Of Mortals: Chapter Thirty-Seven

The incitement of the mob was a simple matter; keeping them in order and not mauling down those who would aid in the conflict was another thing entirely. Had Orathone and Litheiuss not discovered the elk in the outskirts as they plotted and made clear their intent, they would have been rolled over by the masses. Yet the alliance made with Ghell and Ellantren, who had amassed a goodly number of furious peasants, was a tenuous one at best. The elk were less than willing to trust any but the low-cast deer who gravitated to their words of toppling the monarch while the peasants were confident that at any moment, the marshal and his apprentice would show their true colors as turncoats. However, once they had entered into the city, utilizing an otherwise secret entrance, a rift in the wall concealed well by a slanty shack and shrubbery, the two men proved their intent.

Soldiers in the roads were accosted with haste and disarmed with just as much vigor and speed. Once they were bound, the unlucky knights or wannabes would be shuffled down to Litheiuss, who had no problem identifying them. And where old animosities for rivals once burned, Lith was quick to forgive, knowing anyone not tied to the inner circle could only be an ally in this battle. There were undoubtedly scores of elite knights they came upon who were quickly dealt with, despite Litheiuss’ protests. But, in the end, he knew as well as the distempered civilians that those men would wage war against them if only left bound and gagged. So it was, as a tide rushing the shore, the peasants weaved to and fro through the streets, absorbing more and more of their countrymen in their mass while laying waste to those few who could have opposed them. They would soon have the kingdom in full, save for those noble houses that would hold out and especially the Taliann estate, which they were on an imminent collision course with.

The estate grounds were the place of executions for any convicted of treason towards the crown. Amassed in chains and tied to wagons, not only the rioters from the night prior but all of their families were there, awaiting the Yerra’s call for the dismissal of their lives. On the platform, a pawful of them stood, some with nooses already done up around their necks. As they reached the grounds, Orathone set sights on the gallows and almost began unleashing a fury of arrows when his eyes lighted on a cub. Her chubby cheeks were pulled up and forcing her eyes to squint while her arms crushed tight a rag doll to her chest. Litheiuss and Ellantren were fools in his eyes for thinking they could demand the release of these hostages. Hatred stirred in Orathone, wishing he had more say, praying he could swell the mob to surge forward and lay siege to the platform, the knights, and the estate itself. In only seconds, he was shocked to see his desires become his delight.

A mass of stained glass erupted from its frame, casting not only rainbow shards down onto the knights lined along the platform but depositing an elk to the outside. Imfay bounced across the deck of the gallows like a stone across water, only rumbling to a stop when he lay about where the child stood. The moment froze each and everyone in attendance save for that one who had hurled the man outside. As Maxinimus, or what remained of him, crested the window’s frame, all eyes fell onto the undone Yerra. From the wound in his stomach, a cloud of matter spewed forth and hung over him, carting the body around as though it were a hermit crab’s shell. The entity was in control and moved with a fluidity and sinewiness that a vertebrate could not otherwise hope to accomplish. The massive thing, looking like a scorched pile of muscles accented with demonic claws, leapt down onto the platform. As it impacted, the entire world was again hurled into motion.

Every soul in attendance surged in their own direction, each with their own goal and aspiration, not half of which were sensible in the slightest. The executioner pulled at the lever holding back the boards, yet as he did so, another answered his actions. Orathone vanquished the executioner with one bolt and followed it with a hail of them that took out knights and cut the ropes of those captives. Litheiuss turned to call his apprentice down and demand order; however, with a shove from Ghell, the marshal was made aware of the slaughter beginning closer to the gallows. With Orathone, as well as some of the other lower cast knights providing a storm of arrows to cover their tails, the warriors charged forward into the cluster of flesh and armor.

Imfay woke as an arrow impacted just beside his antlers. A cub’s cries pierced his mind and brought him wholly around before a minute could pass. A rope clung to her neck and though halved, still held strong enough to keep the child from escaping. As he moved to cut the strands that had not been severed, Imfay took stock of the situation, acknowledging the monster in the estate had followed him out. Just as his eyes lighted on Maxinimus, Imfay realized the switch was thrown, and boards were vanishing. There were still two others who were held by ropes that hadn’t been completely cut. They were adults, old enough to take the fall from the platform and survive should the chords break properly. Yet, the girl was hardly out of swaddling, Imfay had to worry about much, but the cub was a thing apart. In the blink of an eye, the boards slipped away, and the elk was thrown into the same frantic, kinetic action as the world around him.

Orathone watched the elk at the gallows lunge for the cub, embracing her as the boards slipped away, allowing for those still bound to plummet. The arrow struck down that bold knight who boldly dared to lift his hammer to the elk. Shifting his focus from his own burden and failure to deliver in his task, Orathone targeted the elk’s foe. He hadn’t the slightest idea what the mass of sinewy, oozing flesh was or if it could even be killed, but Orathone wasn’t waiting to find out. With haste, he sent a flurry of arrows at the creature that slid closer and closer to that hole the elk had dropped down. It wasn’t until a good dozen and a half bolts, all of which hit their mark adjacent to a crude sort of mouth, did the behemoth focus on Orathone. His heart thrummed as the great splices in the flesh, eyes of some fashion, sought and found him. Seeming to forget the elk, the creature slithered from the gallows and proceeded towards Orathone through the tumult. There was no way to be ready for such an adversary, but the young buck knew that all he had would have to be enough to slow it down for its next opponent.

Cutting a swathe through the crowd, Maxinimus indiscriminately did away with anyone who stood in his path. Few intentionally blocked the disfigured blob of a creature that the Yerra had become, but those oblivious were treated all the same. The clusters of claws, thin and bony like a tree’s limbs, caught, ripped, and absorbed those unfortunate souls who were too near. Elite guards who would have otherwise widen the way for their master were consumed like flies by a carnivorous plant. Despite all the abomination absorbed into itself, the Yerra’s beast did not grow in mass, only in strength and speed as it turned from a crawl to a violent jaunt across the frozen grounds. As it neared, Orathone couldn’t quite say he had the means to handle the monster, but his heart pumped fiercely with a determination beyond the boy’s capability.

Impacting on his back had stunned Imfay for a moment, but only just that brief spell as the clammy feeler of some unseen menace caressed his face. Not yet forgetting of the larvae in the cell, Imfay flung himself to his hooves, clutching the cub tight to his breast while shielding her eyes. In that quick reflex, matched with his draining her anxiety, Imfay had made a much wiser decision than he would give himself credit. The space below the platform was an insidious sight; rotting bodies half-frozen in decay layered the area, and where they were still fresh massive grubs the length of the elk’s legs gnawed away. Even the two deer who had fallen with were struggling to evade the maggots, one fairing far better than the other. And though Imfay had risen from the heap of dead flesh, those around him looked up with eyeless faces as though aware his struggle meant a more challenging meal or one less for their numbers. The fleshy, writhing worms did not care for this notion and instead seemed to share a mind as they encroached on the four who had fallen.

One deer had already succumbed, the worms biting and burrowing and, more viciously, penetrating his muzzle as to work away at him from the inside. Had Imfay a means, he would have dispatched of the young man to save him what torment no doubt awaited him. The other fellow, furthest from Imfay, found handholds in the gnawed away boards of the platform. He was making good progress, yet the worms had the strength to carry themselves upside after him. Imfay would not wait to see what became of that deer. He had his own safety to wore about and, worse so, that of a cub. There were no conceivable breaks in the platform for a door or some egress beyond climbing the ceiling. However, the structure wasn’t of stone or steel, which emboldened Imfay. Masking any fear and forcing his mind to numb the pains that were about to be inflicted, Imfay charged for the far wall, facing out towards the crowds, and hoped for the best.

Orathone was fetched with one paw that enveloped his torso with ease. Maxinimus shook the boy violently before tossing him into a cottage a street over, beyond the fray. The impact with flimsy wood and a thatched roof wasn’t the worst the boy had ever seen, but the message was clear. It wasn’t simply to intimidate but to ensure his death was coming and with sufficient ease on the part of the beast. Pulling himself up, Orathone’s heart pulsed with that terror, an irrational pain, and a heaviness as those his blood had turned to syrup. Looking onto the creature, the deer could only wonder how he would even do harm against such a thing, let alone slay it. And then, regarding the battle as a whole, he had to contend with how they would overthrow the elite. They were not so many of those supposed superior knights. Yet now that they had begun to fall, the inner circle show they too could go beyond the mortal shell. Some were shedding armor and becoming sinewy, hulking clouds of charred flesh that boasted a multitude of features that should not be congregated with such volume. Orathone’s eyes backtracked over their path to the estate and found the bodies of elite knights dragging behind more of the monstrosities, like the busted limb of a mindless creature. The hopelessness of it all beat Orathone down, and as the Yerra closed in on him, he wanted to scream. And so he did.

Rage, melding with pain, with fear and indignity, a charge of emotions so muddled and indistinguishable Orathone could not himself place and label them all, erupted from the deer in one concise cry. But as his voice petered out, Orathone found he was not the only source of such cacophonous sound. All around the earth was shaking, buildings jittering like a child expecting a beating, and the ground cracked like kindling. Even among those still fighting, a hush fell as the estate trembled in fear. After a prolonged moment of the vibrations, the only one who acted beyond curious staring was Imfay. With a sickening snap, he plowed through the base of the gallows with the shrieking cub in his arms.

Imfay felt a sudden aura and pushed his way through the crowd as he sought and found the source of the disturbance. The young buck on the roof had caught the attention of every soul present; even holding the Yerra is a pause. Searching, Imfay quickly found the tangled mess of feelings that was the boy. There was a peculiar quality to it, but there was no way for the elk to put his finger on it exactly. He wasn’t quite sure which emotions to tug at or suppress to help this man who, no doubt, had a hand in this rioting. Yet, as the vibrations and ruinous noises faded, it became substantially clear to Imfay, and the rest, that Orathone needed no help from another.

At first, the rumblings return was nothing at all, it could have always been, and no one would have been the wiser, but as that constant hum became punctuated with what could have been peels of thunder, the crowd was thrown into terror. It was not a storm high above or the tempest of an earthquake, but the splitting of ground, toppling of walls, and collapse of buildings. The estate, just beside the whole of the calamity, began to rise into the sky skewered on a dark oaken spear. The land rose into a new hill in the direct vicinity as roots poured forth from the mighty sequoia unfurrowing to its full length in all directions. The estate was not alone, as other homes and buildings were uprooted by the rise of new trees and foliage of all sorts. It was a queer scene to see such greenery amid Winter but no more so than what followed for those remaining at the scene battle.

The creature Yerra Maxinimus had become attempted to strike down Orathone, charging forth and directing the rest of his transformed elites to join him, but their acts were ill-contrived. Snapping to awareness of those things beyond his newly birthed trees, Orathone fixed on the no longer mortal things. His fingers danced and twisted; he clasped his paws as though grappling with an invisible foe and spasmed as though he had lost control. However, despite what he may have looked like, Orathone effortlessly ensnared his attackers. He called on roots that had tunneled all about beneath the cobbles. That act seemed to be his last, as with the capture of the fiends, Orathone began to fade in strength. Tumbling down the thatched roof, Orathone was lucky to fall into the waiting paws of Litheiuss, who had stayed along with the three elk to see to their savior’s fate.

There was no time to turn back to fight the captured creatures had nearly freed themselves, even in the time it took for Orathone to fall. Together, the resistance and those civilians who were able, fled the city as nature lay waste to it, and ghouls filled its streets. It was not to be a retreat in which both sides forgot the causalities and mutual hatred between them, yet it was a necessary departure. Imfay would give them safe passage in the north, and, though it went against his innermost desires, he would be forced to fight a war on both fronts. But in that defeat, there remained hope for his land and his people. With them now was one he could consider as not unlike himself. Imbued with some might that not a soul could rightly understand or determine the cause, Orathone would make a phenomenal resource in the battle against the northern heretics. And, perhaps, should all go well for Imfay, a willful partner in the conquest of the western kingdoms. Yes, there was work to be done, and a plethora of opportunities waited. Imfay smirked, thinking of not only the west but the eastern, savage lands that could fall into his paws. All in good time, he forced himself to conclude, all in good time.

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