Cold sunlight filtered into the corridor beyond the bars of the cell Imfay awoke in, heavily ladened with bruises. He shot a malign grimace at the rays he could barely glimpse from the rough, rocky floor of his prison. There was a pang of misery commemorating his failure, competing with the sweetness of that silver lining his sacrifice allowed. Imfay knew he should have channeled the emotions of the serfs sooner. There was no reason he couldn’t have sought them, reached out, and yanked on those threads that were available to him. Had only things been different, Imfay thought grimly before he allowed a hoarse, pained chuckled creak from his lips. If nothing else, his capture and eventual death meant Ghell and Ellantren would survive and come back with an entire nation’s power to topple the towers and flatten the walls of Taliann’s crown jewel of a city. How sweet it would be to see that day, he thought. Breaking from his dreams of vengeance, Imfay suddenly was dimly aware of someone just beyond his cell.
“I know you’re awake in there. Are you going to come and look me in the eyes while we speak or just lay there, a dead fish on the riverside?” Maxinimus inquired mirthless despite succeeding in capturing the elk.
Imfay propped himself up partially with the wall to his tail, “What, too afraid to come inside and face me down? I don’t even have my blade, and I trust you were able to sleep on something a bit softer all night. What’s to lose?”
“My right mind, Yerra Imfay. I don’t quite know what you take me for, but if you would guess that I make myself so available for you, then I should worry what the venom did to your intelligence,” the deer tapped the bars with a well-polished iron key, a clover-shaped marker apparent on it’s length.
Rolling his eyes, Imfay would not allow himself to be goaded on, “Good to know I didn’t imagine that giant, jellied abomination. So are you here to tell me how you conjured the creature up or perhaps a revelation as to how you’ve clouded yourself from me?”
The clover key vanished from the bars and was replaced with the foreboding glare of the deer, “Clouded? Explain yourself.”
“I can not imagine you’d play the fool now after having put up your front for this long… Unless you mean to say… No, you haven’t the slightest clue, do you?” Imfay chuckled in the face of the sternness shown.
The door shook with the impact of Maxinimus’ clenched paw, “No! No, I know exactly what you’re hinting at, you idiot! But I know you’re just poking fun. You think you’ve pulled one over on me in secret and that I’m too blind to see it. You’ll regret your foolish jest.”
“Call it whatever you want, but you’ll slip up sooner or later, and then we’ll see who’s the fool!” Imfay called as the shadow receded from the viewport of the cell.
Lamely Imfay sat, staring at the door, almost wishing Maxinimus would return so he would have some conversation to break up the endless quiet that filled the cell with the deer’s departure. Forcing stiff and sleep-riddled legs to stand, Imfay meandered over to the door and glanced through the bars. Beyond the fridged iron door, Imfay could see dimly lit corridors with few cells pocking the walls before fading into darkness. He could only assume this was a dungeon in truth. The stonework would insist that much if the lack of light from windows not cut nearly into the ceiling told him that much. That single portal outward, sat in the wall beside his cell, was the only light into the dismal place. If there were other prisoners, their vision was likely utterly blackened. For a moment, the thought of companions, caged and distant as they may be, stirred some life in Imfay until he decided to call out.
His voice reverberated up and down the corridors before coming back to him, sounding all the more broken and desperate for having made the route through the dungeon. Imfay patiently waited, thinking that perhaps anyone else down in the cells may be asleep, yet nothing answered his call after few minutes. It grated on the elk immensely that he was alone here. Not even a guard lurked in the darkness beyond the immediate daylight. Perhaps the Yerra could have handled imprisonment and the anxiety of impending doom at the paws of an executioner, but to wait so indefinitely alone was more than his mind could take. Undoubtedly, he would go mad, he thought, until he forced vigor into his resolve with an unnatural burst of Erkinan. Whirling away from the door, Imfay sought a cot or rug or any means of bedding to call comfort and take a more willful reprieve when, instead of some poorly constructed mat, Imfay was met with the visage of a starlight figure.
A lithe figure hung in the air, filled with shimmering, dancing light that moved as though a luminescent fluid. It was clearly the inner workings of the stranger that gave it it’s glow as at times their could be seen the darkness behind it through both layers of its transparent hide. The overall shape was vaguely feminine, while an impression of horns or antlers were apparent near the top of its head. Imfay reached for words to describe the thing adequately and rationalize it as anything but delusion or some after-effect of the venom. Yet, whatever means he would have employed to explain the vision away were quickly dashed as the creature before it began to speak, despite the lack of a mouth.
“Heart’s Bane, I would dare not to intervene on you less it was designated so necessary. Yet, at this moment, there is no time for you. I could am made to intercede before any damage can be done to our future. Have you gathered what has become of your once friend?” the melodious voice asked. There was an androgynous quality to its sound that belied the figure of the creature.
Forcing down fear and instead layering calm throughout his mind so as not to panic, Imfay managed to keep his head, “No. I don’t understand what has changed in the man. I know him now no better than I could understand whatever you are.”
“He is now one of many to become homogenized into a group of ancient spirits. The long-dead specter of one of our devious nemesis has bound themselves to his vessel, forcing Maxinimus from the body and allowing the spirit full control. I can not find their lord and master, the Spiritcatcher, but I assure you that is their guide in this effort to undermine us,” they explained the situation with ease, but it wasn’t clear that it made sense to Imfay.
Struggling to conclude what was being put forth, Imfay asked, “So, Maxinimus is gone, something else lives in his body now, and answers to one called the Spiritcatcher? Perhaps I should have just remained in my kingdom and turned back the hordes with my own. You seem to know more than I could hope to ever. What can you tell me of my kingdom and the invaders or what I should do now?”
“The proper pressures applied to the right points will yield your freedom less you wait for your armies or those inbound from the west to set you free, but by no means would you survive so long. I have felt one of our numbers fall away in the north. She can be of no use to you now, and the others are against us or too young. Yet… Do I feel another wandering freely so near?” the question was almost directed to itself rather than Imfay.
A quiet fell over the room as the entity seemed to contemplate what was to be done or perhaps taking stock of what tools they had at paw. After a few minutes, Imfay butted in once more, “What about my people? Those ragged things from the north may not have been the strongest foes, but they were durable and many. Do you know if they will be turned back by my armies?”
“I can not easily foresee any outcome that is in itself not apparent to an astute viewer. I could tell you the outcome now no better than I could assure you the other lord moving about this land will be empathetic to your plight. However, I must insist that should you find this one, you attempt to attain their favor,” there was uncertainty in the entity’s meandering thoughts.
Imfay tried to force its attention to the present issue, “Will they help me destroy these foes that presently try to invade my homeland?”
“I can not answer with certainty. What I can impart, with confidence, is simple. The former Maxinimus will be able to negate much of your effects. However, I can not quite say all will fall on deaf ears,” again it stalled for a moment, “It’s suffice to say, if you can not find a way to manipulate him, you shall be either doomed to die here in this cell or left to wait for another lord to free you from this dreadful place.”
Irritation was plain on Imfay’s muzzle, “So you’ve come to tell me all of nothing other than a clarification that Maxin is beyond my power to reach. Now I’m not sure if I wish you were an illusion of the venom or not.”
“Heart’s Bane, I have not come to give you guidance in how to escape your captor or to tell you the events of the future. What I have come to do is inform you of the Spiritcatcher’s fingers in the realm of mortals once more and perhaps enlighten you to your nature; however, that seems superfluous now. Yet, maybe I do have the means to aid you in your plight,” remarked the entity, focusing on Imfay.
None longer concerned with what he could assume was some delusional construction of his mind, Imfay disregarded the offer. However, the entity was not so much suggesting relief as much as imparting knowledge onto Imfay. A flair of light finally caught the elk’s attention, and as it did, the sparking flowers of ethereal illumination became his entire world. They danced in his vision, and even when Imfay closed his eyes tight, the stars flickered closer and closer. The entity, the cell, and even his own paw in front of his face became lost in the show of blossoming lights that blinded Imfay temporarily. When the world came back to the elk, the cell was empty for all but himself. There was no evidence that the entity had ever been, that was aside from the awareness that pulsed in Imfay’s head. Overwhelmed by knowledge and fatigued somehow from the otherworldly light that had assailed him, Imfay fell into a sound sleep on the cell floor.