“Kovarlin! It’s not too late. We can turn this all around. I can feel it, the Goredrinker, stirring in me, waiting to come out and do what he may to change our fates. Help me turn the tides before it is too late,” Mishonrayel hissed up at the cougar who looked dissatisfied to know life had yet to fully flee the behemoth.
Callously Kovarlin cawed, “An’ leave you ta come af’er me nex’? I t’ink, you ‘ave ova’play’d ya paw, jus’ like Am’rot. Both y’er ships be sunk, an’ I ain’t lookin’ to wet me tail. Sorry, Mishon.”
“Traitor. Treacherous coward! You think Amirot or Pai’gen will let you leave unscathed? Your fate is written clear as mine now, painted in blood on this same floor. You just don’t know it yet, do you?” Mishon cackled, a wet crackling sound that grated on the ears. As Kovarlin reached down for the coyote, ready to deliver that final blow that would end it all, things seemed to shift into motion again.
Harsh, almost insect-like limbs were beginning to erupt from the coyotes back in gouts of dark, ebony blood that solidified almost as soon as the air touched it. The dulled and dead faces hung on either side of that living muzzle of Mishon’s began to reel and spark with life before splitting wide like a tree struck by lightning. In seconds the body of a man was turned to a beast, yet that was not all. The toll Kovarlin owed was not due only to Mishonrayel. The shadows just beyond the bloodied form of the coyote began to writhe and pulse once more. Slick, midnight tendrils began to search, snaking out from the depths of darkness, seeking the black-furred cougar. They no longer appeared so weak and fragile but seemed to have regained their edge. Kovarlin was at a loss as to what he could do against these oncoming beasts, but again he realized to his tail there stood two more aggressors, another onslaught of force.
There was a risk to be taken with either side; in truth, he knew both groups were dedicated to his destruction, but one may have been superior to the other. It was a risk, an alliance he could not have certainty of weaving without a definite possibility of failure and death if not capture. Yet, to die by the paws of mortals was far superior to be subject to the torments and degradation of those vile things that lurked in the cold darkness. Kovarlin had endured enough earthly pain; he could handle whatever more came his way should it all prove a poor choice. Not able to stall and waste another moment if he were intent on surviving, Kovarlin sprung to action.
Daring to even touch Mishonrayel would have been immensely risky, now that he was becoming engulfed by the Goredrinker’s power, yet he chose to lift the heavy-set man from the floor. Still, somewhat docile tendrils flared back at him as wild, bestial jaws attempted to snap around his neck like a trap. Kovarlin knew blood would only draw out more of the ancient one’s might, but for his intended purpose, it would be to his benefit. Sticking the dagger into Mishon’s spine caused a moment of weakness in the flesh, enough of an opening for Kovarlin. Throwing all his weight into it, the cougar forced Mishonrayel forward into the shadows where the tendrils were reaching out. Blindly they shot forward, perhaps attempting to take Kovarlin even if it meant skewering Mishonrayel, yet still they would fail. Agile as ever before, Kovarlin launched Mishonrayel ahead into the gaping maw of darkness that quickly consumed him. Hesitantly, he watched, taking paces back to distance himself from whatever nightmare would step from the blackness.
After a moment, the tearing of flesh and grinding of bone, those howls of transformation and agony slipped away, and silence flowed freely. Reluctantly, Kovarlin turned to face the two women, still at his rear, still ready to launch another attack at him at any moment. He noted that Sirian held her ax now, and that familiar aura radiated from the priestess. It would not be a pleasant end. They were not any more won over by his bold gesture, but Kovarlin again had to reflect his time would not be snuffed out by demons. Prepared to face his end and perhaps take one of the women down with him if not both, Kovarlin turned to face them fully, the dagger still tight in his grip. As he paced closer, his senses narrowed in on the cutting of air, a movement that was meant to be imperceivable, an attack that he was not supposed to expect.
Throwing himself from the path of the on-coming strike, Kovarlin caught sight of the barb for all of a second. It was the briefest of moments that the dark feeler, streaked in gore, was visible to the cougar before it found flesh. Even before the damage was thoroughly done, Kovarlin had to conclude that the priestess he had sought to slay was now the victim of the Darkstalker. Like the sinewy needle it was, the black worm slithered back into the shadows before the caribou made himself visible. Kovarlin beheld the visage of Mishonrayel, muzzle twisted in a cemented expression of fury that would never be removed from his face. The coyote was dead, the holes where tendrils had penetrated were too many, and as the column of shadow separated, they weaved through the holes until they rejoined their host. So preoccupied by this sight that would be a horror to most any other, Kovarlin did not note what happened to his rear.
Sirian had moved as though in a dream, even the air feeling heavy, resisting her every movement no matter how minor. Reactively she had thrown up her paws and tossed herself to the side, hoping to catch the stinger within herself if not push both Shi’Karil and herself from its path. Instead, she had been far too slow, watching even as the darkness made sharp with spite dug into the lynx’s throat and came away with a gout of crimson. Even as she confirmed that Shi’Karil was undoubtedly breathing, very shakily her last breath, Sirian couldn’t stop her movements and began to follow the lynx to the floor. However, amid her dive, Sirian knew what she had to do, concluding her paws would do little but break Shi’Karil’s fall, she pumped them with Erkinan.
Intense white light enveloped the caribou, the shadows behind him, and any route at escape. Sirian could only hold the power for so long, her energy was nearly depleted, and there wasn’t much left keeping her from closing her eyes and shutting down right then and there. Yet, she forced the light out until the caribou crumpled to the floor with the ruined body of his cohort, now as still as a stone, his hide ash as though scorched to cinders. Once Amirot had fallen, Sirian allowed the power to die away, giving way to concern for Shi’Karil again. Though she knew the fate of the lynx had been made up already, Sirian hastily lifted her into her arms and frantically tried to make right what she could. It was a losing effort, but there was an inescapable need to comfort the dying.
“Shi’Karil, stay with me, come on! I know it’s bad, but you can… I know you’re stronger than this! Use the spell, heal yourself!” Sirian pleaded, trying anything to rouse the woman whose eyes were turning back and forth in her skull.
Against the tide of blood spewing from the open wound, Shi’Karil muttered, “Siri, just make sure you take care of my body… maybe, with a proper spirit here, this land can be cleansed of that one’s mistakes… do this for me, please… I.”
“Shi, come on, this isn’t it! It’s not over. You can make it still!” the fox begged, knowing full well she was lying straight through her teeth.
Rising from where he had tossed himself, Kovarlin made his way over, quietly addressing the only other survivor, “Gone, all ’em gone now, sept us two. A shame, ‘nd I t’ought I’d kill ya first. Come on girly, no time ta mope, bes’ be on wit ya. I ain’t stayin’ ’round ‘ere much longer den ne’ be.”
“What makes you think I would let you go away from here? Better yet, why would I believe you would let me flee without harm?” Sirian gripped at the tenuous well of power she still had.
Kovarlin rolled his eyes and began for the door, “I ain’t stoppin’ ya, ya ain’t stoppin’ me, sound ’bout fair, girly?”
Despite herself, Sirian was too beaten to think she would carry on the fight any further today. He had been a villain, a vile nemesis to whatever it was that had called upon her to bring him down, but more importantly, he was the reason she had come so far. Had Kovarlin not come along, Sirian would never have been made to travel so far and risk so much, Shi’Karil would still be alive, and so would Mishonrayel. Yet the truth was Sirian couldn’t say much for any of those things were the circumstances different. She would never have met Shi’Karil, nor would they have learned about the ferals until it was too late, and there was so much she had discovered along the way west. Then she regarded Mishonrayel and concluded that perhaps he was just ticking away the days until he returned to the bitterness that had possessed him when they first crossed paths. Despite it all, Sirian suspicions and determination subsided, and she picked herself off the floor with Shi’Karil pack.
It felt a shame to leave behind that woman, like a sister to her, but Sirian had not misheard that last wish for Shi’Karil. Perhaps the fire would burn away that last vestige of a world long lost to time and cataclysms on the planet. If nothing else, Sirian had faith that Shi’Karil’s spirit could cleanse whatever devious specter may still lurk within the cathedral. As she stepped outside, Sirian could only hope such purification could take place. The ghoulish residents of the land still wandered about; however, they now seemed entirely devoid of purpose. Then there was the sky, still plagued with a light devouring cloud that seemed to stretch for miles in every direction, though its darkest point was directly overhead. Sirian met Kovarlin at the threshold; he regarded the wandering creatures as though he
meant to say he would help her cross out of the valley. Again, against her better judgment, Sirian would take the man’s help, not as though she needed it but simply because a stroll with the cougar may reveal more about the mystique to all that had unfolded then and now.