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