Of Mortals: Chapter Twenty-two

Irritated beyond belief, not even quite sure why he should even remain, Kovarlin adjourned to his rooms. Mishonrayel would be no use venting to. The coyote seemed too stupid to be anything but muscle for when they’d need it. Even were he slightly better off in the department of intellect, Kovarlin was quite sure that Mishon didn’t enjoy Amirot’s company. Of course, he would, the fool was here against his will in so many ways and was likely just doing his best to enjoy his time here. After all, what more could the man want beyond safety and comfort? Having cohorts to be among and have a vested interest in the plan was only just a bonus on Mishon’s already meager gains. It would all just have to dwell in his mind, if not be lost in the void of dreams, at least Kovarlin hoped.

Entering his bed-chamber, Kovarlin was overcome with a lethargy that had evaded his bones for quite some time. All the while moving towards the cathedral, he may have felt some tug of weariness on himself, but it was pushed away every time. He wanted to be more energetic and examine the room, or at least be lively enough to ensure there awaited no traps for him, yet his body protested. The gray monochrome that was the outside world did little to help Kovarlin maintain a wakeful mind. It instead felt oppressive on his mind and body, the weight of despair set on shoulders too disheartened to retain their own strength. Ignoring the oddities and knickknacks that lined the walls, forgoing examination of the paintings and other artifacts of a time long lost, and neglecting the charm of all those features far removed from a world wherein they made sense, Kovarlin made for the bed. However, as the cougar tore back the icy cold covers, he made a discovery that sent him reeling and nearly running for the door.

Beneath the top layer of quilts and blankets was a shape that had been cloaked in the darkness that filled the majority of the space. It wasn’t until its still shining, metallic facade was exposed that Kovarlin detected it in truth. With a sharp, angular face, complete with a beak that stretched nearly as long as the rail-thin neck that curved like a hook, it was anything but welcoming. Despite himself, Kovarlin let out a horrified scream the second his eyes crossed the form in his bed. It wasn’t for several minutes after uncovering the armored body that he was able to steel his nerves enough to approach once more. This time, however, Kovarlin made sure to light one of the hanging braziers near the room’s center.

Apprehensive to come too close to such an unknown entity, Kovarlin had his dagger drawn before he even dared to step beyond the lit brazier. As he came closer, step by step, he noticed that there was not the slightest movement on behalf of this intruder. Its chest did not even rise and fall with breath. Feeling no more at ease, Kovarlin went from a crawl to a leap as he came directly beside the bed in a flurry of motion, putting the dagger under the figure’s beak. It did not move, not even flinch or let out a minor sound of concern. It had to be dead. From behind Kovarlin, a sudden slam jolted his attention, almost forcing him to slash the bedridden body’s throat. Facing the doorway, Kovarlin found the lurking shadow that was Amirot giving him an overly friendly smile. Irritated to have been made the butt of a joke no one really could laugh at aside from the caribou, Kovarlin turned on him.

Crossing the room just as quickly as he had when approaching the bed, Kovarlin cornered Amirot, the dagger still in paw. In a terse tone, Kovarlin demanded his answers, “Ya t’ink this funny? Puttin’ a dead body in ‘another man’s bed yo idea of a joke?”
“Hardly, the occupant of your bed is no more dead now than it ever had been alive. What you see there is an automaton from that bygone age of the avians, note the beak. That wind-up soldier of sorts is composed of cogs and gears, not vital organs as you or I. Rest assured, it is forever dormant now, its internal faculties no longer what they were and certainly in need of rigorous repair. These mechanical marvels dot the entirety of the city; however, they are nothing but useless mannequins that serve only to depict those creatures who came before us, not unlike the colossal clockwork that makes up the main floors. However, most importantly, good Huntsmen, you should know I did not place this mechanical man here. Rare is it a venture to chambers that do not immediately concern me. This room is no exception,” Amirot gave his most winning smile as though that should have soothed Kovarlin’s enraged mind. For all it was worth, the cougar affected a calm before asking the man to go on his way so he could rest. Yet, after the caribou bid Kovarlin farewell and good evening, the man did not sleep, not immediately at least.

Firstly, he had to lug the incredibly heavy armored body from his bed, an act better left to someone like Mishon if only Kovarlin were humble enough to ask. Once that was done, he set the cumbersome ibex against the far wall. He studied it a time, noting that had he only looked closer initially, he would have found not a single bit of organic material on the thing. That would explain why he detected not even the slightest odor of life on it and instead the heavy scents of iron and oil. Amirot had been right when he had regarded them as machines made up of gears and clockwork. Where openings in the armor persisted, due to design or decay, he could see much of the inner workings. Far be it from Kovarlin to understand such educated designs, but he could not find a means of power or activation for the mechanical man. Instead, emblazoned on the tabard of this bird was one great insignia. Though he couldn’t quite make heads or tails of where had he seen it, Kovarlin knew he had laid eyes on it before. Regardless, it seemed this metal bird was not suited for flying anytime soon; he would do further investigations the next day. Kovarlin could only assume any other discoveries made of the ibex knight would be far less startling than the initial moment he laid eyes upon it, which was far more than he could say about his dreams.

The dreamscape splayed before him in the night was surreal but not wholly divorced from reality at large. What was set into his mind was that vision of the eastern villages, that one with its monumental row of steps left otherwise untouched in his thoughts. He had wanted to burn it from memory, bury it for all time, and forever remove any lingering piece from his thoughts. Instead, the encounter there was in the forefront of his thoughts, seconded only by the occurrence in the copse what felt like ages ago. Perhaps it was the severity of each situation, or it may have been because his life had been so dreadfully endangered in both scenarios that they refused to leave him. Both he knew had been brought about by two causes; that duty he was bound to perform and the mix of ignorance and arrogance that he approached far too many of his problems with. Had he been wiser, had Kovarlin chosen a different path, maybe if he had been born as someone else, all such things could have been avoided, but that was not the way of things for him.

He stared down that path that twisted around the final rising plate of land that leveled out into the plain that overlooked Seras. They had chased him that far from the lowest tier of houses at the bottom of the hill and only given up pursuit as their priestess headed up the mob. Kovarlin hadn’t come to deal with her directly, at least not yet. Instead, he had hoped to free the other one among them. Mishonrayel would have no qualm about joining the cougar’s side, that much he was sure, and if he didn’t, Goredrinker would fix that. Instead, Kovarlin had been spotted early in his attempt to find and free the coyote leading to all the chaos the village was thrown into. He had just about released his new ally too when Mishonrayel rebuffed him, striking hard enough to nearly knock him clear out. As Kovarlin found his feet again, he realized the need to run overwhelmed any urge to free the coyote.

As he watched the path, Kovarlin expected that same act to play out as it had in reality and all too many nights in his dreams; however, this time was different. Instead of a girl, young and probably beautiful for a fox, what came was an immensity of light. It was not without form, this remarkable beacon. It was instead set to what would otherwise have been assuredly an invisible being. Were it to have substance, the creature would have stood at least three to four men high and proportionally widen to that size. Kovarlin’s feet froze. In fact, as he tried to move, he found his legs wrapped and stuck fast in place with some strange vine-like tendrils. As he began to scream, a paw came up, glowing brighter with that white-hot light that poured into him as he fled that first time. However, as the hand readied to release its power, Kovarlin was able to move once more. Freed, he did all he could to escape the colossus that seemed dead set on annihilation.

The terrain changed underfoot as Kovarlin moved with more haste than he had ever known he was capable of. From a flat trail that led past the elevated plain and beside the river, Camora, was now a rocky path cutting through the side of the Amethyst Peaks. As he turned back to face the figure, the world around Kovarlin shifted, as did the creature. The bowls of a ship surrounded him, water rising past his ankle and just about at his knees while the invisible creature’s form altered. It lost the shape of the fox in favor of something large with bulbous growths spawning from the mass that was both face and body that sported a herd of feelers. Swirling his gaze forward again, Kovarlin found the stairs coming up, which he cleared in bounds and leaps. Once at the top, he slammed the door down into the depths of the ship

before the beast could reach the steps. Again the world was changed, and instead of finding the stern of the captain’s old boat, he found that collection of trees. The nightmare that Mishonrayel insisted was the work of the Spiritcatcher stood before him. This time he wouldn’t charge in wildly, blind with stupidity; instead, Kovarlin turned tail to run. He was met with a peaceful scene in this sea of tumultuous visions, but something within left him feeling uneasy.

Kovarlin approached a hollow in the enormous birch tree immediately before him at the end of the lane he stood in. The bark was peeling away in that curling fashion that birch were often enough prone to; however, that wasn’t all Kovarlin noticed. Beneath the bark there were runes, glowing in ethereal hues that were not possible with anything in nature. All of the bark that had peeled away also sported the markings; however, their luminescence had faded well past the point of recognition. As he busied himself studying the markings within the tree’s heart, a wind twisted until, from the stirred up leaves and debris, a figure was formed. Immediately, a voice boomed from the hollow, setting Kovarlin’s nerves on end. So stunned by the sight of this otherworldly thing was Kovarlin that he did not notice what was happening until it was finished.

From the shimmering hollow figure’s side, it drew a spear made up of equal unreal material. Hefting it, the creature sent the projectile flying just past Kovarlin’s shoulder as though it had missed only by a hair. A cry that could shatter bone and rupture organs echoed all around as that haunting specter that had nearly consumed the unwitting cougar was eradicated. Vaguely aware of the threat, Kovarlin regarded it with a glance before the thing within the birch again drew his attention. It lacked any distinguishable features beyond limbs and head and perhaps a set of swirling horns on either side of its brow. Somewhere in that mass, there had to be eyes, else how did it see Kovarlin, and to that same token, he had to be confident that within there was a mouth as its melodious voice danced on the breeze to him, taking him off guard entirely. The sounds this creature made were not the only troubling and startling aspect to its speech, not after Kovarlin began to listen to what it said.

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