There was no need to stand in their way. Maxinimus wasn’t just confident that they would fail; he had an absolute certainty. With nearly all but the serfs and servants taken by wayward spirits, there was no doubt the three elk would be caught and strung up before midnight. He didn’t want them to perish, at least not Imfay, so he would need to keep an eye on it, but Maxinimus was not moved to act too quickly. Through the ephemeral bounds that linked the various spirits that had joined in taking over the kingdom, he would know in only a short time when they had been found and return a message indicating the survival of the Yerra. Death was too austere for that one. A foreign monarch presented possibilities, diversity of hosts, and the ability to spread the overwhelming numbers of wraiths and ghasts. Yes, it was all just another portion of the plan; the Darkstalker in the north, the warmongers of the far west, the Goredrinker uprooting the eastern villages, and all the while the Spiritcatcher weaving a network of invisible monsters among the resistance. Once it was all set and the final pockets of mortals thinking they’re safe settle into hiding, the impostors would make themselves known and quash them like flakes of snow in a scolding paw.
With the rabble all but handled, Maxinimus, more so the specter that piloted his body, retired for the evening. The body was tired, not so much the mind or will, but the flesh itself. Of course, unattached to the corporeal realm, it was hard for the spirit to feel much of the wear and tear. With great ease, it could shut off the less desirable sensations and instead bask in those things that a life separated from the physical world were without. A cup of mulled wine pour by a heavy hand, the banquets the commoner cooking staff could turn out, and indeed the hungers of the flesh were all he sought now. It seemed so distant when without a body, the spirit could hardly recall what it was like to be about the world before taking Maxinimus’s body. All that remained in memory was something cold and hollow, painful and empty, and a life he would fight tooth and nail to ensure he never went back to. Still, he could hear his brethren shriek and call out for mercy and aid lurking about in the non-physical world that was layered all around the world of true flesh. Somehow, Maxinimus would bring the rest through and bind them to bodies that would not rot nor break nor fade eternally from this world. It had happened too many times before, and whether it be an elk or fox or less than willing western savage, he would see to it his will was done. But first and foremost, it would be to that arrogant Yerra.
Imfay was not prone to the feelings that ceased him as they fled from the Taliann estate. It was more often he subjected others to those less than ideal experiences. To feel his heart pounding like drums of war, his eyes darting to and fro looking for any form of danger, and of course, that thought his next breath would be his last were seldom felt things. It would serve him well to soak in the moment. The last he felt this dread was far in his youth, right before the ability to twist and manipulate others aroused in him. His father’s scorn had left an indelible mark in his mind. There was no more hope in undoing them as there was in removing the water from that old elk’s lungs. So many cycles away, and when terror struck, Imfay was again a boy running scared from a violent, aged cripple, but he wouldn’t need to remain anxious for what came next much longer. Yet, he knew he wasn’t alone this time.
As Ghell made to call out, his words were stifled by a grunt of exertion, cracking the breastplate and ribs of a knight with the purloined hammer. Ellantren was just as quick to respond as more of the Taliann soldiers came piling out of a nearby pub. Luckily not all were armored half so well as those in the estate. The broadsword taken from the body of his attacker in the estate slid and slashed through fur and flesh, pouring hot crimson onto otherwise pristine ivory snow. With both of his guards moving further from the path, battling deeper into the city instead of continuing further out, Imfay was left with no other option than remain where he was and defend himself from whoever would come his way. Dropping down the twin edges of his war blade, Imfay’s perception narrowed in on the space immediately around him. There was no room for error as he sensed someone skulking about, looking to sneak right up and put a dagger through his chest. Even if they were invisible now, Imfay was confident of that much.
Warily seeking crevasses between tightly packed buildings, searching the snow for prints, and then again peering about for any suitable place for an attacker to hide, Imfay could find nothing but what must be a paranoid delusion. There was no reason to put his blades away as of yet, but Imfay removed the paw he placed in the pocket of his overcoat. A pouch of fine powder, a concoction that felt as though nettles and glass had struck the eyes and filled the nostril, would go without use for now. It wasn’t a gentlemanly weapon in truth but an assassin lurking quietly in the dark, waiting to take the cheapest and easiest shot to fell a man wasn’t the most respectable opponent either. Again, Imfay sought the whereabouts of his suspected assailant only to come up short. Yet, when he felt a weight falling atop him, he concluded he had not been wrong in searching only in not looking above him.
At first, it felt as though nothing at all lay upon his shoulders. The weight was lacking and felt almost insubstantial, but then hands began to search about. It was an off-putting sensation as several sets of hands began to paw around his face looking for what he could not guess as every feature should have been in the right spot for the opponent or opponents to find. Imfay had expected the sting of a dagger or sai penetrating his flesh or the burning roar of a blade across the throat, yet all he received were curious, misshapen hands prodding and feeling. Throwing his arms back to grasp at his attacker net Imfay nothing but moist and somewhat sticky paw pads from what he could only assume were clothes made to blend even less conspicuously with the shadows. Flailing his arm back, Imfay tried to cut himself free from the vacuous assassin but didn’t dare come to close with the edge in fear of harming himself. Looking about in a blind panic, Imfay sought some means to be free of the clinging killer, but his options were scarce to say little of it all. Not far off, Ellantren was turning around, leaving the pile of dead that would have no doubt impeded their departure. He could help, but as this ray of hope broke the shell of night in Imfay’s world, an indescribably unpleasant sensation ran down his spine.
For a second, Imfay imagined he had been stabbed in the neck, or perhaps a hot coin-sized piece of metal was being pressed into his fur. But that immediate pain was replaced by an all too foreign feeling. He had before felt the sting of squirmers wriggling into his coat and burrowing into the flesh, their heads slithering into arteries unless caught with alacrity. Yet even the whipping of their sinewy pale bodies had nothing on this. It was what Imfay would assume it felt like to have a squirmer the size of a frost snake diving after a carp in the depths of an ice-encrusted pond; only the pond was under his skin. There was a frantic violence to it as though whatever had penetrated him was desperately seeking something beyond its field of view. The wriggling became such a repulsive sensation, Imfay reached out beyond himself to find another he could subject to this feeling. Yet, where he had thought he would find only Ghell and Ellantren, Imfay came up with a third consciousness that could be altered by his might. With haste, he funneled the disgust he felt into this mind, and as he did, an ease came over him.
It was uncommon for a feeling to fully empty from his mind, yet Imfay had experienced it in the past with more vague or partially felt sensations, but never with one so extreme. Searching again, relocating the entity he had imparted the negative effect on, Imfay found the victim directly to his back, not simply behind him but on him. Ellantren rushed closer, his words lost on Imfay, who was too embroiled in trying to reach behind himself and pluck the seemingly stunned assassin off his flank. The guard instead slapped the Yerra’s arm’s aside to place the broadsword just above Imfay’s tail. He was suspicious at first with this dubious method of removal; however, as Ellantren pulled up abruptly and a squelch and cry that sounded nothing like a deer hit Imfay’s ears, he almost understood. Yet, as he wheeled about to face the now grounded assailant, Imfay was capable of anything but understanding.
What looked like an ornate shield, scrawled out and cut to fit the design on parchment, lay on the snowy, cobbled street. It took a few moments for Imfay’s mind to fully put together the shape and color and patterns, but after that time had elapsed, the only thought on his mind was that of a moth. Still, despite all the elk had seen in his time, a moth the size of an eagle, longer by a few hands due to wingspan, was something else entirely. Uncomfortably, his eyes traced the patterns that looked almost like eyes, not dissimilar from those regular moths would use, yet these were not of a predator he could name. The parallel slits were set in vibrant spheres of gold and looked almost like bubbles of honey in the flesh and jelly-like body of the moth. Near its head, a tube of sorts was sticking out, spurting a pale blue liquid that could be traced, through translucent skin, to its guts. Numbly, Imfay put fingers to the point of his wound and found a matching tube jutting out of his neck. Ellantren looked to Imfay with confusion as Ghell made his way up, noting the moth but showing no concern for it. Slowly, his mind distant, Imfay murmured, “We’ve got to get out of this cursed land.”
“Are you going to be alright, Yerra? What did that thing do to you?” Ellantren asked, taking a quick glance back to ensure the overgrown insect still lay dead in the street.
Though he was still feeling objectively normal, Imfay’s body was being ceased by the venom of the moth, “Whatever it was trying to do, it failed completely. It didn’t feel good, but it didn’t kill me or whatever it was to do.”
“What you two talkin’ ’bout?” Ghell inquired as though it wasn’t obvious what the problem had been a minute prior.
Ellantren tried to speak but was silenced by Imfay, “It doesn’t matter. We have to get free of this place before anything else can…”
As they rounded another corner and crested the top of the hill that led into the valley wherein the serfs and vassals were housed, the trio laid eyes on an unwelcomed sight. Easily thirty men, their armor and weapons catching and gleaming with moonlight, blocked the path completely. Each elk surveyed the enemy, trying to figure where the weakest links would be and where to strike, yet that was a question without much answer. None of the knights seemed less prepared than the next, and none looked to suffer infirmities, past amputations, or even a lack of stature or build. They were a wall of solid silver standing between the three and the wall that protected the deer city. There was little choice left to them, either charge the line or surrender, but in any event, death was guaranteed. It was Ghell who stepped away from Imfay first, Ellantren following his lead. They would do their duty to the end. Perhaps their headway could open a wound in the combined forces that would allow Imfay a slim chance at survival. Yet as they went away from their Yerra, certain this was the last time they would all three be together, Imfay began to sag to the cobbles.
The moment Ghell and Ellantren were more than a few paces away, just as Imfay began forward, his body became numb. It was not the emotionless, empty feeling of a man ready to go to war but a loss of sensation throughout. He collapsed, unable to stop himself from flapping jaw first on the cobblestone path. From up on the hill, he could see those two brave elk crash into a wall of shields and spears, never to have a chance at stepping out the other side still breathing, let alone in good standings. The very thought made Imfay sicker than the feeling in his gut when confronting his own helplessness. Even without bodily control, Imfay could still feel the cloud of might hanging inside of him and only wished he could do more with it. Though he pumped Ghell and Ellantren with a fearlessness they had never felt before while devouring their anxiety and urge to retreat, Imfay knew he could do more. The knights were empty as their leader had been or at least were beyond his ability to touch, but, just like the moth, Imfay could feel another, in fact, many others.
Focusing, not question who or why Imfay funneled the notion to fight into these already tense and violent minds. To his surprise, all down the path, doors opened up, and deer began piling out into the street. From his vantage, it was apparent to Imfay that this was not simply the case near but far beyond the wall of knights more of the peasants pushed out into the night. They were not equipped like soldiers, nothing could serve as durable armor against weapons of war, and their gardening tools would not penetrate the shells of knights, but they were moved to battle all the same. Torches began to dot the street and light the night ablaze with passionate fury for what Imfay could only assume was tyrannical rulership. He had seen the way the workmen had been treated and the maids as well but had thought so little of it, yet now he could not neglect how the low-class deer were minded in Taliann. As they surrounded the soldiers, Imfay only hoped he would find his way out of this situation. These peasants tonight would perish, but their children would know the embrace of their northern brethren and feel the shackles of oppression, destruction, and enslavement lifted from their burdens. He thought these things so vehemently that it began to add kindling to the fire burning in the hearts of these ordinary folk, urging them into a far greater fervor. It would all have been going well had a shape not appeared behind him, smoldering with hate and indignation.
“Yerra Imfay. I had thought all was dealt with, yet here I find you standing, no laying, in my streets with your men leading an attempted revolution. A shame that this great swathe of laborers will have to be put to torch on your behalf, but the glory will be theirs. You’ll be present to watch each and every death. It will be a matter of tidying, after all, we can not leave the wives, unable to gain a sufficient wage, to die in poverty or of starvation with their yearlings, can we?” the smug confidence in Maxinimus’ voice only forced Imfay to clamp down harder on the peasants’ nerves, making them liable to become as savage beasts before the night’s end. As the riot below grew in tempest, Imfay felt the quavering and finally secession in the knights. Fear gripped them, and terror tore them apart before the crowds could lay paws upon them, but they nonetheless did just that. After only a few brief minutes of tumult, Imfay was assured that those men, if they were men at all, that slew Ghell and Ellantren had paid the final toll.
Clicking his tongue in disgust and disapproval, Maxinimus flipped Imfay over to meet his half-cemented glance. Carelessly, Maxin sighed, “Was it worth it all just for two guards who barely lived up to their titles? After all, were they good at their task, you would not have succumbed to my moth. That’s right, it was not a random accident or coincidence. That was a creature under my command. Yes, we are going to have such a time together, aren’t we, Yerra Imfay. There will be so much for you to learn before your day comes and many executions to see. I can hardly wait.”
Imfay wished his tongue and jaw were freer to speak, he had much to say himself, but it all could wait if it were worth saying at all. Instead, he contented himself in knowing that one way or another, he had struck a blow against Maxinimus, even if the man would not yield any ground. As the deer summoned up more knights to dispatch the citizens while a few more made to haul him away, Imfay wanted to spit in the smug buck’s muzzle but was then struck with a sudden realization. His contact with Ghell and Ellantren had remained unbroken all that while until the two were out of range. The knights had only just lifted his stiff body when the sensation of the bond breaking struck Imfay off guard. He couldn’t say the war had been won or even the most decisive battle come to a close, but with those two free, Imfay could guarantee himself that his capture was not in vain. They would bring the word and a siege down on Maxinimus. To die a martyr was no remarkable feat, but Imfay could more than willingly accept that fate to die for something more than self.