Of Mortals: Chapter Twenty-five

Jaium slashed down another of the beasts, still trying to surge their way up the mound into the gates. It was far easier to do things this way, but all the same, far more dangerous for those on the ground. All that could be hoped, for those brave wolves around Jaium, was that those on the wall could do their job well enough that it would cover any of their missteps. After all, those who need only hurl their spears in a cadence that permitted zero movement from the opposition was not a difficult task; Jaium had done so on the last incursion. Thick, jelly-like, opaque, blue-green blood splashed from the openings in the monster’s flesh, yet that never seemed to be cause enough for them to fall back. It often took a vital blow, a cut beneath the throat or a spear breaching the skull to make the beasts think twice. To Jaium, it didn’t matter how hard he struck or which part of the body he targeted. After all he had gotten from LaRoue, he simply wanted to destroy.

Glimpsing that blood-streaked muzzle, still far in the rear of the group, Jaium was turned into a man possessed. With alacrity, he pushed and forced his way, finding little headway made as he fell one of the beasts who had been skewered in the spine from above. Almost organic in his movements, as though the tool was meant for him, Jaium drew the spear. So focused on Sothoh, Jaium did not even register the creatures the others were forced to slay around him as he moved forward on an invisible track. With each step, his muscles tensed, and the vision was made clear in his mind until his arms were drawing the weapon back and then launching the projectile. There was a dream-like quality to it all as Jaium kept his gaze focused on his past friend, only vaguely aware of the spear falling in his direction with all the force of a meteor.

With what could almost have been a shrug, the feral wolf moved out of the course the spear had been set on and lurched backward. As that eternal moment finally faded away, the oldest of his few friends fading from his line of sight, Jaium had to concede it was over. Those few remaining beasts flew with the haste of frightened myters from a hungry shren or bog lizard. He could count them, were he so inclined to, yet it didn’t matter, this was going to be the last time any of these ferals made it up so far or engaged the wolves at all.

Their attacks had become fewer and further between with every day until now when the attacks would come only twice a day. With each incursion, they no doubt lost far more than they fell themselves, and even with those few they could take and convert, the invading monsters were doing poorly. As their numbers depleted, by loss or disassociation from their cause, it became abundantly clear the beasts no longer saw any prospect in Roya. That should have been good news to Jaium, but to know his friend, someone he owed his own life to, was still among those beasts now fleeing, threw the man into a frenzy. No matter what his rational and relatively intelligent thoughts may have told him, Jaium instead gave into the compulsions of his heart.

Without even pausing to think or mutter a response to those behind him awaiting an explanation for his actions, Jaium set off at a run after the sparse collective of beasts. As he passed the spear, drawing it as he did so, Jaium became only vaguely aware of those calling after him. He caught a few words here and there in all their shouting, but it wasn’t as though he intended to stop. Even as they warned of the nearing dark, a coming blizzard, as well as the already ever-present dangers of the wilds beyond the gate, Jaium couldn’t bring his feet to stop. Ignoring how poorly his feet were wrapped, only really ready to march up and down the slope leading into Roya, Jaium threw himself into depths of snow that only those heavily burden beasts could plow through. Regardless of any obstacles sitting in his path, Jaium was resolute in finding Sothoh and driving that spear through him, even if it meant his own life.

Derius Moqura watched as his top lieutenant dashed away from the pack at a maddening pace as though he had just become one of the ravenous beasts that only now seemed to lose interest in sieging the city. As other soldiers looked to him, expecting orders of some sort or another, the wolf’s jaw fell slack. Looking to Allaren for confirmation, Derius gestured to where the man had just been, “Has he gone full mad on us?”
“Can’t say. Are we going after him, Alpha Moqura? I can’t imagine he’ll fare well against those things even if they are less now than ever before,” the veteran fighter remarked, knowing both of her commanding officers too well to play the fool.
Looking to those atop the wall, Derius called, “Send word to Atlai that we are pursuing the creatures now that their numbers are low. Do not inform him of Jaium’s departure. Are we clear?”
“As crystal, Alpha!” called back one of the archers who immediately left the wall, no doubt carrying the message as fast as the breeze could.
Nodding to Allaren to begin after Jaium, Derius called up to the men on the wall once more, “I need you men to shut the gate and keep a vigil for the return of Allaren and myself with the others or Jaium. If he comes back alone, though, you’d best leave him waiting outside. Take not his word but his actions. We can’t very well trust that he is well clear of any of these tricks of the Goredrinker without good cause.”
“Then let’s hope he is more fortunate than our late friend Sothoh and equally as fortified of spirit, ey Moqura?” came the voice of Atlai as he approached the wall. He looked down on the Alpha with a weighing glare. There was no doubt the Chief trusted Derius; however, he was just as aware of the man’s shortcomings as well as his every strength and accomplishment. Not wanting to keep returning Atlai’s gaze, Derius took off after the rest of his soldiers, trying to look as concerned for Jaium as he was, in fact, concern for his own military career. It wasn’t after all that he did not care for Jaium, but without his military position, Derius would be letting down one more important to him than the missing wolf.

Leaping banks of snow and slimming through tightly packed crops of trees, dotted with glimmering icicles that were far more solid than they looked, Jaium pursued the beasts by their tracks. They couldn’t be far. The snow around the prints was still settling; the warmth just barely departed as some of the ice began reforming from cold waters. With each step, Jaium knew he was getting himself more lost and plunging deeper into a world becoming increasingly darker. It was still that late dusk period of a winter evening, wherein the sun’s light is well past finished for the day and the star’s luminosity yet to come to power for the night. One wrong move in this overly hasty pursuit that was itself a poor choice would have Jaium little more than a meal for these hungry things. Worse still, just like Sothoh, Jaium could be made one of the wretched beasts with no one to seek out his destruction or pay proper rights to his spirit. The ramifications began to set in on his rational mind and made a competent argument against the aches and passions of the heart. Yet he was too far now to turn back, and if those shifting shadows in the distance meant anything, Jaium was now nearly engaging the beastials rather than losing them.

With renewed fervor and intensity, Jaium charged on through the snow, readying to skewer the first beast he could. If he could get Sothoh and be confident of his end, that was all that mattered to Jaium. After Sothoh was finished, it didn’t quite matter if he slew the others or if they ran. To him, it wouldn’t matter if he lived or died. To know that Sothoh was at peace, that his death was not without worth or salvation, was all that mattered to Jaium then. After all, he deserved the sort of fate that Sothoh had been dealt for all his earthly misdeeds. That kind-hearted wolf had no right being cursed in the manner he was now, and if Jaium could land this first lance blow on him, it would all be over. Yet, then came the sickle-like claws of death, emerging from the tree line before Jaium could even perceive what was about to happen.

Snow shot up into plumes of white powder, and the blood-marked muzzle dove down in its first attempt to seize Jaium’s jugular. He had moved only slightly, forcing the twisted and contorted wolf muzzle to slam hard into the frozen earth. Shock was a temporary thing in Jaium’s mind, the fear and realization passed by in a blink, and before he could think on it further, he threw his arm, holding the spear, up as high as he could. When the cry from the beast that had once been Sothoh struck his ears, Jaium could have wept, but there was no time for softness now. Even as he felt bits within him rupture and break the same as they had physically when Sothoh first slammed him to the ground, Jaium knew he had to continue. He twisted the broken half of the polearm in the beast’s side before one quick jerk from it caused the point to snap off within the ribs of Sothoh. That was barely enough cause for the wolf to relent, allowing Jaium to roll and rise to his knees before Sothoh was on him again.

In that breath between contacts, Jaium drew the long, serrated blade from his coat that he saved for his most deserving victims. It was not as though he thought Sothoh a devious enough thing to require the knife, but were he unable to hit vital organs, Jaium might be able to cause Sothoh to bleed out from the wound. The notion didn’t paint a pretty picture for either man in the end but glancing down at himself and then to the bleeding flank of his transformed friend, Jaium had to concluded neither were much to look at anymore. As Sothoh lunged forward once more, Jaium rose from his knees to the closest thing to a standing position as he was capable

of at the moment. Before he could come to his full height, the hungry muzzle collided with him, and to his attacker, the blade was given in full until the gash passed the guard and handle and met the pummel almost all the way down.

By the time the others reached the two, locked in their deadly struggle, there was little that could be said. Stillness had fallen over the conflict, and from all the blood, there could be no doubt that both had succumbed to injuries. The trail of the other beasts had gone cold, and with the encroaching storm only just beginning, it would be impossible to pursue them with any hope of returning to Roya in one piece. When it was all said and done, what had happened, what had become of Jaium in the eyes of his fellows was something avoidable but just as likely the end he would have sought no matter the cause. He would have wanted to go down fighting, and for whatever reason, Jaium wanted severely, with a mad intensity, to make that ravenous thing the conduit by which he made that end a reality. All they could hope was that he would find peace now and that the prayers said for him would protect his spirit.

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