Of Mortals: Chapter Fourteen

Sirian lit her paw with a globe of sunlight, the action would have hardly burnt much of her Erkinan without day’s light feeding her power, but with it, it may as well have had no draw on her strength. She had Shi’Karil remain beyond the copse with the myter, an argument she only barely won by insisting whatever was in there was of little importance or would be flushed out by her light. All the same, the lynx used a makeshift stake to hold the bird’s reins in place in case she needed both paws to cast sacred flames or a shot of force. Reading the woman’s actions in that simple act of pinning the myter in place, Sirian had to wonder if Shi’Karil wasn’t entirely reluctant to these sorts of encounters. After all, she wasn’t pursuing these men out of want or poised to strike sheerly out of spite or some morbid joy. For Sirian, this was a matter of duty, having to scrap with Mishonrayel, and this cougar would not be a thing of exciteful play but a job that must be done.

The dark of the woods at dawn and the vague outlines of shadows peeled away as Sirian stepped inside, her light like a candle in a starless night. As the early morning light vanished from her surroundings, Sirian could feel a slight tug on her power. It wasn’t a massive draw on her, yet Sirian had learned to be weary of even the most minimal depletion of her Erkinan. What could start as drops, a mere trickle of her energy could quickly become a full heavy drain. Sirian wouldn’t be entirely unarmed should she exhaust her Erkinan. That much she could be thankful for as her free paw caressed Sothoh’s ax slung across her back. The problem, however, was not that she didn’t have some means to combat a foe should she burn out her power, but that Sirian was not at all versed in using the weapon. Of course, she had seen Jaium and Sothoh in heavy combat enough times, yet simple watching did not insist one knew the finer points of fighting with one of the half-moon axes.

The tracks leading deeper into the copse were equally as evident as those that had led Sirian and Shi’Karil to the tree line. They couldn’t be confident if those prints and the noises coming from within were related to those they sought. Yet, a moment of inspection was worthwhile considering all the jeopardized by neglecting them. If nothing else, they would scare up something they could eat if a wild myter or shren were hiding within. Then there was that chance that what dwelt inside was one of the feral things running free across the land. Sirian wasn’t entirely sure if such a creature would attempt to hide from them or if it would try to attack in the light of day. Shi’Karil had insisted that the beastly ones were not prone to daytime assaults. However, day or not, it didn’t matter. The canopy of trees, still relatively dense despite the season, cast a shadow to rival night. All the same, Sirian proceeded inward, too aware of what could lurk within.

Rays of light blossomed in the receding darkness beyond the clearing in the thicket where Kovarlin stood. He gestured Mishonrayel to silence and then indicated he should try to hide, if not escape, as quietly as possible. Before the coyote could get off his numb of a tail, the faint yellowish light was a golden sphere nearly penetrating the trees that concealed their clearing. Kovarlin hissed low, his daggers dancing about his paws as he turned them both into an underhand position. Yet, the cougar was only so capable with those blades, and Mishonrayel felt that he was unprepared to take on Sirian if that was, in fact, who had pursued them. After all, he had seen the man struggle to overcome the blinding light that was blasting into him when he had attempted to invade Seras. Even without her light, though, Sirian had been more than a match for the man with only the ceremonial staff she had been presented by the village council. He moved slowly, watching the light, waiting to see if he would be forced to step in or perhaps if the fox could liberate him from the chains placed upon him once more by the Goredrinker.

For a flicker of a second, Sirian caught sight of a man, a cougar, who looked like a shape cut from a cloth of pure darkness. She could see him begin to move, dart forward towards her despite the various bushes and brambles that would slow his approach. However, after another moment, Sirian no longer had to concern for what that man would do. An abrupt bloom of hazy, turquoise smoke appeared between the two, forming an almost impenetrable wall. Within it, by use of her light, Sirian could see the spirits swimming. The damned crawled inside, seething with hatred and denial of their deaths as the Spiritcatcher’s might deformed and transformed them. Among them, for all of a breath, Sirian expected to see Sothoh as the collective was without a doubt those souls that were not properly laid to rest. Yet, she forced away that thought and focused at the matter at paw, which was the coming of a foe that would be infinitely more dangerous than the cougar and Mishonrayel combined.

Kovarlin did not stop in his steps as the murky wall rose between him and the fox in the forest. Even as Mishonrayel cried out for him to wait, Kovarlin hurried faster, colliding with a concrete shell that would otherwise insist it was anything but corporeal. The sensation was unlike anything the cougar had experience before. It was as though a legion of arms had caught him and tried to force him into the mass. Simultaneously, sharp, prong-like appendages jutted out from the wall sending shocking waves of agony through the man’s flesh. He felt his life being sucked away second by second, panic washed over his mind, and his ability to register anything but the pain had fallen away. It wasn’t more than a moment that Kovarlin realized the cloud was becoming less abstract and was pulling itself together into something of an outline. As it did so, Mishonrayel’s arms wrapped tight around Kovarlin and pulled, removing him from the haze despite the hurts he took in the process. Together they fell back, Kovarlin limp, near to lifelessness, and Mishonrayel in a blind, anxious panic that washed away any prior concern of Sirian’s coming. It was apparent now that any indication they were followed by the fox was a machination of the Spiritcatcher, meant to lead them astray and into just such a trap as Kovarlin had fallen into. Mishonrayel could kick himself for allowing any concern of the Scion of Wayward Spirits to elude him. He had known too much of its touch and taint. There was no excuse for ignoring it now.

Sirian retreated paces out of the forest, each step saying she would hold her position only to surrender more ground out of fear. Even were the queer cloud of smoke not forming into something far too dangerous looking, Sirian had been taught enough to avoid any business with the Spiritcatcher. The wretched one, the finder of lost souls and sire of all malevolent ghosts and specters, was one to be feared, and not merely a thing of pup tales. In her time, a glimpse of her life prior to her transformation, Sirian had seen such devious beings at work, and now, even with her power, she had no intention of mingling in this affair. Were she to dare, though, Sirian had to admit to herself that she was likely hopelessly outmatched.

The fog wall was condensing into a shape, something like any mortal that wandered the world, a bi-pedal creature that stood mostly upright, but after that, much of the similarities ended. A bony brow crested with a row of horns that sat like a crown atop the creature was immediately concerning. It lacked ears, but that did not comfort Sirian, even were the beast deaf, it still boasted an impressively sharp beak that punctuated a mouth that came back at hard angles insisting a mighty bite pattern. Beneath the head was an exposed chest tough and textured in a scaly, reptilian manner that almost camouflaged the mountain of tight muscles beneath them. Its limbs, however, were host to significant collections of feathers in every color of the rainbow with a myriad of patterns from stripes to spots. Punctuating the creature’s massive trunks were talons that would put the armaments of Roya’s army to shame. Taking the spirit in, seeing all that it was, nearly overwhelmed Sirian’s sense, but if it hadn’t alone the tendrils that rose from behind it and hung before it did. The teardrop-shaped extremities were cobalt against the flesh, which was still turquoise as the cloud had been. What made them all the more dread-inducing were the eyes that dotted them. Those oddly shaped globules were too many, too large, and seeking so freely that it jarred the senses to see. For all of a moment, those who had set eyes on this unearthly thing froze completely until their minds worked back towards sanity and forced the bodies into motion.

Unbeknownst to Sirian, the creature had shifted to face away and began in the direction while its extra appendages extended back towards her. Coming back to her senses, Sirian launched the ball of light at the host to the ghastly things before preparing a more intense blast. For his part, Mishonrayel was able to steel his nerves as the bizarre thing stepped to him. He slung Kovarlin over his shoulder and hefted the resin-covered tree limb with one paw. Had there been another means of egress, Mishonrayel would have fled from the copse via that route, but for all he could see, the only clear way out was just passed the spirit. As it came closer, it’s bulky tendrils moving from the path he needed to take, Mishonrayel made his move. In a second, the coyote went from idle to a sprint, bringing the makeshift club up just as he moved past the fiend. There was no contact, Mishonrayel did not feel the weight of an impact as he attempted to strike, but an intense golden light flooded the space, nearly blinding him. At that moment, Mishonrayel almost felt

weightless, as though the entire world itself had become freed of its burdens; however, that moment was short-lived. As Mishonrayel charged out of the woods, stumbling all the way, Pai’gen’s voice again echoed in his head, begging him to escape. It seemed a superfluous demand. Mishonrayel would not stay even if he were bid so by the Goredrinker. All the same, Mishonrayel carried on, not stopping in his flight even as his body protested his every step beyond the copse.

Sirian’s blast came just as the teardrop-shaped limbs shot forward. Had she not released the built-up Erkinan then, it may have been too late. The tendrils fell back, not defeated by deterred for all of a moment before springing back to life, hardly subdued from the blast. For a moment, Sirian thought she caught a glimpse of another moving around within the forest, too large to be Shi’Karil, so she did not bother worrying of it. It was just as likely whatever it had been was a wild creature stirred to motion by the sight of the demon if not the commotion it caused. Launching a barrage of light, incorporeal spears that shot through her foe, Sirian slipped further and further away from the heart of the copse. After the first few, the fox concluded that this being would not be so easily turned back by her might alone. The assault continued until Sirian was fully removed from the trees, her pursuer unphased by her attempts to stop it, merely slowed slightly by the struggling. Once outside, Sirian grabbed Shi’Karil by the arm and forced her onto the myter. She was not about to argue with the priestess nor insist on some heroics that would all in all fall flat. Instead, Sirian freed the bird from its post and pulled herself up in front of the lynx. As they made to escape, the phantom penetrated the tree line, its multitude of limbs flailing wildly after the women.

Sirian spurred the myter into motion, pressuring the bird so hard that it let out an ear-piercing crow before it began away with all the haste it could manage. The fox was so transfixed in their flight that she did not notice what Shi’Karil was about just behind her. Having only then seen the ghoul that had pursued Sirian out from within the trees, the lynx was aghast for a moment. As that initial terror was pushed away from the forefront of her mind, not made to subside as Shi’Karil may have wanted, a thought crept into mind. Even as they charged further and further out of range, Shi’Karil muttered the incantation that would give birth to the sacred flames. Opening her eyes on that thing that should not be, the priestess saw ivory flames blossomed around the spirit. The phantom seemed to halt by the fire that encircled it; however, the conflagration would not touch it. Though the concept perplexed Shi’Karil, she had to concede that so long as the spirit was no longer following them that it should be thought of as a victory, albeit minor.

Guiding the bird north, Sirian did not even consider where they were to go now. The trail Mishonrayel or the cougar had left was going cold now that they had come headlong into contact with that evil spirit. Sirian knew full well they could not leave those two to roam freely but couldn’t very well charge off wildly in whatever direction felt right. There remained one option for Sirian; however, how reliable it would be remained to be seen. If she could seek that voice, that presence from beyond that would come to her at times of great adversity and help to guide her, there was a chance they could find the two men. Of course, there was the more prominent issue of that very thing being somewhat ambivalent to what became of mortals. Perhaps this occasion would prove more critical to the otherworldly owner of the voice. Sirian could only hope that the interference of the Spiritcatcher, the rampaging feral things, and the hand of Goredrinker within all of this would give the being cause to act. Without that guidance or even a hint at what they should look for, Sirian could only conclude that they would have to return to Seras and prepare for whatever terrors should come next.

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