Of Mortals: Chapter Nineteen

Mishonrayel shifted back and forth on his feet, watching the groups merge and separating again and again on the streets far below in the city. From their vantage on the hill, there was no way a single one of the citizens below could sneak up on them. The dense, granite gray clouds hanging low in the sky overhead certainly helped to dismiss their outlines on the horizon. It was like a land in perpetual twilight when not fully submerged in night. That idea should likely have bothered Mishon; however, what was more glaring and absurd was how, from the apex of the hill, he could almost reach out and touch the tremendous puffy layers of nimbus. He wasn’t keen on trying; they were not unlike the dense, black shadows of the tower home of his youth. And just like those curtains of midnight, Mishonrayel could only stare, stunned in wondering what may lurk just behind that opaque layer.

Clasping a paw on the man’s shoulder, Kovarlin gestured down to the haunting visage of the cathedral at the city’s center. There wasn’t any need to explain. Mishon knew that their contact waited for them within; however, he wasn’t entirely certain how they would reach the place. It wasn’t as though any of those dwelling within the city could know who they were or what they were about, but they were strangers to this land. If a cougar and coyote traveling into foreign territory together wasn’t strange enough, their overall manner would be immediately concerning to any who saw them. They were, after all, far from prime and average candidates for their respective races. Still, they would have to trust that whoever they were intended on meeting in the cathedral would stand for them against whatever indifference the citizens would hold towards them. Kovarlin considered that prospect, but it all felt too akin to much of the deceit and treachery he had seen before in his time. 

As they began down the hill, intent on coming into the city via the main thoroughfare that terminated abruptly at the base of the incline, Kovarlin couldn’t shake a paranoid feeling. The streets, still thoroughly dotted with townsfolk, were reminiscent for him of the last ship he had boarded. Coming up the gangplank to step foot on the Silver Songbird, Kovarlin was met with the stern, unwavering gazes of crewmates who knew him all too well with a look. These people up ahead, he figured, would weigh the two of them just as quickly and likely dispatch of them with greater zeal and finality than the captain had managed.

Trying as he could to not think of it, Kovarlin kept finding himself coming back to that notion, that unshakable truth. Captain Evanry had known precisely what Kovarlin had been about but taken him aboard anyway. He waited until they were on the open sea to launch into his tirade against him before taking action into his own paws. The crew had been on his side the whole way, at least almost the whole crew, and once they had been given leave to do so, they seized him. Being left high and dry, deserted on the ocean in a lifeboat without a lick of supplies in it had been nightmarish. However, Kovarlin had to insist that if their contact was of a similar mind to Evanry, then his betrayal would not leave them stranded on an island on the high seas. That was if this rather shadowy figure turned out to be a turncoat like the captain. Whether or not they would soon taste their own doom was a verdict yet to be reached; however, the reactions of the citizens were about to become all too clear.

Stepping onto the cobblestones of the roadway, both men had expected a sudden response from the townsfolk. Their reaction, if any, was as minimal as an acknowledging gaze, but they had figured that was perhaps because the two of them were still a ways off. As they moved further into the city, coming in range of the perimeter where business and homes sprouted up, the citizens were still not stirred to respond. Perhaps, Mishonrayel considered, that these folks had been already exposed to strangers from strange lands and did not bat an eye at any newcomers wandering into their territory. Moreover, it was just as possible that these folk, caribou by the looks of them, were far more accepting of whatever odd travelers might walk their way. Coming not more than a few paces of the first mingling group of townsfolk, however, yielded an unexpected answer. 

The dull-eyed caribou stumbled and shifted about, their gazes fixed low, and their expressions lacking any life. Mishonrayel gaped and gawked at the people as they milled past them, looking less attentive than even someone trying to ignore him. Kovarlin, on the other paw, was immediately defensive and wary of the bunch. Nothing was more alarming than those who seemed entirely disinterested with an otherwise suspicious stranger. Even a hollow welcome denoted much more than Kovarlin would have wanted to suspect about the caribou. While Mishon stepped forward, moving to intervene on one of the groups creeping by, Kovarlin thought to stop him; however, he held his tongue and place watching as the coyote moved forward.

Gently as he was able, Mishonrayel grabbed one of the passing men by the arm, hoping to get his attention and help in finding the cathedral. Yet, as he laid a paw on the caribou, he spun around a dagger of midnight sky targeting Mishon’s jugular. Had he slower reflexes, the coyote would have spewed every last drop of blood out from the gash that could have been made in his throat. And had Kovarlin any further dulled response, the caribou would have had a second go at it. Propelling himself from where he had stood idle to his associate, Kovarlin led in with a daggered paw and an elbow outthrust. The ebony blade shot through the man’s ribs like a molten blade through the softest butter imaginable, while the elbow struck his chest, tossing the foe to the cobbles. For a moment, Mishonrayel was awe-struck before realizing that the other caribous were now encroaching on their position. Swing the club Kovarlin had constructed in the copse, now harden to an extremely dense, stone-like texture, Mishonrayel readied to fight for his life. 

Before the coyote could go charging forward to begin smashing heads and likely enough find his own death, Kovarlin pulled the man back. Indicating how many more groups of the aimless wanderers had found interest in their conduct, the cougar attempted to warn Mishonrayel of the incredible danger. It was apparent this had been a trap, even if it was taking Mishon a minute to realize it. Kovarlin knew this sight all too well. The feeling was familiar enough; however, this time, the sting was lessened as he prepared himself for this possibility. Brandishing his knife, Kovarlin began backstepping down the path with Mishonrayel in tow, even if he had to pull to man back with him. As the mob, seemingly perpetually bathed in shadow, tightened their perimeter, it seemed almost possible that this trap had been entirely too successful. Just as the cloud-eyed caribou moved ever closer, blades and blunt instruments of shadow raised high, a voice boomed, parting their numbers.

Through the parted mass, a cyclopean figure stood, brooding with the darkness and shadows that filled the land. He was a monolith of fur and flesh, but for all intent and purposes, he was a creature made of night. Though he neared, it did not look so much as though he walked down the aisle made for him as he very much slid closer into view. The figure gave off a most imposing aura that Kovarlin couldn’t help but feel inside and out. The murky grayed out eyes were unlike those of the other caribous; instead, they peered deep into the soul. Kovarlin’s grip on his blade tightened, ready at any moment to charge forward and plunge that edge of absolute blackness into the night drenched being, towering before them.

Once he was within range, the man regarded the two, silently weighing them out as though trying to discern where he had seen them before. Despite the apparent hostility the two men showed, the caribou’s utterances came in an utterly velutinous voice, “It surely is passed time for your arrival, my compeers. However, I needn’t think you would come so bellicose to my lands, engaging even my servants.”

“Servants? These folk don’t seem much’a any kinda servant. Closer to dead they be, even if that one got some teeth to ’em still,” Kovarlin remarked, indicating the caribou who had attacked them, now returned to his feet. 

Mishonrayel remained silent, staring on as the caribou delivered a swift riposte, “They are well enough to serve the cause this bastion of night calls them to, rest assured. Now you needn’t continue your apoplectic assault on my people, physical or otherwise. We have much greater things to attend to, wouldn’t you say?”

“You’re the Darkstalker then? The one we’ve been sent to meet?” Mishonrayel asked as though just now becoming concerned with the current conversation.

Returning to an otherwise halcyon state, he responded, “Yes, but you needn’t trouble with such a formal title; Amirot will do just fine. Now come, the depths of the cathedral will prove a more inviting environment for our discussions.”

Without a further word, Mishonrayel followed Amirot, careless of those that formed the walls of flesh the caribou moved through. Kovarlin was skeptically and slower afoot to follow this strange new ally; however, there was little else he could do. He would have to trust that this caribou had his best interest at heart and would not quickly show to be a turncoat. As he slipped through the lane made in the crowds of washed-out caribou, Kovarlin worried he may need to begin slash and stabbing a way out of the gathered masses. Instead, they stood, idle and dull as statues covered in thick garments of moss and ivy. That did not bode well for the cougar. He could see some element was missing in these men, as though the spark of life had been extinguished within in their hearts. Yet, he could not allow that perturbation to halt his steps or cloud his judgment. The events as of recent had been far from average. There was no reason to suspect foul play, not just yet, at least.

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