Warping, twisting with the heavy sounds of atmosphere sloshing about the rains that would fall only to turn into clots of mushy ice, the cloud whirled into a tight mass. It was almost kind of funny. Kovarlin hadn’t seen that nimbus he had been brought so far west to protect, move at all since his coming. Yet now, more so than ever before, the all-encompassing sheet that hung overhead crawled about the sky. At times it looked as though it were manifesting into some form of arboreal reptilian, searching tirelessly for sound footing to crawl down the cathedral’s spire to then lay waste to the land below. However, for as lively a show as the cloud put on, forming and breaking from shapes and patterns that looked nearly recognizable, the mass did little more than sit over the rooftop the same as it ever had.
“It appears the time I can bask in your companionship, or more honestly you can engorge yourself on mine, is drawing to its abrupt, although intended, close,” Amirot echoed from within the cathedral as a metallic pang of debris striking brick shook the area. For a score of days and nights, Kovarlin had waited to hear just such an announcement and was all too relieved to have it come; however, there was a hook in it for sure.
Peering back at the caribou from his periphery, the cougar muttered, “A long time’n comin’ if’n yo as’in me.”
“Have we decided, chum, if the ‘Huntsmen’ will live up to his title and properly search for our intended query or will he force his only friend in all the realm to send a simulacrum in his place?” he chuckled, coming to the edge of the balcony, kicking snow and ice way from the cougar’s bare knees. Momentarily, Kovarlin regarded the exposed fur that had been wrapped almost haphazardly around the caribou before averting his gaze in disgust.
After having dealt with those seeking to destroy him, even Kovarlin though he was forced to live, Amirot was in a disturbing state of affairs. Deep, spanning scars ran up and down his torso, not simply terminating where clothes should have protected him. Instead, they snaked along the limbs as well. A tough hide was forming over some of the more minor injuries, those subsequently were attributed to Mishon in his death throes. The Goredrinker had seen to those scrapes considering the carapaces of hardened blood that now accented limbs like armor plating. The affair clearly emboldened Amirot and strengthened him to boot, else he would not step into the Winter cold exposed as he was, nearly as exposed as he had left Kovarlin. Glancing down a second before returning his gaze to the caribou, Kovarlin once more came to terms with the damage down to his body and the forced repairs made.
Jets of blood had risen upon his left arm, jagged and hungrily looking to snag on the first bit of flesh they were allotted, aside from Kovarlin’s own. The hole Amirot had bored into the cougars back, augured all the way through, was mended with a breastplate of scabs that would make steel look like cotton. There was no desire in the cougar to further inspect his body, but he could feel the rift that ran across a good third of his face and knew the transformation had not simply stopped at what he could see. In the same regard, though they had become numbed in his knelt, chained posture, Kovarlin vaguely felt a change made to his legs. It was impossible to say if they were altered in truth or if the sensation was instead something brought on by cold or sleep addling the limbs, but Kovarlin would hardly put it past those two co-conspirators.
“Hollow threats, Am’rot, that’s all you got,” Kovarlin hissed, taking his gaze from the caribou’s uncovered fur and setting it to the horizon from which the valiant dead had come from.
Twisting Kovarlin’s head around by paw until he was facing the source of the metallic clunk, Amirot insisted, “Hardly do my proclamations lack substance. Your compliance would be appreciated; however, we can arrange a substitution on your behalf with only the minuscule cost of your essence. Or would you prefer possession by the Goredrinker?”
“Ain’t that easy, can’t be, else you wouldn’ta wasted ya time on it. What’s in it for me, if’n I help ya?” the cougar shot back, getting a whiff of subterfuge placed right before his nose.
Glaring down at the man, Amirot forced a tight-lipped smile, “I have other associates arranged to rendezvous at my cathedral when the time is adequate for their introduction. You see, these partners in our machinations are far more stalwart, not to mention robust than those sent earlier. Should you so choose to remain dedicated to the cause and maintain your vigilance in your scouting, I can arrange to have them spare your life.”
“Am I supposed to be scared of dyin’?”
“No, what you should fear, Kovarlin, is how long it will take between the Kammarheit’s army of the western lands battering of you and that methodically draining and repair the Goredrinker will do to you to extend your suffering. Yet, more importantly, he has informed me that should you perform admirably, your heart’s foremost desire shall be yielded to you posthaste,” Amirot reported dutifully though his tone was fully stained with distaste.
Though he hardly realized it, Kovarlin was bobbing his head in agreement as that reality stuck in his mind. He could be alone from the world. No, they would be withdrawn from the sickly and hideous ways of the world. It wasn’t a pretty thing to think that the Goredrinker would be able to return one lost back to the living, but there was no other way now. If he could hold out a bit longer, Kovarlin would receive that boon promised to him so long ago. Twitching, spasming muscles that had been locked in their uncomfortable contortions for days on end, Kovarlin would have wriggled free of his binds if Amirot did not release them at that moment. Though his spirit was willing, the flesh needed time to correct itself and return to optimal health. Yet, all the same, Kovarlin was ready to begin that moment had he his legs to run. Instead, he was forced to rely on Amirot, who hauled him up bodily and rested the cougar in an easy chair by a newly lit fire. The implication was clear; sit, wait, let it all come back to you, and then we will begin our work. Kovarlin could care less about the beginning; he simply wanted to reach the end of this race in one piece and claim what was owed to him so long in coming.
Memories of the island still touched at the corners of Kovarlin’s heart, thoughts he dared not face again even as they stared daggers into him. There was misery there, the destruction of the world he knew, but more importantly, his descent into his current pathetic state. Had he been more tenacious, perhaps a bit wiser, they would not have dumped him off on that deserted place lost on the sea, nor would they have dealt with his other. If they could have kept mouths shut and those private matters in the dark, the pact made between the Goredrinker and himself would never have been cemented. But there was no time to regret what was far from his control now. Kovarlin had faith in their deal, and there was no way to turn back now. Even in that quiet of the cathedral, Kovarlin could hear the coming of these new cohorts from their far-flung lands. Yet, the self-constructed thought was not the only means he detected this intruder into the east. By some merciless machination, Goredrinker would show him what awaited this world.
They were an overwhelming and terror-inducing force, their identity belonging to not one race but a clutch, and not a one of them were of the eastern lands. In this dream of incursions to come, Kovarlin could pick out faces in the multitude that looked not unlike a cougar or lynx yet different for all their similarities. Some glimmered in with dense rings of hair wrapped around their heads and draped down their necks, while others had fiery fur that was broken by jet black stripes, and still, others spotted with ebony across their sandy complexions. Something like a coyote moved among them, their hides not the same as that supposed relative while another, not dissimilar from a squat fox with all their features scrunched up save for fanning ears, seemed to serve as squires and servants to the militia. An oasis, set with the backdrop of a desert, had hung behind them in the first interceding moments until visions of silvery fins decapitating and dismember unexpecting victims painted the sands a muddled crimson, and then there were the boats.
Their ships were many, narrow, and with a length that allotted many more passengers than so thin a vessel had any right to support. Yet, not a one saved for some makeshift captain was allowed leisure in their passage. Those hands that would serve as foot soldiers and guards, archers, and cavalrymen, one and all rowed the blackwood vessels through water that was pocked with masses of ice that steamed as they left warmer waters for the source of the frozen boulders. It was not long after the vision had changed to that of the rowers that an armored man, his stature immense and rivaling Kovarlin’s memory of Mishonrayel, came into view. He watched from the bow from the armada’s lead ship as the rest of those in sight carried on the path. There was not an ounce of weakness or sympathy in the cold, stony eyes of the maned warrior-king, and Kovarlin could sense even in his dreary dream that this was not a creature he cared to cross paths with. With all but the image of the stern and solid western leader fading from his mind, Kovarlin sought reprieve from wakefulness and the anxiety he felt in knowing of the man. And as that final insurgence’s face began to flee his thoughts, Kovarlin only prayed he would not be forced into dealings with this beast as he sought the grave of the Goredrinker. All would be accomplish were he able to return that great devil to the world of mortals. Burn his tail and gouge his eyes, but Kovarlin wished it could be any but him to shoulder the burden of annihilation to come. The blood of the world for that wish, to breathe life into that desolate soul of corruption. The blood of the world for one innocent life.