Of Mortals: Chapter Thirty-One

Violently, flashing in and out like a fierce lightning storm peaking through gaps in the bruised and cloudy sky, Sirian’s vision was flickering two very different scenes before her. Though her feet kept moving, lamely struggling down the poorly laid path leading away from the cathedral, she felt another emotion entirely as her mind cast the other place before her. It wasn’t, she concluded as it began to cement itself more and more before her, another location at all but perhaps the same place at a different time. Even keeping her eyes fixed forward, away from the damned temple, she could feel it looming behind her like a stalker on her tail. Finally, it seemed as though the vision would end. Her world faded back into her senses without disruption from this other, but it was an ill-fated reprieve.

Despite no longer wanting to tarry in the dominion that minion of the Goredrinker called home, Sirian stopped in her tracks. She could feel a thumping in her skull. Her eyes felt like they were vibrating out of place. She was choking on a bone she had not swallowed. The world was growing dim yet agonizing her all the way along. With the motions of a centenarian or an enfeebled old wife, she twisted about, as though experiencing the world anew, not unlike her own rebirth. But to Sirian’s eyes, the world was not the same any other would have seen. For Sirian alone, the terrain fell away before her, and with it, the caribou lurched with trouble dragging as a flowing robe behind him. The depiction within the cathedral did no justice to the antediluvian visage painted before her eyes without rhyme or reason.

The cliffs, that hill leading east sunk deep before her, water rising to drown any land there could have been for leagues. Rising from the earth were those passages that must not have been entirely made to stealthily sneak but stood as an outer layer of the cathedral, buried by time and the shifting of landmasses. There were denizens of this far-flung past standing in almost the exact spots Sirian last recalled the caribou in. However, upon a quick glance, she asserted that those before her were bound, injured, mutilated, or quite literally dead on their feet, kept afoot by the chains that bound every last one of them together. Even as she struggled to conclude the state of the creatures, all the information that should otherwise have been foreign and beyond her comprehension came flooding in. This memory was painted became all the more apparent with this understanding. 

That orb, the final manifestation of the cardinal’s power, had cursed her with vision and sight into a world unknown to any presently. It was clear when she regarded her crimson armor, the whirring of gears within her, and a hollowness of self in all but the most profound memory of mortality. There was so much to take in and not enough time to do so as her body, almost entirely beyond her control, moved forward at the machine’s will. She could see the masses of birds milling about begin to bristle with fear and abhorrence at her coming. There were so many terrible states of degradation among the hordes that to sum them up in simple words did no justice. Yet, the internal mind was aware that these avians were amassed as prisoners of war. For a moment, the question, ‘What war?’ passed her perception but was quickly wiped away with further insight. The creators, those mortals who had brought about this age of automatons, had fallen. Now they subject to the will of those things wrought with such hope by their own talons.

The cardinal stopped short, allowing others to come alongside her, presenting a multitude of mechanical birds. Taking a brief head count yielded only a scant number, but the cardinal seemed aware of others out of sight. Yet all around her were avians of iron and copper, gears and other moving parts, set against those filled with blood and all too soft organs to puncture and rip. Sirian couldn’t identify even half of those she saw, but that one nearest, a heron whose facade had likely seen better days, was known to her. And just as her attention was drawn to the familiar waterfowl, Sirian couldn’t help but focus on the power radiating from the heron.

Removed as she was from this situation that had undoubtedly played out many centuries before the birth of even her most distant forebearer, Sirian could still sense a surge of energy coming from the other bird. It was akin to when she had felt Mishon use his Erkinan or Amirot’s power for that matter. However, unlike the other two, this inspired a feeling of strength in her. Sirian felt as though her Erkinan was being charged without her calling for it to intensify, and it began to flow so freely through the cardinal it was hard to believe it was anything but a revitalization of her reserve. Before she knew it, the level of power being pumped into her had reached a fever pitch and caused the cardinal to act. White, hot light poured from the avian, washing away everything set before her, yet to each side, there was still much to see.

The others, those automatons that had joined her, were unleashing an onslaught of force onto the bound prisoners. Chasing her beams of light were gouts of flame bathed in a golden hue, tendrils of the earth rising and falling and seeking flesh, and geysers of ice that leapt up from the ground itself. There were more going further beyond her sight and well beyond her comprehension. The forces of power were indistinct but unquestionably destructive. Sirian could do little but pity whoever stood at the receiving end of the torrent of Erkinan. But what was worse than the sorrow she felt for any victim to this might was the reality that faced the cardinal.

Without prying, not even attempting to dig deep into the mind of the mechanical avian, Sirian uncovered an unsettling yet definite truth. Once this attack was over, and all that remained on the cathedral’s island were slaughtered, their own extinction was guaranteed. There might have been their downfall, their source of power eroding with every second, and the last vestige of energy coming from the great well within the cathedral was fleeting. Far across the seas, nations had launched ships of the sky and waters to lay waste to this collection of machines. These final victims of a war brought to an end unflattering for the revolutionaries were symbolic if their rank and status meant nothing. They would be martyrs for the mortals and markers of the machines. They would be undone by their own actions and not that of their aggressors. Some pride radiated within Sirian, knowing that whatever link held her to the cardinal perhaps signified a fortitude of spirits. As the vision itself began to fade once more into obscurity, Sirian found that she would need all the grit such a soul could contain. She would need the strength of that cathedral, bound and built of ethereal power enough to stand against untold millennia.

Sirian didn’t know how long she had been lost in the memories of another, the last, lost days of those mechanical marvels in the shell of metal birds, but she knew she was in trouble. There was a constriction around her torso, her lungs bleeding out oxygen quicker than her mind was able to realize it. Initially, she assumed it was the cougar, come to reek what remained of his revenge on any who had crossed him, but in seconds, the attacker was deemed non-corporeal. Instead, twisting about, forcing open eyes that felt weighed down by twelve-score sleepless nights, Sirian found the crushing element was not a tendril but a wave of night. The attacker’s identity was all too obvious, but unlike the knowledge she had acquired in the revelry of the dead cardinal, the how was obscured and any means of gaining some understanding to Amirot’s survival oblique. Survival was another matter Sirian was unable to parse out, but turning about, facing the cathedral, garnered further conclusions of the happenings missed while dreaming.

All the way from the cathedral’s doors, the darkness emanated unmolested by any daylight that fought to penetrate the dense cloud above. The caribou was not visible at first, but Sirian sought instead the cougar whom she had dared to trust. There was not a doubt in her mind that Kovarlin had betrayed her, and this whole act of letting her free simply made to toy with their prey. Instead, not far beyond the steps into the building lay that dark-coated man, face down in the dirt, barely moving with a stir of breath within his breast. Sick as it was, Sirian admitted some content with the knowledge she had been right to trust the man. Still, Sirian tried to wriggle free of the ever-tightening grip of darkness all around her, of course, to no avail. Second, only to freedom, Sirian wished the demented caribou would end her suffering, but it was evident this was a show of force as much as an execution. Amirot undoubtedly planned to draw it out as long as he could.

The leisurely manner Amirot showed as he stepped through the threshold of the cathedral showed all the arrogance of one who had already won. He seemed less than concerned for his crumpled associate lying next to motionless not more than a few paces out of the door. Instead, Amirot beckoned to those beyond, the mindless caribou wandering the wasted lands, to come nearer and surrounded his final victim. Still wearing away at the clouding over her mind brought on by the visions, Sirian couldn’t quite decipher if those encroaching on her were caribou or avian. Some memory still flowed back into her, the massacre of those remaining automaton by the new invading forces and that earthen pit that had been sealed by the cardinal’s own claw when the day was lost. She had not done much better, and not dissimilar from the burning of Shi’Karil’s body, the cardinal had made an effort to preserve the dignity of the rest that had fallen before her. Forcing her mind to stay in the present, Sirian jolted enough energy through herself to find that Amirot was now face-to-face with her, his grip looser but still crushing.

Fur had been scorched from the caribou’s front, his muzzle and the left side of his face deformed as though melted like a candle, the eye had bloated like a bubble ready to pop but left undisturbed. Still, Amirot had the smuggest grin anyone had ever cast at Sirian. Indeed, he had already composed a great speech to berate and insult her, but the fox had no inclination to hear it. As much as she wanted to be finished, have the darkness consume her, and if nothing else, free Sirian from this tormented scene, she desired to cause him even more pain. Flinching fingers and attempting to kick out of the restraints net Sirian nothing but a smug laugh, any physical struggle she put against this non-physical barrier was useless. Just as the caribou’s laughter began to die, a revelation came to Sirian’s mind, and as it did, the obviousness of it all seemed to slap her in the muzzle. Before a word could escape the twisted smirk, Sirian bellowed out with a roaring howl that shook her bones but did so much more than smart in the Darkstalker’s ears.

Like the second nature it had become in dealing with the Goredrinker’s subjects, Sirian summoned forth her Erkinan, depleting all she may have been. However, unlike anytime prior, Sirian directed the flow to run from her within herself up through her throat. And just like it would fire from her paws, the light she radiated, her best offense against Amirot, shot forth into the clouded sky like a beacon in the dark of night. With force, Sirian sustained the howl, the light growing in intensity and power until it felt like there was nothing more to the fox’s world but the beam breaching the heavens above. Intent on this expulsion of power, Sirian did not note the shrieks and cries all around her, not even Amirot’s. Before she knew it, the binding grip of dark fled from her, and the Darkstalker’s subjects fell away, but just the same, Sirian did not note the change in self until too late.

Continuing to force the light forth, Sirian felt her well of Erkinan vanish entirely, but the torrent of power did not cease because of the empty reserve. Instead, the beacon of white-hot hatred continued while within her body, Sirian could feel the last bits of herself shattering like ice beneath a forging hammer. Before long, numbness washed over the intense, indescribable pain that racked all of Sirian up until that moment, but with that loss of feeling came more change. The burning light’s heat, once comforting inside her, had grown too much for Sirian and felt like boiling silver forced down her throat. Finally, the geyser of power broke, exposing the hole it bore in the clouds above, but that hot feeling in her chest did not leave Sirian. It continued growing even as she ceased the action and vainly attempted to force her muzzle closed. Amirot looked awe-struck, mortified, and beyond belief at Sirian, who felt tears as cold as a winter’s rain running through her fur. After a moment, all awareness, sight, and feeling fled from the fox as her body erupted in one final tempest of scolding sunshine.

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