Of Mortals: Chapter Twenty-Seven

The armored bird was slow in going, initially, as though it’s limbs, like that of any living creature, had to reawaken after untold time atrophying in the dark. Yet, in time it was able to rise and articulate the clawed hands sheltered beneath its dusted-over wings. Before long, the automated avian was pacing back and forth, allowing its internal mechanisms to get some practice before hazarding anything more intense than walking. As the bird reacquainted itself with motion, Sirian took stock of the space it had been housed in, only having barely glanced about on the approach.

Directly beneath and overhead from where the bird had been standing were two twin tiles that boasted a marking of swirling, disjointed lines that vaguely made a sphere. There had likely been some significance in the symbol when this place was new in the world. However, from all but the braziers, it was abundantly clear this hideaway had not been entered in untold centuries. The nearest thing to a new or recently disturbed object in the earthen tomb were crystals budding in a dark corner of the space on carapaces of indistinct lineage that had at some point been dissolved partially by something acidic in nature. There was another passage leading to where it was unclear; however, it was not sealed in any manner. The path could either be Sirian’s salvation or, more likely, she figured her final damnation. In either event, she would bring the avian with her, it was no use to anyone here below the ground, and perhaps it would know the passage ahead.

Attracting the bird’s attention with her best attempt at s whistle, though it came out as little more than forced air, Sirian indicated the corridor leading through more of the tomb. Now far more confident of its actions than it had been, the mechanical creature moved briskly to Sirian before taking point. At a speed that would have been too great for a fox with shorter legs, the bird led Sirian through the passage. As they made their way, she could not help but note the remains of an empire long left in the dust and what few vestiges still lurked in the shadow of new worlds. All along the walls of the corridor were strewn bits and pieces of other mechanical beings. Iron and copper limbs and armor were jumbled in heaps with loose cogs and broken wings. Noting the sheer volume alone, Sirian had to wonder what this former age had been about. Had there been a war in which these animatronic beings were employed for? Were they easy to construct for the avians? And why did these semi-luminescent crystals that blazed with pearlescent colors grow so readily on them? Perhaps they were questions better left unasked, even if her guide could give her insight beyond chirps and squawks. In time, Sirian’s curiosity died, and the gray twilight of day in this land revved to life before her.

The passageway opened up like a cellar once the avian machine slid away a barrier that had clearly been put in place from within, only to be opened by those inside. It was a straight climb up from the subterranean temple; however, once out, it was clear what function these deep halls had served. For whoever once called this place home, they were undoubtedly used to move about in secret for one reason or another. Sirian could guess they were helpful in case of invading forces, or possibly she completely misread their use, and they were nothing more than shelter from any terrestrial catastrophe. It was simply another mystery the world would not ever discover. Yet, regardless of function, the passage had served a purpose for Sirian. Having traveled to the far end, she was now not only free of the hostile residents of the land but near an entrance to the cathedral, one less obvious than the front gate. Of course, she did not rightly see the access point on her own, only when she indicated the structure to her companion was the way revealed.

As though there was nothing at all to concern over while walking freely about this place, the avian went to a bare wall of the cathedral. Impressing one wing against a marking that became only more evident the longer pressure was put to it, the bird activated a hidden function. Popping outward from the wall were thin, perch points that would serve as decent hand and footholds for someone like Sirian. They terminated far above, likely on a second or third story, but to enter the cathedral at all was much further than the fox thought she would be getting that day. At the avian’s behest, Sirian began the climb until reaching the makeshift ladder’s end at what looked to be a window long since bricked up.

Sirian didn’t know what she should have expected, her luck could not have held so strong for so long, yet here she was dangling from the side of the cathedral taking the guidance of a machine no less, and now wondering how she was going to actually get into this place. The concern for entrance was almost immediately replaced with that of how she would get down from the wall now. As the bird stepped away from the wall, the perch points were drawn back into their positions in the wall, leaving Sirian grasping the even more narrow ledge. In a panic, she shouted down to her companion to find the cardinal no longer below. A whirling of mechanisms and the slashing of air snapped Sirian’s attention back to the space above where the last bit of the cardinal’s foot talons were disappearing into the wall. Sirian stared up, not only dumbfounded but slightly terrified to think that her mind may have left her until one of the iron talons reemerged from the wall offering her aid.

With one clean jerk, helped by Sirian’s kicking, the cardinal pulled the fox inside through the wall as though it were nothing more than a gauzy sheet. As Sirian turned back to look, she noted there was a tapestry in place of the wall they had entered through; however, upon moving the material, a brick wall was revealed. Tempted to leave well enough alone yet too curious to not, Sirian stuck her paw forward, expecting to press against the solid wall only for her fingers to dance on through. She regarded the avian who, though unable to change its placid expression, seemed to give Sirian a look of confusion, as though an illusion of a wall were so commonplace. Letting the question drop there, Sirian fell in line behind the bird who led her on to a stair that split in either direction she could want. Ignoring the queer statue that marked the floor they had arrived on, Sirian directed the bird that she would like to descend; it again took point.

As they made their way down the winding steps, Sirian was given over to more gawking and gaping at the lavishness that made up this cathedral. Undoubtedly it had stood in a prior age; the level of ornate adornments and intricate designs would insist that much if the fact the automated bird warrior’s knowledge of the place didn’t speak to that already. That second proof was backed up by the winding wall scrolls and tapestries and portraits that could be spotted here and there. All of them featured avians in one manner or another, either in the sense of the main focus or featuring their ilk in some ill-mannered act. It struck the fox peculiar that so many well-wrought works of art could endlessly depict images of torment and death in manners she could hardly begin to wonder how they came about. The fact few of the expertly articulated portraits were of simple depictions of notable birds was off-putting to Sirian, to say the least. Then, as her eyes passed over yet another painting, she made a sudden conclusion and then was perplexed by an intriguing question. Not a single one of the works featured any form of mechanical avian in one way or the other. If she could look into the mind of her guide at that moment, she would pry deep into the core of that thought, unsure how it could feel about seemingly being omitted from its own shared past.

So caught up in her wondering, Sirian did not detect the voices until the bird had come to a complete stop. The whirring and clicking had distracted from any other sounds, but Sirian knew she should have been able to notice them prior to. Slowly peaking around the bird, standing still as it was when she had first come across it, Sirian sought the source. Finding whoever was shouting on the other side of the wall still out of view, the fox shimmed forward on paws and knees. Glancing for only a second net Sirian an eyeful more than she had expected and, without a doubt, beyond what she could have dredged up from her worst dread dream.

That nightmare creature, the caribou so drenched in darkness that he was hardly more than a living shadow, towered over that familiar lynx who had clearly been forced to bow before him. Were Sirian less confident of the priestess, she would have insisted that Shi’Karil had knelt by choice, but that woman would not have been broken and made prostrate with such ease. Not far from the two was that other muzzle she had bet on laying eyes on again though not in this hopeless context. She had hoped to come across Mishonrayel while he was alone, or at least when her position was not so weak. However, now, all hope to cleanse the man of that taint that weighed heavy on him had faded almost as surely as whatever light within him had. That took stock of two of her three, and who knew how many more foes she had been sent to find. Even were the cougar present, Sirian wasn’t sure she could adequately construct a plan of action for tackling the situation. First thing was first, she needed to rescue Shi’Karil before their host grew bored of her.

Just as Sirian began to pump Erkinan through her body, tense with anxiety for the imminent clash to come and wonder if this would be her last few moments in life, a metallic clatter rose behind her with a low chirping call. Sirian spun around, her heart beating nearly out of her chest while her eyes danced over the scene presented to her. What she had expected and what at first seemed to be were a far cry from what was in truth sat before her, but still, it was hard to shake that initial fear. Sirian had thought that black-furred cougar had happened upon her, dispatched the bird, and was setting his sights on her; however, she had it backward. The cougar had been ensnared by the armored bird and was looking to her with a looking that could have been called pleading had it been cast from any other eyes.

Reproachfully, Sirian advanced on the heap that the cougar lay at the bottom of, her paw outstretched, unsure if she meant to make peace or eradicate the wretch with a blast of power. Suddenly, the man jerked his gaze away as though aware of what would come next. In a whisper that felt like a shout, he cried, “Don’t touch me girly, I ain’t comin’ to put me blade’n ya jus’ yet. I got a deal f’er ya’.”

“What? And why would I trust you with any type of deal? I’ve seen what you do. I know what you’ve done more precisely. So give me one good reason,” Sirian blustered a bit at the notion of it all.

Kovarlin gazed up at her, his eyes filled with fire, “Cuz ya wanna save y’er frien’ an’ I can make dat hap’n, but I ain’t doin’ dat wit’ a tin bird crushin’ me.”

“It’s more than just that, I have to get rid of that horrid caribou here before he can do whatever evil it is he has in the works and save Mishon if I can… then there’s ‘you’ of course,” the statement she knew would irk the cougar, even if he played it off as cool as could be.

Nodding his head, what little he could, Kovarlin shot back, “Ye’r not gettin’ e’en halv’ dat, but I give ya the c’yote, and ye’r girl ‘live if’n ya let me go. Jus’ go back on ye’r way, I ain’t neva comin’ back dat way. Ya tell ’em all ya did it, ya got me and lef’ me ta rot. I ain’t want Amirot to do halv’ what he say he gon’ do. Ya ain’t worry ’bout ’em, I’ll settle up dat fe’r ya, and ya jus’ forget ya saw me. Fair deal, foxy?”

“This is a trick, and you take me for a fool, don’t lie,” Sirian retorted, ready to end the cougar that moment if not for the unexpectedly charming voice that still sloshed out of him.

Attempting to put up a paw asking her to wait, in vain of course, Kovarlin added, “Ya got a bird on ye’r side. One of ’em is worth nine’a me and more’a either ’em two. Ya let me go, I’ll get da girl outta ‘ere ‘n send Mishon on af’er. It’s the only way ya gettin’ either out ‘live. They see ya, they killin’ the girl simple as dat. I free ‘er, they ain’t gonna ‘ave time ta get either ya. So ya chosin’ na, life or death fe’r ya and ya frien’.”

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