What heat was left of the coals dissipated the moment the stove door was opened. The chill of winter greedily devoured it before the women could ready to depart. In spite of it, they remained in the desolate building, something that could have been a homestead twice caught fire and finally given up on once the northern wall fell in. Sirian and Shi’Karil finished the very crude meal they had scavenged together and only half-heated before the fire died away. Dawn was coming, and that meant time to move even if the snow fell heavy as a mountain on them and the winds whipped like a cruel slaver. Their myter would only be able to handle so much with a rider, but that hadn’t been an obstacle as of yet. When the worst of the weather began, the two would lead the reluctant bird by the beak until they were ready to rest. They had even been so concerned for their one and only ally here in the north to allow it inside their shelters at night. If for nothing else, the bird’s body heat added to their own, and though it would not make up for quality shelter, the amenities of a home, or any of the comforts of civilization, the nearness was something.
The steepled fingers of a lost god awaited and watched over the two as they stepped outside. Giant monoliths bursting from the untouched ivory of fresh snow, these antediluvian pillars in emerald harkened back to a time not a single soul could speak to. Perhaps, if there ever was a means to know the unknowable, to peer into the mind of a beast brought about by the Goredrinker or Spiritcatcher, they would understand this fallen monument. Whatever king of kings this may have been, what form of a mighty ruler or deity the work meant to showcase was now despaired, consumed by this frozen desert. Sirian had found it too foreboding to wish to take shelter in the shack in that evening prior, but the need for rest was too great. They had gone a long way now, and there would be no superstition or anxiety to push them into a dangerous position, not after all they’d seen and how far they come.
Orienting themselves with the rising sun and making what they could out from the terrain, the two chose a path plotting further west from where the ruined fingers rose. They came far enough north, that much they had confidence in; however, there was still several days ride, or more so to march, westward. Sirian had seen their destination, coated heavily in that dreadful white that was currently freezing her overwrapped paw pads halfway off. The cold was not the most biting feature of the foreign land she had seen in her vision. Instead, the darkened cathedral gave her pause. A thing of hard angles, flying buttresses, and carved demons keeping watch on high, it needed not to bathe in the blackness of the most wretched of hearts, yet it did so regardless. Who called this land home was mostly unknown to her, where exactly it was had not been made clear, but that ‘voice’ Sirian relied on time from time for guidance made clear what wretch had made that place home.
Shi’Karil hadn’t quite understood how Sirian had meant she heard a voice that could help them if only she could listen closely enough. Just the same, she didn’t see why Sirian had to seclude herself in the silence and emptiness of a cave while she did so. Regardless, the lynx did not move to bother Sirian and discover the truth to the whys even when the first blizzard began. Instead, she waited patiently, the fox’s return, hoping that indeed she did return. When the sun rose after that second day, Shi’Karil had been startled to find that Sirian had done to her what the lynx had so willingly done in leaving the camp. However, unlike Sirian, Shi’Karil was less coordinated and took a dive off the back of the myter to land face first in the snow. She insisted that Sirian had done a poor job securing her and made the myter walk uneven ground to ensure she was tossed from its back. The minor spat did not slow them though, that much made it all the funnier for Sirian, who hadn’t anticipated the fall but surely did enjoy it. What Sirian did not enjoy was knowing that the two she chased were on their way to meet with a third also possessing powers from the pool of Erkinan.
That nameless voice told all that it could to Sirian to prepare her for what lay in store for them once they reached the cathedral. First, there was Mishonrayel; she needn’t a detailed explanation of him; Sirian was well aware of what he could do. Second was the cougar, which the voice identified as one titled the Grand Huntsmen. He wasn’t able to afflict a victim with any intangible effect as Sirian could however was crafty, quick, and merciless, not to mention tracking and hunting skills that made any ranger look no more talented than a cub. From what could be understood of him, the cougar was not under the influence of any demon but perhaps was in league with them. Just the same, the caribou, the Darkstalker, was considered free of corruption though keeping up with a pact with the blood god. His might was in the dark as his name betrayed and what he could do seemed as an equal opposite to Sirian’s powers. That one would give her trouble, the voice made clear to Sirian even before she could think to ask. Together, the three would be more than enough to overwhelm Sirian and Shi’Karil, even if the lynx knew some archaic spells, yet if one could be brought over to their side, hope remained. Sirian was quick to dash that hope, thinking that it would be next to impossible to purify any aside from Mishon, and even if she did, he would only prove useful against this Huntsmen they were up against.
Though they had found their way and weathered much of the awfulness nature had to throw at them, Sirian was still stuck on that one part. How were they going to defy the odds and take down those three? Even with Mishonrayel back on their side and the cougar busied with him, there was that caribou, swathed in darkness, whose power seemed limitless from the impression the voice had cast into her mind. He would be the one to beat, but if Sirian had any way of doing that, it was not apparent enough to her. After all, even were they to lead their attack in the light of day, there was so much more potential to draw on darkness than sunlight. It seemed like they were walking into a trap or worse, stepping headfirst into a quagmire that was not only unwinnable but would cost both women their lives. Sirian didn’t want that for Shi’Karil. Even though the lynx had been reluctant about turning back with the myter. The prospect of reaching Seras or some other village before too long was quite far out of scope, though.
That trouble and terror did not sit far off on the horizon from what Sirian could assert with the knowledge she had been given. Even with days to go, Sirian still wished terribly she could be given more time to address the situation. There had to be someway, something she could do, to send Shi’Karil back east before they reached the cathedral. If she did not, and the two of them failed, then there would be no home to go back to in due time. After all, Sirian was confident that her power was only manifest in herself, and Shi’Karil was likely the last of her people, any of the northerners, with the skill and know-how to cast spells. Even if there were more priestesses to take her place, Shi’Karil had made clear that she had been the strongest among her peers, capable of spells the others could only dream of casting. With that knowledge, every step closer to their foes became harder, the weight heavier, the burden almost too much.
“So, how are we going to handle this, once we reach them?” the mid-morning silence was broken by an all too obvious question from Shi’Karil.
Sirian tried her best not to stare, slack-jawed, for overly long, “I am not entirely sure as I don’t know what this ‘Darkstalker’ is capable of, let alone what Mishonrayel made do upon seeing me once more or if that cougar will still be as wild as he was before. It’s all going to be very sudden, I’m sure, unpredictable… Are you scared?”
“Scared? Scared of what exactly?” her tone became defensive but not enough so that it was blatantly obvious she took offense from the suggestion.
It took a minute for the fox to mull over how she would proceed before she tried at a tangent of thought, “I mean, does any of this frighten you at all? I know we’ve seen some strange and terrible things like the ferals and blood demons and whatever that was back in that copse but does any of this, these things that are coming, scare you? After all, we’re going to be actively seeking one man who we know has power beyond that of a normal man, another who isn’t as endowed with ethereal might but makes up for that in a savageness that borders on primitive, and a creature we’re not even sure is mortal. Doesn’t any of that bother you, let alone what they could do to us, or what will happen if we can’t beat them?”
“We do not believe in giving in to the terror if we can help it. Surely, deep inside myself, I can feel the terrible dread these things cause, but I have to force it away. Keep that thought in mind. Though it may be difficult, those made to face such fears are better off if they can tuck their terror away. For we can not control what will inspire such repugnance in ourselves; however, we can contain it, by way of force,” Shi’Karil imparted, an emptiness in her tone.
Sirian nodded, contemplating the thought, the notion of burying fear in the face of the emotion incarnate. It would be next to impossible and likely was something the northerner was exaggerating or had been raised believing in. Either way, she was right. Sirian knew she couldn’t face the three with fear in her heart, else should she would undoubtedly succumb to their might. All she could hope was that Mishonrayel may come back around and serve to aid them in their plight. Even regarding that possibility, Sirian was filled with doubt. At the same time, she had to wonder if Mishonrayel could be broken free from the power placed over him or if he could do so on his own. For all she knew, Mishon could have broken the hold over his mind and ran from the cougar or stomped him out even. Sirian could only wonder what was happening fur