Of Mortals: Chapter Sixteen

Maxinimus watched from one of the high balconies as the three wagons from Desmus began their journey back north. It would be a lengthy one but one that would have to be made as brief as possible. There was a scent on the wind, the odor of more and ever deeper snow ready to fall at a moment’s notice. In his heart, the Yerra- hoped his equal would remain and wait out the storm with his heir in tow. It wasn’t as though they were incredibly close, but at that time, Maxinimus needed some sort of companionship not rooted in servitude. And aside from Imfay, Maxin aimed to form a bond with the young prince Terlynn. He wanted the boy to see him as a sort of uncle that he could turn to in times of crisis. After all, Imfay was growing long in the tooth, and though he fought the graying around his muzzle as diligently as he would have his armies battle the eastern savages, the wear of time still showed clearly. But that want was left unspoken; the only ear to hear it was Maxin’s as he murmured to the wagons departing his periphery to come back. He could only wish that his wife had been so concerned of her own wailing.

Try as he might, there was no quelling or even calming Mirrien’s sobs of grief and torment. Maxinimus had comforted her in trying times, weathered many a storm both domestic and foreign with his wife, but no matter how he tried, it all came up short. Even in helping her come to terms with their inability to have another child was a thing he could make possible, but this was not the case. Yet, as much as Maxinimus wanted to conquer this problem and allow his wife to again feel relief, Maxin couldn’t help but feel a spiteful rage. He was in quiet disbelief that this woman, who had to know how much their son meant to not only the kingdom but the Yerra- himself, could be so selfish. Maxinimus could not fathom how careless she was in thinking that she was the only one grieving their son’s death. The whole of Okyna was remiss in knowing the young prince had passed after his lifelong battle with illness, but in the way she acted, it was almost as though it came to her as a shock. For a moment, Maxinimus bristled so wholeheartedly with rage that he considered storming into the woman’s rooms and forcing her to see reason. And again, as the anger melted away into that melancholic grief, Maxinimus was reminded of just how hard it was to honestly blame her for her faults.

Gripping the railing, the horrid despair that had seized tightly onto Maxinimus heart nearly forced him over the edge. Though rare, it was not the first time the aged deer had considered taking the coward’s way out of the world. Yet, not only would it leave Mirrien to grieve for another and leave the succession in confusion, it would decimate the legacy of the Taliann line. No matter the strife or conflict, the Taliann’s had been brave even in the face of certain death and destruction. To give himself over so willingly to an unnecessary end would be the ultimate defeat of his lineage. Expiring without an heir was a horrid fate, but to do so and shamefully shatter once’s self against the cobblestones below was a thing apart. And even had he desired to take that leap, Maxinimus made a note of the ragged looking fellow that stood just below the overlook who would break his fall.

Realizing that there was, in fact, a vagrant looking man standing in the hoarfrost encrusted gardens of the Yerra-‘s private estate forced Maxinimus’ focus to sharpen. The gardens looked out onto the graveyard, which was public land, and any of the Okyna citizens were permitted to hang about their any time before dusk, yet the estate was enclosed ground. There was no chance this drifter had snuck through the house and into the back lot; he would have stood out like a pine in a swath of cherry trees. All sides of the fence were intact, and to have pulled himself over the top of it would have left the stranger with deep puncture wounds and scrapes. Who he was didn’t even occur to Maxinimus as much as the how-to it all. Before the Yerra- could think to call out to the man, the drifter had disappeared, not even leaving footprints to mark his departure.

Stunned into silence, Maxinimus rubbed at his eyes, trying to discern where the man had come and gone from. Without even the slightest hint of tracks, Maxinimus had to concede that there had never been anyone in the gardens and had been, in fact, a daydream. Trying to recollect the man’s features was difficult, like the details of a dream lost in the early hours of morning. Yet, the Yerra- was almost certain that the man’s antlers had been short to near stubs like the prince’s had been. Thinking of his sickly visage, of how thin and gaunt the boy’s features were even from the age of five cycles until his end at nineteen, Maxinimus’ stomach soured. Backing away from the railing, the Yerra- began back inside, seeking something to settle his belly and the warmth of a hearth to warm his iced-over nerves.

In the silence of Maxinimus’ mind, a sudden shrill cord was plucked as he came muzzle to muzzle with a hazy-eyed glare. Cold, dead lamps of fog pierced the Yerra-‘s soul as the figure he had just seen below now stood before him. There was little time to react for Maxinimus; he began backward frantically before his tail was pressed against the rail of the balcony. He would have tumbled over and plummeted three stories down, undoubtedly to his death, were a paw not extended. The vulgar apparition seized the older man by his collar and hauled him into the air. His mind racing faster than ever it had before, Maxinimus was only vaguely aware that he hung in the air over the frozen ground below. He was far too transfixed on that which stood before him.

Though still suspended in the air, fright gripping his mind in a malevolent and callous hand, all came to stillness. Allowed a moment to collect himself and set his mind on anything but imminent peril, Maxinimus calmed slightly. Focusing in on the vagrant, Maxinimus began breaking him down in greater detail, noting things up close that were impossible to see from afar. Fur was peeling away from the man in patches and clumps that did not follow the patterns of any beast’s attack or what a blade may allow. The milky eyes were not simple orbs of smoke but host to a proper eye beneath all of those blue-gray clouds. An upturned U-shaped mark marred the brow between the man’s two diminutive horns, suggesting some sort of affiliation that Maxinimus couldn’t rightly place. But all of those details paled against that major one the Yerra- would have liked to ignore. There was a wispy quality to the man, a phantom-like aura that made the drifter at times seem ethereal. Yet it was as this effect wane once more that Maxinimus made the most shocking of discoveries.

With a face and body so overly desiccated, it had been near beyond his powers to discern who this young buck reminded him of; however, it quickly fell into place. Hidden beneath those clouds were the rich mahogany eyes that he had stared on a thousand times over. The marking, not that runic-like symbol but the natural features of the fur, had a familial resemblance to another. And, most damning, was the utter meekness of the being, thin and frail and not even bolstered by a full, healthy set of horns. His mind stuttered at the thought. Maxinimus couldn’t believe his eyes and would have rather torn them from his own skull in an attempt to deny it being so. However, despite it all and without a reasonable explanation in his head, Maxinimus had to concede that who now held him captive was none other than his so recently expired son.

The Yerra-‘s muzzle trembled, not through the sheer fear of it all, he had become numb to such a feeling. Rather, he was shaken to his core, fighting to doubt himself, trying to force another name to that face. Yet, despite frantic attempts to insist it was a cousin of his wife, a bastard descendant of one of his forefathers, or merely an uncanny resemblance, Maxinimus could not deny what he saw. It was the stuff of nightmares. He felt incapable of working his tongue into motion or find the strength to wriggle free. He merely could watch the prince, waiting for whatever would come next and praying it would not be his end.

Together they remained on the balcony, in silence, stillness, an eternity creeping by in the minutes that made up that eternal moment. After an indeterminable time had slunk by, Maxinimus found himself becoming dazed, his thinking muddled, and then suddenly lucid. An awareness struck the Yerra- worse than acknowledging his assailant as his own son. He felt himself slipping away, the faded remnant of the prince flickering more and more out of view the further away he was flung from life. What had been drawn out for far too long was hastily brought to a close not unlike wounded prey, suffering until a merciful knife slash through its throat. In an instant, Maxinimus’ candle was snuffed out, and the apparition vanished utterly. Were there a soul standing by, idly watching the affair, they would have no notion of where that spirit went or if the Yerra- had passed on.

Almost as quickly as the body had plummeted, striking the edge of the railing rather than falling directly down, life returned. With eager paws, the Yerra- pulled himself over to lay on the balcony, safe from a gruesome death. Turning himself over, Maxinimus patted down his chest and legs, moving to his arms and neck, before finally gently passing fingers over his muzzle. A low, rumbling chuckle echoed from the deer’s throat, aware that it had been a success though in disbelief the transfer could have gone so well while using such a battered and half-desolate conduit. They would now not only have a host to their madness but would have a title and position that would make this vessel worth all of the trouble it had been in acquiring.

Flexing newly acquired muscles, working fingers and the tongue, acclimating itself to the new vessel, the specter lifted itself from the ground. Looking out onto the desolate, early Winter landscape, he was filled with a subtle delight. The world had changed much since he was last free to the point there now came seasonal snowfalls. That was a lovely little thing. He had never been able to experience the snow in his previous life, and while nestled in the heart of the ill prince, was not allowed out into it. However, regarded that distant grave where the boy’s shriveled body lay, he would now have the opportunity. Yet, that would wait. There was much to attend to before any leisure could be had. Plans would have to be laid, and obstacles overcome or crushed should they prove insurmountable. Yes, with the dark Lord in the north, the blood-stricken warlord over the sea, and the wild men causing havoc where the inflicted did not, it was crucial to focus on the plan. Even one weak support could topple the whole bridge and by no means was there to be even the slightest distraction from this conquest. They would have the Goredrinker returned to his primeval vessel, the Lords in opposition would be decimated, and perhaps they would free the Spiritcatcher from her eternal prison. The Rh’euleen had doomed them to suffer in hells untold and perish from deaths nigh on eternal and never expected a single one of them to turn about and bite that hurtful hand. Now was their chance, and never again would such a day come, there was no doubt of that.

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