. Reality returned to the front of her mind, time beginning again, as the savage-looking caribou lunged forward into one of the none bestial cougars. A bloody mist filled the air between Sirian and those things, allowing her all of a second to slip into the tent before any of the horde could notice. Once inside, Sirian moved even quicker than she had to reach the tent.
“Priestess! Shi’Karil! We have to go, right this moment, no time to stop and gather supplies, we have to flee. I can’t say for certain what those things you were running from up north looked like, but I would hazard to guess that that is them outside the tent,” Sirian erupted, sparing the cub huddled in the priestess’s arms no kindness with her words.
Shi’Karil’s glance was almost condemning, and her tone would insist vexation with the fox if it was not so obviously directed at the situation at hand, “I know this and there is no place for us to run to now. I made a mistake in going back to tend to those following us. Now, our fate is sealed, our clans and tribes finished, this last vestige of hope wiped away. Leave us if you wish, run with all the haste a myter bird can carry you to your chiefs and explain what is coming for them. Perhaps your kingdoms, with their fortifications and military strength, will be able to survive this scourge. We are finished. Good-bye, Priestess Sirian.”
“No! No, it is not over yet. We can not cower away from this and hide behind our tails until we have been shredded to a pulp. I need you, we need you, and the only way this will work is if you come with us, now,” Sirian almost begged as though the woman couldn’t see sense at all.
The priestess shook her head, “I no longer wish to delay the inevitable, Siri. Death has finally found me and soon shall have me. You may run, but I will stay. Perhaps in my final breaths, I shall cast the cleansing fire over the camp and take with me these abominations.”
“The fire? Yes. Alright, I’ve got it now. You’re going to have a few moments, not long, just enough time to call the rest of your people to arms and either rally on these things or flee. I don’t care which, but we need to go immediately, and you’re going to follow me, or beasts like this will take this world in the blink of an eye,” Sirian exclaimed, still trying to rile the woman however she could.
For her part, the priestess looked only a bit more hopeful, “I will follow you, not beyond the wagons, but I will ensure you are safe. However, I only shall follow, provide you take young Greshalin here with you. I hate to put her in such a position, but the tribe should live on at least in spirit through one of our own.”
There was no time to argue, nothing Sirian could likely ease the woman back from even if she had hastily put together a solid plan for escape. She offered a paw to the small lynx, only for the cub to cling even closer to her aunt. Shi’Karil’s otherwise stern gaze softened a touch as she regarded the bundle of fur clinging tight to her, “Gresh, Greshalin. You need to go with the nice lady. She is going to make sure you’re safe from what’s out there.”
“Auntie, I’m scared. Not of her, she’s not mean. But I don’t want you to leave without me like mama and papa,” the cub pouted into her aunt’s breast,
Before Shi’Karil could attempt to reprimand the child, Sirian cut in, “Your auntie will be taking you out of here Greshalin, she is just going to come back and help the others once she has you out by the myters. Is that okay?”
“As long as auntie Shi’Karil comes back, I’ll stay with you, ma’am,” the cub offered a weak smile while her aunt glared.
Shi’Karil offered a small compliance, “When everyone who can make it out is on their way, I will join you two, Gresh.”
“Good. No more time to waste. We have to move, now,” Sirian shot back quickly, only the slightest hint of her worry touching her voice.
Approaching the entrance to the tent, she allowed Erkinan to flow through her limbs, despite how little there was in excess flowing through her. She turned back once more to regard the lynx behind her, glad to see they were no longer seated on their tails. Shi’Karil had helped the child up into the back of the wagon and was quickly instructing her with what to do next. A carafe, glass and shaped in odd geometric patterns holding a ruby liquid, was handed to the older lynx. Regarding it with a pained grin, Shi’Karil rubbed the child’s head before returning to Sirian. Shi’Karil popped the seal and took a hearty drink, “One last before we become one with it all.”
“I would better have my wits Shi’Karil, I know we’re in the very thickest of it, but don’t you want to try to make it out?” Sirian asked, unsure exactly what the woman’s drive was.
Shaking her head, a lucidness slowly coming over her, the priestess contradicted that notion, “It will loosen the body and mind just as much as it will free the spirit. And, besides, without it, I’m not going to be able to cast the merest ember of the cleansing fire. I would figure
one with your skill would be more knowledgeable of such elixirs.”
The dots were quickly connected for Sirian, not the how to it all, just the barest idea of what the drink would do. It was evident the concoction aided the priestess in casting her spells. Whether that coincided with Erkinan wasn’t terribly crucial to Sirian at that moment. All that mattered for her was that it might bolster her power even if it was temporary. Sirian guzzled down more of the tonic than she likely needed, especially for one who did not often dabble in spirits. Immediately, a wave of light-headedness swept through her, but Sirian maintained control. As everything settled and the drink began to swim inside her, Sirian felt the weight of the world lift from her shoulders, a freedom that was dream-like if she had to describe it. Coming back to reality, Sirian noted Shi’Karil’s paws falling away and the final utterances of a spell tumbling away from her lips.
“I will lead the way. A burst of cleansing fire should clear a path enough for you to sneak by. Meet Greshalin on the other side of my wagon and take as many myters as you need. We won’t be needing them anymore,” Shi’Karil ordered, an intense peace settling over her as the elixir worked its way through her.
Sirian stopped the lynx before she could leave, “You take Greshalin out through your wagon and gather the birds. I will meet you where Jaium and Sothoh set up our little camp. We can change off there if you’re still intent on your plans.”
“It’s the only way now, but I will meet you on the other side. Be careful, my friend,” Shi’Karil agreed before hurrying away with the mostly empty bottle.
Sirian didn’t remain to watch the lynx flee; she knew Shi’Karil could be trusted, even if she shouldn’t have been. If she could help it, Sirian wasn’t going to leave the priestess behind or any of the others. Feeling a greater flow of Erkinan gush through her, Sirian felt confident enough to put her plan into action. What would come of her plotting and all she had to offer, Sirian would have to see. And, with any luck, more than a few of the northern refugees would make it away from their savage fellows.