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.