Aemoten and Etakar
Faces, weary, pained and fearful alike, turned towards him, the widening eyes in them flicking from him to the little humanoids he was carrying, and to those he had already left behind. Threat-assessments were being made; he wasn't the absolute largest beast on those roads, but he was an unknown, and an apparent predator. The presence of his companions seemed to assure his fellow road-users he was not going to try and eat them, but they did not seem willing to test their luck by by getting in his way, either. Shortly, the people who spotted him were already hurrying to scurry off his projected path, sometimes tugging their less attentive companions along. Some people started at first; he was moving quietly, after all. Horses were sparse, but reacted to his presence with more vigour, trying to pull away with the whites of their eyes flashing. In the absence of the reasoning that Aemoten, Thaler and Beatrice made him mostly
safe to be around, the equines relied on instinct, and he was four times the mass of a large horse, had the gaze of a hunter, and smelled of blood.
Etakar seemed to pay the lot little more mind than was required to not ram into them. He had a destination in mind, so he went
. Dekkun were in this odd spot where they were both ambush predators and endurance hunters ... but hardly ever truly ran. In jungles, they lied in waiting, and went for it, in plains - and Etakar was a plains' dekkun, larger and duller in color than his thicket-dwelling brethen -, where there were few places to hide, they hunted by outlasting their prey. The targets were scared into a running gait once, perhaps even urged into sprint by the dekkun's prehistoric, metallic, hawklike hunting cry, but the dekkun just maintained pace. Long strides, rolling, stalking; something that amounted in a brisk walk for their kind. The prey settled, panting, but the dekkun just kept coming, and so they had to run again, sent by the same distinct cry. Hyee-hyee-hah!
The dekkun just followed. Seemingly without hurry, but nevertheless quickly enough to give little respite. To not give a chance to fully cool down. Still exhausted, the prey had to run again. No time to lie down, to rest, to drink. Until finally, at least one of them was too tired, too hot, too thirsty to run, and just dropped. By that point, the dekkun did not even have to stab them to paralyze them. They were too tired to fight, too. Too tired to do anything but resign to their fates.
Humans were, much like dekkuns, both ambushers and endurance hunters. But they were smaller, bodily weaker, and relied more on tools than dekkun. Their numbers and cunning were what permitted to be among the ranks of apex predators. Yet, these humans here were not acting like it. They were the prey, and something was hunting them. He did not understand the vocalizations of the local variety, yet Etakar was certain of it. He had thought Aemoten and his companions were acting too much like prey, being worn down, yet hiding pain and weakness, yet these here were something entirely. Prey could be dangerous. Prey could stand gorund and point their horns, teeth, claws or hooves in your face. These people were prey that had chosen fleeing over fighting.
With them being humans, that meant more trouble.
There was a congregation of these folks by what could only be the city gates. There were also guards ... and guards could be a nuisance. The prey-humans repectfully made way, even as the guards seemed to gain alertness and focus on him.
Etakar rumbled in low annoyance, and for once, slowed down, one forelimb insistently prodding Aemoten's boot. The guard would see him in his full, seven-and-half-feet-when-quadruped glory, left forelimb slightly streaked in blood, a singed raven perched on his neck with her talons curling into his mane, and rider in long black coat seated on his bare back, just behind his shoulder places, with one hand wrapped in his mount's mane and the other clutching something against his chest, his head lowered.
...Nay, it was two riders, as became evident when the beast's insistence bore fruit. The thing he had been holding against his chest was a much smaller, white-haired person, seemingly wrapped in the hems of the same coat the man himself was wearing. The man was long-haired, tanned-looking, but not quite dark-skinned, with narrow face and high cheekbones. Foreigner, chances were. He seemed to observe the people around him, face weary, but also stern, hard. For a moment he seemed to hesitate,, but then spoke, in flawless Rodorian, though peculiarly worded and with an implacable yet distinct, hard accent. His voice was slightly raspy from some recent endeavor.
"We seek passage into the City. However, it would seem we're not alone in misfortune. From here do all those people hail?"
The duty of the Ducal Guard was rarely as hard to determine as in situations like this, and none were more lost in terms of what they were supposed to do as the people at the bottom of the chain of command. They were left to their own devices most of the times, only intermittently receiving orders from the officers of the Guard and otherwise were just expected to know the “right thing to do”. It made sense – too much happened with this many people requiring attention for officers to handle every single incident – but it was hard for the guardsmen nevertheless. What was their priorities? Should they be willing to leave their posts to retrieve supplies to aid the refugees, or should they simply stand guard to ward off those who would prey upon the unfortunate and vulnerable, and stop the ones not easily dissuaded from such?
And that was just the refugees and citizens; they simply did not have the numbers to keep the peace in and around the city in times of emergency and
check every single traveler looking to enter Zerul City. They needed the Ducal Army to help, but those guys were too preoccupied with the civil war and threats in the other duchies to realize how precarious things were getting in their own home.
And then came a foreigner – for he doubtlessly was one such, with a look quite different from that of the northern lands – with a beast the likes of which the guards had never seen before. The size of the creature was not as intimidating to the guards of the city proper as it would be many other places, since the much larger vulgors were a relatively common sight by the city gates, but people still recognized it as something alien and decidedly predatory in appearance. It was accompanied by a human and seemed docile, though, so the guards paid it little mind beyond curiosity as to its origins and a slight wariness towards the unknown.
The man turned out to be quite fluent in Rodorian, at least, and the trio of guards turned to him at his address, secretly relieved to have an excuse to be removed from the ethical puzzle of how to best serve their city for a few minutes.
“Suppose you haven’t heard, then?” the oldest of them, a gray-haired fellow said as he leaned on his halberd. “They’re refugees from Nemhim. Their city’s been sacked, and the people’s been evacuating by the thousands.”
“It’s a monster,” a gruff, skinny guard added with somewhat feigned reluctance. “A heart-eating beast. Still alive, too, as far as we know.”
“Monsters don’t change shape,” the elder guard pointed out, and the third – a burly, badly scarred man – nodded in agreement. “It’s a demon, trust me, and the sooner it’s cast back into Hell where it belongs, the better."
"We have been underway for over a week now," Aemoten noted, "Hardly made contact with anyone besides a few who accompanied us, and the guards at the borderhouse we spent the last night."
"If I dare phrase myself thusly, I'd have hoped these people to be Anaximites. By the amount of smoke rising south-east, the entire living forest has been razed by fire or worse ... so Nemhim, too?"
He clenched his jaw, closed his eyes and tilted his head back. Most of him wanted nothing more than to be done with the day, to nothing more than to find a healer for Thaler, and then an inn for them both. Tea. And a bath. And beds. Luckily, Thaler was asleep, so at least she did not have to deal with this. But there was also the sense of duty.
"A being that changes shape and eats hearts, you say? If so, I might have an inkling about who, or what he ... it is. Before it was ... it, it was a human man. Either of them ... there has been one imprisoned in Rodoria for a while, but another one has been created here recently. I think we saw it when it first turned... I heard about them about a decade ago, when I was still traveling towards Rodoria. My brother told me about them." Karakon
Menepth had indeed told him about them when they were traveling along with Ardjan Elantair-Amalegäs. As a part of a conversation pertaining the worst possible fates that could befall him, no less. And then the blasted devilgod had made Immanuel into one, too. For what purpose? Solely to terrorize Thaler further? It had been the same church, repurposed to service the blood devilgod, where they had first found her, after all...
"You have the blood devilgod, Rilon, to thank for the youngest one. Or perhaps the older one in Rodoria escaped. I doubt it was the one I was told to be in Soutern Wegam Fermos. I'm surprised if those people made it over here by foot so quickly if it was the youngest one. They are soulless soul-eaters. They are devoid of emotion, but in their automaton state nevertheless realize a part of them is different, that something
has gone missing, something they can sense in others ... so they seek out others, and eat their souls in an attempt to restore the missing parts of themselves. But the souls they consume will be digested, so the restoration would be fleeting, and they would only gain more strength for their instinctive quest to make themselves whole again. They don't really change shape ... but whatever souls they digest, they can secrete as a manner of reddish-brown substance that may seemingly solidify to any form they will.
My brother did not know of any active adult of those which had been killed ... just about imprisonment. And it takes a lot to imprison them. The ... companion we were traveling with at the time suggested it might be possible to give such a creature another soul without
it eating it, and my brother could not call it impossible. I do not know how, even less how to make it cooperate. But it's the best idea I have, unless you wish to try to bleed it dry, in case it stops it from healing, as might be done to a vampire... The soulless did already clear an entire city; it hardly seems a feasible course of action."
The three guards found themselves looking at each other confusedly, not sure whether to be more dumbfounded by how much this stranger claimed to know of the being terrorizing Nemhim, or of the fact that he was divulging that information – freely and without encouragement – to complete strangers. They listened to his lecture on what he thought the creature was, where it came from and how it was apparently borderline invincible, alternating between feeling dismissive towards the information presented to them and doubtful of the stranger’s sanity, and feeling a gnawing sense of dread and doom at the thought of what it would mean if it was true.
None of them were deo’iel, nor had they dealt with anything monster-related more severe than small packs of goblins and minor yth infestations, and that much was only attempted with overwhelming numerical advantage and equipment suited for safe extermination. They did not know much even about common monsters, let alone something as obscure as what was brought up here.
And most importantly of all, none of them had any intention of going anywhere near a creature like that!
“Most of them came by horse or cart,” the skinny guard clarified, looking markedly paler than he had a few minutes ago. “People have been coming on foot recently, too, but from the look of them I doubt they’ve even stopped to rest getting here. More keep coming.”
aren’t going to do anything to that thing!” the elder guard remarked once the stranger was done, sounding quite a bit more panicked than he had meant to. “We’ve plenty to deal with here without chasing down soul-eating freaks! ‘sides, they say it’s really fast and heading towards Wenal, so we wouldn’t be able to catch it even if we tried.”
“They’ll be fine, though,” the other shrugged, sounding much more confident than he looked. “Nemhim was soft target, especially since Seclyr hit them recently, but Wenal? They have walls, soldiers, knights, mages… No way it’ll win against them.”
“It’s a job for the deo’iel,” the third, scarred guard pointed out, seeming rather calm compared to his colleagues. “They will do something about it soon. But if you’re not just making stuff up,” he added, nodding at the stranger, “someone could probably use that information. We’ll tell our commander. What happens after that is out of our hands.”
Aemoten's reasoning in deciding that "duty", here, meant spreading the word was simple - it was just about the most common enemy of mortals there feasibly could be and the quicker it got taken care of by any means possible. He had no desire, nor the ideal setup - be it funds or powers - to specifically be the one stopping it. Vanity was not the Sekalynic warrior's way. There is no honor in killing nor glory in war, from no bloodshed fame shall arise.
They just did what was needed.
At this time and with his degraded state, it meant gritting his teeth and suffering through having a fairly normal conversation. Past some line, even nothing much started to require an unnatural amout of willpower.
So there would probably be an steady flow of refugees for the next few days. And Wenal would be next. He did not share the guard's hope that those in that city would be able to deal with it. Deo'iel? Yeah. Probably the best chance, all things considered. If they can get the funds.
"Deo'iel dealt with the one in Southern Wegam Fermos," he stated. "I doubt most of their members would have much awareness of the beings, given their scarcity, but the higher few circles will know who I'm referring to." He sighed, switching to addressing the third, scarred guard directly. "My brother would be best suited for giving the information, but in his absence, I'll relay what I know. The sooner someone takes care of that one, the better.
If possible, I'd however like to find a healer and a place to stay first."
“They may already know about it,” the scarred guard, looking at Aemoten only in-between letting his eyes shift around to keep an eye on the refugees surrounding them. “A lone couple of deo’iel arrived earlier today. Didn’t get a close look at their badges, but since there’s only two of them I’m guessing fifth or sixth circle. Probably still in the city, looking for… someone.” He looked at his colleagues, both of which just shrugged to demonstrate their ignorance. “Don’t know where, but they stood out, so they’re probably easy to find. Demonspawn.”
He had no obvious means to track most demonspawn aside of trades ... but demonspawn could also be quite distinct
, to say the least.
"I shall keep my eyes and ears open," he noted in reply. "If your commander wishes to speak to me, then I'll preferably check by in the morning, and otherwise be staying in an inn. The very least, he -" he released the dekkun's mane for long enough to refer to Etakar "- would be easy enough to locate." Pause. "I do not suppose the citizens would take too kindly to him being on the streets by his own? He is not violent and has quite humanlike intelligence, but I fear he's an uncommon sight, and hasn't been venturing those lands long enough to comprehend Rodorian. The best he could do to get his point across here would be to draw arcane symbols on the ground, I'd figure."
“Zerulics are used to big critters,” the older guard huffed, subconsciously taking a step backwards to put extra distance between himself and the beast. “It’ll be fine.”
But the scarred man crossed his arms, turning his head to look at the gate, seeming to consider the matter for a moment before replying. “It should be fine as long as you stick to the main roads and docks, yeah… and he behaves.” He nodded at the creature to indicate what he was referring to. “As long as he doesn’t threaten anyone or eat or break someone’s property, it should be fine. If you want a place for him to stay, there’s stables at the docks with room for vulgors; should have plenty
of room for him.”
The guards seemed to have missed - or perhaps, in the northern barbarian way - did not want
to acknowledge or believe his mention of Etakar being of humanlike intelligence, or his associated literacy.
The outlander raised an eyebrow. "Can't figure he'd much more pleased over it than the average Zerulic mage would be over staying in a sheep pen. If you'd reckon he's better out of sight and out of mind and the innkeeper is not overly pleased with the idea of renting him a room, I can escort him back out the city gates and leave him to his own devices outside of it." Etakar was wont to not
be overly fond of that, either, but it was indefinitely more agreeable than trying to tell him he was supposed to be locked up for for foreseeable future. It was an arrangement that had worked last night, and in cities past. "He doesn't eat cattle." Not unless given explicit permission, anyway.
"Or people. Furthermore, I believe he already ate today." And sustained a leg injury by who-knows-what monstrosity the devilgod had conjured up, so he was much more likely to just take a rest.
The black-coated foreigner uttered a couple of brief sentences in a very distincly articulated foreign language, seemingly at the maned seven-and-a-half-foot-tall beast. The beast produced a brief deep rumble from his chest, and as if to demonstrate the outlander's words a few sentences back, lifted his (formerly injured, now just a bit painful and swollen with a couple of visible crack-marks and some dried blood) left forelimb and unfurled his equivalent of an index finger, its long, mildly curved claw meticulously tracking swiping symbols on the cobbles, one symbol per stone, seemingly resetting what could be after each word. Or sentence, depending on the makeup of whatever clearly foreign script he was using. Three words, the middle one quite long. Or three sentences. The foreigner responded something, and the beast folded and set his appendage back to ground. This time, the vocalized response was a longer, slightly higher-pitched rumble that verged on a growl, followed by a sound that was bizarrely reminiscent of someone sharpening a scythe, emitting from the creature's throat rather than chest.
"Very well;" the stranger switched back to Rodorian, "Should you not have any more questions for me, I shall proceed. Thank you for the information."
As the guards responded by glancing at their colleagues and shrugging, a nod and a hand gesture motioning the party onward, and a slightly half-hearted return of the sentiment (mostly so because the speaker was also trying to keep a track of the refugees passing by on the side) respectively, Etakar slunk through the gates, momentarily parting even the less timid entry-seekers into two watchful lines of spectators.