Of Mortals: Chapter Twenty

The cathedral was a massive monstrosity of ebony set into a nighttime scene that somehow looked bright by contrast. All of the various towers and buttresses made the undertaking seem something that could have never been attained in any lifetime. So many intricate engravings, statues, and carvings made certain to show that not only had the building been a monumental work on the macro scale but had not gone without its own microcosms of finer detail. There was no need to ask Amirot if this place had been wrought by the hands of workers from another age and made to live eternal beyond the years of its builders, its every aspect spoke to that. Ignoring the statues and murals that obviously depicted a race of upright, full-sized, avian creatures, the more acute aspects of perches where the arts had been worked, or the oddly specific engraver’s marks gave them away. The impression of feathers scoring across still malleable material was always an indicator of those denizens of whatever lost age they had dwelt within.

The feature that struck the two travelers most was what had captivated so many from far and wide, through this age and that. Those enormous, stone demons that watched with eyes of energized crystal gemstones that would almost insist the creatures themselves were not without their vitality still. Passing beneath the awning that protected the main entrance, Mishonrayel was left to look skeptically at the statues. Kovarlin could understand why, however, insisted that the coyote keep up, acknowledging the acute terror he no doubt felt but assuring him it was no trap. And though he may have overcome any temporary doubt, within himself or for their host, once inside, Mishonrayel was given again to pause and an almost all-consuming fear.

Dark, wrought iron covered the internals of the cathedral like the bars of a cage; however, where one offered a glimpse of freedom beyond the other only gave dreadful impressions of looming death. The portraits and tapestries set behind and between the iron bars shown the tortured masses of one race or another driven before those who were no doubt the ruling class. Some were put to the rope, and others drown well, still more burnt in this depiction, but those did not seem to be the most malicious of fates. Rather, the image of cardinals set into racks having each and every feather stripped from them against their will looked the most gruesome of punishments. After all, without its feathers to bolster its wings, what was a bird’s life? Yet, if those images plastered so plainly on the cathedral walls bothered Mishonrayel or Kovarlin, it was nothing when set against the overly ornate and incredibly too detailed scene painted on the dome overhead.

Swirling from the furthest reaches of the dome to the top, where the architecture flattened out in one great coin, was a massive mural depicting a hungry maw, a tremendous void. To these lost folk, it likely was entirely axiomatic what was happening to those sucked into the torrent that consumed the painting, but to these strangers to this religion eons later, it was nonsense. To Kovarlin, it looked like an image of rapture, the end of time, and all those deemed worthy of something more were being spirited away. Yet, to Mishonrayel, it was an image of judgment, the pained cries and agonized faces looked as though what await them in the abyss would be further torment. And, though perhaps he would not admit it to himself, Amirot concluded or wanted to conclude that the black pit was a resemblance of his own might. Perhaps some soothsayer from this bygone age had seen his coming and inspired this work, or there had been another host to skills not unlike his own. Either case, Amirot had felt a subtle fear at the depiction while also feeling more than confident in his own abilities with his power. Breaking from his reverie, he saw the two men, one of which was still transfixed by the void and the other who seemed to be forcefully ignoring it in favor of the various gears and mechanisms within the main chamber.

Amirot allowed Kovarlin time to study the overly elaborate machine that had been built into every inch of the cathedral’s main building. They did not function any longer, far too many lacunae within the network of gears and pulleys and so on. Yet it did not keep any who looked upon it from being impressed and intimidated by the horologium that had counted away days and nights and cycles upon cycles for a race that was now so far in the past that not a single soul could even find organic evidence of their existence. Perhaps, Amirot considered, deep within one of the Erkinan enriched structures that had survived the last breaking of the world, they could find just such evidence. Buried in a catacomb stacked and layered with bony bodies or tucked away in a storeroom beneath the lowest stair, there lay a mummified jay who had never suspected just how close death did lurk in their shadow. Seeing they were getting nowhere fast, Amirot decided to gather up and focus his guests’ attention on himself.

“So, as you may see, this tomb of ancient life, this vessel carved out and left behind by its so luminary creators, is so much more than meets the eye. Perhaps, once we have finished the rites and have been given our undue recess from this vigorous expedition, we shall have time to vacillate on the past further. Now, I know you two are wont to believe yourselves little more than average men, yet I must be the one to tell you, we three have reached an entirely new echelon of existence among our respective races. What comes now is how we cement ourselves and remove our legacies from the pool of otherwise evanescent success,” Amirot imparted, his tone grand though now a bit more fierce over his softer demeanor outside.
It didn’t quite make sense to Kovarlin; Amirot ruled over these people. Why should he insist on seeming fair and just to outlanders? All the same, he put in, “And hows about do you know a single bit’a that?”
“Your distrust in me may prove to be our single greatest remora in this whole undertaking, but fear not, if you can not believe me, then the Goredrinker can be brought out with alacrity and solve our squabbles. After all, he and the Spiritcatcher seem to find this place ever so charming and inviting. They often come even when I have not requested their presence. Trust, however, we are the new paragon of existence, and none shall learn of any means to topple or equal us. With the blood of the fallen god, we scry a future and a pantheon of new rulers. And with this new fate in our grasps we shall write a better future, a purified destiny, rather than falling in line, gnathonicly begging to old deities who know not our names or why we were created,” the caribou cried out, as reverent in his reply as any who had once given sermons in that cathedral ever could have been.
Meekly, Mishonrayel asked, “So, where is it we begin? What are we doing here? Protecting you, I was told, but you have a whole city it seems to watch your tail.”
“Ah, yes, brethren, let us adjourn to more comfortable quarters deeper inside this sanctum, and we shall see what must be done. I have no doubt you outdistanced that one who seeks to oppose us in our quest. What first we must conclude is how we shall deal with that wretched witch once she ventures into this city. She could be distraught and sent away, realizing this to be no more than a necropolis of walking corpses; however, should she permeate the defenses and shift the door, entering into this so unmarked sepulcher we will be forced into more skulduggery than I would care to participate in. Anyhow, let us find comfort, deeper within this house of the ancients,” Amirot sighed, seeming just as exhausted after his wild speeches as the other two were from traveling territories away to this foreign place.

They began out of the domed chamber, leaving behind depictions of death and destruction in favor of more calming and comforting rooms. All the while, Kovarlin couldn’t bring himself to forget his distrust for this strange man. Even if he offered a world of hospitality, hope in a future better than any he could have ever expected, and perhaps even a kinship in their endeavor, he could not see the man as anything but a mouthpiece with little substance to his words. He could offer him decadent food, rooms that put even the estate belonging to the mayor of his hometown to shame, and a reprieve from fear and paranoia the man rarely had if ever felt, but it was not enough. Amirot needed to prove his allegiance to Kovarlin before he would bestow his trust and not merely because the Goredrinker approved of him. Yet, Kovarlin wasn’t sure he would get that proof before the time came to trust him.

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