The sound of wet, ripping canvas echoed across the snowed encased land as the almost ethereal ebony blades tore into and through fur and flesh. There were others that had poured into the campsite like a flood, but the cougar could not call them genuine friends. To have been freed once more on a pact bound in blood was not a good omen, but he could not very well turn back now. Within only a few short moments, a caravan that had boasted more than one-hundred travelers, a mixture of races from across the eastern continent, had fallen to the siege. Once every last man, woman, and cub, each wolf, cougar, caribou, and lynx had been vanquished, the horde fell on their prey with ravenous maws. Kovarlin stood watching the shadowy, fleshy things that were better left to stalk nightmares than to be allowed to wander the world of mortals. Despite what his supposed master would demand of him, the once privateer could not allow such a depraved act to be played out in earnest.
Turning on his fellows, Kovarlin tore through the blood-worshiping demons sent forth by their great master, still hiding in the dark of the world. He knew they would only sew themselves back together once more if he did not act quickly. The demons of the Pai’gen’s blood were nearly indestructible. Cursed by their forebearer, their flesh would knit together no matter what unless they were drained almost entirely of that almost sentient fluid. Kovarlin not only had speed on his side but the all too hungry blades that had been proffered by the king demon himself. No, Proreux Pai’gen had not expected him to turn against the children of the cursed blood but had gifted him just the perfect tools to do so with. Dark, inky fluid splattered and stained the earth, limbs fell free, and soon enough, the tainted vessels of the demons had formed into heaps.
Pain surged through the back of Kovarlin’s skull as he sat on his knees, plunging the daggers of obsidian into a particularly massive demon. It was a shock of awareness that reminded him he was not done, but these things were now as dead as they would be. Looking about cautiously, the cougar could no longer see anything moving in the jumble of fleshy things. He had lost himself again, the madness set in, and a blood lust washed over his mind. It was becoming ever more the challenge to keep his grip on reality. However long he had been sitting there, destroying the already ravaged bodies of his adversaries, he couldn’t say, but it was all too long already. The beckoning of that great lord in the north had not subsided and, in fact, grew in strength. There was much distance to cover, too much if his mind was imbalanced so. No more time could be wasted; he had to make it to the cathedral that had been set before him in his visions.
Wiping clean the blades on his already blood-soaked shirt, the poet’s blouse looking now as if it were meant to be that deep crimson rather than a creamy white. He sheathed them quickly in his tattered vest, little more than a poorly held together rag, and began to focus on the sky. Kovarlin couldn’t say how or why, but after his first imprisonment, exile by a crew he had trusted, his senses had been altered. No longer was he in need of a compass or a chart of the stars; he could feel the wind and chase the auras he felt dancing on it. The transformation, whatever had caused it, also gave the cougar a distinct advantage when it came to hunting and tracking. They were inexplicable, these strange gifts, but by no means would Kovarlin shun them. Once he had his path chosen, ordained by the brilliant arrow of stars capitalized by a murky veridian planetoid, Kovarlin began forward, but not before being apprehended by an unexpected visitor.
From the pool of fluid flesh crawled the gleaming visage of that dreadful demon king, Pai’gen. His form was never consistent, as though he hadn’t rightfully decided what he was any longer or couldn’t settle on one or the other. On this occasion, he rose up to nearly twice the cougar’s already respectable height, bolstered all the more by the massive horns he sprouted. The form was not muscle-bound yet, nor was it emaciated. The slender and lean body would have no significance if it came to blows; Kovarlin knew that much already. Watching as the creature tore the thorns that held him stretched upside down on that scorched tree had assured him the body of the demon king did not matter. Stalking closer, moving from a crawling mass to its full height, Pai’gen came to loom over another who had become his mortal hand to do his will on Verillia.
“My, oh my, what ever will we do with you, my huntsmen? I thought better of you when I gifted you those blades. Where is your loyalty, Kovarlin? And, please, for your sake, do not say in yourself,” the dark, smooth voice demanded all of the cougar’s attention.
Kovarlin wanted to melt away, not out of fear but a knowledge of what could happen to him, “It’s not like that, great lord. Somethin’ stirred in me as I saw them eatin’ up these poor folk, and I had not the power to stay my paws. Some other will is fightin’ for control of these blades. I don’t know how to put it right myself.”
“And here I thought I entrusted those old things to a capable pair of paws. They are artifacts, I suppose you’d call them, cursed and bound by the Spiritcatcher herself. If you can not control the specter that lurks within, perhaps I’ll have to take them,” Pai’gen threatened, his tone lacking any malice.
The cougar stepped back, placing both paws on either hilt, “No! I mean, no, it won’t be an issue no more, great lord. I shall need a proper weapon, and these are beyond suitable for what I be needin’.”
“Yes, after all, my eyes have seen you are being pursued. Those little voices have called out to me, warning that my agents are becoming known and hunted. However, I expect you can handle that woman once you have her alone,” entombed the old demon.
For a quiet few moments, Kovarlin could do little more than meet the intense, raging gaze of Pai’gen. After he had found his courage once more, the cougar nodded, “I will see to her, with all the haste I got. And I’m going to make short work of the others who have placed themselves against us, great lord.”
“They are few and weak at this time, but a keen eye is never overlooked, my servant. You shall keep your gaze focused on those still to come. There have always been greater detractors to me than that fox. Train your sights on the western seas. Not far beyond those waters lurk those who would seek to dethrone me. You wouldn’t want to see me thrown to depths of eternity, would you?” the question was asked as only a whispered but boomed inside of Kovarlin’s veins.
He almost collapsed and submitted from the ache of it all before mumbling, “No, great lord, we shall see to it. Any who dare come against you are gonna quickly be turned back if not put to rest.”
“Very good, but do not forget if they can be made vassals, then they shall be made to serve under your lord. But, should you be able to reign another in, I shall raise your station above theirs, and you shall call yourself their better. Now go, the Darkstalker awaits you in the north,” Pai’gen echoed with a gesture before the figure of blood fell back into the pool of crimson and ebony.
Sheepishly, Kovarlin backed away from the immense swath of blood, unready to call this visit finished. Pai’gen had made it very clear that should Kovarlin cross him or seek to betray that contract between them that he would break the cougar. Seeing the demon king vanish into nothingness with a promise of status rather than punishment was a startling thing. Yet, as he looked deep into the pool, his soft, charcoal features reflected well if not obscured by the dark sky overhead, Kovarlin found no bodily or mental terror come to greet him. The demon had let him alone and turned him loose with only the worry that soon that dreaded vixen should be after him once more. Kovarlin caressed the daggers, thankful he had not been forced to part with them just yet. The revelation they were of the Spiritcatcher was something shocking to Kovarlin, but perhaps it should not have been. Pai’gen was ancient, a creature that had existed beyond time and would live to see the end of it. His possession of such a sacred and rare weapon should not be terribly alarming. Kovarlin again set his sights in the direction his master had cast him. He now knew the name by which his associate was called, the Darkstalker.