The city of Suur bustled just as did the streets of the late Ut-Tleru. Alagar had seen the city of Suur as he walked over the high hills in which the forest covered, the city’s famous walls towering high above the belittled trees. The city made him feel divided. He felt a feeling of homecoming to be back in the smoky air of marketplaces. He held his deformed arm, hidden by his garb’s long sleeves, to his face. He knew he could not feel truly home; he knew he couldn’t now that he knew what he was. He was a beast; he was closer in likeness to the sardonic Ur than he was to the men and women of the town of Suur. His gut wrenched. He dropped his hands and walked silently down the streets toward the large temple. The temple was the largest in the area. It was a temple to the great god El’Rha, the most honored of the divine pantheon. What a fitting place to hold the first of the unholy relics of Sheol Alagar found himself thinking as he strode down the alleyways. He had spent so much time thinking about reaching Suur that he found that, in all the time he took getting here, he had not once thought of what he would do once he had arrived. Yes, the temple was in the city, but he soon realized that he had no clue of how to reach it. The alleys of Suur seemed to twist and contort in a maze of shops and residential areas. The turns winded left and right, up, and down stairs, and, eventually, Alagar came to reality with his situation: he was lost. Being lost, however, tantalizing as it may be at the moment, was an easy fix and he was fully aware of this. Alagar walked to the closest stall. The people browsing and haggling added to the unintelligible chattering that filled the streets. Behind the wares, a large man sat watching the customers. “Excuse me, sir!” Alagar broke the noise once he was in hearing range. The large man scanned him with his eyes, his brow furrowing in confusion as he noticed the priestly robes. “What is it, priest?” “How might I reach the temple?” The man at the stall gave Alagar a curious expression. “You don’t know how to get there?” “No,” Alagar replied, “I seem to have gotten lost.” The man held his hands up, pointing attention to the wares on his table. “Look, I don’t have time for games. Go ask someone else,” he said as he waved his hand dismissively. Alagar’s face turned sour at the rudeness of the man and turned to walk away. “I can help you!” a voice caught his attention. Alagar turned to see a young woman wearing the clothes of a priestess. His face lightened as he bowed in gratitude. “You can?” She smiled, her dark eyes full of light. “I would be happy to. But tell me, are you a priest?” Alagar suddenly realized how strange it would be to tell her he was the lone survivor of Ut-Tleru, and he knew that being a priest of Nahash wouldn’t be very approved of in the patron city of El’Rha. “I’m,” he thought quickly, “I’m a pilgrim, a wanderer,” he answered. Her face lit with joy, “Oh how wonderful! For a man to wander in search of the grace of the gods,” she bowed, “I’m truly humbled by your faith.” Alagar smiled back, not really knowing what to say. “You’ve probably come to pray at the temple, haven’t you?” she sang joyously. Alagar felt himself blush. Lying was not his forte, but he knew that he couldn’t tell her the truth. “By the way,” she began, “I’m Naleia! And you are?” “Alagar.” he nodded, feeling that giving his name alone wouldn’t be a problem or allow anyone to see through his fib. “Great!” Naleia giggled. “Right this way!”
Ur walked through the Rathleru forest, slipping easily through the thick brush and thorns. The midday sun illuminated the ground in slivers, held back by the pervasive canopies above. The chirping of the birds echoed throughout the jungle, but Ur had heard it all. “The Lion is moving! The Lion is moving!” The wolf simply wished they’d shut up. He trudged through the green until he heard the sound of trickling water. “I must be close,” he griped, “I just hope that infernal old man is home.” The water flowed from the spring, glistening like a rippled fabric as it moved. An old man sat on the rocks around it, eyes closed. He breathed in. It felt as if the wind circled him. He breathed out, and the wind dispersed. His mind was white; all became silent. Then, the bushes rustled. “Ur,” the man called out without opening his eyes, “the prodigal wolf returns, no?” “Cut it, old man.” Ur scoffed as he emerged from the bushes. “I thought I’d never see you again,” the old man laughed jeeringly. “Tell me, what brings me such an honor?” “I’m sure you’ve heard the birds?” The old man opened his eyelids to reveal his golden eyes. “I tuned them out long ago. They care too much for the works of men. I stopped hearing them when I left my life as a man.” “You’re just as grumpy as ever, Lazarus,” Ur groaned as he walked to the man and sat across from him. Lazarus stood and began to walk away. He stopped, hesitated, then motioned for the wolf to follow him. “What do you want, Ur? The last time we spoke I was sure I’d never see you again.” The wolf laughed sarcastically. “Then you should be happy to see me, old man.” Lazarus laughed through gritted teeth and placed his hand on Ur’s head. “You’re a good boy, dog.” Ur swiped his head from underneath the old man’s hand and snarled. “I’m a wolf!” “Of course, you are. What is it you want, wolf?” “I’ve met one more,” the wolf began, “another like you.” Lazarus stopped and looked upward at the canopies that converged at the top of the forests like buttresses in a cathedral. “There are none like me.” Ur contorted his snout. “You’re stupid, old man,” he barked, “you truly think you are the only one like you!?” Lazarus whipped his head around to the wolf. “Yes, I do. Perhaps you too know how lonely that feels.” Ur stopped walking and watched as Lazarus took a few more steps before he too stopped. Ur looked at the now evening sky. The setting sun bathed the clouds in pink along a sanguine blanket of sky. “This one is different,” he began. “He seeks the Sheol.” Lazarus’ eyes widened, but he still said nothing. A few moments of deafening silence passed by. Seeing the man’s obstinance, Ur turned and walked away, disappearing into the brush.
Alagar and Naleia walked through the thin alleys of Suur, him following her lead. She moved as an adept among the gargantuan crowds of people fluxing back and forth. Alagar, however, struggled to keep up with his new-found guide. He was not versed in streets of such clutter and noise. Ut-Tleru was large, yes, but Suur was much larger. Naleia stopped at once and turned to her follower. “Trouble keeping up,” she questioned, laughing serendipitously. Alagar raised his hand and scratched his head. “Only every so often.” “We’re almost there,” the young woman giggled. “You were looking for the temple, right?” Alagar nodded humbly, caught off guard by the young woman’s energetic disposition. “Well, it’s right around this corner!” The two turned the corner. Suddenly, awe struck Alagar as he beheld the Temple of El’Rha, the largest in the entire world. Its stone walls seemed to extend forever; its stained-glass windows were ornate with depictions of the great god: a humanoid figure with the head of a dragon. “Star-struck, huh?” Alagar turned to see Naleia’s snide expression. He felt himself blush. “It is quite a sight,” he concurred. “Well, Mr. Pilgrim,” she took his hand and began leading him toward the large wooden doors, “let’s go inside!”
The inside of the cathedral was just as magnificent as the exterior. Large murals depicting holy scenes decorated the ceiling. “High Priest Zelkar!” the young priestess called out upon entering. An old man in priestly robes stood from his front-row seat and turned his eyes to the girl addressing him. “Naleia!” he exclaimed fondly. “Who have we here?” “A pilgrim!” Naleia pushed Alagar toward the elderly priest. “His name is Alagar!” “How unfortunate,” the old man chuckled slightly, “you share a name with the high priest of Ut-Tleru. The follower of that drat god, Nahash.” Alagar suddenly opened his eyes, alarmed. “Worry not, my friend,” the old priest said as he slapped the young priest on the back, joking darkly, “they’re all dead now.” Alagar smiled, uncomfortable with the elder’s tact. “So, pilgrim,” he started, “what brings you to our temple?” “I have come seeking something,” Alagar answered cryptically. “Ah!” Zelkar exclaimed. “Say no more! I know you seek enlightenment! Please, feel free to pray here. By the way,” he added, “the abbey has beds available. If you are weary, feel free to rest here as well.” Alagar smiled, surprised at the man’s enthusiasm. “Thank you,” he bowed graciously. “Come,” Zelkar motioned for Alagar to follow him, “I’ll show you to your room.” Alagar nodded, the followed along.
“The Sheol, you say?” Lazarus asked as he and the wolf sat and watched the sunset. “Yes,” Ur replied, “he is a cursed being, a man doomed to live as a beast.” Lazarus stood. “Cursed, you say?” “Indeed.” The old man scratched his head of unkempt grey hair as he walked away. “You know the pain, don’t you? You want that god dead just like he does, right?” Lazarus stopped walking. “Foolish Ur,” he said as he looked down at the ground and then at the twilit sky. “So, you won’t help?” There was a long moment of silence as the wolf watched the man who had his back turned. The sky turned from twilight to dusk, the moon illuminated the forest, casting shadows upon the ground. “Ur,” the old man finally said. “Take me to him.” “You’re too easy,” Ur laughed wolfishly.
Alagar laid on his bed of straw and animal hide and stared at the wood and straw ceiling, daydreaming. How would he find the pommel? How could he even bring the subject up without being suspicious? Would High Priest Zelkar even be aware of its whereabouts? The inn had fed him, so he had not to worry. The sun had set finally, and the sky had become a veil of deep blue, a bottomless void, freckled in spots of silver. He thought about all that had transpired over the past week and cringed at the horror and anger instilled in him by the acts of the god Nahash. I’ll kill him, he thought, I’ll make him pay for all he’s done. Alagar listened to the birds outside his small window, but, this time, the sound was different. He had not heard the birds until now. It was no longer melodious chirping, but rather, it was a plethora of voices. Of course, this he figured was normal. After all, he was able to understand Ur, why shouldn’t he be able to understand any other animal? He closed his eyes and focused on the crowd of noises. He stopped, held his breath, and listened. They were loud, singing. The Lion is here! The Lion is here! Suur will fall! Suur will fall! “Lion?” Alagar said aloud. He didn’t have a clue as to what they meant, but he knew it wasn’t good.
The darkness pervaded the forests around Suur, consuming everything underneath the heavy canopies of the treetops which shielded the ground from the rays of the moon above. Soldiers stood at the gates, the only entrances to the city, positioned on the north and south sides. The walls, the pride of Suur, ascended high above the ancient trees and circled the city completely. Outside, the many soldiers stood dutifully, swords and shields in hand; inside, the city slept in confidence. The soldiers peered into the darkness, scanning for any suspicious movement. For many days, most days, there would be nothing of noteworthiness. Perhaps a thief or two, but none even attempted to challenge the gargantuan walls of Suur. Tonight, seemed no different. The soldiers stared into the blackness, hypnotized by its nothingness. Then, there was the blast of a war horn. “Is that torchlight?” the one on the watchtower called out. The others perked their ears and turned to him. “Look!” he called again. The others followed his command and gazed down the road. Surely, none would try a raid; but surely, the light of torches covered the roads in the distance. Innumerable flickering yellow beacons marched steadily toward the gates. “Sound the horns!” the captain frantically yelled toward the watchtower. The soldier followed orders, and the horn resounded throughout the barracks. One by one soldiers readied their blades and bows and answered the call, closing the large stone doors of the gate. “Be ready, men! Even if we are felled, there’s no way they can get through the stone gate.” The men stood one hundred in number, fifty guarding the gate, and fifty snipers atop it. This, of course, meant war.
The sound of the battle horns filled the streets as soldiers scurried to their stations. Alagar awakened, bewildered by the sounds of alarms. The Lion! He remembered the chirping of the birds. What Lion? The question lingered in his mind. He knew he didn’t know, but he also knew that it was bad news. Zelkar and Naleia! His stomach fluttered, and his heart rose in his chest. I must see if they’re okay! Quickly, Alagar put on his priestly robes and rushed out the door. The streets were filled with soldiers and civilians running frantically like flies throughout the streets. Whatever this “Lion” was, he knew it only meant trouble; he knew that whatever it was, it had something to do with the Pommel…
Gershon and his army stood at the gate of Suur, standing only steps away from the city’s legion. The soldiers’ watched the clan with swords ready. Gershon walked forward. “Bow before me, soldiers of Suur! Bow before the Lion of the West!” The soldiers suddenly went white. The captain raised his blade in the air. “Archers!” he commanded. The archers that lined the walls readied their arrows. Gershon raised his hand. “Fire!” the captain exclaimed. At that, hundreds of arrows sped through the air, aimed at the armies of the Lion of the West. Gershon quickly closed his fist. The army of marauders dropped and held up their shields to deflect the piercing arrows, yet Gershon held no shield. He held no defense; he held no sword. The large Gershon wore not even a shirt. The arrows hurled through the air only to be halted by the shields. The men of Suur stared in horror at the defenseless Gershon. “The arrows…” the Captain began, in horror of what he saw. Broken arrows littered the ground at the Lion’s feet. “They bounced right off…” Gershon raised his hand once more. His army charged the trembling legion of Suur. “Close the gate!” the captain demanded. The soldiers heaved the levers, and the mighty stone gate blocked the way to the city. The captain led his men as they charged valiantly toward the brigands, swords drawn. The grinding clatter of steel on steel filled the heated air, mixed with the sounds of men giving their last cries. At the gate, the captain stood before the tall Gershon, his legs fluttering to retain strength. “You have nowhere to run now, Lion of the West!” he yelled in an attempt to intimidate his bare opponent. “Tell me,” the large man said deeply as he approached the armored captain, “do you know why they call me the ‘Lion of the West?’” Now the captain could see the feared man truly. Gershon towered over him, a giant among men. The captain felt as if heat were leaving his body. It was as if the stare of this man alone could make him feel the frigid chill of death itself; he knew right then, that this was the true embrace of despair. He swallowed his fear, as incomprehensible as it seemed, thrust his sword into the belly of the giant. The blade stopped as its tip touched the abdomen of the Lion. There he stood, unscathed. Gershon gripped the metal blade pointed at his stomach. The blade seemed to warp underneath the giant man’s clutch. “What are you!?” the captain screamed in eldritch horror. “I have been blessed by the god Nahash!” Gershon laughed. “I am a lion among lambs!” He lifted the overshadowed soldier by the throat. “They call me the Lion,” he said as he reared back, the captain in hand, “because I am king!” Gershon slammed the captain into the thick stone gate, causing large crevasses to form from the sheer force of the collision. Suddenly, the walls gave way; the archers fell to their deaths, screaming for dear life as they came crashing down with the stones. The remainder of the army of brigands rushed the city, pillaging. Gershon walked past the stones of the wall and the bodies of the fallen, walking in the direction of the Great Temple of El’Rha.
Soldiers ran hurriedly throughout the castle, answering the call of the alarms. King Lemuel Irok Suur XI sat on his throne, lost in thoughts concerning the unthinkable idea that the great walls had been breached. “Councilor,” he said to the man at his side, “who could do such a thing? Our walls have never been breached!” “Gershon,” the councilor cried as he fell to his knees. “The Lion of the West…”
Alagar rushed through the doors of the temple to find Naleia and Zelkar hiding fearfully under the pews. “Zelkar!” Alagar yelled. “Where is the pommel!?” Zelkar stood, shaking. “Pommel?” “The pommel of Sheol!” Alagar ran to him and grabbed him by his shoulders. “The Lion is after the pommel!” Suddenly the door burst from its hinges, flying into the wall, causing cracks to form. Alagar turned to see the giant Gershon standing in the doorway. “I’ve come for the pommel!” the warlord said with a thunderous tone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Zelkar whimpered, trembling as he spoke. The warrior began to walk toward the three priests. “I won’t let you hurt them!” Alagar yelled swallowing his fear, legs weak as he stood, a faint buffer between the gargantuan man and the priests of El’Rha. “Priest,” the Lion laughed, “you truly think you can defeat me?! What are you, a fool?” Alagar outstretched his hands, eyes closed in fear, “I won’t let you!” “Priest,” Gershon said, “do you know why they call me the Lion of the West?” The muscular man towered over Alagar. “I have been blessed by the god Nahash! I have the strength of twenty men! My flesh is iron!” he picked the priest up by the throat. “Nahash?!” Alagar felt the terrible strength of the warrior’s large hands grip around his throat. “They call me the Lion because I am king!” he exclaimed as he threw Alagar into the wall, the sheer power of the toss sending the small priest through the stained-glass window and into the streets outside. Gershon turned his gaze to the statue of El’Rha and began walking toward it. Naleia could hear her pulse in her ears as she trembled. “Now,” the Lion stared up at the statue, “the pommel of Sheol is mine!” The superhuman reared back and punched the statue with unimaginable force, causing the entire stone image to shatter like glass. Naleia and Zelkar sat, hearts pounding. In the center of where the statue stood, a glowing pommel levitated in the air. “Finally!” Gershon exclaimed, laughing. “It is mine! I will be a god among men!” The object descended into his hand. Gershon turned and began to walk out but stopped and stared at the weak Naleia. “But another prize,” he laughed as he lifted her off the ground. “Let me go!” the priestess screamed in shrill terror, but to no avail against the man’s heightened muscles. “Naleia!” Zelkar called out frantically as he hurried to her side, pounding his fists against the steel skin of the Lion of the West. “Fool!” Gershon taunted as he swatted the old man away as if flicking a fly, shooting the elder into the wall. As Zelkar collided with the wall, he felt a sharp pain shoot through his arm, causing him to scream in horrid agony. “Be thankful I have only taken what I have,” Gershon’s face became grim, his voice grinding, “next time, I’ll rip you in two.” Zelkar felt his head go numb from the impact. He fought it momentarily, then all went black.
A special thanks to my friend Joey for his aid in the editing process. Art by Ley de Guzman
The city of Ut-Tleru lay in ruin behind Alagar as he walked past its gates. He walked with purpose yet stumbled every so often. “You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” Ur said gruffly as he carried himself beside the priest. “I do,” Alagar answered quietly, eyes forward. “There is someone I must see.” The country surrounding the desecration of the city was still lush, and Alagar could see the firelight of hearths all around the country. “You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” “I know the general direction,” Alagar admitted finally. Ur laughed a sinister laugh. “I knew it. You’ve never left the city.” The priest ignored the wolf’s jeers and walked onward. They walked for a short time in silence. “So, you’re going to kill a god?” Ur finally said derisively. Once more, Alagar remained silent. The wolf snickered. “And how on earth will you do that?” “Sheol.” The priest answered as he stumbled along. Ur cocked his head. “Sheol?” “The sword of God.” “Ah! This will be quite a ride, won’t it?” the wolf laughed as the two walked on.
Maesa sat in her tent and threw a pebble onto the gathering of pebbles before her. “Ah! I see!” she said in epiphany. A young boy sat in front of her. “What does it mean, Earth Mother?” he questioned eagerly. “One is coming who is unlike us in every way.” The boy sat, perplexed by the gypsy’s words. “Yet,” she continued, “he is more like us than we.” “Who?” the child pressed as he sat with his hands on his knees. “A man abandoned. He comes to me to seek wisdom he once forsook; he comes to speak of the Sheol.” “Earth Mother,” he replied quizzically, “the ‘Sheol,’ what is it?” “A sword that is forgotten by time.” she slid her hands along the smooth stones that lay in front of her. “In the beginning, there were two that were the greatest among the gods. There was El’Rha, and there was Thu’Vash. The two were for eternity locked in battle. In their battle, they shed blood. Thu’Vash struck El’Rha, and from his spit, the cosmos was formed. El’Rha, with his mighty claw, cut Thu’Vash, and thus from his severed skin came the other gods. “The two fought brutally, yet, neither died regardless of the wound that had been inflicted. The lesser gods watched as the two immortals fought endlessly. “Time passed, and soon, the god El’Rha visited the god of the forge, Boulad. “’Craft me a blade of might, a sword that will swallow souls,’” he commanded. “For three thousand years Boulad worked, striking the metal. “At the start of the fourth millennium, the blade was finished. El’Rha held the sword and named it ‘Sheol.’ El’Rha immediately sought out Thu’Vash and struck him down. Thu’Vash tried his best to fight back, but the blade swallowed him whole.” The boy sat, wide-eyed as he listened to the old woman’s tale. “You see,” she said, “this is how El’Rha became the king of the gods, and this is how Thu’Vash became the cursed god, Nahash.” “But what happened to the Sheol?” the boy asked. “El’Rha, fearing the other gods would rise to use it against him, divided the blade into three parts.” The boy sat in awed silence. “That is enough myth for today,” she smiled. “Go along now, child.” The boy nodded, rose, and left the tent.
Alagar ate that night, consuming food he scavenged from the houses of the dead citizens. “You’ve learned your lesson it seems,” Ur laughed as he ate on a hare he had caught sometime before. “I suppose so,” Alagar replied, focusing on his meal. “Hunger makes me lose control.” The wolf turned his head. “Perhaps,” he smiled, “perhaps not.” Alagar ignored the heckling of his canine companion and focused on his dried meat and berries. When Alagar had his fill, he stood and began to walk forward again through the woods. “No time for rest, it seems?” the wolf griped as he stood from his meal. “No,” Alagar replied.
The two walked deeper and deeper into the denseness that was the Rathleru Forest. The large, ancient trees were decorated with thick and strangling vines. The floor too was covered in vines and bushes. Alagar struggled as he pressed on, the thorns catching onto his clothing. Ur, however, had little trouble slithering in and around the awful fauna. His arm had stopped throbbing, he noticed. It hurt no more, yet he felt a numbness in the unholy blue flesh. His clawed hand hung to his side, wrapped in loose cloth. Alagar wore still the clothes of a priest, a sickening irony whenever he’d think about it. The distance was darkened, and the two walked in silence. The wolf had nothing to say to the priest, and the priest had nothing to say to the wolf. Silence was fine. Eventually, in the distance, a faint glow appeared. It was the glow of a bonfire. “So, you did know where you were going?” the wolf laughed. Alagar was merely humored by the remark.
The Earth Mother threw one of the stones onto the others in front of her. “The stones say strange things today,” she remarked in awe. “What do you mean, Earth Mother?” one of the warriors in her audience asked. “One is here. The who is unlike us in every way.”
Alagar came to the bonfire, which was surrounded by a large fence. He walked through the giant awning and into the gypsy camp. “Should I leave for a bit?” Ur asked fearfully. “Wolves and people don't exactly get along.” “No,” Alagar replied, “you are safe here.” Men, women, and children all watched curiously as the garbed priest limped in their midst. “What do you want, priest?” a large man in warrior attire asked as Alagar approached a decorated tent. “Your gods destroyed your city, and now you’ve come to curse us for it?!” Alagar stood silent, with his head hung. He could feel the man’s pain for once. The gypsies had been excommunicated from the cities and forced to live as wild men. For once, Alagar could feel the pain of being a wild man. “Speak, priest!” the man yelled. “I am sorry my people have harmed you so,” Alagar said as he looked the man in the eyes. Alagar grabbed his tattered priestly robes, and with one great swoop, he tore them from their remaining strands and threw them to the ground. The warrior stood dumbfounded, wide-eyed. “A priest’s robe should never touch the ground?” he questioned, “Aren’t you a man of the gods?” “I am of the gods no more,” Alagar stated as he walked past him and entered the tent, only clothed by his pants and his wrapped arm. # Alagar and Ur entered the tent to see Maesa sitting on a rug behind the fire. “A man of gods stands before me?” she queried the standing Alagar. “And a beast of the wood?” She asked Ur. “You would be incorrect,” Alagar bowed as he sat on the other side of the flames. “So, what brings these strangers to my tent?” Alagar removed the wrap that covered his blue arm. Maesa’s eyes widened when Alagar extended the arm in front of him. “I was wondering if you could tell me what it means,” he said. “So, the priest comes to the sorceress?” she chuckled. Alagar bowed once more. “I knew of nowhere else to turn.” Maese pointed to the flame. “We must test against the flame.” Alagar jumped in surprise. “Flame?” he laughed nervously. “You want me to place my hand in the fire?”
The sorceress nodded. “Yes. The flame is purity. It purifies.” “But what if it burns my arm?” Alagar retorted, baffled. “If so, then so,” she replied calmly. “You want my help, yes?” Alagar contorted his face and moved his arm indecisively near the fire. “Oh, do it already!” Ur jeered. “Isn’t her help the whole reason we came here?” “The wolf is right. You must summon your courage.” Maesa advised. Ur jumped and glanced at the old woman, surprised. “You are startled that I understand?” she laughed. “I am one with the ways of nature, as are you. I am the Earth Mother.” “I just…” The wolf trailed off as Alagar abruptly shoved his arm into the fire. Suddenly, the flame erupted into purple flares. The blue arm created bright black sparks, and the flaming tongues whipped and danced, filling the room. Alagar quickly removed his cursed arm from the wild flames, and the fire returned to normal. “Your arm,” Maesa began, “it has bad zi.” “I thought as much,” Alagar replied. “’zi?’” Ur spoke up, bewildered. Maesa snickered. “It is the energy that flows all around us. It is the power of the spirit.” “I feared as much.” Alagar sighed as he lowered his head. “What does it mean?” “The flame does not lie, it tells that the curse will consume you.” There was silence for a moment. Ur looked at Alagar. In the dim firelight, he could see the solemnness in the young man’s face. For a moment, the wolf pitied him. “Did you forget why you came? The stones tell me you have other business with me.” Alagar raised his head. “You know what I seek, then?” “Foolish boy. You seek the Sheol, don’t you? You wish to slay a god?” Alagar bowed respectfully. “I do.” “You will find a piece in the city of Suur. Rumor is that it is kept secret by the priests there. We will mend your priestly robes, yes? They will aid you in your journey.” “But why are you helping me? Ut-Tleru has done nothing but cause your people pain.” “Humble priest, it was your gods that hated us, not you. You have proved that to me.” “You have my most earnest of gratitude,” Alagar spoke as he bowed once again. “If that is all, you are dismissed.” Alagar rose and exited the tent.
The gypsy men, by orders of Maesa, led Alagar and Ur to a small tent with only a mere cot of straw and told them to stay there. “We were warned to keep you fed,” one stated, “we will bring you food right away.” “However,” the other added, “we will request that you stay here with your food for the night, while we prepare your garb and supplies for your journey.” Alagar nodded and sat down as the two men left. “What strange humans, they are,” Ur commented. “They really are unique.” There was a moment of silence. “So, you’re going to Suur?” Ur asked. “Yes,” Alagar replied. “I will depart from you then. A city of men is no place for a wolf,” Ur looked at Alagar, “or a beast.” Alagar sighed and fell back on his cot. A few more moments passed, and Alagar fell into sleep.
Alagar slept unknowingly, surprised upon waking. The light of dawn filtered in through the slits in the entrance of the tent. He rose and looked around; there was no sign of the wolf, but food in plethora surrounded him. Seeing the food, he felt hungry; fearfully, he ate. “You must eat often, yes?” the voice of Maesa behind him startled him. “Yes.” Alagar answered, “If I do not eat, I will lose control.” “Such is the way of a beast; such is the way of what you’ve become. Where is the little wolf?” “He left me. He would not be taken well in a human city.” Maesa threw a satchel full of food and Alagar’s mended robes on the ground in front of him. “You will depart now, yes?” “I will depart immediately. Thank you for all you have done.” Alagar nodded, stood, then began to dress. “Suur is three days travel north, just up the Nechthani River.” Alagar bowed as he passed the old woman. Outside the tent, the gypsies cast strange looks at the priest. He walked down the dirt road and out of the camp. Maesa and a warrior watched as he disappeared down the road. “Earth Mother,” the warrior spoke up, “why did you help him.” “Because he needed help. He is utterly forlorn, for even his gods abandoned him.”
Ur walked through the woods, sniffing the air to find the scent of something dead, perhaps. He had wandered for two days and was gaining a deep hunger. The trees were growing sparser now, and the vines and tangles were beginning to grow less dense; the forest was silent save for the sound of his own footsteps and the distant chirp of birds. “Did you hear! Did you hear! Did you hear!” screeched a bird as it swooped over the tops of the trees. “Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!” the others replied rapidly. “The Lion is about to move!” the messenger screeched. The other birds gasped. “Bird!” Ur roared to the top of the trees. “What, wolf?” he chirped back. “Do you wish me to be your snack?” Ur laughed a snarling laugh. “I know better than to chase a bird. Tell me, what is your news?” “What has a wolf to take an interest in the world of men?” “I should ask the same of you, bird.” “We birds speak the words of the wind. We know of everything that happens.” “Then tell me, what is this you speak of?” “A Lion, a great warrior is going to move. He will strike a city of men! He will strike the city of Suur!” Ur cocked his head and paused. “How interesting,” he laughed. “What? Why does this interest you, wolf?” The bird chirped back, confused. “It is of no concern to you, bird,” Ur said as he walked away. The bird watched the wolf pass beneath the trees, then he flew away.
Three days passed. Alagar had traveled the dirt roads along the Nechthani River, making sure to fill his stomach at the first sign of hunger. The Nechthani was a long, vast river that flowed from the north, blessing the cities along its banks with fertile soil and predictable flooding. Suur was a successful city-state, positioned in the center of the river. This position gave the city a great influx of traders and traveling artisans. Alagar walked many miles, yet, to his surprise, he never found himself tire. He wore his sewn robes. The Gypsies had even made the sleeves longer so that the priest would not have any fear of someone discovering his accursed right arm. They had been so good to them; their charity to a man of the gods that had abandoned them was unimaginably graceful. He was truly thankful. Alagar followed the road over the hill, and, once reaching the summit, saw in the distance the city of Suur. “Well,” he sighed to himself, “here goes nothing.”
The strong winds blew the desert sands against the stones of the abandoned fort. Inside, ruffians walked up and down its dilapidated corridors. One man hurried down the hall and into the main chamber. “You called, my lord?” he said as he entered the throne room. A large, war-scarred man sat on the dusty throne. “Ghel,” he started in a rough, hard tone, “tell me, once more, who is the one they call ‘The Lion of the West?’” Ghel fell to face and bowed fearfully. “You are, Lord Gershon!” “And tell me, Ghel, who can stand against a lion?” “None are able, Lord Gershon!” Gershon stood. The dim rays of the desert pieced the few cracks in the walls, illuminating the warlord’s face to reveal the countless battle scars that decorated his face. “What news have you for me?” Ghel hid his face as he bowed. “I know where it is, my lord. The pommel of Sheol, it is in Suur.” Gershon sat back down on his throne. You are dismissed,” Gershon told Ghel. Ghel stood and ran away in terror. “Bring me a lamb to eat!” the warlord’s voice blasted through the room, causing all the men to tremble. “Yes, my lord!” they all replied as they scattered about in fear. “Suur,” he said to himself “you too will bow before the Lion.”
Maesa and a Gypsy warrior sat in her tent by the fire. The night had come soon, and the stars above freckled the sky in silver spots. In the camp, young children ran about playing games as the adults prepared the communal dinner. Maesa took a stone and threw it onto the others. Curiously, she took her dark, withered hand and held it to her forehead as she closed her eyes. “The stones say the strangest things.” “What do they say, Earth Mother?” “I must ask the birds,” she said. “Help me up so I may go outside.” The warrior did as she asked and helped Maesa outside. Once there, the old woman whistled a shrill tune. Suddenly, a bird flew to her. The bird chirped to the old woman, she nodded, and the bird flew away. “Yes, so is so,” she said almost as if to herself. The warrior stared at the old prophetess with intense wonder. “The Lion will move.” “The Lion?” the warrior asked. “Yes,” she replied, “to Suur he will go.” Maesa stopped and stared into the night sky. “Tell me, priest,” she whispered, “what will your fate hold?”
A special thanks to my friend Joey for his aid in the creative process.
The god Nahash sat upon his throne and looked down upon man hungrily. “I have looked at the cities of mankind, and there is one place that can quench my hunger.” He turned to the other gods and said: “To Ut-Tleru I will feast, for it is my will.” The other gods talked amongst themselves at this. Seeing their reluctance, Nahash said: “Stay out of my way.” So the gods turned away from the world…
The desert sun cast shadows off the mud houses and onto the streets of Ut-Tleru as a cloaked man walked amongst the bustling crowd. The figure strode as if hurried by some urgent business or another, making his way through the congested sandy streets. Merchants and artisans aligned the walls of the city, calling out to every citizen that walked by. The man in the cloak turned the corner and followed the walls down the thin alley to a doorway covered merely by a cloth. He entered the house. “Silili? Utu?” the man called out as he entered the home, covering the door once more with the cloth. “Who is it?” a frail voice asked from another room. The man removed his hood to reveal his young face. “It’s me, Alagar,” he replied. “I was in this part of the city, and I wanted to check on you two!” An old, hunchback man entered the room. “Gods bless you, boy,” He said as he poked around with his cane as not to run into anything, “You’re the High Priest now! You don’t have to concern yourself with old goats like us anymore.” “How could I forget you, Utu?” Alagar laughed playfully as he gently put his hand on the man’s back. “What sort of ‘High Priest’ would I be if I abandoned those who needed me, much less abandon the ones who raised me?” “You’re a good man, Alagar,” Utu replied with a smile. “Would you like some bread?” “I cannot. I am fasting.” Alagar walked Utu to a chair and helped him sit down. “Is Silili well?” “She is making as well as one of our age is able,” Utu replied. “I will go see her.” Alagar walked toward the small doorway in the back of the house. Inside, a frail and slim woman lay on a bed of straw. “Silili?” the priest whispered softly as he knelt beside her. Her eyes slowly opened. “Alagar?” “Yes! Yes, it is me.” He smiled cheerfully. “How are you doing?” The old woman began to cough, and Alagar placed his hand behind her neck to lift her so that she would not exert herself. “I’ve been praying for you,” he said as he sat beside her. “I pray every day that the gods will favor you.” Silili smiled. “You’re a good man, Alagar.” She wheezed. “I would have none greater to call my son.” Suddenly, the bells of the great temple began to toll, resounding as boisterous blasts throughout the streets of Ut-Tleru. Alagar rose and bowed to the woman who raised him. “I must go now,” he said softly, “I wish you well.” Alagar said the same to Utu as he exited the house. The life of the High Priest was not a hard one, and Alagar cared dearly for his flock. He passed through the streets and halls as he made his way to the temple.
The congregation sat astute and diligent in the temple. Alagar stood at the pulpit with his arms wide open. “My children,” his voice echoed off the temple’s stone walls, “be there with us much joy, for the gods have shown favor, and we say…” “Gods may!” the congregation chanted. Alagar held his hand to his heart. “For we know the kings are the will of the divines. May our king guide us to peace. And we say…” “Gods may!” the followers answered once more. The priest bowed his head. “Let us offer up praise.” The congregation bowed their heads and repeated: “Let us.” “Gods that be, may we be in peace and tranquil, for you have shown us favor. And we say…” The people spoke in unison, “Gods may.” “Thank you,” Alagar said genuinely as he stepped down from the pulpit. The congregation dispersed and slowly began filtering through the exits. Alagar walked casually to his quarters in the back of the temple. He placed his hand on the door and pushed. “Your Holiness!” a stern voice from behind startled him. “Yes?” Alagar turned and faced the man. In front of him stood one of the king’s men. “Your Holiness, the king has summoned you. You must come this way immediately.” “Of course.” Alagar softly sighed and followed the man.
The servant walked Alagar through the brown brick walls of the king’s palace to a door. King Ut-Tleru X sat at his son's bedside, his head in one hand and his sons hand in the other. He rubbed his son's hand with his own, whimpering from trying to conceal his grief. His son, Ut-Tleru XI, lay pale upon his bead of silk. “Your Highness!” a servant spoke from behind the door. “I have brought the High Priest, as you commanded!” “Only he may enter!” the king commanded in a harsh tone. “Return to your duties!” The door opened, and Alagar entered. The room was unlit save for the moonbeams that entered through the window. “Your Majesty, how are you?” Alagar began, “I hope you are we—” “He’s dead!” the king snapped, interrupting the priest’s welcome. “Just as the dream said.” “Dream?” Alagar asked. “Nahash appeared to me in a dream.” the king said in a low, almost laughing tone. “He told me my son would die.” The king stood and moved to the window. “But he will live again.” “Sire,” Alagar said softly, “you cannot cheat death.” The moon cast over the king's face revealed crescent grin. “He will!” the king said in a shrill tone. “I know how he can.” the king walked closer to the priest and whispered as walked past Alagar speedily. “Bring my soldiers!” King Ut-Tleru X called out as he rushed down the hall. Soldiers in the hallway flocked to the livid king, kneeling as they reached him. “Bring me young and old and take them to the temple,” he laughed, “there will be propitiation!”
Blasts of war-horns sounded as soldiers rushed throughout the dusty city of Ut-Tleru. A woman cradled her son as soldiers busted open their doors and beat her husband. Screams resounded and filled the streets as soldiers bound and threw the citizens’ children onto wagons. The people wept and cried for the soldiers to stop, but as he said, none can deny the divine king’s edict. The soldiers rushed the wagons of the restrained into the temple.
“Your Highness, this is madness!” Alagar pled through tears as he heard the cries of his sheep in their night of terror. “Sire, why? For the death of your son? This is evil!” The king’s eyes turned to the priest. Alagar could see the hint of lunacy within them, a tint of wild inhibition, wide-eyed and lost. “Bind him by his hands, as well!” the king raved, pointing at Alagar. The men stopped and looked at Alagar for a moment, reluctant. “Bind him!” the king screeched. The soldiers rushed toward their priest and tied him up.
The people covered the temple floor, screaming, and crying. The king and Alagar stood at the altar. “Now, priest.” he began as he cut Alagar free. “Summon him! Summon your gods! Summon Nahash!” “I will not! This is madness! This is lunacy!” The king drew a soldier’s sword and placed it at the priest's throat. “Do it!” “I will not!” “Then I will!” Alagar yelled as he felt the cool blade slice through his right arm. Warm blood trickled down to his hands. The king took the bloodied blade and threw it on the altar. “Oh Nahash! I have much to offer you!” he cried out. Suddenly, the air became thin, the night became black, and black flame exploded from the altar. The king closed his eyes at the brilliance of the flame. An elegant man stood before them, with long blond hair. “What man has the right to summon Nahash?” The god smiled, revealing sharp, jagged teeth. The king pointed at Nahash “You took my son!” The god raised his hand and waved it. The king writhed in agony as he began to sift away like sand: his hands, then his body, then his head as it lay upon the floor. “Your Majesty!” Alagar cried. He turned to Nahash and bowed. “Oh, great god Nahash, please spare us.” The god grinned and raised his hands. “No.” Alagar was suddenly alert. “But it was only the king’s sin! We have done nothing!” The god lowered his head to the priest. “But who do you think orchestrated this episode, hmm?” Alagar’s eyes widened. “You caused this to happen? How?” “I made the king’s son die; I made the king drunk with fury; I made the king gather the people so that I could feast upon them. They’ve been good servants. Delicious ones, too.” The priest felt a grim shiver over his whole body. “Stay here.” the god commanded. Alagar felt panic as he heard the cries of the children and townsfolk. He could hear them all at once as their screams culminated into an unintelligible noise. He knew he had led them falsely; he thought he’d done them well, but now; now he knew he was a pawn all along. Alagar’s anguish was deafening. He felt himself rise. He could feel the beating of his heart, the rage of it all. Lightning struck in front of him, blasting a hole in the top of the temple. He looked up, and the Nahash was before him, laughing. He could see the blood of the people dripping from the deity’s mouth. “Are you going to eat me, too?” Nahash grinned. “No. You’ve been a good servant, the best servant of all.” Alagar felt the deity’s finger pierce through the cut on his arm. He watched as a dark, bluish, color painted his skin. His arm seared with pain as it contorted into a claw-like form. Alagar screamed. “You will walk among the beasts,” Nahash laughed, “no more will you call yourself a man, for you are now a beast.” Alagar lay on the ground holding his bleeding arm. Then, all went black.
Nightmares taunted Alagar’s sleep. In his dreams, he could hear the screams of the townsfolk; he could taste their blood on his lips. He opened his restless eyes. “You’re awake, it seems.” A rugged voice startled him as he sat up. “Who’s there?” Alagar cried as he looked around. Alagar turned to see a silver wolf sitting not too far from him. “You speak?” he said in an alerted tone. The wolf grinned and laughed an unsettling laugh. “No. It is not I who can speak, but you who can listen.” “Listen?” Suddenly, Alagar became alarmed and aware of his throbbing arm; he held it as he cringed in pain. “My arm,” he said through gritted teeth, “it hurts! It’s deformed!” The wolf laughed. “Of course it is.” “Did he-?” Alagar’s fingers dug into his blue arm, causing his nails to break the skin. “Did Nahash do this?” “Yes. Did you not hear the god’s words? You’re a beast now, just like me.” Alagar stood faintly and scanned the temple. Bodies of humans, half-eaten, decorated the floor. The stench of the rotting flesh was pervasive as it permeated throughout the desecrated temple. “Not really an appetizing sight, even for an animal,” the wolf commented, “I have no hunger for rotten flesh.” He paused. “I’m Ur, by the way.” “You have a name?” “Fool,” Ur scoffed, “thinking just as a man would. Thinking that only he is worthy of names.” “I am Alagar.” “I don’t care.” Ur brushed off the priest’s introduction. “Tell me, what will you do now? Now that you’re a beast?” Alagar looked around him. All he saw was death and loss. “I don’t know.” “Fool.” the wolf began to walk away. “What do you do?” he asked Ur. “Scavenge.” “I will go with you. I have nothing left here.” The wolf laughed sinisterly. “Very well.” The sun set red over the hills as the two walked through the desolated city. Mutilated bodies littered the streets. Alagar took a cloth from a doorway and used it to wrap his deformed arm. “Why would he do this?” questioned Alagar as he scanned the savage ruins of the city. “Because he’s a god,” Ur answered nonchalantly, “and a selfish one at that.” “But gods are supposed to love their creations!” “You suppose too much.” “Is it such a far-fetched thought?” “It’s not far-fetched, priest; it’s blind. Gods will do what gods will do. What’s left is not their concern. Only their desires matter.” Alagar lowered his head. “But why?” “There is no ‘why’ here; there is only what is.” The two walked in silence for some time after that, the wolf leading as Alagar wearily walked behind him. “Are you tired?” Ur asked, surprising Alagar with his thoughtfulness. “I am.” “You should rest, then.” “What will you do?” “Afraid of being alone,” the wolf taunted. “I will do what I wish.” “I don’t know where to go from here. You’re my only guidance right now. Would you really leave me in my confusion?” Ur stopped and exhaled. “I suppose it will be fun to watch you.” The wolf grinned scarily. “I will stay.” “Then we will rest here?” “Sure, I guess.” Alagar fell as he tried to sit without using his arms since he held his clothed right arm with his left. Ur laughed as the priest plopped onto the ground suddenly. “You laugh at my pain?” “Yes. Your pain is funny.” For some reason, Alagar sensed a hint of friendliness in those words. “Well, I’m glad I can make you laugh.” “Do you know how to make fire? “I’m a priest, not a woodsman,” Alagar said, almost laughing. “Then you will sleep in the cold of the desert.” “I’ll just get more door cloths.” “You’re a clever animal.” Ur jeered as he walked away. “Sleep. I will be back by morning.” Ur said as he walked away.
The sun had set; the city was silent save the whistle of the winds. Alagar observed the lifeless settings as he walked the barren streets. The booths for the vendors were empty; the windows were dark; even the moon was brighter than the once flourishing Ut-Tleru. Alagar knew where he was going, though he didn’t want to realize it. He knew he was going to Utu and Silili’s house. Though, he knew what would await him there. The tight alleys of the city seemed wide and open without the crowds to fill them. The desert wind was cold and coarse. Alagar made his way to the house. There was no light from inside. Alagar’s heart rose to his throat. “Utu? Silili?” Alagar called as he entered the abode. He entered, his eyes widened, and he fell to his knees. A long wail erupted from his throat, and he held his head in his left hand. In front of him, Utu and Silili lay half-eaten, unrecognizable clumps of flesh and bone. Blood painted the walls. Alagar gagged at the putrid stench. Flies and other bugs swarmed all around the room. It was too much. Alagar rose and stumbled out of the doorway. He could hear himself whimpering. It was if he were in a nightmare. He walked dazedly, as if drunken. Alagar could feel himself slipping away. He stopped finally and fell to his knees. He looked up at the moon, screamed in eldritch terror, then passed out from exertion and shock.
Alagar dreamed he was surrounded by black silhouettes. They had no eyes, yet he knew they watched him. He knew who they were. They were the people of the town. He could hear them yelling, pointing at him. “It’s the priest! The one who misled his people!” a gruff voice pierced his slumber, mixing into his dream. The priest opened his eyes to see three large men surrounding him, blades in hand. “Who are you?” Alagar yelled, struggling to move, realizing quickly that he was bound in chains. “We’re just some men from the country who heard about your little disaster.” laughed one. “We’re gonna sell you into slavery, so just bear with us,” taunted another. “Besides, if it were just me, I’d slit your throat right now!” said the third as he held his blade to Alagar’s face. “I had nothing to do with it, I—!” “You led them to their slaughter!” yelled the first. “I did not!” Alagar cried fearfully. The second man turned to the others. “Let's just watch him starve to death!” The others cheered in agreement, and so they put the priest in the center of them and waited. Alagar felt hunger, he wouldn’t deny. He had been fasting, which made it all worse. He could feel his deformed arm wrapped in the cloth, throbbing. He could almost hear its pulse, it seemed. The pain surged through him rapidly, causing him to clench his jaw. “You won’t be able to resist it.” Alagar heard Ur as he approached. He could not see the wolf, but he knew he was near in the darkness around them. “I will resist!” Alagar felt something inside of him he’d never felt before. A certain affinity called to him like the night itself. He could feel it, the lust for the iron taste of blood; it scared him; he’d never felt such an urge before. “This fool is talking to himself,” one of the men laughed. “Maybe the god made him delusional,” the other said, causing the third to wail with laughter. Ur spoke up, like a whisper in the priest’s ear. “You won’t be able to resist, try as you might.” Alagar felt it like a fire within him. The wolf laughed “You can resist the instinct to feed.” Alagar’s eyes opened wide and bloodshot. Strength unhindered contorted his body, ripping the chains that bound him. His fingernails grew from his fingers as he stood and jumped upon one of the large men. He felt the warmth of the man’s innards as his deformed claw tore through his stomach. The man writhed in horror and anguish before he bled to death. The other two turned and ran, but Alagar caught up to them with inhuman speed. The once pacific priest lost himself in their bloodbath as he watched himself rips them to shreds, his claws tearing their bodies into indistinguishable remnants. They lay there, more than dead; they lay there, mutilated. Alagar came to his senses and fell to his knees, gripping his blue, deformed arm as their blood dripped off him. “You’re a sloppy animal,” Ur said casually as he began to eat one of the dead men. Alagar could feel himself shaking as he stared down at his blue arm. He whimpered, then cried. “So, tell me, once again,” Ur asked as he walked over to the weeping priest, “what will you do now?” Alagar quietened for a moment, head lowered. “I know exactly what I will do,” Alagar spoke through gritted teeth. Ur cocked his head to the side curiously. He could sense something different in the priest’s tone. It was different. Alagar turned his gaze to Ur. The wolf could see the tears on the priest’s face, mixed with the blood of the three men he had just slaughtered. There was a fire in his eyes, one that was not there before. Alagar stood. “I’m going to kill Nahash.” Ur smiled. “What a fool, you are.” The wolf laughed as Alagar began to walk away. “This,” Ur said as he followed the priest, “this, I have to see.”
A special thanks to my friend Joey for his support in the creation process.