As figures moved down into the valley from the southern horizon, the light waned, fading from night into day, or perhaps it was day into night, it was almost impossible for Mishonrayel to differentiate the two. He sat on one of the spacious balconies of the cathedral that allowed anyone to overlook virtually all of the city and beyond. While Mishon quietly sipped away at his wine punch, a mix of cider and fermented drink, he listened on as the caribou continued on in his way. Though he couldn’t understand every word, having trouble comprehending these stranger terms and phrases Amirot threw out, he was intent on looking knowledgeable. The worst part of it all was that he could not lean over and consult with Kovarlin to see if he understood the man any better. Yet, for all Mishonrayel could glean, Kovarlin was still in the private chambers Amirot had provided to him, doing what the coyote could only guess.
Throughout his lecturing, Amirot’s voice lost its smooth velvety quality in favor of something more rough and hoarse. Likely it was due to the fact he had hardly paused for more than a second in the past hour and that being only to breathe. Again he indicated the sky, those unmoving clouds that devoured light and cast the land into its eternal twilight. At this, Mishonrayel once more tried to force himself into a genuine attentiveness rather than feigning he was so readily concerned about any one thing the caribou could say. Yet, for all his confusion with the man’s speech earlier, what Amirot said next was not cloaked behind words as fancy as the cathedral but were so direct and blatant that even Mishonrayel could understand with ease.
“That woman, the Goredrinker has named her to me as Sirian; the importance of her removal is nigh on ineffable. To even consider what would happen should she make it this far, a truer thanatopsis I could not endeavor to consider. I needn’t wish to drain that otherwise sanguine mood of our meeting, my friend, but at this time, our work is a tangle of gossamer, easily taken on the breeze and thrown into anarchy should it slip our grasps. This nimbus overhead is our most vital link to the future. Should it be exposed, it’s frailties taken in that malevolent paw of the fox, we shall forever be cast into the obscurity of time, into the void of those who dared to hazard such a dangerous goal and fail,” finally, on that note, the caribou’s explanations petered out. He sat quietly in a chair across from Mishon, gazing determinedly at the rifts and twists in the marble of the balcony.
“Well, ya gonna tell us why this lil’ cloud’a yers is so important, or are we left swingin’ in the winds, wonderin’ why we came all this way, for ya?” Kovarlin interjected, still somewhat concealed behind a veil of curtains blowing freely in the breeze through the open door.
Amirot straightened, his crestfallen expression shifting into one of offense, “Yes, of course, the reason this cloud has antecedence over the whole operation, even our lives, is simple. It is to serve as an immense feeler, if you will, to search and disclose where the scion of the flesh dwells. You see, friends, our mutual aid, the Goredrinker, requests his former form prior to any boon received on our end. From our correspondence, collectively, we’ve determined it is likely in the far south, potentially in a drowned, antediluvian city, or just as likely, within the bowels of a resplendent and antique temple.”
“So how do you use that cloud? It’s a bunch of puffs, nothing more, right?” Mishonrayel butted in with a remark he had thought sounded stupid in his head, only to find it was much worse out loud.
Amirot smiled politely, “Indeed, but once imbued with a king’s share of my ethereal vigor, they function as a thing apart from any casually wandering nimbus. The shadow it will cast gives me not only the ability to view the world but interact. All I need do is find the proper location, vivify the old flesh by bringing it to safety, and the Goredrinker will do the rest.”
“Why do it matter what body he got? Can’t he do nothin’ with anythin’ else?” Kovarlin quickly questioned, not allowing another word out of either man.
Amirot sat quiet, studying the cougar as he slowly slipped a paw into the pocket of his ornate coat to retrieve something from an inside pocket. Between two fingers, the caribou snapped a pencil-thin reed of sorts that seemed to be filled with a powdery material. Casually, Amirot pressed it to the tip of his tongue, allowing the pale garnet powder to dissolve in his saliva. He again eyed the clouds, the umbra cast by them seemingly growing in strength, almost cause enough to require a candle. Finally, after diligently thinking it over, he answered, “It is an answer that could be explained straightforward with a minute selection of words, but at the same time, such a brief, unrefined telling would do no justice to the point. I suppose, in short, you could say his abilities have a similarity with my own. Beyond his flesh, the Goredrinker can manipulate vessels as though he were, in fact, the rightful possessor of said organism. However, removed from the original tenement of his self, he is far less powerful. It is consistent with my own ability; though I could shift the dark about weakly, lay siege to a new form with limited control or duration, I would be overall, under-powered.”
“That’s what you’re doing with the others down there, isn’t it?” Mishonrayel blurted, unaware that the answer was as obvious as the need to ask was for him. The other two men only regarded him with quizzical expressions before moving on.
As silence passed the trio, Mishonrayel felt that perhaps his presence was not necessary at that time or more an intrusion and distraction rather than anything else. With quiet gestures, he dismissed himself to adjourn to his chambers deep in the cathedral. As he made his way, Mishon inspected tapestries and portraits, statues, and other more abstract works that adorned walls, hung from the ceiling, or made up brief lengths in the overall architecture. There was no way on earth Mishonrayel would ever be able to appreciate all of the elegant details, motifs, and design choices; however, he had a more straightforward understanding of these works that did not detract from what was presented. Though he may not have understood how or why a portrait of innumerable splotches of paint had been put together to depict an image far more cohesive the further back you stood, he still enjoyed it. Symbols and runic inscriptions dancing down a dense swath of hide made no sense to him, but Mishon could enjoy the color, the shapes, and the composition. Yet, for all he enjoyed of the wandering art gallery that made up the upper corridors and chambers of the cathedral, what Mishonrayel could not even pretend to fancy were those more morbid depictions.
Though the images of death and torture and disgust were less prevalent beyond the main chamber of the lower cathedral, they were not entirely absent from the other stories. What stood at the center of the vestibule between the stairs up and down was one such exception. Mishonrayel had only just barely glimpsed the wretched thing, but now that he was permitted more time of his own to examine it, he found himself more and more put off. It was not a carving in wood or marble, not formed from stone or even metal, but had an almost organic quality to it. There was a rigid structure beneath the soft and fleshy exterior that was pockmarked and textured with rough ridges. Overall, it looked far from anything comparable to a living creature; no race running about the world today looked similar to it even when considering birds and reptiles or underwater things. If he were to describe it with any words, Mishon would have called it slug-like while featuring tiny barbs like a cockle-bur and, in many ways, what looked to be staff rising from its center. Punctuating the pole-like structure was something like the head of a wish flower, round and made of thin stems that together made the overall shape. Though there was little reason it should have given him pause, the facade not all that terrible in appearance if not for the texture that made it, the sculpture gave Mishonrayel an uneasy feeling. As he left the vestibule, he backed away from the statue until reaching the door at the opposite end, not wanting to let the thing from his sight while he was alone.
The darkness itself slithered around Amirot’s arm and formed biting edges until the totality of his limb was bladed. With a wary look, Kovarlin stepped back, his blade dripping a fluid that looked almost like ink for its color and viscosity. As the cougar’s knife found its way back into its sheath, the blackness around the caribou receded. Like the ash and residual smoke of a dying fire, the flowing material danced off into the breeze before becoming again part of the world around the cathedral. Straightening his now ruined coat, Amirot effected a far cooler demeanor than he had any right of broadcasting at that moment, “A worthy attempt, friend, but you see beneath the veil, there is no mortal affliction nor wound that can rend me low. Honestly, did you think I was honored with such a position in this world without an immensity of evidence that I am superior? I could have plucked away that so minuscule dagger and asphyxiated you with only a pinch of my might. What shall we do with you now, though? What is to become of an insubordinate underling?”
“Well, c’mon, kill me if ya can? But ya gotta know, if ya fail, Imma have ye’r head,” Kovarlin rumbled, uncertainty if he could behead man without removing him from the cathedral first.
Abruptly, from silence, came a hearty, resounding laugh, “My, Huntsman, you think my jest be more than just a friendly spot of humor? You mistake me, Kovarlin. I haven’t half a mind to murder you in cold blood, especially
when your exertions could lead to little if any lasting impairment. No, you’re simply too imperative to this undertaking. Now, you should find your rest for the evening, we need to hatch our plans sooner rather than later, and I will not have use for enervated allies.”
With cautious, almost skeptical steps, Kovarlin removed himself from the balcony, unsure if he could trust Amirot. The caribou had clearly seen through his bluff and would probably not hesitate to strike him down the second he was no longer of use. Yet, despite all that, Amirot simply sat, calm and confident, watching the cougar fade into the darkness. Perhaps he could feel Kovarlin’s unease with him. It was entirely possible that Amirot spotted distrust in his eyes the moment they had met. If Kovarlin wasn’t careful, he figured he might just find himself skewered through and through with the shadows that monster of a man commanded. What he needed was a way to level the playing field between the two of them. It wasn’t as though he had any cause to kill Amirot, as of yet, but he liked to know that he wasn’t outmatched so easily. If there was any one thing that Kovarlin detested was being the weakest link. It didn’t matter if he was outnumbered; having power on his side was all that made sense in the end. And once Amirot had outlived his usefulness, he would make it clear that he was not without his own might.