THE KANOI STANZAS
Strofa Due: Le Bufere
(Stanza Two: The Storms)
Book Five: TORRENT’S CORRUPTION
Chapter 1: KATABASIS II (L'abisso)
The mountains were jagged. Peaks draped in white and speckled black and green, they turned from left to right, north and south, pointing towards and from one another and, by their points bowing towards or from the niveous valley and the bulbous shapes in its center. Along those montane shadows, twenty-six inched into the valley, staring at thirty-odd huts and the carriages and sleds against them. A hand was raised, and they stopped on the accumulation’s edge. The one leading, a 6'1" white hare in a black shirt splotched with ice, and green pants weighted at the ankles with snow, adjusted the sack on his back and pivoted about.
He inhaled, with his whiskers loosed of their snow, and he looked to twenty-three huffing into their hands or wings and fighting a cold that, after a fortnight, they had failed to adjust to. “The hard part is over.”
“You call walking ‘hard’?”
The hare looked to Lieutenant Randolph leaning against a tree, his fur trembling only every few minutes. “For everyone who doesn’t voluntarily run hundred-mile routes, lieutenant; yes, I consider the hike the hard part.”
“Did no one think Intermediate Diplomacy was hard?” Randolph huffed.
“Yeah, why?” asked a badger driving his claws along his sleeveless arms.
“Lieutenant”, the hare groaned.
“You were going to tell them now, anyway; aye, Captain Capito?” Randolph flared his brow.
Captain Capito palmed his forehead, lowered his hand, and looked to the huts, then silent. With a huff, he turned to his team. “This is a diplomacy mission.”
“How much diplomacy do you need to deliver aid to explorers?” a jaguarundi inquired.
“A lot this time”, Capito replied. “These explorers are not from this continent.” He crossed his arms, while his officers gaped, and while Randolph snickered.
“Humans?” a gecko, concealed in three layers of clothes, gasped while his cloth-enwrapped tail slashed at the snow. “We’re…they’re…here?”
“Every ten years, the humans send an envoy to the Alaska Territory, since it’s unincorporated. They’re here to take measurements of some sort. We, as ARK, are here to ensure that they have all that they need for the rest of their fortnight’s stay. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity gifted to Chesapeake.”
“What are they measuring?” a wren in a thick hat inquired while furling her wings.
“You can ask them when they wake up”, Capito replied. “And before anyone makes the request, do not try to throw them. Compared to us, they are supposedly very fragile, and they have likely never seen any of us up close. When we make our entrance, please be sure to not appear as ferocious as our legacies.”
“What if we are ferocious?” Randolph cackled.
“Lieutenant”, Capito groaned, “More than anyone else here_”
“I won’t make them soil themselves, captain and team”, Randolph hawked. “Here’s an idea: we can use Officer Lemming—Officer…that young officer—as an introduction. He’s so scrawny, there’s no way they’ll find us ferocious or even strong. It gives them a false sense of security, so when we do strike…” Randolph grimaced, “or whatever ARK wants us to do…”
Capito tilted his head. “That is a good idea.”
“You seem surprised.”
“Officer Drake”, Capito called, “this may seem jarring, but this is good preparation for when you do have to take_”
“Nothing is good preparation for Intermediate_” Randolph looked away as Capito pointed at him.
“Officer Drake, are you…?” Capito sniffed as his officers glanced about. He stepped past them, scanning their tracks and finding one set askew. He followed the vagrant set to an evergreen several yards aside and knelt. “Officer.” Drake looked up. Curled under the conifer’s roof, he flashed his honey-yellow eyes, while tremors loosed him of the snowfall from overlying branches. “Officer Drake?” The wind blew, from north to south, echoing with a breath-like roll that chilled the small lynx. “Officer_”
Drake shook as his arm was grabbed, and he looked to Capito holding him. “Officer, are you with me?” Drake nodded as the wind blew from south to north, warmer as if expired. “It has to be ten below freezing, but you’re burning up. We’ve reached our destination. We just have a few more tasks before we can rest for the day.”
“Yes, sir”, Drake mumbled. He stood, first wincing as he exited the tree shade and was barraged by nubilous light. As Capito walked, turned to, and conversed with several officers, Drake teetered, his hearing muting and vision blurring and sharpening in discordant time. He stumbled as the group continued, while the wren placed her wing on his shoulder and led him, and he ambled, his equilibrium vanishing with each stride, reappearing in the instant of pause, and diminishing with the following pace. He closed his eyes.
“Is anyone home?”
“You’re telling me humans don’t say that?”
Drake opened his eyes. He stumbled, while the wren looked back. He then spun northerly and scanned the peaks. The wind blew southerly, but was sounded over by a heartbeat pealing in ten-second time. His ears angled easterly. Drake spun to another mountainside and sighted collapsing debris. He crossed his arms and staggered, his sack dragging him back. He turned to the wren, and, while inhaling—and feeling his stomach turn—stepped on.
Drake locked, while his spine tingled and while that word trembled his ears, as if spoken behind him. He spun, but, finding that span empty and the surrounding vastitude barren, looked ahead. As his heart accelerated, he drove his claws into his arms and, while inching on, looked to the surrounding peaks, pinpointing the slightest motions—collapsing debris, swaying trees, and a bound. Drake stopped and blinked. He opened his eyes and once more scoured the peaks, but found them barren.
“Captain, maybe we should set up a tent for him?” the wren suggested.
“It’s just a fever”, Randolph grunted as he strode past the huts and sniffed.
“Once we’ve made contact”, Capito answered.
“Do humans sleep this late? It must be almost noon”, the jaguarundi remarked.
“A complaint about oversleeping from a cat?” the gecko inquired.
“Does anyone smell that?” Randolph asked.
“Your Guilds-beast musk? Yes.”
As the officers laughed, Randolph rolled his eyes and sniffed. He looked down, stepped, and sniffed. He turned to the huts, sniffed, and, while feeling his neck fur stand, knelt. While thrusting his hands into the snow, he sniffed. “Captain, something’s off.”
“If this is the lead-in to another joke, I am not in the mood”, Capito called as he walked to Drake, then leering at his silhouette. “Officer Drake, just give me a few more minutes, and we’ll get you some rest_”
“Lieutenant, with your inside voice”, Capito called.
“Would you believe this is his inside voice?” the wren chuckled.
Drake fell to his knees, gritted his teeth, and slapped his forehead on the ground; yet, the icy chill slighted not the throbbing. Though the captain called to Drake, his words rang absent, while the cold seemed to strengthen around him.
“Lieutenant”, Capito called. “I need you to set up an emergency tent!” He turned to Randolph as Randolph overturned snow in the settlement’s nexus. “Lieutenant!” Capito ran for him. “This is urgent!”
“Aye, sir; it is.” Randolph backed from his pit. Capito stopped beside him and wretched as he beheld a four-limbed shape, about his height, but furless, dressed in heavier clothes, pale, and glossy by the arctic cold. “That’s not the only one”, Randolph gasped, while Capito dropped to his knees. “I smell too much blood for it to be only one… They’re all scattered… like…it’s like when you’re hunting_”
“Randolph, please”, Capito huffed as he glared at the human corpse’s grimace.
“No, captain…it’s…” Randolph looked to the corpse’s neck—a few inches in slanted width. While stepping back, he reached for his breastplate. The deer looked to the mountains, to their peaks, and to their overlooks. “Captain, we need to leave.”
“Not until we’ve located all of the bodies.”
“No, sir, with the vantage points that surround us, we’re susceptible to_” Randolph seized at a clap and turned to a mountain placed northerly. He reared back as he sighted frost arcing from the mountainside, and he inhaled as a silhouette sped southerly along the ground and, above the settlement, widened. Randolph spun. “Ambush!”
Drake looked up as his teammates turned, and Drake peered, past their spinning frames, to Randolph pitching Capito and, in synchrony, jumping.
A tremor erupted beside Randolph, but that tremor was superseded by an icy cascade that consumed the two officers, toppled the centermost huts, and blew past the onlooking team. Drake turned and knelt, the snow whipping past, but once more bowed as his pangs erupted with greater ferocity. He turned, as officers called out, and looked to the eruption’s nexus, where strode phantasmal wight.
Lanky and pale, the opposer stood emaciated and yet draped in a niveous-white, hirsute coat. Jabbing from the top of his head were two ears, the only perceivable felid signifiers of that shaggy frame. Dangling from his wide hands were talons obsidian, smooth, and hooked. Beaming from his snarling visage were oculi piceous and centered by scarlet pupils. He looked to Drake.
Drake stumbled back. The beast stepped. Drake turned. The beast stepped. Drake, his migraine strengthening, ran. The beast charged, dredging through the snow, while his ears swiveled to others before him.
“As an officer of ARK, I must inform you_” the beast thrashed his left around the gecko’s neck before the gecko could extract his staff. The beast clenched, and pulverized bone clamored within Drake’s ears and yet was replaced by wails and feverish snarls. The beast aggressed. The team opposed.
Drake stepped, his nose bleeding and his eyes leaking tears, and an unsheathed sword and a wail chimed behind him, but both were replaced by snapping bone. Drake stepped, and avian flaps erupted but were replaced with a shriek drenched in cruor. Drake stepped, and a call—“surround him!”—was replaced by four swats and then a nearing wail. Drake spun as the jaguarundi hammered against an adjacent hut, the wall cratering around the spotted cat and a bloody streak painting his descent.
“Don’t move, or we will shoot!”
Drake looked back as eighteen stood around the beast, some with crossbows, others with polearms, and others with swords aimed. Drake looked to the beast, peering back, unblinking with its pupils seeming to spear into him. Drake spun. The beast huffed.
“Raise your arms!”
The beast bellowed and turned, with a gust barreling from his maw and unloosing arctic cold. The surrounding officers, first swatted, were solidified, and then thrown. As they fell, some shattered, while spikes and prongs sprouted from the snow to impale those that remained. Drake was shoved by the passing gust. He looked back to a field of rising and diving spikes and the corpses and pieces of corpses around them. Wailing, he spun, and as he spun, he was enshrouded. Drake kicked back.
The beast landed in front of Drake and stepped. Drake kicked to his feet but felt his legs give as the migrainous pain spread from his head and quivered his limbs. Drake fell. The beast stepped, but stopped and looked up.
“Wake up, Marietta!” Capito lunged over Drake with staff in hand. He swatted the beast’s face, and, while landing with his left arm dislodged and his clothes torn, wound back. “Drake, run as far as you can! Just keep running!” As Capito swung at the beast’s face, Drake bolted northerly, past trees and up montane nodules. Capito, stumbling and coughing blood, swung a third and fourth time. His staff was caught.
Capito looked to the beast rearing upright, its visage neither cut nor bruised, while holding his staff. Capito, while flashing his teeth, pushed back, but the beast strengthened his grip, causing an icy sheen to form along the hare’s weapon. The staff cracked.
The ground cracked under Drake’s feet as he staggered up the mountainside, along stony lanes, and past trees. One hundred feet in altitude, and he bolted past curtains of ice. He turned and rose. Two hundred feet, and, throwing down his sack, tripped atop slippery stone and stumbled along a precipice. He slid between trees and rolled against a trunk, and, while outstretched and gasping, pulled on his ears. He pushed up, his tears still falling, but his pain slighted. A footstep sounded. Drake looked ahead.
“Captain!” Drake barked as Capito stood, his body limp and the tips of his toes nicking the ground. “Captain, are you_?!” Drake shook as he perceived a larger form behind the hare, and Drake fell limp as he found a fist around Capito’s neck. Capito shook, and, as he produced one last wheeze, his flesh solidified. The beast released. At the clang of Capito’s fragmentation, Drake winced, and, as his captain rested at the beast’s feet as myriad shards of once-flesh, Drake crossed his arms and reared back. The beast stepped.
Drake stepped back as the beast opened his mouth, and Drake shook his head, with lines of saliva dripping from his mouth. The beast extracted his tongue and twice cut it along the edges of his fangs before coating them in glossal blood. The beast smiled, and the pangs returned. Drake fled. The beast pursued.
Stumbling against trees, Drake ran, but the beast kept pace. Ascending and descending rocks, Drake sprinted, but the beast drew near. Sliding and collapsing to his knees over the mountain’s eastern face, Drake fled, but the beast closed in. The beast outstretched his arms, stepped at Drake with his smile dashed by blood, but locked as Drake collapsed along an icy slope and glissaded towards a precipice. The beast scoffed.
As Drake jounced against stone, with the ice its kin in dispiteous force, the beast pursued, beating its hands to run with quadrupedal poise. Thirty feet from the edge, and Drake drove his claws but found no respite. Twenty feet from the edge, and Drake looked to the cliff and the hundred feet of jagged protrusions below. Ten feet, and he looked to the beast, two strides behind him, his smile morphed into a snarl as he locked onto Drake and the descent ahead of him. Drake looked ahead as he reached the ramp’s edge, and he looked down. He was caught.
Drake looked back to the beast holding his right hand by his left’s talons. The beast pulled, outstretching his right claws while reeling Drake in. Drake inhaled, but the beast hooked onto the right side of his face. The beast, as Drake exhaled, gaped his mouth to unsheathe his bloody fangs. As Drake yelped and as the ground cracked, the beast gored his teeth into Drake’s right shoulder.
Drake convulsed. The ruby fangs tearing through skin and muscle and cradling bone accelerated his heart, superseded his exhaustion, and amplified his temporal perception. Drake blinked. As he looked to snowfall halted, he inched his eyes rightward, peering past the beast’s right hand, locking onto bloodied canines plunging into his body, and being diverted to aberrant scarlet shapes. Drake looked to the beast’s eyes. The beast looked back, his pupils then morphed into jagged crosses. Drake palpitated, and time accelerated. The snowfall, the pain intermingled with terror, and the shattering ice clamored, in unison, within his mind. The precipice collapsed.
As Drake spiraled, the beast unhooked. As Drake flailed, the beast, with a bellow, crashed against acicular stone and ice. As the beast’s impact fractured the hillside, Drake jounced across from him, turning and sliding and diving onto snowy span. As the beast was crushed by stone and ice, Drake slid along the valley, battered but living; still, but conscious. He pushed.
Spreading his limbs, Drake heaved to his knees, but, as he beheld the spreading blood, his right arm gave. Drake collapsed. While wrapping his left around his tattered shoulder, he whimpered, and, feeling his internal warmth drain from his wounds, he closed his eyes and bawled. His heart jounced.
Drake opened his eyes as his chest thrust. He inhaled, but his airways locked. He reached for his mouth, but his limbs seized. He exhaled, and a viscous burn slithered from his core. He yelped, flailing as the burn spread to his extremities. He moaned as he rolled to his knees, and he gasped as he found, peering through his pale-brown fur, black vessels. His heart jounced. Drake yelled as his limbs burned and his eyes gaped; howled as his heart raced and his body arched; and screamed as his body seized with bone-crushing might and, with its easing, released.
With a flash, Drake was engulfed in deep-blue flames that lashed and spiraled from his form. He inhaled, and the flames morphed into a whirlwind fifty feet high. He screamed, and they tightened into an azure beam one hundred feet high. He inhaled, rearing up and leaning back, and, with a vigorous bow, he roared. The column erupted. With an obstreperous clap, a curtain of semisolids and searing liquids plunged from the column, imploded, and then deluged with triple-digit gusts and a dolorous cold.
Randolph yelped as the wind blazed past. Though climbing from a yard of snow, he bowed as a colder gust whipped past, searing his wounds and icing his fur. Coughing and then rising, he crossed his arms and, first peering past the broken half of his left antler, he staggered, scanning the cracked and ice-laden domes and turning towards where his team once stood. He inhaled, but coughed as the cold lashed his throat, and pulled to tighten his chest plate. “Hello?” He looked about, the snow descending with steady course. “Hello?!” he howled. “Is someone else…?” His words trailed. “Am I the only…?” Randolph looked down, but pouted as his nostrils flared. He reared up, perceiving, within the wind, the scent of felid blood. He stepped.