The midnight procession had begun as a hasty retreat but fell to a slowed, calmed meandering southward. It was nearing dawn as the refugees finally settled safe and sound at the top of a hill on which they could survey all of the land around them. Every single soul who hadn’t yet dropped from utter exhaustion barely clung to wakefulness out of fear, all but a dozen that was. Though well past finished and quite beyond the point of worrying, Jaium and Sirian stood just outside of the wagons rounded into a semi-circle. Even looking asleep on his feet, Jaium readied up one of the less worn down myters as Sirian did the same.
There was an agreement made, not one that any of the northerners had been privy to but all the same a verdict that would impact them. Jaium had resolved to leave the group; there was much to be done in Roya. Not only would he need to make a proper offering and get the shamans to conduct the rights to ensure Sothoh’s soul was rightly laid to rest, but there was the living to still consider. He had to spread the word to the council and Chief Atlai of the rampaging herd of beasts moving across the land. And, of course, in addition to these potential foes, Jaium would indicate that the nomadic northerners were not a threat and should be welcomed into Roya until the situation can be resolved. Jaium knew his people well enough that not only would they likely decide against taking in the northerners but may see them as a hostile force. If nothing else, his pleas could help prevent a useless loss of life, which was as crucial as alerting his own people to the looming threat. Sirian, on the other paw, was less resigned to what she needed to do but determined.
There was time lost but, more importantly, ground as Sirian left Mishonrayel to run into the night. She couldn’t leave him or that cougar on the loose for long, that much she was certain of. Taking one of the myters may just make up for all that time lost, close the gap between herself and one or another of the men. With any luck, Sirian hoped she would come across Mishonrayel first and in the light of day. She could still potentially cure him of whatever darker effects had been laid across his mind once more. And with Mishon back on her side, it would be far easier to apprehend this mad cougar who had hardly been affected by her light on their first meeting. Still so focused on her task, Sirian almost forgot about something nearly equally important.
Looking into the camp, seeing among the few northerners still awake a familiar face, Sirian decided to halt what she was doing. Entering into the semi-circle, she struggled for the man’s name on the approach until seemingly pulling it out of nowhere before she spoke, “LaRoue was it? You’re an uncle to that little one, Greshalin, right?”
“That be right lil’ lady, what’s it to ya though,” came his response, the lynx’s voice still chipper despite it all.
Sirian felt it wasn’t entirely her place to offer condolences now or sympathy, yet she had to do something for these people, “To the south, directly to the south of here, you should be able to find the village of Seras. Foxes, they’re the main populace of the village, I should know, it is my home. You need to take these people there. I know it sounds like quite the claim, but some of those from my village went about the territories only a pawful of cycles ago as refugees themselves. They will take you in or at least offer you safety against whatever wicked thing will come. I do not mean to overstep my bounds, but I don’t believe there is any other place your collective has in mind to go.”
“There hasn’t been much talk of it yet. Some of us thought maybe Sh… the Priestess had snuffed out the whole lot of them beasts last night. Yet, some others thinkin’ we need to play this safe. I’ll spread your word, miss, but I ain’t makin’ some promise we goin’ to take you up on your offer, generous though it may be,” LaRoue commented, reclining on the grass around the fire, his eyes the only ones focusing on the fox.
Sirian had to come to terms with the fact she had done all she could, “Very good. I must be off, though. I still have very far to go.”
“Go? It’s near dawn, girl, and a long night we’ve seen besides. Lay on down by the fire, stay awhile,” the man roused a bit at the thought of Sirian setting off still that morning.
Before Sirian could manage a reply, another voice rang out, “And you’re not going a pace further north without me, Priestess Sirian. We had a deal back there, and your wolf friend… Well, he was most certainly acting out of your interest. My job is not done, and neither is yours. We shall see these things to the end, together.”
Sirian tried for a time to dissuade the lynx from accompanying her north in her pursuit of Mishonrayel but to no avail. After that, she tried simply to give her the slip, but the priestess was far too keen with that eagle’s eye of hers. And then, when all else had failed, Sirian had once more tried to appeal to Shi’Karil’s sense of reason. Yet, even tugging at her heartstrings with Greshalin had not even the slightest effect. At the suggestion of returning with the rest of the refugees to the north, the priestess balked and would not hear another word of it. Shi’Karil had set her mind on going, following the fox no matter where she would go and what she would see. There was not a trace of bitterness in the lynx about following, instead, a great devotion to the place she held in the clan. A duty that superseded family ties or any concern for one’s own safety, that much was already overly evident to Sirian. Despite her wishes, Sirian had remained in the camp longer than anticipated. Having about collapsed beside the fire after trying once more to tell Shi’Karil to continue south with her people. When she woke, what could have been only a couple of hours later based on the sun’s height, Sirian was met with an unpleasant reality.
Initially, Sirian was furious that she had lost time in sleeping. Her next aggravation came at the intense ache in her body from how she was lying. Most glaring of the issues the fox awoke to, however, was having a myter’s tail feathers flaring in her muzzle. It took only a second for Sirian to realize she was slung over the back of a myter with another leading the bird along. Had she panicked more, Sirian would have fallen face-first into the frozen dirt, yet she maintained composure. Rocking herself up onto her tails, Sirian quickly searched about only to find the familiar outline of a lynx she had hoped terribly not to see. Shi’Karil held the myter’s reins in her paw and lead the bird at a trot; both looked already worn out to the point of exhaustion. Sirian spun herself around on the saddle, unsure why she had been sat backward on the beast, and almost kicked the other woman in the back of the head. Shi’Karil twisted to see the furious looking fox glaring burning daggers back at her, yet her response was minimal.
“Shi’Karil, you’re going back now, take the myter if you must, but you have to go south with your people. It is going to be too dangerous for you spells or not,” Sirian immediately condemned without a second thought.
The priestess shrugged, “Too late now, we rode for some hours into the morning. We’d still be going hard now if not for the bird, don’t want to run him into the ground just yet.”
“I don’t care. Shi’Karil, I might not come back from this, you know it, I told you well enough. I don’t want to take you with me, especially when you are so necessary to your own people. Please listen to reason,” the fox quickly changed her demands into pleas.
Shi’Karil let out a weary sigh, and not merely because of physical exhaustion, “Priestess Sirian, this is my only chance to prevent anything worse happening to my people or your people or truly any people of these lands. I am recovered enough to again cast great swathes of the holy flame, and we are heading straight into the remains of the camp. It is my duty to ensure every last soul trapped or injured last night, yet to die, are put fully to rest. We may still happen upon the lot of the monsters. If we can come upon them while they sleep, then they will be no more, and we will have rid the land of one great threat. So do not foolishly assume I’ve come with you to throw my life away.”
Sirian fell quite as the myter crested the hill looking out onto the devastation that was the remains of the camp. All was blackened and ruined, the skeletons of wagons left standing while all else was nothing more than heaps of ash. From afar, it looked desolate enough; however, the chance something still living was lurking inside remained. Sirian allowed Erkinan to begin working through her body as they approached, a simple precautionary measure. Shi’Karil made it very clear that the beasts rarely came out in the daylight; however, there was no cause for being less than careful. If anything, even one barely clinging to life from the sacred fire dwelt within, Sirian would handle it with ease.
As they reached the perimeter, Sirian dismounted and gestured the lynx behind her. She made it substantially clear that the priestess was not meant to follow. Initially, this seemed like it would be a point of disagreement between them; however, the lynx busied herself with looking for tracks. That suited Sirian just fine; they could figure out which direction the beasts went and ensure none of them had stuck around. The entrance into the camp was a wide berth, likely as that spot was where a wagon had been removed from the circle. It would have been just as easy for the fox to slip through the skeleton of a charred wagon. None of them were in any way resembling their former selves aside from the wheels. What sat within the circle was a perfect reflection for the shell that held it, if not for the fact the mortal remains were a far more grim reminder of the night
The oversize corpses of bestial creatures stretched about the camp, all set in positions that insisted they had intended to flee. Looking to the empty spots where wagons had sat, Sirian found a black band of soot that must have prevented escape even when there had been no apparent obstacles. It would have been a damning thing to think they sacrificed the lives of others to achieve this end. However, looking over the bodies of those mortals within shown a different story. Not a single one of blackened skeletons looked as if they had a chance to even think of escaping. That was probably for the best, Sirian figured. She didn’t want to think of Sothoh attempting to slip free from these beasts with whoever else may have survived the initial assault only to be trapped in a ring of fire. As she considered the wolf, Sirian found herself looking down on a body that may have just been his.
The overall size and shape were not dissimilar to what a wolf’s would be, Sirian had to guess. But what really clinched the thought of that canine body being Sothoh’s was the ax lying beside it. The fire had affected almost everything within its range; however, the ax was virtually untouched. Sirian hefted the ax, smudging off some of the soot that stained the blade. It didn’t give way to a shine. The ax was far from pristine; still, the dull gray was welcomed. As she smeared away more of the pitch, it became all the more evident that the weapon had belonged to her wolf. On the face of the blade was the emblem of Roya, a twisting cross that bent beyond its basic structure and fell back in on itself with hard edges and points. Sirian stifled a cry looking at the symbol, Sothoh was gone, and she had sent him to his death. There was no two ways about it.
Looking up, wanting to see anything but that body or the tool she held tight in her paw, Sirian made eye contact with Shi’Karil. The lynx’s expression was curious either because of the fox’s watery eyes or what she had found around the perimeter. Quietly, she gestured for Sirian to join her on the other side of the ruined wagon that sat between them. Sirian stepped through the carriage’s charred remained, minding her tails the best she could yet still coming through soot-stained. As she made it to the outside, she could tell that Shi’Karil was more than concerned about something beyond Sirian. She regarded the ax in the fox’s paw and nodded, “Good, we’re going to need a proper weapon.”
“What have you seen? Is there still one of the creatures hiding in the area?” Sirian asked, clearing the edge of the ax with two already soot-stained fingertips.
One finger jabbed in the direction of tracks, tracks that branched out in more paths than a tree’s branches. Shi’Karil’s expression was one of horror, disgust, and untold agony over her failure, “They could be anywhere, everywhere. On the winds, I can feel the snow coming. Now what?”