Excerpt from Chapter 1
The Beginning of the End
It was the beginning of autumn in the eastern section of the continent of Tarsia, where heavy rainstorms were commonplace. The village of Du'Ron was unlike most villages. It was located in a remote area bordering the Dragonspine Mountains on the east, the Owdeliz River to the north, ocean cliffs to the south, and the rest of the civilized world to the west. The town was fortified with stone walls encompassing its entirety and forming a pentagon. Watchtowers existed at each of the five corners and kept vigilance on the dangerous creatures that emerged from the borderlands. Three enormous iron gates provided entry into the town, two entrances facing west on the tip of the pentagon and one facing east towards the borderlands. Although no travelers ever came from the east, the gate existed as a thoroughfare for the warriors in case of marauding bandits or creatures. The lion men were unlike most beast races on Myrosia, they only lived in Du'Ron, although recently some had ventured to other towns seeking adventure and a change of pace from the everyday boredom and solitude they encountered at home. Talk amongst the chiefs was that they should abandon the city and move west where civilization flourished.
Maurus began to head to the village well to bring the daily cooking water for his mother. He was above average height for being only eleven, measuring six feet tall and with a toned body from training. His fur was pitch black like the darkest abyss with deep blue eyes the color of the sea. His customary clothing consisted of a dusty brown sleeveless tunic with a leather belt around the waist, which allowed for a larger range of motion. No footwear was worn, as lion men preferred to feel the ground they walked upon and an added advantage was increased agility as opposed to wearing cumbersome boots. Adult warriors did wear a variety of armor, from leather armor and chainmail, all the way to full plate armor.
The cub was full of curiosity at his age and looked forward to the day he would be able to wander beyond the gates of the town and enjoy the splendor of the world beyond. As he lowered his pail into the well, he noticed a dark shadow begin to cross the ground toward him. He looked up to the sky and noticed that ominous storm clouds were brewing in the eastern mountains and would be upon the village within a few hours. He pulled the rope holding the leaky wooden bucket up, untied the rope and ran up the dirt causeway on his way home, sloshing water every which way.
Homes in Du'Ron, were mostly made of the local bramble tree, a common marshland tree with a wide sturdy trunk and low arching branches suitable for home building. As a result of the common rains in the area, the dwellings were raised upon three-foot stilts to avoid mud and rainwater from entering the interior. The home of Maurus was a modest dwelling, as lion men were warriors and the only material items they treasured were related to battle. His home was located to the north of the well, abutting the northeast wall. As Maurus climbed the stairs to the home, his mother Zora peeked out of the doorway. "Maurus, your father wants you to hurry to him to continue your training." Zora said. Maurus nodded and handed the bucket to his mother, spilling some of the contents onto the slatted wood floor and Zora's apron. The cub gleefully ran outside and headed towards the eastern gate where the training hut was situated. He had begun weapon training under the tutelage of his father, Chief Sufei, with the reaper, a wooden handle with a scythe attached by iron chain to one end and an iron war hammer head on the other, and was fairly proficient with it already. The weapon was wielded with two hands, with the hammer end used for blunt close quarters combat and the scythe end for slashing and entangling an opponent's arm in the chain. The scythe and chain could be detached from the weapon to provide a bit more freedom of arm movement. The training area, unlike the homes, was a circular stone dais with a thatched roof composed of long wispy bramble leaves supported by wooden posts at five corner intervals. The training area had no walls in order to provide enough freedom of movement and allow spectators to watch the performances. On this day though, most of the clan had gone indoors already because of the impending storm.
"Maurus, my son, come take your weapon and let us begin." said Sufei with a strong deep voice. "Yes, father", Maurus acknowledged and hurried inside, grabbing his weapon from the wooden rack where he had left it the day before. "A warrior without his weapon is naked Maurus. You should have your weapon strapped to your back at all times. Battles occur at inopportune times,” said Sufei. "I am sorry father, I will not fail you again..." said Maurus apologetically.
Chief Sufei was approximately forty years of age, middle aged, and blind in one eye. His days as a warrior had ended prematurely in his twenties when he had battled a chimera and his left eye was slashed open, limiting his peripheral vision. He was a fairly large and muscular lion man, measuring at seven feet tall and weighing in at two hundred and seventy-five pounds of pure muscle. His fur was black with white cobweb like spotting and green emerald eyes. He wore a chainmail shirt and plate metal shoulder guards shaped like a lion’s head with a gaping upper jaw. On his waist he wore a large plate metal belt with strange dark blue runic patterns, chain mail leggings and plate metal greaves with the same lion ornamentation on the top. On his hands he wore plate metal gauntlets with spiked protrusions at the knuckle joints, which would allow him to inflict harm upon an opponent if he was disarmed. The gauntlets were rigid, but allowed enough movement to handle a weapon properly. He wore no headgear since his vision was already limited and a helmet would only decrease his peripheral vision to the point that he would be disabled in battle.
Maurus grabbed the scythe attachment and slid it into a rectangular slot in the back end of the hammer and wrapped the chain around his left wrist. This would allow him to spin the deadly weapon at arm's length and keep enemies at bay while allowing him to also quickly grasp the weapon for close quarters combat. He assumed his battle stance with his right foot leading the way in a semi-side pose and the reaper held in both hands.
Sufei held his reaper with the scythe attached to the chain in his left hand and the hammer loose in his right. They slowly circled around each other, with Maurus retreating to one of the support columns to his back. Sufei advanced on him swinging the scythe in an outward arc with his left hand and twirling the hammer with his other. "You have run out of room, my son," laughed Sufei.
Maurus ducked a swing of the hammer and charged forward with his own hammer leading the way. He was about to slam full force into Sufei, when he felt a sharp, stabbing pain in his upper left arm and was jerked off of his feet. Instead of having the advantage, he slammed to the ground on his right side and watched as his hammer slid away from his grip. Sufei saw the opportunity open for a killing blow. He tugged on his chain to line up his victim for a deathblow with the hammer. The stinging pain from the scythe embedded in his arm and being pulled upright by the chain, brought Maurus to his senses. He pulled hard on his own chain, where his hammer, although out of reach, was still attached and brought it flying straight at his father, smashing him in the chest. The movement was so fierce and quick, that Sufei did not even have the chance to swing his own hammer. Amongst the sounds of the chainmail rattling from the impact and Sufei gasping for breath, the only other sound heard was Sufei's hammer clattering to the ground with a loud thud.
Maurus pulled his father's scythe out of his arm and tugged his own hammer back towards himself. He gripped his hammer in his right hand with the chain hanging loosely on the other end and extended his arms while letting out a growl of victory at his father. Sufei roared in defiance and launched into an attack. Maurus backpedaled quickly with his back to one of the support columns. He ducked a swing of Sufei's scythe, which wrapped around the column and became entangled in the chain. "I am too fast for you father", gloated Maurus. With a mighty tug of his chain, Sufei brought the column and part of the thatched roof onto Maurus, burying him in debris. "Alas, you are mistaken my son, for it is I who seem to be one step ahead of you...” replied Sufei. The sky above began to darken and lightning flashes could be seen in the distance. "Come my son, training is over for today," said Sufei. He strapped his weapon to his back and extended an arm of assistance to Maurus who was still struggling to emerge from under the rubble. "You are a good fighter my son, but you let overconfidence best you. Let us go home now before the storm begins, tomorrow is a new day", said Sufei. Maurus stood up and brushed the dirt and dust from his black fur. He strapped his reaper to his back and began the short trek home replaying the training in his head for future reference. As they neared their home, a lightning strike could be seen striking nearby outside the compound. After a loud deafening thunderclap, the rain began. At first a light drizzle began to fall and then a steady downpour. Maurus and his father were able to reach their home as the drizzle began. They climbed the stairs and Maurus quickly rushed to wash up in the water basin near the entrance. His mother Zora, was busy placing dinner on the table. She had cooked a venison stew, which was a staple in the tribe's diet. Sufei greeted his wife with a hug and sat down. "How was training with Maurus?" inquired Zora. "It went well, the boy will become a fine fighter, he just needs to focus more", replied Sufei. "I do not believe he is ready for any trips outside the fortress alone, but I think a group patrol job may help him learn how others fight." Maurus finished washing up and sat down at the table. "Maurus, tomorrow morning we will repair the damage to the training platform and I will speak with the other elders to begin your apprenticeship in a patrol", said Sufei. "After dinner, we will go to the forge and repair your weapon." "Yes, father", Maurus, replied enthusiastically. "Will you teach me how to forge my own armor like yours?" he inquired. "Yes Maurus, I think tonight we should begin fashioning your own set of armor”, said Sufei. Maurus and Sufei finished their stew quickly and gathered their equipment. “Be careful and come back soon, this storm does not seem like it is going to let up any time soon”, Zora insisted.
The forge was located near the southwestern portcullis. The forge was situated in a circular stone hut, with a thatched roof that provided a center hole for steam to escape, and a small open entrance that required one to bend down to enter. Sufei and his son left their home and headed towards the forge with their weapons strapped to their backs. The storm had subsided and a thick heavy fog had formed. One could only see a few feet in front before the fog obscured the surrounding area. Sufei entered the hut first, having to bend in order to enter the low entrance. Maurus was able to enter without bending over. The forge fires were still lit and had been used recently, so there was no need to stoke the fire. “Maurus, give me your weapon, so that I may show you how to repair it,” ordered Sufei. Maurus dislodged the leather strap holding his weapon in place and handed it over to his father. The hammer had some few minor dents from previous battles with his father, but was overall in good shape. The scythe blade was in desperate need of repair as the blade was no longer sharp enough to cut through tough hide, let alone flesh. Sufei grabbed the scythe by the handle and began to sharpen it on a whetstone. When he reached over to place the weapon on a nearby table, the ground underneath trembled with force. “Father, is it another earthquake?” asked Maurus. “I believe so son, go check on your mother and make sure she is ok.” replied Sufei. Earthquakes were a regular occurrence in the Dragonspine Mountains as it was a seismically and volcanically active area. Maurus quickly left the forge hut and ran towards his family hut on the eastern side of the compound that was covered in fog from the recent storm. As he drew closer to the eastern gate, Maurus saw the most hideous apparition in his life towering through the thirty foot tall portcullis, which was now in shambles of twisted iron and wooden splinters. The dense fog swirled around the beast’s powerful hind legs leading up to a massive muscular mottled green reptilian chest, with two enormous muscular arms and 3 clawed fingers on each end the size of a twelve inch dagger. The beast had one leathery black wing that was in tatters and a stub where the second wing should have been. The long serpentine head led up to a reptilian head that looked much like that of a dragon. Maurus was in utter shock, dragons were mythological creatures spoken of in legend, but never seen. Dragons had supposedly been wiped out at the beginning of creation except this dragon looked as if it had risen from the grave. The beast reared its decaying head and let out a mighty roar, then focused its red glowing eye sockets on Maurus and stomped forward, creating shockwaves through the ground with each step. Maurus was petrified, a dragon, or at least a beast that looked like a dragon was in front of him ready to devour his very being.
In a flash of white, something came between Maurus and the beast, slamming a warhammer right into the chest of the beast. A lion man with pure white fur and emerald eyes turned to Maurus and yelled, “Run boy, rouse your father and the others, we need to hold them back!” As Maurus turned and ran back to the forge, he glanced back quickly to see the beast grasp his savior and crush him within its massive claws. More lion men were rushing out of their huts armed to the teeth after hearing the roar of the beast. Maurus reached the forge within a few minutes, but on the western side of the compound all was still quiet as the battle still had not reached much farther than the eastern entrance. Maurus entered the forge, out of breath stammered, “FFFFather! DraDraDragon! Attacking the eeeastern gate! DDDDragon!” Sufei placed his hammer down and turned to his son, “Do not jest with me boy… There are no dragons in this world, what foolishness is this?” “Father come look outside, I’ll show you!”, replied the cub. Sufei was not one to not trust his son’s words, but hearing his boy mention a creature that did not even exist was just too much. Sufei donned his chainmail armor and his reaper and ducked through the exit. Maurus began to follow, when suddenly with the sound of crushed timbers and thatched roof, the entire forge collapsed and another massive beast emerged through the rubble of the fortification’s outer wall and the forge hut. Sufei turned around and was in complete astonishment, his son was buried amongst the burning rubble and a black dragon-like creature was before him. Before he even had time to react, the beast was upon him, whipping its long barbed tail about like a morning star and hitting Sufei square in the chest. The impact sent the old veteran sprawling to the ground and only instinct allowed him to spring away from the next impact from one of the scaly legs trying to crush his prone body. Sufei swung his scythe in an arc to attempt to grapple the beast and gain access to its vulnerable head. The scythe latched onto the right arm of the beast slightly above the forearm. Sufei gave a twist of the chain and nimbly climbed the beast’s arm and slammed his hammer into the right side of its jaw. The sound of crushed bone, tendon, and teeth could be heard and a steady stream of black blood gushed out from the wound. The beast shrieked in rage and shook its head violently to dislodge the furious attacker that inflicted such egregious wounds upon it. Sufei ripped his scythe out of the beast’s arm and incidentally tore decaying muscle tissue as well. The beast flung its arm out wide and Sufei flew in the air landing solidly on both feet with scythe in one hand and hammer in the other. He attached the chain into the hammer and began to swing the hammer in a wide arc, hoping to slam the beast in the chest and gain an advantage again. As Sufei prepared to let loose his weapon, a massive crowd of approximately twenty lion men rushed past him to assault the beast from every angle possible. With a sweep of its massive left arm the beast knocked the first three attackers to the ground and squashed one under its clawed foot. The sound of the lion man's body being crushed and the entrails spilling out would make most turn tail and flee, but the lion men were a tribe of warriors and instead were further enraged by the fall of their comrades. Sufei latched his scythe on the beast's left shoulder and quickly climbed up while his comrades hacked at the beast's legs. With its wounded right arm, the beast grabbed the assailant on his shoulder, but not quick enough to avoid having its left eye being gouged out. The beast thrashed its head wildly and ripped the lion man's torso in half with its mighty jaws. The remaining lion men began scaling the beast with their scythes and chains and bashing its skull and chest until the creature finally collapsed on the ground from the blows, twitching in its death throes. Unfortunately, the warriors did not have much time to celebrate, they could hear in the distance the sounds of battle and the horrible roars of more of the mysterious creatures all over the complex.
Maurus awoke beneath the rubble of the forge groggy and disoriented. He was unaware if he was experiencing some kind of nightmare or had all the recent events actually occurred. A sharp pain in his leg reminded him that these moments were his reality. Maurus was lucky that only the thatched roof collapsed upon him and the support beams and framework had narrowly missed him. The sharp pain in his left leg was a moderate burn from a piece of hot iron that had fallen from the anvil and landed upon him when the building had collapsed. The smell of burnt fur, iron and raw flesh filled the air. The building had miraculously not caught on fire, but there were some pieces of the roof that had landed in the area of the forge and had burned. The fires within were small and had not spread through the structure as of yet, but it was only a matter of time and Maurus needed to escape before then. He gathered his wits and grimacing through the pain in his leg, crouched down and began to dig his way up and out of the rubble. After a few grueling moments, Maurus emerged on top of the remains of the structure and proceeded to survey the battlefield. The village was in ruins, he could hear the screams of women and children, and the sounds of devastation as the battles continued all around. A few steps ahead of him were the remains of the creature that had attacked him and his father. Immediately his thoughts went to the whereabouts of his father. “Father… Father! Where are you?” he yelled. Maurus assumed his father had gone off to continue the fight against the beasts, but a nagging sensation in the back of his mind, told him that something had gone terribly wrong. He began to search around the foul smelling corpse of the beast, when a shiny shoulder pauldron shaped in the form of a lion was visible under the beast’s arms. Maurus immediately recognized the armor as his fathers and rushed over to investigate the scene. What he encountered was barely recognizable as his father. On the ground were the remains of what was once the mighty Chief Sufei, father of Maurus. His face in death was contorted in one of extreme pain. His torso had been ripped in half by the beast, the chainmail had not been enough to protect Sufei from the mighty jaws of such a devilish creature. The chest cavity was open and a bloody mixture of organs and muscle could be seen within. The lower half of his torso was just a bloody pulp of flesh still held within the grasp of the creature’s claws. Maurus crouched beside his father’s corpse and held what was left of his body in his arms and stared into his dead green eyes. “Nooooo…” A stream of tears gently rolled down his face, grief over the loss of his father. With his father in his arms, Maurus stared up into the sky and let out a roar of anguish and anger that was heard throughout the complex even over the sounds of the battle. Lion men and beast alike both stopped their motions and turned their heads toward the origin of the sound for a moment.